31 January 2008

The Road to Poverty -- Part II

(Part I)

Let’s make believe you have a whole bunch of gold that you don’t want to carry around. Let’s make believe that you and I live in an area where there are not – yet – any banks. You want to keep your gold safe; and you’d still like to use it as exchange for goods and services. I happen to own, say, a general store. You and I make an arrangement in which you leave your gold with me, which I put in my safe. I write you out a whole mess of receipts, say one receipt for every one ounce of your gold in my safe. These receipts, you are able to use to purchase goods and services. In exchange, you give the requisite number of receipts to the person with whom you are engaged in business. These people understand that there is an ounce of gold in my safe for every receipt they posses, and that they can come to my store and get an ounce of gold for every receipt they give back to me. I have just become a banker.

Soon enough, I have everyone’s gold in my safe and a hold wagon load of receipts out and about, which are being used for exchange. One of these receipts (called “notes”) still equals one ounce of gold.

Then let’s say that, with your kind permission, I loan some of your gold to another, with the understanding that he will pay the loan back. And, in order to make it worth your while to loan this gold, I will charge him interest on the loan. Although some of the total amount of gold in my safe is gone, since I (the “bank”) have a note from the borrower, none of the those previously circulating notes have decreased in value: the amount of gold represented by those notes is still there. (Naturally, if everyone possessing those notes came in to redeem those notes for all the gold represented by those notes I might be in trouble, for technically some of the gold represented by those notes – having been loaned out – is not there. However, I have created what I call a “reserve” for just such occasions; and I have not loaned out more gold than I can cover both from my deposits and from my own reserve. We’re still good. If I have to make use of some of my reserve to redeem those notes, I’ll be able to pay back into my reserve as the borrower pays me back on the loan. Plus, I’ll earn a tidy bit of interest in the process. You know, for my trouble.)

Now let’s say that the city fathers have decided to declare war on a neighboring city and need to raise money to fight this war. They don't want to raise taxes because doing so will harm their chances of re-election. So they decide to borrow the money, from me, of course. But here's the scheme we actually come up with: I will simply print up the notes representing the amount they need to fund the war. Notice: there's no more gold in my vault than there ever was; I'm just going to print up notes which says, in effect, that the gold is there in my vault.

In my next posting on this, I’ll explain how the situation created by me and the city fathers creates inflation and makes the rich richer (through little fault of their own) and the poor poorer (through no real fault of the rich).

Part III

The Road to Poverty -- Part I

John Edwards has asked both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton to adopt poverty eradication as part of their election platforms. (See this report at BBC News.) Whatever. Any plan to do something significant about poverty but which does not include, among other things, dismantling the federal reserve system isn’t a serious proposal.

It’s all well and good to blame corporations and corporate greed, but if you can’t offer an explanation of how these supposedly evil, greedy corporations are able to work their greedy will, then you can’t begin to work on a solution. You haven’t stated the problem by just saying, “Corporate greed, blah, blah, blah.”

Look at it this way. If someone is accused of murder it is not enough to say, “This man’s death was caused by that man over there.” It has to be established how the dead man was killed and how the accused caused the death of the decedent. Similarly, saying, “Your poverty is being caused by that evil corporation over there” explains nothing. We need an explanation of how these evil corporations are reducing people to poverty.

Well, you say, they pay their executives outrageous salaries for ruining the companies they run, but they fire the working people at the first sign of financial trouble. Executive salaries keep going up, but hourly wages don’t. And the minimum wage doesn’t keep up with inflation. And speaking of inflation, these evil corporation, because they are so greedy, keep raising the prices of everything. We’re all working harder and harder and watching our dollars buy less and less because all these corporations keep raising their prices – probably just to pay their fat-ass executives more and more money for doing nothing. Oh. Yeah. And then those executives rob their employees’ pension plans and so forth.

That covers most things adequately, I suppose. But it is, in fact, a rather superficial explanation. It stops as soon as it makes the most obvious inference: corporations raise their prices only because of greed. I’m sure greed plays its part. But, like I said, it is a simplistic argument to make, superficial even. Part of the superficiality lies in the understanding of inflation entailed in it. (I'm going to overlook that fact that crimes are committed by specific entities. "Corporations" are committing any crimes. The crimes are being committed by this corporation, or by that corporations.)

Inflation is related to price increases. Don’t get me wrong. But the price increases are less related to corporate greed than it is to government greed. The price increases are more a response to government action than to anything else. I mean really. Has it never occured to anyone that in order to stay in business, corporation must ultimately rely upon at least a modicum of good will among the buying public?

If you understand how, then congratulations. You understand the federal reserve system, how it actually increase poverty, and (hopefully) why it has to go.

If you don’t understand, then, in my next posting on this, we’ll begin a game of make-believe.

Part II
29 January 2008

Amoral Man

We discover ... outside religion and philosophy [that] utilitarianism (socialism, democracy) criticizes the origin of moral evaluations, but it believes them just as much as the Christian does. [It is naivete to believe that] morality could survive when the God who sanctions it is missing. The 'beyond' [is] absolutely necessary if faith in morality is to be maintained. Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power, sec. 147.

It is dangerous to rely on it that men will continue indefinitely to pursue their moral ideals within a system of thought which denies reality to them. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

One of the many questions Mitt Romney was asked, after his "religion" speech, was whether non-theists (or non-religionists in general) could live moral lives. Naturally, he said yes. But then, we can hardly have expected a presidential candidate to answer the question in the negative and then expect that the media would report his detailed explantation (assuming he might have one) for his reply. Besides, on its face it seems reasonable enough to say yes. Clearly there is a difference between an axe murderer (whether he is a theist or not) and a non-axe murderer (even if he happens to be an atheist). The same goes for rapists versus non-rapists, adulterers and non-adulterers, and so forth. But, on the face of things, the only difference between and axe murderer and a non-axe murderer is that the axe murder has murdered (with an axe, of course) and the non-axe murder has not done. To assert that there is a difference morally is to assert a standard to which all humans must conform their actions. The axe murderer has failed to do this. (I've selected murder rather arbitrarily, I admit. If it bothers you, just choose some other offense and substitute it.)

The question asked of Romney assumes that there is an objective moral standard which it is possible for theist and atheist alike to meet. To say that it's possible for anyone to be moral assumes that there is a set of moral standards and that all humans are obligated to meet these standards. It also assumes knowledge of these standards, both that it is even possible to know this set of obligations and that humans do, in fact, know this set of moral obligations.

According to some we can come to knowledge of the moral law in something like the same way we come to knowledge of the laws of nature. I've always been skeptical (even when I was an atheist myself). A moment's reflection is usually all it has ever taken. Think about how we come to knowledge of the laws of nature, assuming that there are even such laws and that we do know them. These laws of nature are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, they are descriptions of how nature "behaves" not how nature is obligated to "behave". They are, more or less (sometimes much less) bound to observations, and tell us what usually happens, not what ought to happen. If the moral laws really are discovered in the same way as laws of nature, they also would not really tell us what we must do and what we must not do. They would simply tell us what we, in fact, do. At the very least, they would only tell us what a majority of us do. "Thou shalt not kill" is really not quite the same sort of statement as "For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction." The latter is a generalization about observed phenomena. We can hardly say that of the former.

