Friday, March 31, 2006

Rauch on Polygamy:

Jonathan Rauch gives what I think is the strongest case for being pro-gay marriage, but against polygamy. Now, this isn't to say that government shouldn't recognize polygamous marriages. Perhaps competing interests, like the freedom of adults to enter into whatever consensual contractual arrangements they wish, should trump the concerns that Rauch raises. (See my past post on the issue.)

However, Rauch's argument does put to rest the claim advanced by Stanley Kurtz et al. that "if we recognize gay marriage, we have no logical grounds for saying no to polygamy." Wrong, legalized polygamy raises a whole set of concerns not implicated by gay marriage.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rioting for Tenure:

It doesn't seem as though France has much of an economic future if this type of thing continues. They have to transition away from a system of guaranteed tenure for all workers and towards an American employment-at-will like rule if they want to compete in the global economy.

Future predictions are something that I don't often engaged in -- because so many people get it wrong. There is talk about "the Euro" beating the dollar for ultimate future global economic hegemony. Well, the only way that that's going to happen is if their economy can compete with ours. And the only way Europe can compete with America, in the long term, is if their economy further deregulates (and if they cut their top marginal tax rates) -- at least deregulates to America's level of economic flexibility (which is far from ideal laissez faire capitalism; but relatively speaking, it's better in America than most if not all of Western Europe, save for maybe Switzerland).

But...if this type of nonsense continues in France and other parts of Western Europe, I'd put my eggs in the dollar's basket.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link on John Adams and Atheism.

Also, see James H. Hutson's book from which I took the quote. Lots of great stuff in Hutson's book.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Finally Got Novak's Washington's God:

Over the weekend I bought Michael and Jana Novak's Washington's God and have thumbed through a little of it. (I also bought Yes - Songs from Tsongas - 35th Anniversary Concert). Though I've studied, in detail, Washington's religious beliefs, I'm sure the book will inform me of things about which previously I had not known.

But let me make a prediction: Whatever the conclusions the Novak's draw, the book will not demonstrate that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian; rather the facts will support Gregg Frazer's thesis that Washington was a Theistic Rationalist and his religious beliefs were more or less the same as Jefferson's, Franklin's, Adams's, and Madison's.

The book aptly demonstrates that Washington believed in a warm intervening Providence (hence he wasn't a strict Deist). But that is a tenet of theistic rationalism. The theistic rationalists were also theological Unitarians. And indeed, we get no evidence that Washington believed in the Trinity. In fact, Washington never referred to God in Trinitarian terms, and virtually never mentioned the words "Jesus Christ."

The only record of Washington mentioning the words "Jesus Christ" was in a Speech to the Delaware Chiefs given in 1779 where he stated

Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethen of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.

This seems to be pretty reasonable practical advice given to Indians for assimilating into the culture where the Christian religion was dominant.

Finally, on Novak's website he has a long quote from the eminent historian Gordon Wood, who, more or less, reads the facts the Novak's uncover in the same way that I do: Washington believed in a warm Providence, so he wasn't a "strict" Deist, but wasn't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian either. Wood writes:

I don't think in Washington's case that he held back anything. I think he just naturally lacked, what I would call, a religious sensibility, except that he did believe in God and, as Michael says, in Providence and the interposition of this God, but he was not what we call an evangelical Christian. He certainly rarely ever used the name of Jesus in any of his writings. So it's hard to see him as an evangelical or even a deeply religious person in the usual Christian sense. But nonetheless, he is religious; there is no secular mind there."

Monday, March 27, 2006

John Adams on Atheism:

I was going to save this John Adams quotation for a later time, but since Andrew Sullivan has taken to defending the rights of atheists and invoking the Founders to boot, I figured I'd feature John Adams's thoughts on the matter (taken from James H. Hutson's book of quotations on the Founders and religion).

"Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices."

John Adams to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 432, Library of Congress; as seen in Hutson, p. 20.

This is important to note: The Founders largely followed Locke whose teachings on religious liberty were revolutionary for their time. However, for our time, Locke may not seem so liberal. He wouldn't extend (at least not in his textual arguments) religious rights to atheists or Catholics. Yet, our Locke imbibed Founders took Locke's principles to their logical conclusion and did believe in extending the full rights of conscience to atheists, polytheists, heretics and infidels. Or in Jefferson's words, "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."
DSH Unmasked!

Readers of this site may know of a very learned commenter who goes by the name of DSH. Well, he now has blog entitled The Gay Species. Check it out!

BTW: His name is D. Stephen Heersink.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Henry Neufeld on the Slavery and the Bible Issue:

Thanks to Ed Brayton once again for linking to Henry Neufeld, a Hebrew scholar, a Christian and the director of the Pacesetter's Bible Institute in Florida, and his thoughts on slavery and the Bible. Neufeld, if I understand him right, more or less rejects that the Bible is inerrant, and isn't afraid to read some of the passages with a "grain of salt." And yet, it still possible that the Bible is inspired by God in some way. In other words, it's not an all or nothing deal. That, to me, is the only viable form of Christianity or religion. Appeal to sacred texts as the absolute and inerrant Truth isn't just wrongheaded but can lead one down a slippery slope to dangerous fanaticism (as opposed to benign fanaticism). Money passage:

If we...accept that if something is condoned in the Bible, then the Bible condones it, then the answer is clear and obvious--the Bible condones slavery. There really is no way around this. People who are convinced that it must not be so will continue to believe that they have somehow chopped up the evidence, but it is still there. Ed can see it. Apparently some of my fellow Christians cannot.

I know its in many ways an imperfect analogy, but let's compare Biblical interpretation with Constitutional interpretation. Let's say fundamentalism is like originalism. We already have a problem because there are different methods of originalism. So let's use Borkian original expectation originalism, where we ask whether the Founders consciously expected that the texts they drafted and ratified outlawed or compelled certain specific practices; this is what many social conservatives refer to when they talk about "original intent" and criticize "activist judges" and their "living Constitution." On the matter of Segregation, though certain forms of originalism may justify Brown v. Board of Education, such "original intent" originalism does not. The framers of the 14th Amendment were not consciously aware that they were outlawing segregated schools, and consciously believed they were preserving the legality of bans on miscegenation.

But, as Jack Balkin has pointed out, any constitutional theory that holds Brown v. Board to be wrongly decided simply isn't viable in politics. Brown acts as a "reductio ad absurdum." So on Brown/Plessy, originalists become adherents of "the Living Constitution" and say Brown was properly decided, all the while deny they are doing so. Few "originalists" of this stripe have the intellectual honesty to say yes, Brown was an "activist" decision and let the chips fall where they may. Raoul Berger is a notable exception that comes to mind.

Likewise, with the Bible and slavery. The Bible clearly condones and endorses slavery. It doesn't necessarily mandate slavery (doesn't say "you must have it"). But nonetheless, it doesn't forbid slavery as an "immoral practice" (does say "you may have it").

Slavery sort of acts as the same type of "reductio ad absurdum" on Biblical interpretation, as racial segregation does on constitutional interpretation: Any interpretation that gives us a pro-slavery justification seems like it's not morally viable (and for good reason). So just as the originalist becomes a proponent of what he otherwise would call "activism" on Brown and Loving, the fundamentalist, while claiming still to be an inerrant literalist, becomes a liberal theologian and tries to "explain away" the pro-slavery passages of the Bible much in the same way that liberal theologians attempt to sanitize the antihomosexual passages from the Bible.

Update: See Ed Brayton's post from a little while back comparing Biblical and Constitutional interpretation.
John Adams Quotation of the Week:

My readers know that John Adams possessed some very interesting unorthodox religious beliefs. Though many people know he was a member of the Unitarian Congregational Church, few people are aware of how much of an anti-Trinitarian he was.

I don't know how long I am going to be able to offer weekly John Adams quotations, but I'd like to make that a new feature of my blog. Here is the first one on the Virgin Mary and the Trinity:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

Quite a sense of humor he had!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Bible's Moral Errancy:

Ed Brayton's got some great posts on slavery and the Bible.

Money quote from the first post:

This is one of the primary reasons why I can no longer accept the Bible as the word of God, as I once did. It makes no sense that God could have found the time or interest to inspire men to pass on his commandments regarding the most mundane of things - whether to cut one's hair, whether to wear mixed fabrics, how to dress, and so forth - yet never does he bother to say "don't own slaves". And this even when he had the perfect opportunity to do so when the events regarding Philemon present themselves to Paul. If God was indeed inspiring Paul to write, why on earth would he not have Paul condemn slavery as contrary to the teachings of Christ? It simply makes no sense, nor do any of the apologetic rationalizations for it.

The second post deals with some attempted obfuscations on the part of apologists for the Bible. But as Brayton demonstrates, the Bible clearly endorses slavery -- the owing of people by other people -- at times. For instance: Leviticus 25: 44-46:

"Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly."

I, like Brayton, view this as proof of the Bible's moral errancy. Indeed, in this past post I noted "[o]n some of the most elementary issues of morality, the Bible, read [as a literal inerrant whole], falters." The post showed that certain parts of the Bible endorse both slavery and genocide, two of the most basic moral wrongs.

Finally, just let me state that I am not "judging" the Old Testament Jews, or even the longstanding practice of slavery in the Christian West. That tribe was just emerging out of a sub-barbaric evolutionary "state of nature" where might made right, and viewed in this context, the Ancient Jews were civilized for their time. Similarly, slavery is one of the oldest cross-cultural traditions, right next to the family. What is unique about Western Civilization was not that it started slavery, but that it ended slavery. And through the mechanism of "colonialization" and forcing "Western" values on non-Western lands, the West abolished slavery globally (at least in legal theory, if not in actual practice where slavery persists to this day).

