March 3, 2015
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was asked by a correspondent to read some material from the now-archived site Common Sense Atheism and give my opinions.
One motif I found that surprised me (though it shouldn't have surprised me) was this idea: To test your religious faith, you ought to try to describe it in derogatory terms and admit that this is an accurate description. See if your Christianity can "handle" making this admission.
Apparently Luke Muehlhauser was subjected to this "test" by some atheist when he was in his own crisis of faith. That crisis of faith resulted in his deconverting, and now he is using the same technique on others, since he thought it indicated so devastating a criticism of his own Christianity.
March 2, 2015
The Wall Street Journal reports:
BRASÍLIA—President Dilma Rousseff’s administration, fearful of a potential loss of Brazil’s investment-grade debt rating, is stepping up austerity measures, angering supporters and exacerbating an already painful economic slowdown.
The government on Thursday announced a cap on government spending and investment, as well as additional tax increases for businesses, moves aimed at shoring up Brasília’s deteriorating finances. [. . .]
Many analysts have praised Brazil’s newfound fiscal discipline as essential to its long-term prosperity. Still, higher taxes and less government spending mean less money in the economy to spur growth and job creation in the short run. Brazil’s official jobless rate climbed to 5.3% in January from 4.3% in December. Official data due late in March are likely to show the country GDP contracted in 2014.
A curious feature of current debates in political economy is that leftists who declaim against austerity very frequently desire a key aspect of it, while right-wingers who defend austerity want no part of the same: namely, tax increases. The infamous “sequestration” budget deal, stumbled into by the White House and Congress, was an austerity measure. It raised taxes (on income, capital gains and dividends) and cut spending. European austerity programs have routinely hiked business, income and consumption taxes. Greek Socialists, having won a recent election, exasperated Eurozone bailout negotiators, and earned a brief reprieve on their debt payments, continue to promise constituents in Greece that they will relieve their austerity burden — in part by lowering business and value-added taxes.
As a check on public sophistry, it is vital to keep these details in mind. Democrats in the US Congress, along with the White House, are constantly angling for new forms of taxation, either for openly punitive purposes (carbon taxes) or out of a yearning for more revenue. This is their austerity policy, whether they realize it or not.
Meanwhile, unless they are prepared to compromise on raising taxes, Republicans should eschew defending austerity. It is perfectly plausible to favor a policy of spending cuts without tax increases, or even alongside tax reductions. But this is not, strictly speaking, austerity.
February 21, 2015
Recently I had some correspondence with someone who found my interview from several years ago with atheist Luke Muehlhauser and asked me to look around Muehlhauser's (now-archived) web site and respond to some posts there. In the course of doing so I came upon this part of Muehlhauser's deconversion story:
What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies.
That the gospels were written decades after Jesus' death is apologetically fairly unimportant. From an historical perspective, there is no reason to distrust a document because it was written "decades" after the events it tells about. This statement is even compatible with a document's being written by a careful and truthful eyewitness of the events recounted! Moreover, "decades" could mean as little as twenty years.
But what about the rest: "Riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies"? That would be problematic, if it were true. And "written by non-eyewitnesses" definitely implies that we know that John wasn't written by John and Matthew wasn't written by Matthew. Then there are Luke and Mark, which on the traditional view were written by people who had access to and conversations with eyewitnesses, but Luke M. obviously thinks that he "learned" that no such thing is the case.
There is an approach to arguing for the resurrection of Jesus Christ known as the minimal facts approach. Versions of this argument have been made by William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, for both of whom I have the greatest respect. But there is one problematic aspect of minimal facts arguments: They tend to be presented in such a way as to imply that it doesn't matter to the strength of this case for the resurrection if the gospels are historically unreliable. Proponents of the minimal facts approach do not rely heavily upon the details of the resurrection accounts in the gospels themselves, except for a few general aspects (e.g., that Jesus was believed to have appeared to a variety of people), preferring to put more weight upon Paul's creedal statement about the resurrection in I Corinthians 15. The very strong impression given is that we can get a very strong case for the resurrection of Jesus even if the gospels are historically unreliable and even if the resurrection stories in the gospels are beefed-up, legendary accretions.
