Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Is the Constitution Party?

   In our last blog post we noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Constitution Party as an "antigovernment Patriot" group, and attempted to link the party to domestic terrorism. According to the SPLC's website, an "antigovernment Patriot" group is one that defines itself as "opposed to the 'New World Order,' engages in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocates or adheres to extreme antigovernment doctrines." But in this case, does the proverbial shoe fit? Does the Constitution Party meet the SPCL's definition of an "antigovernment Patriot" group?
    The Constitution Party's website lists "Seven Principles of the Constitution Party." They are:
  • Life: For all human beings, from conception to natural death;
  • Liberty: Freedom of conscience and actions for the self-governed individual;
  • Family: One husband and one wife with their children as divinely instituted;
  • Property: Each individual's right to own an steward personal property without     government burden;
  • Constitution and Bill of Rights: interpreted according to the actual intent of the     founding fathers;
  • States' Rights: Everything not specifically delegated by the Constitution to the     federal government, nor prohibited by the Constitution to the states, is     reserved to the states or to the people.
  • American Sovereignty: American government committed to the protection of the     borders, trade, and common defense of Americans, and not entangled in     foreign alliances.
    It will be noted that three of the Seven Principles are rooted in the Ten Commandments: the prohibitions against murder, adultery and theft. A fourth Principle ("Freedom of Conscience") is rooted in the Christian idea that all human beings are ultimately accountable to God alone, and that their duty to God transcends all human authority. The remaining three Principles are rooted in the U.S. Constitution.
    Does any of this constitute "opposition to the 'New World Order,'" "groundless conspiracy theorizing," or "extreme antigovernment doctrines"? First of all, let us consider the "New World Order." Does such a thing even exist? The answer to that question will largely depend on how one defines the term. What is an undeniable fact is globalization, and the concentration of the world's wealth of a relatively small number of billionaires. And as the Eurocrisis has vividly demonstrated, a global economy will require global regulation. It may be too early to speak properly of a "New World Order," but one is surely emerging. What will the world look like then? Shouldn't we all be concerned?
    As for "groundless conspiracy theorizing," there may be some within the Constitution Party who engage in this kind of speculation, but the Party itself does not take a position on such matters. By the very nature of the case a conspiracy is hard to prove. If it is secret, how would outsiders know about it? Conspiracies are like the theory of evolution: it is possible to "prove" almost anything based on circumstantial evidence. What we should be concerned about are the massive social, economic and cultural changes that are profoundly changing the world today, and are probably beyond the power of any one clique or cabal to manipulate or control. We might be, in fact, living in the End Times predicted in the Bible.
    And then, what about "extreme antigovernment doctrines"? As we pointed out in our last blog post, one man's orthodoxy is another man's "extremism." "Extreme" simply implies a wide difference between two positions. If the SPLC thinks that we are extreme, on whose side does that reflect? It simply says that there is a wide difference between us and them, which we freely acknowledge.
    What is fair to say, however, is that we are "radically conservative," in the sense that we seek a return to the first principles of American government. The U.S. Constitution was intended to be a compact among the American people, and that compact can only be altered by the people themselves. The Founding Fathers never pretended that they had the answer for every problem that would confront the growing republic. But the made a provision in the Constitution for amending the document as the need should arise. Might we not amend it today to accommodate such popular federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare? But what is not conscionable is simply to ignore the letter and intent of the document and to read into it whatever the Supreme Court may please. That is nothing less than judicial tyranny, and effectively extinguishes the principle of self-government among a body of free citizens.
    Is this radical? It surely is. But we in the Constitution Party feel compelled to hold aloft the torch of liberty amid the encroaching darkness. Let our hands never falter in the cause of liberty, humanity and justice!

Monday, March 25, 2013

I’m an “Antigovernment Extremist”!

