Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors

“Experience has shown that, even under the best forms of government, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”  — Thomas Jefferson

I have more research to do for my previously intended post, so this is a “filler”, of sorts. But, it’s not empty filler. It’s important, substantial stuff, and if you are like me, it’s likely to tick you off, too.

book_sekulow_0_1431695895One of the books I’ve been reading lately is Undemocratic: How Unelected, Unaccountable Bureaucrats Are Stealing Your Liberty and Freedom by Jay Sekulow, renowned constitutional attorney and Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). In it, Sekulow highlights many examples of corruption, incompetency, and just plain irresponsibility that permeates the strongest agencies in the federal bureaucracy — which he calls the “fourth branch of government”. He has a couple chapters on the U.S. Department of Justice, and I decided to share with my readers some of the DoJ’s disturbing behavior from the chapter titled, “The Department of Justice — Permanently Rigging the Game”. At the very least, you will gain some insight into how the game is played by federal attorneys.

“In my career, I have sued the government countless times. And in virtually every case, the pattern is the same.

Immediately the federal government will file what’s called a ‘motion to dismiss,’ claiming that my lawsuit has absolutely no legal merit. Just filing that motion often results in substantial delays — months — as the trial court determines whether my case has merit.

In fact, this is exactly what happened when I filed suit against the IRS on behalf of forty-one conservative groups in twenty-two states…. The government, at taxpayer expense, hired two of the nation’s highest-priced law firms to defend IRS officials, and the DOJ represented the government. All three entities, the two law firms and the DOJ, filed a motion to dismiss, a motion that immediately brought our case to a halt while the judge considered their arguments. In that case, we waited several months for a judge to issue an order, and for each one of those months, the case was essentially frozen…. As of the date of this writing, the case is now on appeal, a process that can take years.

After a motion to dismiss is denied there comes a long period of discovery, in which the parties exchange documents relevant to the case and take depositions — sworn testimony under oath — of the key witnesses.

In my experience this is yet another contentious phase, with the government fighting to hold back documents, fighting to limit questions, and generally doing everything it can to make the process longer, more difficult, and more expensive.

Next, the government files something called a ‘motion for summary judgment’ — yet another attempt to dismiss the case. The government will argue that even after discovery there is not enough proof to support our claims.

It is usually only at this point — late in the case, after years of litigation — that the government will seriously think about settling…. Often even the settlements are hard fought, agreed to only after lengthy and contentious mediation sessions. The government will settle mainly for one reason and one reason only: the risks of litigation outweigh the costs of settlement.

Critically, a settlement creates a legally binding obligation on the government. So even a settlement is subject to constitutional limitations on federal power. In other words, the government cannot agree to violate the Constitution. It cannot agree to spend money in violation of federal appropriations. It cannot agree to create rules without proper regulatory authority.”

This all sounds very frustrating, aggravating, and makes me wonder if there is a better way. But, none of what Sekulow described so far is surprising. In fact, it sounds like what goes on in many TV shows and movies involving such cases. But, this next section is what makes me shake my head in wonder at the audacity of our own Justice Department….

“At least, that’s the way settlements are supposed to work.

To be clear, I don’t believe the government is doing anything inherently wrong when it fights back against litigation[, and] I don’t mind a hard legal fight. No lawyer should….

But what if the Department of Justice doesn’t always fight back? What if it not only fails to contest lawsuits, but actively cooperates with outside activists to create ‘settlements’ that yield new and burdensome rules that send millions of dollars to those same outside activists?

That wouldn’t be a lawsuit, that would be a racket.

government or private sectorIn May 2013, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blew the lid off just such a scam, issuing a forty-nine-page report called “Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors.” The scheme it described should outrage every American who believes in democracy, the constitutional separation of powers, and fundamental fairness.

Here’s how the scheme works:

First, an outside advocacy group — Earthjustice, for example — will file a lawsuit under the nation’s extraordinarily expansive environmental regulations demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency take certain actions or issue certain regulations.

Ordinarily, as I just outlined, the Department of Justice will vigorously defend against lawsuits, but in the “sue and settle scheme,” the DOJ and the agency (typically the EPA) decide not to defend the government. Instead, they immediately enter into settlement talks. Critically, these talks take place behind closed doors, with zero public input.

The DOJ, EPA, and outside environmental group then agree (among themselves) to specific new environmental rules and then spell out those rules in documents called “consent decrees” or “agreed orders.” These consent decrees are then filed with a federal court and soon signed by a federal judge, giving them the force of law.

Taxpayers, who’ve just been cheated out of a fair and vigorous defense by their own Department of Justice, will also have to support the consent decrees that often contain provisions entitling the outside environmental group to substantial legal fees, fees that can add up to millions of dollars. [Here, Sekulow cites from a Forbes article by Larry Bell, citing millions of dollars awarded to environmental organizations, mostly paid to their attorneys. He continues…]

In addition, the Department of Justice forked over at least $43 million of our money defending EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include money spent by EPA for their legal costs in connection with those rip-offs, since EPA doesn’t keep track of their attorney’s time on a case-by-case basis.

On at least one occasion, the collusion between the environmental group, the DOJ, and EPA was so blindingly obvious that the lawsuit and the corresponding settlement documents were filed on the very same day. To be very clear, the lawsuit, the settlement, and the new regulations were a simultaneous injustice to the American people, who footed the bill for all of these expenses.

Even though it’s a left-leaning technique, the Obama administration did not invent this practice. It’s been embedded in our bureaucracy for years. Career ‘litigators’ (I hate to call any lawyer who colludes with his opposition and fails to zealously represent his client a true litigator) have been doing this for decades. True, the trend accelerated under President Obama, but not by much.

