John Derbyshire reports from Talladega. It was his first NASCAR race, and he provides a description with all the insight of a genuine newcomer. My favorite line comes from the part describing the appeal of the sport, which is in rooting for favorite drivers, he says:

A few [drivers] are widely disliked. Kurt Busch, a fast-rising young star known for . . . unorthodox driving tactics, is a villain to traditionalists, and to the kind of Southerner who believes in maintaining the exquisite manners of the region even when you are trying to kill someone.
Ah, yes. That kind of Southerner. It's a description that seems somewhat familiar to me, although I can't think just why.
The Raving Atheist:

The Raving Atheist has decided to break lances with me over this post. I've promised him a reply, and I am a man of my word. It will be a bit lengthy.

The Easy Stuff First:

First, RA suggests I "didn't get" his point, which was that if Forn Sidr should spread into the USA, "American schools might soon be compelled to 'respect' ridiculous gods such as Thor and Odin in the same way that they now respect the ridiculous Christian god �- they would no longer be able to disparage the Norse deities as 'mythical.'" I did get the point, but did not bother to reply to it, since it is wrong on the facts:

1) "Forn Sidr" does exist in the United States, and has for about thirty years. It's recognized, under a variety of names, by the US military--you can find the chaplain's reference guide here. So, in fact, it's been around for quite a while, and no such troubles as RA forsees have erupted. I might have spent more time explaining this point, if I had expected to draw an audience who was unaware of heathenry.
2) Furthermore, as I did point out, I recall from my own schooling that the Christian Bible was taught as "literature," or as a source in history that could be questioned and analyzed as other sources. In those classes, the "Christian creation myth" was in fact discussed, using exactly that term--except that it was not "myth" but "myths," as there are two of them in Genesis. Analysis included an examination of why these two myths were probably not written in the order presented, and why the first one in particular was probably the work of a formal priestly class rather than a single author (such as Moses). Now, I went to school in the great state of Georgia, way down South in the Bible Belt. If Georgia can handle doing it that way, I think RA's complaints against the system may be a bit overheated.

Second: there is not in fact a constitutional right to avoid being disparaged. RA demonstrates this fairly clearly by carrying on as he does every day. No one has yet arrested--nor even sued him, so far as I know. The First Amendment protects my right to believe as I wish, but also his right to call me "crazy," which he does a bit later on down the blog. (A tip: if you are going to cite logic as the core of your belief system, it is a good idea to avoid the better known informal fallacies, e.g., ad hominem).

Third: I hardly suppose that "all religions are equally true." I do assert that Atheism is false. We'll get to that momently.

What I assert on the question of the truth of religion is this: excepting Atheism, it is not possible to say with certainty that any religion is false. That does not mean that they are all true; in fact, it does not mean that any of them are true. It means, only, that so long as the believer behaves himself honorably and doesn't cite his beliefs as a good reason for attacking me, my family, or my country, I'm glad to extend him the benefit of the doubt. If he does cite his beliefs as a reason for attacking us, I am glad to extend him the benefit of a burial according to the tenets of his faith.

With the easy stuff out of the way, we'll carry on to the harder stuff.

Forn Sidr:

Since it was Forn Sidr that was the inspiration for his original post, we'll start with that. RA links to his "proof of Atheism." I'll quote the first point in full, since the argument hinges on it:

First, there is no God. In fact, all definitions of the word �God� are either self-contradictory, incoherent, meaningless or refuted by empirical, scientific evidence. Although the nature of the disproof will necessarily vary with the god under review, I will usually be raving against the modern monotheistic (or triune) Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, having (in various permutations) the characteristics of being, conscious, all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), all-good (omnibenevolent), immaterial, transcendent. immutable, immortal, infinite, omnipresent, disembodied and eternal.

Such a god is as much a contradiction in terms as a square circle, and thus logically impossible, for numerous reasons including the following:
1) Omnipotence is impossible because God would, at a minimum, be unable to limit his powers, e.g., make a stone he cannot lift; if he could make such a stone, then his inability to lift it would defeat his omnipotence;
2) God's omnipotence conflicts with his omniscience, because if God knows everything that is going to happen in advance, he cannot do anything in the present; he must simply watch the future unfold as previously foreseen, because changing anything would falsify his prior belief concerning the future;
3) God's omnipotence precludes him from having knowledge of any sensations or emotions associated with weakness, e.g., fear, frustration, despair, sickness, etc., and thus conflicts with him omniscience;
4) God's omniscience precludes him from having knowledge of any emotions associated with surprise or anticipation, and thus conflicts with itself;
5) God's omniscience conflicts with his disembodiedness, since a being without a body could not know how to drive, swim, or perform any activity associated with having a body;
6) God's omniscience conflicts with his omnibenevolence, since a morally perfect god could not have knowledge of feelings of hate, lust, or envy, or cruelty, etc.
7) God's omniscience and omnipotence conflict with his omnibenevolence, since a god who could prevent evil would do so unless he were unable to do so or unaware of the evil.

