Sunday, February 26, 2012

Alan Dershowitz on International Law and Preemptive Strikes

In my discussion with Joshua, the question of what international law has to say regarding preemptive strikes has come up:   When, if ever, should they be allowed?  According to Alan Dershowitz , who wrote in 2004,  "Current international law is woefully inadequate for the task of preventing the deployment of weapons of mass destruction." But I'll quote him at length:

 "Intelligence reports about Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons aimed at Israel are becoming ominous. Unless diplomatic pressure causes the Iranian mullahs to stop the project, Iran may be ready to deliver nuclear bombs against Israeli civilian targets within a few short years. Some Iranian leaders, such as former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, have made it clear that this is precisely what they intend to do. Killing 5 million Jews would be worth losing 15 million Iranians in a retaliatory Israeli strike, according to Rafsanjani’s calculations.

"No democracy can wait until such a threat against its civilian population is imminent. Israel has the right, under international law, to protect its civilians from a nuclear holocaust, and that right must include pre-emptive military action of the sort taken by Israel against the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 — which resulted in only one death.

"Thousands of lives — Israeli, American and Kurd — were almost certainly spared by Israel’s pro-active strike. Imagine what danger American troops would have faced during the first Gulf War if the Iraqi military had developed nuclear weapons. Still, Israel was unanimously condemned by the United Nations Security Council, with the United States joining in the condemnation. Today, most reasonable people look to Israel’s surgical attack against the Osirak nuclear reactor as the paradigm of proportional pre-emption, despite the Security Council’s condemnation. (Many forget that Iran actually attacked the Iraqi reactor before Israel did, but failed to destroy it.)

"Current international law is woefully inadequate for the task of preventing the deployment of weapons of mass destruction. It requires that the threat be immediate, as it was when Israel pre-empted an imminent coordinated attack by Egypt and Syria in 1967.

"But the threat posed by the future development of nuclear weapons does not fit this anachronistic criterion. It is the nature of the threat — the potential for mass casualties and an irreversible shift in the balance of power — that justifies the use of preventive self-defense with regard to the Iranian threat. International law must be amended to reflect this reality, but it is unlikely that any such changes will take place if it is seen as benefiting Israel.

"Although military pre-emption has gotten a bad name among some following the attack on Iraq, it must remain an option in situations where deterrence is unrealistic and the threat is sufficiently serious."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

James Shapiro Responds to Coyne

James Shapiro responded to Jerry Coyne's criticisms, which Coyne put in the combox, instead of starting another thread, which would have been the polite thing to do. So I didn't realize that Shapiro had responded until just a few minutes ago.

 There's an interesting discussion in the combox afterwards.  I made a few observations from it:

1)  There is some agreement that environmental stress can cause an organism to increase mutation frequency to its genome, in order to solve the crisis.

2)  However, are the mutations just random attempts to solve the crisis, like a blind man trying to find his way out of a maze, or does the organism somehow "know" which mutations are more likely to solve the problem?

3)  Either way, it still leaves in place Darwin's claim that natural selection decides which variations survive.

4)  Why isn't anyone talking about (genetic) drift as an alternative to natural selection?  That, it seems to me, is the real challenge to Darwin's claim about natural selection.

Let me add a fifth point:

5)  What mechanisms cause organisms to increase their mutation rates?  Have these mechanisms  been acquired through evolution?  Or were they part of the original cells?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Game-Changer?

Could this be a Game-Changer?:

Last year, Houston-based Noble Energy discovered vast tracts of natural gas off the coast of Israel and Cyprus. It had been exploring for 13 years. So far, the find has been a bonanza, especially for energy poor Israel. Noble has found 35 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. By September, this offshore find could yield as much as 100 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I was Green before Global Warming was Cool

I grew up in the 60s, when the environmental movement was getting started.  There was no talk of global warming, then.  Just people wanting to breathe clean air and drink clean water.  We wanted alternative sources of energy because the by-products of oil and coal were thought to be potentially hazardous to our health.  And then came the Yom Kippur War in '73, followed by the OPEC embargo, and the price of gas shot up -- to 65 cents per gallon!  So then it made even more sense to find alternative sources of energy, so we weren't dependent upon Middle Eastern oil.

So when people started talking about needing to go green because of global warming (I think that started in the 80s), I thought, "Uh...okay, I guess that's another good reason to go green."

So I look at people screaming and yelling at each other about global warming and I shrug my shoulders and wonder what all the fighting is about.  Don't we want to go green, anyway, regardless of global warming?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Apologies to Cousin Jerry

I accused Jerry Coyne of only attacking Lynn Margulis after she died. As Troy pointed out, this was incorrect, as for example this article reveals. My apologies to cousin Jerry.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coyne on James Shapiro

Jerry Coyne offers a review of an article by his colleague, James Shapiro (Coyne didn't bother to read Shapiro's book). At least this time cousin Jerry didn't wait until his fellow biologist died before attacking him, as he did with Lynn Maruglis. I'll be interested in seeing whether Shapiro responds.

