In Political News

Two interesting developments:

Court: Obama appointments are unconstitutional, in which our President did what he said he would do: “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” So Mr. Obama exercised his power to make recess appointments, except the Senate wasn’t technically in recess. The courts said ‘no can do’. Psst, Mr. Constitutional Scholar – the President and the Congress have different jobs under that Constitution you swore to protect and defend. They can’t do your job, and you can’t do theirs – that would be the ENTIRE FREAKING POINT of having separate branches of the government. Just FYI.

I guess this is why we have to stop getting all worked up over the Constitution. (H/T to Mr. Flynn) How’s a guy supposed to get anything done, if he’s got to obey the laws and all that? Next step – the will of the American people, from whom you derive your mandate and power, demand you say, in their name: when the courts don’t get it right, I will.

Just say it. You’ll feel better.

Finally, we’ve gotten a new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Her job includes (from the SEC website):

  • protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.
  • prohibit deceit, misrepresentations, and other fraud in the sale of securities.

Since the President can appoint anyone he wants, we should expect a fiery crusader bent on establishing some Justice down there on Wall Street! Looking out for the little people! Some zealous outsider, free to thumb her nose at the big investment banks, and impervious to the vagaries of the press.

Let’s see: Mary Jo White did spend time as a Federal prosecutor, and is known to be aggressive and fearless – she went after Gotti, after all. So far, so good. But for the last 10 years, she’s worked as a corporate defense attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a very prominent NYC law firm (with main offices almost 6 whole miles from wall Street) . Her job was to *defend* giant corporations from lawsuits, you know, keeping those pesky investors and others at bay. Hmmm.

No matter, I’m sure she’ll go after those clowns at Goldman, JP Morgan Chase, and AIG – except that each of those companies is a major client of Debevoise & Plimpton. And it can get pretty hot, with the press breathing down your neck, so it’s probably helpful that the NYT, CNN, and NBC are also major Debevoise & Plimpton clients.

And then, there’s the little problem about her having no experience in high finance. No problem! She can rely on her staff to figure out that hard stuff – and her staff trained at Goldman and friends, and will be headed back to jobs on Wall Street just as soon as they’ve done their time, oops, I mean given back to the nation as SEC employees. No conflict of interest, there – they will no doubt selflessly go after the people they expect to ask for a job in a year or two. It would be mean-spirited to suppose otherwise.

So we can count on Chairman White to continue the Obama administrations sterling, unblemished record of having, just like Bush, pursued exactly *zero* prosecutions against the people responsible for the loss of trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. Nope, they gave it a glance, and the once and future Goldman & Friends employees manning the SEC determined that nobody on Wall Street did *anything at all* wrong by selling AAA securities to unsuspecting peons while simultaneously betting millions that they would go bad. Among other things.

Nothing to see here, move along.

(Late) Mid-life Crisis? Aristotle, Hegel and the UC Extention

What have I gotten myself into?

As mentioned here from time to time, I have been reluctantly driven to reexamine Hegel because it’s only fair that I know what he’s saying if I’m going to hate and denounce him all the time. Ya know? The first thing I latched on to during this laborious plowing (did you know Hegel wrote a fair pile of really dense books? Painful stuff.) was his explicit rejection of logic as everyone prior to Hegel understood the term. Law of non-contradiction? Syllogisms? Carefully constructed step by step arguments? Pshaw! That’s weak stuff for little people, which does not apply to real philosophers! Thus speaks Hegel.

What Hegel proposes in place of logic, it seems, is a sort of ontology – the direct grasping of being. This leads to the ‘you either get it or you don’t’ nature of his philosophy – the enlightened get it, the benighted ignorant do not.

Handy, that.

But, thinking about Aristotle, with whom Hegel seems to be pretty familiar, it occurred to me that I wasn’t giving Hegel quiet enough credit here – Hegel’s approach does , in some respects, reflect Aristotle’s. Somewhere – Categories? Posterior Analytics? Dragged out my Loeb edition to track it down, haven’t had time yet – Aristotle discuses ‘a This’ –  a thing that presents itself to the mind whole. As is usual with Aristotle, he’s got really simple cases in mind as he lays out the explanation, so one should keep really simple cases in mind while attempting to follow him – in this case, a man or a horse would be good examples.

