Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Please State Your Name for the Record".

During trial this week, immediately after the clerk instructed the Petitioner (the other side) to state his name for the record, I heard deep breaths and loud sighs emanating from the witness stand. I looked up to see the witness's eyelids fluttering.

The witness was finally able to compose and identify himself.

Since the case involved Petitioner's allegation that a will was obtained through my client's "undue influence", his attorney (a former judge) asked him some foundational questions about his knowledge about the subject will.

In response, the Petitioner steadfastly denied any knowledge about the will. Visibly flustered by his numerous, fruitless attempts to get his client on track with his testimony, my worthy opponent finally asked, "Don't you remember the conversation we just had in the courthouse hallway about 15 minutes ago?" "Don't you remember what we talked about?" For a split-second, I thought about asserting the attorney-client privilege, but refrained since it was his client.

The court wasted no time in resolving the case. After each side rested, and made its closing arguments, the judge immediately ruled from the bench in favor of my client and awarded her attorneys' fees.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review: Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain by Michael Paterniti.

On a recent flight, I flipped through an airline magazine and found an article about road-trip books.

While road-trips and air travel represent different experiences, they both tap into the same wanderlust spirit.

Among the five or so books featured in the 2009 piece, Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain (2000) by Michael Paterniti piqued my interest. It was presented as a memoir about a road trip wherein Paterniti transported via car Einstein’s brain across the United States. For obvious reasons, many questions surfaced. Why was Einstein's brain not with the body? Why was it being transported? Why did Paterniti's traveling companion have the brain?

I also wondered how the cargo--the defunct brain--could drive the traveling story, occurring decades later.

I found my answers with Driving Mr. Albert, and discovered much more. The book was part biography, part travelogue, part autobiography, part philosophical ruminations, and part cultural commentary.

The author, Paterniti, also expresses surprise at how it turned out. "To be honest I thought the road trip would be a caper. That's what I imagined. And I thought the old doctor [Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey, who performed Einstein's 1955 autopsy and had the brain] would be entertaining. And yet desire is a tricky thing. It can transform a quick outing to the store for milk into a lifelong, shoeless quest through the Himalayas in search of enlightenment. It can put you on the road to Canterbury without your realizing it at first. And some version of that happened." (p. vii.)

Operating as a biography, the book delved into the lives of Einstein as well as Harvey, both of whom led colorful lives. Einstein has been quoted by both atheists and theists to support their views and Paterniti couldn't resist either, but he captures something for everyone in a single quote: "'Science without religion is lame...religion without science is blind.'" (p. 126.)

As a travelogue, the book covers stops ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. For examples, a tour of a Truman museum as well as a strange encounter with novelist William S. Burroughs spice the text. From chance exchanges with fellow travellers to a tour of a concrete "Garden of Eden" Paterniti does not disappoint in capturing the wildly unpredictable nature of road-tripping.

Working as an autobiography (with his philosophical ruminations), Paterniti records how the multifaceted experience stretched, challenged and strengthened him. An example of his thoughts and exquisite writing: "And the land--the way American keeps coming and coming in rich, if now fallow fields, stretching to the horizon, the way the awesome power of this endlessness is the key to some deep sense of freedom--begins to reimpose an ancient language of wind and silence. It's all so strangely beautiful and at the same time raises the ghost of some kind of melancholy, a thought that, though we belong to this country as much as this country belongs to us, we only move through its rooms as momentary visitors, projected our ideas on its walls, that the best we can do is live a good life, perhaps add a couple of replicas of ourselves, but then must hand it over, however temporarily again, to another generation..." (p. 60.)

Highly recommended.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul.

Unlike Matthew Chapman's 40 Days and 40 Nights (reviewed here on April 30, 2009), Edward Humes' 2007 book, Monkey Girl would resemble a mural depicting the sprawling case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, spanning around an arena.

By contrast, Chapman's would resemble a self-portrait--on an 8x10 glossy (due to Chapman's omnipresent bias and scant legal analysis).