The question about how to know this moral law is related to the first issue above: whether there even is such a law. We are assuming that this moral law "exists" in some form or fashion. It is difficult to see how. I mean the Judeo-Christian moral laws exist by virtue of promulgation, or position, by God. Since we want to know if it is possible for an atheist to live a moral life (where this "moral life" that he lives is a life in accord with some universally applicable moral law) we also want to know if there is -- apart from God -- this moral law which supposedly exists and is binding upon all humans. (We could say, at least provisionally, that the Judeo-Christian law is just a restatement of the moral laws of other human groups. But let's note just three things. First, that fact would tell us nothing about whether there really is a moral law binding upon all humans. Second, the Judeo-Christian view has it that the human race began by knowing God and His moral requirements (see Romans 1.18ff), so it tells us nothing against the Judeo-Christian moral law that it is similar in many respects to the moral laws of other human groups. Third, if the Judeo-Christian view is false, then it's recognition of this moral law may be false, or simply irrelevant; and it certainly tells us nothing about the validity of those moral laws.)

So, if this moral law exists, how does it exist? It certainly is not immaterial, so perhaps it has some sort of material existence somewhere. The initiated will be tempted to think I'm reifying here. I'm not. Probably the only thing we can say about the moral law is that it has its "existence" in the human mind. But, of course, since there isn't a human mind -- only human minds -- we should say that the moral law resides somewhere in the mind of each individual human being. But of course this is more than we can know empirically about every human being since we are hardly able to examine every human being. One surmises that the similarities among human cultures gives evidence of this, but surely there have been humans without those moral laws residing in their minds. Ostensibly those were the minority in their respective cultures and, more than likely, were punished when the differing moral laws in their minds moved them to engage in "unlawful", or "immoral", behavior (i.e., murder, theft, adultery, incest, child molestation, homosexuality, home-schooling, and so forth) -- "lawful" and "moral" behaviors being nothing more than the content of the minds of the majority. And this is entirely justifiable because morality is an evolutionary adaptation given to us by natural selection to ensure our survival.

There is reason to believe that the moral law does somehow reside in the human mind. Michael Ruse used to argue that morality resides in epigenetic rules. ( See his Taking Darwin Seriously [1986].) (He may still argue that. I don't know. I haven't paid him much attention for some years now. I've been busy.) What Ruse meant was that our beliefs about what is right and what is wrong are part of our genetic make-up. It's just wrong to murder or to rape. We can't help thinking otherwise. Now, either some of us have a different set of epigenetic rules or we are able to ignore this "epigenetic morality". Whichever is the case, it still is not clear how we are obligated to this "epigenetic morality". The most likely answer is that the sense of obligation -- for those who have it -- is just part of the equipment of the epigenetic rules. We get both the sense of morality and the sense of obligation from our genetics.

One might wonder: If we don't feel this sense of obligation, are we still obligated? But even if we could know that every human being, equipped with these epigenetic rules, feels this obligation, we could still justifiably ask whether feeling obligated truly means that one is obligated.

But if it is the case that our sense of morality (including the sense of obligation to obey that morality) is a function of our genetics, then it is difficult to see how anyone, including an atheist, can be credited with -- patted on the back for -- living a moral life, with being a "good", "moral" person. He is no more responsible for his “moral” behavior than a homosexual is for his “immoral” behavior. The simple fact is that a "good" atheist is no more -- or less -- "moral" than an axe murderer.

Sounds harsh, I know. But both the "good" atheist and the "evil" axe murderer have this in common: they both act on the basis of their respective autonomous moral notions; and this is not changed by epigenetic rules. (Those rules simply explain the source of the autonomous moral notions.) We are told that morality and ethics are rooted in human values. But human values are simply the values that individual humans possess. Evidently all humans do not possess the same values; or, if they do, they do not give the same priority to some of these values. For example, to some humans sexual chastity is a value; to others it seems not to be. For some of those for whom sexual chastity is a value, this value really only applies after and within marriage. Before marriage (and between consenting adults) anything goes, up to and including the exchange of "benefits" between friends. To some humans human life is a value; to others it seems not to be. For some of these, war involves no conflict because, however paradoxical or loathsome, killing some can save the lives of others. For some others, no killing ought to be permitted, not war, not capital punishment, not even killing in self-defense, except in the case of defenseless babies, of course. Each of these acts on the basis of his autonomous values. So does the atheist. So does the axe murderer.

Now if somehow the values of the atheist are superior to those of the axe murderer, then perhaps the "good" atheist is morally superior to the "evil" axe murderer. But since our sense of these values is genetic then one is hard pressed to see how the atheist's values are superior to the axe murderer's, any more than the atheist's brown hair is superior to the axe murderer's blonde hair. One could assert that what makes the values of the “good” atheist superior to those of the “evil” axe murderer is that the atheist’s values include the valuing of human life. But this only assumes that human life is worthy of being valued. If a human life has no more value than a bug’s life – or if all life is equally valueless – then it may not be worthy of being valued.

One could argue that if an atheist just happens to live in a manner that coincides with what the theist thinks is a moral life, then the theist must concede that atheists live moral lives. I don't think this is the case. The theist has to concede no such thing, unless, perhaps, the atheist is willing to concede that the theist’s moral values are the true values. And this assumes that all theists share the same moral values, which they seem not to do.

The important phrase above is "just happens to live". While I'm not a Kantian I do think one of the many things about which Kant was right is that for any act to be considered an ethical act it is not enough that it be consistent with duty. An act must be performed precisely because it is a duty. (See his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Ak. 390.) The atheist may not kill, but an important consideration is why. Someone could say it makes no difference why, it only matters that one not kill. But this is to acknowledge that one can choose one's own reasons for not killing, which is to say exactly what I said above about "good" atheist and "evil" axe murderer both acting on the basis of their own autonomous notions of morality. It also acknowledges -- whether or not one likes to admit it -- that one can also choose one's own reasons for killing. There is no true duty involved here. And to be moral means to perform a duty intentionally, not coincidentally.

No, I think we really need to consider why someone does not kill. It does matter why, unless we are admitting that there is no duty not to kill. And in order for the atheist to be credited as living a moral life when he doesn't kill, he must have a duty not to kill, not simply a lack of desire to kill, or the simple fact of not having killed.

How does an atheist come to have a duty not to kill? Perhaps, more importantly: To whom does he have this duty? Not to God, naturally. To his fellow humans? To himself? Surely, it is one or the other. And if it is to be considered an ethical duty, then we really ought to rule out that the duty is to himself. Either way one question remains: How does he come to have this duty? If the duty is to his fellow humans, then how did he come by this duty? How is it that his fellow humans (theist or not) feel no compunction about imposing obligations upon him? Who do they think they are, God? Focus on the Family? The Republican (or the Democrat) Party? Osama bin Ladin? The United Nations?

How does one come to have duties the fulfilling of which means that one is living a good life, being a moral person? My own view -- as an atheist -- was utilitarian. That is to say, I thought that the moral thing for me to do was either to refrain from harming others, or, better, to try to increase the amount of happiness in the world. But then, I didn't really conceive of this as a duty; I really thought of it as a good idea, an approach that would be superior to all of us living in a "state of nature", a way that we could all get along with each other. But a duty? No, not really. Even back then I could not conceive how I could have a duty towards anyone -- not even my parents. (One of my most difficult struggles as a child was just how an accident of birth gave my parents -- or anyone else, for that matter -- any authority over me. My parents, and quite a few teachers, can attest to this difficulty.)

We have to wonder, I think, in just what sort of universe ethics make any sense. I don't think it is the sort of universe which non-theists conceive. Of course, you could say I only say that because I'm a Christian. But the fact of the matter is that I'm a Christian because I say that; I became a Christian (among other reasons) because I first came to believe that only a theistic view of the universe makes ethics intelligible as ethics, things we really have to do or not do, rather than as a survival tool, or a handy set of rules for getting along.