So, Aristotle recognizes that certain things by nature present themselves to the mind for apprehension, conception and understanding. He says this because a) that’s our normal experience – we don’t seem to apply our minds much to noticing a wolf or a beautiful woman, but rather such things leap out of the background into our awareness; and b) he recognizes that there has to be a connection between things in themselves and our apprehension and understanding of them for knowledge to be possible. The world consists of a huge class of things that a healthy person notices automatically, and that a healthy person recognizes as a ‘This’ – this horse, this man.

OK, enough until after I’ve tracked down the actual passages I’m half remembering. But it seems I’m barking up the wrong tree if I’m tracing the origins of Hegel’s unique approach   solely to his destruction of logic. Rather, isn’t what Hegel is claiming is that the World is a This? That it presents itself whole to the understanding, and that our minds are, at least potentially, capable of grasping the whole as a whole – as a This – prior to any active thinking? That, as is the case with all items that fall into Aristotle’s category of ‘a This’, that the ‘this-ness’ of the item must be prior to any logic? Further, keeping in mind that Aristotle chooses simple, common examples, would it not do violence to the This-ness of an object of contemplation and utterly defeat efforts at understanding the thing as a This if we were to focus on some component of the thing out of context? You can never understand a horse in its natural horsey-ness by studying a chunk of horse meat.

But can you understand that horsey-ness without seeing This Horse in a herd of horses? Out on the plans over time? From birth to death? In an evolutionary context? Is Man any different? Thus, we are lead to contemplate the universe as a This, prior to all logic, an actualizing thing in itself.


So, of course, this lead me to sign up to take an extension course in Attic Greek. Because, cracking open that Loeb edition brought me face to face with failure. Almost 40 years ago, took two years of Greek, and was possibly the worst student in history who was not actually thrown out of the class. Plus, promptly repurposed those neurons before the echos of Liddell and Scott slamming shut for the last time had died. I could pick out a few words in the left-hand page Greek, but wasn’t even sure about some of the letters. Sheesh!

Indefensible. The only slack I’ll claim is that Greek is a pretty hard subject for a 18-year old SoCal boy who coasted through K-12 in a near-coma, and then came to 1,000 miles from home at a college with, you know, actual academic expectation. And temptations I had not previously even imagined. It was not a smooth transition.

In conclusion: to understand Hegel, I needed to go back to Aristotle. But to really understand Aristotle, you need at least *some* Greek. Therefore, to understand Hegel, I need at least some Greek.

I suspect there’s no end to this.

Lincoln – Another Thought

Started the quotation in the previous post a little late – right before, Lincoln is made to say:

Back when I rode the legal circuit in Illinois I defended a woman from Metamora named Melissa Goings, 77 years old, they said she murdered her husband; he was 83. He was choking her; and, uh, she grabbed ahold of a stick of firewood and fractured his skull, ‘n he died. In his will he wrote “I expect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.” No one was keen to see her convicted, he was that kind of husband. I asked the prosecuting attorney if I might have a short conference with my client. And she and I went into a room in the courthouse, but I alone emerged. The window in the room was found to be wide open. It was believed the old lady may have climbed out of it. I told the bailiff right before I left her in the room she asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her Tennessee. Mrs. Goings was seen no more in Metamora. Enough justice had been done; they even forgave the bondsman her bail.

So, justice sometimes can’t be left to the courts and the law? Every lynch mob in history would agree with that.

In “The Metaphysical Club”, Menand mentions that part of Oliver Wendall Holmes’ take on law included a sort of grim satisfaction when it was used to crush little people – he saw this as a kind of proof that the judges (the law being whatever judges say it is, after all) were not being overwhelmed by soft hearts and social pressures. Wonder what Kushner’s Lincoln would have thought of that. Kushner depicts Lincoln as the photo negative of a lynch mob, rejecting the law and due process whenever he sees it as necessary to achieve justice, but in a good way.

Could we please have Kushner’s Lincoln debate with Bolt’s Thomas More?



