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Posts from the ‘Philosophy’ Category

The Scales

[Originally delivered as a sermon to Grace on Campus, the Christian club at Hononegah High School, on April 13, 2017.]

scales from eyes

I’m thinking about the way one of my college professors uses a particular expression.

Whenever a student has a sudden moment of realization in class — they hadn’t understood something but then all at once they get it — my professor comments that “it’s like the scales have fallen from their eyes.”

I’m not sure exactly where he got this expression from, (though I harbor some suspicions), or why he uses this metaphor instead of the numerous others that relate understanding and wisdom with eyes and sight.

Somehow, some way, scientists can know how different animals see. Humans, obviously, because the scientists themselves are human. Dogs, because they can dissect the canine eyes and count the cones and rods, or something. The particular animal of this metaphor is the snake, which has a thick scale over each eye which prevents it from really seeing. It can see that things are there, like if you closed your eyes and tried look forward. You would have just the vaguest impression of light and dark, but no thing in particular. So it is with snakes. This is also why snakes flick their tongue out. Not just to taste the air. They are smelling the air. It replaces their mostly-useless eyes.

Needless to say, my professor is not the first to compare sight and understanding. The scriptures also use this concept, and I’d like to bring to your attention several distinct places the Bible talks about blindness as a spiritual and mental, rather than merely physical, process.

First let’s dig through Paul. Some important sections come to mind.

From 1st Corinthians:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called,both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

And then later on, into the next chapter:

12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness,and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Let’s take stock of a few things before continuing. First, Paul is talking to an audience of Greek believers who face a variety of issues. Some were practical, like marriage, lawsuits, and people disrupting the church service. But before Paul gets into any of that, he talks about this. Human understanding and reasoning. This audience is living in ancient Greece, keep in mind, the hub of all kinds of different philosophies. He wants to make sure they get this down first.

Second, the problem with Jews and Greeks. To the Jews, it is ridiculous to say that Christ’s death achieved anything. Why would his death have any impact on me? Shouldn’t my own death, or maybe the death of my property (rams, bulls, cows, etc.) have an impact? Why would someone else’s property dying, or their death, alter my account? Not to mention, how could God die? If Jesus died, then he isn’t God. The problem is that the teachings of Jesus upended their religious system of sacrifice and atonement. Jesus’s death is like asking your calculator to find 2+-*/2. Syntax Error.

The Greeks had similar opinions of Jesus, but for them, it was because they were wiser than that. The solution proposed by Christ would be simple, too simple; stupid, a question for fools, they think. Like answering the question “how do you solve the world’s problems?” with “a good deal of hard work.” That’s not enough of an answer. There is clearly something more sophisticated than that.

So both end up rejecting him. A stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

Last, lets look closely at the final statement in these verses: the unbeliever “cannot understand [the things of the Spirit] because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” So, they are blind — not that the unbeliever can see things but refuses to follow them.

They cannot see at all.

They have scales covering their eyes.

Flip 10 or so pages forward in your Bible and find 2nd Corinthians, chapter 3. This is a follow-up letter to the same group of people, in more or less the same situation. Not much has changed since the first letter (which infuriated Paul, I’d imagine). Here is the passage:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

And then continuing on into the next chapter a few verses…

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

As straightforward as ever, Paul is again arguing in this passage that people are blinded to the message of Christ.

This comparison between Moses with his veil and the Israelites with their spiritual blindness is a bit confused, in my opinion, because it’s compares general themes, instead of a 1 to 1 comparison, and we hear 1 to 1 comparisons more often. But here is what he means: just as nobody could see Moses’s face because the veil prevented them, so could the unbelieving Jews today [c. AD 54] not see what is really going on.

His language is explicit: people who have not “turned to the Lord” have something blocking their ability to understand the truths of God, and they “cannot see the light”. Here Satan gets the credit, but at other times God does, because in some way everything is at least partially is attributable to God. Yet when that person is reoriented towards Christ, their barrier is removed and they understand.

They can see the light of the gospel.

The scales fall off their eyes.

To make my point crystal clear: belief and unbelief are not as straightforward as being convinced that something is true.

If it WERE so straightforward, then I would only have to point them to this next argument and they would convert on the spot.

THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

__________ BEGAN TO EXIST
ALL THINGS THAT BEGIN TO EXIST HAVE A CAUSE
__________ HAS A CAUSE.

INPUT: THE UNIVERSE; TIME; MATTER; SPACE; ENERGY.

The force of this argument should be felt immediately. If the two premises are true, then the conclusion must follow. And if that conclusion follows — that matter, time, space, energy, the universe, or any other way you try to slice and dice everything that “is,” are caused — then they must have a cause which is not themselves. So, there must be an immaterial cause for matter. There must be an intemporal cause for time (i.e. never changes). There must be an inspatial cause for space. There must be something not made of energy that caused energy. (Though this is irrelevant because Einstein proved the unity of energy and matter with his equation e=mc^2). Put generally, there must be something outside of the universe which is not the universe itself nor is made of what the universe is made of, that caused the universe to be.

This argument leads all the others in most circles of Christian apologetics. William Lane Craig wrote his PhD. dissertation on this topic and has since written numerous books and articles about it. The Kalam brings us to the same point that Aristotle did with his “unmoved first mover” concept. There exists something with properties x y and z. Now, we are left with the legwork of connecting that thing with those properties to the Person we describe as God, and sure enough, the argument holds there as well. These traits do match the descriptions given in the scriptures and are precariously similar to Anselm’s or Paul Tillich’s description of God.

But this isn’t how things work. It doesn’t matter how logically structured the argument. The gap between unbelief and belief is not persuasion.

There is something blocking their understanding.

Their face has a veil.

Their eyes have scales.

I really hate to introduce another passage of scripture because too many can be overwhelming, or seem like I’m pulling things out of context. But this one is too good to resist.

At the very end of Luke two men are walking along a path and see a third one nearby. So they start a conversation, not realizing that the third man is Jesus himself. Now, I’ve undersold it already: they didn’t just “not realize” it. Instead, as verse 16 describes, “they were kept from recognizing him.” So that little verb, those two words “were kept,” means that this blindness is imposed upon them. It isn’t coming from themselves. It’s an outside force. Keep that in mind.

Jesus has just been crucified that weekend, and raised from the dead that day (or maybe the day before). So these two travelers start telling the third man, unbeknownst to them Jesus, all about who Jesus is and how he had died and rose again. And Jesus replies, picking up in verse 25:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

And notice again, let me read it one more time, verse 31: “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” This, just like “were kept,” means that some outside force was in the way, not just themselves.

So what exactly happened here? Did these men have some crazy backstory of hating and persecuting Jesus? Later on Saul would be a good example of this, and another angle emerges there when you consider his blindness. But were these men ridiculous sinners, criminals, and such? No, it seems like these are people that had been tracking with Jesus for quite a while. These are the ones in close proximity to him. We don’t know who they are, but the text sort of implies that they are among the 12, minus Judas, so the 11. Yet these men did not understand. In their description of Jesus they called him “a prophet, powerful in word and deed.” But is that all? Is Jesus just a powerful prophet? Jesus corrects them and says “the Messiah.” The chosen one.

And their hearts, burning within them! The teaching of scripture lit a fire within their spirit. The passage records that Jesus went through the Old Testament and pointed out all the places that testified to him — that’s all he did — and inside them grew an intense passion.

Meanwhile, they gain vision.

They can see.

The scales are removed.

My own testimony happened in something of a similar process. And by process I mean all at once, in a single moment, without any duration or length of time at all.

Sitting on a couch in the youth room at Hope EFC in Roscoe, (and I can still point you to the exact spot), a few things came together at once. The group was studying the book “Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World” by C.J. Mahaney. Doug Juhlin was leading my small group and was asking us questions. The first chapter after the introduction provided a very pointed scenario:

Imagine that someone could obtain a transcript of every word you said this week, the lyrics of every song you listened to, a complete browser history of your internet activity, and a print-out of every thought that nobody else but you could know. This observer also gets to have the same documentation from a random, non-Christian person. If they looked over the documents, would they notice a difference between the two of you? Would there be anything indicative of a changed life?

You must change your life. This religious system holds to certain premises, and from those premises follow conclusions that must logically follow. You agree to the premises, Ross. God exists. You have offended him. You are sinner in the hand of an angry God. You must obey his commands. But will I follow those to their end?

What a profoundly Biblical concept. Union with Christ means that I must fully surrender, that ALL of me must be united with Him.

And so it happened that all in one moment I felt this impact. The whole gospel message finally clicked. Why did Jesus have to die? What does it mean for “Jesus to live in your heart”? What is the significance of faith in the life of a Christian? What is a Christian, as opposed to a non-Christian, if not beliefs?

I moved from being a James 2:19 follower of Christ to being a James 2:22 follower of Christ.

My aloofness was taken all in one moment.

I could see.

The veil was gone.

The scales had fallen.