I've been pondering ethics -- seriously pondering -- since I was at least twelve. I became convinced by the time I reached twelve that my family had been the victims of great injustices; and I was angry about those injustices. Those injustices formed part of my set of reasons for professing myself an atheist in my mid-teens. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, the more I looked about the more injustices I saw.

But wherein lay these injustices? What were the duties and obligations which the perpetrators of these injustices failed to perform? Was it that they were not increasing the amount of pleasure in the world, as utilitarianism suggests they should have done? (Especially my pleasure, naturally.) Was it a failure to embrace the categorical imperative?

We are told that the laws of nature govern the operation of the universe. Everything -- and everyone -- is controlled by the laws of nature. One wonders how thoughts, beliefs and feelings are independent of this mechanism. If these things are not independent then it is difficult to hold people responsible for their actions. Our ancestors, pathetic fools, thought, for example, that homosexuals chose to commit sexual acts with other members of the same sex. Now we know better. We know now that biology is what determines this, and must stop asking homosexuals to change their behavior. (Shockingly, those who think homosexuals can change their behavior are not victims of their biology. They are (culpable!) victims of homophobia. They are responsible. Only certain favored groups are victims of their biology.)

Behind biology is chemistry; and behind that is physics. If and when the final theory is discovered it will not (according to Steven Weinberg, at least) leave any special place for ethics. (See his Dreams of a Final Theory [1993].) How could it? A law of nature tells us how things operate, not how they should operate. They suggest no ethical principles, nor can they.

So we have to look elsewhere for ethical standards. But where? If we want to know that it is wrong to murder, how might we find out? You say to someone, "It is wrong to murder." He asks, "How do you know that?"

Well? Do you know it's wrong to murder in the same way that you know George Bush is President of the United States, or that it is (or is not) snowing outside (where you live) right now? Is the proposition, "It is wrong to murder" true by definition in the same way as "2+2=4"? It is difficult to see how it could be.

The proposition, "It is wrong to murder" is not supported by empirical investigation; no amount of experimentation is going tell us how probable the truth of the proposition is. Neither is the proposition really capable of being supported rationally. Forget utilitarianism; apply Kant's categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." In other words: Go ahead and murder, but only if you can honestly will that "Murder is permissible" be a universal law. Now, who wants that? No one, very likely. But all we are saying here is that murder is wrong only because we don’t want to be murdered.

We have to ask, of course, just why we should apply Kant's categorical imperative. We should do so, according to Kant because, rational creatures, which we are, ought to act on principle, not mere desire. (See Critique of Practical Reason [3d ed., Lewis White Beck, trans., Prentice Hall, 1993], pp. 23, 24.)

Perhaps Kant is right. But since we can, even as rational creatures, act upon desire rather than principle, we ought to ask why we should not do so.

So, no. It is not possible for the atheist to live a “good, moral” life. But take heart. It is not possible for him to live a “bad, immoral” life either.

As Hamlet says: “[T]here is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2.251-52).

The continued discussion:

Post Script
“Practical Antinomianism” (Post Script II)
“Fear and loathing” (Post Script III)
“Arrogance and Assumption” (Post Script IV)
“Whence is duty?” (Post Script V)

25 January 2008

Inerrancy: a few thoughts of my own

I’ve been thinking about this post here (H/T: Imago Dei) on the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, but have been too busy to post anything about it until now.

Whatever one's views on the subject of inerrancy, I must say it was interesting to read a posting on the topic (a posting which takes a position against the notion) which takes no account of the Scriptures' testimony of themselves. I suppose Terri thought it pointless to look into the matter of what the Bible says of itself, since, on her view, what motivates fundamentalists' belief in the doctrine of inerrancy is fear. Once you know that, no further inquiry need be made. Also interesting was not only does she not engage the Biblical self-testimony but she doesn't engage any Christian philosophers and theologians who believe the doctrine (like, for example, Millard Erickson who happens to be a fundamentalist himself; see discussion here and here).

Then there is the particular fundamentalist fear itself:

If people don't believe the Bible is perfect in every way and circumstance, then what will hold the Christian faith together? How will we cling to Jesus if everything we know about Him comes from a tainted book? Won't people begin to slowly peel away all the theology we have, all the while reminding us that the Bible is not inerrant?
I think that first sentence gives away something very important: Inerrancy means the Bible is "perfect in every way and circumstance." And that's the problem. That's exactly what many people think inerrancy means. So, if there is some “imperfection” (depending upon what “perfection” means), why then there is a problem for inerrancy. But I digress.

She continues:

It is false to say that not believing in inerrancy is equivalent to saying that the Bible is tainted or unreliable. A document can be completely truthful while having some errors in it. Reading an inventory for a regiment during the Civil War, and discovering that they claimed to have more artillery than they really did, in no way disproves that the regiment existed, fought in battle, and sustained casualties. It just means someone wrote down the wrong number or miscounted. W would consider it ridiculous for someone to base a conspiracy theory about the falsification of the Civil War on such a minor type of error. Yet, that is exactly how we treat Scripture. Fearing that those who don't affirm Christianity will use such types of errors to defame our faith, we come up with ways to protect it.
This is the problem with someone who believes that certain beliefs are held without intellectual reasons. She is apparently under the delusion that the only reason one could possibly have for believing and asserting the doctrine of inerrancy is to prop up the faith and protect it from defamation.

Pop quiz: Is it working? Obvious answer: No, it isn't. It never really did.

That raises the question: Why believe the doctrine then? Another obvious answer: Because one thinks it's true for reasons other than fear of what may happen if it isn’t believed.

A further problem in the above-quoted paragraph is her notion that "A document can be completely truthful while having some errors in it." It frightens me to think she's in earnest. A document containing errors can be completely truthful. Let's pause for a moment. Take two or three deep breaths. Think about that adverb, completely. Take a few more deep breaths. Now say, "Completely truthful." Deep breath again. Now say, "A tad bit erroneous."

Completely truthful. A tad bit erroneous.

See the problem? It doesn't mean she's wrong about inerrancy. The doctrine could still be false. But I don't think it helps her case to construct what is really only another prop by saying that this completely truthful text of hers is a tad bit erroneous, but still untainted notwithstanding – completely truthful. This is supposed to be superior to the doctrine of inerrancy? (Well, it is superior to her caricature of the doctrine.) Pragmatically speaking, it comes to much the same thing as most considered formulations of inerrancy: She and inerrantists both believe the Scriptures to be completely truthful. They only differ on what "completely truthful" means, and how the standard is met perhaps. Clearly the intellectual superiority of her position is to be found in the fact that while she believes the text to be completely truthful at least she's not so foolish as to believe that it is free from error! What is sad is that what she believes about the Bible isn't too far from what (non-absolute) inerrantists believe. (And I know very few absolute inerrantists.)

But there's more to the above-quoted passage. She says that, "Reading an inventory for a regiment during the Civil War, and discovering that they claimed to have more artillery than they really did, in no way disproves that the regiment existed, fought in battle, and sustained casualties. It just means someone wrote down the wrong number or miscounted."

She’s right: The proposition, “They were wrong about the number of artillery,” doesn’t falsify the proposition, “They fought in such-and-such a battle and won, sustaining such-and-such casualties.” But certainly we are justified in wondering if the report in question is completely truthful. The question, with respect to the Bible, is this: What ought we to have made of that inventory if it were part of a text which was claimed to be of divine origin? (See 2 Peter 1.20.) We expect humans to do things like mis-count or mis-write. Ought we to expect that from a God-breathed text (see 2 Tim. 3.16)? That is the question. It is a question she neither considers nor answers.

