Monday, June 27, 2011

The Myth of a Secular/Neutral Government.

Most Americans espouse a belief that government should be secular or neutral.  They believe the government should not favor any one group or institution over another and should treat them all fairly.  It shouldn’t favor Christians over Atheists or heterosexuals over homosexuals.  Unfortunately, that is impossible.  Given what the government is expected to do (make and enforce laws), it will always have to marginalize and discriminate against some groups over others.

While the idea that the government should stand as a neutral entity is appealing, it is impossible.  There is nothing that relates to people that is “worldview free” and this includes the government.  Every time the government does X, it discriminates against and marginalizes everyone who believes differently or thinks that X is wrong (I am using X as an all-encompassing term for a real or factious thing).

When the Federal Government legally recognizes heterosexual marriage and fails to recognize homosexual marriage, it is discriminating against and marginalizing everyone who wants/thinks/believes in homosexual marriage.  When the State of New York legally recognizes homosexual marriage, it is discriminating against and marginalizing everyone who thinks/believes homosexual marriage is wrong.  Even if the government took a stand off approach of not legally recognizing any marriage (A view I am sympathetic to), that would marginalize everyone who believes the government has a responsibility to promote a good society through the promotion of a marriage based family unit.  Every time the government makes a law against X, it is discriminating against everyone whose worldview supports X.  The opposite is also true.

When the government takes one position, it is by the nature of this act excluding everyone who believes something contrary to this position.  This is the true not just with homosexual marriage, but with virtually everything.  It’s true with important issues (promoting/allowing abortion rights marginalizes Pro Life people) and frivolous, stupid ones (declaring that the Earth is a sphere marginalizes the Flat Earth Society).  In fact, I’m marginalizing the Flat Earth Society by declaring that it is based on a stupid issue.  To some degree, it’s not a big deal for me to marginalize certain people and groups (like Mac gamers and decaff. drinkers) because I have no authority over them.  It doesn’t substantially affect Mac gamers and decaff. drinkers if I call them stupid.  It does affect people when the government marginalizes them because the government has authority over them.

The reason for this is that the government must make judgments about behavior (make and enforce laws) and it is impossible to make a “worldview free” judgment.  

A worldview is the framework of ideas and beliefs through which we understand and interpret the world.  Every person has a worldview, so there are a lot of different types of worldviews.  “Worldview” is a larger and more encompassing term than “religion” and so it is far more useful here.  Every religion has a (or multiple) worldviews, but not every worldview is religious (Atheism is a worldview, but no atheist who is worth anything wants to be called religious).  It’s analogous to “religion” being a larger and more encompassing term than “Christianity.”  It is far more useful and accurate to refer to dividing up worldviews, than it is to divide up religious and non–religious beliefs.  Whether a worldview is religious or non-religious it will always make metaphysical claims or axioms that cannot be proven (or at least are very very difficult to prove).  This is the main point and the main problem.

All worldviews start from axioms.  An axiom is a starting point that worldview argues from in order to get to its other beliefs.  Axioms are the foundations of worldviews.  Every worldviews has them and almost none of them can be proven.  For example, my worldview has an axiom that everything that exists is logically possible and as such, contradictions do not actually exist in the real world.  From this axiom, I build up to the belief that things like the laws of reason, causality, and logic are valid.  I cannot prove this axiom; I must use logic to demonstrate why it is valid.  But it is logically fallacious for me to use logic without first proving logic is valid.  I must “beg the question” and assume the existence of the thing I am proving in order to prove it.  This is why I cannot prove logic is valid and why it an axiom (or a properly basic belief).

So how does all this tie into the myth of secular government?  Simple, as the Government must make judgment calls (make and enforce laws) it must operate in a worldview.  Yet this fact is the very thing that a lot of Americans and American politicians don’t want the government to do.  All the calls for the government to be “fair” and “impartial” are really quite stupid and irrational.  Fair and impartial in sense of not discriminating between worldviews is impossible.

At practical level, everyone does understand this.  Whenever someone looks at a group of people and says that something they are doing/believing is wrong, that person is judging between worldviews.  When I say it was wrong for Nazis to kill Jews and it was wrong for the Aztecs to perform human sacrifices I am saying that my worldview (which says anti-Semitism and human sacrifice are morally deplorable) is superior to the worldview of the Nazis and the Aztecs.  By saying they are wrong, I am marginalizing and discriminating against Nazis and the ancient Aztecs.

By “secular,” some people actually do mean things that are non-religious.  However, a secular government in this sense is an even worse idea.  That type of secular government will end up marginalizing all the religious worldviews and promoting secular worldviews for no other reason than that they are religious or secular.  As all worldviews start from axioms, discriminating among them based on whether they are traditionally religious or not is stupid.  It’s not as if a secular worldview can be “proven” and a religious worldview cannot be.  Neither of them can be “proven” in this sense.

Some people, like the late philosopher Richard Rorty, suggest that in light of these points, we should forget about worldviews and just work together for the common good.  The problem with that is your worldview informs what you believe the common good is.  A strictly Christian worldview will condemn Abortion as a great moral evil because it is taking human life.  An agnostic or atheistic worldview would not strictly condemn it, but try to assess whether it is a useful tool for controlling population and other such things.  The point is that there are lots of places and issues where the very idea of what is good is informed by your worldview and as such, you cannot achieve consensuses with conflicting worldviews.

So the government cannot be neutral (unless it stops passing and enforcing laws), it should not be secular (that assumes secular worldviews are superior with no justification), and it cannot simply work for a “common good” (there is no shared “common good” among worldviews).

This is much more of a problem now than it used to be.  To a large degree, most people in America used to operate from a quasi-Christian worldview.  I question how “Christian” some aspects of it were, but there was a general level of consensus about most basic things.  Now there is not.  It is easy to be fair when most everyone agrees.  In order for the government to function, it has to discriminate against and marginalize some people.  Right now, it does this to murders, rapists, certain types of drug users, and other criminals.