    We were astonished recently to discover that an organization of which we happen to be a member is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of "antigovernment Patriot groups," and that the SPLC has asked the government to devote more resources to meeting the threat posed by ourselves. The "Patriot group" in question is the Wellsboro (PA) chapter of the Constitution Party.
    I suppose that we should be flattered by the attention. On a good evening we might have a turnout of a half a dozen or so. We recently held a meeting at a local donut shop where we hatched antigovernment plots while we feasted on the house specialty. (It's amazing what a sugar high will do for one's patriotic fervor!) But the fact of the matter is that the SPLC's list is an outrageous attempt to smear a group of peaceful, law-abiding citizens exercising their right of free assembly.
    The SPLC's website describes "Patriot groups" as groups that "define themselves as opposed to the 'New World Order,' engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines." In a letter that the SPLC sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, SPLC President J. Richard Cohen stated that "In the last four years, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of conspiracy-minded, antigovernment groups." He claims that the number of such groups grew from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012. Mr. Cohen warned of "the rage that is building in certain quarters," and stated that "the country has seen an increase in right wing domestic terrorism as the number of hate and antigovernment groups has increased in recent years." He urged Mr. Holder and Ms. Napolitano to "establish an interagency task force to assess the adequacy of the resources devoted to responding to the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism."
    It appears that Mr. Cohen is something of a conspiracy theorist himself. The SPLC has not yet posted its 2012 list of "antigovernment Patriot" groups, but its 2011 list is on its website. It contains the names of 1,274 organizations. Noticeably absent from the list are any radical left-wing groups. Presumably the Tea Party is a threat to civilization, but Occupy Wall Street, and ACORN are not. Does this betray a political agenda on the part of the SPLC?
    But what about the "tremendous increase" in the number of "conspiracy-minded, antigovernment" groups? On closer inspection it turns out that of the 1,274 groups listed, 174 of them, or 13.7% of the total, are local chapters of the Constitution Party, including our little cabal in Wellsboro. Multiple local affiliates of other organizations are on the list as well. When considered as nationally organized groups, the number shrinks considerably. Moreover, Mr. Cohen claims that there were only 149 such groups in 2008. Yet the Constitution Party has been around far longer than that. It appears that the "tremendous increase" is more the result of the SPLC's statistical gathering techniques than any real change in the political landscape.
    But is the Constitution Party really a "conspiracy-minded, antigovernment" group that defines itself as "opposed to the 'New World Order,' engages in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocates extreme antigovernment doctrines"? We might begin by asking, what is a "New World Order"? If we called it "globalization" instead, would it make a difference? Is it only right-wing "antigovernment" groups that are alarmed by the reach and scope of multinational corporations, and the wealthy elite that controls them? Is the world being taken over by Bilderbergers? What about the "1%"?
    And what constitutes "an extreme antigovernment doctrine"? We in the Constitution Party simply believe that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in the sense originally intended by its framers. It is a little hard to see how one could be considered "antigovernment" by being patriotic and upholding the Constitution. We seem to recall that even President Obama himself recently took an oath to "faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will, to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Does this make him "antigovernment"? Or would he be "antigovernment" only if he actually meant what he said? It appears that one man's orthodoxy is another man's "extremism."
    What is especially insidious about Mr. Cohen's letter is his attempt to link the Constitution Party to "domestic terrorist plots," and his call for increased government surveillance. This is, in fact, the mirror image of the bigotry and intolerance that his organization decries in others. Is this the future of democracy?

Here are the links to the relevant websites:
Southern Poverty Law Center 
Constitution Party 

To see the 2011 list of "Patriot" groups click on this link:
"Patriot" groups-2011 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms?