What can be true of the sort of document she speaks of is this: It contains an error with regard to the number of artillery, but is nonetheless completely reliable. That is, it may be relied upon for the purposes for which it was written. If the text were written with the purpose of presenting a completely accurate inventory, then obviously it cannot be relied upon for that information. If, however, the text is written to report the outcome of a battle, providing some relative idea of the sizes of the forces involved (e.g., "We won. They lost.”), and if that much is true, then the text is completely reliable for that information, even if inventories and casualty counts are mistaken. (I suppose we could use her terminology and say that the text, though erroneous with respect to the inventory question, is nevertheless completely truthful with respect to the matter which truly occasioned its writing, victory in battle.)

I said above that there was a problem with Terri’s tacit claim that inerrancy means the Bible is "perfect in every way and circumstance." Apparently, given what follows in her posting, if the Bible were “perfect in every way” there would be no instances within its pages similar in nature to the document containing the erroneous artillery inventory. In other words, there must be passages in Scripture which make claims she knows to be erroneous. It would have been so very helpful if she’d let us in on these passages. We could have looked at those passages with her and said, “Ah, yes, there are these imperfections. Obviously the Bible is not ‘perfect in every way’, which is what the doctrine of inerrancy asserts. Therefore the Bible is not inerrant.”

But does the doctrine of inerrancy require a text that is “perfect in every way”? It is an important question. And, in a posting on inerrancy, the doctrine ought to be defined not by reference to the “popular” or “street” version, but by the doctrine's ablest defenders – trained theologians and Bible scholars, not one’s “fundamentalist” friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Had she done, Terri might have learned that, in addition to Erickson's formulation there is another formulation which has it that the Scriptures are inerrant in the original autographs. We don’t have those. We have manuscript copies. To the extent that the manuscripts are reliable we have perhaps a somewhat inerrant text. But even if we had the autographs, they have to be translated. Since no translation is perfect, knowledge from that inerrant text would also be imperfect, which would make the inerrant text for all practical purposes errant. Even if not for the translation problem, an inerrant text would have to be perfectly understood otherwise it is, again, practically errant. Problems abound. The fact that belief in inerrancy is fear-based is not one of the major problems with the doctrine.

There are problems with believing in an inerrant text, of course. Perhaps the most important of these is the question of testing: How do you test a text to see if it is inerrant if you yourself do not know everything? Can you even do so? Not really.

Take for example the subject of creation. Taking the Bible on its face, God created the entire universe (and had starlight visible from earth) in six days. But just think about starlight. We know (don’t we?) that it takes starlight millions of years to reach us. Millions of years are not very easy to squeeze into a single day. But what if somehow – never mind for the moment how we could know – it really is the case (1) that God created the universe in six days and (2) that by the time he created Adam there was starlight for Adam to see? What we would have is a proposition which is true, contrary to all expectation based on observation. And it is precisely because the proposition is so contrary to expectation that so many think it is false and, therefore, the Scriptures are not inerrant.

The problem only gets worse when we want to verify by archeology some of the historical claims. Yes, many claims have been confirmed by archeology. But not all of the claims have been. So if we want verification of an inerrant text, we are going to be disappointed. And to the extent that we don’t have verification we can’t know, by that means, whether we have an inerrant text.

Then there are things which this putatively inerrant text inerrantly teaches (or, at least, seems to teach), such as that the value of π is 21/7 (or 3.0) instead of 22/7 (or 3.142…):

Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference. 1 Kings 7.23.
The inerrant text claims (1) that the sea of metal had a diameter (“brim to brim”) of 10 cubits and (2) that this same sea of metal had a circumference of 30 cubits. The typical way of finding the circumference when the diameter is known is to multiply the diameter by π. 10 cubits multiplied by π is not 30, it’s 31.415926. In order for it to be the case both (1) the diameter is 10 cubits and that (2) the circumference is 30 cubits it must be that the value of π is 21/7. But it isn’t. So either the diameter of the sea was not 10 cubits or the circumference was not 30 cubits. Perhaps the author of the text in question was rounding, the diameter, the circumference, or both. Perhaps in the autographs the writer wrote the figures exactly, but a subsequent copyist decided to round the numbers off. That wasn’t very helpful of him! But then, everyone employing π has to round off something, at some point.

Of course, this may not really do much to the doctrine of inerrancy. It would depend upon how, if at all, inerrantists account for the possibility of rounding and the like. But even if they do account for it, one would still be justified in asking whether they are accounting, or merely tap-dancing.

Okay. So the doctrine of inerrancy is problematic. So what? Darwinism is problematic, even for Darwinists. There may be some good arguments against the doctrine of inerrancy. There are definitely some bad ones. The argument that it is a problematic doctrine is a bad one. And the argument that people who believe the doctrine of inerrancy do so from fear is also a bad one.

I don’t care that Terri and Mandi are skeptical of Biblical inerrancy. Only the dead are without doctrinal difficulties or crises of faith. C. S. Lewis didn’t believe the doctrine of inerrancy either. He was also a theistic evolutionist. His Christian credentials are not usually subject to question. But whatever Lewis's diffculties with the doctrine of inerrancy, fear and problematics don't seem to have been two of them.

You may wonder what I believe about the Scriptures. Well, it’s in the Confession.
22 January 2008

Good thing this isn't The Plague

Most people who undergo any sort of clamity, don't normally wish it upon others, especially if those others haven't done them any harm. Not this guy. He wants you and I to suffer for no other reason than that he is. And he thinks that you and I should know how it feels, assuming that no one else does know. "Bring on the complete and total collapse," he prays to his God. And he wants this because he has been in his own personal recession for seven years. I wonder if, before his private little recession began, he wanted to see a total economic collapse for the sake of those who, unlike him at the time, were suffering their own private little recessions. No, I think he was probably quite happy.

Whereas Descartes could say, "I think, therefore Iam," this guy says, "I suffer, therefore you should too." It's only fair, by some sort of twisted logic.

Imagine this man during The Plague.

If we reported on the media the way they report on the military

This wave of increasing violence by members of the media is almost as disconcerting as the wave of violence being perpetrated by veterans.

A Denver newspaper columnist is arrested for stalking a story subject. In Cincinnati, a television reporter is arrested on charges of child molestation. A North Carolina newspaper reporter is arrested for harassing a local woman. A drunken Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member is arrested for wife beating. A Baltimore newspaper editor is arrested for threatening neighbors with a shotgun. In Florida, one TV reporter is arrested for DUI, while another is charged with carrying a gun into a high school. A Philadelphia news anchorwoman goes on a violent drunken rampage, assaulting a police officer. In England, a newspaper columnist is arrested for killing her elderly aunt.

Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence of that America's newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters? Answers are elusive, but the ever-increasing toll of violent crimes committed by journalists has led some experts to warn that without programs for intensive mental health care, the nation faces a potential bloodbath at the hands of psychopathic media vets.

"These people could snap at any minute," says James Treacher of the Treacher Institute for Journalist Studies. "We need to get them the help and medication they need before it's too late." (Read the rest, here)

Hillarious. Using the media’s own technique against them.

(H/T: Lone Star Times)
20 January 2008

Revelation by temptation

From à Kempis again, on resisting temptation:

Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are. Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks.

Someone has said very aptly: “Resist the beginnings; remedies come too late, when by long delay the evil has gained strength.” First, a mere thought comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight, and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him.

Some suffer great temptations in the beginning of their conversion, others toward the end, while some are troubled almost constantly throughout their life. Others, again, are tempted but lightly according to the wisdom and justice of Divine Providence Who weighs the status and merit of each and prepares all for the salvation of His elect.

