Friday, November 18, 2005

Catholics Less Nutty Than Protestants

Some of the recent evidence:
Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
October 05, 2005

THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

"We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision," they say in The Gift of Scripture.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing "intelligent design" to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be "historical". . .

. . .

Followed by:

Vatican wants to end battle with science
Cardinal says unreasonable religion can fall prey to fundamentalism

Nov. 3, 2005

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.

. . .

Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul’s 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis."

"A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."

. . .

Followed by:

Vatican Official Refutes Intelligent Design
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer
November 18, 2005

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design" isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States.

The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

. . .

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sam Alito: Stealth Candidate

The title of this entry is a touch ironic, but it is not sarcastic.

In sharp contrast to Harriet Meiers (and even John Roberts), Sam Alito has left in his trail an extensive collection of judicial opinions for court-watchers to peruse. I submit, however, that these tell us very little about how Alito will rule on various issues as a Supreme Court Justice.

Judge Alito's Third Circuit opinions are characterized by an effort to discern and apply Supreme Court precedent faithfully. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example, Alito's dissent focused on applying Justice O'Connor's "undue burden" test to the facts before him -- without commenting on whether he believed the test to be constitutionally apt.

The other opinions that I've read by Judge Alito are marked by the same fidelity to Supreme Court precedent, and the same refusal to pronounce judgment on that precedent's wisdom.

Once he is on the Supreme Court, of course, Justice Alito will be unconstrained by precedent from a superior court. He will not have to follow O'Connor's "undue burden" test in abortion cases, or the Lemmon test in Establishment Clause cases, and so on. He will be free to apply whatever test he thinks is appropriate -- and on such matters he has given no hint in the opinions I've read by him.

Court of Appeals judges tend to decide cases based on their interpretation of controlling Supreme Court precedent. Supreme Court justices tend to decide cases based on their interpretation of the text of the Constitution (or other law) as well as relevant public policy considerations. Extrapolating from one to the other is fraught with uncertainty.

Not all Court of Appeals judges are so coy about their constitutional philosophies, by the way. Edith Jones, for example, has made no secret of her disagreement with Roe v. Wade. Nor has Janice Rogers Brown. But Samuel Alito's judicial opinions have been devoid of gratuitous dicta. Trying to figure out his own view of Roe v. Wade based on his Third Circuit dissent in Casey is little more than guesswork.

We may learn quite a bit about Alito's own constitutional philosophy during his Senate confirmation hearings. Until then, there is little to go on. His opinions from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are simply not all that probative.

Posner, Easterbrook, and A3G's "Principled Hack Theory"

Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, are two of the most highly qualified candidates for nomination to the Supreme Court. They rank #1 and #2 by a large margin, for example, in the Choi-Gulati Bill James-like attempt to evaluate federal judges by objective criteria. They are both Republican appointees, so why didn't they garner more consideration as potential SCOTUS nominees in the last couple months?

Article III Groupie offers an explanation:
What every president is looking for in a Supreme Court nominee is "a principled hack." This contradiction-in-terms sounds nonsensical, but it's actually quite logical; allow A3G to explain.

Presidents want the justices that they appoint to be political hacks -- i.e., reliable votes in favor of the president's desired political outcomes, be they liberal or conservative. But presidents also want their nominees to have a pre-confirmation record of adherence to principle. Besides being a good thing in and of itself, a record of being principled may facilitate the confirmation process, by allowing the candidate to defend prior rulings or past actions by saying, "Hey, look, those weren't my personal views; I was just following certain principles." Once the nominee gets confirmed, the ability to appear principled continues to be a helpful, since the nominee can justify votes in favor of a particular outcome by reference to a larger jurisprudential framework (e.g., the originalism of Justice Scalia, or the originalism-with-minimal-stare-decisis of Justice Thomas).

Jurists like Judge Easterbrook, Judge Posner, and Judge Kozinski are very committed to principles and the rule of law (which is why they are so widely admired, in addition to being brilliant). The problem with them as Supreme Court nominees comes from the second part of the test: they are insufficiently hack-like. They are not rigid enough in their voting patterns, occasionally voting for outcomes that are politically unpalatable, when their review of the law convinces them that such a result is required. In short, they vote with their consciences, deciding cases based on their honest views of the law, with no consideration for how their ruling might affect their possibilities for promotion.

With Posner, at least, there's probably more to it than that -- namely, his 1978 article (with Elizabeth Landes) suggesting that babies be bought and sold on a free market as a more efficient alternative to government-regulated adoption. (With no price mechanism in place, the demand for newborns far outstrips the supply even while millions of unwanted fetuses are terminated.) For some reason that was considered controversial in some circles. Nonetheless, I think A3G's analysis is largely correct and is a big part of the story.

By the way, Judge Posner's got a blog (along with economist Gary Becker). Check out the link over on the right.