However, the Christian practice of slavery and the moral content of the Bible is defensible only when viewed through an historical lens, where we don't "judge" the past by the moral standards of the present. However, that poses a problem for fundamentalists who claim that the Bible is inerrant and as True, Right and Just today as it was when written. Because judged by modern moral standards that view slavery and genocide as always wrong no matter what, when, where, or how practiced, the Bible clearly is morally errant.
David Duke, PHD:

Another interesting article by Frontpagemag on the coalition between the Anti-Semitic Left and the Anti-Semitic Right. The article notes David Duke's support of radical leftist, pro-Palestinian Ivy League Professors.

The article also informs us that David Duke is now a Ph.D.

David Duke is now also a Ph.D. issued in 2005 from the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management in the Ukraine, an institution that has been accused of harboring anti-Semitism. Duke is also an author of such works as Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question in 2004 and his 1998 autobiography My Awakening, whose title sounds ominously like another autobiography titled “My Struggle,” Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

I wonder if he's now looking to get a teaching job.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Brayton on Hamburger:

Ed Brayton makes some great points regarding why we should take, with a grain of salt, Philip Hamburger's theory on Justice Black, the KKK, and the Separation of Church and State.

My review focused entirely on Hamburger's scholarly analysis of the Founding. Brayton's covers Hamburger on the modern, post-Everson, implementation of the doctrine.

Our two posts, taken together, nicely complement one another.

No doubt, Hamburger uncovers some very interesting and previously not well known history. The strongest part of his book is his scholarly attention to detail, and meticulous footnoting. The weakest part is his analysis, and his many assertions which do not necessarily follow from his meticulous research.

However, because of his immense research talent and rhetorical skills, Hamburger makes a very convincing case for his assertions, even if they rest, as Brayton and I have shown, on shaky grounds.

The following is a passage I wrote, but didn't include in my original review of Hamburger's book, describing Hamburger's talent.

Let me state from the start, Hamburger's engages in law office history. Not just ordinary law office history, but extraordinary law office history. Ordinary "law office" arguments selectively focus on facts that support the side for which you advocate and ignore of otherwise discount the facts that do not. Extraordinary law office history, on the other hand, anticipates nearly all of the facts and opposing arguments, brilliantly answers or otherwise explains them away, and makes it seem as though the argument advanced is the only plausible one. In other words, this is the type of law office history for which lawyers bill $500 plus an hour and supports multimillion dollar annual salaries for law firm partners.

And indeed, Hamburger did work in a prominent law firm before becoming a law professor.
Left-Handed Desks and Same-Sex Marriages:

That's the title to this new article by John Corvino which argues for same-sex marriage as a reasonable accommodation, much in the same way left-handed desks for southpaws are reasonable accommodations. In the process, he shoots down many of the non-sequiturs used to argue against gay marriage. Here is a taste:

Consider an analogy: most school classrooms have both right-handed desks and left-handed desks. Now imagine a time before left-handed desks. A reformer then might have argued, “Hey, right-handed desks are great. But not everyone is right-handed. Left-handed desks would make life better for left-handed people; their classroom experience would be more productive, and in the long run, their increased productivity would benefit everyone, left-handed and right-handed alike.” Sounds like a strong argument for left-handed desks.

Now, imagine an opponent responding, “But we've always had right-handed desks! Right-handed-desks have served society well. We obviously don't NEED left-handed desks; we've gotten along fine without them thus far. What's more, introducing them is an untested social experiment, one that could have serious repercussions for our children!”

Before you dismiss this comparison as silly, recall that left-handedness was once considered a sign of moral depravity, witchcraft, or worse. It's no accident that the word “sinister” matches the Latin word for “left.” But that's not the point of the analogy.

Many of the arguments against same-sex marriage—including some of those offered by Glenn Stanton—commit the same fallacy as the response above. They rightly point to the many social benefits of heterosexual marriage, but they then wrongly infer that any other marriage arrangement must be bad. This is a non-sequitur.

Let me be clear on what I am not saying here. I am not saying that choosing a spouse is just like choosing a desk, or worse yet, that whether children are raised by mothers or fathers is somehow equivalent to whether they have right-handed desks, left-handed desks, or both. When I used the analogy during a debate last week, Stanton misread me to be saying just that. (In fairness to him, I should note that he was responding off-the-cuff.)

What I am saying is that we can recognize something to be good without inferring that any alternative must therefore be bad. Right-handed desks are good for most people, but they're not good for everyone. Similarly, heterosexual marriage is good for most people, but it's not good for everyone.
What our Objectives for Afghanistan and Iraq should be:

From Frontpagemag, Andrew G. Bostom on the horrorible mistake of not mandating Separation of Church and State in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Money quote:

These disturbing current events—a prosecution for “apostasy” in Afghanistan, with a potential death sentence imposed, and the sanctioning of the brutal murder of homosexuals by Iraq’s most influential “moderate” cleric—are entirely consistent with the Shari’a. They underscore how Islamic societies must embrace the pluralistic spirit of the Western Enlightenment if they are to be meaningfully reformed. Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi’s observations are particularly apposite, and reveal what our objectives for Afghanistan and Iraq should be:

"In the context of religious tolerance-and I write this as a Muslim- there can be no place…for Shari’a …Shari’a is diametrically opposed to secular constitutions formulated by the people… I hold out for the superiority of common sense over religious faith (i.e., absolute religious precepts); individual human rights (i.e., not collective human rights); secular democracy based on the separation of religion from politics; a universally accepted pluralism; and a mutually accepted secular tolerance. The acceptance of these values is the foundation of a civil society."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

My Review of Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State":

Check out this new article on Separation and the Founding by Steven Waldman where he writes:

The evangelicals provided the political muscle for the efforts of Madison and Jefferson, not merely because they wanted to block official churches but because they wanted to keep the spiritual and secular worlds apart. "Religious freedom resulted from an alliance of unlikely partners," writes the eminent historian Frank Lambert in his excellent book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. "New Light evangelicals such as Isaac Bachus and John Leland joined forces with Deists and skeptics such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to fight for a complete separation of church and state."

Now compare that to Philip Hamburger's thesis in his book, Separation of Church and State where upon examining the writings of dissenters -- "hundreds upon hundreds of dissenting petitions, sermons, pamphlets, newspaper essays, letters, and memoranda" -- Hamburger concludes the dissenters "clearly did not make separation one of their demands." (p. 63)

Well who is right? It's a complicated story. Hopefully this post will help clarify.

Hamburger's basic thesis is this: Before the early 19th Century, hardly anyone argued for religious liberty (or "religious rights") in terms of "Separation of Church and State." Rather they sought religious liberty and disestablishment, not "Separation." At this point, one hungers for a meaning of "Separation." For instance when Roger Williams first advanced the term or when Jefferson wrote about Separation to the Danbury Baptists, what did they really mean, and how would it impact real cases, especially today? Though Hamburger really doesn't answer, he would argue (in not so many words -- he could have done a better job articulating this), such an exact definition need not be given as of yet. Prior to the 19th Century, advocates for religious liberty rejected the WORDS or the PHRASE "Separation of Church and State" whatever it might mean.

However, a clear answer really would have helped. As Thomas West notes:

Sometimes Hamburger rightly emphasizes that there have been multiple meanings given to that phrase. But at other times, he speaks as though it has a univocal meaning. For example, he says that few of the founders' generation favored the separation of church and state. Yet from the many quotations that he marshals, it is clear that quite a few Americans -- and quite a few of the founders -- favored separation in the sense of banning establishments.

Historical uses of the phrase "Separation of Church and State"

Indeed, Hamburger goes through what is supposed to be an exhaustive analysis of the use of that phrase which I will summarize. Roger Williams coined a similar term ("wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world"). Williams, in mid-17th Century, was one of the first Protestant dissenters to argue for religious liberty. Yet, he also argued for "Separation." Hamburger asserts Williams's case for Separation "needs to be understood as part of his relentless quest for religious purity." (p. 51) (Hamburger demonstrates that Williams was a bit of a fanatic, obsessed with keeping true religion pure from corrupt, worldly influences.) And that "Baptists dissenters, such as John Callender in 1739 and Isaac Backus at the end of the century, had nothing but praise for Williams as an opponent of establishments, but...they said nothing about his ideas concerning...the Separation of the Church from the world." (p. 52)

Next Hamburger moves to British Whig, James Burgh, who in 1767 stated "that the less the church and the state had to do with one another, it would be the better for the both." (p.56) Later Burgh urged future inhabitants of Britain to "[b]uild an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil." (p. 57)

Then Hamburger notes a Virginia memorial of 1783 from the General Association of Separate Baptists who prayed "that no law may pass, to connect the church & State in the future." (p. 58) Yet, that was the only instance they used such a phrase in the 18th Century.

Hamburger also identifies the Marquis de Condorcet of France, who in 1785 advanced a theory to "separate religion from the State." (p. 60) And Thomas Paine who in 1794 in The Age of Reason Paine wrote of "the adulterous connection of Church and State." Finally Hamburger notes the "notorious Unitarian" Joseph Priestly who (quoting Hamburger) "acknowledged the sociological connection between church and state but denied that it any longer justified an establishment." (p. 75) Priestly's argument, according to Hamburger, "required all of the dexterity and doctrinal laxity for which he was infamous...." (Ibid)

So how does Hamburger deal with these historical uses of the phrase? These thinkers

failed to persuade...their contemporaries to adopt any such idea. American religious dissenters were not shy about demanding their freedom....[T]hey wrote incessantly about their religious liberty and created a highly successful popular movement to achieve this end. Accordingly, if the separation of church and state had been one of their demands, one would expect to find this principle discussed repeatedly in their writings. (p. 63)

Upon examining the writings of dissenters -- "hundreds upon hundreds of dissenting petitions, sermons, pamphlets, newspaper essays, letters, and memoranda" -- Hamburger concludes the dissenters "clearly did not make separation one of their demands." (Ibid) Finally, Hamburger notes it is intuitive that dissenters wouldn't demand Separation because the position "seemed to evince hostility toward churches and their clergy." (p. 64)

Hamburger asserts that the phrase "Separation of Church and State" became popular in political parlance after 1800 specifically as a way for Republicans to silence Jefferson's Federalist clergy critics, who were preaching against him from the pulpit. So for instance when we see New York Republican Tunis Worthman's admonition to Christians given in 1800 that "it is your duty, as Christians, to maintain the purity and independence of the church, to keep religion separate from politics, to prevent an union between the church and the state, and to preserve your clergy from temptation, corruption, and reproach..." (p. 121), we are reading, according to Hamburger, not sincere convictions, but a clever political argument attempting to browbeat clergy into silence.