This happened in late September or early October of 2010 and for the remainder of 7th grade I was on fire for Christ. My heart burned within me. Everything that I could think about or talk about reflected Him. I exclusively listened to Christian music, consumed Christian radio and podcasts, read books about Christianity (from a very fundamentalist slant) and got more and more involved at church. My attitudes in school changed; no longer the sarcastic, arrogant prick who was smart enough to goof around and still get an A+. (The classes were still easy enough to do that, but my attitude changed). Suddenly I was engaged in classes, I became an extrovert with social skills on the rise, instead of hating everyone and playing with my Lego blocks in the corner. I began to desire the things that God desires. My favorite book was a two-way tie between Romans and Romans. In short, I became the most Christian person I knew.

The rest of my story is long and complicated. Everything changed after 7th grade, and I’ve swung up and down and sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways, and squareways, and front ways, and any other ways that you can think of.

In 8th grade I became depressed from a confluence of different circumstances that all seemed to pile on at once with no solution in sight. Everything being miserable and all, the pure joy of the previous year fell away.

In 9th grade I became worldly after the depression wore off, because now I was neither depressed nor joyful — just hollow, and I let that hollowness be filled in by influence of the wrong people.

In 10th grade I became build up again after I left those friends in the dust and headed for the hills. My accidentally joining the Cross Country team led me to therefore (and really, this did 100% follow from being on Cross Country) become part of the Christian Club. A set of upperclassmen together fixed their eyes on Christ and caught my gaze in the process. Winston, Shannon, Liz, Hannah, and the list goes on. Real discipleship.

In 11th grade I became busy, filling my schedule to meet every demand. My study of the scriptures became less important. My study of statistics, now that’s where my time went. Along with my other half a dozen AP classes, all of my clubs, my church hyper-involvement, and on and on and on and on.

In 12th grade I began to doubt. Over the previous year I had begun to listen to some passionate atheists online because I agreed with their politics, but I ended up gathering from them more than opinions about government. I downloaded their thought process, the way that they found truth strictly through reason and evidence. In my mental computer I followed the startlingly new chain of Start > Control Panel > Command Prompt > Run > Secularism.exe. Rationalism! Intelligence! Profundity! Reason! Dozens of objections to the faith soon followed and it all quickly spiraled out of control.

Do you remember the presentation in January of 2016, last year, during Outreach Week when we had Mickey Klink come speak with a topic like “Arguments that a God Exists”? Do you remember the buzz around the school that day, what everyone was talking about? They were all annoyed that he didn’t actually give arguments that a God exists. Instead he spent almost the whole hour talking about the legitimacy of doubt in the life of a believer. “That’s not an argument for the existence of God,” they said. He also talked a lot about presuppositions and the foundations for secular thought, and why those are unsatisfactory. But that flew right over everyone’s heads. “That’s not an argument for the existence of God,” they said.

In retrospect, and I didn’t understand this until at least 8 months later, I realize that he wasn’t talking to them. He was talking to me. Every single word that he spoke was directed by the Holy Spirit to console, of all people, the one who organized the event. Me. I booked him as the speaker, I gave him the topic and prepped him on what not to say, I met him in the lobby, had a bottle of water for him, introduced him to the audience and everything. I had a great leadership team to help with the entire week, but this particular even was solely mine. Yet I was the one receiving the message, not them. Unbelievable.

In 13th grade, this year, I became passionate again. It’s the year of Jubilee! Seven years later and the slaves are all set free. Since I arrived at Trinity I have had those doubts repackaged and reoriented in a way that makes most of them irrelevant. A whole lot has changed and I wish that I could describe it all to you, but put shortly: in one moment, at probably 2 or 3 am in my dorm, I was reading the textbook assignment for the next day. The selection was about the difference between recognizing pluralism and abandoning absolute truth.

And it hit me.

I was set free once more.

The scales that had regrown over my eyes were gone once more.

You see, something strange happens in a public school environment that doesn’t happen in private religious schools. I brought this entire book with me to read a passage from it, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have time for that.

*

But essentially, here is what happened: I didn’t need to be a Christian to do Calculus. Alex Hartz could hand the same calculus problem to a hardened atheist and a selfless follower of Christ, and the only determinant on who gets the problem right or wrong is who did the homework — not — who believed in God. The same was true of English class, or Economics class, or worst yet, my classes at Beloit College that year. It did not matter whether I believed in God or not. And since school had consumed roughly 1000% of my life, I just began to live my life as if He wasn’t there.

(This effect is something described in depth by Craig Groeschel in his book “The Christian Atheist.” I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon.)

Here’s the mistake I was making. I mixed up two different concepts: that we all coexist together in this school regardless of our religion, and that religion does not matter. When really, we can coexist in the same school regardless of religion and I can still fiercely disagree with you. I can look you in the eyes and say “you’re wrong” and still do my math homework. 

Before time runs out, I want to offer some applications from all of this.

First. Let’s remember that sight is God’s supernatural work. We cannot save people, and we cannot even present the arguments in a way that makes sense. Because to them, it won’t. They disagree not because of anything purely rational — though they may frame the conversation in those terms — but because Satan and/or God is standing in the way. Instead, ask God to remove the veil. Only he can do that.

Second. Your peers worship one of four things. The God of Christianity. The God or deities of some different religion. Themselves. Or their college admissions counselor.

Most people that talk about high school students overlook this. They think that if a student isn’t religious, they are obviously a crazy party goer, slamming shots as if alcohol isn’t kryptonyte to the liver. Doing a different drug every day, cheating their way through tests and girls like their consequences will never catch up with them. Their social media doubles as an online MTV-if-ied 16 and Pregant of their horrendous moral choices. They look up to the cast of Jersey Shore.

This only tells half the story. In fact, an entire group of students– at my school, somewhere between 70 and 150 people, or 1/3 of the grade — are more religious than the most Christian student in the school. They could deny themselves and take up their cross all day long, but they weren’t following Christ. They would worship at the door of the office of their college admissions counselor. Complete and total self-sacrifice in exchange for the approval of this one person! That’s as religious as it gets! They would sacrifice four years of their life, all their passions and goals, and press through sheer hell. All day long, every day, every week, every month, for four years.

Puritans of all Puritans!

It’s funny, because on the first day of school, freshman orientation in 2012, my admissions counselor told everyone at a presentation that they should join clubs. Okay. Sure. Joining clubs sounds like a good idea. But she said that joining clubs was a good idea for one particular reason: because it looks good on college apps. That phrase, to my surprise and eventual frustration, would be repeated by students as a justification for doing anything that had the slightest chance of getting into that one school they’ve always dreamed of attending. It’s funny because when I applied to schools, and this is true for nearly all schools, especially the good ones, the application limited me to listing my top 5 extra-curricular activities. Only 5.

I didn’t even mention Student Council. I was the president.

This is outright sinful and I regret not only participating in it, but dragging others deeper and deeper into the system. This is outright treason against God and as such it is sending people to Hell. We must stop it.

This is the gutwrenching reality of what it means to be a human being: you will worship something. If God is removed from that equation, you will still worship, it is only the object of that worship that will change. God. A different God. Yourself. Your college admission counselor. Pick one.

Third. The Christian’s task is to beam the light of the gospel into the eyes of snakes. Your job, to continue this already crude metaphor, is not to anesthetize the snake, grab a scalpel, and cut into the eye-scales. Instead, take out the flashlight. Spread the true message of the gospel anyways. It works. God will change lives through your proclamation of the simple truth. We don’t need to “distort the word of God,” per Paul in the 2nd Corinthians passage. Nothing about the purity of the message needs to be improved. “On the contrary, we set forth the truth plainly.”

And by “light” I do not mean the Kalam Cosmological argument. This “light” is not the mere existence of God. It is not warm and fuzzy morality. It is not “family values.” It is the message of redemption, that you don’t got God because you ain’t good but God got good at gettin’ you and so propitiated the wrath destined for your account, switching your place with Christ’s, and accepting you into the kingdom. This is the gospel message. This is what we spread.

Because with it, God transforms lives.

Because through it, God reveals the truth to those without understanding.

Because in it, scales fall from the eyes of men.

 

 


 

*[The book is How (Not) to Be Secular by James K. A. Smith and the passage I was going to read is this:

What [Charles] Taylor describes a ‘secular” — a situation of fundamental contestability when it comes to belief, a sense that rival stories are always at the door offering a very different account of the world — is the engine that drove Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. As she attested in a letter about her first novel:

“I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It’s hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not.”

Even a faith that wants to testify and evangelize — as certainly O’Connor did — has to do so from this place…. [Paul] Elie… well summarizes that effect:

“We are all skeptics now, believer and unbeliever alike. There is no one true faith, evident at all times and places. Every religion is one among many. The clear lines of any orthodoxy are made crooked by out experience, are complicated by out lives. Believer and unbeliever are in the same predicament, thrown back onto themselves in complex circumstances, looking for a sign. As ever, religious belief makes its claim somewhere between revelation and projection, between holiness and human frailty; but the burden of proof, indeed the burden of belief, for so long upheld by society, is now back on the believer, where it belongs.”