The gods of Forn Sidr--the Aesir and the Vanir--actually take part in none of the categories RA finds demonstrably impossible. None of them are all powerful, all knowing, all good (some of them, in fact, aren't particularly good at all), immutable, immortal, infinite, ominpresent, or eternal. They may be transcendent, depending on what you meant by the word; and as to whether or not they are immaterial or disembodied, that is I gather the subject of some debate.

Regardless, the various "omni-" aspects, on which the "proof" relies, simply aren't a problem for Forn Sidr. They make no claims to those properties. This "proof" that they do not exist doesn't touch on them at all.

Yet RA's original post on the subject said that this was "the one form of theology that can safely be declared false." Now, I understand RA himself is prepared to declare all forms of theology false. Still, it's interesting that he's chosen to pick on one that is not touched by his arguments.

On Atheism Generally:

RA holds: "To disprove atheism, one would have to prove the existence of a particular God of a particular religion." That is not true, however. The claim that "you can't prove that God exists" belongs to the Agnostic, an honorable fellow with whom I have no quarrel. The Atheist's claim is that "We can prove God does not exist." I admit that I am not able to prove the existence of any god. However, I can prove that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of God.

Let's return to the claim that "god is as much a contradiction in terms as a square circle." Indeed. Here's the problem, though, lad: where can I find a square, or a circle?

This is not a flippant question. It touches on the limits of human knowledge. Both the square, and the circle, belong to the realm of mathematics. Mathematics only models the world. If you hand me a child's puzzle piece, and say that it is square, I'll point out that it is not, as it has three and not two dimensions. If you draw one on paper, it will still have depth (if you draw it with ink, which soaks into the paper) or height (if you draw it with a graphite pencil). Examine it closely, and you will find that its edges are not perfectly straight, as a the sides of a "square" must be. Draw a "line," if you will, and you'll append arrows to each end to show that it goes on forever--which it does, but only in theory.

The mathematical certainty you want to apply to the world applies only to the realm of math. In fact, it doesn't even apply there:

Thus, it came as a great surprise in the 1930's when it was formally proven that there exists an unlimited supply of math problems that fundamentally cannot be solved, whether by human or machine. Furthermore, it was shown that the very problem of determining if a math problem can be solved is undecidable.
Even in the realm of math, which is a wholly human creation, and deals exclusively with human concepts, certainty about the absolutes is not possible. Mathematics is a tool--it is, as I said above, a model. Its categories, though, do not accurately portray the world--they only model the world, simplifying it to keep the calculations manageable to human minds and such tools as we can build. Still the ultimate questions are beyond us, even in the simplified realm of math. Things become far more complicated when we pass beyond math into physics, biology, or history.

By the same token, it is not possible to prove the non-existence of God. Yes, it's true that "omnipotent" is a contradiction in terms. The terms, however, are human. They are limited, even as mathematical concepts are limited; and they break at the limits, even as our mathematical concepts prove finally unsolvable. Like mathematics, too, these concepts only attempt to model the world: they are not, in fact, the world. Not only are our concepts imperfect in themselves, but they are imperfect in their attempts at modelling reality. If you find that there are questions about the world you cannot answer, not even in theory, it is foolish to speak of proving that there is nothing beyond the edges of the universe. It is whistling past the graveyard.

The world is too big, and too strong, for us to hold it in our heads. Faced with that, there are no alternatives but three: to pretend it is not so, and that you can possess ultimate knowledge; to shriek in despair; or to bow your head with reverent awe. The first--Atheism falls here--is falseness and self-deception. The second is madness. The third alone allows proper respect for the power of the truth of the world, without destroying the man who recognizes it.

It is therefore the case that none of the religions of Men can be proven false, except Atheism, which has been.

No, You Asked For It:

So, a young lady has been suspended for a pseudo-lesbian highschool kiss:

Inspired by a high school assignment, Stephanie Haaser leaped onto a cafeteria table, shouted "End homophobia now!" and kissed classmate Katherine Pecore.
Not actually a lesbian, the girl in question was suspended for two days. The principal offers what is, at first glance, a reasonable explanation:
"It's highly inappropriate to stand on a table in the cafeteria and make out, whether the kiss was heterosexual or homosexual," said River Hill High School principal Scott Pfeifer. "I don't think there's a school in the country where parents would consider that appropriate behavior."
Right. No problem. Except...
Haaser, a junior, said she chose to make the statement as part of an English class assignment, which required that she engage in a nonconformist act in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Ah! I see! So, the school officially tasked teenagers with engaging in an act of rebellion. What brilliance! What an astonishing grasp of the teenage mind!