Hamburger is very hard on Jefferson, a man "bolder with a pen than a sword" (p. 145), whom Hamburger essentially accuses of being a sophist intent on manipulating words to fit his political desires and anticlerical prejudices. Hamburger notes that the Danbury Baptists, far from celebrating his "Separation of Church and State" letter, ignored it.

Madison too, doesn't escape Hamburger's criticisms. Indeed, Madison talked of "Separation" as a way of understanding religious rights. Hamburger notes among other things, Madison's Detached Memoranda and his 1822 letter to Edward Livingston where Madison states: "Every new and successful example...of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."

Hamburger frames Madison's call for "Separation" by viewing it, not as a proper understanding of the First Amendment, but as part of an evolving Republican tradition, indeed, one that didn't start to evolve until after 1800 and whose genesis was to silence Federalist clergy.

Problems with Hamburger's Thesis

As Thomas West alludes, there is a semantical problem with his thesis. He is too hung up on the phrase "Separation of Church and State." While it may be true that such particular phrase wasn't commonly used before 1800, religious dissenters did support other phrases and concepts which more or less meant (or plausibly meant) the same thing.

Religious dissenters asked for more than just religious liberty. As Hamburger notes, they also sought some type of equality under the law. And they did endorse Madison's "no cognizance" standard ("that Religion is wholly exempt from [civil society's] cognizance") from his Memorial and Remonstrance. And dissenters supported Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which revolutionary work receives only cursory treatment in Hamburger's book. Hamburger notes Madison's "no cognizance" standard is "quite different from a separation of church and state." Yet, even Robert Bork, in this absolutely fawning review of Hamburger's book, states "[i]n his 1785 'Memorial and Remonstrance,' [Madison] argued that religion and government should have nothing to do with each other." So it appears that dissenters did endorse something like separation even if not commonly expressed in so many words.

Hamburger and Bork reply that the language in the Establishment Clause is less sweeping than Madison's "no cognizance" standard.

Madison's argument in 1785 seems to be that whenever government and religion get involved with one another, strife will invariably ensue because government ends up supporting *some* kind of religion to the detriment of others. As he writes in the Memorial:

Because [A Bill for Establishing a Provision for the Teachers of the Christian Religion] will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion.

Which leads to another criticism: Though Hamburger's examination of 18th Century uses of the phrase "Separation" was supposed to be exhaustive, apparently it was not. In reading James H. Hutson's new book, I caught a quote by John Dickinson from 1768, not mentioned by Hamburger, which argues for separation for very similar reasons given in the Memorial and Remonstrance:

Religion and Government are certainly very different Things, instituted for different Ends; the design of one being to promote our temporal Happiness; the design of the other to procure the Favour of God, and thereby the Salvation of our Souls. While these are kept distinct and apart, the Peace and welfare of Society is preserved, and the Ends of both are answered. By mixing them together, feuds, animosities and persecutions have been raised, which have deluged the World in Blood, and disgraced human Nature.

John Dickinson, writing over the signature, "A.B" Pennsylvania Journal, May 12, 1768.

I seriously wonder how Hamburger would explain that away, which is what he does whenever confronted with the numerous uses of the phrase "Separation of Church and State," minimizing their importance, explaining them away by the use of context.

How to understand the principle of "Separation of Church and State" in the Constitution:

One value that Hamburger's book offers (and Akhil Amar's book on the Bill of Rights) is that it shows "Separation of Church and State" really doesn't work as an individual right, which is how the Supreme Court, post-Everson uses it.

Clearly, the US Constitution does separate Church and State in the same way that it Separates the Powers in government. Such a Separation of Church and State is not just found in the Establishment Clause, but in the Free Exercise Clause, Art. VI's "No Religious Tests Clause," and the fact that religion is left entirely unendowed in a Constitution of very limited enumerated powers. Yet, Separation of Powers is not an absolute rule and it is not an individual right either. We can say the same about Separation of Church and State.

Individual rights, especially those that are incorporated through the 14th Amendment against state and local governments, are best understood as liberty and equality rights. Whereas the Free Exercise Clause clearly relates to a liberty right, the Establishment Clause and the doctrine of Separation of Church and State have often been used to vindicate religious equality rights. Perhaps it would be better then, if, as Akhil Amar argues, the Equal Protection Clause is used to vindicate such claims (the Supreme Court has an odd history of doing the right thing through the wrong clause -- for instance, incorporating the Bill of Rights through the Due Process Clause, when the Privileges or Immunities Clause is where incorporation is supposed to occur).

(See Phillip Munoz's argument that Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance posits such a non-discrimination standard.)

Such a non-discrimination standard would mandate government neutrality between the religions (both the conventional and unconventional ones) and, if atheism and agnosticism count as "religions," which they probably do, between religion and irreligion. This already looks similar to what the Supreme Court, post Everson, has the Establishment Clause doing.

But such a standard would allow, indeed would mandate that religion not be excluded from government aid programs, offered on generally applicable (secular) grounds, with school vouchers as the classic example.

To conclude, whatever side of the divide one is on, because of its meticulous research and challenging assertions, this book belongs in the collection of any serious student of the history of the Establishment Clause and the doctrine of Separation of Church and State.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Polygamy and Human Nature:

With that new HBO show, there has been lots of talk on the blogsphere about polygamy and its relationship to gay marriage. (See this post by Ann Althouse.)

As a libertarian, I see only one valid reason for forbidding polygamy, but recognizing gay marriage: The inevitable pattern that emerges with polygamy, wherever practiced, is one man/many women, which invariably leads to large factors of the male population with no marriageable mates. The response is that that was the "old" polygamy as practiced in unfree, unequal illiberal societies. The "new" polygamy or "polyamory," premised on equality of choice, will see all sorts of group marriage and one-woman/many-men variants that things should "balance out" and there won't be such a shortage.

Well, what about that intractable thing called human nature? In today's free, equality of opportunity, inequality of results, capitalist society, what happens when Donald Trump, Bill Gates (who probably wouldn't indulge, but certainly has the power to), Bill Clinton et al. end up hoarding the entire crop of fertile females to the exclusion of the average "lesser" Joes?
WorldNutDailey on V for Vendetta:

This review by Ted Baehr makes me even more excited to see V for Vendetta this weekend. Money quote:

Today, Time Warner is continuing that policy by releasing "V for Vendetta" – a vile, pro-terrorist piece of neo-Marxist, left-wing propaganda filled with radical sexual politics and nasty attacks on religion and Christianity.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Frazer Speaks:

A few months ago, I was involved in a little debate on Worldmag's blog on the religious beliefs of our Founders. Readers know that I endorse the work of Gregg Frazer whose research sheds much light on the "Christian v. Deist" controversy and offers a sort of nuanced, middle ground of Truth.

I just noticed that Frazer left a comment on the thread. Here is what he wrote:

I saw my name and dissertation mentioned in your discussion and thought I should weigh in.

First -- I am an evangelical, born-again Christian and probably about as conservative theologically as you could imagine. I believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture -- including, for example, a literal six-day creation.

Second -- Having studied in depth the stated beliefs of eight key Founders, I have concluded that they were not Christians OR DEISTS, but "theistic rationalists." Theistic rationalism is a kind of mean between Christianity and deism. It is a hybrid belief system mixing Protestant Christianity with natural religion and rationalism -- with rationalism as the trumping element when the other two disagree. The eight men I studied were: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris.

Third -- I plan to write an article this summer demonstrating that Jefferson & Franklin were not, as is routinely believed, deists. The problem we encounter is that the only two categories or "niches" that have been used are "Christian" or "deist." So, everyone is crammed into one of those categories whether or not he fits. Another significant problem comes from categorizing someone based simply upon his denominational affiliation.

Fourth -- As I said, I only studied the eight listed above, but I became convinced through tangential study that John Jay and John Witherspoon were Christians. There may be others. My point was that those most responsible for the Declaration (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) and for the Constitution were theistic rationalists and neither Christians nor deists. The Right and the Left are both wrong.

I am glad that Professor Rowe is planning to order my dissertation, as all of the primary evidence one could want is there. Mine is the first comprehensive study (as far as I know) of all that these eight said about their beliefs. Most "studies" pick and choose convenient quotes in order to advance a pre-determined agenda. Since theistic rationalism is a mixture of Christian and natural religion tenets, one can find isolated quotes to support either side of the Christianity vs. deism argument. Taken in total, though, they don't add up to either.

None of my dissertation committee members believed my thesis when I began -- after my defense, they said the evidence was "overwhelming."

Well, that's enough from me as an introduction.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Philosophers and God:

Why are so many philosophers atheists? Can philosophers believe in God? Can they even be Christians? Check out the comment thread, specifically DSH's comment:

Jonathan's comments are precisly on target. But a careful read of my ad hominem is not "Christian philosopher," but "Biola philosopher." Let me explain.

Jonathan situates philosophy rightly as a discipline that asks ultimate questions. But the necessary prerequisite to all philosophical is the doubting of all presumptions, even the presumptions of faith.

Further, there is a strong bifurcation in philosophy. The ancient Platonic tradition is extremely metaphysical (beyond the physical), often giving "armchair speculation" as answers. A Being qua Being is conceivable to the imagination, even if such a Being is unknowable (isn't it a tenet of Christian faith that God is inscrutable?). Even Anselm's God is "the Being beyond which all other being can be conceived"). In the ancient scheme, giving imaginable ideas as answers to fundamental questions was permissable.

The Empirical tradition, on the other hand, has falsifiability as its criterion (esp. Hume, Popper, and the Vienna Circle). But the falsification of religious propositions is literally impossible (how can one falsify something that has no materiality, and the last time I checked a necessary property of God is immateriality?). I think Jonathan explained himself extremely well on these two points.