A Pulitzer Prize recipient, Humes paints a much broader picture about the federal lawsuit seeking to halt an Intelligent Design ("ID") policy in a Pennsylvania school district, which was tried for six weeks in 2005. In fact, Humes spents about 200 pages setting the stage for the legal drama. Once he arrives at the lawsuit, he expertly delves into it. He provides some interesting tidbits, including the decision-making concerning whether or not to bring a temporary restraining order, how about half of the school district's experts were lost from testifying (e.g. one of ID's most prominent spokespersons, mathematician Dr. William Dembski), the ID policy and legal issues at play, crucial cross-examinations, and the trial judge's reasoning in his 139-page ruling.

Fully grasping the tension between science and law in Kitzmiller, Humes insightfully writes: "It is often said, with good cause, that a trial is a poor place to have a reasonable, informative debate about science, because the goal of a trial and the goal of science are so often at odds. Science, at least as it has been practiced for the last century or two, begins by assembling facts--the data--and then seeks an overarching theory to unify and explain those facts.... In the law, however, the process works in exactly the opposite direction. Each side of a legal dispute starts with a theory: 'The accused is guilty' versus 'My client is not guilty' (or 'Intelligent design is religion' versus 'No, it's science'). Once the opponents have settled on their mutually exclusive theories of the case, each side lines up the facts that support its own preferred version of reality. And each side studiously ignores, minimizes or attempts to disprove the facts that the belie its own theory of the case. One consequence of this time-honored approach is that, as a general rule, the courts don't do science very well." (p. 257; emphasis in original).

Humes mostly submerges his bias so the reader can derive a generally balanced understanding of the case and its backdrop. Humes however abandons any pretence of objectivity in his "Epilogue" (pp. 339-51) with some surprisingly charged rhetoric including an odd, lengthy and personal attack on Ann Coulter, who had nothing to do with the case, whom he curiously evicerated earlier (with no support). "[Dembski] has allied himself with the extremist right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, known for her vehement hate speech and her well-documented history of writing books riddled with factual errors." (p. 236.)

Humes pays a nice tribute to his editor, thanking her for her "excellent editing." (p. viii.) I'm not sure then who is responsible for this, but, without even trying, I found at least four glaring editing errors in this book published by an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. First, Humes inaccurately identifies Bill O'Reilly, who commented on the case, twice as a "Cable News Network" or "CNN" pundit. (pp. 211 and 224.) For example, "Within days after the lawsuit was filed, Bill O'Reilly, CNN's most popular and highest-paid pundit, dedicated a segment to the controversy in Dover." (p. 224.) This might be surprising to CNN, since O'Reilly is a FOX News fixture, and was at the time of Kitzmiller's filing, trial and decision.

Second, Humes erroneously refers to the author of The God Delusion (reviewed here July 13, 2008), as "Robert Dawkins". (p. 237.) Humes seems to know this is inaccurate, as he also refers to Dr. Dawkins as "Richard Dawkins" later in the same book. (p. 286.)

Third, a chapter begins, "Seven the [sic] of the nine board members faced challenges in the election...." (p. 248.) No further comment is necessary.

Accordingly, the adage about throwing stones from a glass house seems apropos.

In any event, Humes has written the definitive text to date about this important case, a modern-day Scopes trial, which as Humes astutely observes, is actually Scopes in reverse. Kitzmiller sought a ban of any teaching, explanation or challenge concerning the origin of life or the origin of species other than Darwinistic evolution from the Dover schools. Evolutionary purity is now the order of the day.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Praising the Good (An Occasional Series).

Regardless of one's philosophical or theological views, one has to be impressed with Dr. William Lane Craig's accomplishments. Whether it's the multiple doctorates, the voluminous writings, or the formidable debates (see, e.g., my immediately preceding post), Dr. Craig has achieved much. And he hasn't done it alone. He lauds his wife, Jan:

"And it was at Wheaton that my vision began to focus on presenting the gospel in the context of giving an intellectual defense of the faith, to appeal not only to the heart but also to the head, as well. And so I determined that I would go on to seminary for further training.

"But, my senior year, in chapel, we heard a speaker who challenged us, before going on to further education, to take a couple of years out, and to wring out the sponge, so to speak, that had been soaking up all that knowledge, and to work with university students while we were still about the same age.

"And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.

"And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.

"And it was also at that time [while working on his first master's degree] that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, '[L]ook! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!'

"And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, 'Yeah! Go for it!' And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

"As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

"So Jan said to me, 'Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?' I replied, 'If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.'

“'Who’s he?' she asked.

“'Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,' I explained. 'If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.'

