Thought of the day

As it applies to citizens, the law should be enforced according to its spirit. As it applies to the government, the law should be enforced by both its spirit and letter.

Law versus theory

PZ has a couple of posts going right now where he takes down some common creationist canards. One post absolutely wrecks Ann Coulter (who, incidentally, has some real kiddie rhetoric going on – it’s just awful), and the other takes on Bryan Fischer. Each post is excellent, but PZ skims over something I would like to address in the latter link. Here are some excerpts from Fischer’s writing:

First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed…

Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction…

There are two kinds of people who have confusion over what a scientific law is versus what a scientific theory is. The first kind includes much of the general public. These people will have a basic misunderstanding, but they don’t tend to go about basing arguments upon it. The second kind, however, is an ugly little bunch. They include the likes of Fischer who also share the general lay public’s misunderstanding, but they then go about premising a bunch of bullshit on it.

A scientific theory and a scientific law are effectively the same thing. The latter term tends to be used more in physics than anywhere else, but that is a matter of history and convention more than anything. There is no magic property that makes the theory of gravity any different from the law of gravity. Both terms describe the same thing. We’re merely talking about banners and titles here, nothing of scientific value. Any person interested in science ought to learn this pretty quickly.

I recall sitting in an introductory biology course many a year ago when one student asked the professor the difference between a theory and a law. It is rare (though not absent) for “law” to be used in biology, so I’m not sure what spurred the question, but the professor answered it exactly right: There is no significant difference. I had a good deal of respect for the student at that moment. He was ignorant of something, so he got an answer. Creationists like Fischer, however, don’t do that. They understand the way we conventionally use terms and assume they can aptly apply that understanding to science. They cannot. They are wrong and scientifically irresponsible to do so.

But who’s willing to bet Fischer keeps pretending there is a difference even after being told there isn’t one? I am.

Immigration law: U.S. sues Arizona

In an excellent move, the federal government has sued Arizona over its bad immigration law.

The lawsuit filed in Phoenix federal court on Tuesday sidestepped concerns about the potential for racial profiling and civil rights violations most often raised by immigration advocates. Experts said those are weaker arguments that don’t belong in a legal challenge brought by the White House to get the measure struck down.

Instead, the suit lays out why the government believes that immigration laws passed by Congress and enforced by a range of federal agencies must take precedence to any passed by a state Legislature.

This all seems so straight forward. The bill takes what is obviously federal authority and usurps it. Legally, it sounds like a very solid case. Arizona ought to lose this one.

What I find most objectionable about the law is that it so poorly defines what constitutes “a reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. Does the person have shifty eyes? Is there really traumatic music playing in the background? In all the defenses the mooks like Sean Hannity and co put up about this not being racist, they never say what might be “reasonable” here.

The law itself actually offers some definition, such as hanging out where illegal immigrants tend to also hang out. Yeah, I get that. I mean, sure, the law is assuming the guilt of others as being illegal in the first place, but why not? Most brown people are illegal, so all assumptions are okay, right? Or how about speaking poor English? It’s completely fair to the new, legal immigrants to be forced to show their papers, right? Especially when there’s no criteria for what constitutes “poor English”. Again, this bill so poorly defines “a reasonable suspicion”.

The law also makes it a state crime for legal immigrants to not carry their immigration documents.

I take back what I said earlier: this is probably the most objectionable piece of this awful law. It only serves to treat some citizens as second-class. Naturally born U.S. citizens are not required to carry their licenses or state ID’s with them at all times. Why make things so drastically different for other citizens? This is what happened after the Emancipation Proclamation: freed slaves were made to carry documentation proving their freedom since not all slaves had been freed. In other words, the legals and the illegals had to prove their full citizenship (“full” being relative for blacks at this time) based upon the color of their skin. The only difference with the law in Arizona is that it might cover a slight minority of whites – a minority which will not be targeted in enforcement.