To a large a degree what most of the American electorate is asking for (that the government not discriminate between pro and anti gay marriage/drug use/abortion worldviews) is impossible.  There is no solution or counter to this problem, because it is a simple fact of reality.  We have to discriminate between worldviews in order to survive and function, so does the government.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The lesser of two evils is still evil: Why the vote is flawed and how it can be changed.

One of the most common phrase I hear in reference to voting is "vote for the lesser of the two evils." Since neither party is any good and both are likely to cause problems I should determine which one is going to do more damage and vote against them. While there seems to be some sense in this, the problem is that the lesser of two evils is still evil. A choice between evil and evil is not really a choice. Would you rather be stolen from or treated abusively? Would you rather I cut out your left eye or your right eye? Would you rather I take away your right to eat the food you want or your right to do whatever you want in your own home? If the only real criteria we have for choosing is which option is "less wrong," then clearly there is something wrong with the process or institution that lead us to the choice.

So in that light I purpose that something completely different be done with voting. We should make voting an earned privilege rather than a fundamental right. In practice this would mean that people have the right to vote only after demonstrating that they are capable and worthy of doing so. It would be similar to how driving is presently handled.

In order to have the right to vote we should be required to meet and maintain certain criteria. Here I will explain why regarding voting as a fundamental right is foolish, why voting should be an earned privilege, what the criteria for the right to vote should/can be, and how this change will have positive effects and diminish the chances of choosing between two evils.

A vote is an act of political power. While it is certainly true (as I've argued before) that a single vote is not very much power, it is still power. Political power should not be given freely and indiscriminately. I do not deserve political power by virtue of my existence and neither does anyone else. We don't want to pick Senators and Presidents out of a random line up of people because we understand that political power should only be bestowed after some merit has been displayed or some criteria has been met (like winning an election). And yet giving the right to vote to everyone is doing exactly the opposite. It is saying that someone is granted political power (however small and limited) only by the virtue of their existence. We certainly don't apply this type of logic elsewhere. No one has the "right to drive" by virtue of their existence.

We all are granted the privilege of driving after we meet a certain standard (passing a driver's test) and provided we continue to meet certain criteria (we maintain liability insurance). If we don't meet the criteria or fail the test we don't get to drive. Nearly everyone can acquire the privilege to drive and the people who cannot are unable to do so for good and obvious reasons (like not having arms and legs or being clinically insane).

Allowing everyone a fundamental right to vote is foolish.

1. A vote is an act of political power.
2. No political power should be given on the virtue of existence alone.
3. So everyone should not be automatically granted the right to vote. (unless they meet some other criteria.)

Freely giving out power to people who have not demonstrated they deserve it is foolish and irrational. Yet this is what granting a fundamental right to vote does.

Making voting an earned privilege/right puts it on solid rational ground. If I can only vote after I meet some criteria (which I will mention below), then the issue I raised above is solved. A doctor has the "right to practice medicine" because he has met the criteria of education in medicine and the maintenance of a medical license. I have the right to work at my job because I meet the criteria my employer lays down for working at my job. Likewise voters should only have the right to exercise political power after they have demonstrated they are capable of doing so reasonably and wisely (they meet the criteria).

1. Power should only be given to people who have demonstrated they are capable of using it(they meet the criteria).
2. A vote is political power.
3. So only people who meet the criteria should be allowed to vote.

It can seem difficult to determine what good criteria for allowing the right to vote should be. It is remarkably clear that there are people voting who should not be (such as Democrats and Republicans); however it is equally obvious that there are competent, capable, and reasonable people from every group (ethic, political, social, economic, etc) who should be voting. I've heard it suggested the IQ tests should be required to vote. While there is some merit in this idea, that would limit out people with low education. Since education is not in and of itself an indicator of intelligence and virtue that is still too limiting.

The solution is that voting should be a right granted to people after they have performed an act of service to the country or displayed selflessness toward the collective whole. Only after demonstrating a willingness and ability to sacrifice my own needs and wants for the good of the whole country should I be allowed power in the country's political process. There are many different ways that people could demonstrate this. Service in the Military, the Peace Core, certain types of non-profit charities, or perhaps as a police officer or fireman are all examples. People who have actively sought and served in such roles have sacrificed for the good of the whole and as such they meet the criteria for voting (as I have laid it out here). There could easily be other things added to list. It should be logically possible for everyone of sound mind to acquire the right to vote, but first they must demonstrate that they have the virtue of putting the good of the whole above their own needs. Obviously not everyone can serve in the Military, but some of those people should be able to work in non-profits. Getting the right to vote should cost me something.

Changing voting on these lines will have some foreseeable affects:

It will decrease the electorate. Less people will be voting because not everyone will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to acquire the right. This is a good thing for a number of reasons.

It increases the power of each individual voter. Less people voting means that each vote will have more value.

Less voters has the affect of decreasing the power of the politicians seeking to get elected. As the electorate shrinks politicians will have to appeal to people more directly and individually (provided it shrinks enough). This will make people value their votes more (as individual votes will seem more meaningful) and make the politicians more accountable to the electorate.

It will make it harder for politicians to be disingenuous and dishonest. In large campaigns candidates often use scare tactics and disingenuous tactics to win. In 2004 President Bush's campaign brought up Abortion and Gay Marriage to rally the conservative Christian vote behind him. After the election he did nothing about either issue. In 2008 then Senator Obama made his campaign about "Hope and Change" but rarely offered anything other than vague and disingenuous definitions of what that Hope and Change was. A lot of people who voted for him filled in "Hope and Change" with the "Hope and Change" they wanted, but didn't know what he actually meant (This was a very shrewd and politically wise tactic and it is probably one the primary reasons President Obama won). Both Bush and Obama were effectively manipulating the masses into voting for them by dishonest and disingenuous messages. A smaller electorate that holds its votes in high value would have made it much harder for them to pull this off.

It will increase the average intelligence and virtue of the average voter. This doesn't ensure that all voters will be intelligent and virtuous people, but it greatly increases the chances. Stupid people and people lacking virtue are highly unlikely to meet the criteria. This too will make it harder for politicians to manipulate and lie to the electorate.