"But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

"The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. 'I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,' she said. 'Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?'

"What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

"As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.
I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, 'Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?'

"I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. 'If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.'

“'Who’s he?'

“'Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,' I explained. 'If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.'

"Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

"I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.
And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages."


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan.

Grape-Nuts isn't either.

Like the cereal that doesn't literally live up to its name, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (moderated by William F. Buckley, Jr., edited by Paul Copan) is neither a debate nor a book in a literal sense.

Not A Debate

It isn't really a debate because while Dr. Craig seems anxious to engage in verbal combat, Dr. Crossan isn't. Dr. Craig employs traditional debating tactics, such as setting up contentions with support, and then chides Dr. Crossan for not rebutting them (called "drops" in debate parlance). Dr. Craig laments after the debate, "Fully expecting these points to be vigorously disputed by Dr. Crossan, I came to the debate prepared to defend each of them; but Dr. Crossan, to my surprise, failed to contest a single piece of evidence which I adduced in support of the four main facts." (p. 163.) Dr. Craig continues: "Again, I came to the debate fully expecting a lively exchange concerning these presuppositions, but my preparation proved superfluous, as Dr. Crossan made almost no effort to defend his presuppositions." (p. 167.)

As Dr. Craig is essentially correct in his criticism (and Dr. Crossan even seems to concede that he was more interested in a dialogue [see, p. 71; pp. 154-55]), this curious one-sided scenario approximated a boxing match where only one participant made any effort to punch or even defend.

Further, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? isn't a mere transcription of a debate. For example, Dr. Craig's "Opening Address" contained 25 footnotes. I doubt the audience at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago heard them (mostly citations).

Finally, the "debate" between Drs. Crossan and Craig is sandwiched between an introduction by the editor, Paul Copan, and various essays by New Testament scholars, including Ben Witherington III and Marcus Borg, which foment some intriguing exchanges and some zingers. For example, Crossan embarrasses Witherington who surprisingly misquotes Crossan as saying, "Easter never happened. Easter always happens." (p. 141.) To the contrary, Crossan actually said, "Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens." (p. 121; p. 153.)

Not a Book

It's not really a book because it is based, in part, on an audio recording of the exchange at Moody Memorial. "The book version of the debate between John Dominic Crossan and Willliam Lane Craig is based on the audio version available from Pearl Publishing Company...." (p. 4.)

In other words, the book does, at least partially, try to hew to what was said at the debate. It contains moderator Buckley's "Introduction to the Debate" (p. 24); the "Opening Addresses" (p. 25-39); rebuttals (pp. 40- 47); a "Dialogue" (pp. 48-67); and then "Closing Statements", including one from the moderator (pp. 68-73.) Moreover, as noted previously, the text contains essays from four scholars who did not participate in the earlier "debate", which makes it more like a compilation than a unified book. Nevertheless, these essays often used the "debate" as a springboard to thoughtful interactions.

I'll close with some remarks about Dr. Craig's approach. While he doesn't have formal legal training (but does hold two earned doctorates), Dr. Craig argues in a very lawyerly fashion. In his opening statement, he made "two main contentions": (I) "The real Jesus rose from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims to divinity"; and (II) If Contention I is false--that is, if Jesus did not rise--then Christianity is a fairy tale which no rational person should believe." (p. 25.)

In turn, he supported these contentions with "four facts" (and those with evidences or reasonings): (1) "After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his personal tomb" (p. 26); (2) "On the Sunday following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers" (p. 27); (3) "On multiple occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead" (p. 28); and (4) "The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to." (p. 28).

Evidenced by this occasion (and others), Dr. Craig has established himself as a formidable debater. There's no doubt he outdistanced Dr. Crossan on points here. Interestingly, Dr. Craig is so skilled in this type of forum that a recent piece has been written (by a lawyer, no less), on how to debate him:

Given his mode of argumentation, and an ostensible objective to persuade outsiders (see, e.g., pp. 178-79), Dr. Craig surprises when says in his concluding essay (after the debate) that he is not "an evidentialist, if by that term is meant someone who holds that Christian faith is based on evidence." (p. 171.) Dr. Craig writes in this vein, "I see faith in Christ as what epistemologists called a properly basic belief which is grounded in the witness of God's Holy Spirit." (p. 171.)

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