But that does not mean that one cannot be a Christian philosopher. Rather, it means if one is to adopt a philosophical "attitude," one must be prepared to question everything, including articles of faith. Most Christian philosophers simply do philosophy and leave religious tenets to the side. Some Christian philosophers, notably Aquinas in the 12th C. and Maritain in the 20th C., tried to incorporate insights from both disciplines into whole cloth. For whatever reason, such hybrids simply do not work in the modern era. Maybe when the Metaphysical tradition held sway, the hybrid might be defensible. But when the Empirical tradition came to the fore, the hybrid had to be divided, once and for all. And, let's not forget that Descartes, the "first" modern philosopher, was a Catholic Christian, and gave God as an explanation for why he "knew" his sensory experience had not been deceived. So being a modern philosopher and being a believing Christian are not mutually exclusive, but they can no longer be "held" in the same way. Faith and Philosophy are just incommensurate.

But my ad hominem was not "Christian philosopher," it was "Biola philosopher." What's the difference? What was my "silly" point?

Fundamentalist Christian academies, and Biola, Liberty, and Oral Roberts' University are certainly instances of the kind, take their faith not only as a presumption toward "everything," but literally "informing" everything. Their who raison d'etre is to incorporate a fundamentalist Christian perspective into every academic discipline, even where that perspective might be a tad bit untenable. I grant that one might admit of Christian "veil" over political science, a Christian "veil" over Language and Literature, maybe even a Christian "veil" over anthropology. But a Christian "veil" over Biology, Chemistry, and Physics is just a bit challenging. And since modern philosophy adopts the scientific method as elementary, having a Christian "veil" over "Philosophy" is contrary to both its method and its purpose. Thus, to put a Christian "veil" over philosophy is not only untenable, because the two are incommensurate, but imposing an attitude is contrary to its very method. Even the "scientific method" is not universally accepted by philosophers (e.g., Feyerabend), but as philosophical methods, only the scientific method and logic are admitted tools (but not "unquestioned" tools). Thus, deliberately casting any kind of "veil" over philosophy so that a certain perspective is entailed is wholly contraindicated. But Biola's mission is to "Christianize" academia, and philosophy's mission is to "question everything," which are totally at cross-purposes. One deliberately imposes a definite perspective onto academic questions, the other calls all presumptions into question. The two approaches are opposite each other.

And that's why I made the ad hominem "Biola philosopher." Perhaps it's not a fallacy after all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More on Novak on Washington's God:

Novak reacts to some early reviews. He stresses the same points which I reacted to in an earlier post on the matter:

The reviewer in the Sun gave several reasons why Washington was probably not a Christian, but so did we -- in fact, we gave the very same ones the reviewer offered as his own, and several more to boot. We never supposed we could prove that Washington was a Christian -- not from what he wrote, at least. But we did conclude that, taken altogether, the evidence from his life favored the claim that he was. So we laid out all the evidence we could find, pro and con, and argued for our conclusion.

What we did prove, and quite conclusively, is that Washington cannot be called a Deist -- at least, not in a sense that excludes his being Christian.

It's the same Christian v. Deist box. As I've noted before, in all likelihood, Washington believed in the same natural theology in which Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Adams believed. Simply pointing out repeatedly that Washington invoked a warm intervening Providence does not come close to establishing Washington's orthodoxy given that each of the above mentioned Founders, including Franklin who never referred to himself as anything other than a Deist, likewise invoked an interventionist God.

As to whether, given the tenets of the natural theology, its adherents (our key Founders) may be properly deemed "Christian," all depends on how we define that term. Certainly, Jefferson and Adams referred to themselves as Christian, while advancing this heterodox Enlightenment-influenced creed.

What are the tenets of such a creed?

1) Belief in an all powerful, warm intervening Providence;

2) Disbelief in the Trinity, belief that Jesus was not God, but a great moral teacher;

3) Disbelief in Eternal Damnation, belief that upon death, the good experience eternal happiness, and the bad are temporarily punished, but the eventual redemption of all men;

4) Disbelief in the inerrancy of Revelation; and

5) Belief in Man's Reason, as opposed to Biblical Revelation, as the ultimate discerner of Truth.

Note, this system doesn't categorically reject the Truth in all Revelation, but rather Man's Reason is the filter for determining what Revelation is legitimate, and what should be regarded as corrupted.

Now, whether this theology qualifies as "Christian" -- and indeed many its adherents were members of professing Christian churches, and Adams and Jefferson, whose writings confirm each and every one of the above tenets, called themselves "Christian" -- is a matter of debate. But it looks to me that this creed is much closer to modern so-called "cafeteria Christianity" than the type of traditional orthodox Christianity posited by those who wish to claim the Founders as "Christians."

Finally, if any publication wants to send me an advance copy of Novak's book (I'll buy it when it comes out) for review, let me know.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mere Orthodoxy:

I promise when I add more permalinks to give one to Mere Orthodoxy, an orthodox Christian group blog, that features a lot of bright young fellows, one of whom is Jim Anderson's brother Matt.

Check out Matt's thoughtful post defending orthodox Protestant Christianity from DSH's critique. If you want to debate the issue of DSH's historical understanding, feel free to do so on this thread.
Hamburger on Equal Protection:

I've been re-reading Philip Hamburger's Magnum Opus, Separation of Church and State and reading up on the man himself. I have no idea what Hamburger's personal politics are, but his legal scholarship seems to be of the strict positivist, Raoul Berger mode. Berger was a brilliant law professor and I think a liberal in his political views, but became sort of a maverick in the profession for endorsing a very conservative, positivist view of constitutional history and interpretation. Among his more controversial claims were that 1) the 14th Amendment does not incorporate the Bill of Rights (something I think Akhil Amar refutes, or at least gives a plausible alternative to in his seminal book on the matter), and 2) no matter how vile the practice may have been, the segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Edu. were not unconstitutional.

Apparently Hamburger, chiefly known for his work on the Establishment Clause, has done groundbreaking work on the original meaning of the concept of Equal Protection as well. [Note, I've never read any of these papers.] Here is Tom West with a summary (in a very thoughtful review of Hamburger's Separation book) of Hamburger's research on Equal Protection:

He has demonstrated that the American Founders' understanding of "equal protection" and "civil rights" is quite different from the understanding of those terms today. ("Equal protection" emphatically did not mean "equal treatment" or nondiscrimination; it meant only that all persons were equally to be protected against injury to life, liberty or estate.)

If I am reading this correctly, "Equal Protection" would mean equal protection of those general laws which are already on the books -- civil laws on contract, tort, property, and criminal laws against murder, assault, theft and the like -- which protect individuals' "lives, liberties, and estates."

According to this understanding of Equal Protection, Brown v. Board of Education clearly was wrongly decided. In order to get to the point where Brown was rightly decided, "Equal Protection" must mean "equal treatment" or nondiscrimination, at least with regard to race.

Now, one could make the case -- I could see Amar or Michael McConnell making it -- that perhaps Hamburger is correct on how the Founders of 1787 viewed the notion of Equal Protection, nonetheless, the Founders of 1868 gave a more expansive meaning to the concept. Berger, I'm pretty sure endorsed the notion that Equal Protection in the 14th Amendment meant exactly how West/Hamburger describe the meaning of it during the original Founding era. I may be wrong, but based on what I have read of Hamburger so far, I get the impression that he too would endorse the original meaning of Equal Protection in 1868 closely tracking the meaning in 1787.

And this is relevant because, as Jack Balkin notes, any theory of constitutional jurisprudence which holds Brown v. Board to be wrongly decided is simply not viable. But original expectation originalism (did the Founders of Amendment X consciously expect that they were illegalizing practice Y?) does indeed hold Brown v. Board, and certainly Loving v. VA, to be improperly decided.

There are other varieties of originalism -- for instance, those advanced by Akhil Amar, Randy Barnett, Michael McConnell, and others which involve taking the text and reading it at a higher level of abstraction to produce results not quite what the original framers expected but certainly consistent with the original meaning of the text and underlying ideals -- which are far more viable.

The problem for some "conservative" originalists, though -- this latter method can yield unwanted results and vindicate some of the so-called "activist" decisions of the Supreme Court. Take for instance, James Madison's meanderings on the concepts of equal protection and the Establishment Clause in his Detached Memoranda. Madison says in no uncertain terms: "The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion....The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles." Now, this isn't to say that Madison's views are dispositive or even that he's right. But simply to show that one can begin with the original meaning of the text and certain constitutional ideals and end up at a place which is not where the majority of framers and ratifiers expected to be.

Indeed, the Framers of both the original Constitution and the 14th Amendment spoke of religious equality as well. Madison tried to get such a standard to apply against the states in his original draft of the First Amendment. Though that was voted down, we do have, don't forget, an "Equal Protection" Clause in the 14th Amendment which applies to religion as well as race.

Now, if we apply the concept of "Equal Protection" to religion, specifically the understanding in Brown which requires at the very least, "equal treatment" or nondiscrimination, what are some of the results we may get? According to West, a non-discrimination standard among religions means: "Today, support of 'religion in general' would include taxpayer funding of Wiccans, Satanists, Muslims (including those who teach hatred of America), and worshippers of that favorite goddess of some feminists, 'Our Sweet Sophia.'" And a standard of religious neutrality means:

"Oddly, Scalia and Thomas, who normally follow the original meaning of the Constitution, appeal to the famous neutrality principle cooked up by Supreme Court liberals in the Everson case (1947) and mandated (more or less) by the Court ever since. But there is simply nothing in the Constitution that requires government to be neutral on the subject of religion. Otherwise, it really would be unconstitutional for public schools to lead recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. "One nation under God" is not neutral. It is pro-God."