We should not despair, therefore, when we are tempted, but pray to God the more fervently that He may see fit to help us, for according to the word of Paul, He will make issue with temptation that we may be able to bear it. Let us humble our souls under the hand of God in every trial and temptation for He will save and exalt the humble in spirit.

In temptations and trials the progress of a man is measured; in them opportunity for merit and virtue is made more manifest.

When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.

Some, guarded against great temptations, are frequently overcome by small ones in order that, humbled by their weakness in small trials, they may not presume on their own strength in great ones. -- The Imitation of Christ, Bk. 1, Ch. 13.
There is some critical, need-to-know information in that last sentence.
18 January 2008

But what if it’s true?

Some time ago Chris Matthews claimed that the only reason Senator Clinton was elected to the Senate is that she is the most cheated-on woman in the world. Now he has apologized for saying so; and he has apologized because it was mean to say so.

This is another example of just how concerned with truth we aren’t. Note that he didn’t apologize for saying something that is untrue, only for saying something that is mean-spirited It could still be true that the only reason Senator Clinton is a senator is that she is the most cheated-on woman in the world and the voters in New York felt sorry for her.

Maybe that’s true. But whether true or not, it is irrelevant to any question or issue. Is Mrs. Clinton unfit to hold senatorial office because the voters of New York elected her because they felt sorry for her? I can’t see how. Perhaps that’s why they voted for her. The logic of an argument that she is therefore unqualified to be a senator would look something like this, I think:

1. If one is elected to office because voters pitied her then she is unqualified for office.
2. Mrs. Clinton is only a senator because the voters pitied her.
3. Therefore, Mrs. Clinton is unqualified for office.

For it to matter that voters pitied here there must be some relation between being pitied and being qualified for office such that being pitied disqualifies one from holding office. For now, anyway, I can’t see that relation. One can be pitied and still be otherwise qualified for office. It could be the case both that (1) voters elected Mrs. Clinton because they pitied her and (2) Mrs. Clinton is qualified for the office (whatever the qualifications may be).

Matthews should have apologized for stating an irrelevancy.

Perhaps he should also have apologized for making an assertion he may not have known to be true at the time he uttered it. Think about it. What Matthews said is that the voters elected Mrs. Clinton because they pitied her. How can he have known that to be the case? Well, he might have access to a poll which reflects that, in which case he should have cited that information.

But, of course, that information would still be irrelevant to the question of Mrs. Clinton’s qualifications for office, even the office of President of the United States.

There is a way for it to be relevant that Mrs. Clinton was elected because of pity. It could be the case that the voters were absolutely unconcerned about qualifications and elected her to office out of pity. This might be relevant if she is laboring under the assumption that she was elected because the voters thought highly of her qualification and this assumption forms a part of her thinking that she might be qualified for the highest office in the land. This situation would not be unlike a man who thinks his wife married him because she was madly in love with him when in fact she married him for the security involved. He might do things under the assumption that his wife is in love with him, which he might not do if he knew the truth of things.

But I doubt Matthews spends a whole lot of time thinking along such lines. So it’s probably just as well that he apologized. If you say something which is irrelevant and untrue, then you might owe someone an apology.

By the same token, if it’s true and relevant then you may not owe an apology – unless you’re not prepared to offer justification for your claim.

Besides, the people Matthews really insulted were the people who voted for Mrs. Clinton.
17 January 2008

How sweet it (relatively) is

"And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6.8).

I was listening to Limbaugh on Tuesday (call it a weakness). One of his callers berated him for being shielded by his wealth from the difficulties that "normal" people experience. And because Limbaugh is thus shielded he doesn't understand these difficulties. I don't know if that's true, but so what if it is? What if, due to his wealth-shield, Limbaugh doesn't understand the difficulties? The idea seemed to be that if Limbaugh wasn't wealthy, wasn't shielded from the difficulties that normal people deal face, then his views of distributionist economic policies would change.

In other words, if Limbaugh and his ilk didn't have wealth then they'd accept the proposition that the wealth of others should be distributed to them. Never mind that the issue, an ethical one and not an economic one, is whether wealth should be taken from those who have it and given to those who don't have it, on the mere grounds that those who have it have it (and don't really need all of it anyway) and those who don't have it don't have it (and need it).

Wealth -- quite a concept. But what is it?

To some of those who don't have it, it's something that others unfairly have and which must be fairly distributed to those who unfairly have not. What a bunch of wussies we've become.

I have been watching the CBS mini-series, "Comanche Moon." In Tuesday night's installment, a woman (one of many) was gang-raped in the middle of the street by five Comanches (right there in the middle of Austin, Texas) during a Camanche raid. Another woman, a wealthy woman (Inez Scull), was safe, firing at the Comanches from the safety of the balconey of her mansion. Wealth certainly shielded Inez from the difficulties of the normal women down on the street. (But on the other hand, Maggie, the town prostitute, was safe under a smokehouse. Go figure.)

It's difficult not to think about history when watching or reading historical fiction. It is also difficult not to compare and contrast our present "difficulties" with those of our ancestors (whether they are ancestors biologically, or culturally). Those ancestors populated the old west, with no garauntee of life, much less food, shelter, or even health care. Those ancestors pushed west knowing full well the dangers they faced. Women knew they could be gang raped by indians. Men knew their wives could be raped, their children kidnapped, themselves killed (scalped first, no doubt). Still they pushed west.

One could argue (with some justification, perhaps) that what propelled them forward -- what made them think these dangers worth facing -- was greed, greed for free land from the federal government. (But then land that costs you -- or could potentially cost you -- your life and the lives or virtue of your loved ones is hardly free. (I paid money for my land. Keeping it probably won't cost me my life, or my wife her virtue. Who would you rather be?) Not only that, but the only garauntee was the land, if you could settle it, not a living. That, you had to provide for yourself and as many children as you and your wife produced. No food stamps. No rent controls. No health care. No neighborhood watch. People for whom "foreclosure" meant "death". But I digress.)

Now, we have food stamps. We have government programs intended to bring about the day when every American can own his own home. When we lose our homes, we look to government. Natural disasters that our ancestors had to deal with in many cases alone (or in voluntary association with others) are now the government's responsibility. When we lose our jobs, we look to government. And God help the politician who talks about doing away with any of these programs.

I have heard that if you have your food in your refridgerator (not to mention your pantry), keep your clothes in a closet, have a bathroom inside your house, and a roof over your head where you sleep at night you have more than 75% of the world's population. If you have money in a bank account, a little bit in your wallet, and a little dish at home where you keep your spare change at the end of the day, then you have it better than 70% of the world's population. That's right. You're in the top 30% of the world's population. And I think it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of the world's population live on less than $2 per day. Two dollars. Per day. Less than.

Pop quiz: What's the price of gasoline?

And yet, none of this (i.e., how much most of us have, even without healthcare and home ownership; how relatively good most of us have it, even the poor) will prevent us from voting for the man or woman -- or being tempted to vote for the man or woman -- who will promise to do wonderful things for us with other peoples' money, the man or woman who will promise somehow to give us even more than we have (compared to the other 70-75 percent of the world's population). Because, just like any other rich guy, we...want...more...and more.

For politicians wealth, like race, is a sort of philosopher's stone, able to turn covetousness, discontent, and fear into political gold in no time.

Every election season I can't help wondering what elections in this country would look like if we knew just how much even many of the poor among us really have. I can't help wondering what elections would look like if we had no fear of death, or foreclosure, and things like that. Not because those things could never happen, but because we recognize that those things have plagued humans for as long as there has been written history -- and probably longer. And when those things happen to us nothing really unusual is happening.