If all the voters have been required to make sacrifices, it will no longer be politically impossible for difficult issues to be addressed. Right now the US's debt and deficient is enormous and likely to cause another recession/depression, or perhaps even a collapse (although this doesn't seem as likely). However both of the major parties are unwilling to do anything about it because it is political suicide to do so. The primary contributors to the debt/deficit are entitlement spending (social security, medicare, welfare, etc) and defense spending. Both parties are unwilling to do anything about this because as soon as they do they will lose elections. No voter wants to loose their entitlement benefits so they vote against any politician who pledges to knock them down ( This is a massive and potentially catastrophic problem that the politicians are unwilling to deal with because the voters are too selfish to allow them to and they lack the courage to defy the voters (they want to keep their jobs). If the electorate were a group of people that had made sacrifices and behaved in selfless ways they would likely be more willing to take a few hits (get paid less Social Security money) for the good of the whole (avoid another recession, depression, or a collapse).

Essentially this change will ground political power with people who are better able to understand and use it. It will dramatically increase the odds that the voters and the representatives they elect are intelligent, competent people who are capable of the self sacrifice necessary to lead and solve problems.

To sum up;
1. Voting is political power.
2. People who have displayed a high level of selflessness and virtue are able of using and deserving political power.
3. There are professions and activities that demonstrate such selflessness and virtue.
4. So voting should be granted to people who have been in such professions and activities.

A further check that should be added is that no one is granted the vote until after they retire or withdraw from their particular type of service. A veteran should be able to vote, but not a soldier on active duty. This will help prevent abuse of the system as people will need to complete years of service before they are granted the privilege of voting.

I am convinced that this method of voting would help lead to a better government that is run more efficiently by more intelligent people who can better deal with the problems and issues the country faces. However I am observant enough to know that the odds of this change actually happening are nill? at best. The foolish notion that existence equals political power is too entrenched in US society and culture. If such a change happens it is a long time away, and it may never come in this country.

I cannot claim full credit for this idea. Robert A. Heinlein wrote about a similar method of democratic government in "Starship Troopers" (the book, not that horrifically awful movie) and I'm sure other authors have said similar things.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How not to argue effectively: The SlutWalk

Continuing with last week's theme for how not to argue here is another great example, the Slutwalk.

The Slutwalk is an organized protest of mostly women dressing in "sluty" clothes and parading through the streets for a while for . . . . well it's not entirely clear what they are trying to accomplish (and that's part of the problem).

The first Slutwalk was organized in response to a Toronto police officer's comments that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being victimized. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, as women in city took streets doing the first "Slutwalk" in reaction to his statement.

Before I say anything else let me be clear, rape is a horrifically evil crime and if I had my way we would execute all rapists. Unlike other crimes which can be moral acceptable under certain circumstances (theft, killing), rape can never in any way be justified. So with that said . . .

The SlutWalk is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen and it actually advances goals that are counter to many of its stated objectives. I'd say it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of, but I've heard Charlie Sheen explain his philosophy of life and Joe Biden talk about hanging out with people at Home Depot.

The stated goals of the protests are to take back the word "slut" (Wikipedia, huffingtonpost,) and to counter what the protestors believe is a culture that blames the victims of rape rather than the rapist (huffingtonpost,

Any rational person understands that a rapist is to blame for rape, not the victim. No type of context or circumstance can shift the blame over to the victim. There are examples of judges and other legal authorities partially blaming the victims, (huffingtonpost) but such authorities are wrong. They are behaving in a morally reprehensible way and not honoring their responsibilities to the law and citizens.

The idea that the word "slut" can be "taken back" is absolutely ridiculous. In order for something to be "taken back" you had to posses at some point and then it was taken away from you. Did regular women ever own the word "slut?" No, they didn't. While the entomology of the word does relate to dirt and being dirty in the physical sense the word has never had positive conations. What this is actually about is a group of people who don't want to be labeled anything negative for being sexually promiscuous. The actual idea is that it is wrong to say it's bad for women to be sexually promiscuous. So they want to make the word "slut" a good or neutral word because the connotation it makes is that sexually promiscuous women are morally inferior. God help us all if we say or in any way assume that being sexually promiscuous is morally wrong.

There is a valid point in this otherwise ridiculous idea. It is true that no women, even a "slut," deserves to be raped. Yes it is possible for a prostitute to be raped and that is morally and legally wrong. However even a basic amount of thought will indicate that being sexual promiscuous increases the likelihood of a women being raped or harassed. Is a prostitute or a monogamous women more likely to be raped?

It is not "victim blaming" to say "If you engage in these types of behaviors the statistical odds of you getting harassed or raped increase, so avoid those types of behaviors and your odds will be better." This is not fundamentally different than other types of crime. If I prop my apartment door open, leave for the day, and return to find my Playstation and books have been stolen am I responsible? No, the thief is. However my behavior did increase the odds of me becoming a victim. People wouldn't call me a thief, but they would say I was stupid and should have expected that to happen. Likewise people (men or women) who dress provocatively, hang out at college parties, and drink a lot of alcohol are not responsible if they get raped. But they have dramatically increased their level of risk and they are behaving in a foolish way.

Victim blaming is where you say to the victim that they are responsible for what happened to them. If I am "victimized" by my apartment complex (they kick me out) because I didn't pay the rent, then it is appropriate to blame me. I'm clearly at fault. Telling a women that getting black out drunk gave the rapist an opportunity he otherwise would not have had is not victim blaming. It's a fact of reality.

What the SlutWalk proponents are failing to understand is the difference between direct and indirect cause. If I hit a coworker in the face I am directly responsible for it and should be held accountable (unless the coworker deserved it). The coworker is indirectly responsible because he took actions that placed him the position where he could be hit by my fist. Perhaps the coworker couldn't have known that I would hit him, but suppose the coworker knew that I was mad at him and that I had made threats against him, but he still came to work. He is still not responsible for getting punched in the face, but he knowingly took action the increased the likelihood he would be. To some degree the legal system understands this. If I get drunk, try to drive home, and end up killing a bystander when I crash my car I will charged with manslaughter, not murder. My actions lead to the bystander's death, but his death was an indirect cause that I did not intend. So I am not a murderer, but I am responsible for the bystander's death.