“Lincoln” is an extraordinary movie which will get a small pile of Oscars if there’s any justice in Hollywood. Yet, one monologue, the central speech in the movie, that lays out why it is so important to Lincoln to get the 13th Amendment passed before the war ends, is fascinating and worrisome. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers the following as Lincoln to his cabinet:

I decided that the Constitution gives me war powers, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are. Some say they don’t exist. I don’t know. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebels’ slaves from ‘em as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t, never have, I’m glad to see any man free, and if calling a man property, or war contraband, does the trick…  Why I caught at the opportunity.

Now here’s where it gets truly slippery. I use the law allowing for the seizure of property in a war knowing it applies only to the property of governments and citizens of belligerent nations. But the South ain’t a nation, that’s why I can’t negotiate with ’em. So if in fact the Negroes are property according to law, have I the right to take the rebels’ property from ‘em, if I insist they’re rebels only, and not citizens of a belligerent country?

And slipperier still: I maintain it ain’t our actual Southern states in rebellion, but only the rebels living in those states, the laws of which states remain in force. The laws of which states remain in force. That means, that since it’s states’ laws that determine whether Negroes can be sold as slaves, as property – the Federal government doesn’t have a say in that, least not yet – then Negroes in those states are slaves, hence property, hence my war powers allow me to  confiscate ‘em as such. So I confiscated ‘em.

But if I’m a respecter of states’ laws, how then can I legally free ‘em with my Proclamation, as I done, unless I’m cancelling states’ laws? I felt the war demanded it; my oath demanded it; I felt right with myself; and I hoped it was legal to do it, I’m hoping still.

Two years ago I proclaimed these people emancipated – “then, thenceforward and forever free.” But let’s say the  courts decide I had no authority to do it. They might well decide that. Say there’s no amendment abolishing slavery. Say it’s after the war, and I can no longer use my war powers to just ignore the courts’ decisions, like I sometimes felt I had to do. Might those people I freed be ordered back into slavery? That’s why I’d like to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House, and on its way to ratification by the states, wrap the whole slavery thing up, forever and aye. As soon as I’m able. Now. End of this month. And I’d like you to stand behind me. Like my cabinet’s most always done.

There’s a lot to contemplate in this speech. While I doubt Lincoln ever said words to this effect to anyone (I’d be happy to be proved wrong), I think is does capture to a large degree my understanding, such as it is, of his thought process.  Lincoln was a big-picture guy, who sought principles first, then backed into actions from those principles. But he chose principles based on, it seems, gut-level intuitions about what was right. Therefore, when faced with complex and contradictory principles – such as the law very frequently presents in practice, and the Civil War presented in perhaps the most spectacular manner in American history –  rather than sift through them coolly and rationally and weigh them *as principles* apart from the issue at hand, he would see how principles opposed to his overriding goals could be bent to achieve those goals. This speech seems to capture that very well. (Aside: the use of ‘felt’ instead of ‘thought’ in the above speech sounds anachronistic – I think it unlikely that a 19th century American political leader would expect people to care about how he felt rather than what he thought about legal or political issues. Could be wrong, but it does sound funny.)

Several states had signed the Constitution on the *express* understanding that they could secede if they so desired. At the time – 1789 – no one made a fuss, at least not a big enough fuss to derail approval of the Constitution. Lincoln decided that the Union preceded the Constitution in some cosmic sense – that ‘preserving the Union’ was the highest principle for the President, the man sworn to uphold the Constitution. Therefore, other considerations – states rights, freedom of the press, habeas corpus – could and should be ignored or suspended in pursuit of the highest goal of preserving the Union. So, in effect, the Constitution could be suspended, at least in part, to achieve defense of the Constitution, understood as preservation of the Union. While this view is not unsympathetic, it brings to mind the claim that the village must be destroyed in order to save it.

Certainly, Lincoln was in a tough spot no matter which way we slice it. And, since we all seem to agree with his gut feelings about what is right, we tend to overlook how dubious his logic is in many places. The important thing, we say, is Justice: slavery was such an overwhelming injustice screaming out to Heaven that Lincoln – or any man – is justified in whatever he may do to end it. As the speech above suggests, Lincoln would ‘catch at the opportunity’ even if the mechanism by which he justifies his acti0ns are questionable.