West is being disingenuous when he writes "there is simply nothing in the Constitution...." He uses these results as reductio ad absurdums to argue against a standard of religious equality. However, I'm sure he is aware of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. And based on his knowledge of Jeffersonian-Madisonian natural rights theory, West realizes that the "equal rights of conscience" -- again, something Madison tried to put in the First Amendment to apply against the states -- is part of the organic natural law that founds this nation, and which West purportedly believes should be granted constitutional status.
V for Vendetta:

I can't wait to see the movie. Though I do admit that it's coming out at the "wrong" time and sends a message that the public doesn't need at this time.

I have read and actually possess, not just the graphic novel, but the original serious published by DC Comics (which reprinted an earlier British run).

The book was written in the early 80s as a reaction to the authoritarian policies of the Thatcher administration. I suppose it may resonate with some people who see creeping fascism in today's post 9-11 world.

Alan Moore, and Frank Miller too certainly see such creeping fascism today (though, they may not describe it as "creeping") as they did in 80s under the Reagan and Thatcher administrations.

The authoritarianism of Reagan/Thatcher/GWBush administrations is what I find most unappealing about them. Still, for some on the extreme left (and extreme right) valid criticisms easily cross the line into paranoid delusions.

Alan Moore (and Frank Miller) is a writer of immense talent. If you've seen a picture of Moore, you can tell by his appearance that he's borderline nuts as many talented writers and artists are.

So when it comes to political issues, many of these artists -- their opinions, no matter how artistically talented they are expressed, should be taken with a "grain of salt."

Allan Bloom before wrote at great length how many artists are leftist bourgeois haters (and before that, Bloom notes that many were, after Nietzsche, rightist bourgeois haters). Moore and Miller certainly qualify.

One interesting thing about both Moore's and Miller's work is that even though they hit you over the head with their leftist-anarchist agenda, at times they manage to say something profound. For instance, see my review of Moore's Watchmen Rorschach, where Moore, unlike a lot of leftist nihilists, clearly *gets* Nietzsche's abyss and uses it to humiliate the psychiatric and psychological professions, who according to Allan Bloom epitomized nihilism without the abyss.

Also, perhaps unintentionally, in both Miller's and Moore's greatest works, right-anarchists, or libertarianish characters (clearly this is how I see Miller's Batman) come across as the greatest heroes.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wakeman Reviews Emerson:

Nuff said.
Icarus Rising:

Check out this really cool memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which features one of the best Kansas songs ever: Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel, which uses the Icarus myth as a metaphor for aviation and aerospace.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

An Urban Legend that Might be True: does yeoman's work in debunking urban myths. So I decided to do some research on something I had heard which I was certain to be an urban legend. And what surprised me was that Snopes couldn't give a definite "debunked," but rather gave an "undetermined." The "fact" in question is whether Jamie Lee Curtis was born with both male and female sex organs, something I've heard about for years but dismissed as an urban legend.

I previous thought this had to be wrong because she and her husband Christopher Guest had children, something intersexed people (who have an XY chromosome) cannot do. But apparently, her children are adopted.

Also, something Snopes discusses which I never before realized, but that gives credibility to the "story," both "Jamie" and "Lee" are "two-way" gender names (indeed, I have a brother named "Jamie"). Her parents, unsure of her gender, named her that....

Finally, the funniest thing I can think of relating to this tale is: A number of years ago Howard Stern sent a female intern out to ask "Stuttering John" questions to various celebrities (this was while John was still with the show, but when Stern was sending other interns out to ask these questions). She came across Jamie Lee Curtis who was at some outing with a bunch of children. The intern prefaced the conversation with some "ordinary interview" questions, which seemed to mildly annoy Curtis who was giving very brief, perfunctory answers.

Then the intern, trying to contain her laughter, let loose with the big one (paraphrasing): "So clear up the rumors Jamie Lee, were you born with a penis?" And Curtis just flipped out. "How dare you ask me such a thing when children are around?" It was so funny! It was the type of thing you feel guilty about laughing over because you realize that it crossed the line of civility and decency.

Friday, March 10, 2006

America's Public Religion, not Christianity, but Rousseau's "Civil Religion":

I haven't read this entire piece, but this looks to be a very informative piece on the public or "civil" religion of America [Hat tip: Mollie at Get Religion].

Money quote:

It is crucial that presidents never mention "Jesus" or "Christ" in this context, which would cross the line from civil religion into sacral religion. American civil religion transcends denomination and religious affiliation. The "Almighty" of civil religion could be Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Even Wiccans might feel kinship with Jefferson's "Nature's God." Strict atheists, however, would be alienated.

As the piece seems to insinuate, the "Almighty" of the civil religion could be a very unorthodox Providence. Indeed, our first four Presidents who commonly acknowledged such a God in their public pronouncements, were heterodox (theological) unitarians (certainly Jefferson and Adams were, Madison and Washington likely were).

So what then is Rousseau's "civil religion"? This doctrine is a form of "deism" and I think it is what the Supreme Court refers to when they apply their doctrine of "Ceremonial Deism."

Now, what this does not mean is that it's "okay" for government to endorse the concept of "Deism," which posits a cold, distant non-interventionist God, but "not okay" for government to endorse any other religious notion. This is a mistake that some people make (see for instance, Dennis Teti making this mistake). As I have noted before, the term "deism" as used during the Founding sometimes referred to generic monotheism. So the "ceremonial deism" of the "civil religion" really refers to a Lowest Common Denominator form of monotheism. As Larry Arnhart puts it in this post:

As I read Tocqueville, he is applying to America Rousseau's idea of "civil religion," in which the only required doctrines are the existence of a providential God who enforces a moral law by punishing the bad and rewarding the good. Is this the doctrinal content of the morally healthy religion?

Justice Scalia's very interesting dissent in McCreary explores this notion of a Lowest Common Denominator God. However, he ultimately misses when he asserts that Moses divinely receiving the Ten Commandments is part of the civil religion; they are not. The heterodox unitarianism to which the key founders (for example, the above mentioned first four Presidents) adhered, which viewed Man's Reason as opposed to Biblical Revelation as the ultimate discerner of Truth, was highly dubious of the notion that Moses divinely received the Ten Commandments from God.
Don't Vote Democrat or Republican:

Perry Willis, friend of the late great Harry Browne, answers Karen's question for me in the comments section of my blog. I know my blog's template needs a reconstruction and when it's done, I'll put in my list of hyperlinks.

The biggest problem with George Bush is his statism. Look, I'm not asking for a first-best libertarian utopian world; all I ask for is an administration who will leave government smaller when they leave it than when they got in. And no, not just "cuts" in the rate of increases that don't track inflation, but actual cuts in non-inflation adjusted dollars. When you have a Democratic party who demagogues and calls a reduction in the rate of increase in the budget, a "cut," I won't vote for them.

Though, I do flirt with "strategically" voting for Democrats or Republicans in order to foment gridlock. That is, when Clinton was in the White House and the Republicans controlled Congress, things were better then than they are now (I know they didn't have a post-911 world to deal with) because government was divided. If we had *enthusiastic* Progressives who controlled the Congress with a Clinton Presidency, we would have gotten socialized health care and what a disaster that would have been.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Should Libertarians Vote Democrat:

That's the question Karen poses. My answer is no (I'm not telling you to vote Republican either). I'll give my brief reasons in a follow up post. Now, I'll just let you read her question and see if any commenters react. Tonight, I'll post this over at Positive Liberty and see how they react. Then I'll give a brief response.

Dear Jon:

I don't often see you write on current political stuff so much - or current Constitutional legal questions (like the NSA spying and 4th amendment issues) But I’ve got sort of a side-line question for you (and not in a particular hurry for an answer – As IF I do not realize how busy you are!) But, since you are a self-described “Libertarian” I am curious about the governing philosophy and what it would mean to have such a theory running our government. If one imagined a true multi-party system where independents or libertarians could become a plausible and challenging alternate to the two-party system of Dems and Reps currently in our political system – what and how would libertarianism function?

And not intended to be insulting – but most self-described libertarians and independents (not you) I’ve come across don’t seem to be really be so “independent” or truly as libertarian as they say It seems to me many other libertarians are more like closet GOPers based on a dislike and distrust of any Government and paying Taxes to support it. And many independents are not really so independent either (but wish to *appear so* for what ever reasons.)

I tend to identify with the DEMs political philosophy more than libertarianism on the basis of both seeing the Government as necessary to perform the type of Top-Down governance required in a country as large and diverse as the U.S. - and taxes as the necessary evil to pay for those requirements. There is a legitimate purpose for government, and a function it should perform for the benefit of those governed. And it’s important to say that it must (MUST) function both Effectively and Competently to address the nationwide issues we face in a Top-Down governing fashion.

I see libertarianism as more suited or suitable for a bottom-up type governance – but not for the kind of intensive Top-down management needed to address both short term and long term issues facing our nation. And secondly, there really is not (as of yet) any real hope for a third party or multi-party system to challenge the dominance of the GOP. Without gaining Dem seats in the Congress and at the state and local levels, there is no way to make the political changes necessary to get back to proper oversight and checks-and-balances appallingly missing from this one-party dominance over these branches of government.

And what do I mean by Top-Down and Bottom-Up governance? Well, if you recall going that set of posts over at DBV – one in particular - explaining this issue from “Collapse” by Jared Diamond – if you haven’t yet read that book.

Top down Governance -

But what I am really concerned about is both the political threats of Collapse to our Constitutional system of government as demonstrated by the reactions to the NSA spying and the Republican Congress’ failure to either check Executive political abuses or provide required oversight to it’s own party Executive. But, equally and as importantly, is the threat of Collapse to our environmental and geo-political world from these ill-conceived and poorly executed GOP policies and failed ventures and unwillingness to countenance facts or science on serious issues affecting our world and country.

As kind of a multi-pronged question: Is libertarianism, in your opinion, suited to be a good governing philosophy for this modern U.S. and could it provide the much needed and coordinated and effective Top-Down governance? And even if it is - we are currently in a two-party only dominated system. Alternate parties have demonstrated no chance to succeed - But what would or should a libertarian or independent DO when they do not identify with the GOP or the DEMs?