Who would you vote for if you weren't afraid of those things?

I find myself hoping that the people living on less than two dollars per day don't know how much we whine about how awful we have it.

It's more than just a little embarrassing.
16 January 2008

Prager on Leviticus

I see Dennis Prager lectured on Leviticus last night. I've often thought it would be great to attend his Torah lessons. Well, maybe someday. In the meantime Torah.org is a great source of information and instruction. (So is this site.)

My interest in Judaism goes back a long way -- junior high school. After I repented of my atheism I considered conversion to Judaism and looked into it. I remain interested in it because I live in country founded upon Judeo-Christian principles.

Also, as someone who has read and enjoyed Edith Schaeffer's Christianity is Jewish (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1975) I have an appreciation for Judaism which is not simply academic. It's very personal.
13 January 2008

Put your trust where your wealth is

We all want peace of mind. I happen to think that most of the things we want are desired for the peace of mind, the inner tranquility they will provide. I can have peace because of the contents of my portfolio. I can have peace of mind because my skills and education are such that I need never worry about my future employment prospects. I can have peace because the free market is still allowed to operate -- for the most part. I can have peace of mind because my talents (or the ability to act like I have it) have brought me both wealth and fame; I'm a star. I can have peace of mind because the government is going to provide me whatever things I cannot provide myself. I can have peace of mind because I'm a billionaire.

Thomas à Kempis, a monk who had nothing -- or what we would call nothing -- has some wisdom for us.
Vain is the man who puts his trust in men or in created things.

Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ and to seem poor in this world. Do not be self-sufficient but place your trust in God. Do what lies in your power and God will aid your good will. Put no trust in your own learning nor in the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps the humble and humbles the proud.

If you have wealth, do not glory in it, nor in friends because they are powerful, but in God Who gives all things and Who desires above all to give Himself. Do not boast of personal stature or of physical beauty, qualities which are marred and destroyed by a little sickness. Do not take pride in your talent or ability, lest you displease God to Whom belongs all the natural gifts that you have.

Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger. -- Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Ch. 7.
The list of people and things we rely upon -- truly rely upon -- to get on in life (i.e., to have success, or inner peace -- 'shalom') is probably a long one.

In Psalm 20, David writes that "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (20.7). If he were writing that psalm today, he might write that "some trust in markets and some in promise-making politicians" or something like that. Brother Thomas attempts to remind us that peace (in the fullest sense of 'shalom') cannot be found in these things, even when we do make use of them, because in order to maintain the sort of peace they provide we must always be scurrying about continuing to use these things in order to maintain the sort of peace they provide. Rather trust in God above all, doing what we can, when we can, and where we can, with whatever means we have -- and even then, not for ourselves, but for others first. But trust in God above all, not in order to get what these creaturely means can provide, but because that sort of trust is consistent with taking the name of God for our own in the first place.

And that Name is the only source of the only peace that's truly possible to have -- that peace which surpasses all understanding (see Philippians 4.7).
11 January 2008

Jesus may love the little children...

but we don't.

I wish I had a transcript of this sermon by J. Steven Wilkins.

Here's an excerpt, making a connection between our society's hatred of children (despite all the rhetoric and taxes spent proclaiming our love for them), and euthanasia (of the elderly):

You can expect to see euthanasia laws extended.... They will be extended and enforced more brutally.... Do you really think that the children that have been allowed to be born from unbelieving, selfish parents who have killed three others and let one or two live -- do you think those children are going to be real compassionate about their parents? The rule in Europe and the rule here has been, "You can have children as long as they're convenient for you, as long as they don't disrupt your lifestyle, as long as you can afford them, as long as they don't bother you." Okay, so you kill four. You let two live. And they know they lived because they were viewed as convenient and inexpensive and not troublesome. What's going to happen when you get to be inconvenient and expensive and troublesome and disruptive? Those children will say, "Hey the rule is you can live so long as you're not disruptive to my lifestyle. You can live so long as you don't cost me very much. that's the rule. That's the way you viewed babies. Well, that's the way we view old people, because old people are troublesome. They're always getting sick. They always are falling down, and they break things. It's just disgusting. And they're expensive. Look at how much it's costing us to pay for these dead beat old people that don't work." You think I'm exagerrating? Go talk to some young people. Go talk to some American young pepole who are not Christians -- and some Christians. That's exactly the way they're talking. "You don't work," they think, "I'm not paying for you. You starve. And it's not going to cost me...a moment's unrest." And, you see, why should it, from their perspective? Why should it? We've taught them: If you can't conveniently afford children, don't have them. If children disrupt your lifestyle, don't have them. "Okay, [they say], if that's the rule then old people disrupt our lifestyle. They're a big problem and they complain. That's the other thing. They complain. They won't keep quiet. It's one thing if you're a dead beat. It's another thing if you keep complaining, and wanting more money for your dead beat no-work payments every month...." That's what they're saying. You don't think we'll be in favor of euthanasia? You don't think that could happen here? It's already happened in Canada and in Europe. It'll happen here, unless there's repentance, unless we quite hating children.(At about 19:00 minutes in.)
There is something about that penultimate sentence. We have been told that there's something wrong with us for not having universal healtcare because, among other things, Europe and Canada both have it. Europe and Canada both have euthansasia also. And I have no doubt but that the people at the epicenter of the quaking over healthcare want euthanasia also.
10 January 2008

Tyranny, with nature as the instrument

During a conversation with a co-worker yesterday I made mention of the fact that I think much of the excitement over global warming is a hoax. My friend was scandalized. How could I dare to think I knew more than scientists? And why would anyone perpretrate such a hoax?

I explained to my friend that while I don't refute arguments my pointing out political views they may have I do, however, tend to be suspicious of people who argue (a) that we are in some sort of crisis and (b) the way through the crisis is more government control, especially when this control is to be exercised at the highest levels. My suspicion does incline me simple to dismiss the claim. It induces me to listen closely to their arguments. The most oft-repeated argument is the one that appeals to the "scientific consensus". And when the consensus is questioned, the response is not review of the evident or presentation of new evidence (which, supposedly, is always being amassed). No, the response is to make rather nasty allusions to holocaust deniers. But what does make me inclined to dismiss them is the fiat declaration that the debate is over. (Notice that I only said "inclined", not that I do, in fact simply dismiss the claim.)

But what, my friend wanted to know, would be the purpose of such a hoax?

Well, how about old fashioned greed. Greed either for money or for power.

Personally, I lean toward the latter. So does Ed Iverson:

In one of his incomparable essays, C. S. Lewis criticized man's often insolent determination to control the forces of nature. He remarked that man's control of nature was frequently nothing more than man's control over other men - with nature as the instrument.


The global warming hoax is a dream come true for the global bullies intent on imposing their repressive regulatory regime upon a willing world of useful idiots. With an ozone hole here and a stranded polar bear there, here an oink there an oink, everywhere an oink, oink, Old Napoleon Gore had a farm; and pretty soon all the animals were explaining to themselves why the rules were constantly changing to advance the agenda of the swine who had assumed control in the house. The "chosen" go to Bali. The rest of us schmucks go meekly to our secure stalls in the barn. As the self-appointed dungeon masters softly close the iron gates, the plastic faces in Hollywood form a cheering chorus line. As we labor under increasingly onerous regulations, faint-hearted academics fearful of losing their grants gravely announce the absolute necessity of the new rules. (Here.)