In the hands of a man of deep morals and honor such as Lincoln, perhaps we can hope the powers seized will be used only for good, or at least only toward some ultimate good like ending slavery. But the same concepts, having shed the rhetorical splendor Lincoln vested them in, lurk in the claim: “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” This is the anthem of the rule of men, not law.

And Speaking of Beautiful Churches

And beautiful liturgy, beautiful music and beautiful art, on our way back to O’Hare to fly home from Naperville, we had a couple hours to kill, so we swung by Chicago to see St. John Cantius. This beautiful church is said to be of the ‘Polish Cathedral’ style, which is evidently Baroque, ornate and richly hued:

St John Cantius Chicago High altar St John Cantius Chicago back of Church from nave

Sadly, we didn’t get to catch Mass there, but did hang out for about an hour, during which the Cannons Regular sang mid-day prayer. Nice guys. Although the very young looking cannon who walked with us to the door did not get my reference to Copernicus.

This parish a liturgical and artistic explosion – the gentrifying neighborhood and all of the Chicago area seem to contribute to the ongoing programs, restoration, and liturgical life. They have choirs, performances and classes going constantly, it seems.

One last note: good thing it was -2F there yesterday, otherwise I’d have wanted to promptly move to Chicago and enrolled in their Greek, Latin and Hebrew classes – now, THERE’s your adult religious education!

Music at Mass Review – 01 20 2013 Road Trip

My wife and I were in Naperville Il for a funeral, and attended mass at the very beautiful Ss Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  Note:  this church was built by a parish with 350 families in it:

Sanctuary as seen from the nave

Morning winter sun through stained glass

The Mass and music were wonderful. They even sang the Introit after the processional hymn – way cool. Music was all pretty good. The only ‘contemporary’ hymn was ‘Gift of Finest Wheat’ at communion – not a bad song, exactly, but there are better ones. Very reverent Ordinary Form mass. The parish and adjoining school appear to be thriving.

Only one very minor complaint: as the old saying goes:

Power corrupts. An absolutely enormous pipe organ corrupts absolutely.

They had a nice pipe organ, with that rank of trumpets so beloved in certain circles. I like pipe organs, but I prefer them in understated accompanying roles, saving the rousing, not to mention deafening, moments for the postlude. Because otherwise, you’re left to wonder if the choir couldn’t step out for a smoke during certain songs – nobody could tell if they were singing or not over the organ anyway.

But hey, matter of taste and all that – it was beautiful, and the parish was very alive, lots of kids. We are grateful for the beautiful mass.

Tacitus, the Legions and Us

Currently reading Tacitus.  Couple chapters in, covering the period of Tiberius’ ascension immediately after Augustus’s death, circa 14 A.D. Not a pretty time. Couple thoughts:

– The main drama is over, on the one had, controlling the Legions, and, on the other, Tiberius not wanting to do anything that strengthens his (real or perceived) competitors. It’s clear that the good of Rome was not necessarily a top consideration, except in the sense where a Tiberius could convince himself that any amount of violence, injustice and intrigue were OK if they kept him in power, because the alternative – civil war – was even worse. It’s never a possibility that somebody else could lead and do a better job with less violence – alas, he was probably right. And, his life expectancy if someone else – even Germanicus – came to power would be very, very short. As well as those of all of his loved ones (if any – Tiberius doesn’t seem to have been overflowing with fatherly of friendly affection towards anybody).

– The Founding Fathers were certainly familiar with Tacitus, meaning they were very aware of what can go wrong between a state, its military commanders and its soldiers. This lesson is learned (and evidently forgotten) over and over again through history, where well-established governments begin to take their military, and their military’s loyalty to them, for granted, only to have the reality that these are men who want to be treated with respect and honor (and given a healthy share of the booty!) come roaring back into focus. Fail to honor and take care of your army long enough, and bad things happen.