Ours is a “secular” age, according to Taylor, not because of any index of religious participation (or lack thereof), but because of these sorts of manifestations of contested meaning. It’s as if the cathedrals are still standing, but their footings have been eroded. Conversely, the Nietzschean dream is alive and well, and the heirs of Bertrand Russell and Auguste Comte continue to beat their drums, and yet Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert still make it to the best seller lists and the magic of Tolkein still captivates wide audiences. (p 10-11).]

Repost: Augustine: What is Government without Justice?

augustine

[Repost from this link]

St. Augustine states that kingdoms without justice are mere robberies, and robberies are like small kingdoms; but large Empires are piracy writ large (5th C)

 

St. Augustine (354-430), in Book IV of The City of God, relates the story about the pirate who had been seized and brought before Alexander the Great. The cheeky pirate asks Alexander what is the real difference between a pirate and an emperor apart from the scale of action

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

  1. HOW LIKE KINGDOMS WITHOUT JUSTICE ARE TO ROBBERIES.Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

    5. OF THE RUNAWAY GLADIATORS WHOSE POWER BECAME LIKE THAT OF ROYAL DIGNITY.

    I shall not therefore stay to inquire what sort of men Romulus gathered together, seeing he deliberated much about them,—how, being assumed out of that life they led into the fellowship of his city, they might cease to think of the punishment they deserved, the fear of which had driven them to greater villainies; so that henceforth they might be made more peaceable members of society. But this I say, that the Roman empire, which by subduing many nations had already grown great and an object of universal dread, was itself greatly alarmed, and only with much difficulty avoided a disastrous overthrow, because a mere handful of gladiators in Campania, escaping from the games, had recruited a great army, appointed three generals, and most widely and cruelly devastated Italy. Let them say what god aided these men, so that from a small and contemptible band of robbers they attained to a kingdom, feared even by the Romans, who had such great forces and fortresses. Or will they deny that they were divinely aided because they did not last long? As if, indeed, the life of any man whatever lasted long. In that case, too, the gods aid no one to reign, since all individuals quickly die; nor is sovereign power to be reckoned a benefit, because in a little time in every man, and thus in all of them one by one, it vanishes like a vapor. For what does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and are long since dead, that after their death the Roman empire has grown so great, while they plead their causes before the powers beneath? Whether those causes are good or bad, it matters not to the question before us. And this is to be understood of all those who carry with them the heavy burden of their actions, having in the few days of their life swiftly and hurriedly passed over the stage of the imperial office, although the office itself has lasted through long spaces of time, being filled by a constant succession of dying men. If, however, even those benefits which last only for the shortest time are to be ascribed to the aid of the gods, these gladiators were not a little aided, who broke the bonds of their servile condition, fled, escaped, raised a great and most powerful army, obedient to the will and orders of their chiefs and much feared by the Roman majesty, and remaining unsubdued by several Roman generals, seized many places, and, having won very many victories, enjoyed whatever pleasures they wished, and did what their lust suggested, and, until at last they were conquered, which was done with the utmost difficulty, lived sublime and dominant. But let us come to greater matters.

    6. CONCERNING THE COVETOUSNESS OF NINUS, WHO WAS THE FIRST WHO MADE WAR ON HIS NEIGHBORS, THAT HE MIGHT RULE MORE WIDELY.

    Justinus, who wrote Greek or rather foreign history in Latin, and briefly, like Trogus Pompeius whom he followed, begins his work thus: “In the beginning of the affairs of peoples and nations the government was in the hands of kings, who were raised to the height of this majesty not by courting the people, but by the knowledge good men had of their moderation. The people were held bound by no laws; the decisions of the princes were instead of laws. It was the custom to guard rather than to extend the boundaries of the empire; and kingdoms were kept within the bounds of each ruler’s native land. Ninus king of the Assyrians first of all, through new lust of empire, changed the old and, as it were, ancestral custom of nations. He first made war on his neighbors, and wholly subdued as far as to the frontiers of Libya the nations as yet untrained to resist.” And a little after he says: “Ninus established by constant possession the greatness of the authority he had gained. Having mastered his nearest neighbors, he went on to others, strengthened by the accession of forces, and by making each fresh victory the instrument of that which followed, subdued the nations of the whole East.” Now, with whatever fidelity to fact either he or Trogus may in general have written—for that they sometimes told lies is shown by other more trustworthy writers—yet it is agreed among other authors, that the kingdom of the Assyrians was extended far and wide by King Ninus. And it lasted so long, that the Roman empire has not yet attained the same age; for, as those write who have treated of chronological history, this kingdom endured for twelve hundred and forty years from the first year in which Ninus began to reign, until it was transferred to the Medes. But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery

Verbatim

 

[A project for my course on Christian Evidences this semester at Trinity International University, in which I argued against a nonbeliever and old friend about the existence of God.]

1:28:45 — neither a Bible verse nor a Shakespearean play line — yet in time a conversation, in dialogue even so. As I ran arguments by Ben, a fellow 19 year old male whose encounter and participation I did not expect, a new confidence in my faith shone through a fog long lingering. For my Junior and Senior years of high school, I unconsciously wrestled with the legitimacy of faith in a pluralistic environment — since I have to assent to my school’s curricula, and this never required nor refuted the existence of God, I gave myself permission to table the question indefinitely. To live as if God may or may not exist, to live functionally agnostic, to become intellectually agnostic, to become intellectually atheistic — it is a slow but logically consequent descent that I should have predicted but didn’t have the experience or perspective to see.

Then my reversion to fundamentalist confidence in Christian Theism came abruptly. I entered complete Christian community at summer camp and at Trinity last fall, each filled with people who actually believed what they said. The communal nature of these groups in time exposed me to, forced me to see my degenerate, vacuous hovel for what it really was: empty, but accidentally so. What a mark of progress, then, for the rebirth of my mind-in-Christ that I could engage someone confidently in this argument who holds the position towards which I had leaned before!

The Discussion

My discussion with Ben began with the Kalam Cosmological Argument. In short, it asserts one law, one fact, and from these binds listeners into one conclusion:

P: All things that begin to exist have a preceding cause
P: The universe [or x] began to exist
C: The universe [or x] has a preceding cause

In the place of x, I can input matter, time, or space, in addition to the entire universe, such that this cause must also have the properties of immateriality, intemporality, and inspaciality. Curiously, these are the same attributes given of the usual infinite God-the-omnipotent type theism. Ben sees the “gaping flaw” that this does not lead to the biblical definition of God. Specifically, this “god” is not personal, and is does not need to have conscious decision making ability. Neither of these can follow from the Kalam argument itself.

To this I replied that the Kalam argument is a necessary but insufficient argument for Christianity — as in, if it is false, Christianity is false, but if it is true, Christianity has not yet been justified. Clearly the various personality traits of God cannot be demonstrated from the mere fact that the universe exists, like the patience of God, which has no necessary physical analogue. It is an argument only for theism proper.

Ben put forward the argument that there is no reason that chains of causation should lead to a God. For example, if he slams his cup onto the table, and consequently sound waves exit the cup, we can conclude that the slamming caused the sound waves, but not that these should have anything to do with God. In reply I introduced the simple distinction that his example concerns physical-physical chains of causation, while this cosmological argument concerns causation between that which is nonphysical (God) and that which is physical, so the metaphor breaks down at precisely the point it objects to the Kalam argument.

We then embarked on an interesting discussion of the fundamental forces of physics, because his other objection is that the Kalam argument does not imply that God should be a conscious being, that it could be merely a force or property that is immaterial, inspatial, and intemporal. Such a force is not something he “would feel compelled to go to church and worship.” Little to his knowledge, this is actually the Official Position™ of most atheists I’ve seen on the Kalam argument. But the question quickly reduced down to nothing because neither of us really understood Stephen Hawking’s Theory Of Everything proposal and we both acknowledged that theoretical physicists have no reason to believe that such a TOE exists. It became a null point, “neither here nor there” as Ben said, and we moved on.

The Teleological Argument concerns itself with the directionality or purpose evident in the natural world. An important subcategory we discussed was the argument from Intelligent Design, which asserts the improbability that intelligent life could arise from non-intelligent life and then supplies that An Intelligence is the most like explanation. Since the likelihood of such events obtaining by chance is low, we assume that, since they happened, they were not by chance; they were purposed.

Ben has a “clear and simple refutation”: the only things that will continue to exist throughout time are those that can. This is just Darwinism, just evolution, just natural selection, he remarked. I do not use quotation marks to imply his position is immature or ill-conceived. Instead, this argument just barely misses the mark. I was not talking about natural selection — for who can disagree with the tautological truism that dead things do not live, so living things are those that do not die? I told him in very clear terms that I believe in natural selection as a principle and in application, and on a slightly unrelated note that I also believe in an old age of the Earth and in (theistically guided) evolution. My disagreement is not on any of the object-level facts of natural history, but that any of it could have arisen unaided.