What the Toronto police officer was effectively saying is that women who dress "sluty" are more likely to get rapped than women who do not. While some evidence does suggest this is not true (Most people who study crime say that rape is primarily about power, not sex) that hardly amounts to "victim blaming." He was trying to warn women away from behavior that might make it more likely they would be assaulted.

The SlutWalk proponents are ignoring the real problem of rape (the rapists) and going after people who are trying to prevent it (the police officer) or people who have nothing to do with it (the morality police and editors of dictionaries). Instead of cries for tougher prison sentences for rapists or stronger police tactics against suspected rapists, they are demanding that people not tell them how to dress and are trying to say the word "slut" shouldn't have negative connotations. Not only does this completely fail to address the relevant issue (something like one in six American women will be raped and most rapists go unpunished, {houghingtonpost, Wikipedia}), but (if everything I just argued about indirect causation and the relevant statistics are correct) they are adding to the problem by encouraging women to put themselves at a higher risk of being raped. Essentially,

1. Indirect causation exists and can be used to understand how some things happen.

2. Certain factors and contexts (dress, behavior styles, etc) do increase or decrease the possibility of a women being raped.

3. The SlutWalk proponents are encouraging behavior that statistically increases the likelihood of women being raped and so are promoting things that are against their stated purpose.

The point on arguing effectively is simple. Think about what you are doing and saying. Good intentions and good feelings do not excuse bad arguements and poor execution. A little basic thought and questioning reveals the massive holes and fallacious nature of these protests. There are a lot of things the protesters could do that would actually help the issue and make it harder for rapists to commit crimes. Instead they are all "dressing down" and holding signs. I'm quite certain a large number of the protesters actually do care about the high amounts of rape. Just think about what 3,000 people (the number at the Toronto SlutWalk) could have done by working at rape treatment and prevention center or partnering with police to turn in rapists. The poor fools are inadvertently adding the very problem they are trying to fight against.

This is exactly why I never go to protests. Protests accomplish nothing other than making protestors feel better about themselves. Well . . . that might not be entirely true, but that argument's for another time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Jim Daly and how to argue effectively

While my computer was down I read an article by Jim Daly on why gay marriage is a bad idea. Jim Daly is the President of Focus on the Family. You can read his article here. I found his arguments to be so poor that if I wasn't already certain that gay marriage is bad I would be convinced it's a good idea. So that vein here are four general guidelines to making an effective argument.

1. Be as consistent, honest, and reasonable as you can. Inconsistency is not just a sign of hypocrisy, it's a guarantee of a bad argument. If you're not honest no one should listen to you. You can demand that someone account for every logically possible explanation for X, but this is quite unreasonable as there are a lot of highly improbable but logically possible explanations for X. If you demand that every possible explanation is ruled out (or in) than nothing can get accomplished as it is nearly impossible for anyone to meet that demand.

2. If you use any evidence, statistics, or premises that are not obvious or are controversial, make certain you cite the sources or prove the premise. You don't have to cite a mathematician if you claim that 2+2=4, as that is obvious to everyone who knows math. However if you are talking about theoretical calculus than citing a mathematician or proving the premise is necessary.

3. Make sure you use good logic and reason and don't use any logical fallacies. A lot of "common sense" is logically fallacious. The most common example is that most people do believe that correlation establishs causation. It doesn't.

4. Keep your argument as simple and easy to follow as possible. Don't start arguing for socialized health care and wind up "proving" that people are basically evil. Some problems and issues are quite complicated and it can be difficult to keep them simple. The process oil goes through from extraction to fuel for a car is logistically very complicated. If an "argument" is tracing this process it will get long and quite complicated. But even here if the process is explained well enough it will be easy to follow. Doing this will make your argument stronger and enable you to communicate with people better.

There are other guidelines that can help, but following these ones should keep you in good shape.
How do Daly's arguments shape up? Well pretty poorly. The only one of these criteria Daly meets is part of the first one. Daly is honest, but every other aspect of his argument(s) is terrible. Nothing he says is convincing because his argument(s) is fallacious, unreasonable, needlessly complicated, and he doesn't cite anything.

It's not clear if Daly is giving one argument or several because his article lacks a clear thesis (a single statement summarizing his main point) and the organization of his article is poor. He says he can argue against same sex marriage, "On the basis of logic, reason, common sense and the fact that preservation of traditional marriage is in the best interest of the common good, as evidenced by any number of factors, including reams of social science data and thousands of years of history." But then he jumps all over the map. He discusses things that seem to have no relation to gay marriage (abortion) and ends up arguing that gay marriage advocates are infringing on religious rights (Which may be true, but it in no way establishes that gay marriage is a bad idea; it establishes that proponents of the idea have behaved badly).

Daly doesn't cite a single source for any of his evidence or premises. He is arguing from social science statistics (which are vague and often misleading under the best of circumstances) but he doesn't say where he is getting his evidence. I don't think he is making them up, but without the citations I can't know that, and I can't check the evidence to make sure it is accurate (perhaps the social scientists Daly got his information from used bad methodology?).

Daly's argument(s) are fallacious because the actual arguments he gives have little or nothing to do with gay marriage. Whether previous social and cultural changes had good or bad results doesn't establish that gay marriage will have a good or bad result. Each cultural change must be judged on it's on merits (or lack there of) not the fact that other changes had bad results.

Daly doesn't even effectively argue that these other changes had negative effects. Don't misunderstand, I stand with him in affirming that things like abortion and cohabitation are morally wrong. However he's trying to argue that such things have directly lead to certain social ills, but he's using a common logical fallacy. He's assuming that correlation does establish causation, and it doesn't. The fact that cohabitation and child abuse increased at the same time doesn't establish a causation between the two. Maybe it's the other way around and child abuse caused the increase in cohabitation?