Iverson, in addition to sharing my scepticism, also shares another concern I have about antropogenic global warming as a scientific theory: It isn't falsifiable.

Note: If I remember correctly, the "incomparable" essay to which Iverson refers is "The Abolition of Man."

09 January 2008

Let no good deed go un-taxed

You know those gift cards you got for Christmas? You might as well use them. The State of Maine has this idea that unused gift cards belong to the state government and that retailers owe the state money under the unclaimed property law.

There is an element of Maine's justification that I take issue with.

"There is a windfall of sizable proportions here that Maine law wants to return to the consumers, and that the national retailers want to hold on to," said [Maine State Treasurer, David] Lemoine, who has sought — without success so far — to get large chains to pay up.


"The remaining 60 percent is true windfall, and the Maine Legislature has taken the position that the windfall has been taken out of the consuming public and should be returned to the consuming public," he said. (All emphases mine.)
Supposedly, this move by Maine is to return the money (or at least a part of it) to the "public consumer". There's just one problem. The "public" consumer didn't buy these gift cards; specific private consumers, with names, addresses and bank accounts purchased these cards. The "public" consumer didn't receive -- and fail to use -- these gift cards; again, specific private consumers received these cards. If the value, or part of it, is not going to these specific private consumers, then we shouldn't talk about anything being returned. If there is to be a return -- a refund, really -- the recipient of that refund ought to be the specific private consumer who purchased the cards. (And this is not impossible. As the linked story points out, these chains are more than capable of tracking who has purchased and used -- or not used -- these gift cards. This is not usually the case with properly unclaimed property.)

This isn't about returning anything. The only way this can be a return (i.e., to the public consumer) is if the State is the public consumer, in which case, the State must view itself as the the true source of the private consumers' money. In other words, no one has anything which is not ultimately owned by the State of Maine, the "public" consumer.

It's about taking.
07 January 2008

Just because he's an ordained minister

Josue Sierra sums up the proper attitude to take towards Huckabee:

If you're going to vote for Huckabee, just make sure you know what you're voting for--don't make assumptions about his candidacy just because he's a ordained minister.
One would like to believe that no one, not even a Christian, would think Huckabee is a viable candidate just because he's a minister. But we know better. I've heard too many callers (Christians, of course) to talk shows laud Huckabee precisely because (and in some cases only because) he's first of all a Christian and secondly because he's an ordainded minister.

One of these, when confronted with Huckabee's obvious liberalism admitted that it was true, Huckabee is (at least for all practical purposes) a liberal. But more important to this caller was sanctity of life. The fundamental obligation of government is to protect human life, so Huckabee (according to this caller) is correct on the most fundamental issue, human life.

Never mind that the President has no authority to do anything about abortion, not even signing into law legistlation which would outlaw it.

Sierra was commenting on this column by George Will. In this column Will comments on Huckabee's and Edwards' lament about the declining middle class. It is true: the middle class is declining. But to listen to Edwards and Huckabee, one would think that the decline is due to members of the middle class dropping into the lower class. In fact, that isn't the case.

Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 -- because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled from 12 to 24, while the percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. "So," Rose says, "the entire 'decline' of the middle class came from people moving up the income ladder." Even as housing values declined in 2007, the net worth of households increased. (Emphasis mine.)
As people in a particular class increase their income, the membership in that particular class could decrease. It's a circle of life kind of thing.

Apparently, neither Edwards nor Huckabee can be bothered to find out why something like a decline in the middle class is happening. I wonder if Huckabee is familiar with the proverb which affirms the glory of people who search out a matter thoroughly (see Proverbs 25.2). Or a passage in one of the gospels in which Jesus tells a crowd not to judge by appearances, but rather with righteous judgment (see John 7.23-25).

Two interesting things about the healthcare debate

1. Democrats, who complain that the President preyed upon our fears in order to start the war in Iraq, have for years preyed upon our fears in order to persuade us to accept the proposition that the federal government ought somehow to provide healthcare for all Americans. Apparently, fear-mongering in defense of Democrat policies is no vice.

2. Ron Paul, who argues that both parties ignore the Constitution to a certain extent, also argued during the New Hampshire debate that there really was something wrong with our spending tens of billions in Iraq when so many Americans are without healthcare. I thought he might have said both that we should not be in Iraq and that what distinguishes our presence in Iraq from the healthcare issue is that the Consititution empowers the federal government to "provide for the common defense". The Constitution does not empower the federal government to provide for universal healthcare.

Behind this issue is a very interesting philosophical problem: How does anything come to be a problem at all, much less a problem for government, at any level, to solve? What we have is the bare fact that so many people have no healthcare (actually, it's no healthcare insurance, but never mind). I have a prairie dog problem. Why isn't that a matter requiring a federal solution?

Well James, you say, there are not as many people with prairie dog problems as there are people without healthcare.

Fair enough, but all I want to know is what's the magic number? If the number of people without healthcare (and constituting a problem requiring a federal solution) is, say, 40 million, would the problem go away if the number were 30 million? 20 million? 10 million? What's the magic number separating a federal problem (or just a problem period) from a non-federal problem? 5 million? A mail carrier with a bunion the size of a grapefruit?

How does the argument for a federal solution "work"? It is hard to say: the argument is an enthymeme.

Premise One: N number of people have no healthcare
Premise Two: [Missing]
Conclusion: Therefore the federal government must [insert your favorite solultion here].

What is (or are) the missing premise (or premises)?

Perhaps if the first premise is put differently it will suggest a possible second premise.

Premise One: N number of people cannot provide healthcare insurance for themselves.
Premise Two: The federal government is obligated to provide all that which people cannot provide for themselves.
Conclusion: Therefore the federal government must [insert your favorite solution here].

Of course the problem now is with that second premise. It must be the conclusion of some other argument, an argument which would tell us just how it comes about that the federal government is obligated to do such, an argument I haven't seen. (Well, except from communists and socialists.) Additionally (still thinking about that second premise) any argument that the government must provide that which people are unable to provide for themselves is really an argument that one is obligated to provide all those things which his neighbor cannot. (Because the government's true obligation is to take from your neighbor, who, no doubt, has plenty, and give to you, who, clearly, does not.)

And that argument about a neighbor's obligation, is also the conclusion to an argument that no one bothers making.

When conclusions with no arguments become embodied in the law, they are arbitrary. And, being arbitrary, they are tyrannical.

And it's amusing to watch Democrats (and a few Repubicans) complain of the President's supposed extra-constitutional (i.e., illegal) activities and freedom-depriving acts (i.e., his tyrannical acts), while arguing for their own extra-constitutional (i.e., illegal) programs and policies.

Just so I'm clear about something: When it comes to big government, the Republican Party has made itself little more than Democrat Lite. It may have fewer calories than Regular, but one can quickly get one's fill.
05 January 2008


Question 103: Which is the first commandment?

Answer: The first commandment is, Thou shall have no other gods before me.

Question 104: What are the duties required in the first commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.

Question 105: What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the first commandment are, atheism, in denying or not having a God; idolatry, in having or worshiping more gods than one, or any with or instead of the true God; the not having and avouching him for God, and our God; the omission or neglect of anything due to him, required in this commandment; ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of him; bold and curious searching into his secrets; all profaneness, hatred of God; self-love, self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, or affections upon other things, and taking them off from him in whole or in part; vain credulity, unbelief, heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments, hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security, tempting of God; using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means; carnal delights and joys; corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal; lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God; estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God; praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures; all compacts and consulting with the devil, and hearkening to his suggestions; making men the lords of our faith and conscience; slighting and despising God and his commands; resisting and grieving of his Spirit, discontent and impatience at his dispensations, charging him foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us; and ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have, or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.