The Chamber of Commerce has traced the number of Clean Air Act sue-and-settle cases since the second Clinton term and found a distressing number since the Clinton administration, with a startling rise under President Obama. In Clinton’s second term there were 27 sue-and-settle cases, 38 in President George W. Bush’s first term (so the number increased under a Republican president), 28 in President Bush’s second term, and a whopping 60 in President Obama’s first term.

dollars-black-holeIn addition to paying the legal fees of the activist lawyers (not to mention the salaries of the DOJ staff that are busy waving the white flag), the rules that result from sue-and-settle cases can be extraordinarily costly to our economy. The Chamber of Commerce’s list of top ten most costly sue-and-settle regulations includes rules that cost $9.6 billion annually and one rule that would have cost a whopping $90 billion every year.

Fortunately, public outcry prevented the most costly of these from full implementation, but just one of the new rules, called the “Utility MACT Rule,” costs almost as much annually as the IRS Earned Income Tax Credit scheme covered in chapter 3.

Bureaucratic partisanship has real costs. And thsoe costs extend beyond dollars and cents. Sue-and-settle contributes to the perception that there are two systems of justice, one for the bureaucracy’s favorites — usually activists representing just the right sort of interest groups — and another, far more adversarial system for the rest of us.

And in no “case” is that bias more evident than in the massive, multibillion-dollar DOJ giveaway known as the Pigford scandal….”

I plan to share more examples — beginning  with the Pigford scandal — in two more posts over the next couple months. (Didn’t want to raise your blood pressure too high all at once.) Of course, if you are already intrigued, then click on the above link and order a copy of Undemocratic for yourself!

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Primer on Origins Views for Christians (Part 2 of 3)

“All truth is given by revelation, either general or special, and it must be received by reason. Reason is the God-given means for discovering the truth that God discloses, whether in his world or his Word. While God wants to reach the heart with truth, he does not bypass the mind.”  — Jonathan Edwards, 18th c. revivalist preacher, philosopher, theologian

Continuing from Part 1

Flagellar assembly of E. coli

Flagellar assembly of E. coli

Now, where does “Intelligent Design” (ID) fit in? This is one of the most contentious concepts in the areas of science and science/faith discussions, with many theists and non-theists alike making incorrect assumptions — or even, in the latter case, intentionally misrepresenting it. (Do accusations of “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” sound familiar?) Of course, one may refer to something as “intelligently designed” in a generic sense, but in the context of the origins debate, there is a more nuanced meaning accorded the term by proponents of modern ID Theory (e.g., Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells). For example,

“Intelligent design (ID) is a scientific theory that employs the methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. ID theorists argue that design can be inferred by studying the informational properties of natural objects to determine if they bear the type of information that in our experience arise from an intelligent cause. The form of information which we observe is produced by intelligent action, and thus reliably indicates design, is generally called “specified complexity” or “complex and specified information” (CSI).”  — Center for Science and Culture’s FAQ page, Discovery Institute

Also, biochemist Michael Behe notes in Darwin’s Black Box that,

“The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.”

So, while some people think of it as a separate position on origins, I think a better way to think of ID is as an approach to scientific inquiry/explanation that is unencumbered by naturalist/materialist assumptions and restrictions, thereby allowing for the possibility of outside agency. It is not inherently “religious”, since it neither begins with sacred text nor requires any religious doctrine. But, it is certainly consistent with a theistic worldview, which is why many Christians and other theists then use philosophical, theological, and scriptural arguments to step beyond the design itself and infer an identity for the Intelligent Designer of the cosmos and all life within it. Thus, the ID banner would fly over Young Earth Creationism (YEC), Old Earth Creationism (OEC), and some forms of Theistic Evolution(ism) (TE), even though there are differences of opinion over things like scientific evidence, limits of natural processes, hermeneutics, and the most effective approach to breaking the cultural stranglehold of philosophical naturalism.

The problem with these three categories — TE, OEC, YEC — is that they do not quite reflect the range of variation within each, and there is sometimes confusion about the differences between OEC and TE. The differences within YEC are relatively minor, while those within OEC are perhaps too numerous for purposes of this primer, though some will be addressed in Part 3. Beyond that, I find the distinctions/labels used by Dr. Gerald Rau in his book Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everythingquite helpful, particularly for distinguishing the types of TE. Of course, there is still a lot of variation along the spectrum, but I think Rau does a great job of describing the more significant differences and “mapping” them into six still-fairly-broad models. For those who haven’t read Rau’s book, I have put together a slightly expanded version of “Table 2.1 Distinguishing features of the six models of origins” (and I hope Dr. Rau doesn’t mind):

Model

Naturalistic Evolution (NE)

Nonteleological Evolution (NTE)

Planned Evolution (PE)

Directed Evolution (DE)

Old-Earth Creationism (OEC)

Young-Earth Creationism (YEC)

Theology No supernatural Creator Creator Creator Creator Creator
Teleology No purpose No purpose Purpose Purpose Purpose Purpose
Intervention No intervention No intervention No intervention Intervention Intervention Intervention
Genealogy Common descent Common descent Common descent Common descent De novo creation De novo creation
Cosmology Old universe Old universe Old universe Old universe Old universe Recent creation
Process Spontaneous natural processes only Conditions necessary for life established at creation Perfect creation naturally fulfills God’s purposes Changes in universe and life subtly directed over time Major body plans created over millions of years Each “kind” created in one week, within the last 10,000 years
Noted Advocates include… Richard Dawkins, Ernst Mayr, Stephen J. Gould, Eugenie Scott Ian Barbour, John Haught, Christian de Duve Denis Lamoureux, Howard Van Till, Francis Collins, Kenneth Miller Michael Behe, Henry “Fritz” Schaefer III, Deborah & Loren Haarsma Hugh Ross, Stephen Meyer, Robert C. Newman, Dean Kenyon Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, Henry & John Morris, Kent Hovind

(The book contains additional tables for comparison in Appendix 1, which look further at what the models hold/teach regarding Origin of the Universe, Origin of Life, Origin of Species, and Origin of Humans.)