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution
    The U.S. Congress is currently debating proposed gun control legislation, and it appears at this point that there will not be a ban on military-style assault weapons. The President had appointed a commission headed by Vice-President Joe Biden, which conducted hearings and issued recommendations. Among other proposals under consideration are universal background checks, a national gun registry, and a ban on high-capacity magazine clips. As expected, all of this has met with stern resistance from the National Rifle Association, which has traditionally opposed all restrictions on gun ownership. At this point there appears to be too much political opposition to a ban on assault weapons.
    The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. But what exactly does it mean? The amendment ties gun ownership to "a well regulated militia" being "necessary to the security of a free state." The amendment is modeled on similar provisions in the Virginia and Pennsylvania constitutions, which explain that "a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained in arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state." The underlying idea is that the people possess a natural right to self-defense, that governments possess only the powers granted to them by the people, that the right to bear arms is a bulwark of individual liberty, and that the safest way for a democratic society to provide for its national defense is through an organized militia composed of the entire body of the citizens themselves.
    In actual practice, however, the militia concept did not work very well. During the War of 1812 the militia proved unreliable in the field, and it wasn't even clear under whose control they were, the state or the federal governments. Thus it became painfully obvious that the federal government would have to rely more heavily on a regular army.
    Originally members of the militia were each expected to provide himself with a "good musket." In the early 20th Century, however, the militia were organized into the "National Guard," and provision was made for the federal government to issue the militia the same military equipment used by the Regular Army. This, of course, would include all of the weapons of modern warfare: tanks, aircraft, missiles and artillery. These, in turn, are kept under lock and key in designated arsenals. Thus there is no longer a need for the "militia" to have their own firearms.
    What, then, does the "right to bear arms" mean today? First of all, it has to be acknowledged that what the Founding Fathers specifically had in mind were military weapons. They were not enshrining in the Constitution the sacred right to go deer hunting. Rather, the Second Amendment serves a more serious purpose: the right of self-defense, and, by extension, the right of armed resistance to the government.
    But can the Christian countenance such an idea? Our Lord specifically enjoined non-resistance. "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also . . . But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matt. 5:39, 44; NKJV). Given our Lord's plain instructions, can we really justify shooting someone?
    Any attempt to ban military assault rifles would be frankly unconstitutional. Yet it must be borne in mind that a firearm is a lethal weapon: it has the potential to kill human beings. There is an obvious need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and madmen. Certainly a prudent regard for public safety would require the registration of firearms and universal background checks. If a license is required to operate a motor vehicle, if proof of age is required to purchase alcohol and tobacco products, then why not to own a weapon? If the "militia" consists of the whole body of the citizenry, shouldn't it be "well regulated"?
    But beyond that can a Christian really justify owning a semiautomatic assault rifle, specifically designed to kill as many people as possible quickly and efficiently? We hesitate to judge here. I once lived in a crime-ridden inner-city neighborhood (in Philadelphia) and know the dangers fist hand. But I have never owned a gun, and have lived to tell the story. Let each examine his own conscience and act accordingly.

Other blog posts of interest (click on link):
You Shall not Murder 
An Eye for an Eye 
Peace on Earth 

Monday, March 18, 2013

But Is Evolution Science?

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District
U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III
Middle District of Pennsylvania (Dec. 20, 2005)


    In 2005 Judge John E. Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania handed down his ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It is regarded as the definitive court ruling on Intelligent Design.
    The case arose when the Dover Area School Board adopted a policy requiring teachers of 9th grade biology to read to their students a brief disclaimer about the theory of evolution. The statement said that evolution was a theory and not a fact, that Intelligent Design is another explanation of the origin of life, and that a book was available in the school library if students wished to know more. The statement did not actually say that Intelligent Design was necessarily true or that evolution was false. Nevertheless, several irate parents sued the school district, alleging an unconstitutional intrusion of religion into a public school classroom. The judge reviewed the evidence and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
    [We should explain to our readers in the British Commonwealth that in the U.S. a "public school" is a school supported by tax dollars and controlled by the state. It is not an exclusive private school, as in England. Moreover, since the U.S. Constitution forbids an "establishment of religion," i.e., a state church, the content of public school education becomes a matter of controversy. How is it possible to provide an "education" that is secular, without becoming implicitly atheistic?]
    The judge reviewed the history of the Intelligent Design movement and concluded that "ID," as it is called for short, is essentially the same as creationism and is a form of religious belief. Since the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that creationism may not be taught in a public school classroom, Judge Jones ruled that neither may Intelligent Design.
    Judge Jones could have left the issue at that, but he did not. Instead, he wrote a 139 page opinion that explored all aspects of the issue, from the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas to the inner politics of the Dover school board.
    According to Judge Jones, the "seminal question" in the case was whether or not Intelligent Design is science. But what exactly is "science"? The judge cited a definition from the National Academy of Science: "In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science" (Kitzmiller, p. 66). The judge noted that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries science has limited itself to naturalistic explanations of phenomena. "Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth. In deliberately omitting theological or 'ultimate' explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of 'meaning' and 'purpose' in the world" (p. 65). He then concluded, quite correctly we think, that Intelligent Design does not meet that definition of science.
    What Judge Jones failed to mention, however, is that most of the great scientists of the 16th and 17th Centuries believed that nature has a rational structure precisely because it came from the hand of an intelligent Being. Virtually none of them thought that nature was the result of a process of natural evolution. In other words, almost all of them believed in some form of what we would call today "Intelligent Design," or what was know then as "natural theology." While they adhered rigorously to the empirical method, they did not claim that it could tell them the ultimate origin of things. As Sir Francis Bacon put it, "My first admonition (which was also my prayer) is that men confine the sense within the limits of duty in respect of things divine: for the sense is like the sun, which reveals the face of earth, but seals and shuts up the face of heaven" (The Great Instauration, preface).
Charles Darwin
    What Judge Jones also failed to notice is that Darwinism does not meet his definition of science, either. The plain fact of the matter is that evolution offers us an "ultimate explanation," but one that cannot be confirmed or tested by experiment. Moreover, Darwinism does in fact consider "issues of 'meaning' and 'purpose' in the world" – it is emphatic that there are none, at least none that inhere in nature. Why then is Darwinism so widely accepted among mainstream scientists? It is because it is philosophically coherent. In other words, Darwinism attempts to do the very thing that Judge Jones (and Francis Bacon) say that science should never do. And it is precisely here that evolution comes into conflict with religion.
    The common disability under which both theories labor is that an alleged prehistoric event cannot be subjected to direct observation and experiment. Neither theory is testable. Neither theory can be verified by means of the scientific method. And until a theory has been tested and validated through experiment it is still tentative: it may not be true at all.
    Why, then, is evolution considered "science"? It appears that Darwinists have suddenly change the definition of "science." Evolution is presumably science because it offers a completely naturalistic explanation for the origins of life's forms. Intelligent Design, by this reckoning, is obviously not science, because it leaves room for divine agency in nature. In other words, "science" is no longer just a method; it is a worldview.
    Because Christian theism is inherently religious, Judge Jones ruled that it has no place in the public school classroom. But does the First Amendment really require the public school system to indoctrinate our youth in a materialist philosophical system?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dear Dan Barker – III

