Friday, September 28, 2007

Freedom of Speach and Publishing the Unspeakable

Captain Ed at Captains Quarters has a great blog article today about the real meaning of our freedom of speech. See

Ed and an NRO article he sites correctly point out that the first amendment merely means the Government is not supposed to interfere with our expression of ideas most of the time. It does not mean private parties, associations, or entities must provide platforms or publication to anybody Though there are some times and places where a private location may become a public forum that cannot be arbitrarily closed to some speech, there is no mandate to help anybody to be heard.

So, there may be reasons for and against risking the costs of inviting liars, enemies, and dangerous demagogues to deceive to audiences at universities, but the First Amendment is not one of them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Environmental Hypocracy in the City

Why do people cut down trees in the city? I understand people who cut down trees in order to make furniture or paper or baseball bats out of them. But what always puzzles me is that in a society that claims to be so environmentally conscious, that has all sorts of ways of kowtowing to the environmentalists including carbon footprint compensation, etc., why do people needlessly cut down trees that aren’t doing anybody any harm?

At a shopping area near my home there were many lovely large trees. The shopping center cut them all down. Then they planted a number of skinny, scruffy palm trees in their place. This transformed the shopping center from an attractive, pleasant place into an ugly, dry, unattractive place. The additional sunlight highlighted the flaws in the parking area and the facades of the buildings creating an even seedier effect. I suspect that they may have been tired of picking up leaves or worried about the trees making their parking lot lumpy, but considering the cost, difficulty, and time involved in growing a tree—decades—and the beauty and shade that trees provide, I think a few leaves and a little lumpiness is a small price to pay. So it astounded me when they devastated their trees.

We also have someone who lives not far from where I live that had an enormous cedar tree in their front yard. I don’t doubt that they were needlessly worried that the tree might somehow drop branches on their house. I think that, based on the weather we have here and the size and stoutness of the tree, this was singularly unlikely. Nevertheless, they cut the tree back to an 18 ft. tall stump. I think they believed the tree would re-sprout from its decapitated form. But it did not. After a number of years, they made a second foolish decision and chopped up the entire 15 ft. trunk into firewood. Such a monolithic piece of wood could have easily been used by an artist to make some sort of sculpture or statue. Instead, they gave it away as free firewood in large chunks. Everywhere I go in the city I see beautiful trees, but I also see neighborhoods where there were beautiful trees that were needlessly destroyed. These neighborhoods are not as attractive as the neighborhoods with trees. They do not have property values as high as the neighborhoods with trees. And it will take 30 to 40 years for them to ever get back to the state they were in when their old trees were cut down. This needless destruction seems ridiculous and foolish to me. And if people are really concerned about getting rid of carbon dioxide and maintaining the environment, then they should be planting more trees, not chopping down the ones we have.

God, when He created the earth, made mankind a steward of the earth. In the civil law that He gave to the Jewish people, God outlined various provisions for protecting the environment and maintaining sanitation. While people are more important than animals and plants (the environmentalists’ error is thinking the reverse), they are nevertheless important and God will call to account those who needlessly destroy and deface His creation without any real benefit for their fellow man. While I am no radical environmentalist, I would ask you, please think twice before you cut down that really large tree in your front yard simply because you’re unhappy about the leaves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Chimeras

A few weeks ago it was announced that England would allow medical research efforts to create chimeras—creatures that are part human and part animal. This was going to be accomplished by attempting to clone human DNA placed in an animal egg. The animal egg would be taken from the animal and its DNA removed, the human DNA inserted, and an electrical stimulation applied in an attempt to create a clone. The clones would then be used for research purposes.

As I have indicated here already, cloning of human beings in and of itself is morally objectionable. First, it creates an unconscionable risk to the human subject created for the research, and second, the current plan is to destroy all of these embryos in research. In other words, we are creating human beings for their destruction in scientific research—a most heinous thing to do. While it is perfectly reasonable to use money and things to try to help the human medical condition, it is not proper to use the lives of other human beings in order to further our medical knowledge or well being. As Leon Kass has pointed out, it says something about a society that is willing to destroy a future generation in order to prolong the lives of the present generation. Then on top of this whole problem of cloning, you have the problem of creating a being that is part human and part animal. This creates another level of moral complication.