I submit that this is highly problematic. A minimal facts argument would be fine as a first statement of some of the issues, as a first approach, but it becomes positively misleading if those who learn this method think that they can lightly toss the gospels to the likes of Bart Ehrman and that we can be fully justified in believing in Jesus' resurrection even if the gospels are, in the words of deconvert Muehlhauser, "riddled with contradictions [and] legends."
February 20, 2015
[I]t is harder to say, when the cruel coat [of pitch] is produced, I do not sacrifice, than to obey the order, "Burn thy hand."
Epigrams of Martial. Believed to refer to Christian martyrs.
Alliance Defending Freedom has reported on the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington State florist who is being sued for huge damages both by homosexual plaintiffs and by the Attorney General of Washington State. The lawsuit seeks to recover all of the legal costs for those who are suing her.
If that isn't bad enough, a little extra malicious detail is that she has received many requests for homosexual "wedding" flowers in an obviously coordinated effort to drive up her fines.
One odd aspect of the case is that a judge has ruled, agreeing with the Attorney General, the ACLU, and the homosexual plaintiffs, that liability extends beyond her corporation, which apparently is organized as an LLC. She is being held personally liable, and this could amount to personal ruin for her, given that the Attorney General is demanding that she pay the other side's legal fees if she loses. I was immediately curious about why she is being held personally liable and did some digging. Here is the judge's ruling.
February 19, 2015
In a remarkable article in the Washington Post Joel Achenbach seeks to explain “Why science is so hard to believe.” By this he means to show why many people do not accept all of the deliverances of science, such as the benefits of putting fluoride in water, vaccines, “the reality of climate change,” and Darwinian evolution.
There are many features of Achenbach’s article which are worthy of comment. One place to start is the treatment of “science” as a concrete entity rather than an abstraction. What I mean is that “science” doesn’t say anything. People say things, and some of those people are called scientists because of their training and profession. So I can’t really believe “science” because “science” isn’t the sort of thing that one believes or does not believe.
February 18, 2015
"His administration's enlightened approach to Middle East policy reversed centuries of Western misunderstanding and repression," said Omar al Ahmadi, a community organizer with the Caliphate Community Corps, to a crowd of about five hundred people on the steps of the Caliphate Palace. "Only he had the bold vision needed to turn around what would otherwise be a foolish military campaign. Only he could have set ISIS on the right path".
The turning point, many said, was when the State Department said that the U.S. needed to address root causes of Arab Muslims joining the war on the side of ISIS, the predecessor of the New Caliphate.
In February 2015, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on MSNBC that the U.S. cannot "kill our way out" of the war against ISIS.
February 14, 2015
While we're talkin' law (see previous post), here's a bit of catch-up on the religion law news:
The Washington, DC, city council has eliminated the religious exemption from its statute on non-discrimination for "sexual orientation or gender identity" in educational institutions.
This could be a very big deal indeed, if they got away with it. The idea seems to be to force all Christian schools in DC, including (especially?) K-12 Christian schools, to hire homosexuals and transgenders despite their religious objections.
I really do not see how this can survive court challenge. As the Liberty Counsel points out here, the Hosanna-Tabor precedent gives wide latitude to churches and explicitly religious organizations in designating staff as ministerial and making conduct and creedal requirements for staff.
Moreover, since the Liberty Counsel wrote that letter (just last week, in fact) a Court of Appeals ruling has applied Hosanna-Tabor to a case where a staff member for Intervarsity was fired over marital issues. The court ruled in favor of Intervarsity.
February 12, 2015
By now everyone knows that Judge Roy Moore has ordered probate judges in Alabama not to comply with a federal district court ruling that homosexuals must be issued marriage licenses in that state for their "marriages." Moore is acting consistently with his long-held view that state courts and officials (such as governors) have standing to interpret the Constitution, as well as with his legal opinion that probate judges are bound by the laws and Constitution of Alabama.