How do I decide what is right and wrong?
Dear Mr. Barker,
    We have been considering your "letter from God," and come to the third section, in which you ask the question, how would God know the difference between good and evil? We take it that your aim here is to challenge what is known as the Divine Command Theory of morality.
    You suggest that the Divine Command Theory would make morality purely arbitrary. God would simply make something up and impose it upon mankind by legislative fiat. If, on the other hand, you suggest, God conforms to a standard external to Himself, then He is obviously not free, and hence less than God.
    We are frankly amazed that atheists have such difficulty with so simple a concept. It is a bit like having to explain to a new employee why he has to follow the boss's directions. It is a simple matter of who is in charge, and in this case it is not us.
    So you want to know how God decides what is right and what is wrong? The answer is that moral law is largely determined by two factors. The first is God's own character. "But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth" (Ps. 86:15). It is precisely because He is a God of compassion, that He hates injustice, cruelty and oppression of every kind. "For the Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth" (Ps. 11:5). He does not view evil with the eye of detached indifference.
    You object that if God has a "nature" (defined as His character or attributes), then He is not free. You imagine God as saying, "If my nature is clearly defined, then I am limited. I am not God" (p. 154). But that is exactly what the Bible says about God: He has a clearly defined nature, and therefore cannot act contrary to it. That is why God is trustworthy: He is not arbitrary or capricious, a cruel, unpredictable tyrant. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22,23).
    The other major factor that determines God's moral law is His creative purpose for us. We were designed to function a certain way in human society, and some of God's laws are frankly intended to protect us from each other.
    Take, for example, the Sabbath. You seem to have a major problem with this one. You picture God as saying, "In fact, I'll make it one of my Ten Commandments and I'll order your execution if you disobey it. This all makes perfect sense, though I don't know why" (p. 153).
    Now if you are an atheist, and all you have to live for is filthy lucre, and you really don't care about the well-being of your fellow human beings, then, granted, the Sabbath is a major encumbrance. You are forced to shut down your business one day a week when you could be making money 24/7. God, however, is concerned with more than just your bank account. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath . . ." (Mark 2:27). What God knows, and what we often fail to appreciate, is that we need periodic physical rest, we need to spend time with our families, and we need to put life in its proper perspective. Life is more than just making money.
    In the next chapter of your book ("The Bible and Morality") you state that "Only three of the Ten Commandments have any relevance to American law: homicide, theft and perjury." You then add the parenthetical note: :"Adultery and Sabbath laws are still on the books in some states, but they are artifacts of theocracy" (p. 186). Now that the prohibitions against Sabbath-breaking and adultery no longer "have any relevance to American law," is it a mere coincidence that our family structure is crumbling? The anomaly of the situation was recently brought out, no doubt inadvertently, by President Obama. In his Second Inaugural Address he gave a ringing endorsement to same sex marriage. But then in his State of the Union Address not long afterwards he called for the expansion of preschool programs to overcome the learning deficit among many youngsters. What research shows, however, is that academic performance is directly tied to family stability. Poor learners typically come from dysfunctional families. If the President was really concerned about the well-being of America's children he would defend the traditional family. The price we pay as a society for our "progressive" social attitudes can be measured precisely in the tax dollars spent on health and family services. Sometimes when we try to be wiser than God we wind up hurting ourselves.
    If God exists His will is normative. If He does not exist, morality becomes a matter of what we can get away with. In that scenario it is useless to pretend that there is anything that is truly "right" or "wrong." There is no universally binding code of conduct. 