– in the press, coverage consistently misunderstands  what’s going on with military strong men. We start cheer-leading for democracy in places where people have little if any loyalty to a government, but where people with guns are very loyal to the commander who takes care of them. Peace and civil order are arranged by having the strong man make good (good enough) behavior on the part of his troops be a condition of their being held in honor and cared for. In the best of situations, it works OK. In Egypt under Mubarak, the Copts mostly didn’t get murdered or robbed; tourists were safe enough that they came and left some money, and shopkeepers could do business with a fair hope that they’d get to keep a reasonable amount of their earnings. Sure, Mubarak gets insanely rich(1), and nothing gets done unless it runs through the hand of the military (shedding cash along the way) – but it isn’t miserable for most people most of the time. And the military keeps a firm hand on potential sources of unrest and violence – that is their field of expertise.

But we leap immediately from Mubarak to democracy, as if it’s one step from strong man to strong central democratic government. And this isn’t even talking about Islamic radicals.  Then, when it doesn’t work, we act surprised. I don’t thing the Founders would have been surprised.

A large part of our American assumption that democracy will just work springs from the Progressive idea that progress is the natural direction of things, that ‘getting better’ is like gravity, an inexorable pull on things that can only be stopped or slowed by the efforts of men of ill will. Progress = growing entropy, if you will. Heat death is Nirvana, I suppose. On the other hand, if ‘better’ in an anti-entropic state, like holding something up above our heads against the force of gravity, adding order to a system that tends to disorder, then ‘progress’ does not happen by nature (at least, not material nature as understood by Science!), Hegel is wrong and Darwin misunderstood.  Men of good will must *make* good stuff happen, not just *let* good stuff happen.

– So, today, resting in complete untroubled confidence in the loyalty of our troops, our leaders continue to abuse and dishonor both the common soldier and their officers

  1. Psst: soldiers are gunnies. They like guns, have guns, know how to use them. They (along with police) are very likely to own personal firearms. Current attempts to paint gun owners as intrinsically vile and mentally unstable(2)  insult our troops, and drives a wedge between them and our government.
  2. The endless deployments where victory is poorly defined or not defined at all, and is in any event unachievable in any believable sense, leads soldiers to suspect that they are held in contempt and that their lives are held cheaply.
  3. When VA benefits are insufficient to take care of the medical needs of former soldiers, current soldiers find out about it, and it speaks volumes to where they and their needs stand in the eyes of their leaders.

And I’m sure actual soldiers could add plenty to this list.

We’re still pretty far away from the state Rome was in in 14 A.D. But another lesson of history is how fast things can change.

Will report back when I’ve finished the book.

1. discussed here.

2. An example: background checks are not opposed by most gunnies, because a background check asks and answers an objective question about an individual, and is not a blanket judgment against gun owners. But waiting periods are premised on the idea that only an enraged or terrified crazy would want to buy a gun, and if we let them cool off, maybe they’ll change their minds and make the only sane choice and not get a gun. Waiting periods are meant to paint gun owners as bad guys, and that’s how they’re taking it.  (Disclosure: I don’t own a gun and am not planning on getting one. I’ve got some scary kitchen knives, though, so watch out!)

Queen Mothers Are Not to be Trifled With

Just finished Tarn’s short classic biography of Alexander the Great. One person who pops off the page is Olympias, Alex’s mum. She may or may not have murdered her son’s way to the top, including killing her husband, but that theory is in play. She certainly arranged to have some competitors bumped off once Alexander ascended to his late father’s throne. Olympias

Only problem was that Alexander, though a devoted and dutiful son, saw the political downside in his mother’s impetuous brutality, and so left her in the charge of Antipater, a trusted general, when he set off to Persia. Antipater also had to watch over all of Greece, but Tarn makes it sound like keeping a lid on Olympias was the tougher job.

This brought to mind Solomon’s mother Bathsheba. Now, on the surface she seems rather a victim or at least a passive part of David’s and Solomon’s reigns, but she may have been far more involved in palace intrigue than is immediately apparent. (I’ve wondered, myself, about a woman who would bathe in clear view of the royal apartments, especially if you’ve got the goods, womanly speaking. Might you have some little plan in mind?)  There’s the curious incident with Adonijah,  the eldest son of David and his presumed heir. Bathsheba and Nathan pitch the dying David hard to declare Solomon king, and get their way – Adonijah, who was probably familiar with the actuarial tables under the heading  ‘princes with solid claims to the throne who lose out to a competitor’, fled for his life. Solomon, as least as reported in the Bible, was willing to forgive Adonijah with the caveat that he behave himself.