Should they support the best alternate? (That lesser of two evils?)

Abstain? But the problem with abstention is that it does not contribute to any good governance choices being made.

Stick to principles and Vote for libertarian or independent candidates (even those with no hope of succeeding)? This may actually have helped the GOP to win in these last election cycles by siphoning off much needed support to challenge the GOP candidates.

Cheers again, Karen McLauchlan

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Senator Ting:

Looks like my former Immigration Law prof. is running for Senator. I got an A- in his class, by the way.
Slavery and Judicial Activism:

Then, as now, Massachusetts was "ahead" of the learning curve in judicial activism. In 1783 they abolished slavery by judicial decree, not by democratic majority vote.

Slavery was abolished by a judicial decision based on a case involving a slave, Quork Walker, who had sued for his freedom based on the master's verbal promise. State constitution later declared: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain, natural, essential, and inalienable rights."
[Hat tip: David Boaz for the link.]

Indeed, in 1772, a judicial decree, not democratic vote, paved the way for the end of slavery in England (I previously thought that this decision, issued by Lord Mansfield, abolished slavery in England, but as this link indicates, it's a bit more complicated).

When individual rights are antecedent to majority rule (as is the case in liberal democracy), it figures that what is commonly called "judicial activism" will be an unavoidable feature of law and life. Well, at least it will be in common law nations where the judiciary is given such an important role.
Idea on how Howard Stern & CBS can make More Money:

I saw Stern on Fox News last night and agree with him that the lawsuit filed against him is meritless, done out of spite and to take the attention off the fact that his leaving CBS is costing them millions of dollars due solely to lost ratings.

So here's the idea: Not likely to happen especially after CBS's lawsuit.

Have Howard come back to CBS and stay at Sirius at the same time. Negotiate a contract between Stern, Sirius and CBS. Just like the local affiliates of receive nationally broadcast shows via a Satellite feed, have Stern do his unedited show from 6:30 or 7:00am till 10:00am on Sirius. Then, that day, from 9:00am-12:00pm have the "edited" version of the show air on CBS stations. Hire engineers who can edit all of the stuff that could possibly cause trouble with the FCC within two hours or so of the broadcast (so you'd be hearing a show that is 2 hours old).

Moreover, the terms of Stern's contract with CBS would be 1) CBS has the absolute right/discretion to remove any objectionable content from his show and 2) they agree to hold Stern harmless and indemnify him from any action the FCC should take against Stern personally, should they fine him.

These two terms would answer Sterns two biggest concerns for leaving. One thing that drove Stern off the public airwaves was the fact that his show was being heavily edited by the bosses once the FCC started cracking down. And Stern in turn, cause a big stink with his bosses (even though he understood their concern) when they edited his show. At Sirius, Stern no longer has to worry about his show being edited. If Stern realized that real fans who wanted the unadulterated Stern could subscribe to Sirius (indeed, they already have), then he would have less concern about CBS editing his show. Indeed, Stern would want CBS to heavily edit the show, just to better establish and distinguish between the two separate markets (and to reduce competition between them).

So if you wanted the live unedited Stern, you pay extra. The free Stern is 2 hours delayed and sanitized.

The second reason Stern left broadcast radio was because the FCC showed a willingness to start levying huge fines against not just the companies, but the broadcasters personally, even up to a half million dollars at a time. Though Stern is filthy rich, those half million dollar fines could add up, if he's paying for them himself. The "hold harmless" provision would satisfy that concern of his. And CBS wouldn't have to worry about Stern's harangue if they wanted to relentlessly edit his show to stave off their concerns about fines.

Sound like a good idea?
DSH on Christian Traditions:

Reacting to my last post, DSH has a very instructive comment on various traditions in Christianity.

Sullivan, in adopting a correspondent's position, certainly brings the matter into broader relief. But for all the clarity, ambiguity was compounded.

Sullivan has been attacking biblical fundamentalists, which he labels "Christianists." (He's been attacking Muslim fundamentalists, too, but less incisively, because it's not his schtick.) He's an avowed Roman Catholic, and he dislikes what's being done by "Christianists" under biblical authority to his sensibility of Christianity. (Disclosure: I'm an atheist, but if I were a Christian, Catholicism -- Anglican, Roman, or Eastern -- would appeal the most.) So, I empthize with Sullivan: Fundamentalists, IMHO, have totally distorted the Christian message, and if I were a Christian, I'd be pretty upset over what's being done in its name. But then, Roman Catholicism is not the paradigm of innocence, either. But let's leave all that behind and just deal with Sullivan's complaint.

For those who don't understand what fundamentalism is, here's a concise description. It subscribes to the belief that the Bible (Hebrew and Christian Scriptures) is the literal, inerrant Word of God. Literally. Some have gone as far to think Jesus spoke King's English and that the Bible was written in King James' time. That's how preposterous some of them are. Fundamentalists believe that everything written in the Bible is literally true, including Balaam's donkey talking (I won't dwell on it).

Jesus, of course, wrote nothing. In fact, we're not really sure who wrote what in the New Testament. Many scholars have noted the significant difference between the synoptic evangelists (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the proto-evangelist John. The former never claim Jesus as divine; the latter definitely does. It makes for interesting conversation.

Then, there is the Pauline gospel. This might strike some as strange, but indeed the letters attributed to Saint Paul (Pauline) have a totally different quality to them from the evangelists. Indeed, it's almost two totally different messages. But for whatever reason, "Paul's" epistles were singled out early as the benchmark of Christianity. For perspective, the earliest writings are at least 30 years after J.C., the latest writing maybe 200 years later. So, maybe a few of the authors actually knew J.C., but most did not. No one is really sure. Certainly, Saint Paul had only a derivative experience after J.C.'s resurrection while on the road to Damascus; his acquaintance with J.C. is totally derivative. The so-called "catholic" epistles may actually have been written by J.C.'s disciples, especially James, Peter, and John. Again, no one knows. But textually, the catholic epistles are much closer to the teachings of J.C. than the Pauline.

An important fact: Saint Paul apparently claimed "apostleship" for himself, although technically he doesn't fit the definition. But unlike the other "apostles," Paul was an evangelist to the Greeks and Romans. The others largely remained in their Jewish centers. Known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, even though Paul is thoroughly Jewish, his message apparently caught on in Greece and Roman territories, while the "others" remained provincial. This alone is why Paul became such a figurehead.

Enough history/context. The fact is that Christian Scriptures were never a significant issue, until the Reformation. Many of the pre-Reformation Christians mentioned the "apostle's memoirs" (i.e., Scripture), but they were equally engaged in non-scriptural exegesis. Saints Augustine (West) and Chrysostom (East) were the dominant writers, and most writers cited them as often, if not more often, than "scripture" itself. According to the dominant paradigm, Christianity after Christ was totally in the "hands" of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Because it was a "spiritual" awakening, not a deontological one, the Spirit moved over believers to adapt the J.C. message to the particular time and place. Prior to the Reformation, Christianity was "evolving" towards the Kingdom. Therefore, nothing was static, it was constantly being reinvented as the Church (community of believers) evolved through time. While some things became codified and ritualized, the basic thrust was "development." Indeed, one of the greatest Christian tracts was by John Henry Newman (19th C.) known as "The Development of Christian Doctrine." Process, not stasis, was the the impetus. Thus, to become "locked" onto a certain time and place, while helpful as an anchor, wasn't meant for the whole ship afloat. The Church, as protype of the Kingdom, was advancing the cause in each generation. Scripture and the Theologians were "rocks," but not anchorages. The Church had a mission to fulfill, moving forward, not backward, in time.

Enter the Reformation. Two men, Martin Luther and Jean Calvin, saw a "ship afloat." The original message had gotten so confused and tangled that these two men decided to go back to the "originals." For them, the Theologians and other writers did not matter; what mattered was "Scripture." Only the Divine Word of God could rescue this Titanic. Almost everything else was discarded. The supreme irony is that Christendom, until that point, really hadn't codifed a "Christian Scripture." Several councils and synods, not to mention the Theologians, had referred to these texts, but highly ambiguously. Yes, the "apostles' memoirs" were a critical point of reference, but not the whole ballywack. The Church, after all, was ontological, while "scripture" was derivative. Even more derivative was the Theologians' commentary. Only within the context of Church did the Gospel and Epistles have any sense, and even then, they might be a point of reference, but the Church was "moving on" toward the Kingdom, while text was a a time-bound thing. "Going back" to the "originals" did not make a lot of sense. The New Covenant was on a mission, viz., the Kingdom. If the originals shed light on it, great; but, don't get caught in the details for the thrust of history.

In defense of Luther and Calvin, the Church really had lost contact with the Gospel. A reformation was definitely in order. But Luther and Calvin did not know how much of "this" or "that" to take outside of the original, so the original (though hardly original) became supreme. But what really was the original? No one really knew. So, Luther and Calvin decided that "Scripture" was the bedrock, and everything else had to be seen through its prism. Problem: No one had exactly defined what "Scripture" was. It wasn't total confusion, but some "writings" were considered "inspired," others not. Augstine and Chrysostom had their lists of inspired writings, Rome had its, and others had theirs. Was Jerome's Latin translation of Hebrew and Greek writings in the 4th C. Scripture, or was it something else? After all this time, and numerous ecumenical councils, no one had defined or delineated what actually was "Christian Scripture." It was generally agreed that certain writings were inspired, but not much beyond that. Maybe, the Council of Orange in the 4th C. had answered everyone's question with its list, but no one was certain. (One of the first tasks of the Counter-Reformation Ecumenical Council of Trent in the 15th C. was to give a definitive list.)

So Protestantism was born because the original message had been obscured, and in deciding the locus of J.C.'s teachings, Protestants decided Christian Scripture was the "sole authority" for what is Christianity. Anything "not proveable" by Scripture was to be discarded. Of course, Luther and Calvin had to first decide what constituted "scripture," and they looked to Jerome's translation of "inspired writings" as the fulcrum. (The Protestant "Scriptures" differ slightly from the Ancient "Scriptures," primarily with regard to the Old Testament. Luther had his contempt for James' epistle, because it didn't comport with his interpretation of Pauline doctrine, but in the end he simply "marginalized" James's epistle, rather than excised it.)