Related blog posts:
What Is Morality? 
What God Requires 
The Case for Moral Absolutes 
Capitalism and the Sabbath 
The Future of Playboy America 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dear Dan Barker – II

What's it all about?

Frans Hals, Young Man with a Skull
Dear Mr. Barker,
    You will recall that we were discussing the chapter "Dear Theologian" in your book, the chapter that was written as though it were a letter from God addressed to theologians. In the first section of your "letter" you had raised certain objections to the argument from design, which we attempted to answer in our last blog post. In the next section, which we consider today, you went on to discuss the meaning and purpose of life. The thread of your argument was a little hard to follow, consisting as it did of one objection after another, but if we understand you correctly, the point you were trying to make is this: if human beings find meaning and purpose in life by submitting to the will of God, then how does God find meaning and purpose? Conversely, if God can exist happily without being created or submitting to someone else's will, then why cannot humans?
    We would begin by pointing out the obvious difficulty with this line of argument: it basically puts you, a finite human being, in the position of pcychoanalyzing the Deity, not that theologians haven't tried to do it themselves from time to time. Because God is infinite and eternal, all-knowing and all-wise, there are some things about Him that we can never hope to understand, and, frankly, some things that are just plain none of our business. For the most part what we know about God, about how He thinks and why He does certain things, is based solely on revelation; we only know what He Himself is pleased to tell us. Beyond that we must maintain a respectful silence, and not pretend to know more that we do.
    What the Bible does tell us, however, is that God is actively involved with His creation. In fact, in one sense the whole biblical narrative is the record how God has acted in human history. You are familiar, no doubt, with the doctrine of divine providence, as well as the plan of redemption. At one point in your argument you picture God as saying "I created the universe from quarks to galactic clusters, and it runs okay on its own . . . there is nothing in the universe for Me to do. It's boring up here" (p. 149). Yet that is not the way God would have put it. What the Bible actually says is that universe does not "run okay on its own." "By him all things consist" (Col. 1:17), and He is "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). While He may ordinarily use natural causes to govern His creation, that does not preclude the fact that He is the ultimate, controlling cause. Moreover, He indwells believers by His Spirit, hears and answers their prayers, and guides and protects them through life.
    You then raise some questions about the nature of God's love, and wonder how He can be omnipotent, and a God of love, and yet consign billions to hell. This, as you well know, is the classic problem of "theodicy," the justice of God in the permission of evil, and it is one of the most impenetrable mysteries of theology.
    However, if you think that there is some sort of contradiction here, consider this: what occasioned the paradox or anomaly is our own irrational, abusive and self-destructive behavior. Before we ask, "why did God permit sin?," we should first as the question, why do we commit it? After all, we have no one to blame for our predicament but ourselves. God did not force us to sin – we do it voluntarily.
    As for eternal punishment, let us ask ourselves these questions: Does God love human beings? Then how should He react when to those who harm are injure others, the people whom He loves? With benign indifference? If God is at all just, He must punish and destroy evil. He could have simply consigned the entire human race to hell and that would have been the end of it. But instead He chose to do something else: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoso believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." I know that this is a verse that you yourself have quoted many times in the past. But it means that God can both forgive sin and punish it at the same time. Is there a contradiction here in His character?
    You point out that any love that is motivated by fear of hell is no love at all, and you are quite correct in this. But you surely have heard of the new birth and how it changes a person's heart. The regenerate person is given a new heart so that he loves God freely and spontaneously. He loves God because of what Christ did for him. It is love responding to love. There is nothing forced or coerced about it.
    We also note that in the next section of your "letter" you objected to the idea of a substitutionary atonement. People should have to pay for their own sins, you say. First you complain that God is unloving because He sends sinners to hell; then you complain that He is unjust because He provided a substitute to take our penalty for us. Your suggested alternative is that God is just a made-up concept, which leaves us with neither justice nor redemption. You will forgive us if we appear to be less than enthused with the prospect.
    You may certainly pay for your own sins if you so desire; that is your prerogative. But as for us, we would rather avail ourselves of the grace and mercy freely offered us. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dear Dan Barker – I