Friday, February 17, 2012

People Banned from UD are Welcome Here

Uncommondescent has established a shiboleth for commenters: They must answer the question, "Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?" And the only answer that will be accepted is "No." I read the first answer by the ID critic, Petrushka:

"I accept the definitional foundation of logic.
I also accept the findings of physics which make the concept of physical existence rather complicated. That just means that physical is not the same as the ideal, just as a physical circle is not an ideal circle.
I thought this was something generally agreed upon. I thought it was the foundation of Plato’s thought.
But to answer the specific question, in formal logic, the moon cannot both exist and not exist.
The question faced by physics is somewhat different."

That sounded like a fairly reasonable answer to me.  However, the moderator didn't see it that way, and Petrushka was banned.  So I thought I would extend an invitation to Petrushka and all other commenters who have been banned from UD:  You're welcome to comment here.

By the way, if you don't find my posts interesting enough to comment on, feel free to recommend another topic.  If I find it interesting, I'll post something, and then you can comment on it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Elliot Sober has left me Confused.

Jason Rosenhouse quotes from  Elliot Sober on the question of whether Darwinian evolution could be consistent with God causing some of the genetic mutations:

"Suppose we're going to examine gambles made on the outcome of coin tossing, and we want to know whether coins land heads more often when gamblers bet on tails. So let's do the experiment, go to a casino, watch people make bets, and get the frequencies of heads and tails. We will discover, of course, that what's good for the gambler has no causal relevance to how the coin behaves. It's wishful thinking to think that the coin is going to land heads more often just because you bet on heads, just because it would be good for you. And that's how mutations are according to our understanding of mutation. Whether a mutation occurs or does not occur is not affected by whether it would be good for the organism.

 Go back to the coins. Suppose someone said, “Okay, you just got all the frequency data on heads and tails in your experiment. How do you know that on toss 342 God didn't intervene and ensure that it would land heads?' I think maybe you could have a reason for thinking that's wrong, but the frequency data you obtained in your experiment is not that reason. Frequency data do not tell you anything about the causes of individual coin tosses, so it's consistent with your perfectly reasonable view about coin tosses not being influenced by what would be good for gamblers, to think that occasionally in the history of coin tossing God reaches into the world and biases the coin. Not that it's true, but it's consistent with what you know.

 It would be pretty remarkable if the experiments that biologists do on mutations would tell us whether divine intervention occurs. That's not what science is about. It's not about trying to test things like that. The theory of evolution is a probabilistic theory. It does not tell you what causes each and every thing that happens. Maybe there are hidden variables. Maybe some events happen for special reasons that are not described by the theory. The theory just doesn't say anything about that. I see no reason to believe in these hidden variables -- that's me the philosopher talking -- but the science understood correctly is silent on whether there are such hidden causes."

Now I'm confused.  At the end of the first paragraph Sober says, "Whether a mutation occurs or does not occur is not affected by whether it would be good for the organism.  In the second paragraph Sober says that God occasionally biasing a coin toss (mutation).  What I'm wondering is,  if God biased the mutation for the good of the organism, would this be inconsistent with "our understanding of mutation"?  If so, then it seems that all Sober is saying is that God could cause the mutations, but not for the benefit of the organism.  If that's the case, then it's not clear that this would be sufficient for Plantinga's "guided evolution."  If not, then I think the philosophical/theological objection to Darwinian evolution still stands.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Iranian Threats against Israel

Jeffrey Goldberg has listed a number of times that officials in the Iranian government have called for the destruction of Israel or of the Jewish People here:

July, 2006: "Nations in the region will be more furious every day. It won't take long before the wrath of the people turns into a terrible explosion that will wipe the Zionist entity off the map...The basic problem in the Islamic world is the existence of the Zionist regime, and the Islamic world and the region must mobilize to remove this problem. It is a usurper that our enemies made and imposed on the Muslim world, a regime that prevented the progress of the region's nations, a regime that all Muslims must join hands in isolating worldwide."

October, 2006: "This regime (Israel) will be gone, definitely..."You (the Western powers) should know that any government that stands by the Zionist regime from now on will not see any result but the hatred of the people...The wrath of the region's people is boiling... You should not complain that we did not give a warning. We are saying this explicitly now..."

January, 2008: "I advise you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity which has reached the end of the line... It has lost its reason to be and will sooner or later fall. The ones who still support the criminal Zionists should know that the occupiers' days are numbered." 

February, 2008: "World powers have created a black and dirty microbe named the Zionist regime and have unleashed it like a savage animal on the nations of the region.

There is another argument floating across the Internets, that Ahmadinejad's words don't matter, that he is not the one in charge of the nuclear program, and that his anti-Semitism is far more extreme than that of other regime leaders.  Well, here is the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking a couple of days ago:  'The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that should be removed and will be removed, God willing.'

Of course, a few of you may be thinking, 'Well, words are words.  It's not like Iran is parading Shahab-3 missiles down the streets of Tehran with banners and posters talking about the destruction of Israel, right?'

The banner on this missile says: 'Israel must be uprooted and erased from history.'

This banner even included a translation: