Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

07/04/2011 (11:03 am)

The Assumption of Governmental Holiness

A Christian friend on an Internet-based public discussion board made the following statement in passing. It illustrates a very common, modern mindset that needs very badly to be addressed.

The history since Christ’s first advent shows that many nations of the world have moved closer to what seems to be a Christian ethic while others still remain behind and the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

The partial truth of this masks a less obvious but far more dangerous error. I’ll call the error the “Assumption of Governmental Holiness.” Modern thought is trending in the direction of this error, and it may be the death of many of us.

I saw the same error in a different form on a blog by a very effective writer named Seth Godin. His blog article discussed the unethical representation of sunblock in modern advertising, observing that 95% of the harmful solar rays are not affected at all by the SPF level of these products. (They do, however, prevent painful sunburn, for which reason they’re still useful products.) After explaining, he piously declared this:

How can consumers look at this example and not believe that the regulation of marketing claims is the only way to insulate consumers from short-term selfish marketers in search of market share, marketers who will shade the truth, even if it kills some customers?

Meet the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. Seth somehow misses the fact, discussed openly in his own blog post, that both sunblock and advertising are already regulated. Worse: he actually states the reason, unwittingly, why regulation cannot work:

New regulations were recently announced, though it’s not surprising that many think the regs were watered down as a result of lobbying.

The truth is, millions, and possibly billions, of dollars have been wasted on regulation that had no impact, and millions more have been wasted on lobbying to ensure that that’s the case. But lobbying only works when the government is involved. Lobbying did not prevent me from learning about the scam. I learned about it by reading Seth’s blog. Seth’s freely-provided blog did more to protect me from being scammed than any regulation, or a billion regulations, ever could.

That, Seth Godin, is how a consumer can look at this example and not believe that regulation is the only answer.

How did Seth miss the answer? Somewhere in his unexamined assumptions is this one, utterly false notion:

The government represents pure good, or at the very least represents the best we have to offer.

No other presupposition could lead logically from “false advertising happens” to “regulation is the only answer.” But the error is obvious when we drag it out into the open. The government does not represent our best; it represents political power brokers, people who want control. We’re closer to the truth if we presuppose their corruption. They can only represent our best if they are tightly, closely monitored by ourselves, and if their power to control is severely limited. The less we count on government to enforce decency, and the more we count on ourselves directly to do it, the better.

Moreover, Seth’s blog demonstrates that while regulation does not work, there is something that does. The proper corrective to “false advertising happens” is “somebody needs to broadcast the truth.”

With that in mind, let’s revisit the quotation that introduced this thread, and see where the Assumption of Governmental Holiness leads us wrong.

Separate the statement into two parts. Part I:

…many nations of the world have moved close to … a Christian ethic while others remain behind…

This is partly true. The historically Christian nations of the West have had an enormous influence on both conduct and productivity throughout the world, and some of that influence comes from a godly source. There was no notion of individual rights, for example, before the Christian West produced it. The notion that one human being ought not to traffic in the flesh of another is another example. The near-universal disapproval of child labor is a third.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that because a notion has its origin in Christ, that every modern mention of that notion is equally Christian. Take individual rights, for example. In ordinary, human, pendulum fashion, many wicked humans abandoned the old way of domination based on heredity or station, and swung way past Christ’s standard into a sort of egalitarian hell in which every evil thing is allowed and no moral absolutes are acknowledged. They’ve even gone farther than that, using individual rights to ennoble and venerate women leaving their families to pursue “dreams,” and women murdering their children to protect “their rights.” These are just two of a myriad of ways that the godly idea of individual rights has been made extremely unholy. The other godly notions that Christ introduced to the world have not fared better, and have been likewise distorted and overshot.

Wherein lies the error of the Part II of the sentence we’re analyzing:

…the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

Even if it were the case that the UN actually represents the world — it does not — the real, egregious error here is the unstated but controlling supposition that the UN represents the Christian ethic he mentioned in the first part of the sentence, and not the backwardness. He makes the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. The UN has no Christian sanction. Even if the current enactment of the UN were the ideal, it would represent only the current position of the error pendulum.

Worse, the current UN does not come within 3 light years of enacting that ideal, nor can it. It does not represent good; it does not even represent the best of humanity. The UN represents the interests of the corrupt power-brokers who have usurped the power of leadership in their nations.

As such, the UN represents, not the Christ-influenced progress of the world, but the fulfillment of the rebellion Nimrod began way back at Babel, and which the Psalmist describes in opposition to God’s Messiah:

1 “Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.

To assert, without stating it or even really thinking it clearly, that the UN represents the Christianized ethics of the world, is as wrong as wrong can be, and arguably endorses antichrist.

We need also to understand that the Assumption of Governmental Holiness, itself, arises from an even more insidious assumption: the Assumption of Personal Godhood. Ultimately, those who assert the holiness of the government invariably do so by assuming that the government represents ME. The deeper, more evil assertion is that the individual knows what is good for others so well that he or she has earned the right to control their decisions.

We may make ourselves unwelcome, but the Assumption of Governmental Holiness is the central error of the current era, and we need to confront it and dispute it whenever we hear it. But beware the even deeper Assumption of Personal Godhood that is always lurking nearby. And that one actually has a formal name: meet the sin of Pride.

01/03/2011 (9:50 pm)

A Light Critique of Ayn Rand

A friend posted this portion of Mike Wallace’s 1959 interview with Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, in which she discusses how her philosophy, Objectivism, should be applied in American society. A lively discussion ensued, so I’m going to post my thoughts here.

In my experience, American conservatives who are non-religious are likely to be Objectivists in some sense; Rand has plenty of fans on the right. Objectivism is a bit scary; it claims that man should pursue self-interest instead of altruism, that to serve one’s fellow-man is immoral, and that love is earned by developing personal virtue. Rand’s fans on the right mostly like her application of this to politics and economics, where she claims that the only legitimate political systems are those that grant unbridled individual liberty and permit laissez-faire capitalism.

Rand is brilliant, and defends her thesis ably. Enjoy, and then come back for some discussion.

As far as economics goes, Ms. Rand is right on the money. I would have wanted her to say only a couple of things differently:

(1) She should have emphasized that Mike Wallace’s version of the robber barons was a myth. She did actually say that, but it got buried in the detail. The real robber barons were those who used government regulation to obtain a competitive advantage.

(2) She should have corrected Wallace’s notion that the welfare state was an implementation of the principle that “We are our brother’s keepers.” It is not; it is an implementation of an anti-ethic masquerading as a Christian ethic, which says that an enlightened elite should trump the choices of the many in order to achieve what the elite claims is a Christian ideal. It would be a Christian ethic if individuals encouraged each other to care for their brothers. It is a statist tyranny that asserts the right of an elite to force others to implement their notion of a just state. This has nothing to do with Christianity.

Ms. Rand does not understand the vast difference between legitimate self-interest and selfishness. Modern progressives tend to make the same error, failing to differentiate between ordinary profit motive and greed. Rand’s version of conservatism is thus just as dangerous as the progressivism it opposes, and if it takes hold, would turn our nation into a nation of callous, self-centered fools.

Rand is correct about this: everybody operates out of self-interest. It’s why we feed and dress ourselves. The absence of self-interest is a pathology; people who lack this ordinary sense of self-interest don’t take care of themselves, become promiscuous, smoke, engage in high-risk activities without proper precautions, or become self-destructive in other ways.

“Selfishness” is ordinary self-interest pursued to the exclusion of necessary moral limits. Selfishness occurs when we allow our self-interest to trump other important moral imperatives, like concern for others or loyalty to family, among other things.

Those moral imperatives come from God, and are innate; Objectivism, however, claims that no God exists and that religion is illegitimate. This is where Objectivism and Christianity part company. Objectivism attempts to produce virtue without God, and makes a hash of it.

The same difference exists between self-interest and greed as exists between self-interest and selfishness. Greed is when we allow our desire for profit to trump our commitment to other, necessary moral rules, like the proscription on stealing or the imperative of telling the truth.

Modern liberals & progressives (who have, in this matter, swallowed the lies of Marxists) err by imagining that all profit motive is greed. Rand similarly errs by imagining that all self-interest is selfishness. Both of them err by making no distinction between the principled pursuit of self-improvement, and the unprincipled pursuit of it.

(I suspect that both fail to note this distinction because they’re both unprincipled themselves. Virtue is like knowledge; the virtuous can see both virtue and vice, while the vicious can see neither. But I can’t prove this.)

The interesting consequence of understanding the distinction between principled self-interest and greed or selfishness is that one realizes that our free society can only work among a highly principled populace. If, in general, we lack moral principle as a people, then our liberty becomes an occasion for selfishness and greed, and everything falls apart. Ultimately, the prosperity of free America did not arise only from its freedom, but from the combination of freedom and morality. Freedom without morality does not produce prosperity, it produces chaos. We actually saw something like this occur in post-Soviet Russia during the 1990s — although despite the chaos, what took place there was more prosperous than the Worker’s Paradise it replaced.

If you’d like to hear the portion of the interview in which Ms. Rand describes her philosophy for Wallace, you can find it here.

04/27/2010 (5:33 pm)

What Is Marriage? The Birch Tree Challenge Redux

birch-this one smallerIt was almost a month ago that I launched the Birch Tree Challenge, and the discussion is still raging. It was a simple, tongue-in-cheek jibe at the main arguments raised by gay marriage advocates, implying that the same arguments could be applied to advocating marriage between a human and literally anything for which a person might feel affection. Objectors succeeded at pointing out that additional barriers exist when we step outside of marriage to humans — like finding legal avenues to make it possible to form contracts with plants. The main point, though, was to note that the very concept of gay “marriage” does violence to a universal human institution, and attempts to redefine “marriage”; worse, that it attempts to redefine marriage for no reason other than that somebody wants it to be so. So I pretended to want just as badly to wed my birch. Why should I not also be permitted to alter the meanings of words at my whim?

The central question here is what marriage is at its core. That’s what I’m doing here today: attempting to establish exactly what marriage is. It’s not easy.

One of my commenters, a philosophy professor called Joe H., posted what he considered to be a philosopher’s test for the core of a practice. Sadly, he posted this after I had turned my attention elsewhere, so it was never addressed soundly. Here’s some of what he said:

Philosophers spend most of their time distinguishing between the core or essential concepts informing a complex concept, and those concepts that, although they may have an enduring connection to the complex concept, and play an important role in the majority of concrete examples of a complex concept, are, nonetheless, nonessential.

One way they do this is by considering which of the informing concepts can be abandoned while still preserving the basic idea. Of the informing concepts I listed above, I’m confident you’ll agree that the existence of love, a license, procreation, male authority, and/or monogamy, although all intimately related to the concept of western marriage, are not essential to the concept. A marriage can exist without their presence.

The question is whether the limiting concept “opposite sex partners” can be abandoned without losing the basic idea of marriage. The answer to that question is, surprisingly, “yes…” This is proven by the fact that we can, and do, recognize that some same sex couples are married -while others are not.

What Joe actually accomplishes in his “test” is to make human institutions subject to modern public relations campaigns: if any activist can make a phrase common enough in peoples’ minds that they’re no longer shocked by the sheer inconsistency and stupidity of it, then naturally that phrase must be part of the core concept. I hope I don’t have to explain at length why that’s intellectually unacceptable, which it plainly is.

The reaction of the contemporary, advertising-saturated Western mind to the phrase “gay marriage” is hardly a sound test for the core human practice of marriage. I don’t mean to denigrate philosophy as a practice, nor the West as a culture, but marriage is a human practice that occurs in every civilization, so the core of it should be defined by anthropologists and sociologists, not contemporary Western philosophers, and it should be based on a comparison of all human occurrances of marriage, not just what sounds congruent in Western ears.

So, I set myself to find a good, comprehensive anthropological survey of marriage practices around the globe throughout history. I don’t think I’ve found it yet, though I think Kingsley Davis’ 1985 opus Contemporary Marriage: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Institution may come close to what I want. I did not have time to hunt down Davis’s book — I’ll get to it eventually — though I did find an enlightening article in the 2001 Louisiana Law Review by Maggie Gallagher that was based in part on Davis’ definition, which I will quote below.

Before that, though, I did a survey in my own mind of literature that depicts marriage through history and around the globe. I thought about the Islamic model shown in Moolaade’, film by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, in which a dominant male subjugated multiple wives by sex, beating, and genital mutilation. I thought about Tevye and Golde and their many daughters, the couple on which the musical Fiddler on the Roof was based; Tevye trying to preserve traditional control over his children while his daughters ran off and married for love. I thought about the Bible’s Jacob providing labor for his bride’s family for 14 years (a practice that was apparently mirrored in ancient Japan as well,) and how his wives competed with each other for his affection by producing children as rapidly as possible. I thought about Mary Renault’s heavily-researched recreation of ancient Greece (titles include The Bull From the Sea, The Mask of Apollo, The Praise Singer, and several others), in which ordinary families stuck to a nuclear model while the upper crust diverted themselves with heteiras (courtesans) and lovers and ignored their nuclear families — which families nonetheless held absolute rights to both property and surname. I thought about the Bengali marriage in the film The Namesake, where a traditional Indian family attempted to raise their children and preserve their culture in America.

DoYouLoveMeThe thing that leapt out at me as I thought about all these different practices was the children. Joe was absolutely wrong when he asserted with confidence that procreation is not central to marriage. We may be able to envision marriages without children, but the practice around the world is clearly about creating a social and legal environment where children are produced and trained. To say that the existence of couples who marry but don’t reproduce means that reproduction is not central to marriage, is as sensible as saying that the existence of people who collect, restore, and show historical automobiles means that automobiles are not about transportation. Historically, a childless couple was a curse, like an automobile that wouldn’t run. The modern, deliberately childless couple is an historical aberration. Tellingly, the appearance of the cultural acceptance of childless marriages corresponds perfectly to nations where the birth rate has fallen below replacement level.

Marriage is about much more than just reproduction, though; it’s about the passage of property by inheritance, and about passing along cultural norms and history. Marriages in most cultures provide the legal structure within which family property is preserved, and by which family fortunes are enhanced and strengthened. Marriages in most cultures create the environment where the passing of cultural traditions to children takes place, or at least where the authority for doing so remains centered. Marriage, at its core, is about perpetuating species and culture.

Moreover, marriage is about the legal recognition and endorsement of the means of perpetuating species and culture. In every complex culture where it appears, marriage is endorsed and officially recognized by the ruling legal authority; Joe was also absolutely wrong when he voiced his confidence that a license was not part of the core concept of marriage. Gay advocates actually conform to this view when they insist that the state must formally recognize gay unions as “marriage” — otherwise, they would be content with gay unions without formal legal recognition.

Gallagher, cited above, condenses the anthropological picture this way:

But what every known human society calls marriage shares certain basic, recognizable features, including most especially the privileges accorded to the reproductive couple in order to protect both the interests of children and the interests of the society. As Kingsley Davis sums up the anthropological impulse of marriage: “The unique trait of what is commonly called marriage is social recognition and approval . . . of a couple’s engaging in sexual intercourse and bearing and rearing offspring.”

Marriage is everywhere the word we use to describe a publicly acknowledged and supported sexual union between a man and woman which creates rights and obligations between the couple and any children the union may produce. Marriage as a public tie obligates not only fathers, but fathers’ kin to recognize the children of this union. In every society, marriage is the sexual union where childbearing and raising is not only tolerated but applauded and encouraged. Marriage is the way in which every society attempts to channel the erotic energies of men and women into a relatively narrow but highly fruitful channel…

While marriage systems differ, marriage across societies is a public sexual union that creates kinship obligations and sharing of resources between men, women, and the children their sexual union may produce.

She also notes that historically, marriage is normative. That is, each culture’s law surrounding marriage not only protects the ability of the culture to reproduce itself, but declares to the culture at large what is the appropriate and expected behavior of its members.

Above all, normal marriage is normative. Marriage is not primarily a way of expressing approval for infinite variety of human affectional or sexual ties; it consists, by definition, of isolating and preferring certain types of unions over others. By socially defining and supporting a particular kind of sexual union, the society defines for its young what the preferred relationship is and what purposes it serves.

The last point is important. Not all love relationships deserve the legal preference called “marriage,” nor do all sexual relationships. It’s the ones that perpetuate the species and the culture in a manner that benefits society at large that deserve that preference. Other relationships may produce children, may train children, may celebrate love and personal commitment, but not all such relationships are called “marriages.” The legal imprimatur “marriage” says to the culture, “This is the vehicle we prefer for reproducing ourselves, and for the passing of culture and property to future generations.” It involves a clear statement of social approval.

By noting that marriage is normative, we recognize that marriage is not a universal human right; on the contrary, it is a near-universal human obligation. Individuals may choose not to marry, or may choose to engage in social relationships that do not reproduce; but a general, social approval remains for those who actively engage in reproducing the species and the culture, and that approval appears in all cultures as the legal endorsement of marriage. Those who choose not to marry, or who choose to marry but not to reproduce, step outside the primary cycle of life, and adopt practices that do not deserve full societal recognition. We Americans approve of individual liberty, and will not punish those who freely choose such practices; but neither ought we reward them. Marriage is something special.

Honesty requires that I add a personal note: I’m taking a self-deprecating position here. You see, both Shelly and I reproduced in previous marriages, and then chose (separately) to divorce our reproductive spouses, and later (together) to marry each other. Furthermore, we chose deliberately for our new union to be childless; I underwent a vasectomy. So my current “marriage” is one that actually violates the norm I’m advocating here. A public blog is not the place for me to defend my choice to divorce the mother of my children, nor to defend Shelly’s choice to divorce the father of hers, but I will say this much: Jewish jurisprudence would recognize both our reasons as legitimate, though modern evangelical Christian opinion may not. I would be willing to accept lower legal status than that of reproducing couples, if the culture decides to adopt such a legal structure; but that’s cheap martyrdom, since I’m certain the American culture will not so decide.

So there we have it. Marriage is a normative cultural expression for channeling sexual drives into reproduction, creating a legal and social construct in which humans reproduce their culture and their species and pass along their property. It always involves legal recognition, and it always involves opposite genders. What gays do with each other may be loving, may be sexual, may be legal, but it is not marriage. That’s not a moral or religious assessment, but a human, sociological one.

04/22/2010 (9:29 am)

Anthony Flew To Heaven, Perhaps, On Wings Of DNA

antony-flew_1615344c

The famous skeptical philosopher Anthony Flew died last week after a long illness. He was 87.

When I wrote about miracles last August, I discussed an argument by David Hume, Scots philosopher from the 18th century, and the modern update of his argument by Anthony Flew. Flew was an atheist with an odd specialty, in that he was one of the foremost modern experts in philosophy regarding miracles. He was more than that, though; he was probably the leading living champion of atheism in the world. And then, after an adult lifetime of skepticism, in 2004 he became a Theist.

Not a Christian, mind you, although he claimed he was open to that. A Theist; he became convinced by the evidence available to modern science that some sort of God must exist. To hear him tell it, he was convinced by the extreme fine-tuning science was discovering in the cosmos, and particularly by what was being discovered about DNA. He observed that recent discoveries lend strength to the argument from design.

When I discussed the Teleological argument for the existence of God (also called the argument from design) back in December of 2008, I wrote only about the Anthropic Principle, the study of those variables in the laws of nature the values of which must have been fine-tuned in order for what we call life to have been remotely possible. I wrote that cosmologists have discovered that at the beginning of our universe, the odds against the possibility of life anywhere in the universe were so infinitesimally small that there would have been no life at all unless the singular explosion had been carefully engineered to produce it.

However, the result of 50 years of study concerning the structure and function of DNA is every bit as impressive as the result of 40 years of cosmology examining anthropic constants, impressive enough to convince a thorough-going rationalist like Anthony Flew. So in commemoration of a great philosopher, I’m going to amend my discussion of the Teleological argument by discussing the wonder of DNA.