Sorry, bucko. You asked for this, and now you can reap the whirlwind. You're lucky this is the worst you got.

For Sovay:

I thought you'd like to see this other entry into the Last Words of Uday & Qusay contest. It's in the style of Dr. Seuss.

My favorite Seussian poem, though, will always be "Norse, Of Course."

Happy National Ammo Day!

Today's the day. Go out and pick up some ammo.

Any Stick:

Today, Mark Steyn defends America:

The fanatical Muslims despise America because it's all lapdancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it's controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too Godless, America is also too isolationist, except when it's too imperialist.
This echoes G. K. Chesterton, defending Christianity in the masterful sixth chapter of Orthodoxy:
One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, "the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands," hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool's paradise. . . .

I felt that a strong case against Christianity lay in the charge that there is something timid, monkish, and unmanly about all that is called "Christian," especially in its attitude towards resistance and fighting. . . . The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep. I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned up-side down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did.

It is well to love those, and defend them, who are beaten with every stick. At the least this practice exhibits the virtue of mercy; and, as no one is so bad that any stick is good enough to beat them, it is apt to exhibit the virtue of justice as well.

I'll vote with the Alliance this week.

Uday & Qusay Speak:

The last words of Saddam's sons:

Uday: "Good news! I just got off the phone with the Information minister! He says all the Americans have been routed from Iraq by a popular uprising! Mobs are roaming the street, chanting our names!"

Qusay: "Great! That must be them at the door, even now."

Credit for this really belongs to Sovay McKnight, who is much better at parodies than I am.

Who is John Derbyshire?

Why, a friend of mine, and a correspondant, bless him for the time he wastes on it. Certain persons who hate him have set up a page about the fellow. You may find a link to his own web page listed to the right, under "Admired Voices," on Grim's Hall.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that John has given an account of the reasons why the author of the above page hates his guts.

Gay Marriage! Today!

Well, 180 days from yesterday. You've probably heard that the Mass. State Supreme Court has construed a Constitutional right to gay marriage. I am astonished, as always I am when the court finds a constitutional right to something that has been illegal since long before the Founding--a capital crime, in this case, since long ago.

I have argued before that, as marriage as an institution predates the Federal Constitution and the various state constitutions, the power to alter its basic nature is one of the powers reserved to the people by the 9th and 10th amendments.

Since the judiciary has decided to take it upon itself to do so, I see nothing untoward about putting the question to the people. The amendment process it the proper one for assigning new powers to the state that have hitherto not belonged to it; or, if the state is arrogating powers it does not deserve, to clarify the limits.

I personally feel that, whether we decide to legalize or to ban gay marriage�I will abide the democratic process with only an idle eye, having no interest in gays either way�the constitutional amendment is the only legitimate way to do it. The power to alter marriage as an institution was never granted the state; and if it is to become a function of the state, it must be sought, and granted or denied, by the people.

Human Decency, II:

I send thanks to everyone who joined in contributing to the Lester Campbell self-defense fund. The pictures through that link show the old fellow getting his money order, which hopefully will help him out in days to come. It is not the state but the citizenry who have righted this wrong, just as it was the citizen--Mr. Campbell--and not the state who fought against the mugger.

This story has a mostly happy ending, but the neighborhood in which Mr. Campbell lives is not secure. The state will not, and apparently can not, fix that larger problem. It is imperative, then, for the good of the people, that men like Mr. Campbell be allowed to exercise their right to self defense. Those of you who have a voice in the elections of that legislature ought to join the effort to make that right unencumbered by burdensome regulation.

Human Decency Rights A Wrong:

Last week, we learned that an 89-year-old woman had her farm sold out from under her by the county to pay about $600 in back-taxes. The county sold her property, worth more than a million dollars, to a land developer for $15,000. Mrs. Shue was to be evicted at the age of almost ninety, and also robbed of about $984,000.

Today, we learn that the deal is off: the county will reimburse the land developer, and the widow gets to keep her farm. Whose work was this?

The developer's own, who gave back the land even before he learned that the county would repay him. I don't recall having ever said a kind thing about a land developer before, but this was an act of fine, human decency.

Conclusive Proof of EU's Evil:

It's too late to be forgiven. Nothing but the complete destruction of the EU bureaucracy will do.

"Oh my God! It's got Ralph! Shoot! Shoot!"

The ad copy says, "This is the perfect gift for rendezvous black-powder re-enactment enthusiasts."

Allow me to suggest: Maybe not.