I gave this argument: the ratio of mutations negatively impacting survival to those positive nears roughly two orders of magnitude, something like 100:1. So, it seems incredibly rare that positive effects would come about before the deleterious effects of the rest lead the species to death. Since obviously we see the evidence of good DNA everywhere, how did these get there in the first place? Truly natural selection can weed out the poor contenders, but how did positive ones originate at all?

Ben replies that, given an infinite amount of time, the certainty of an event with nonzero probability rises to one. In other words, if you have a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 sided dice, the odds of rolling #834,593,827,930,172,372,382,274 is extremely low — but if we rolled the dice an infinite number of times, it would eventually be bound to happen. In fact, in such an infinite time-space, Ben comments, “What are the odds of it happening once? 100%. Twice? 100%. Three times? 100%.”

I explain that this is a great argument, but it doesn’t apply once r/K selection switches in natural history. His idea of sheer numbers driving up the probability applies very well with r/ selected animals, like a seahorse that spews out ten thousands children with enough force to push itself backwards in the water over a yard. The children are left on their own, and hopefully, the parents think, a few make it out alright. Yet most will die. In contrast, animals that are K selected have few offspring, maintain their offspring very meticulously, and release them once they are at the age of sexual reproduction themselves. In the first scenario a natural selection by-the-numbers seems to work, but how could it work in such a smaller scale? It appears that the gene pool negativity would rise fast enough to just wipe out every member of the already-small species, rather than work in quantitatively large portions.

Ben says that, while all that may be true, his argument still applies in a much broader sense. For whether the events on Earth themselves are a low enough probability to not work on Earth is immaterial to the application of his point across the whole universe. There are a near infinite number of planets that have similar conditions to Earth (of just the ones yet discovered) and an infinite amount of time, so it actually is more than likely that, not only have Earth produced intelligent life by natural processes, but several other planets have as well.

I point out that time is not infinite in the past, because of the argument for the Big Bang, which does temporarily stall him, but he puts on the table the Oscillating Universe Theory. The Big Bang is the earliest we can possibly see, but it has happened an infinite number of times before, in an oscillating series of expansions and crunches. (He admits that this is a weak argument). I have essentially no response to this other than to point out that people seem to not use this argument because, for reasons I cannot think of, it must be easy to knock-down. Or else we probably would have heard of it more. Instead, most people use in its place the Multiverse theory, which Ben is surprisingly quick to disregard because “we have literally no reason to think it is true.” I agree, because it commits the unholy trinity of being unfalsifiable, unverifiable, and purely theoretical at once.

Next we enter the mystical Alice and Wonderland world of the Ontological Argument. Developed by Anselm in the eleventh century, it goes something like this:

D: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived
P: God exists as an idea in the mind
P: It is greater to exist in and outside of the mind than just in
P: If God exists only in the mind, something greater can be conceived
P: We cannot do that, or we result in a contradiction with D
C: God exists.

To his ears this “sounds like a mixture of wordplay and… [unfinished sentence].”  It is a weird philosophical argument that sounds like it’s cheating. Anytime I say that anything is better, I’m going to say it’s the case. It sounds like all this argument asserts is that anything used to beat this argument is now the new argument. It is not falsifiable, and also comes across as a mere thinking exercise. If we selectively define something as the #1 greatest, and then someone thinks of something greater, it will always sounds like it really is something greater.

I say that, really, it is falsifiable, but since it’s in deductive form, the falsehood can be proven only by demonstrating holes in the chain of logic, or false premises, instead of usual arguments being proven false by conferring with physical evidence. I concede that, in my opinion, this argument is perhaps salvageable but not valid its current form. But in the time it takes me to say this, Ben has changed his mind. Contrary to my concession, this “might be the best argument that has been made” because it made him stop and think. Because if this logical progression is true, then he is backed into a corner! It comes off at face value as a logical progression. It is only a thought experiment, and has nothing to do with the physical word (purely rational, not empirical), it is very interesting to think about.

Next I set up the Argument from Common Morality for our discussion. It seems that a common morality has emerged in each part of human society independently. As far as anthropologists can tell, this morality began after the different tribes splintered into separate groups, yet even those without communicate to the others developed the same morality. This morality even contradicts what is found in nature among other animals, and thus falls somehow, even if only slightly, outside the usual scope of natural selection. This morality seems to have some type of non-ontological existence; like wood has a grain, and a saw can tolerate going with the grain but eventually will wear and break after repeated attempts to cut against the grain, there is a grain to the universe against which man can walk, but only for limited times and in limited ways.

Ben sees the power of this argument, and when summarizing it back to me adds that we can try to develop a society independent of morality, but “we would slip back into morality soon enough.” But he disagrees, entering onto a lengthy tangent to describe an intricate point. There are some things that humans have not evolved the capacity to understand, because understanding them would not be advantageous to our survival as a species. For example, we cannot understand life after death because to do so would be to potentially jeopardize the perceived fragility of life, which holds us in check from excessively dangerous actions. The purpose of human is, after all, to replicate accurate copies of ourselves. (We can imagine life after death as something like imagining time in reverse and watching the Big Bang collapse in on itself into perfect nothingness, nonexistence. The problem therefore is not that we can’t imagine it, but that this mental sensation is fleeting, that we cannot retain it more than a moment).

At any rate, this connects with morality because like morality this inability to experience anything of which an experience is detrimental to survival is the same for all people. It is detrimental to human survival to think about murdering our peers, or stealing from members of our tribe, or lying to leaders that keeps us safe. It wouldn’t help the evolutionarily predisposed experience. We also do not need to compete against other humans like insects or fish do, because we understand cooperation. As a social species, we evolved to live in communities of 150-200 people, and morality that bypasses Darwinism comes from the success of these communities (which used “morality”), not the success of any of their individual members in particular.

We did not have time for the Argument From the Mind, but as I described it he sounded interested, so I got his email address and promised to send him J.P. Moreland’s essay on this argument from the Anthology of Primary Sources book.

Finally, I entered my own, very modified version of the Argument from Religious Experience. This shares very few features with the actual argument of the same name. I began by presenting Francis Schaeffer’s approach to evangelism — do not try to change someone’s presuppositions or epistemic beliefs; instead, lead them into greater consistency with their own beliefs. If they are an atheist, and if meaning within life can only be derived from that which is explicitly outside of life, there can be do meaning in life. This is a natural consequence of the naturalist worldview.

Why is it not worth arguing over epistemic beliefs? As Musgrave pointed out, is that all epistemic beliefs either

  1. Depend upon themselves to be proven (thus circular)
  2. Depend upon another belief to be proven (thus wrong)
    C. Remain unproven by reason.

This implies, rather startlingly, that no real progress can be made in these discussion because, applying this framework, all the same counters apply back to Christianity as can be lobbed at atheism. I then asserted that, since this sweeps truth itself aside, the only evaluative criteria we are left with is the noticeable impact of the belief on a person’s life. Since we deem suicide to be a worse outcome than non-suicide, we deem that, inasmuch as we can really tell, Christianity is the superior option (assuming that we are living consistently with our foundational beliefs and not just arbitrarily borrowing good aspects that are logically consequent only to other foundations).

Ben replies that he is deeply thoughtful about this argument. He temporarily rebuts that this only describes which belief’s pragmatism is better, not which belief’s truth is truer. That makes perfect sense to him and he agrees with the fact that it is better to believe in God, but we are just talking about belief, not what is and what isn’t. If truth really can’t be determined, then “f— it let’s have some pragmatism.” But that’s not an argument for or against the existence of God, it’s an argument for how you should live your life. I agree, but nonetheless the points ABC remain about the inability to prove epistemic notions, and I cannot find a reason to value truth as if it has any objectivity in such a world. Ben agrees.

Conclusion

I did not expect from this experience to see my debate partner’s mind convert, obvert, or contrapose. Nor, in any genuine sense, did I expect to see myself present argument for the existence of God in good conscience that just one year ago I’d have belittled. Maybe the latter is all that came true — but nonetheless I pray the former will also.

“Defending the Faith” as an opportunity to learn daily

The morning begins as usual: the blackest coffee possible, a rush out the door to get to work or class on time, and a commute frustrated by traffic. The day goes about as usual: four hours of work, 45 minutes to eat a brown paper-bagged lunch, and another four hours of work, this time having a 15 minute break interrupting. The evening ensues as usual: return from work, put together a meal, perhaps exercise, read a chapter or two of whatever lame novel you picked up from the grocery store, and sleep.

(Is this the life of our dreams since childhood?)

What if, instead of that lame novel you picked up at Aldi, you had read The Universe Next Door by James Sire, The Reason for God by Tim Keller, Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, or Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig?

These books are only a few hundred pages each. Read a chapter a night and anyone could finish all five in a year, comfortably.