Disclaimer: "Fundamentalism" takes different forms. When referring to Christian fundamentalism, it means simply that the Scriptures alone, which are literal and inerrant, are the true Word of God, and everything else can be discarded.

"Historical" Christians, those whose roots go back to apostolic times, can be fundamentalists, but not in the sense that Sullivan is using it. For most people, "fundamentalism" in Christianity means taking the Bible (Christian Scripture) literally and inerrantly no matter what.

I know I've already overstayed my welcome, so let me now cut to the chase. Taking a book as "God's literal and inerrant Word" is just plain silly. And almost all that do this have no idea how, when, where, and why "Scripture" came about. Maybe Muslims believe the Quran fell from the sky, but there's no question of "human involvement" with regard to Christian Scripture. And, since most of the New Testament writers did not even have direct contact with J.C., nor were they convulsed into paroxysms of divine ecstasy, the human component of Christian Scripture, coupled with its tattered history, makes belief in a written work as "God's literal and inerrant Word" just a tad bit extreme. "Inspired," is what mainline Protestants and Catholics believe, but the "gospel" truth which would overthrow science, commonsense, and decency is just a little over the top. Jesus did not speak King's English, in fact he wrote nothing at all in his native Aramaic, or in any language. Who the other writers are we just really don't know, but no serious Christian believes that God dictated a book in King's English to save the world. And, even if one adopts the Protestant disposition toward these writings, "sola scriptura," that doesn't entail that everything outside scripture is untrue, rather that what's written in them is "sufficient" for salvation. That's hardly the same claim, extraordinary as even that is. Finally, catholics have a singular point that simply cannot be denied in light of the above: Without the ontology of the Church, something as obviously derivative as "scripture" makes no sense at all. It's only in the context of a believing community that such "inspiration" takes its form and is shared with others. Jews are similarly disposed, for exactly the same reason. That fundamentalists actually think a collection of "inspired" human writings trump everything else, including human experience, is simply untenable. That they do it in "God's Name" causes a great deal of believers more than a little angst. I'm entirely sympathetic. Sadly, Pentecostal "Christianists" are on the increase, and Rome elected one of its most reactionary Popes. It's just not a good time be a Christian.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Benevolence of God and Questioning Religious Dogma:

Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for quoting Jefferson on Religion and appreciating Jefferson's radical iconoclasm on religious questions.

I recommend anyone with a serious interest to delve into the Founders and Religion question. Both "the Founders were Deists" and "the Founders were Christians" sides are wrong; the Truth is far more nuanced and interesting.

Readers of this blog know that the key Founders, while they believed in a warm intervening Providence (thus, not what we typically think of as "Deists") seriously questioned and outright rejected the traditional dogmas of orthodox Christianity.

Were I to described the God of the Founders (Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, most likely Washington, Madison and some other key Founders) in one word, it would be: Benevolent.

Here is, once again, John Adams, whose religious beliefs I find far more appealing than the religious right who often invoke him. In a letter to Lousia Catherine Adams, November 11, 1821:

Question 1. Is this stupendous and immeasurable universe governed by eternal fate? 2. Is it governed by chance? Is it governed by caprice anger resentment and vengeance? 4. Is it governed by intelligence wisdom and benevolence? The three first of these questions I have examined with as close attention as I am capable of & have decided them all forever in the negative. The 4th I have meditated with much more satisfaction & comfort to myself & decided unequivocally in the affirmative & from this last decision I have derived all my system of divinity.

Note Adams and the other key Founders categorically rejected eternal damnation, (though they did believe that bad people would be punished temporarily) because a benevolent God wouldn't damn anyone, much less the majority of the human race to Hell for eternity.

Calvin's God could not be the real God because our Founders presupposed God's benevolence. And Calvin appeared to worship a malevolent Deity.

Now, an Internet colleague of mine (a Harvard PhD in astronomy), in his 80s and a militant atheist would state that Adams (or I) am wrong to presuppose God's benevolence? Who is to say that if God exists, he isn't malevolent?

Should we presuppose God's benevolence? It's only by doing so that I reject the possibility that Bin Laden's God is the true God. And it's for that very same reason I reject the God of the Christian fundamentalists. Yet millions of people, many of them very smart and well educated, believe in both Bin Laden's God and Calvin's.

Me, I'm with Adams, Jefferson and the others. If God exists, He(/She/It) is benevolent, and any attribute of Him in which I might believe will be guided by that premise.
DSH Responds:

DSH, who knows a lot more about philosophy than I do, responded to Sandefur's post on essences and nature with two intelligent comments, reproduced below:

Thanks for sharing Sandefur's thoughts. Basically, he agrees. Essences don't actually exist, they are mental constructs (viz, epistemological, not ontological). I'm not sure I understood his juxtaposition of Matson vs. Dennett. Dennett's books (plural) are hardly novel in denying ontogical essences. Matson's epistemological essences, viz., “[p]ossession of the rational faculty is to be preferred to other characteristics that all and only men have, such as laughter, featherless bipedality, or even language, because of [its] greater explanatory scope, which warrants its designation as the essence of man—essence, not as a metaphysical ingredient apprehended by a mysterious special cognitive faculty, but as an epistemological notion.” Id. at 24. I think Matson is simply reiterating Saul Kripke's analysis of determinate meaning in another way. As most know, indeterminancy of meaning has been the cause celebre of the last century, epitomized in Derrida's deconstructionism. As Kripke demonstrates in his major work, "Naming and Necessity," we do create rigid designators for objects that not only stabilize meaning, but secure it. E.g., "a rose by any other name is still a rose." But Kripke's locus is linguistic, a natural category; Matson's locus is epistemology, which is an artificial construct. What's the difference?

As the cynics of ancient Greece and Rome (also known as "skeptics" and "pyrhonnists") demonstrated, knowledge and reason is always contingent, never necessary. Hume reinforced the fact. If one starts from a "physical" or "phenonmenological" perspective, sensory deception is always the petard (which Descartes exploits to its fullest). Our sensory experience, while always veridical, is not always true. The simple example of a viral cold that distorts ordinary smelling. If a rose smells foul (as with a cold), that's what one smells. Ordinarily, roses smell sweet. Is the "cold" experience false, then? By no means. So what property "inheres" to a rose? Essentialists can't answer that. Resorting to an "epistemological answer" simply shifts the experience of a "known quantity" to an "intellectual one." But that's the trouble. Is the phenomenological experience to be judged by (any) epistemological criteria? Ryle: Category mistake! How does one go from veridical sensory perception to intellection without jumping out of one category and into another?

Well, argue the essentialists, through reason (which, of course, is intellection in broad relief). We reason that the rose ordinarily smells sweet, except when we have a cold, THEN it smells foul. But what's it's "essential" property? Sweetness or foul? Well, sweetness when we're normal, and foul when we're not. So the "reality" of the rose is dependent on our particular disposition at the time of the experience? One time it's sweet, the next foul? How can x and not-x be both true, much less at the same time? So what's a rose's "real" essence? Well, sweet when "normal," and foul with a "cold." You're begging the question: What's the rose's essence? And so goes the discussion ad infinitum. One is stuck in epistemological gridlock. This is where Matson leaves us. And like Rand, entirely unsatisfactorily.

The "key" of the 20th C. is to take matters out of phenomenology and out of epistemology and locate them in linguistics. As Wittgenstein monumentally said, "use determines meaning." When I have a cold, I mean it smells foul; when I don't have a cold I mean it smells sweet. But the "thing" I rigidly designate a "rose" is one and the same thing, at least referently. A rose has no essence. But it's not entirely capriciously designated either. Enter Kripke. No indeed, both experiences have the "same" referent, even though the experiences are different. But the referent is a linguistic marker, not an epistemological one. My phenomenology is absolutely true. I really did experience what I experienced. I was not deceived (contra Descartes). What I "name" a rose is a rose, whether it smells foul or sweet, red or white, in bloom or out, or whatever. Language rigidly designates what I have picked out to be highly variable; by language I can mean the same thing through different experiences. "Use determines meaning," and Kripke's insight, "meaning determines use." It's a game of language. And when played by the rules, the same answer recurs. What "I think I know" has nothing to do with it, and reason is endlessly regressive. But I can relate experiences through my use of language, and by language "fix" the referent. Reason? We're playing the same "language game." Hence, essences are metaphysical nonsense. Not only do they not "exist," but there's nothing to "know." It's still a metaphysical construct, only categorically differentiated, which gets us nowhere.

On the other hand, "family resemblances" brings out the nuance of linguistic use. Lots of things resemble a rose, especially other roses. And that's what I MEAN when I use the word "rose." It's a linguistic device to pick out something in the language game we've been taught to use. Essences? What's an essence? I haven't been taught to use that expression meaningfully.

I hope I haven't belabored obvious points. But I really want to address "Sandefur's" ethics. And I want to make sure we're talking about the same thing.

Ethics is a question of value; it has no factual basis other than that. What do I value? That's the question only ethics can ask and answer. Logically? Probably not. Based on things in "nature?" Even more doubtful. Indeed, I want to recall the "fact" vs. "ought" dichotomy; the two do NOT cross paths. One simply cannot interpolate from natural facts to what it is that I value. The two are categorically unique and impassible. Natural law, based on the perception that nature has something to teach us about values, is simply incoherent.

Sandefur raises the specter of a "naturalistic ethic." Let's be clear about which we are talking. If Sandefur means by "naturalistic" that which defines human nature, I'm along for the ride. Conversely, if he means that what defines "nature," I pass. The latter embeds us in the naturalistic fallacy, trying to derive "ought" from "is." Such speculations may entertain others, but I take ethics seriously. What I value has little if anything to do with what actually is. I confess to being an idealist in the sense that I value certain ideals. But those ideals cannot be obtained from looking at what is in nature. To me, there's no there, there.