In the first chapters of Genesis, God makes it abundantly clear in the narrative about creation that human beings and animals are not the same kind of thing. Human beings are created in the image of God. They had a special, unique creation event in which God breathed the spirit of life into the human being. All human beings are in the continuity of that original breath of life. To intermingle an animal with a human is to denigrate the image of God, to cheapen it, to lessen it, to disregard it. Throughout the Mosaic Law, God has many somewhat inexplicable passages in which He seeks to have the Israelite people maintain certain kinds of organizational purity. He does not allow them to mix various kinds of threads like cotton and wool in order to make hybrid clothing fabrics. He does not allow them to eat a calf that has been cooked in the milk that God gave to the calf’s mother to provide nourishment to the calf. Surely these rules were not given for the sake of fabrics or foods, but rather they are deeply symbolic of something else—of God’s desire to create in the Jewish people a respect for God’s design and the purposes for which things were created within that design. Mixing human and animal in the way that scientists do when they create chimeras is disregarding God’s created order. It is combining two things that are different for principled and significant reasons. I don’t think God would take any great offense, for example, at the creation of pluots which combine apricots and plums. But I do think that combining human beings and cows is definitely more morally problematic. In addition, as the Evangelical Outpost has pointed out in a recent post, what is going to be the future attitude toward these creatures if they are raised to survive? Will we create a new race of slaves—creatures who exist to be used by us rather than for their own sake or for God’s glory?

It is amazing the degree to which the kinds of experiments that were the subject of horror films and shocking science fiction fantasies of the past are now regarded as mundane academic pursuits. Stories about scientists creating beings that were part human and part animal a mere 20 years ago would have been regarded as sensational science fiction about “mad” scientists. Yet a mere generation later, we do not even raise an eyebrow about this sort of thing provided that we have the ideological bribe of a possible medical breakthrough to heal some disease or lengthen our lives—even if the breakthrough is never really delivered. Have we no shame? Do we see no limits? Does the hubris of scientism know no bounds?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Switzerland and Islam

As elections are approaching in Switzerland, Swiss parties are proposing serious measures to minimize the Islamification of Switzerland. They have come under some fire from the European press for these proposals. One of them mentioned in a May 28, 2007, BBC article involves a referendum to ban the construction of minarets. One Swiss party official is quoted as saying that minarets represent an aggressive and militant Islam and sharia law itself.

In Switzerland there are already architectural controls—just like in many American planned communities. Buildings in Switzerland have to look Swiss. Minarets are not considered a “Swiss” architectural feature. The Swiss politicians have also suggested legislation to the effect that the building of mosques in Switzerland should be banned until evidence is provided that Islamic countries allow the building of Christian churches. Similarly, they have suggested that so long as Islamic countries ban the ringing of Christian church bells, Switzerland is justified in forbidding the use of calls to prayer by mosques. Such calls for reciprocity may be one way of ensuring that freedom of religion is not a one way street that benefits Islam while Islamic countries refuse to allow freedom to Christians. On the other hand, it is important to make sure that we continue to justify true religious freedom. Repressive measures against Muslims could some day be used to justify repressive measures against Christians. So balance of reason and sensibility is clearly called for. The Swiss approach certainly appears to be a creative attempt at striking a different balance.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trouble Sprouts in Brussels

Supposedly the European Union is concerned about peoples’ human rights. In theory, the right of peaceful protest and petition is an important human right. In practice, the capital of the European Union seems happy to ignore that right. The mayor of Brussels banned a request for a peaceful demonstration on September 11th to commemorate the victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and to object to the islamification of Europe. When 200 Belgians gathered calmly and peacefully despite the ban, the police were called out and forcefully attacked and arrested a number of leaders within the demonstration. (Hat tip to Cranmer) You might wonder why in the heart of the European Union people cannot peacefully demonstrate against Muslim terror. The answer might be in part that Brussels is currently run by a mayor who belongs to a Socialist Party caucus with ten Muslim members out of a total membership of 17. Some people have complained that threats of Islam taking over in Europe are terrible exaggerations. It appears that they are late underestimates. The Belgian police beating up peaceful demonstrators in an extremely violent manner is only one more reason why the countries currently engaged in the European Union really ought to rethink their geo-political strategy and purpose before it is too late.