Mapping the Origins DebateMoving left to right, the first position is the only one that is non-theistic and, therefore, the only one totally unavailable to Christians and anyone else who believes in a creator God/god of some sort. Positions 2-4 (NTE, PE, DE) all fall under the broader label “Theistic Evolution”, with position 3 (PE) being roughly analogous to the “Evolutionary Creationism” view typically espoused by BioLogos. Positions 3-6 (PE, DE, OEC, YEC) all allow for some measure of purpose and, therefore, might fall under the “Intelligent Design” umbrella. However, neither Rau nor I am aware of anyone in the PE group that is comfortable arguing for ID. For them, as with NE & NTE, any apparent design must be chalked up to happy, evolutionary accident and never the fingerprint of actual, revealed design.

Along these lines, when sharing this with others in the past (without the helpful visual of the table), the question I got was for more clarification between PE and DE. Rather than try to paraphrase, I prefer to quote the following two sections from Dr. Rau’s book:

“The distinctive ideas of the PE model can be summarized as follows:

Philosophical axiom: God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.

Inferences: The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation. (Note, this is separate from the question of determinism within God’s plan.)

Logical conclusion: Since God did not intervene in natural processes after creation, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena.” (italicized emphasis mine)

And…

“The distinctive ideas of the DE model can be summarized as follows:

Philosophical axiom: God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to accomplish that plan.

Inferences: Miracles are recorded in the Bible to show that God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, so it is reasonable to think the same might be true for natural history.

Logical conclusion: Since we see a large number of low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a goal (teleological), these would be best explained as interventions.”

Others have tried similar categorizations of some or all of the above along the spectrum of origins beliefs (e.g., Ian Barbour (1997), Eugenie Scott (1999), Giberson & Yerxa (2002), Kurt Wise (2002)), though the only other attempt I am a little familiar with is that by Marcus Ross (2005). I am obviously partial to Rau’s efforts, while recognizing that there is still variation within each of his “models” and likely exceptions to some of the generalizations. (See J.W. Wartick’s article for some discussion on this and a little more explanation on the six. Also, Melissa Cain Travis wrote a very helpful, 2-part review of Rau’s book. All three of us highly recommend it.)

That should be sufficient to give you a handle on the general positions regarding creation, evolution, and design. Hopefully in the next week or two, I’ll conclude this primer by listing several positions held regarding the Creation Days.

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Primer on Origins Views for Christians (Part 1 of 3)

“Without special revelation, general revelation would be for sinful men incomplete and ineffective…. Without general revelation, special revelation would lack that basis in the fundamental knowledge of God as the mighty and wise, righteous and good, maker and ruler of all things.”  — B.B. Warfield, distinguished “Princetonian” theologian

As an admin at the “Old Earth Creationists” Facebook Group, I’ve been reminded on multiple occasions that not everyone, even within the Christian community, is aware of the various positions held by orthodox Christians — historically and currently — on the matter of origins. By “origins” I mean how God “created” the universe (or multiverse), how the Earth and our solar system were formed, how the current diversity of life on Earth occurred, how modern humans came to be, etc. And, of course, the amount of time involved is a dominant issue in all of this. How old are the universe, the Earth, humanity? Mere thousands of years? Millions? Billions?

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula

Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, think that there is only one position on these matters that is “biblical” and consistent with orthodox Christianity. But, truth be told, that is because that particular position — alternately called “Recent Creationism”, “Fiat Creationism”, “Biblical Creationism”, “Scientific Creationism”, “Young Earth Creationism” (which I will be using), “Creation Science”, or just “Creationism” — has become the most commonly taught (and socialized) in American churches and Christian schools for several decades. Premier organizations teaching this view include Answers in Genesis (AIG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Australia’s Creation Ministries International (CMI). For many, it is simply the default position. But, this has not always been the case historically, nor is it the only position that many thoughtful Christian scholars and laymen hold today.

Some Christians are aware of an alternate view called “Theistic Evolution(ism)” — or, some advocates prefer the term “Evolutionary Creationism” — which has gained popularity in certain circles in recent years. But, many Christians have strong reservations about that view, due to scientific and/or theological concerns. Of course, the same can be said about the Young Earth Creationist view. There is a third, “middle” position that is also gaining ground, thanks largely to the efforts of the Reasons to Believe (RTB) ministry and a few smaller organizations and individual researchers, known as “Old Earth Creationism” (as I will refer to it here) or “Progressive Creationism”, though some prefer to distinguish between the two terms. Unfortunately, Old Earth Creationism is often conflated with Theistic Evolution, because of a widespread misapprehension that accepting “millions and billions of years” necessarily means allegorizing much of the Bible and accepting naturalistic evolution.

My goal for this series of articles is to present the basics of these three general positions, as well as alternative categories. I’ll also define “Intelligent Design” and discuss how it fits in. Finally, I’ll briefly explain several ways that Christian scholars have developed to understand and interpret the Creation Days of Genesis. If it wasn’t clear from my opening statement, and you haven’t read any of my other posts related to this topic, I hold to an Old Earth Creationist view and am a big fan of RTB. But, I will do my best to keep my bias under control, since the purpose is not to argue in favor of any of the positions presented. One of these days (no pun intended), I’ll go into more depth on several of these views, but this should serve as a good primer for those interested in the subject.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC)