    In his book godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, Dan Barker has a chapter entitled "Dear Theologian." It is written as though it were a letter from God addressed to theologians, and in it Mr. Barker raises questions about what he evidently considers to be the major conundrums of theology. It is a clever literary device, but as a piece of argumentation it leaves much to be desired.
    We will not presume to speak on behalf of God – Mr. Barker's attempt to do so is frankly sacrilegious. But since we do have an acquaintance with the Bible and Christian theology, we will venture to reply on behalf of the theologians. As Mr. Barker's chapter is divided into three main sections, each revolving around a principle question, we will attempt to address each question in a separate blog post. Today we begin with:


Where did I come from?

Dear Mr. Barker,
    We read your letter addressed to us, and it goes without saying that we were hardly amused. You are ever the Sophist – witty, urbane and cultured, but skilled at dancing around a question. The issues you raise, however, are important, and merit consideration more serious than you gave them.
    In the first section of your chapter you challenged the argument from design. You insisted that if the appearance of design in nature calls for a designer, then the Designer Himself must also have been designed, since He would be a rational being Himself, and therefore would also have the appearance of design. At one point you imagine God telling theologians "If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren't you contradicting yourself?" (p. 146).

Caspar David Friedrich, The Stages of Life
    That is a clever way of putting it, but it misses the point. First of all, it is a caricature of what we are actually saying. No one ever intended to say "everything" (including God Himself) "needs a designer." Our point is that nature evinces design, and therefore must have been created by an intelligent Being. But more to the point, as you well know, the Christian position has always been that God is the eternal, self-existing First Cause – the unmoved Mover of the universe. He is the ultimate reality, and therefore not dependent upon anything else.
    The problem with your argument is that it is based on a false analogy between the temporal and eternal, between the human and divine. As human beings we are conscious of the limitations and variability of temporal existence. ". . . from dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." We are each aware of having had a specific beginning, and we know that we shall each have a definite end. In between all is change and flux. And if everything in nature has a beginning, it must have had a cause which brought it into existence. Order does not spontaneously arise out of chaos, and life is not spontaneously generated in inanimate objects. What, then, is the source of it all? Nature points to something outside of itself, some superior Being from which it derives its structure and energy.
    How did life begin? Why does anything exist at all? If you think about it for a few minutes, it becomes apparent that there are only a few possible answers. One possibility is that matter and energy have always existed – that there is an infinite regression of natural causes. But that still doesn't account for the rational order in the universe, nor does it explain the origin of life or of intelligence. Moreover, many scientists now believe that the universe started with a "Big Bang." In other words, the universe had a definite beginning. But what caused the "Bang"?
    Another suggestion that has been made is that reality is self-creating. But this is palpable nonsense. If something does not exist, it lacks the power to do anything, let alone bring itself into existence. This hypothesis is a plunge into the bath of irrationality.
    That leaves us with one other possibility: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This hypothesis satisfactorily explains what we can actually observe in the universe: rational order, life, and human intelligence. When one sees a garden, one naturally assumes the existence of a gardener.
    You then objected that you don't know what it meant to be "eternally existent," that you did not understand why something eternal is greater than something temporal, and you said "I don't see how being eternal solves the problem" (p. 147). Admittedly the concept of eternity is a difficult one for us to wrap our minds around, but that does not make the concept itself invalid. May we point out to you that if God is eternal He has no beginning? Nothing was required to bring Him into existence, and He is not dependent upon anything outside of Himself. So you ask the question, why does nature require a designer but not God? The answer is that it is the difference between having a finite, temporal existence and being eternal, uncreated and self-existent. It is the difference between being a part of nature and being the Creator of nature. God is Lord of heaven and earth.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Darwin and Dewey Destroyed Western Civilization