There is something especially angering about the fact that leftists and (unfortunately) some Christians accuse Moore of abandoning the rule of law rather than the federal courts. One wonders if there is anything, anything at all, that would bring some allegedly conservative droids to the realization that it is the courts that are lawless when they make stuff up, lie, and tell us that it is in the U.S. Constitution. We have now reached the point of reductio and beyond, and they are still calling it the "rule of law" to follow mindlessly whatever the federal courts say. What would it take? Is there anything? If a federal court stated that a man can marry a dolphin and ordered that marriage licenses be issued in Ohio for human-dolphin pairs, would everyone suddenly wake up and say, "Wait, following this can't be the rule of law"?
But I'll bet not. It seems that, for nearly everyone in this country, with a few shining exceptions like Judge Moore, robotically doing whatever we are ordered by federal courts just is the "rule of law."
February 9, 2015
As the Republican primary begins to heat up, candidates will stake out their positions on a variety of issues important to conservatives. One issue that has occupied a place of growing concern for me is what some like to call “The National Question” – immigration policy. Immigration came up in the context of a couple of interesting/good recent pieces by wildly different political commentators, discussing the putative Republican field. The first piece was by conservative apostate David Frum, who takes Jeb Bush to task over some of Bush’s recent comments about immigration. To lay my own cards on the table, I have been proudly and staunchly anti-immigrant (at least in the present context) for some time – I think Frum is quite right to question Bush’s devotion to the concept of “biculturalism” (what happened to good old fashioned assimilation -- -- some of us prefer immigrants that assimilate to a common culture. Bobby Jindal has been good on this subject). Indeed, Frum should have used his piece to ask some even tougher questions of Jeb Bush: Why do we need immigrant labor -- especially when the low-skill labor coming from Central America will drive down the price of our low skill labor? Do you want to make life tougher for the working poor in their country? What about the cost/benefit analysis associated with new immigrants -- let's talk about those communities struggling to deal with low-skill Hispanics who seem to lose their family values once they cross the border (50% + out of wedlock birth rates and climbing!) I could go on, but you get the idea.
February 6, 2015
There's something almost too self-referential about this, but...
Here at W4 I posted an entry on "What Evidentialism Is Not." I subsequently received advice that I should turn it into a talk for our local chapter of Ratio Christi. I expanded it a bit and did so, and it was recorded, with some very interesting Q & A. Then someone suggested that it be put on-line, and the ever-helpful Brian Auten of Apologetics 315, who has hosted a lot of Tim's stuff (hie thee there and listen if you haven't listened to any of that), was happy to put it up here. The audio intro. links back to the original blog post here at W4, and now I'm putting up another blog post linking to the audio which links to the...
Never mind. Despite all of that snake-swallowing-its-tail stuff, there actually is additional content in the audio, especially in the lively Q & A. I hope some W4 readers will enjoy listening to it. (P.S. If you ever wanted to know what a Chicago accent sounds like, listen to my talk. Now you have heard one.)
February 5, 2015
Wesley J. Smith links to a draft ethics statement by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan that, if made official, would require physicians to perform legally permissible "services," including abortion, even if against their consciences.
The statement says at first that they may refuse to do so, but only if they provide a referral to another physician who will perform the service, and provide in a timely fashion. This is bad enough. (Victoria, Australia, already has such a policy in place.) But the statement then goes on to say that the physician must provide the service himself if no one else can be found to provide it without a delay that would be bad for the patient's "health or well-being." The distinction between health and well-being is significant. As Smith points out, this would doubtless be used to imply that psychological harm would come from delaying an abortion or euthanasia, which would mean in effect that the doctor would be required to perform the abortion himself if he couldn't find someone else to do it right away.
Finding someone else to do it would be cooperation with evil in any event, but this goes a step farther even than that.