Probably the two best works on ethics recently is Matt Ridley's "Origin of Vitues" and James Q. Wilson's "The Moral Sense." Both appeal to a "naturalistic ethics," but neither has in mind anything remotely to do with natural law. By "naturalistic," they mean "according to our nature." Suddenly, we are thrust again back into essences, for what does it mean to speak/write about "our human nature" unless some apriori concept of "human" and "nature" is entailed. To even concede that we have a "nature" is troubling in itself (review the rose concept). It seems to resurrect essences, when that's the last place we want to go. So, for the sake of analysis, I stipulate that humans have a nature. But whatever that "nature" is, it's not grounded in metaphysical speculation. So I am already guarded.

What Ridley and Wilson have in mind is what Degler wrote "In Search of Human Nature." By "nature," all appeal to our biological nature. What constitutes humans according to the laws of biology? Not what we speculate human essences to be. Does biology have a notion of what it means to be "human," and if it does, can we extrapolate from biology certain aspects that are seemingly common to all species of Homo sapiens? Degler, Ridley, and Wilson (along with Sober and Elliot) claim that we do have a biological (vis-a-vis metaphysical) nature, it is distinctly human, and it is distinctly grounded in the scientific method (as opposed to apriori reason). The biological laws are the Modern Synthesis (Darwin and Mendelianian inheritance), and the anthropological construct is distinctly Homo sapiens (although all borrow heavily from ethology). What can we possibly make of this confluence of ideas? And what relevance, if any, does a "human nature" have on our values?

Not suprisingly, all three "scientists" reach back to three moral philosophers of the 18th C.: Smith, Hume, and Hutcheson. And it's not difficult to see why. The English "moralists" were decidedly empirical even more than they were moralists. They simply observed what they thought to be common to our species and made numerous generalizations about it. For the very first time, ethics was conceived as an empirical enterprise, rather than a metaphysical construct. (In fairness to Aristotle, who did the same thing centuries earlier, Aristotle got lost in the practical syllogism. Whenever he reached an impasse, he'd resurrect metaphysics. He didn't do it often, but he still did it.)

Wilson summarizes the whole endeavor most succinctly: They were all concerned with basically four concepts: (1) Fairness, (2) Equality but not egalitarianism, (3) Empathy, and (4) Self-control. Now these are simply conceptualizations. They are not essences. What humans, qua humans, seem to value the most are these four characteristics, and indeed, with just these four characteristics, one can substantiate an empirical model for all human behavior. Most of it fell on deaf ears. Bentham and Mill and their utilitarianism came to rule the roost. Not until Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et alia came to symbolize utilitarianism's worst instincts did it finally fall into disfavor. Many, like Bernard Williams, went back to Aristotle. Rand too. But Aristotle is simply too complicated for the average Joe to understand, which Aristotle admits frankly. His is an elitist ethic. It just doesn't reach the common man.

But a naturalistic ethic based on the Modern Synthesis, using 18th C. concepts to reinvigorate the masses? Reading Wilson, one can see his discomfort at pulling it all together. Frankly, it's a mess. Ridley only alludes to the Enlightenment Empirical Ethic. He can only bring himself to see cross-species' behavior that supports it. Elliot and Sober are even more obscure. They just give the foundations. So where does that leave us? Well, the hyper-rationalism of Aristotle, Kant, and Rand is simply untenable. Aquinas is even more opaque and obscure. Smith, despite his clarity and vigor, is too much associated with capitalism to be "tolerated," much less consulted. Hume is the most direct and palpable; but the overt hedonism seems to subvert the whole enterprise.

Enter deontological biblicalism. Maybe not simple, but it's entirely straightforward, and one doesn't have to think too hard to get it. The reality that fundamentalists have so abused basic Christian tenets creates a credibility problem. That Christianists truly consider importing Levitical Code of Holiness into our daily laws is unfathomable. Plus, Nietzsche had a few choice words that are apropos.

Bottom Line: For all the clarity that the 20th C. achieved, it's remarkable that Islamic and Christian fundamentalists seem to be in the driver's seat. When the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the Genesis account of Creation, the hope for a naturalistic ethic doesn't even rise to the occasion. America has become an intellectual wasteland. Is it any wonder that the current President has misled us all so astray? And even those who have a hint of Wilson's ethical orientation are like prophets in the wadi. Indeed, we can't even communicate with each other.

Second comment:

On reflection, I believe I was too dismissive of epistemology without adequate explanation. It deserves a little more consideration. Epistemology is the study of knowledge: “What do you know, and how do you know it?” Great Questions! All of us could ask ourselves these questions more often. Unfortunately, the first Western thinker to give it much thought was Plato/Socrates in several of the dialogues, “Republic” and “Theatetus” the prominent. In the latter dialogue, Plato claims “knowledge is justified opinion.” Not bad, but not satisfactory for the obvious reason: What constitutes “justified?” But his more indelible position from the Allegory of the Cave and the Line of Knowledge in “Republic,” is that we really do not have knowledge of particulars or things at all, only their “Forms.” (Substitute “Ideas” or “Essences” if you prefer.) In other words, knowledge is ethereal (okay to a point), that everyday experience is like a shadow of reality (why a shadow? Why not just “it?”), and that the only real knowledge is of a thing’s Form or Essence (what’s this?). Well, it’s akin to an Idea in the kingdom of Ideas where reality exists and ordinary things are merely reflections or shadows. Only the Idea or Essence really exists; the thing you perceive with your sense organs is transitory and illusory; it’s not real, but the eternal and immutable Idea of it is.

Aristotle, Plato’s student, rightly had problems with this. He wasn’t prepared to deny the existence of particulars (things sensed). So he raised the concept of “substance” and created a whole metaphysic around it so that Essences could be found in particular things. Per Aristotle: It’s not an either/or situation, it’s an and/both situation. A particular thing has both: a substance that is real and concrete and an essence that inhere’s to it ontologically. The Form is what gives the substance its properties. There’s only one substance, but there are a variety of different Forms. The Forms “inform” substance to make it what it is. If you don’t get it, you’re not alone. Aristotle’s notion of “substance” has held scholars’ imaginations for centuries. But at least it preserved some of our common sense thinking. So which view prevailed? Aristotle? Right? Nope, Plato’s. Christianity’s Saint Paul was enamored with Plato, a perfect metaphysical “fit” into Christianity’s conception of an immortal soul and a perishable body. The soul is real (but I can’t see it) and the body is illusory (but I can see it). Plato’s view remained dominant until Aquinas resurrected Aristotle in the 12th C. Aquinas was initially deemed a heretic for it, but later, after the bishops thought they understood it, he became the “angelic doctor.” The man was totally brilliant. With an encyclopedic mind. Most important, he reaffirmed the reality of things like “the body.” Of course, he had to keep the soul as well. But at least common sense was back in the play of “reality.” Bodies really do exist. So what if a lot of metaphysical stuff had to be added? Great compromise? Well, the Church actually liked it. Indeed, it still does.

Descartes flipped the whole thing upside down. But here’s sort of a secret. He wasn’t the first. A Roman Greek by the name of Sextus Empiricus (2nd-3rd C.E.) really gave any hope of “knowing this or that” a total run for its money. He was known as a “skeptic.” What skeptics claimed was that all sensory experience is ultimately unique and unshared and doesn’t always correspond to other people’s perceptions, much less to actual reality; indeed, even one’s own perceptions vary from moment to moment (he has a point) and frequently are contradictory. Even worse, if we appeal to “reason,” specifically Aristotlean logic, but in general any kind of reason, we ultimately engage in an endless regress. Every conclusion requires another conclusion ad infinitum (Two for two). Bottom Line: No one knows anything at all! Can’t. But the Church just ignored all this. But it continued to bubble for centuries. Descartes in 15th C. resurrected it. He began by doubting everything, just as the skeptics had. But what he couldn’t doubt was the fact that he was doubting (brilliant). He really succeeded in doubting everything, but his doubting, or thinking itself, could not be doubted. Eureka! I think, therefore I am. Okay, what I am is not secure, but that I am a thinking thing, I cannot doubt. Just doubting itself proves the reality of my thinking. So because I think, I know I exist.

Let’s leave epistemological history here. Descartes’s epistemology is brilliant, but it also created a maelstrom of problems (not the least of which is the mind/body coexistence). But his admittedly brief overview should give one a sense of what philosophers do when they do epistemology. It’s significantly more complex than I am making it. But it explains what one means in asking the question: “What do I know, and how do I know it?” And the problem, while certainly less interesting today than it was in the past, still persists. If you want to explore a modern philosopher’s epistemology, Karl Popper is a good place as any (plus he’s fairly accessible). But this is what Sandefur and I are talking about.

So let’s look again at Sandefur’s solution (from Matson) is to move Essences from ontology (what is real) to epistemology (what is known and how). In other words, essences don’t really exist in the real world, they just exist as mental constructs for justifying our knowledge. Am I the only one who sees that this bird doesn’t fly? Like penguins and ostriches, it has wings, but it just doesn’t fly. Let me explain what I hope is obvious. Essences were created in order to answer the questions of epistemology. Prior to asking the question, “What do I know, and how do I know it?” no one bothered with essences for the obvious reason they don’t exist. Essences were specifically created in order to answer the epistemological questions in the first place. So giving an answer that essences are just epistemological constructs to answer epistemological questions begs the entire question and puts the entire matter in an endless regress. I can only hope I’ve made this clear, but I admit it’s exegetically challenging. So Matson’s response just doesn’t hold water. All it “really” does is move the question from one category to another, from ontology to epistemology, but epistemology is the very category that constructed essences out of the air in the first place to answer the questions of epistemology. Some might think this is patently circular. I certainly do. In philosophy, at least, that’s enough to sink it.

I hope I’ve not bored anyone. Let’s remember, the original matter was “natural law,” which I think equally false. But trying to rescue essences from legitimate oblivion by moving it from ontology to epistemology only begs the question.