John Dewey in 1902
    "That the publication of the 'Origin of Species' marked an epoch in the development of the natural sciences is well known to the layman." Thus begins John Dewey's essay "The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy," which was originally published in 1910 and more recently appeared in The Philosophy of John Dewey, edited by John J. McDermott (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981). The essay is an intriguing attempt by Dewey to fathom the implications of Darwinism for Western culture generally.
    Interestingly Dewey downplayed the impact of Darwin's ideas on religion, and instead focused on Greek philosophy. He pointed out that for 2,000 years Western philosophy and science had revolved around the concept of "species" or "eidos," a fixed and immutable category that exists in nature. Observing that the individual specimens within a given species all grow and mature into the same archetypical form, the ancient Greeks concluded that each species must have its own specific purpose or aim, ("telos") to conform to the predetermined type. "The idea of eidos, species, a fixed form and final cause, was the central principle of knowledge as well as of nature. Upon it rested the logic of science. Change as change is mere flux and lapse; it insults intelligence. Genuinely to know is to grasp a permanent end that realizes itself through changes, holding them thereby within the metes and bounds of fixed truth. Completely to know is to relate all special forms to their one single end and good: pure contemplative intelligence" (op. cit., p. 34).
    This idea of a fixed species having a definite aim and purpose "accounted for the intelligibility of nature and the possibility of science," while at the same time it "gave sanction and worth to the moral and religious endeavors of man. Science was underpinned and morals authorized by one and the same principle, and their mutual agreement was eternally guaranteed" (p. 36).
    Dewey went on to say that "the Darwinian principle of natural selection cut straight under this philosophy" (p. 37). If evolution is the result of a purely natural process of selection, "there is no call for a prior intelligent causal force . . . Hostile critics charged Darwin with materialism and with making chance the cause of the universe" (Ibid.).
Asa Gray
    Dewey went on to describe how Asa Gray attempted to find a role for divine providence in evolution, but noted that Darwin flatly rejected the idea. The process was too random to see the hand of God in it. Thus Darwin's critics, in the main, were correct. Darwin was a materialist who made chance the cause of the universe.
    Dewey pointed out that Darwin's theory had the effect of changing the focus of philosophy. Whereas previously philosophy had been preoccupied with finding the unifying principle of reality, it now focused instead on solving the concrete problems of temporal existence. Dewey, the Pragmatist, saw this as a positive step forward. But it leaves certain disturbing questions unanswered. If the older philosophy "accounted for the intelligibility of nature and the possibility of science" and "gave sanction and worth to the moral and religious endeavors of man," what happens to science, morality and religion under the new way of thinking? Dewey didn't say. But if everything is evolving and there are no fixed categories in nature, how is it possible to make generalizations about anything in either science or morality? There is only the superficial appearance of stability and permanence. Are we not driven to sheer skepticism and nihilism?
    At the conclusion of his essay Dewey made an astonishing admission. "But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both of the alternatives they assume – an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them; we get over them" (p. 41). He then went on to observe: "Doubtless the greatest dissolvent in contemporary thought of old questions, the greatest precipitant of new methods, now intentions, new problems, is the one affected by the scientific revolution that found its climax in the 'Origin of Species'"(Ibid.).
    But what were "the old questions"? Wasn't it a worldview, the values and ideals, the social and artistic norms, the hopes and aspirations of traditional Western culture? In short, what was "dissolved" was civilization as we knew it. 