But he doesn’t, and Bathsheba is in the middle of it.  At least one of the players in what happened next is not playing it straight, and all the fingers point at Bathsheba. For, Adonijah next move after Solomon forgave him was to ask *Bathsheba* to ask her son to give him the young and beautiful – and still virgin – Abishag the Shunammite, a concubine given to the dying David to keep him warm.

BathshebaNow, hold on – Adonijah, familiar as he was with the ways of kings and what tended to happen to kingly competitors, would have had to have been completely insane or stupid to do this: first, claiming any part of the king’s harem is claiming to be king, which is just asking to be executed; second, getting Bathsheba involved is asking the ranking woman in the kingdom, whose rank depends on her son being king, to do something that threatens her son. Plus, as she was key in getting Adonijah passed over, might her life expectancy be short if Adonijah actually took over? Isn’t she much more likely to try to get him killed rather than to help him out? How about getting him killed *by* appearing to help him out?

Might, instead, have Bathsheba cooked up this whole ‘Adonijah wants to marry Abishag’ thing on her own? Might she have been very off put and threatened by Solomon’s pardoning of Adonijah? Might she not just walk up to the king and plead for poor Adonijah’s to get this one little token? Just one concubine, Solomon wouldn’t even miss her, and it would make Adonijah so happy! And as Solomon’s ire rises, just say that she’s asking as a favor to Adonijah, the poor boy,  who had sheepishly asked her to ask the king.

Adonijah would have been made dead in minutes.  And, in fact, he died minutes later. I think that, a half hour later, after Solomon thought it through, he might have wished for an Antipater of his own.

Next up is Brunhilda. Not the minor Norse deity, but the 6th century Visigoth princess and queen. Details.  The thing I love about this queen is that, to the Franks, a Visigoth princess was this sophisticated upscale item to add to one’s harem – but it turns out that a) being part of a harem isn’t in the Visigoth princess playbook; and b) you got yourself a tiger by the tail, there, Sigebert. Brunhilda

Brunhilda didn’t fully flower until she became the Queen Mother (and Queen Grandmother, and whatever else it took to hold power). While Queen, she merely started a war of revenge on Sigebert’s brother Chilperic, who had murdered her exasperating sister Galswintha who didn’t like being one among Chilperic’s concubines and prostitutes. Chilperic favorite concubine Fredegund conspired in the murder, and ended up queen – imagine that.

No, it was Brunhilda’s post Sigebert reign as regent for various sons, grandsons and strays that earned her the fear and loathing of most of the Franks.  She was not shy about cracking heads. And she was *better* than the Franks, a high-class lady! At least in theory.

Let’s conclude this random survey with THE Queen Mother. Getting back to Israel and harem-based kings in general, it should be clear that, practically, it is difficult and dangerous (see: Galswintha above) to make a queen – the ranking woman of the kingdom – from out of what is really a typing pool of concubines. BUT – there’s only one Queen Mother, and she’s not competing for the King’s affection, at least not in the same way, as the members of his harem. So, it is not surprising that the Queen Mother is the queen as we understand it for most of the world through most of history.

Therefore, when Elisabeth addresses Mary as “the Mother of my Lord”, she is calling her the Queen, the ranking woman in the kingdom, in terms transparent and certain to the Jews and most everybody else. As an elder relative, Elisabeth would normally receive deference from Mary – yet, a teenage mother who conceived out of wedlock  accepts this outrageous greeting, and then gives the glory to God, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Mary is the Queen of a Kingdom pronounced by its King to be not of this world. She is the Queen of Heaven.