In the past months I’ve come to realize that books (or audio, or any other medium) on “defending the faith” can have a particular effect if I let them: they require me to research continually. Slow consumption makes an important difference. It reminds me of the difference between the drip drip Chinese water torture method and just dumping a bucket of water on somebody wholesale. But in a good way…

When you take it in slowly, the chapters start and finish each day, giving the daily grind of life an apologetic context. Reading the entire book at once on a lazy Saturday afternoon can be good! But slowing down, allowing the ideas to incubate over time and through life experiences has been far more beneficial for me.

I have a class this semester on apologetics, and like usual in college, the course readings are divided into a by-the-class schedule. Just follow along, and the portion-sizing is already done for me. Nutrisystem for the Christian intellectual? Thanks, professor.

This is true of any Christian research; studies in the New Testament, Old Testament, ANE culture, historical theology, and other cousin fields can all benefit from daily nibbling rather than gluttonous bingeing. Much can be learned in one day, but the Christian life is a call to fix our eyes upon Jesus — and then hold that pose for the long term.

Dr. William Lane Craig on Universal Causal Determinism

In my reading today I found this gem:

Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.

There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe, and the other not to believe.

When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true, but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.

William Lane Craig in Dennis Jowers, “Four Views on Divine Providence,” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011, 60.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas — including Chiropractic memes

Today I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed:

chiro1

This deserves a much closer look. To my knowledge, Chiropractic is just another snake oil elixir, delivering essentially no benefits beyond the alleviation of lower back pain. Here is the claim:

“A 7 year study showed that patients whose primary care physician was a Chiropractor experienced the following results:

  • 60% less hospital admissions
  • 59% less days in the hospital
  • 62% less outpatient surgeries
  • 85% less in pharmaceutical costs”

I am extremely skeptical. My poorly-constructed-study radar is hitting 11 on this one. 85% less in pharmaceutical costs! That should be putting the entire industry out of business! What an incredible claim. But instead of outright dismissing these findings, let’s check out the study.

The fine print cites this:

chiro3

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy, May 20017, 30(4). 263-269. Richard L. Sarnat, MD, James Winterstein, DC, Jerrilyn A. Cambron, DC, PhD

Here are some things I’ve found:

  1. There is no journal that exists called the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy.” There is one with Therapeutics as the last word, so I’ll assume these are supposed to be the same. This is the journal’s website.
  2. The journal cited is May 20017. I will give the benefit of the doubt as say they meant 2017, because 20017 is still roughly eighteen thousand years away. Nonetheless, how does this person have access to the journal for six months from now?
  3. Since the date is clearly unusable, here is the search results for “Sarnat” in the journal’s database.chiro4The meme claims to cite volume 30, issue 4, pages 263-269. So the second result is the target here. Sadly, both are paywalled, and I can’t view them unless pdf copies are floating around elsewhere online.
  4. This is everything I can get from the website:Abstract
    Our initial report analyzed clinical and cost utilization data from the years 1999 to 2002 for an integrative medicine independent physician association (IPA) whose primary care physicians (PCPs) were exclusively doctors of chiropractic. This report updates the subsequent utilization data from the IPA for the years 2003 to 2005 and includes first-time comparisons in data points among PCPs of different licensures who were oriented toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

    Methods
    Independent physician association–incurred claims and stratified random patient surveys were descriptively analyzed for clinical utilization, cost offsets, and member satisfaction compared with conventional medical IPA normative values. Comparisons to our original publication’s comparative blinded data, using nonrandom matched comparison groups, were descriptively analyzed for differences in age/sex demographics and disease profiles to examine sample bias.

    Results
    Clinical and cost utilization based on 70274 member-months over a 7-year period demonstrated decreases of 60.2% in-hospital admissions, 59.0% hospital days, 62.0% outpatient surgeries and procedures, and 85% pharmaceutical costs when compared with conventional medicine IPA performance for the same health maintenance organization product in the same geography and time frame.

    Conclusion
    During the past 7 years, and with a larger population than originally reported, the CAM-oriented PCPs using a nonsurgical/nonpharmaceutical approach demonstrated reductions in both clinical and cost utilization when compared with PCPs using conventional medicine alone. Decreased utilization was uniformly achieved by all CAM-oriented PCPs, regardless of their licensure. The validity and generalizability of this observation are guarded given the lack of randomization, lack of statistical analysis possible, and potentially biased data in this population.

  5. The references page (link) includes citations to these journals:J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004 (their own research)
    Ann Intern Med. 1999
    J Clin Oncol. 2000
    Arch Intern Med. 2002
    JAMA. 1999
    N Engl J Med. 1993
    Am J Manag Care. 2006
    Health Care Financ Rev Annu Suppl. 1991
    CBO; US Government Printing Office, Washington (DC); 1993.
    Harv Bus Rev. 1994
    Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore; 1990.
    Health Care Financ Rev. 1992
    Manag Care. 2001
    Altern Ther Health Med 2002
    National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed September 15, 2006. (link included)
    Cancer. 2004

    Two things to note here: most of these are just cost-assessment studies, so it doesn’t matter how legitimate their scientific journal is; also, several of these are other alternative medicine journals, so take that with measured caution.

  6. Hooray! I found the study! Here is the pdf link.
  7. From the study: “In this article, we are not taking a position on the efficacy of any CAM treatment. Rather, we are interested in the current use of CAM modalities and cost effects of such use, regardless of treatment outcome.”
  8. The study is based on 7 doctors of osteopathy and 14 doctors of chiropractic. Osteopathic doctors are basically defined as non-chiropractic doctors of natural medicine, which does exclude pharmaceuticals and surgeries. This is a total of 21 doctors.
  9. This should be an enormous red flag: “The HMO’s quality control division, independent of the privately run IPA, distributed an annual survey to more than 45 000 members who were older than 18 years old and who had been enrolled in the HMO and IPA for at least 1 year. Stratified random patient surveys were used to analyze AMI’s lifestyle demographics and member satisfaction. Although the HMO’s quality control division provided these data, the details of the stratified random selection process were not available. Member satisfaction was measured within the survey by asking patients, “are you satisfied overall with your IPA’s performance? ” (emphasis added).
  10. Here we find an even larger, more enormous red flag: “Our initial report demonstrated a skewed enrollment population, with fewer children and more adults than the 2 matched control groups. For the years 1999 through 2002 we averaged 12% childhood enrollment vs the 2 control groups, whose childhood enrollment averaged 33% and 19%, respectively. We attributed this population age disparity to a deliberate IPA medical management policy of discouraging childhood enrollment. This management decision was put in place because of the limitations in the scope of practice our DCs and their inability to perform certain requirements, such as immunizations. Our PCPs licensed as medical doctors/DOs have no such limitations in their scope of practice. Accordingly, we have seen our enrollee demographics quickly change and even exceed the childhood enrollment percentages of the 2 matched control populations. In calendar year 2003, the IPA’s childhood enrollment increased to 31%; and by calendar year 2005, it had peaked at 56%. We attribute this demographic shift, above the 2 matched control groups’ childhood enrollment, to the unique group practice of our newly contracted medical doctors /DOs. Before their involvement with AMI’s integrative medicine IPA, they specialized exclusively in the 2 arenas of home birth and ‘natural medical’ childcare” (emphasis added).Later on, the study mentions this: “we were not able to control for differences in baseline characteristics between the integrative medicine group and the conventional IPA. If the baseline demographic or clinical factors differed between the groups, the data may be seriously biased in either direction.”
  11. Red flag number three: “The AMI’s enrolled population continues to demonstrate a smaller percentage of ‘well’ members (23.4% in Table 2) vs the 2 matched conventional medical IPA control groups (34.7% and 42%, respectively), as cited in our initial report. This gives continued credence to the premise that patients who go to CAM practitioners are not necessarily the ‘worried well’ and may actually represent an adverse selection of patients who are ‘medical failures’ in the traditional medical system.”
  12. Table 4 and its corresponding paragraph (Cost of Utilization) are surprising. Why is the company actuarially predicting 670.0 target units, when by the end of the year only 125 units were used? Either the actuaries are terrible at their jobs, or something is very wrong with the reporting mechanism for units used. This can be viewed as 19.0% of total costs used, which sounds great if you are a budget slasher or are trying to produce a study showing lower costs for Chiropractic. Or, it can be viewed as gross overestimation from the beginning. When all 6 years overpredicted by more than double the ultimate value, the process is broken.
  13. Then this appears: “As the necessary data for traditional statistical methods were unavailable to us, we attempted to assess possible population bias via other strategies. We acknowledge that the lack of statistical analysis may have led to a serious bias. However, even without the ability to complete a statistical analysis and with the potential for bias, these preliminary data are important to present within the medical community.” Actually, no. If there is the potential for serious bias, maybe it is better to not report the study’s findings in such plain terms, as if they can be taken at face value.