You may also be interested in (click on the links):
How Science Committed Suicide 
The Case for Moral Absolutes 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thomas Jefferson, Dan Barker and Natural Rights

Dan Barker
    In his book godless (sic), near the end of his chapter on morality, atheist Dan Barker responds to a comment made by Clifford Goldstein, the editor of the Seventh Day Adventist Liberty Magazine. Mr. Goldstein argued that "Had Jefferson been influenced by Darwin instead of Locke, Joseph Stalin's views on religious liberty would have been deemed progressive." Goldstein went on to say that in a "Darwinian universe" truth rests "on a foundation as whimsical as the electorate or whichever despot happens to be in control" (quoted in Barker, pp. 216-217).
    Mr. Barker responded essentially by sidestepping the objection. Instead of addressing the point made by Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Barker asserted that the God of the Bible is a tyrant, a claim he attempted to support by taking a number of Old Testament texts out of context. He then further asserted that Hitler had misused Darwin. He then proceeded to misconstrue Jefferson in much the same way he often does the Bible.
    First of all, Mr. Barker claims that when Jefferson, as a Deist, used the word "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence he meant something less personal than the biblical God, something more akin to "nature" rather than "Jehovah." He then goes on to make the extraordinary assertion that "when Jefferson claimed that all people are 'endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,' he could not have meant 'endowed' in the sense of a sovereign granting a privilege that might be denied" (p. 218). Mr. Barker tries to support this dubious contention by asserting that "if something can be endowed, then it can be un-endowed," and therefore is not inalienable. According to Mr. Barker, and "inalienable right" that is "endowed" is an oxymoron.
    Mr. Barker then goes on to say that "a 'natural right' is a claim to a freedom, privilege or power that you possess inherently, by nature . . . " (Ibid.). According to him, what Jefferson really meant was that "we are 'endowed by nature' with common human needs," and are therefore "justified in expecting society to honor our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (p. 219).
Thomas Jefferson
    What Mr. Barker has done here is to substitute his own theory of natural rights for Jefferson's. Jefferson quite plainly said "endowed by their Creator," and clearly intended that phrase to be understood literally. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, written several years after the Declaration of Independence, commenting on the institution of slavery he declared, "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events; that it may become probably by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest" (Query XVIII). Jefferson was hardly an orthodox believer, and he emphatically rejected the doctrine of the Trinity; yet here he ascribes to God the attributes of wrath and justice,, expresses his faith in divine providence, and quite explicitly traces the source of our liberties to God Himself. It is hard, then, to mistake his meaning in the Declaration.
    Part of the problem here is that Jefferson and Mr. Barker are working with entirely different conceptions of "natural law." When Jefferson used the phrase, "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them," what he had in mind was a concept that had a long history in Western thought. As explained by the great 18th Century English jurist Sir William Blackstone, the "law of nature" consists of "the eternal, immutable, laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all His dispensations conforms: and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due . . ."
    But Mr. Barker's view of natural law is far different. "I learned that relativism is all we've got. Human values are not absolutes – they are relative to human needs. The humanistic answer to morality, if the question is properly understood, is that the basis for values lies in nature. Since we are a part of nature, and since there is nothing 'beyond' nature, it is necessary to assign value to actions in the context of nature itself" (p. 210). "'Value' is a concept of relative worth. And since concepts, as far as we know, exist only in our brain, which are material things, it is meaningless, even dangerous, to talk of cosmic moral attributes" (p. 211).
    Mr. Barker claims that nature has endowed us with common human needs, and that therefore we are "justified in expecting society to honor our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But since when are "liberty" and " the pursuit of happiness" human "needs"? It is entirely possible biologically to survive without them, and the great masses of mankind have, in fact, done so. And since when does a "need" constitute a "right" to have something? Why are others obligated to "respect my right" to have something?
    The incongruity of Mr. Barker's assertions are especially apparent when we consider his view of nature itself: "Living organisms are the result of the mindless uncaring reality of natural selection" that uses "the blunt process of weeding out failures, which are denied the opportunity to reproduce by being eaten, starved, frozen, killed in competition, or not being chosen as a mate, and so on" (p. 106). In this context it is ludicrous to speak of "rights."
    Mr. Goldstein was right: had Jefferson been influence by Darwin instead of Locke, Joseph Stalin's views would been deemed progressive, and in a Darwinian universe truth does rest on the whims of whatever despot happens to be in control. Rights are inalienable only when they are sanctioned by a higher law, a law that transcends all human authority. If God had not said, "Thou shalt not kill," there would be no "inalienable right to life," and the U.S. Supreme Court amply demonstrated in Roe v. Wade. There would only be "nature, red in tooth and claw" (Tennyson).