To talk about DNA, we have to start by talking about language. Bear with me…

Languages contain layers of abstraction. There is no logical or mechanical connection between the sounds we make and the objects we indicate when we make them; they’re completely arbitrary. Imagine I’m an proto-lingual cave man (tough, I know). The first time I encounter that furry creature making a purring sound as it rubs against my leg begging for food, what should I call it? Even if I decide to call it a “purrrrrr” I’ve intelligently mimicked its sound. But why would I call it a “kat” rather than, say, a “hammer,” or a “blik?” What do the sounds “k,” “a,” and “t” have to do with that particular animal? Answer: nothing at all. They’re just sounds. Somebody, or a large group of somebodies operating by common agreement, has to assign the sounds to the animal, in order for the combined sounds “k,” “a,” and “t” to refer to that particular animal. Furthermore, there is no logical or mechanical connection between a semicircle open on the right, “c,” and the sound “k,” or between a vertical stroke with a bottom hook to the right, crossed near the top, “t,” to its sound. Those are also completely arbitrary. Again, somebody, or a group of somebodies operating by agreement, has to assign those shapes to those sounds in order for them to be useful in conveying meanings. Every language contains at least these two nested levels of abstraction — even before we get to syntactical rules, which add yet another nested layer of arbitrary assignments.

It is the abstractions that distinguish languages from mechanical processes like the creation of dunes on the shore. Wave motion can create fascinating patterns on the shoreline, but those patterns do not contain meaning, and they are never abstract; the shapes conform directly to the motion of the waves in mechanical fashion.

The abstractions of language denote intent; and specifically, intent to communicate meaning. And because of these abstractions and this intent, is it simply not possible for a language to arise without some intelligent agent to arbitrarily assign indicators to objects or actions. This is, in fact, a definition. Language requires intelligence and intent, and can never, ever, be separated from them.

DNAAlphabetDNA is a language.

Take a moment to let that sink in. DNA is not like a language; it is a language. Grammar, syntax, spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure… everything. And because DNA is a language, complete with layers of abstraction and arbitrary assignment of unrelated objects to produce meaning, it has to have been devised; it came from a mind. It is simply not logically possible in any plausible world for DNA to arise without a mind.

DNA uses a four-character alphabet to spell out instructions. The four characters are actually proteins: adenine (designated by the letter A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). These proteins come ordered in pairs, called “base pairs,” and the base pairs are strung together in sequences according to syntactical rules. The sequences of base pairs spell out instructions for constructing protein molecules, which get carried out by RNA molecules within cells. In this way, the cell is very much like an automated factory with several separate assembly lines, like those that build automobiles, and the DNA is like a huge computer program that controls the building process. The amount of information is overwhelming; the DNA in an amoeba contains encoded messages equivalent in length to 1,000 volumes of an encyclopedia. The process is also overwhelming, and involves reading, transport, assembly, timing, and replication; biologists studying the process have resorted to borrowing descriptors from manufacturing engineers to describe what they’re seeing, because it’s so similar to human-built factories.

This system of programming and executing protein construction has to have been present in the very earliest life forms on earth, whatever they were, as this process is the basis of all life on earth. Consequently, while it is likely — proven, according to some — that life evolves on our planet, it is not logically possible that life arose in the first place without an intentional designer. What we call “evolution” is a process in our biosphere that begins with organisms that already possess the power to reproduce; it does not, and cannot, explain how the first living organism came to exist, or how the process of reproduction came to exist. Charles Darwin actually admitted this in On the Origin of Species, and now that we understand how DNA works, we can consider it a scientific fact: evolution cannot explain the beginning of life. The DNA/RNA manufacturing process is far too complex to have arisen on its own. Briefly put, we’ve opened up the earliest life form, and found a 5 million line computer program in it. The implication is obvious.

alphabitsFrank Turek, the author of the seminar on which this series is based, uses a breakfast cereal from his childhood to illustrate. The cereal was called “Alpha Bits,” and consisted of ground-up grains formed and baked into the shapes of letters of the alphabet. Imagine you’re 10 years old, and you wake up one morning and come down to breakfast. You find a box of Alpha Bits lying on its side on the table. Letters have spilled out and are lying in this pattern: “TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE – MOM”. If Mom comes home later and finds that the garbage has not been taken out, and comes to you to find out why, will she accept as an excuse “I just thought the cat had knocked over the box, and the letters spilled out?” Of course she won’t. The coherent message clearly indicates intent. DNA spells out similar messages, only they’re a bit longer.

It was learning about processes like DNA/RNA manufacturing that eventually convinced Anthony Flew that a God of some sort must exist. Flew’s God was deistic; that is, he imagined that he/she/it constructed the universe and stood back to let it run. He had some issues about the personal God of Christianity or Judaism; Flew was raised a Methodist, and eventually left the faith over the Problem of Evil. Though he spent the last 20 years of his life debating publicly with Christian apologist Gary Habermas, and they became good friends, it is not clear that he ever resolved this problem for himself.

It is God’s job to judge departed souls, not mine. Theological purists will surely insist that unless Flew prayed a specific prayer of repentance, he’s consigned to hell. I’m fairly well convinced that God is not such a stickler as to demand specific words, and that he’s more inclined to look at what direction a man is facing, and what he’s moving toward; but all judgment rests with Him, and for better or worse, He does not communicate His specific decisions to those of us who remain. I can only hope, and note, with sadness and admiration, the passing of a mind uniformly acknowledged to have been great.

10/14/2009 (2:34 pm)

Progressivism, the Religion

I’m in the first chapter of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and I’m delighted to find that he’s accurately identified the religious character of American progressivism.

The one thing that unites these [variously fascist] movements is that they were all, in their own ways, totalitarian. But what do we mean when we say something is totalitarian? The word has certainly taken on an understandably sinister connotation in the last half century. Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others, it’s become a catchall for brutal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes. But that’s not how the word was originally used or intended. Mussolini himself coined the term to describe a society where everybody belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the state and nothing was outside; where truly no child was left behind.

Again, it is my argument that American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion, but not necessarily an Orwellian one. It is nice, not brutal. Nannying, not bullying. But it is definitely totalitarian — or “holistic,” if you prefer — in that liberalism today sees no realm of human life that is beyond political significance, from what you eat to what you smoke to what you say. Sex is political. Food is political. Sports, entertainment, your inner motives and outer appearance, all have political salience for liberal fascists. Liberals place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional notions of religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and spirituality to defend “nontraditional” beliefs. Just as with classical fascism, liberal fascists speak of a “Third Way” between right and left where all good things go together and all hard choices are “false choices.”

The idea that there are no hard choices — that is, choices between competing goods — is religious and totalitarian because it assumes that all good things are fundamentally compatible. The conservative or classical liberal vision understands that life is unfair, that man is flawed, and that the only perfect society, the only real utopia, waits for us in the next life.

I’ve been saying for decades that the current version of what we call “liberalism,” which its adherents are calling “progressivism,” feels like a religion, and its adherents exhibit all the characteristics of True Believers. These Believers take as axioms — as dogma, really — the inherent virtue of radical egalitarianism, multiculturalism, and moral relativism, dismiss all other views of truth as hopelessly backward, and ultimately celebrate the ascendancy of the enlightened apex of human development, namely themselves.

Understanding that progressivism is a religion explains lots of things. It explains why progressives consider holding their political position the apex of moral virtue, and holding contrary positions, the depths of moral vice. It explains why progressives are impervious to reasons, statistics, or sound arguments that do not support their point of view. It explains why they feel perfectly justified in controlling even the smallest decisions of the populace. It explains why they feel no compunction of conscience while breaking every conceivable law or rule of civil behavior in the pursuit of power. It explains the fervor with which they pursue political power. It explains everything: they’re True Believers.

I produced a decent definition of “religion” in my post on Darwin Day this year:

…“theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.”

Progressivism is nothing if not dogmatic; you can’t even raise questions about their presuppositions without getting scoffed at. They definitely have ideas regarding the nature of the universe, and they not only have derived from those ideas how Man should live, but consider themselves the rightful executors of the power to make them live that way. Oh, yes, progressivism is a religion, alright, and a highly coercive one at that.

Some will object that they can’t be religious because they do not believe in God. I’ve had that conversation with atheists of various stripes; they want me to get it through my head that Atheism is not belief, but the absence of belief. That’s like saying that on a sunny, warm day we are not experiencing weather, but the absence of weather. If the topic is “What is the universe, and how should we live in it,” the answer may or may not include God, but all answers to that question are addressing the same topic. The answer that says “We must work together under one Government to create a world without racism, sexism, homophobia, or unfairness” is as much religion as the answer that says “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for such is the whole duty of man.”

1apunchAs with all True Believers, their cognitive dissonance runs deep. They can hurl the most incredibly vicious racial epithets at black conservatives like Sowell, Thomas, and Rice (remember Clarence Thomas as a lawn jockey?), and then claim that conservatism is the source of all racism without the slightest awareness of the irony. They slur conservative women with utter, unrestrained viciousness (Katherine Harris “applies makeup with a trowel” and Michelle Malkin is “a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick”) but consider conservatism the bastion of sexist hate and suppression of women. They ruminate about conservative talk show hosts “blowing up like a blimp” and fabricate out of thin air racist quotes to accuse their opponents, but wonder how conservatives can be so mean-spirited. They cannot even watch Sarah Palin on TV without screaming curses at her, and regard capitalists and conservatives as evil incarnate, but lecture us about tolerance and getting past our differences. Because they are The Good Ones, it is simply not possible that they could do evil; because their beliefs are the very definition of tolerance, open-mindedness, and multicultural harmony, what they do simply cannot ever be considered intolerant, bigoted, or vicious.

Adherents engage in a pretense of intellectual discussion among themselves because Reason sits high in their panoply of gods; but it is pretense only, and impervious to serious engagement from outside its own circle of self-congratulation. Ask any conservative what it takes to get a progressive to engage them in reasonable conversation; every one of us who has tried can count on one hand the number of times we have succeeded in getting a cogent, polite response to a sincere intellectual challenge. I’ve been trying for at least 25 years, and still know only a handful of progressives who can talk politics with me without hurling insults. Conservatives can play drinking games betting on how many words it will take before the progressive resorts to sneering: my record is four words. I’m not kidding; a friend asked me “Why Iraq?” and he interrupted with a sneer after “What was intended was…” When Rush Limbaugh gets a call from an acknowledged liberal, he times how long it takes before he gets called a derogatory name; it’s invariably less than 2 minutes. Ask any conservative how many times he’s been called “Nazi,” “fascist,” “racist,” or various shades of “imbecile” simply for offering a contrary idea to one held by a progressive. In my experience, there is no connection between the idea offered and the accusatory response; “fascist” is a definition. To the progressive, intelligent conversation begins with “are you a believer?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s simply an article of faith that what follows is “fascist,” “sexist,” “racist,” or “greed,” and can have no merit.

And then, there are the Christian progressives. These are becoming increasingly common, as the shaming and fault-finding directed by the culture at large toward Christians for remaining faithful to an “outdated” sect take their toll. Increasingly, devout Christians are succumbing to the lie that using other peoples’ tax money to engage the government in programs for the poor is somehow a Christian act. Theft is never Christian; and the notion that the government can force righteousness on a people is as demonic a notion as ever infected a Christian mind. More to the point, though, the dogmatic assumptions of progressivism are biblically unsound; man cannot be perfected through political activism, it is no virtue to make all outcomes equal regardless of performance, and showing love to people of different races and cultures does not imply that all practices are of equal moral worth. By committing to the progressive Utopian vision, no matter how well-intentioned or filled with Christian-sounding endorsements, Christians are serving among the legions of a foreign god.

One must remember when engaging progressives that one is most likely engaging what I would call a Brittle Fundamentalist. Brittle Fundamentalists can only see the world in black and white; they can accept no grays. Consequently, they will resist with intense fervor any effort to move them from serving the goals of progressivism, and simply disbelieve any fact you produce that does not fit their picture of the world. But, like all Brittle Fundamentalists, there is a breaking point; if the preponderance of the facts from a trusted source at any time forces them to acknowledge that they’ve been wrong on any subject, the entire house of cards can collapse in a matter of days. They can quickly become conservatives if they ever permit themselves, even once, to let a contrary thought in. Their faith is inflexible, and that makes it breakable.

The fact that Western civilization has been overtaken by a non-Christian — I should say an anti-Christian — religion, it is clearer than ever that the path to saving Western civilization is not political, but religious. The culture will not be turned by winning a series of elections; the culture will be turned by religious revival, and by nothing else.

09/25/2009 (6:25 am)

Got Teenagers Who Want to Make Videos?

The Fraser Institute is offering prizes to students for videos that answer the question, “What is the appropriate role of government in the economy?” Students who can answer this question can get a piece of $10,000 in cash and electronics prizes in the Fraser Institute’s 2009 Student Video Contest. Full contest details can be found at: www.fraserinstitute.org/videocontest.

Courtenay Vermeulen
Education Programs Assistant

The Fraser Institute
Direct: (604) 714.4533

Toll free: 1.800.665.3558 x 533
courtenay.vermeulen@fraserinstitute.org

The Fraser Institute is an independent international research and educational organization with offices in Canada and the United States and active research ties with similar independent organizations in more than 70 countries around the world. Their vision is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility. Their mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.

08/27/2009 (9:11 pm)

A Protestant Argument for Limited Government

smugbobI have only progressed a few inches into my review of the Theological Foundations of a Just Rebellion. However, as part of that review, I encountered a truly excellent defense of the basic notion of individual rights in a public brochure written by Elisha Williams, member of the Connecticut General Assembly and former rector at Yale University. The brochure was entitled “The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants,” with the subtitle “A reasonable Plea for The Liberty of Conscience, and The Right of private Judgment, in Matters of Religion, Without Controul from human Authority. Being a LETTER, From a Gentleman in the Massachusetts-Bay to his Friend in Connectivut, Wherein Some Thoughts on the Origin, End, and Extent of the Civil Power, with brief Considerations on several late Laws in Connectivut, are humbly offered.” Boston, 1744. ( You can read it for yourselves in its entirety at the link under the title.)

Williams’ essay is a long one, and will take some time to condense; I will report on it soon. In the meantime, however, a friend passed along to me a challenge from one of his friends for some Protestant to articulate the appropriate limits of government, with reference to the current administration’s attempts to nationalize health insurance. “If the public option is not a valid function of government,” this person asked, “What IS a valid function, and why?”

So, I’m setting forth my thinking at the moment regarding the proper limits of government from a Protestant’s point of view. The essential ideas are Lockean (based loosely on the ideas of John Locke), but Lockean as expressed by the Rev. Williams. This is a first cut at something I hope to refine and correct as I move forward. Enjoy.

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Man in his natural state has himself, has God’s oversight, and has whatever he has taken from nature to sustain himself. Thus each person, by natural occurance and therefore by God’s initial design, has both the responsibility to answer to God out of his conscience, and the right to care for himself using his personal property.

The confirmation of this occurs in the structure of the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments basically defend these same two principles, “honor God” and “honor private property.” The first five commandments say “Separate the holy from the profane,” in order that man may know God’s will. Have no other gods but the true God, make no gods out of created things, let no man claim authority from God that is not his to claim, treat God’s holy days as holy, and honor the teaching of your parents. The second five commandments say “Do not take what belongs to another person.” Steal nobody’s property, cohabit with nobody’s spouse, take nobody’s life, ruin nobody’s reputation, and covet nobody’s goods. Thus the central rules of God over man are “Honor and obey me, and respect each person’s property.” All belongs to God; He has apportioned to each person according to His will, and nobody has a right to reapportion it by force.

Regarding property, which at its root is the right of every person to provide for himself and his family, people fall into conflict from time to time and need an arbiter to settle disputes regarding the conflict of their needs. Government serves this role, and pursuing this, articulates the basic agreements individuals make in order to settle their disputes. Men also need to gather together to protect themselves from other men who would hinder their efforts to provide for themselves. In pursuit of this protection, men form governments, which keep the peace and provide for defense.

Regarding conscience, which is the other imperative, it is the unfortunate tendency of human beings to desire to force other people to do as they see fit, out of desire for personal profit, desire for power, or arrogant assertion of the right to decide others’ consciences. In the same vein, governments tend to force men to violate their consciences, to do as the governors see fit. Consequently, humans in community need the ability to limit the power of government, and to keep it from forcing them to violate their consciences. Inasmuch as any agent or any government attempts to force individuals to obey the conscience of that agent or government, rather than permitting the individual to obey his own conscience, that agent or government steps into the role of God and usurps God’s authority.

Thus the only valid function of a government is to protect the life and property of free citizens, so that they are at liberty to do as their conscience requires them before God. Any attempt by government to serve any other function constitutes a violation of the other core principle, an attempt to remove from people their responsibility to answer personally to God. Assigning any function to government aside from the protection of life and property constitutes blasphemy. Governments protect life, liberty, and property. This is it’s only valid purpose.

The confirmation of this occurs, again, within the structure of the Old Covenant. In the one instance in human history where we know that God established a civil polity, which was the nation of Israel after the invasion of Canaan, the polity He established was a clan — a loose affiliation of family structures, each with their own clearly demarcated property, but with each person answerable to God Himself. Both their property and their liberty were inviolable; even those who came into slavery by way of debt, were released eventually in the Jubilee, and returned to their ancestral property. He also sent periodic prophetic agents, who acted, not as governors nor as rulers, but as reminders to the consciences of individuals that they each, individually and collectively, should keep the laws of God; they also acted as leaders to free the people from invading tyrants, but their leadership ended when the tyrants were overthrown. When the people of Israel decided that they wanted a monarch instead of this loose confederacy, God announced “They have rejected ME from being king over them,” (I Sam 8:7) confirming that to raise up human government to perform any function other than mere protection of liberty and property constitutes blasphemy.

The desire of humankind to replace God’s rulership with human wisdom displayed itself in Genesis 10:8-12, and in the building of Babel in Genesis 11. This is the origin point for men declaring themselves great, establishing kingships, and attempting to perfect themselves; this is also the origin of the notion that one man might rule over another by right. Both the early deific monarchs, and the much more recent Utopian political philosophies, are expressions of the spirit of Nimrod, and recreate Babel. These efforts assert human perfectibility, represent human tyranny, and earn the opposition of God.

The subtlety of satan in deceiving mankind and drawing him into blasphemy displays itself in a very common equivocation on the notion to “protect life.” One might imagine that anything a government does to make life better for its citizens constitutes a proper function under the rubric of protecting life. With this in mind, the unwary might justify the government controlling the tiniest details of human choices in any area, dictating to citizens which washing machines to buy, which fuels to use, or which health insurance to purchase. This is demonic in origin, and constitutes nothing but a Nimrodian attempt by humans to produce Utopia apart from God, by inserting government in the place of God in ruling men’s consciences. Government exerting control over choices does not protect the common good, it attempts to produce it. Government’s job is to protect, not to produce. Government produces nothing.

By the same token, the temptation to use government to meet the needs of the poor must also be avoided. Christian imperatives to do good to others are sound responses of the conscience toward God, but since each person’s conscience is owed to God alone, never to another human being or to the state, the exercise of that conscience must remain a personal choice and not a collective one. For the government to usurp the role of private charity is for the government subtly to usurp the role of God in ruling peoples’ consciences. Conscience must remain free, and the exercise of conscience, the responsibility of the individual citizen.

It remains but to dispose of a common misconception regarding a single passage in the Apostle Paul’s writings, Romans 13:1-7, in which Paul argues that Christians should keep a good conscience toward civil authority, because the power that exists was established by God. This is commonly thought to support the claim that any government in virtually any application of power has God’s imprimatur, and that it constitutes rebellion against God to resist the authority of the state in any way.

The passage does not support this absolute position, however. The matters that Paul addresses concern merely keeping the peace, and argue for the right of governments to enforce such laws as are common to all humankind — don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and so forth. When he says “There is no authority except from God,” he is not declaring that every power the state has usurped is theirs by the approval of God, but rather, that the legitimate power of the state is limited to those things that God ordains. If the state attempts to exert power — “bear the sword” — for purposes other than those God ordains, then it acts illegitimately, without His power. However, within those central matters of common human rules that reflect the true laws of God, whatever state enforces them is enforcing the laws of God.

To assert that any government, no matter how wicked, is established by God simply by virtue of the fact that it exists, is to say something absurd, and something far beyond the context. If a parent taught his child, “Listen to your teachers, even the ones who are not Christian, because all truth is God’s truth,” is that parent asserting that anything any teacher says is therefore a truth from God? Of course not; what he’s saying, instead, is that whatever is true, is true regardless of out of whose mouth it comes. Paul, likewise, is not saying that every government represents God in all its exercises of authority, but rather that when even a secular government enforces laws that God ordained, it is defending God’s authority thereby.

The only government that rules in its entirety within the will of God, is that government that performs the simple role of protecting the ability of free citizens to provide for themselves, by arbitrating between neighbors and protecting life, liberty, and property from destroyers both within and without the community. All that any government performs within these bounds, it performs with God’s blessing. All that any government performs beyond these bounds, it performs as an act of blasphemy, taking for men that which belongs properly to God.

03/09/2009 (7:41 pm)

Propagandist Obama to "Restore Science Integrity" (Updated)

In the “shameless projection” department, President Obama today reversed the Bush administration’s policy toward embryonic stem cell research, declaring through advisors that his administration intends to “use sound, scientific practice and evidence, instead of dogma” to guide federal policy.

The Bush administration policy on embryonic stem cells was guided by very real ethical concerns, applied conscientiously. The President believed that allowing research on human embryos would dehumanize man. Whether one agrees with this or not, one should at least acknowledge that medical ethics are a permissible basis for federal policy, and not viciously denigrate any ethical consideration as mere “political ideology.”

Simply ignoring ethical concerns is not “scientific” in any sense. Quite the contrary: people genuinely engaged in the use of science to acquire facts will be the first to acknowledge that there are limits to what science can discover, and that ethics exist outside those limits. The claim that there are no ethics that govern the quest for knowledge is, itself, an ideological point of view that cannot be established by research.

The assertion that imposing that point of view constitutes “a return to science” indicates either that the President does not understand what science is, or that he intends to use rhetoric to win ideological battles using “science” as a pawn. Either way, what we’re seeing is not a return to science, but rather the subjugation of science to ideology. As is invariably the case with the judgmental, President Obama is committing the very sin he claims he’s correcting. God has designed the universe with a sense of irony.

Even worse, Obama’s claim leads to troubling conclusions. Reversing the policy because a different ethical decision has been made would be one thing; dismissing ethical considerations altogether as though they represent “mere ideology” is another thing altogether. The ideological point of view that posits that no ethics govern the quest for knowledge is, at least arguably, responsible for the experiments of the likes of Josef Mengele. The President’s position may do less to “restore integrity” than it does to dismantle medical ethics as a discipline. Let us pray that researchers proceed cautiously despite the President’s dangerous obfuscation.


UPDATE, 3/10/09: It turns out that in addition to issuing a new Executive Order funding embryonic stem cell research, President Obama also rescinded Executive Order 13435, an order funding research into alternative methods for producing embryonic stem cells without destroying human life.

According to Life News,

President Bush put that order in place in June 2007 when he vetoed a Congressional measure that would have required embryonic stem cell research funding.

Instead of signing the bill, President Bush issued an executive order to press for more research into ways of obtaining embryonic stem cells without harming human life. The order was intended to ultimately fund research into alternatives” to destructive embryonic stem cell research such as altered nuclear transfer (ANT), “regression” (reverting differentiated cells into stem cells), and other methods.

Bush could be said to have been ahead of his time since regression, also known as direct reprogramming, has taken off and the new induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are the talk of the scientific world.

The fact that Obama specifically rescinded this EO puts the lie to his claim of “science over ideology.” Given the core assumption of federal funding for research, and given the implication that all federal spending provides stimulus, there’s no good reason for the federal government to stop funding research into ANT and regression — unless the President’s goal is actually the destruction of human life. This comports well with his record of aggressive abortion advocacy but contradicts his rhetoric, a duality with which we’ve become all too familiar since Obama rose to national prominence.

02/12/2009 (3:54 pm)

Newton Day in America

Feb 12 used to be celebrated in America as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but that’s become passé. In its place, some schools and communities have designated Feb 12 as, in their description, “a global celebration of science and reason.” Amen, say I; science is a good thing, and reason a better one. I’m a Christian; to me, both science and reason reflect the glory of God, and I have a personal commitment to improve my grasp of both.

So, encouraged by the sentiment and recognizing the positive impact science has made on Western civilization, I drew on my knowledge of science history and selected a few of the true founders of Western science whom we really should celebrate.

Nicolaus Copernicus was probably the earliest of the scientists I selected, being the author of the heliocentric theory of the solar system — the first notion that the earth was not, in fact, at the center of the universe. I suppose I could have mentioned early, influential Western logicians, like St. Augustine (4th century) who was probably first to develop an objective point of view outside of himself, or Thomas Aquinas (13th century) who is widely regarded as the father of modern philosophy, but since logic and philosophy are not so uniquely Western as science, I’ll let it pass.

The real giant of modern Western science, in my mind, is Sir Isaac Newton, whose articulation of the laws of gravitation and motion, and subsequent derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from those laws, demonstrated that the heavens and the earth all obeyed the same physical laws. While we’re celebrating his contribution, though, we should probably remember Kepler who went before him, and also Galileo Galilei, whose painstaking observation Stephen Hawking believes contributed more to the creation of the modern, natural sciences than anybody else.

So, why are we not celebrating Newton Day, Galileo Day, Kepler Day, Copernicus Day, or Augustine Day?

It’s because the day we’re being told to celebrate is actually a religious observance by a non-theistic religion, and what they’re celebrating is neither science nor reason. What they’re celebrating, in fact, is what they perceive as a victory over other religions, and the event that finally allowed them to get the upper hand in a cultural battle in which they had formerly been regarded (correctly, in my view) as backwards, irrational, untrustworthy, and fighting against the preponderance of rational thought. That event was the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

Darwin, as a scientist, is problematic. There’s no question that he began a branch of inquiry into which a great deal of research has been committed since the publication of his seminal work in 1859. There’s likewise no question that his work was considered a landmark in biology and philosophy. However, I think it was microbiologist Michael Behe, in his book Darwin’s Black Box, who observed that while most biology textbooks name Darwin’s work as the very basis of modern biology, in actual fact after naming Darwin the rest of the topics in those textbooks contain nothing that relies on Darwin’s work in any meaningful way. (Sadly, my copy of Darwin’s Black Box is in Pittsburgh, 650 miles away, so I cannot verify the quotation.) Behe’s own field of microbiology is more the result of improved microscopy, and these days draws most heavily on fields like electrical and mechanical engineering to describe what they’re finding inside the cell, and on the pioneering work of Crick and Watson regarding DNA, than it is the result of anything Darwin wrote. More often, Darwin gets used outside the narrow field of evolutionary biology when science popularizers take the painstaking findings of laboratory technicians and apply Darwinian notions to them, using high-flown phrases to speculate about what sorts of forces caused this immensely complex system to evolve.

Back in June of 2008, I posted Prof. John West’s slide show from last year’s Darwin Day celebration, showing the clear link between Darwin’s Descent of Man and all subsequent implementations of Eugenics as a science, up to and including Hitler’s Master Race policies, and even beyond that to modern declarations of the meaninglessness and worthlessness of Man as a species. Darwin’s work, unfortunately, was the foundation of more than just a branch of inquiry; it may be regarded as the source from which sprang some of the most dehumanizing acts in history.

However, it is Darwin that makes it possible for atheists to claim the imprimatur of the god named Science, and calling on that god, they anoint themselves the High Priests of Reason. Thus, they not only bypass the true founding giants of Western science (nearly all of whom were devout and practicing theists, by the bye,) but they shuffle the more embarrassing applications of Darwin’s work under the carpet, and express genuine outrage, even contempt, if one dares to bring them up.

This is why the organizations sponsoring Darwin Day events are not the local science geeks that do clever science fair projects for the American Junior Academy of Sciences, nor major scientific research laboratories, but rather organizations like the American Humanist Association (which hosts the Darwin Day Celebration web site) and the Stanford Humanists (who, along with the Humanist Community, held the first Darwin Day celebration in 1995.) And this is why they celebrate the problematic Darwin, and not the inarguably great Newton, Galileo, or Copernicus.

One dead giveaway is that their mission statement commits them to celebrating “Science and Humanity.” While I object to neither science nor humanity, the formulation that celebrates this pair is not science, but a particular dogmatic philosophy that likes to call itself “science,” appropriating a term that means something else to mask their clearly religious orientation. They claim that science and reason have lifted humanity from the degradation of ignorance and religion (a redundant phrase in their view) and enabled them to make of themselves whatever they choose. They insist that they’re not religious because they don’t believe in a god of any kind, but “theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.” By that robust definition, Humanism is clearly a religion, as are versions of Strong Atheism (the positive belief that there is no god or gods, as opposed to weak atheism, which just ignores the god question altogether) and many major philosophical schools, like Rationalism, Existentialism, Nihilism, etc.

Now, I have no objection to Humanists declaring a holiday to celebrate their religion. I encourage it, in fact; a lot of issues would become clearer if these folks would drop their disingenuous obfuscations and acknowledge that they really are as much a religion as the Christianity they despise. It would become immediately apparent, for example, that it’s impossible to formulate a theory of education without some recourse to religion, and dispel that utter, intellectually dishonest horse hockey that the “separation of church and state” requires that secularism become the default philosophy of public schools. By all means, let them celebrate.

However, I’ll be damned if I’m going to celebrate their religion with them. I’m a Christian. I regard their religion as one of the world’s major sources of violence and dehumanization. And I’ll be damned even deeper in hell if I stand by idly while they foist their religious nonsense on public schools in the name of “science.”

Newton Day. I don’t know if it’s a good replacement for Lincoln’s Birthday, but it’s not a bad idea. Augustine Day. All Scientists Day. Heck, yeah, I’m all for it. But not Darwin Day. Darwin was a smart man, but there are far better scientists to recognize, and let’s speak the truth plainly: the people who claim that Darwin Day is a celebration of science, and not a celebration of the philosophy of Scientific Materialism or the religion of Humanism, are lying through their damned teeth.

11/07/2008 (10:45 am)

The Foundation

Since the nation, with the help of the public schools, is turning toward socialism, a system of government that has failed everywhere it’s been tried, it behooves us who recognize this as a bad thing to equip ourselves to explain, as succinctly as possible, why it’s a bad thing. We must become evangelists of human liberty, and we must be as effective as possible in our evangelism. We must hone our ability to explain why socialism fails, why free markets work… indeed, why men should be free in the first place.

In that spirit I want to recommend some good, meaty background reading that I encountered this morning. It’s an argument by a fellow who calls himself Thinking Man, apparently a student of philosophy. It says it’s about Global Warming, but in fact it’s a very basic argument for the liberty of man. He follows his brief lecture with a link to another article of his, explaining how industrialization produced the science, cleanliness, and civility from which we all benefit today. Both are essential reading.

I dispute his argument only where he draws individuality from evolution. My own thought is that if individuality evolved in that manner, then there is no particular reason for anything, let alone for caring whether man is free or not. Individuality comes from the love of God, who created us, like Himself, as sentient, choosing beings. But aside from that quibble — and it really is a quibble in the overall argument — he’s got it nailed, and we should ingest and internalize this argument, and repeat it as often as we can.

Hear:

Rationality is choice.

And choice presupposes the freedom to choose. Ultimately it is only the individual who can exercise the power of volition, or not. Government bureaus cannot. The state cannot. The collective cannot. Only the individuals who make up these entities.

If humans did not possess the faculty of choice, humans would be neither moral nor immoral but amoral, just as animals for this very reason are amoral.

But human action is chosen.

This, then, is what finally gives rise to the fact of human freedom as an epistemological necessity.

It’s also what it means to say that humans are free by nature: we are born with a cognitive faculty that gives us the power of choice; since this faculty is the primary method by which we thrive and keep ourselves alive, we must (therefore) be left free to exercise that faculty – and leave others likewise free…

Please note that this is not just some esoteric theory on how human freedom could conceivably be defended: the rights of each individual are demonstrably rooted in man’s cognitive quiddity – and for this precise reason, human freedom without an accurate and thorough understanding of man’s epistemologic nature can never be fully understood.

Or defended.

Liberty, said the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, is the soul’s right to breathe.

The American Revolution took place during an era where the liberty of man had been being discussed by major philosophers for at least 200 years. That men should be free was controversial but forward-thinking and liberal. Today, freedom is taken completely for granted; we in the US call what we have “liberty” by tradition, but don’t really know what liberty or slavery look like. This is partly why the nation can now accept a neo-Marxist leader uttering neo-Marxist and socialist formulations and not cringe; what they’re sacrificing does not loom in their minds as anything essential. “Liberty” has been robbed of any meaning aside from “I can have sex with whomever I like.” They don’t realize what they’ve already lost, nor what they’re about to lose. Once they lose it, it may take quite a while for them to discover why they’re so miserable. We need to be able to tell them, and tell them succinctly.

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