  • Bible & Science: Emphasizes a “literal”, “plain reading” of Scripture. Mainstream scientific research & conclusions are highly suspect, with “man’s understanding” being clouded by sin and possible demonic influence. Nature must be viewed through the lens of Scripture, and, in the matter of origins, theology always takes precedence over science.
  • Creation Week: For various reasons, typically holds that the “days” of Creation were 24-hour, “calendar days”.
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Generally teaches that correct biblical interpretation demands that the Earth and/or the Universe is/are 6000 to 10000 years old and that correct interpretation of scientific data also supports this. This date is determined by treating the genealogies in Genesis 5 & 11 as a chronology with few-to-no gaps. Rejects Big Bang cosmology, radiometric dating, and anything else that demonstrates or requires eons of time.
  • Evolution: Macroevolution is fully rejected, though massive post-Fall changes and subsequent diversity occurred within only a few thousand years. Observed microevolution is accepted though usually referred to with terms like “variation within a kind” or “small-scale adaptation”. Both stellar evolution (because of the time involved) and chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis) are fully rejected.
  • Adam & Eve: Views the biblical Adam & Eve as the very first members of Mankind, created on Day 6. Various hominids found in the fossil record are generally considered human descendants of Adam & Eve, though the remains may have been deformed by disease, extremely old age, sin, even demonic mischief.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: Presents an idyllic picture, often planet-wide, of life without pain, death, or suffering of any kind for humans or (some kinds of) animals. (An extreme version extends this to plants, as well.) This includes an absence of thorns & thistles and no predation or carnivorous activity. Reflects a “Perfect Paradise Paradigm” of God’s “very good” Creation.
  • The Fall/Curse: All of creation became “broken” or warped in some sense, even to the point of changing certain physical laws. Many creatures that were once vegetarian were changed physiologically and behaviorally to be carnivorous, insectivorous, or omnivorous. All creatures, great and small, were then subject to death and decay. Once kicked out of the Garden, Adam & Eve (and their descendants) would have to work (much harder) to survive. Man’s sin nature, of course, came to dominate his thoughts and behaviors.
  • Genesis Flood: Holds to some form of “Flood Geology”, wherein a catastrophic, global Flood occurred roughly 4300 to 7000 years ago, utterly destroying Mankind and all land-dwelling creatures (including birds), except for those saved on Noah’s Ark. This is necessary to account for the geological & fossil record in the YEC model. Some believe that certain physical laws may have also been altered at this point, as at the Fall, and possibly the natures of certain animals.


Old Earth Creationism (OEC)

  • mountains and treesBible & Science: More(?) apt to reference the importance of literary genre, context, and acknowledge flexibility of word/phrase definitions in ancient languages. Typically more receptive to the “Two Books” doctrine, in which Scripture (special revelation) and Nature (general revelation) are harmonious, equally reliable and authoritative when studied & interpreted correctly.
  • Creation Week: Lots of variation within the OEC camp for how to best understand the “days” of Creation. Many hold that both contextual and scientific evidence indicate that the proper, literal definition of the ancient Hebrew <yom> in these verses is “a long, finite period of time.” Others use the 24-hour day definition but work out the timing and/or geographical focus differently. Other OECs read the Creation “days” as literary conventions. (I’ll cover these and additional interpretations in Part 3.)
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Typically accepts Big Bang cosmology, along with ages of ~4.56 billion years for the Earth and ~13.8 billion years for the Universe, based on multiple, overlapping dating methods.
  • Evolution: Macroevolution is fully rejected for both scriptural and scientific reasons. Microevolution is, of course, accepted as evident in nature. However, some (like RTB) make the point that speciation without supernatural assistance is only possible among tiny, short-lived creatures with humongous populations — i.e., some viruses and bacteria; possibly ants or termites. Stellar evolution is fully accepted; chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis) is fully rejected.
  • Adam & Eve: As with YEC, views Adam & Eve to be the specially-created, initial human couple, progenitors of all Mankind and first to be created with the imago Dei, which entails a spiritual nature. However, they are dated to anywhere from 10000 to ~100,000 years ago. There was no evolution involved, so they were not genetically related to any other hominids, before or after them. Those other hominids were separate species of advanced primates, which were also likely specially-created.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: Views vary on the degree and nature of the initially idyllic conditions. However, it is commonly recognized that the Garden of Eden was not global, that Adam worked in the Garden, and Romans 5 is believed to refer only to spiritual death, thereby limiting it to modern Man (Homo sapiens sapiens). Thus, outside of the Garden and perhaps to a limited extent within it, there was indeed animal death.
  • The Fall/Curse: Generally acknowledges that no physical laws were altered, nor did pain/suffering/disease/death make their debut (except that Mankind was then subject to death and possibly disease for the first time), nor did thorns & thistles suddenly spring up. Beyond that, there is debate over the degree and nature of the effects of the Curse on Mankind and the rest of Creation. The RTB model, for example, infers that the Creation — or, at least, Earth and its environs — is cursed by virtue of being to some extent at the mercy of sinful Man. Others have suggested that the law of decay, which has been in place since the Beginning, and possibly animal pain/suffering/disease/death may be Curse-related punishments instituted by God, even though the reason for said punishment (i.e., human sin) did not occur until eons later.
  • Genesis Flood: While some OEC proponents hold to a global Flood, most believe that it was local/regional in geographical extent. Also, while some of the latter believe that other groups of humanity escaped or were not affected by the Flood, most believe that Mankind had not branched out very far and that Noah & his family were the only survivors. A date for the Flood lies somewhere in the middle between Adam and the present, obviously, but there is no consensus. The RTB model, which dates Adam & Eve to between 60,000 & 100,000 years ago estimates that Noah lived roughly 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. Finally, the Flood did not affect physical laws or animal natures.


Theistic Evolution(ism) (TE)

  • Bible & Science: Similar to OEC but generally allowing for — even requiring — more metaphor and allegory in reading the Bible, as is common in more liberal theological camps. Tends to attribute much more reliability to mainstream science than to the Bible in matters of nature and scientific implication.
  • Creation Week: Variation of opinion similar to OEC, though often take the entire passage as having little-to-no historical or scientific content.
  • Age of Earth & Universe: Same as OEC.
  • Evolution: Wholeheartedly accepts the conclusions of mainstream science, including macroevolutionary changes, while adding some measure of involvement by God. This involvement is usually limited to a few, very critical junctures in natural history — e.g., creation of the physical universe, creation of first life, imbuing the first man/men with a spirit.
  • Adam & Eve: Either Adam was not an actual, historical individual, or he was chosen from many already evolved “humans” to be the first of a special line of humanity. Eve, of course, was his mate, though not necessarily his first & only. Some have postulated that the “Adam” in Genesis 1 was not the same “Adam” as in Genesis 2.
  • Pre-Fall Conditions: The more conservative TEs hold views similar to OECs, while the rest generally consider the Garden of Eden and/or the story of the Fall to be fictional, so the question is irrelevant.
  • The Fall/Curse: If there actually was an historical “Fall”, then nature was no different prior to it than afterward (as with OEC view). However, the more conservative TEs might hold to a more orthodox view that at least the Adamic race was subject to some effects of sin on the mind and spirit of Man. (I need to do more study on this.)
  • Genesis Flood: Many TEs accept a historical Flood of limited geographical and/or anthropological extent, while others believe the story to be allegorical, intended for theological purposes only. Even the former do not believe Nature was affected.