I am quite convinced that gay marriage is a bad idea and is morally wrong, but nothing Daly said in the article effectively argues that fact. Part of the reason I decided to critique Daly is that I affirm his conclusion, but the way he got there is just terrible. It is important to critique people you agree with when they use bad arguments and reasoning. One of the primary problems with most ideological and political groups in America is failure to be self critical.

So don't argue like Daly. Make every effort to keep your arguments reasonable, consistent, logical, simple, and always cite your evidence (when appropriate). Otherwise you'll be acting like a congressman or a fool.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pacifism and Christianity

I have come to the conclusion that a Christianity that demands Pacifism of Christians is incoherent.  More simply put, Pacifism and orthodox Christianity are incompatible. To help clarify;
I will state my premises and argument, define the terms, expand and elaborate on my points and argument, and then I will defend against probable counter arguments.  I have deliberately organized my argument this way so it is easier to see my presuppositions and conclusions.  This should make it easy to understand and address my argument.

Basic Argument: Claiming Christianity demands Christians be Pacifists is logically fallacious because it conflicts with one of Christianity’s key tenants, its universality.  Christianity holds that it is for everyone everywhere, so to demand that Christians be Pacifists is to require everyone everywhere be Pacifists.  However, this undermines the universality of Christianity because some type of violence is required for any human society to function.  So to maintain that Christians must be Pacifists requires that some people in the world (the people performing the necessary violence) either not be Christians or not follow their faith completely.  Christianity is then not universal.  If violence is necessary for any human society to function and if Christianity is for everyone, then not all Christians can be Pacifists.  Some or perhaps even most Christians could be Pacifists, but they cannot all be.

Terms: I am defining Christianity in the broad sense as everything that affirms the truth of grace through Christ’s death and resurrection and God’s revelation of himself in the Bible.  This includes virtually all Protestant and Catholic denominations, but excludes groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I am defining Pacifism as the strict adherence to non-violence in all circumstances.  Not all people who call themselves Pacifists define the term this way.  There are people who describe themselves as Pacifists who would use some forms of violence to defend their lives or their families’ lives but always object to fighting in wars.  Some Pacifists say only non-lethal violence should be used, (which I don’t think is possible, but that’s for another time) and there are other variations.  The critique I am making only fully works against Pacifism in its strictest sense.  The more tolerant of violence the Christian Pacifist becomes the less valid my critique is.  I will occasionally use the word “exceptional” and here I mean this as something that is non-universal or rare.  I am not defining it here as something that is both rare and praiseworthy.

Premise One:  Violence is necessary for any human society to function.  Many people are likely appalled by this, but it is true.  Every human society has had (and needed) laws.  Whether these laws are primarily social, legal, or cultural in nature does not matter.  I am yet to find anyone who will argue that a society without laws (in the broadest sense of the term) existed or that any group of people living together doesn’t need some set of rules.  Even if those laws are things like, “the law of the jungle” or an unwritten and unspoken set of rules, they are still laws in every practical sense.  Everyone agrees (at least I’ve found no one who disagrees, if anyone is aware of someone who does please let me know) that such rules are necessary.  People who claim we don’t need laws usually mean that we don’t need written laws.  They think that cultural and social laws or laws of common sense are enough.  That may be true, but the point is that at a practical level even these more basic rules function in way that is indistinguishable from a written code.  I’ve never found an anarchist in the truest sense.  They simply think that non-written laws are better than formal rules, but even these are still laws.

Laws always require enforcement.  Any law without enforcement is as useless as a rock band without instruments, a gun without bullets, or a day without coffee.  We have laws that say don’t murder or steal, but if nothing is done to prevent or deter the murder and the thief the laws are useless.  The murder keeps killing and the thief keeps stealing.  The point of a law is to prevent certain types of behavior or to make it unlikely the behavior will occur again.  So to have laws makes some type of enforcement necessary.  Law enforcement (the concept and the police) have taken a lot of different forms, but all of these forms can be traced back to violence or the threat of violence.  All law enforcement takes its power from violence or the threat of violence, so it is impossible to enforce laws without violence.  I am quite sure this statement will generate many objections, but I encourage any objector to trace back the forms of enforcement and punishment to their source.  The source is always violence or the threat of violence.

Violence and the threat of violence are indistinguishable in this sense.  It is true that often people with no intention of violence will threaten it (which makes them liars), but the threat only holds power if someone believes it will be carried out.  If everyone only threatened violence and no one carried it out (it would be a wonderfully comical world) the threats would be useless.  As an analogy, suppose all the police in a fictitious city were given orders to always threaten to shot suspects but never actually do it.  Assuming that all the police followed the order things would probably go well for a while.  But eventually word would get around that Fictitious City Police threaten violence but never carry it out.  Crime would probably rise and the police would be ineffective because they would have lost their power.  While this is a fictitious example, the principal holds true.  Threats of violence require actual violence backing them up to be effective.  So threats of violence and actual violence are indistinguishable in any way that matters here.  Even something like a monetary fine as law enforcement is still a violent act at its core.  Money is being forcibly taken from someone in a fine.  If he refuses to pay the fine, law enforcement will have to use violence or threaten him so he will pay.

Because societies always need laws and some type of violence to enforce them, some type of violence (however limited I hope) is always necessary for society to function.

Premise Two:  Christianity claims it is universal.  By this I mean that Christianity claims it is for the whole world.  Not every religion makes this claim.  I doubt anyone who has studied Christianity will disagree with me here.  There are numerous references in the Bible that make it plain that Christ and New Testament authors regarded Christianity as the way for all men (a non-gender specific use of “men” here).

There are some types of denominations that try to work around this universality.  Usually they stream from or relate to Calvinism.  They basically try to have it both ways by claiming that Christianity is and is not universal.  That is a horrific simplification, but I’ll get more in depth on it later.
So Christianity is universal.  Its scriptures claim it is, and its adherents claim it is, and historically it has made efforts to spread all over the world.