The University of California Irvine Debacle

The University of California Irvine has wanted to establish a state-run law school at their campus for a number of years. But they had run into various red and yellow lights but had finally broken through all of the barriers and were sprinting toward opening the law school when they fell afoul this most recent difficulty involving their choice for a dean.

The University of California Irvine had chosen Erwin Chemerinsky to be their new dean. Chemerinsky is one of the best-known legal scholars in the United States today. He is also probably one of the most liberal legal scholars in the United States today. His ideology is decidedly left wing. On the other hand though, Chemerinsky is eminently qualified for the job. He is a brilliant man. He is extremely nice, extremely personable, very dedicated, servant-like, friendly, and accessible. He is exactly the sort of person who is likely to raise millions of dollars for the university and to be able to attract and hold intelligent faculty and students. But after offering him the job and obtaining a signed contract on September 4th, the chancellor of the University of California Irvine withdrew the job offer on September 5th. The chancellor has indicated that he believes Chemerinsky’s views are “polarizing” and would not serve the best interests of the law school at Irvine. While he denies being concerned about donations, it is undoubtedly the case that the chancellor is worried that conservative and libertarian philanthropists in Orange County will not continue to support the school (which they have been doing with vast sums of money) if a liberal dean like Chemerinsky were chosen. What’s odd is that the University of California Irvine should have realized that long before they made Chemerinsky an offer. If that’s what they were worried about, they should have directed their job search differently to begin with. But then I suspect that the real problem for them is not that they don’t want a liberal dean, but rather that they didn’t want the appearance of having a liberal dean.

The vast majority of modern American law schools produce lawyers who in one way or another accept the worldviews of radical liberalism or post-modernism. Naturally, strong-willed students can resist and maintain their own opinions, but the schools educate people in a transformative way that tends to make them into the kind of people who believe what liberals believe even if they’re determined to fight against it. State schools are, of course, often the worst about this since they have no guiding worldview or ideology to prevent them from drifting into the dominant liberalism and post-modernism of our age.

I have no doubt that even if the law school does not obtain Chemerinsky as their dean, they will probably almost certainly pick a dean who believes most of the same things about the law and about the world. If the conservative donors of Orange County believe in standard American legal education, they might as well go for Chemerinsky because he is eminently qualified for the job and a wonderful person. They are not likely to get anybody who is truly more conservative except as a matter of superficial views on individual issues. If the donors of Orange County really are opposed to creating lawyers in the mold of Erwin Chemerinsky and other left-wing activists, what they need to do is give money to schools like Trinity Law School that have a Statement of Faith and a worldview that genuinely supports a moral, conservative, freedom-loving view of law, government, and public policy. It would be far more effective for them to build up Trinity to be a first class ABA school or to try to influence some of the other existing law schools in Orange County than to think that they can have a conservative, state-owned and state-operated law school at what is already one of the more liberal, post-modern universities in the United States.

On another level, what the university did was really wrong. When they had already selected Chemerinsky and agreed to give him a contract, they should have been willing to abide by the logical and predictable results of what they had been planning to do for some period of time. It is unbelievable to think that they would not know Chemerinsky’s record, prominence, and stand on the issues. He is one of the few liberal scholars in the United States identifiable to many lay people. In addition, because the University of California is a state run school, they don’t really have any business discriminating based on Chemerinsky’s political views. In every measurable way that the California government would allow the university to evaluate Chemerinsky, he is an ideal choice. In the end, the University of California Irvine should have kept Chemerinsky for their law school, and the conservative donors of Orange County should have given their money to a different kind of institution altogether anyway.

UPDATE: It appears UCI is going to rehire Chemerinski.