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Revisited

Evolution and Ethics, Revisited by Gertrude Himmelfarb.

They persuade the world of what is false by urging upon it what is true.” That is John Henry Newman in The Idea of a University (1852) referring to the sciences of his day, which threatened to dominate and even overwhelm theological education in the university. A science’s teaching might be true in its proper place but fallacious “if it be constituted the sole exponent of all things in heaven and earth, and that, for the simple reason that it is encroaching on territory not its own, and undertaking problems which it has no instruments to solve.”

While Newman’s notion of science was far broader than ours, including even painting and music, his description of the overreach of science is still apt. We now have a term — “scientism” — for that fallacy, exemplified, as has been demonstrated in these pages, by Richard Dawkins’s pronouncement that genes “created us, body and mind,” and Edward O. Wilson’s claim that biology is the “basis of all social behavior.” If scientism has become so prevalent, it is partly because of the emergence of new sciences, each encroaching, as Newman said, on “territory not its own” (invading, we would now say, the turf of others), and each professing to comprehend (in both senses of that word) the whole. Intended as an epithet, the term has been adopted as an honorific by some of its practitioners. A chapter in the book Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized (2007) by three philosophers is entitled “In Defense of Scientism.”

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Teach

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: What Plato Can Teach Us by Jonathan Derbyshire.

Anyone who’s done an undergraduate degree in philosophy will have been made to read the great philosophers of the past—the 16th and 17th-century rationalists and empiricists, certainly, probably some Kant, and in all likelihood Plato and Aristotle as well. For decades, particularly in the anglophone world, students were encouraged to treat such monuments of the western tradition as Plato’s Republic or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason not as relics to be venerated but rather as if they’d been published in the most recent issue of a scholarly journal such as Mind. It’s the arguments in these books that matter, so the thinking went, and if these turned out to be deficient when judged against the most rigorous contemporary standards, then so much the worse for Plato or Kant. That great swathes of the Republic or the first Critique survive this kind of treatment is presumably a sign of greatness.

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Cowardice

Intellectual Cowardice by Chris Walsh.

“Are you afraid to finish your book?” My colleague was in the habit of needling his fellow scholars with this question. It struck particularly deep with me, because my book was about being afraid – or rather, it was about being excessively afraid and therefore failing to do what you should do. It was about cowardice.

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Speed

Speed Kills by Mark C. Taylor.

“Sleeker. Faster. More Intuitive” (The New York Times); “Welcome to a world where speed is everything” (Verizon FiOS); “Speed is God, and time is the devil” (chief of Hitachi’s portable-computer division). In “real” time, life speeds up until time itself seems to disappear—fast is never fast enough, everything has to be done now, instantly. To pause, delay, stop, slow down is to miss an opportunity and to give an edge to a competitor. Speed has become the measure of success—faster chips, faster computers, faster networks, faster connectivity, faster news, faster communications, faster transactions, faster deals, faster delivery, faster product cycles, faster brains, faster kids. Why are we so obsessed with speed, and why can’t we break its spell?

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Isolation?

Conservatives, America, and Natural Law by Samuel Gregg.

For conservatives, a retreat into self-imposed isolation isn’t a responsible option. We need more conservatives publicly witnessing that humans are wired to know and freely choose truth, and that this has implications for the political order.

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Lost

How Conservatives Lost Heaven by Mark Judge.

If I had the chance at an elevator pitch with a rich conservative, say Rupert Murdoch or the Koch brothers, I would beg, plead, and cajole for one thing: a well-funded Conservative Chair in Popular Culture.

I’m thinking of a position helmed by a thinker who can contribute substantive thought and lengthy essays about American popular culture. Topics wouldn’t have to just be blockbuster superhero movies or silliness at the MTV awards; the scholar could delve into jazz, old movies, crime fiction, experimental music, whatever. Greil Marcus by way of Robert George.

A Conservative Chair in Popular Culture would address the left’s control of popular culture, but could do so in a way that was not reactive. By acknowledging that the battle for culture is a long one and that pop culture speaks to the deepest values and longings of people, a conservative focus on films, novels, comic books, and music could do what plain old conservatism has not been able to: change hearts and minds.

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Portrait

The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson by Henry Wiencek.

A new portrait of the founding father challenges the long-held perception of Thomas Jefferson as a benevolent slaveholder.

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Modern

Victoria Kahn reviews Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge by Thomas Pfau.

Related: You can download an excerpt here.

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Differences

How John Adams Helps Explain The American Mind by Richard Samuelson.

The dispute between John Adams and Edmund Burke can illuminate today’s differences between American and European conservatives.

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Government

Good Government, Bad Government by Francis Fukuyama.

Why did the euro crisis start in Greece, which couldn’t control its public spending during the boom years prior to 2010, while Germany was able to maintain budget discipline? Careful comparative study of the dynamics of state building and public-sector modernization shows that while some developed countries (defined as those beyond a standard threshold of per capita income) managed to enter the 21st century with reasonably effective and uncorrupt governments, others continue to be plagued by clientelism, corruption, poor performance, and low levels of trust both in government and in society more broadly. If we can explain this variance, it may provide some insight regarding strategies that contemporary developing countries might use to deal with problems of corruption and patronage today.

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Rebirth

The Rebirth of Tijuana by Sam Quinones.

Tijuana is not pretty. A city of 1.3 million people, it is chaotic, grimy, unplanned, loud, and it smells bad. It possesses none of the colonial architecture or history of Morelia, Oaxaca City or Zacatecas, across Mexico’s interior. On the contrary, most of its neighborhoods, stacked across alarmingly steep hills, are less than 40 years old.