Conclusion:  The conclusion rests on the law of non-contradiction.  A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same context.  So Christianity cannot be Universal and non-Universal at the same time.  It cannot demand an exceptional tenant and be Universal.  If Christianity demands both things, it is logically fallacious.  To use plain speak, it just doesn’t make sense and we should reject it.  So I am forced to conclude that a version of Christianity that demands all Christians be Pacifists is a logically self-defeating concept.  Essentially;
1. Human societies require at least some violent actions.
2. Christianity claims it is for all human societies.
3. So given 1 and 2,
4. Christianity must allow for at least some violent actions.

This does not mean that Christians cannot be Pacifists, they can be.  After all a Christian can be any number of things that not all Christians can be.  For example, some Christians are women and some are men.  Clearly it is not a problem that the female Christians cannot become male Christians and visa versa (Major surgery does not count here because it does not change the chromosomes that produce gender).  It would be problematic if all the female Christians claimed all the male Christians had to become women to be “true Christians” because clearly this is not possible (However I have attended some churches where men are required to act more like women than men).  Likewise, a Christian can be a Pacifist so long as he does not claim that all Christians must be Pacifists.  Essentially a person’s Pacifism must not come from Christianity, but from somewhere else.  Maybe the person just does not like the thought of violence in the same way that I abhor the thought of decaffeinated coffee.  There are many principals Christians can embrace that are separate from Christianity.  Nearly all American Christians think democracy and free speech are wonderful principals.  But these principals come from being an American, not from being a Christian.  Christians in other parts of the world may find the idea of free speech to be dangerous and democracy to be an incredibly inefficient form of government.

Separating Pacifism and Christianity does  not mean that Pacifism is inherently stupid or bad.  It is usually high minded, good intentioned, and the worst that can be said of it is that it is na├»ve.  It probably is the best default approach to a lot of situations.  Pacifism just cannot be logically demand as the answer to all conflicts by a worldview that claims to be universal.

So I have concluded that it is not logically valid to claim that following Christ demands Pacifism.  If you want to be a Pacifist for other reasons, that is fine as the contradiction only lies in the requirement (but examine your other reasons to see if they are valid).  It is as logically valid to be a Christian and a Pacifist as it is to be a Christian and an American.  But it is as foolish to claim that all Christians must be Pacifists as it is to claim that all Christians must be Americans or Europeans.

An Out:  For those who do not like my conclusion I can offer you an out.  If either of my two premises are wrong the whole argument fails.  So find a reason why one of them are wrong.  The easiest out is to join a Christian denomination that does not believe Christianity is Universal (Yes they do exist and are considered orthodox).  Most of these denominations are off-shots of Calvinism or relate to it in some way.  Part of Calvinism is the idea of the Elect.  Only these Elect people will actually be saved and the rest are . . . well they’re pretty much damned.  This is a terribly unfair summery, but the point is that these denominations do not actually claim Christianity is Universal, so there is no logical problem if they also demand Pacifism.  I think there are good reasons to reject Calvinism and similar ideas, but I’m not writing here to refute them.  It is worth noting the most of these variations of Christianity soften the blow of Non-Universality by claiming that people cannot know who the Elect are, only God knows.  However, that reintroduces the logic problem of demanding Pacifism with Christianity (If only God knows who the elect are then it is impossible for us to know who is saved and thus impossible for us to know who is required to be a Pacifist).

Two Counter Arguments: “Violence is not necessary for human society to function.”  This counter claim to premise one can take several forms.  Some people claim that society can be organized in ways that do not require violence (while admitting that at least most of them are).  Some people will argue that as Christians should not conform to the world so we should not allow for violence even if human society requires it.  I am sure there are other variations, but I think these two statements cover most of them.

I say that if we can organize society in way that does not require violence, great let’s do it.  So now . . . how do we do it?  I’ve tried to do some research on this and while my research is in no way exhaustive (I am only 28), I have been unable to find any society that does not have at least a small threat of violence at work somewhere in it, and I have seen no theories or examples that can work for larger groups of people for long periods of time.  I can find no evidence for the claim that society can be organized without violence.  Saying “We can do X” does not mean that we can do X, you need to provide evidence and reasons why we can do X.

Pacifistic theorists often like to cite Amish and Mennonite communities as the very evidence I cannot see.  While I find much to admire in Amish and Mennonite approach to life, I do not see how they can be held up as examples of non-violent communities because they are not independent communities.  The ones in the United States enjoy the protection of the local police and the international protection of the US military.  They can afford to be as pacifistic as they want to be because they do not have to worry about protecting themselves from external evil and violence.  If some Amish or Mennonite people operated their own sovereign country, I think that would be a very strong case worth considering.  But they don’t, so it’s not.  Most citizens can and probably should be as pacifistic as the Amish and Mennonites are.  Having police and military enable people to act non-violently and that is a good thing.

Saying “It might be different” doesn’t mean it is different, so saying we might be able to have a society without violence does not mean we can.  Until someone can show demonstrate a workable and plausible way of organizing society without violence, I have to conclude that we need the violence.  I do welcome ideas and theories about how else society might be organized.  If there are non-violent ways of minimizing and suppressing evil and suffering, I would like to know about them.

The second counterargument revolves around Christians specifically.  This counter argument does not dispute that human societies need violence, but claims that Christians should not act like the rest of humanity in regards to violence.  There are several different ways of justifying this claim, but they all say that Christians should act separate (in some fashion, not necessarily physically separate) from the rest of humanity.  While this is certainly true about some things (they will know we are Christians by our love ) it is not true in a broad general sense.  Christians still have to eat food and sleep, so we are not completely separate from the rest of humanity.  Simply arguing that Christians should be separate from the rest of the world is not enough; the argument must establish that the issue of violence is one of the areas that is separate.  This is where I find these counterarguments fail.  If “Christ told us to be separate from the world” is used to claim that Christians should not use violence the same argument and logic can be used to claim that Christians shouldn’t eat, sleep, or do anything else that someone else in the world does.  Clearly Christians need to eat and sleep.  This counter argument is fallacious because it is too broad.

My purpose here is simply to establish the logical relationship between Christianity and Pacifism.  I am not attempting to explain the hows and whys of when violence is justified and when it is evil.  That is a far more difficult and complicated topic which I am not covering here.  It is clear that most violence is evil and unjustifiable.  Nothing I say here should be used to justify specific acts of violence as that would be evil and logically fallacious.  But I think it is clear that a Christian police officer can be justified in shooting a dangerous criminal, and a Christian soldier can be justified in killing enemy soldiers to protect his country.
So I have concluded that if you want to be Pacifist and a Christian that is fine.  Just don’t tell other Christians they have to be Pacifists to follow Christ.  That would be unlike Christ.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Evolution and Christianity

 A couple of weeks ago I used Facebook to ask, “Is some type of Macro Evolution compatible with orthodox Christianity?” The results were . . . interesting. Nine people said yes, ten people said no, and three people gave other answers. One person said “Only within the theory of multiverse. A universe for each side” so I think it’s safe put that vote under no. Two people said “The wording is too general to give an answer that is not misleading.” (I find this distressing as I deliberately tried to make the wording specific and avoid that problem). As we live a democracy, I think we can now say the issue has been decided by a majority vote. Evolution is not compatible with Christianity due to the truth of democratic principles.

Well actually that doesn’t settle it. Despite what the Ds, Rs, and Foxnews say, a majority opinion does not create reality and is not in and of itself an indicator of truth. So the issue remains. I am unsure which way to go here as I see good reasons for accepting and rejecting both positions.

It is quite clear that Christianity is not compatible with Naturalistic Darwinian Evolution as the later assumes the non-existence of God (or any god that could in anyway matter). People who assert that these two can go together do not understand what they are talking about. However with Macro Evolution (the idea that Micro Evolution leads species to change into other species over a great period of time and that this process is responsible for the existence of all species) the issue is different. As Macro Evolution is a question of process (how questions) it does not seem to directly conflict with Christianity (which seems more concerned with why questions). If such a conflict exists, it is not as obvious and apparent as with Naturalistic Evolution. The question is, could God have used Evolution to produce all the life on Earth and if so, did he?

Option 1, they can/do go together:

Pros Arguments:

1. Variants of Evolution are the primary accepted theory in most of culture and accepting it allows Christians to be viewed with more intellectual respect (but this is also a con).

2. While Naturalistic Evolution is an incoherent belief (due to the is/ought problem, the great statistically improbability of much of it, etc) Theistic Evolution (the belief that God in some way used Marco Evolution) is not, in and of itself. All of the logical and coherence problems of Evolution are solved if you presuppose that God directed Evolution for his purposes.

3. There is a great deal of very good evidence that suggests the world and the Universe are quite old. If the world and the Universe are quite old, this is good grounds for accepting part of the Evolution narrative.

4. If you suppose that God directs it, the lack of good biological evidence for Evolution is a no longer a problem. God can direct Evolution as he wants to get around the statistical problems and he could accelerate it temporarily (which would account for the extreme lack of transitional fossils).

5. On a micro level, Evolution is an observable and testable phenomena that only a fool could deny.

6. Lots of intelligent Christians hold to Theistic Evolution with integrity (Francis Collins, Hugh Ross, C.S. Lewis, NT Wright, and Pope John Paul II). While this can be an appeal to authority, many of these people are good authorities on this subject (Francis Collins is a geneticist, Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist, N.T. Wright is a biblical scholar, etc).

Con Arguments:

1. Variants of Evolution are the primary accepted theory in most of culture and accepting it allows Christians to be viewed with more intellectual respect. As I established above, a majority opinion does not establish truth (although if everyone says you are wrong you’d be a fool not to consider it) so if the primary reason for accepting evolutionary theory is that most people say it’s right, that’s stupid. Additionally Christians should expect to have at least some beliefs that bother/offend the rest of the world; Christ said as much (John 15:18).

2. You must modify or in some other way explain the Creation story in Genesis as non-literal or allegorical. This is at best very difficult to do. There are some important sub points here.

     a. Everywhere in scripture where allegory/metaphor is used there are indicators that it is being used. No such indicators exist in the first few chapters of Genesis.

     b. It is at best very difficult to explain why the word day would mean something different in Genesis 1 than elsewhere in the book. Some noble theories have been purposed for this, but they all require some real fancy dancing that leads to inconsistencies (they require you to apply different rules of interpretation to Genesis 1 than the rest of Genesis).

     c. Some fundamental Christian theology (the nature and value of man, relationship of the sexes, the fall, etc) depend on the Creation and Fall story. If this story is discarded/marginalized it is difficult to legitimize these doctrines. i.e. It is really hard to explain how man is made in God’s image if he evolved from lesser creatures and shares ancestry with apes and monkeys.

3. You can disregard the Genesis story as false, but this also causes problems.

     a. If one part of scripture is demonstrably false why believe in any of it and as such why bother being a Christian? Once some of it is truly undermined, all of it must be called into question.

     b. If God offers a portion of scripture that is untrue, this means he is/has deceived us. Yet this is radically opposed to the nature of God that scripture presents. Pagan gods deceive and scheme, but God says that he cannot lie.

     c. Again fundamental Christian theology is no longer valid or very difficult to justify. If the Genesis story is completely false, how can Christians assert that people are made in the image of God or that everyone is sinful and in need of Christ to save them?

4. At least some elements of the evolutionary process do not seem to be in keeping with God’s character. It appears to be a cruel and unforgiving process that punishes the weak and needy. Compare this to Christ’s words at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and you will see the apparent discrepancy. How could the same God who doesn’t forget one sparrow (Luke 12:6) use a process that would have left 99% of the species that ever existed extinct?

Option 2, They do not/cannot go together.

Pro Arguments:

1. It takes scripture and Genesis literally, so there is no need for odd or unusual jumps in interpretation and understanding.

     a. It maintains a strong view of scripture.

     b. It doesn’t have to deal with the doctrinal/theological problems of the other view.

2. We have very good reasons to trust the accuracy of other parts of scripture (read The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by FF Bruce) so it is reasonable to trust scripture in regards to Genesis. I.e. Where we can verify scripture and see if it conforms to reality it does, so it’s reasonable to trust it where we cannot check it.