I note, too, that the services can be requested by an incompetent patient's surrogate decision-maker. So a doctor could presumably be required to abort the child of a minor at the demand of a parent, for example.
Ironically, this evil policy could have a few accidental good effects if it were applied to providing a feeding tube to patients who want it or whose decision-makers want it for them. But I am sufficiently cynical that I seriously doubt that it will be applied to keeping people alive. Even if it were ever thus applied, of course that would be greatly outweighed by the enormous evil of forcing doctors at other times to make people dead.
Cue the leftists implying that making people dead is "part of the job" and that you shouldn't become a doctor if you aren't prepared to "perform your job." They're doing it already in Wesley's comments. As though tearing babies apart or giving lethal injections were just a part of the medical profession! (This might be a good time to reflect on the fact that the practice of medicine is inevitably based on value judgements if it is to be of any use at all.)
I have little hope that this ethics statement will not be adopted, and if it is, presumably the penalty for refusing to cooperate would be losing one's medical license. If I am right, then soon it will be time for doctors in Saskatchewan to take that risk.
February 1, 2015
I’ve been re-reading a lot of Harry Jaffa, spurred by his recent death. He was a superb scholar who left behind two of the best books ever written on Lincoln. His erudition was immense. His prose, though invariably challenging, suffered from none of the characteristic obscurity of his Straussian comrades.
Churchill’s indelible rendering of Statesmanship was Harry Jaffa’s favorite passage from the great Englishman’s voluminous writings. Curiously, though not much of a Burkean himself, the emphasis on this quotation, in various key portions of his writings, evidences a strong pull toward the wisdom of the great Irishman, in this recently deceased great American.
The passage appears in Churchill’s collection Thoughts and Adventures, a reissue of which book I reviewed long ago. In Jaffa’s summary, Churchill is defending Burke, who “had once attacked the British Court and defended the American Revolution, then later had defended the French monarchy and attacked the French Revolution.”
January 30, 2015
At least according to Amanda Taub from Vox, who wrote a blog piece in response to an article by Jonathan Chait. Chait argues that the resurgent form of political correctness today is threatening to undermine liberalism. He seems to think this is a bad thing, but I digress. Taub contradicts that, saying that use of the label “Political Correctness” is actually a way of dismissing the legitimate concerns of others that we ourselves do not feel particularly strong about. She uses as an example a single comment by a Virginia legislator, Jackson Miller, who wanted the Washington Redskins to keep their name unchanged. Taub, unsurprisingly, thinks it is racist and should be changed so as to avoid offending people. Miller made the statement that the controversy over the Redskins’ name was “political correctness on steroids on overdrive” (interestingly Taub left out the “steroids” part in her version of the quote). Taub sees this as simply a ploy to shut down the debate without considering the possibility of racism, and thus shows a lack of respect to those who have what might be legitimate concerns.
January 28, 2015
A Washington Post article noteworthy for its sensationalism reserves a most arresting revelation for the very last paragraph. It comes from the mouth of a man whose interest and perspective are commendably disclosed, by the very name of the organization he works for: the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. Here is a man who gives voice to the authentic view of the American public education establishment. Here is a man who shows us what they are thinking. His remarks that conclude this article are striking.
But first, the sensationalism.
January 27, 2015
There has been quite a controversy humming around lately about those that Catholic writer Austin Ruse calls the "new homophiles." Evidently some think that is a prejudicial term, so I'll make up a different term. Let's call them the "Christian homosexual identifiers" or CHIs. There is no subtle pun or joke here. I'm just trying to come up with something descriptive and different from Ruse's phrase, since for some reason Ruse's is regarded as invidious. (I'm pretty sure he just meant it to be descriptive as well, but sometimes you can't win with these things. Someone is always offended.)
As best I can understand it, the CHIs are Christians who identify themselves as "gay," who accept that they should not be engaging in sexual acts with members of the same sex, but who regard their "gay" identity as in some sense a positive thing. The controversy is over whether they are correct so to regard it. Here is a mainstream news piece about the Catholic CHIs.