An Open Letter to Bill Nye the Science Guy

(Started this when that video first made the rounds, got sidetracked, and, well, here it is:)

Dear Mr. Nye,

I’ve just reviewed your recent YouTube video on creationism, and, while I suppose I could be said to ‘believe’ in evolution – that’s the rather odd word you use – and certainly don’t teach my children creationism in lieu of the theory of Natural Selection, I found your complaints and recommendations peculiar and unconvincing. Ultimately, if science isn’t being learned, shouldn’t the finger be pointed rather at those who are paid to teach it, than at those who have been victims of those teachers’ evident incompetence? What is it that you and all those science educators have been doing wrong all these years that has resulted in so few people understanding what science is and why its claims are convincing?

Here’s an overview of the problems at a high, non-technical level. A the core is that word ‘believe’. One of the great appeals of science is a sort of built-in humility – the hopes, dreams and egos of scientists are constrained, somewhat, by the physical evidence – and the hopes, dreams and egos of their fellow scientists. All scientific propositions must be laid out in public for anyone who wants to to review and challenge. Only those theories which undergo and survive this process are accepted, and then only with a big caveat: this is the best we’ve got, given the information available. We could be wrong, but until some further evidence that just doesn’t fit our understanding comes along, we’re going with what we’ve got.

We call these bits of understanding ‘theories’.  One area where science educators have clearly failed is making clear that a scientific theory is far removed from mere speculation. To be scientific, a theory must account for the facts and be in harmony with the natural laws deduced from those facts. Moreover, a theory must be beaten up, must face and triumph over an army of critics who attempt to array an army of facts against the facts and laws  the theory is supposed to explain. Only then, after having successfully run the gauntlet, does a theory become accepted science.  And the battle can be started anew whenever new data becomes available or some new insight into the data is proposed. This battle-testing can and often does go on for years. Sometimes, it is inconclusive – but we keep trying.

Described in this way, science is one of the great, grand adventures of humanity, and very appealing. And – here’s the critical piece – limited. Science does not and cannot provide a theory of everything, because not everything important can be made to provide scientific data. Love, beauty, truth, freedom, equality, meaning – these are core ideas for us humans that are not even in theory accessible to the methods of science – they cannot be observed, measured, arrayed in tables. Slightly more subtly, the scientific approach assumes a whole bunch of these ideas. Scientists who attempt to apply their methods to philosophical truths are quickly exposed as unsophisticated rubes, as clueless in their own way as the most dogmatic creationist.

For decades now, science educators, most outstandingly your model Carl Sagan, have visibly chaffed at and rejected these obvious and historically recognized limitations. And that’s a big part of the problem. Because they – you, too, evidently – recognize no distinction between all things of interest and things that can be properly approached scientifically, you feel free to use words in the context of science that are properly reserved for those other realms. By asking people to ‘believe’ in science, you misstate the claims of science.

Which brings us to the next issue: I’d guess some single-digit percentage of Americans understand this – that science is the process of weighing the evidence under very well-defined rules and developing laws and theories that are useful, and giving our contingent assent to the best, most useful theories unless and until some new evidence overturns it. Right, Bill? Using the language of faith – does one *believe* in evolution” – moves us out of the realm of science altogether.

Unfortunately, for 90%+ of Americans, believe is the right word – because members of your profession – here I’m granting that science education is a profession of yours – have consistently, for decades, failed miserably to educate anyone in science! How can this be? Millions and millions are routinely spent trying to beat a little science into people, yet, as your video and, more importantly, your language reveal – it hasn’t worked. In any normal profession, you all would be sued for malpractice.

Rather than manning up and taking the blame for the mess you and yours have made of science education, you blame the victims. And then cite as one of your influences one of the absolute worse perpetrators of ‘faith’ in lieu of science – Carl Sagan. His much praised ‘Cosmos’ series was an unending effort to ‘gee wiz’ us rubes into having faith in science. Rather than give us any insight into the messy, awkward and fascinating world of real scientists and real science, we get sermon after colorful, primitively animated sermon on how we peons should gratefully submit to our betters, and swap out the old mysticism that sometimes asks awkward questions about what scientists are really up to for the new mysticism that meekly submits to the likes of Carl.

Creationists correctly sense this, and are correctly offended, even when they are muddle-headed about the science – as muddle-headed as you, when you describe science in terms of faith.

(BTW, Bill – love the lab coat. Really gives the extra weight of Science! to whatever you say. Too bad you’re not actually, you know, a scientist.)