 

Whew! Obviously, there is a lot more to each position, including the relevant scripture verses for these and other aspects, hermeneutical approaches, addressing strengths & weaknesses of each, explanations of scientific theories, etc. But, that should do for this primer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days…

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Science, Politics, Public Perception, and Wasted Money

I am still slowly working my way through Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, 4th ed. I don’t think I expected the topic of air/water pollution to come up in a tome on economics, but it does make sense, as you’ll see. Cries for increasing efforts toward environmental (i.e., ecological) purification are common — all in the name of saving the land, the wildlife, the children, etc. — and even understandable. But, they come at great cost, and those efforts are not always the best use for that money. Sowell explains…

give-a-hoot“The application of categorical laws prevents the enormous powers of government from being applied at the discretion or whim of individual functionaries, which would invite both corruption and arbitrary oppression. [However, since] there are many things which require discretionary incremental adjustments, for these things categorical laws can be difficult to apply or can produce counterproductive results. For example, while prevention of air pollution and water pollution are widely recognized as legitimate functions of government, which can achieve more economically efficient results in this regard than those of the free market, doing so through categorical laws can create major problems.

Despite the political appeal of categorical phrases like ‘clean water’ and ‘clean air’, there are in fact no such things, never have been, and perhaps never will be. Moreover, there are diminishing returns in removing impurities from water or air. A study of environmental risk regulation cited a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on this:

A former EPA administrator put the problem succinctly when he noted that about 85 percent of the toxic material could be removed from waste sites in a few months, but years are spent trying to remove the last little bit. Removing that last little bit can involve limited technological choice, high cost, devotion of considerable agency resources, large legal fees, and endless argument.

Reducing truly dangerous amounts of impurities from water or air may be done at costs that most people would agree were quite reasonable. But, as higher and higher standards of purity are prescribed by government, in order to eliminate ever more minute traces of ever more remote or more questionable dangers, the costs escalate out of proportion to the benefits. But, even if removing 98 percent of a given impurity costs twice as much as eliminating 97 percent, and removing 99 percent costs ten times as much, the political appeal of categorical phrases like ‘clean water’ may be just as potent when the water is already 99 percent pure as when it was dangerously polluted. That was demonstrated back in the 1970s:

The Council of Economic Advisers argued that making the nation’s streams 99 percent pure, rather than 98 percent pure, would have a cost far exceeding its benefits, but Congress was unmoved.

Depending on what the particular impurity is, minute traces may or may not pose a serious danger. But political controversies over impurities in the water are unlikely to be settled at a scientific level when passions can be whipped up in the name of non-existent ‘clean water’. No matter how pure the water becomes, someone can always demand the removal of more impurities. And, unless the public understands the logical and economic implications of what is being said, that demand can become politically irresistible, since no public official wants to be known as being opposed to clean water.

It is not even certain that reducing extremely small amounts of substances that are harmful in larger amounts reduces risks at all. Even arsenic in the water — in extremely minute traces — has been found to have health benefits. An old saying declares: “It is the dose that makes the poison.” Similar research findings apply to many substances, including saccharin and alcohol. Although high doses of saccharin have been shown to increase the rate of cancer in laboratory rats, very low doses seem to reduce the rate of cancer in these rats. Although a large intake of alcohol shortens people’s lifespan in many ways, very modest amounts of alcohol — like one glass of wine or beer per day — tend to reduce life-threatening conditions like hypertension.

If there is some threshold amount of a particular substance required before it becomes harmful, that makes it questionable whether spending vast amounts of money to try to remove that last fraction of one percent from the air or water is necessarily going to make the public safer by even a minute amount. But what politician wants to be known as someone who blocked efforts to remove arsenic from water?

bear-facepalm-13594_wThe same principle applies in many other contexts, where minute traces of impurities can produce major political and legal battles — and consume millions of tax dollars with little or no net effect on the health or safety of the public. For example, one legal battle raged for a decade over the impurities in a New Hampshire toxic waste site, where these wastes were so diluted that children could have eaten some of the dirt there for 70 days a year without any significant harm — if there had been any children living or playing there, which there were not. As a result of spending more than nine million dollars, the level of impurities was reduced to the point where children could have safely eaten the dirt there 245 days a year. Moreover, without anything being done at all, both parties to the litigation agreed that more than half the volatile impurities would have evaporated by the year 2000. Yet hypothetical dangers to hypothetical children kept the issue going and money being spent.

With environmental safety, as with other kinds of safety, some forms of safety in one respect create dangers in other respects. California, for example, required a certain additive to be put into all gasoline sold in that state, in order to reduce the air pollution from automobile exhaust fumes. However, this new additive tended to leak from filling station storage tanks and automobile gas tanks, polluting the ground water in the first case and leading to more automobile fires in the second. Similarly, government-mandated air bags in automobiles, introduced to save lives in car crashes, have themselves killed small children.

These are all matters of incremental trade-offs to find an optimal amount and kind of safety, in a world where being categorically safe is as impossible as achieving 100 percent clean air or clean water. Incremental trade-offs are made all the time in individual market transactions, but it can be politically suicidal to oppose demands for more clean air, clean water or automobile safety. Therefore saying that the government can improve over the results of individual transactions in a free market is not the same as saying that it will in fact do so. Among the greatest external costs imposed in a society can be those imposed politically by legislators and officials who pay no costs whatever, while imposing billions of dollars in costs on others, in order to respond to political pressures from advocates of particular interests or ideologies.”