 

At this point I’ll put forward some possible explanations for what has happened here:

First, this is a single study. Ask a researcher who complies meta-analysis studies about the legitimacy of individual studies. This is why we reproduce studies several times. 10 researchers will conduct the same experiment, and 3 will find negative correlation, 4 will find no correlation, and 3 will find positive correlation. You would never know this if you looked just at one study. So, these authors are very correct in saying that this study “warrants larger independent third-party funding for multicenter, randomized controlled trials.” All studies do.

Second, the shift in population to a younger group undermines essentially all of the findings in this study. For one, why did the group become younger? The group became younger because in the 2003 iteration of the study, the researches decided to include the extra 7 osteopathy doctors, who had largely specialized in home, family and natural medicine. Now, this shouldn’t have had an impact unless these doctors were carrying over old clients from before the study began. So it looks like either that happened, or that they continued to advertise themselves in a way that would lead to more children than normal being consulted.

Third, and directly related to the previous point, if they inadvertently shifted the demographics of the population in this way, maybe they also shifted the demographics of the population in a less clear, less measurable way. The key variable in my mind is likeliness to reject pharmaceuticals, and that would obvious have a large impact on the total amount and therefore cost of pharmaceuticals distributed. I’d be willing to speculate, and this is very logically founded speculation, that people whose primary care physician is a Chiropractor are probably significantly more likely to also believe in alternative medicine, to use homeopathic cures, to reject established scientific literature and studies, and to be “educated beyond their own good,” meaning that they have done “their own research” which actually just amounts to googling something until confirmation bias is satisfied. The authors admit this with their caveat about the ‘worried well’ and the ‘medical failures.’ Each of these types of people would not register on a simple yes-no questionnaire about patient satisfaction, and I would be willing to bet that this category is much more skewed compared to the general population than the age category.

Fourth, the authors of this study did not have access to enough data to conclude that they have found anything of notable significance. What if, when controlled for any of the variables in the study, the correlation drops to 0.00? They do not have access to this data because of HIPPA laws, but usually accredited researchers have access to patient profiles without identifiable characteristics. So I’m not sure what the hassle was beyond bureaucratic red tape. But in any case, these descriptive statistics like “85% less in pharmaceutical costs” are uncontrolled variables relative to the real general population, to the best of my and the researchers’ knowledge.

Fifth, the solution could also be that Chiropractic doctors are not able to prescribe medicine. The osteopathic doctors can. But those were only 7 of the 21. The 14 Chiropractic doctors would likely have had to refer patients to a state-licensed medical doctor for that doctor to write the prescription. So then, you can see that prescriptions will not be written for things that either have no cure (the giant category of ‘wellness’ being at the top of this list) or things that are not very severe.

 

Finally, and this is only tangentially related to the actual study, someone on Facebook commented below the original shared article and wrote this:

chiro2

Chiropractics are constrained to the same free market effects of supply and demand and regular doctors (although perhaps more so because most insurance companies do not cover Chiropractic costs). Here is an example of the owner of a Chiropractic clinic using exactly this study to promote his business interests. It should not come as surprising that the Chiropractic industry, which in the United State is huge and growing, also are “people, and people are motivated by the love of money… not all [chiropractors], but many will follow the [alternative medicine] industry’s talking points by telling their patients things that are designed to promote the [alternative] medical “industry.”” The argument from greed and deception goes both ways.

Globalization research project

Today I start a research project on Globalization that I’ve been procrastinating for at least a few months now.


I bought five books from the nearest HPB and checked out two from my university library.

They are:

  • Malcom Waters — Globalization
  • Magdish Bhagwati — In Defense of Globalization
  • Mangers B. Steger — Globalisms, 3rd edition
  • George Soros — On Globalization
  • Koichi Iwabuchi — Recentering Globalization
  • Tang Suit Chee and Allong Wong, ed. — The Challenge and Impact of Globalization- Towards a Biblical Response
  • Stephen Kinzer — Overthrow

My goals for this project are:

  1. Read all seven books
  2. Write summaries of all seven books
  3. Write a 17,000 word minimum research essay
  4. Discover five new things in favor of globalization and five new things against
  5. Convert the research essay into a series of bit-sized, easily digestible blog posts
  6. From the book bibliographies identify fifteen new books for further study

I plan to do all this, limiting myself to eight hours a day, before I leave for a missions trip on January 3rd. I also will be gone a few days here and there, notably Christmas but also some other events as well.

Evangelicals and Postmoderns Together (Part 3 of 3)

[This began as an essay for a class at Trinity International University on worldviews and Christian thought. It now runs more than triple the length of the original — because the internet, unlike my professor, has no page limit. This post is the final of three. After wrapping up the ideas in the second section, I give some starting points for future study.]

Conclusion

Postmodernity in its fullness and complexity has far more to offer than an undergraduate freshman could critique after reading one book.

In fact, Derridá, Foucault and Rorty probably rebutted every argument in this paper — in thousands of pages of detail — thirty years before I could read Clifford the Big Red Dog.

But for a tentative analysis that mostly rehashed things I already thought, this paper forms a foundation for further study. Like Erickson who dedicated an entire book to understanding others’ opinions before giving a one page initial reply of his own, my complete answer “will be the subject of a much larger work to follow” (154).

In the meantime, the argument of this paper has flown as follows:

  1. Human reason is conditioned sociologically
  2. Human reason is conditioned sinfully
  3. Therefore, human reason is not always reliable.
  4. Therefore, because of three, humans cannot state things objectively
  5. Claim four is an objective claim
  6. Claims four and five are mutually exclusive, yet simultaneously upheld.

It seems that the drivers of a proverbial car through my argument should have seen the “no outlet” sign at three, the dead end sign at four, but disregarded them and proceeded to five and six, where he now must perform a three-point turn to reorient himself into a workable argument. Otherwise, from there, point six trails off into the sunset, left for another day to be solved.

While normal life in the modernist paradigm continues, Christians can continue to receive and criticize attempts at an Evangelical-postmodern synthesis, because “all views, even those of postmodernists, insofar as they attempt to communicate their tenets and to persuade others of them, are assuming some basic rationality that is not distinctive of the modern approach” (157).

Evangelical Convictions mentions that “our study of Scripture can never be a mere academic exercise. It must be accompanied by meditation and prayer” (EFCA 151). It is difficult to stop myself from making everything an academic exercise. In my Cartesian mind, things are either true or false, determined by reason, evidence, and revelation. Why should some quasi-emotional or spiritual process be necessary? 

The postmodern shares with this view a rejection, however subtle, of the exclusivity of truth to determine reality. Non-rationalistic outlooks on the world have huge problems! Like, being wrong most of the time. Maybe I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

Before I mentally file this paper’s argument under “Reasons Why Post-Reformation Christianity is Full of Nonsense,” which admittedly is a bulking mental file, I will pursue further explanation of foundationalism and tentatively remain with the rejection perspective of Oden.

Further study

This article about the college debate league drama.

Foucault, Michel, 1983. Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Continued dialogue with my Old Testament professor, who is very knowledgeable of postmodern thought. He is currently writing his dissertation and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t focused on exactly this subject.

Exploring the connection between postmodern Christianity and the Emergent Church movement.

The work of John D. Caputo.

Smith, James K.A., 2009. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

—- 2014. Who’s Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Each of the six theologians in this book, especially their writings that Erickson criticized, and any response they give to Postmodernizing the Faith. 

Erickson appears to himself have written a follow-up book. Erickson, Millard J., 2001. Truth or Consequences: the Promise & Perils of Postmodernism. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Ehrmann, Jacques, 1970. Structuralism. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books.

The recent trend in describing the left’s SJW movement as “cultural Marxism,” which probably is right-wing code word for the integration of postmodern thought into leftist politics.

Evangelicals and Postmoderns Together (Part 2 of 3)

[This began as an essay for a class at Trinity International University on worldviews and Christian thought. It now runs more than triple the length of the original — because the internet, unlike my professor, has no page limit. This post is the second of three, and consists of the main argumentative body of my paper. The forthcoming third post is an (unnecessarily long) conclusion.]

Evangelical Affirmation

Some aspects of postmodernism, as variously defined, can be accepted by Evangelicals. This section will look at those aspects.

Since postmodernism talks about knowledge, I should use a definition before continuing: knowledge is the body of all justified, true beliefs accumulated by an individual.

This seems straightforward enough. There is a very technical objection to this definition, but ignore that for now. Without going there, the postmodern problem quickly surfaces anyway: what if the person’s method of justification needs justification? Once a person climbs the ladder of abstraction one layer up, how can they argue anything?

The main instance where justification needs justification is in cultural conditioning. It seems inescapable to say that culture strongly influences its members (additional factors being genetic and epi-genetic). Postmoderns argue that this influence doesn’t stop at fashion choices, spoken accent and median income. No, culture’s influence goes far beyond these material features; society influences the way that people think, and strongly enough to shatter their objectivity.