Question 106: What are we specially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?

Answer: These words before me, or before my face, in the first commandment, teach us, that God, who sees all things, takes special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God: that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation: as also to persuade us to do as in his sight,: Whatever we do in his service. (Here)

I have been encouraged to meditate upon that phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance which has it that the United States are (oh, I'm sorry, is) "...one nation...indivisible...." Christians are prohibited from assigning divine attributes to any entity other than God.

Newsflash: Only God is indivisible.


I have a slight confession. I employ, shall we say, rough language from time to time. As it turns out, my parents never really have done themselves. But I attended "rough" schools and lived among rough people, and learned to communicate, whether rightly or wrongly, the way everyone else did. The situation did not improve during the years I spent in the Army. Occasionally, someone will call me on the carpet for my "colorful metaphors." Perhaps they are right to do. But you know what? I have heard the most blasphemous thoughts expressed in the most beautiful language.

Blessed be the Lord our God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And blessed be His Kingdom, now and forever. Amen.

Yes, I did watch the New Hampshire debates...

for whatever they may be worth.

Worthwhile commentary, here.


I am continuing my observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which end tomorrow with the Feast of the Epiphany. (Yes, my Christmas tree is still up. It will come down tomorrow evening.)

Question 107: Which is the second commandment?

Answer: The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Question 108: What are the duties required in the second commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense: Whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed.

Question 110: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?

Answer: The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God's sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations. (Here)

In response to this commandment, my denomination excludes as elements of worship anything not either expressly commanded or logically deduced from what is expressly commanded. So, while some churches have seen fit to forego the sermon in favor of some relevant dramatic presentation we have not done. It seems to us manifestly clear that the preaching of the Word is a necessary component of Christian worship.

Of course, those who have seen fit to do away with the sermon (I offer that as only one example) have done so from a desire to be "relevant". People don't want to sit for sermons; they're boring. But people can get excited about drama (in the technical sense of the word, of course), so let's give them what will get them to show up.

Now, if worship is something done for people, this may make some sense. But if worship is something offered up to God -- a sacrifice of thanks and praise -- then it seems highly reasonable that He Who is to receive it is authorized to tell His people what He wants them to offer.

Worship, like "image-makeing", is a creative act. As a creative act it can be a way of serving the creature rather than the Creator. In other words, worship is not holy just because we get together on Sunday and do it, and call it worship. And what we do in worship may not be for us to decide. We may not have, as creatures, the authority to determine what elements are contained in proper worship.

Is my worship a form of idolatry?

04 January 2008


Question 111: Which is the third commandment?

Answer: The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.

Question 112: What is required in the third commandment?

Answer: The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and: Whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, andAnswerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.

Question 113: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God's name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning, or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarreling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God's decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable

Questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or anywise opposing of God's truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.

Question 114: What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?

Answer: The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, The Lord thy God, and, For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain, are, because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment, albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men. (Here)

A lot of people seem to think that one disobeys this commandment only if and when he says "____ damn it," or "Oh, _____," or similar things.

But think momentarily of what it means to take a name, any name. When a woman gets married she takes the name of her husbands family and calls herself by it. The first thing it is to take God's name is to call him one's God. If you call God your God, then it better mean something; that is, the act of calling God (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ) your God comes not just with privileges, but also obligations.

Be somethingological when it comes to certain numbers

The unemployment rate "jumped" to 5%. That's bad news. Of course, the fact that 95% of the workforce is employed must be bad news also. 95% of us are working.

Of course, if you've read Dickens' Hard Times it may make sense for someone to say that the unemployment rate, for the unemployed, is 100%. (Think about it.)

But notice, in the report, how the the payroll increase is reported: It's the weakest since August 2003. Okay, the increase is the weakest since '03. But...it's still an increase for crying out loud. Which would you rather be? One of the 5% unemployed? One of those who received an increase in pay -- even if it were the weakest increase in comparison with your increases of past years?

Or, perhaps you'd like to live in Germany, where the unemployment rate is 7.9%?

Talk about ingratitude.
03 January 2008


Question 115: Which is the fourth commandment?

Answer: The fourth commandment is, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Question 116: What is required in the fourth commandment?

Answer: The fourth commandment requires of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he has appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's day.

Question 117: How is the sabbath or the Lord's day to be sanctified?

Answer: The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

Question 118: Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors?

Answer: The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.

Question 119: What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.

Question 120: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment, the more to enforce it?

Answer: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment, the more to enforce it, are taken from the equity of it, God allowing us six days of seven for our own affairs, and reserving but one for himself, in these words, Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: from God's challenging a special propriety in that day, The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: from the example of God, who in six days made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: and from that blessing which God put upon that day, not only in sanctifying it to be a day for his service, but in ordaining it to be a means of blessing to us in our sanctifying it;Wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Question 121: Why is the word Remember set in the beginning of the fourth commandment?

Answer: The word Remember is set in the beginning of the fourth commandment, partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and, in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion; and partly, because we are very ready to forget it, for that there is less light of nature for it, and yet it restrains our natural liberty in things at other times lawful; that it comes but once in seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it;and that Satan with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety. (Here)

If you want to start an argument in my denomination you can always bring up the Sabbath, and what is or is not permitted on it. Can you go out for lunch after church? One guy I heard say that going out to eat after church is like "plundering the Egyptians." Whether it's permissible or not, one has to admit, I think, that exchanging money for goods is a very strange sort of plundering. You give me money, and I give you food. I'm not sure how I'm being plundered.

Whatever. What concerns me is the catechism's teaching, here that, among other things it should be "our delight to spend the whole [day] in the public and private exercises of God's worship". This part of the catechism always makes me wonder: If I were as punctilious in my observance of the Fourth Commandment as I am in that of, say, the Seventh, what would my Sundays look like? Hhhmmm.

Fortunately, I have plenty of friends who care enough to "free" me from my "legalism".

02 January 2008


(The previous posting should have been up yesterday, of course. But yesterday was the celebration of The Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ -- also known as New Year's Day. I was busy celebrating. Part of that celebration included re-reading a portion of Herman Ridderbos's, The Coming of the Kingdom. But, just so no one gets the wrong idea about me: yesterday's "festivities" also included a very heated argument with my wife, so heated, in fact that it took us several hours to recover. Sad, but true. But I digress. On to the matter at hand.)

Question 123: Which is the fifth commandment?

Answer: The fifth commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God gives thee.

Question 124: Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?

Answer: By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God's ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

Question 125: Why are superiors styled father and mother?

Answer: Superiors are styled father and mother, both to teach them in all duties toward their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations; and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents.

Question 126: What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?

Answer: The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.

Question 127: What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors.?
Answer: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

Question 128: What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?

Answer: The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

Question 129: What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?

Answer: It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God has put upon them.

Question 130: What are the sins of superiors?

Answer: The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, an inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favoring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonoring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behavior.

Question 131: What are the duties of equals?

Answer: The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another; and to rejoice in each other's gifts and advancement, as their own.

Question 132: What are the sins of equals?

Answer: The sins of equals are, besides the neglect of the duties required, the undervaluing of the worth, envying the gifts, grieving at the advancement of prosperity one of another; and usurping preeminence one over another.

Question 133: What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?

Answer: The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God gives thee, is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God's glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.
Note: The aforementioned argument took place after that period of time I spent reading Ridderbos. In fact, had I kept my nose firmly in that book the argument would not have happened. One of these days I'm going to finish learning how to leave some things alone.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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