This is yet another example in which many millions, even billions, of taxpayer dollars that could be put to good use are instead wasted in unnecessary efforts, thanks largely to the ignorance — in this case, scientific and economic — of the general populace and the obligation(?) of politicians to bow to the wishes of their constituency — or, at least, the vocal minority and/or lobbyists. I’m not sure what the answer is, but a better-educated citizenry — including the politicians, of course, who are supposed to be representing our best interests — would be a good start. If only we could get them to care….

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To Bee Worried, or Not to Bee Worried

honeybee-m“By engaging in simplistic and sometimes misleading environmental narratives — by exaggerating the stakes and brushing over the inconvenient facts that stand in the way of foregone conclusions ­­ — we do our field, and our subjects, a disservice.”  — Hannah Nordhaus, environmental journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament

No one likes to get stung, so we tend to fear, or at least shy away from, bees. But, we also need to remember that, in many ways, bees are our friends. After all, they don’t just pollinate 16% of all the flowering plant species. They also pollinate one-third of our food crops, which not only keeps us well-fed but adds $14-15 billion dollars annually to the U.S. agricultural industry alone. As such, they are an integral part of the food chain, as well as a source of jobs and wealth-building. So, we would have a right to be concerned if something began causing bees to die off.

US honeybee coloniesBack in 2006, some commercial beekeepers started seeing higher-than-normal winter die-offs among honeybees — more than double the usual 15% average. As more reports came out and the media ran with it, we have seen alarmist claims of “a crisis point for crops,” a “threat to our food supply,” and my fellow word-players have warned us of “beemageddon” and the “beepocalypse”. (Heck, I even saw an episode of “Elementary” last season that dealt with it.) It isn’t only honeybees that are affected, either. Bumblebees, which make similar contributions, have seen population declines, too. The overall phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and the various culprits accused of causing it range from parasites (e.g., Varroa mites), neonicotinoid insecticides, and GMOs, to coldspells from anthropogenic climate change, even cell phones.

Enter, the U.S. Federal Government to the rescue…

In 2014, the Obama administration issued a presidential memo directing the formation of a task-force to develop “a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” Last month, the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and including the heads of multiple other Executive departments and agencies, announced its creatively-named “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators”. The plan? Reduce the honeybee-colony losses to “sustainable” levels and create 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat, all for the low, low price of $82 million. (I wonder how long before that estimate gets adjusted upward.)

A noble goal, and perhaps even a reasonable price — that is, assuming the problem is real and as bad as we are led to believe. Consider this, as reported by Shawn Regan at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC):

o  There are more honeybee colonies in the U.S. today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006.

o  According to the USDA, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high.

o  U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.

Regan continues…

“Almost no one has reported this, but it’s true. You can browse the USDA reports yourself. [Note: See the graphs in this post.] Since colony collapse disorder began in 2006, there has been virtually no detectable effect on the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States. Nor has there been any significant impact on food prices or production.

How can this be? In short, commercial beekeepers have adapted to higher winter honeybee losses by actively rebuilding their colonies. This is often done by splitting healthy colonies into multiple hives and purchasing new queen bees to rebuild the lost hives. Beekeepers purchase queen bees through the mail from commercial breeders for as little as $15 to $25 and can produce new broods rather quickly. Other approaches include buying packaged bees (about $55 for 12,000 worker bees and a fertilized queen) or replacing the queen to improve the health of the hive. By doing so, beekeepers are maintaining healthy and productive colonies — all part of a robust and extensive market for pollination services.”

honey-production

Source: USDA NASS Honey Production Report

While this need to replenish their increased losses means that commercial beekeepers are obliged to buy more queens & workers, the abovementioned ease and speed with which large numbers of queens can be raised has kept commercial breeders from needing to raise their already low prices. Now, it is true that the pollination fees beekeepers charge producers of almonds — a very important pollination crop — have more than doubled in recent years. But, the rise began a few years before CCD was reported, so CCD can only account for a portion of the inflation. The almond producers have had to pass on much of their increased costs to the consumer, so you might have to pay an additional 3 cents or less for a pound of Smokehouse Almonds. (Not exactly a budget-breaker.) The increased fee income has helped many beekeepers more than recover the costs of rebuilding their lost colonies.

To summarize, then, commercial bee colonies are stable and healthy, honey production is up, and economists Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman’s research on the relevant markets led them to conclude that CCD has had almost no discernible economic impact. It seems that commercial beekeepers are not the “passive, unimaginative onlookers” to disaster that some journalists make them out to be. They actually know what they’re doing, and they have responded & adapted to this problem as they have to others. Also, while the CCD phenomenon is worthy of concern and research, the supposedly impending bee/food crisis is hardly the calamity that some, including the Obama administration, are making it out to be. In fact, as Regan has observed,

“With U.S. honeybee colonies now at a 20-year high, you have to wonder: Is our national pollination strategy a solution in search of a crisis?”

So much for the “beepocalypse”….

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Executive Actions, Orders, Memos, and Proclamations

“And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”  — President Obama on 1/14/2014, continuing his “pen and phone” comments about advancing his economic agenda as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year

A few weeks ago, I defined and explained the differences between “executive authority” and “executive privilege”, particularly in regards to U.S. government. I promised to also address three more, similar and related terms — “executive action”, “executive order”, “executive memorandum” — in hopes of clarifying their differences and how they may (not) be used by the President to further his agenda. I’ll do that now, and I’ll even throw in a fourth term — the “presidential proclamation” — for good measure.

Obama signs exec order“Executive action” is actually a somewhat vague and broad term, referring to just about any informal proposal or move that the President expresses his desire to make, usually calling on Congress or his administration to do something. However, even when the President lays out some “executive actions”, they are simply his (or her) personal wishlist of things he wants to accomplish — i.e., items for his desired agenda. None of the “actions” has any legal weight behind it until either an executive order, memo, or proclamation is issued to implement it. These executive instruments are the ones we need to be wary of. But, according to political writer Tom Murse, “Those that do actually set policy can be invalidated by the courts or undone by legislation passed by Congress.” I might also add that sometimes the term “presidential action” is used instead. At whitehouse.gov, “Presidential Actions” is used as an umbrella term to include executive orders, presidential [aka executive] memoranda, and proclamations. Apparently, it does not list the unimplemented “actions”.