According to Grenz, thinkers cannot “stand outside of the historical process and gain universal, unconditioned truth” (91). This argument, called thesociology of knowledge,’ is everywhere. Much like that thing where a person notices something once and then realizes it surrounds them all day, I didn’t realize the ubiquity, the common-ness of this point. Obviously postmoderns talk about it frequently, but, perhaps less obviously, it crops up even in the writings of those who reject postmodernity. For example, Wells argues that “the external social environment provides the explanation of internal consciousness, that the way we think is a product of the society in which we live” (24). This occurs throughout the book. For example, Erickson himself uses this approach, perhaps unwittingly, when discussing Wells:

Wells’ approach to the issues is a function of his unique preparation and orientation. Wells is primarily a historian who taught in the field of church history before moving into the field of theology. This background is revealed by the fact that he generally does theology on the model of historical theology (23).

Yet the question remains, is this a Christian approach? More specifically, an Evangelical approach? We would hope so, because we cannot synthesize Evangelicalism and postmodernity without passing through this dilemma first.

The first problem is finding one person or group that represents all Evangelicals. Of everyone claiming to be Evangelical, the Evangelical Free Church of America would be a great source to consult on this question (though other groups like NEA and some cross-denominational groups would also suffice). I will demonstrate that the EFCA officially, though not explicitly, affirms this position.

Hey, look at that! The EFCA wrote a book. Evangelical Convictions is

  • a theological exposition of the EFCA statement of faith,
  • written by the denomination’s Spiritual Heritage Committee,
  • vetted by numerous EFCA pastors and others within the denomination,
  • including its then-President,
  • including members of several boards within the organization, and
  • including faculty from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (19).

Most books within the Evangelical publishing industry cannot be taken as authoritative of all of the Free Church, but if any book can, then here we have found it.

Peppered throughout the book are references to the sociology of knowledge. The authors acknowledge that

We believe that our Statement of Faith is a true reflection of the teaching of the Bible, but we are not so naive as to think that we can come to the Bible without preconceptions that influence our interpretation… We stand firmly within the Evangelical tradition, and our understanding of the Biblical gospel is informed by historic Evangelical theology” (EC 22).

“Preconceptions that influence our interpretation” ! Do they really mean that they may be incorrect? That their interpretation can be slanted by non-objective factors? This certainly fits with the perspectival realist umpire from Middleton and Walsh’s baseball metaphor.

This view acknowledges that Evangelical theologians “stand firmly” within their tradition. Tradition can be a touchy subject for Protestants; one of the reasons the Reformers broke with Rome was that Rome elevated tradition to a scriptural authority. Reformers thought that tradition was not authoritative. Here the EFCA takes a middle ground by recognizing that, though Rome was excessive, theologians will never escape Rome’s trap. We all exist within traditions.

But they swing harder:

“Just as a word finds its meaning only in the context of a sentence and then a paragraph, so a human life finds its meaning only within the context of a social and historical setting in which it is lived” (EC 101).

They give this statement in a description of the life of Jesus! Inasmuch as the EFCA represents Evangelical theology, they have here endorsed the sociology of knowledge. Using a metaphor of words, sentences and paragraphs sounds awfully deconstructionist…

But they swing once more, even harder:

“In our modern Western world, we think in individualistic terms which often deny real social solidarities such as nation, tribe and family” (EC 127).

The individualistic terms of modernity deny real solidarities. Solidarity is a term usually connoting standing with oppressed groups. One should highly doubt that this statement originates solely in Evangelical circles; this seepage originates from postmodernity. Moreover, these categories of “nation, tribe and family” are impacted by yet another socially-conditioned category, that of individualism.

If the EFCA does represent Evangelical theology, and if the above examples do not somehow grossly mischaracterize the authors’ intentions, then I can conclude that the Evangelical position resounds in clarity by allowing for and advocating the sociology of knowledge.

In addition to the sociology of knowledge, Erickson emphasized the noetic effects of sin, a doctrine consequent to Original Sin. Grenz’s criticism of human reason most clearly illustrates: as a product of man’s sinful nature, the mind can become blinded to truths (91). This means that even if he could exist in a culture-less, presupposition-less vacuum, the mind itself still cannot reason objectively.

This has been a topic of debate since roughly the time of Calvin, though it wasn’t very significant in his time. Abraham Kuyper and Karl Barth along with the fideistic movement in the early twentieth century argued that faith is more important than reason, though they phrased this is various ways, and at times argued the opposite. Some said that only spiritual truths are blinded by sin, while other things are less blinded. This argument assumes a very simple, reductionist model of the spiritual realm: some things are spiritual, and everything else is not spiritual. But at any rate, this doctrinal position almost seems to undermine every other doctrinal position, because if one cannot understand things (especially spiritual things) rationally, then can the rest of theology really make sense? Who can articulate and systematize the unknowable?

At one point in the book Erickson makes the point that modernism assumes that humans are like “Descartes’ autonomous, rational substance encountering Newton’s mechanistic world.” This means that humans think objectively, like Descartes’s idea “I think, therefore I am” implied, and that the surrounding universe also is rationally built, with sensible laws and consistent procedures, like Newton’s laws of plenary motion imply.

But because of the sociology of knowledge humans are not autonomous; because of the noetic effects of sin, humans are not rational (84). Therefore, whether the world around us is rationally built and sensible does not quite matter, because we can’t know so anyways.

This leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that some truth lies beyond human reason, or at least is not immediately accessible to human reason.

Notice how another set of postmodern thinkers tie this concept to the critical concept of social oppression:

Middleton and Walsh grant that there is some basis… for the postmodern suspicion of metanarratives. The former stems from the fact that those who develop and set forth metanarratives and worldviews are finite human beings. There are therefore incapable of gathering all the data necessary to create a total view, but beyond that, being sinful, they will inevitably tend to use such ideologies for their own purposes, which results in oppression of others (112).

Here they go beyond being “incapable of gathering all the data necessary.” If that were the only problem, then something like the scientific method, or an advanced computer program, or consensus, or lots of arguing could solve the problem by whittling away all bias and subjectivity until just the truth remains. But the problem is more than this. “Being sinful,” or, as a result of the person’s very nature, they cannot wield a metanarrative healthily.

But is this an Evangelical doctrine, or have Grenz, Middleton and Walsh, and company pulled ad hoc from heterodox, far out views on the human condition to justify this argument? Once more, Evangelical Convictions, with its diverse (yet Evangelical) composition and extensive vetting, provides input:

Every part of us, every human faculty, is infected with and affected by this dreadful malady [sin] — our mind, our will, our emotions and our conscience. None of them can be trusted as objective guides of truth, because all of them are in collusion against God, caught up in this tangled web of sin (EC 84).

So, Evangelicals can draw from the sociology of knowledge and the noetic effects of sin to argue that human reason is insufficient to justify truth. The scoreboard now reads, “Postmoderns 2, Fundamentalists 0”.

Two Conflicts

Sunken deep into the postmodern mindset is a great dilemma: postmodernism makes a whole variety and number of claims about the external world, but among those is also the claim that individuals cannot reasonably make objective claims about the external world!

This amounts to the postmodern thinker tying together all the lose ends of philosophy into one big knot and declaring, “Solved! Deconstructed! I have eliminated structural violence by decategorizing that which was arbitrary from the start!” yet never bothering to pull a little on the ends of their knot. If they had, the whole knot falls apart into its constituent ideas and they prove the system much less sound than they had thought. This epistemic slipknot usually comes in the form of small claims whose object both

  1. finishes the claim and
  2. undoes the claim.

For example, the statement “there are no absolute truths” is itself a statement of absolute truth. On what grounds can the postmodernist make this statement? Moreover, when discussing the grand metanarrative of life, Erickson summarizes that

Postmodernism, for all of its criticism of metanarratives, especially modern metanarratives, is actually something of a metanarrative itself. Postmodernism is therefore caught in what Middleton and Walsh call a “performative contradiction,” arguing against the necessity of metanarratives by surreptitiously appealing to a metanarrative of its own (111).

This is a major argument against the postmodern mindset; for if one cannot know anything, how can they know that they do not know anything? Ought philosophers and theologians “sit rapt in unconditioned contemplation of their own consciousness like an Aristotelian god,” doomed to forever question the foundation of their anti-foundationalism? (link).

Over the years I have noticed even fundamentalists — of all people — crash into this wall. In a presentation that Youtube has since removed due to an Answers in Genesis copyright claim actually is still available at this link, Dr. Jason Lisle made an extensive argument for Christianity that began by claiming that there is no middle ground between evolution and creation to objectively evaluate the evidences; both sides must look through the lens of their worldview. But not twenty minutes later he built a Platonic argument for the existence of God on his rejection of moral relativism!

If one can know what is good (morality) based on objective criteria, one can also use those criterion to evaluate what is true (evidences). So which is it, or does he have some other, necessarily more complex approach to synthesize them? None are provided.