But Tijuana’s beauty lies deeper, and has to do with why the town is flourishing now.

More at the NYT.

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Sermons

Retirement Home Christianity by Richard J. Mouw.

When, back in the mid-1980s, I told a retired Calvin College colleague that I was moving to Fuller Seminary, he responded: “I hope you will make a case there for more appropriate sermons preached at retirement communities!” He went on to explain: “Last week at the weekly worship service sponsored by our community, a visiting preacher warned us against a modalist conception of the Trinity, while also urging us to avoid tri-theism. But that was not as bad as the week before, when a seminarian—addressing a congregation where at least a dozen of us were sitting in wheelchairs—exhorted us to stand up for Christ in an increasingly secular society!

I have often wished since then that I had asked him about what he would consider to be a good sermon for that kind of community. But as I get closer to his age I think I could come up with some helpful answers of my own. Many of us have been giving considerable attention in recent decades to the importance of cultural context: you can’t preach exactly the same sermon in a suburban Omaha church as you would to a congregation in rural Thailand. But that kind of emphasis has to do with “macro-“ cultural factors. There is also the “context” of different stages of an individual life. What I found exciting and helpful about Christianity in my twenties differs significantly from my present life as a septuagenarian.

More at FT.

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Operative

New Ebola Czar Ron Klain Is A Long-Time Lobbyist, Democratic Operative by Sean Davis.

Earlier today, President Barack Obama announced that he would be appointing Ron Klain as an additional Ebola czar (he already had one before today). If Ron Klain sounds familiar to you, it’s because he has a long political pedigree. He has no medical, scientific, or federal agency administrative expertise, but he has a whole lot of political experience.

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Related: Who Do They Think We Are? by Peggy Noonan.

The administration’s handling of the Ebola crisis continues to be marked by double talk, runaround and gobbledygook. And its logic is worse than its language. In many of its actions, especially its public pronouncements, the government is functioning not as a soother of public anxiety but the cause of it.

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Tips

5 Tips for Making Relationships Last by Robert Taibbi.

So what’s the secret to keeping a relationship going for the long term? There’s plenty of research out on this both from professionals and those who have mastered the art of relationships.

More at PT.

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Broken

The Western Model is Broken by Pankaj Mishra.

The west has lost the power to shape the world in its own image – as recent events, from Ukraine to Iraq, make all too clear. So why does it still preach the pernicious myth that every society must evolve along western lines?

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Visionary

Angelo M. Codevilla reviews John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan.

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Looting

ISIS’s Looting Campaign by David Kohn.

For the past eighteen months, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Katharyn Hanson has been spending a lot of time analyzing satellite images from Iraq and Syria. As fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) overrun the region, they have been digging up many archaeological sites and looting whatever they find. “You get these sites that look like Swiss cheese, with all the holes,” Hanson said. “It’s just pockmarked.”

Thousands of vital archaeological sites—remains from Bronze and Iron Age settlements as well as from Islamic, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations—are now at risk. Humans built the first cities in the region, and some spots have been continuously occupied for more than six thousand years. “It’s a cliché, but it’s true. This is the cradle of civilization,” the director of research at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Brian Daniels, told me.

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Ambassador

Meet Chad Connelly, the Republican Party’s Faith Ambassador by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux.

The GOP Faith initiative, a nine-person team led by Connelly, was born out of the Republican introspection that followed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential defeat. The exit polls painted a bleak picture for Republican strategists: Barack Obama won thanks to a young and diverse coalition, while Romney’s supporters were older and far more racially homogenous. A 2013 RNC report dedicated to revamping the GOP’s strategy warned that Republicans “have comfortably remained the party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next.” The bulk of its recommendations had to do with engaging voters of color, low-income voters, young voters, and women. Yet in the report, religious voters’ concerns were barely a footnote. The idea of an outreach director for religious groups within the Republican Party appeared almost in passing, on page 79 of the 100-page document.

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Strategy

Pope Francis’ Machiavellian Strategy to Liberalize the Catholic Church by Damon Linker.

Maybe you can help me. I’m confused.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares as a matter of binding doctrine that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity,” “contrary to the natural law,” and “intrinsically” as well as “objectively disordered.” “Under no circumstances” can those acts “be approved.” Although people who feel same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are called by the church to take up “the Lord’s cross” and embrace a life of “chastity” through “self-mastery” of their desires. That is the only way for them to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

That sounds pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you say?

Now let’s look at Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times, which contains an above-the-fold front-page story about a 12-page document released on Monday by the synod on marriage and the family that Pope Francis has convened at the Vatican. In the second paragraph of the story, we are informed (quite accurately) that the document “does not change church doctrine or teaching.” And yet the story also states (in the third paragraph) that the document is “the first signal that the institutional church may follow the direction Francis has set in the first 18 months of his papacy, away from condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness, and mercy.”

And indeed, the document does say some nice things about homosexual relationships, but also about “cohabitation” among heterosexual couples. If you’re a noncelibate gay Catholic, or a Catholic who’s divorced and remarried and so technically excluded from receiving the sacrament of Communion at Mass, these words no doubt come as a comfort.

But how significant are they? The answer to that question depends in large part on what the pope has in mind. And that’s where I become confused.

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Burke II

How Did Thomas Paine Go From Revolutionary To Welfare Statist? by Charles Kesler.

Part 2 of an interview with Yuval Levin.

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