3. While there have been divergent views on Creation through history, a literal view of Genesis does seem to be the most commonly held view of Christians throughout Church history (but as above, this doesn’t establish that it is correct, only that a lot of people came to this conclusion).

4. While Evolution is an observable and testable phenomenon on a micro level, this does not in and of itself establish that it happens on a macro level. Asserting so is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. I.e. If Macro Evolution is true, we would be able to observe Micro Evolution. We can observe Micro Evolution so Macro Evolution is true. The trouble with this argument is that Micro Evolution can exist independent of Macro Evolution so the existence of it does not guarantee the other. There are a large number of other reasons why Micro Evolution might exist.

5. If scripture said it, scripture is trustworthy, and God’s word is revealed in scripture, God said it, so it must be true.

6. Basing beliefs entirely on “scientific evidence” and “well accepted facts” can be foolish as such evidence has been demonstrated false before. Consider any of the missing link fossils which have all been demonstrated to be hoaxes or mistakes. This doesn’t establish that there is no missing link, it establishes that some of the “evidence” scientists cited was false.

Con Arguments:

1. You must explain why the world and Universe appear very old when they are not.

     a. You can say God created the Universe with the appearance of age, but this falls into the problem of God being deceptive.

     b. You can say that geologists are mistaken, but this is a pretty difficult thing to maintain in the face of plate tectonics and light from stars billions of years away reaching Earth.

2. You have to tell the majority of culture and the scientific community that they are wrong and refusing to see reality.

     a. While this is a coherent theory/explanation, it is unpleasant and will lead to alienation.

3. A lot of Creationist cite bad evidence and disregard the rules of logic (i.e. don’t submit to reality) when making their case.

     a. This doesn’t make Creationism false, but it does put you in the same camp as anti-intellectual fools.

So if you are a theistic evolutionist I think you must explain why the first few chapters of Genesis conflict with your belief. If you decided the Creation story is wrong, you must explain why Christianity has any validity as its primary source is now suspect.

Conversely if you believe Evolution and Christianity are incompatible, you must explain why the Earth and Universe appear so old, and you must explain why so many educated people say you are wrong.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why doesn't the government work? Because it's not in it's nature to work.

The US government is inefficient because it is it’s nature to be inapt.  All democracies are inherently inapt and inefficient because it is one of their primary traits.

The US constitution (The government’s Bible) is essentially a list of things that government can and cannot do.  Rather than laying down general guiding principles like a religious text, it specifically denies and gives the government certain rights over its citizens.  The constitution sets up the government this way because the primary idea behind a democratic government is that government is inherently oppressive and evil (but often a necessary evil).  Given the choice between oppressing and controlling its citizens and letting them act freely a government will nearly always oppress them.  Consider that the government’s reaction to nearly every problem is to create additional methods of control.  For terrorism, they created the Department of Homeland Security.  For medical issues, they created the Affordable Health Care Act.  Regardless of intentions, the default response of every government to every problem is to acquire and institutionalize more control. 
A democracy or republic seeks to solve this problem by weakening the government by making it directly (or indirectly in the case of a republic) subject to its citizens.  The trade off is that this will make the democratic government inefficient and slow as it is subject to wills and ideas of a lot of different people who will have conflicting ideas and opinions about what it should do.  A republic tries to counter this inefficiency be adding a medium (the elected officials) between the voters and the actions of the government; however a review of republican governments (not the party) around the world quickly establishes that this is only marginally successful.

The point is that all democratic and republican governments will always be inefficient and inept.  It is built into the definition of what they are.  A ball will always be a round and spherically shaped object.  It’s the definition and nature of a ball to be round.  Likewise a democratic government will always be inefficient and inept by its nature and definition.

The few areas of the US Government that display a high level of competence and efficiency are organized and run in ways that are extremely undemocratic.  The US military is highly efficient and competent, but it is organized like an Empire or a totalitarian state.  Soldiers do not vote on what they want to do, who their commander is, or who they get to attack.  The soldiers have almost no say over these things.  This is a very undemocratic way of running a military that exists to serve a democracy, but thank God it is organized that way.  If the US military were run more like Congress or the Department of Education, the US would cease to exist.

No politician seems to understand this foundational aspect about our type of government.  Both of the major parties actively seek to expand the scope of government and increase the control it has over aspects of our lives (What the parties want to expand does very greatly).  This is a foolish and illogical agenda that conflicts with nature and definition of what the U.S. government is.  It’s akin to trying to use a sports car to haul firewood.  Even if everything the parties are trying to do is good and will help people (and that’s very unlikely), it still is an extremely foolish and inefficient way to address these problems and issues.  A pickup truck works far better for hauling wood.  Likewise there are other institutions and social constructs that can far better address social and economic issues.
By the nature of what it is, a democratic government should only involve itself as a measure of last resort.  It should actively try to do as little as possible because it is highly unlikely it will be able to do much of anything well.

The argument is;
1.  Democracy is defined as a government that shares power among a majority of its citizens by voting.
2.  Sharing power in this fashion causes the government to be ineffective and inept as three people take longer to make a decision than one and those three people will never completely agree (and over 130 million people voted in the 2008 election).
3.  As a democracy is inherently ineffective and inept, attempting to actively use it to solve problems is foolish and runs contrary to its nature.

A democratic government’s primary bonus is lessening the chance of tyrants and despots gaining power by spreading out that power.  However this severally lessens the government’s ability to handle and address problems.  If we want to live in a democracy or a republic and get things done, we cannot depend on the government.  The number one mistake U.S. politicians make is trying to use the government in a way that is contrary to its nature.  We need to stop demanding that they haul firewood in their sports cars for us and use our own pickup trucks instead.

What does all this have to do with awesome Calvin and Hobbes strip I opened with?  Well Calvin is thinking about writing the same way politicians are thinking about the government.  Clearly the point of good writing is to communicate effectively and clearly.  When writing is used for purposes other than clear communication, you get disastrous and foolish results (like academia).  I can appreciate that it is a little more difficult to see the inept nature of democracy, but when we attempt to use a democratic government in a way that assumes it will be competent we are behaving as foolishly as Calvin.