Francis Schaeffer dodges this paradox by saying that the Christian presuppositions work the best in real life, but this does not itself justify the claimed truth, only its functionality (77). His argument does nothing to counter the claim that Christianity is a useful shoulder to cry upon, a crutch in hard times, and the opiate of the masses, yet false.

This problem recurs in a second issue with postmodernity. The prefix post- denotes that an era comes after another which preceded it. But is post- necessarily good? Is something necessarily more true because it comes later? Erickson borrows Oden’s term “chronological chauvinism” to describe this trend; the chronological chauvinist has

a predisposed contempt for premodern ideas, a vague boredom in the face of the heroic struggles of primitive and historical human communities, a diffuse disrespect for the intellectual social and moral achievements of previous periods (48).

But why post- and not anti-modern? Isn’t the contention supposed to be that postmodernism opposes the tenets of modernism?

In Italy the two main parties hold opposing tenets, yet they call themselves the People of Freedom Party and the Democratic Party, not the “post-democracy” and “post-freedom” parties, respectively. Usually opposing movements choose entirely separate names, like realism and impressionism in art; no historian of art uses the term “post-realism” as a surrogate for impressionism, nor “pre-impressionism” as a surrogate for realism.

The prefix post- necessarily connotes progress, which is a modern, rather than postmodern idea (29).

I’m not just complaining about their choice of a title. They could have gone with any title, but if they at all included a theme of progress, this criticism would still be valid. Their vision of having transcended modernity is the problem, labels aside.

Postmoderns do not treat progresses like an assumption, which they regularly criticize in others, but as self-evident, as a truth not worth questioning (46). Yet I argue that it deserves questioning. Wells gives this explanation: behind the constant desire to be post- is belief in

the ability to move from one level of achievement to another… So we speak of being post-Puritan, post-Christian, post-modern, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, and post-Cold War. Wells observes that while it is understandable that our society would want to leave behind these other experiences in favor of what it deems to be superior to them, it seems strange that people today would want to put behind the modernity that has made us what we are. Beyond that however, Wells raises the questions of whether it really is possible to move beyond the modern (26).

On a related note, postmoderns, and especially Evangelicals attempting synthesis, must stop conflating the terms new and good. This is especially true for Evangelicals, whose faith is not new in any sense, yet good in every sense.

When a person substitutes “new” or “good,” they also buy into the progressive narrative of abandoning the old and accepting the new, just for newness’s sake. Cannot old things be good? Cannot new things be bad? This can be difficult to expunge from regular speech, but nonetheless Oden argues that anyone who cares should go “cold turkey… as part of a postcritical consciousness” (48) to break this habit.

Thomas Cornman, the Dean of Trinity College, in a chapel sermon near the beginning of the semester criticized the political reasoning of his children. Their justification for supporting one of the Presidential nominees consisted solely of not wanting to be “on the wrong side of history,” a common refrain among Millennials and progressives alike. In Cornman’s view, this amounts to nothing, a nonargument, except perhaps that they reluct to think outside the majority opinion (if majority can be defined as the opinions they perceive most will hold in the future).

Postmodernism argues that progress or regression do not correlate with time, that society is stagnant in the long run and lacks a metanarrative or direction. This glaring contradiction supports Oden’s view that postmodernism isn’t post- at all; it is late-stage, terminal, geriatric modernism about to give way to something different.

Postmodernism claims to reject all metanarratives, yet is itself a metanarrative; until this problem finds resolution, it cannot be synthesized with any theology, or even stand on its own. The scoreboard now reads “Postmoderns 2, Fundamentalists 2” .

What does the 2016 election mean?

The 2016 election, more than any before, has eroded the deontological foundation of American government. Never has moral relativism — justifying decisions because other decisions are worse — been so prevalent.

Let me break down the terminology.

  • Deontology looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what should I do?” and “what must I do?”
  • Consequentialism looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what would have the best impact?” and “how can I maximize benefit and minimize cost from this?”

For example:

  • A deontologist could say “abortion is wrong because it is wrong”
  • A consequentialist could say “abortion is wrong because of all these negative things it causes.”

When you think relatively on morals, you justify one thing because something else is worse. Heaven’s gates are open if you aren’t Hitler. Morality is just a relative issue, it can be compared, and as long as you’re better than a certain percentile of people, or not worse than a certain percentile of people, then congrats, you’ve been good.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton could rationally be considered virtuous candidates themselves. Clinton has all her dozens of scandals. Emails. Emails. Emails. Emails. And more telling is what’s found in those emails: widespread corruption, pay-to-play, conflict of interests, and whatever was in the 33k emails. Likewise, Trump has enough scandals to beat Clinton. Various sexual assault charges (which we know to be at least partially grounded in Trump’s psyche, given the Access Hollywood revelations), dozens of business misconduct cases, racial discrimination in renting practices, going far out of his way to alienate large sections of the electorate in order to win the xenophobic vote, etc.

Does anybody, beyond the most extreme partisans on each side, actually support either of these candidates? Without naming why they don’t like the other candidate, can they really provide a convincing, holistic, positive argument for their candidate?

But lets get beyond personalities and histories. Look at policies. Do either advocate virtuous policy? I’m not hearing much of an argument on this.

(I understand that it is notoriously difficult to define “virtuous policy,” in fact that is the whole question of politics. In an increasingly polarized system, beyond the obvious things, we aren’t going to find much agreement here. But whatever their support for virtuous policy, they hold that support inconsistently).

As a result, voters with an eye for deontological consistency were forced to turn to 3rd party candidates Johnson, Stein, Castle, etc., who by definition of first-past-the-post voting, had essentially no chance to win the election or even garner mildly significant support.

Woah, slow down there. Couldn’t Johnson have won if he wasn’t just an idiot?

Enter: Duverger’s Law, Per Wikipedia:

A two-party system often develops in a plurality voting system. In this system, voters have a single vote, which they can cast for a single candidate in their district, in which only one legislative seat is available. In plurality voting (i.e. first past the post), in which the winner of the seat is determined purely by the candidate with the most votes, several characteristics can serve to discourage the development of third parties and reward the two major parties.

Duverger suggests two reasons this voting system favors a two-party system. One is the result of the “fusion” (or an alliance very much like fusion) of the weak parties, and the other is the “elimination” of weak parties by the voters, by which he means that voters gradually desert the weak parties on the grounds that they have no chance of winning. (link)

People are thinking on the margin.

There is a certain marginal analysis (definition) happening whenever someone says “I support Trump because Clinton is…” or “I support Clinton because Trump/Trump Supporters are…” and we ought to reject this style of thinking not just because practically it enables the second worst evil to win election after election, but because it fails to provide a positive, self-enclosed justification for the candidate of choice.

This is mostly what has gotten us into the whole social-political landscape we have today. The product of choosing the lesser of two evils (when both are legitimately evil, like in the past ~50 years) is the system we have today.

American government and law used to be founded on the principle of Natural Law. Ever since and resulting from the gradual destruction of Natural Law in the presence of instrumentalist law in the 1880s-1910s (link), the country’s polity has become completely consequentialist. What is right? That which leads to my desired outcomes.

In backlash to these trends:

Candidates considered “ideologically pure” like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders were as successful as they were because they cornered the deontological market during their year.

Here is the conclusion I draw: People want to return to Right = Right and Wrong = Wrong morality. This is true regardless of how you define right and wrong; all that matters is having them at all. It doesn’t matter if you use Christian morality or vaguely defined secular morality or some new synthesized xenophobia+classist morality. Just have something, some ideological standard, hold to it consistently, and then win.

The people want intellectually purity and consistency based on first principles, not some shape-shifting, internally contradictory realism that dominates “moderate” choices like Clinton, Romney, Jeb! Bush, and such.

Deontological thinking is dead to Americans. But we can resurrect it. Here’s how.

The problem is that people have to think marginally when they vote. So how can we eliminate or minimize marginal thinking on election day?

Ultimately the goal is IRV or other proportional voting systems, any of which would eliminate First Past The Post. Proportional voting actually allows people to be “consequentially deontological” if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because they can hold to moral imperatives but vote for them selectively. This would be a more ideal system.

How could the country conduct this? Many details remain unclear. This is not because the details are confusing, but because there are so many workable options.

States could still be winner-take-all, and it could still be separated by states and not a popular vote. So, it could still be Constitutional. For example, everyone in Illinois goes to the polls, ranks all options on the ballot, and ultimately through the tricky process of counting IRV votes, someone is declared the winner. That person get the electoral votes.

[THEN in the most interesting twist of all, each elector at the electoral college also gets to do IRV among everyone who had ballot access in enough states to mathematically win 270 electoral votes. This part would certainly require a constitutional amendment given the 12th amendment’s wording of “the person voted for as President”].

It wouldn’t be much of a practical advantage to 3rd parties, since most people actually do prefer the Democratic or Republican Parties to the Libertarian Party, but it would eliminate the vote-splitting effect, which currently holds 3rd party votes to well below their legitimate vote share.