Given the way the terms “executive action” (EA) and “executive order” (EO) are sometimes used, one might think they are interchangeable. Even the professional media have been known to mislabel one for the other on occasion. For example, when Obama issued 23 executive actions to curb gun violence back in Jan. 2013, some were touting them as “executive orders” (which gives the impression of accomplishing more than they are) or at least assuming they had the same legal force. But, they don’t. So, while conservatives and others were justified in objecting to much of what Obama wanted to do re the gun issue, those like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were wrong (this time) when they accused the President of “abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat.” (One might say Rubio jumped the gun on that one.) On the contrary, Obama was perfectly within his rights to express his desire to take “executive action”.

What about executive orders, then? Political writer Robert Longley puts it this way:

“A presidential executive order (EO) is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers. In many ways, presidential executive orders are similar to written orders, or instructions issued by the president of a corporation to its department heads or directors. Thirty days after being published in the Federal Register, executive orders take effect. While they do bypass the U.S. Congress and the standard legislative law making process, no part of an executive order may direct the agencies to conduct illegal or unconstitutional activities.”

It should also be noted (as Murse does) that executive orders can be reversed by the courts, and Congress can overturn one by passing legislation in conflict with the EO. Alternatively, as always Congress may use its “power of the purse” to refuse to fund, in part or as a whole, the execution of policy measures contained within an executive order.

The first U.S. President to issue an “executive order” was, of course, George Washington in 1789, though it wasn’t called that. Executive orders are not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but the courts have determined that such a thing is justified by the requirement (Article II, Section 3, Clause 5) that the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”. For many decades, executive orders had no official form or substance and went largely unannounced and undocumented. To restate what Longley said, they are typically issued to direct or facilitate 1) the operational management of the Executive Branch; 2) the operational management of federal agencies or officials; or, 3) the execution of statutory or constitutional, presidential responsibilities.

Some notable examples include FDR’s Executive Order 6581, which created the Export-Import Bank of the United States; Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II. Clinton’s Executive Order 13155 would have required federal benefits and services to be provided in foreign languages, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation, in a paper by Todd F. Gaziano (Director, Center for Legal & Judicial Studies), has accused presidents of abusing executive orders, using them to bypass Congress to make laws and to redirect existing laws from their original mandates.

While the abovementioned 23 executive actions did not carry much weight, the 3 presidential memoranda issued at the same time did. What is an executive/ presidential memo[randum]? According to New York Magazine, “executive memo” is just a less “controversial and politically charged” term for an executive order. But, technically it is a different type of “administrative order”, issued to manage and govern the actions, practices, and policies of the Executive Branch’s various departments and agencies. Though an executive memo is generally considered less “prestigious” than an executive order, they are both vaguely defined and often either one can be used to do the same thing. Whereas executive orders are numbered, memoranda are not numbered, not indexed and, until recently, difficult to quantify.

According to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress No. 95-722 A,

“They differ in that executive orders must be published in the Federal Register whereas presidential memoranda are similarly published only if the President determines that they have “general applicability and legal effect.” [Note: That is a very important difference.] If issued under a valid claim of authority and published, executive orders and presidential memoranda have the force and effect of law and courts are required to take judicial notice of their existence…. One may say that the difference between executive orders and presidential memoranda may be, similar to executive orders and proclamations, one more of form than of substance…. [I]t is important to examine the legal basis for each executive order and presidential memoranda issued and the manner in which the President has used these instruments.”

exec orders and memosThe presidential memorandum comes in three flavors: presidential finding/determination, memorandum of disapproval, and hortatory memorandum. The first is a document issued by the White House stating a determination resulting in an official policy or position of the Executive Branch. It must be required by a statute and issued before certain actions can be taken. (E.g., President Clinton’s Presidential Determination 95-45, exempting the U.S. Air Force’s facility in the vicinity of Groom Lake, NV (aka “Area 51″) from environmental disclosure laws.) The second type is essentially a public veto statement, in which the President explains that he is withholding his approval for a particular bill/act/resolution for stated reason(s). The hortatory memorandum is a broad policy statement issued to direct (or “encourage”?) an executive agency to take certain (types of) actions. (More on these memos below.)

As for presidential proclamations, I’m going to cheat a bit and cite the following from Wikipedia (which, in turn, cites an authority):

“According to political science professor Phillip J. Cooper, a presidential proclamation “states a condition, declares a law and requires obedience, recognizes an event or triggers the implementation of a law (by recognizing that the circumstances in law have been realized)”. Presidents define situations or conditions on situations that become legal or economic truth. These orders carry the same force of law as executive orders -— the difference between the two is that executive orders are aimed at those inside government while proclamations are aimed at those outside government.

The administrative weight of these proclamations is upheld because they are often specifically authorized by congressional statute, making them “delegated unilateral powers”. Presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical presidential tool for policy making because of the perception of proclamations as largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature. However, the legal weight of presidential proclamations suggests their importance to presidential governance.”

Or, more succinctly, as per the San Diego State University on-line library:

“Proclamations (Proc.) are issued for ceremonial purposes (Proc. 7211 Parent’s Day) or as broad policy statements (Proc. 4865 High Seas Interdiction of Illegal Aliens).”

In my research, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ostensibly freed the American slaves, was referred to as an executive order. However, given its name and the fact that it was a broad policy statement not limited to those inside government, it does indeed appear to be better classified as a presidential or executive proclamation.

All clear?

So, you may be asking, where is the threat from the Obama administration? Some have pointed to the number of executive orders issued, but liberals — including Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the President himself — have countered that he has actually issued fewer executive orders than any president in the past century. And, as of Dec. 2014, at least, they are correct. But, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Obama has issued more presidential memos “than any other president in history -— using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.” The report at usatoday.com continues…

“When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.

Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations… [and] to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.”

Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, observes that after laws and “normal” regulations, presidential memoranda now have the most regulatory impact.

C1-number-restrictions-executive-order_0

Note: The data shown in the above chart correspond to the number contained in executive orders and proclamations issued in the prior year.

But, even those numbers are insufficient. Think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Mercatus Center have pointed out that some executive orders (and proclamations) have much more impact on policy than others. So, Mercatus decided in 2014 to analyze the content, not just the number, of executive orders and proclamations. (I wish they had been able to include presidential memoranda in their study. According to USA Today, “About half of the memoranda published on the White House website are deemed so inconsequential that they’re not counted as memoranda in the Federal Register.”)

“[W]e have used RegData, a database producing statistics based on the Code of Federal Regulations, to examine some of the content of these executive orders and proclamations for the past six presidencies, through the end of Obama’s first term. In particular, we examine the usage of restrictions —- words that create binding, legal obligations, such as “shall” and “must.” Although the current administration has issued fewer executive orders than other modern administrations, the figures below show that its total usage of restrictions in executive orders and proclamations exceeds that of any of the past six administrations, with the exception of Clinton’s first term….

Executive orders and proclamations do not have to contain restrictions…. Executive orders can be used to provide information or suggestions, or they can be used to create constraints on actions sets in a way that is similar to regulation. Restrictions create binding, legal constraints, whereas suggestions may not….

Simply counting executive orders, pages, or words can produce misleading statistics. In legal language, at least, the frequency with which restrictions occur can serve as a proxy for measuring the overall restrictiveness of text. Content matters.”

(Check out the Mercatus report at the link to see more charts and further analysis, revealing additional trends. Also, the USA Today report is very eye-opening.)

These are not the only questionable methods the current administration uses to accomplish its policy goals, particularly in the face of pushback from a Republican majority in Congress. But, the somewhat deceptive use of presidential memoranda and the excessively restrictive nature of executive orders and proclamations — all of which carry legal force — reveals Obama’s always pushing the limits of his authority, even to the point of executive overreach.

As Crews says, Obama’s “imperious” use of pen-and-phone tactics are increasingly threatening, especially given the administration’s lack of transparency and accountability. It’s also easier to do, apparently, what with the increased intrusion of the federal government into the private sector. Crews also points out that, with the issuance of 12 memos over the first half of 2014, Obama was able to: “create a dubious new financial instrument, implement new positive rights regarding work hours and employment preferences, seem to nod toward California-style written consent before sex, blur energy and infrastructure in a manner aimed at extending government control and more.” All without an act of Congress.

President Obama says that, as long as Congress keeps obstructing his agenda, “I’ll keep taking actions on my own.” I believe him, and now we have a little better understanding of what that involves. If you aren’t angry or, at the very least, concerned about this, I hope your eyes are opened soon.

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Sustainer of the Universe

The God AbductionI published “The Right to Refuse Service” a day earlier than usual this week, so I decided to do a “bonus” post today. Besides, I hadn’t done anything science apologetic-y in a while. This is an excerpt from The God Abduction: How Scientific Discovery Strengthens the Case for a Creator by Ron Londen, writer, photographer, and self-described “lifelong science nerd”. I’m currently less than a third of the way through the book but am really enjoying it — delightfully & clearly written for the layman, providing lots of good information with plenty of end-notes referring curious readers to articles and books by notables in the various fields explored. Consider this post a sequel of sorts to my “Living on a Razor’s Edge” series….

“Remember back to Albert Einstein’s original idea of a “cosmological constant” (Chapter 3). He theorized an “antigravity” force that only acted at a distance, undetectable and irrelevant up close. He came up with the idea to allow general relativity to accommodate an eternal and unchanging universe. When the data came out strongly favoring an expanding universe, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, calling it the greatest blunder of his career. Eight decades later, the cosmological constant was discovered, performing the opposite function Einstein originally expected. How positively Einstein! Even his biggest mistake turned out to be correct.

The cosmological constant is also widely called “dark energy,” perhaps a rhetorical companion to “dark matter” and the recently discovered “dark flow,” which we won’t go into here. What’s with all the “dark” talk? Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy from Cosmology, Inc., to increase funding. Or maybe these terms are intended to make astronomers look dangerous and edgy, perhaps a ploy to attract more girls. If so, I predict failure.

(Let me beg the indulgence of the physics community for having a little fun at their expense. In truth, the term “dark energy” is invoked because there are several competing theories to explain the phenomena. The distinctions between them are technical and beyond the scope of this book. And no clear consensus has yet emerged. Suffice it to say whatever it is called or how it is explained, something is behaving very much like Einstein’s cosmological constant.)

There is a bigger point. The universe is flat, balancing on a knife-edge between wild expansion and a slowdown that will eventually collapse. “Flat” [as opposed to "open" or "closed"], as it turns out, is the most life-friendly condition for the universe, and we have the cosmological constant to thank for it.

But there is a theoretical fly in the observational ointment, and it’s a big one. The best theories of “quantum cosmology” — that is, using quantum mechanics (discussed in the next chapter) to explain the beginning of the universe — suggest that dark energy should actually be a very powerful factor, so powerful that it ought to rip the universe apart in a fraction of a second. Since the universe has not been ripped apart, scientists have assumed some unknown factor was driving the dark energy to zero by balancing one factor against the other. They didn’t know what was causing this equilibrium, but whatever it was appeared to balance out the cosmological constant to be zero — and zero is an easy number to ignore. But the 1998 discovery (and others since) have revealed a value that is not zero, and also much smaller than expected. The predicted value varies wildly from the actual measurement of the cosmological constant.

einstein_medHow much does theory disagree with fact? By 120 orders of magnitude. For decades, all observations indicated a cosmological constant of 0. Instead, we find a decimal point followed by 120 zeroes and a 1. “This apparent discrepancy would involve the most extreme fine-tuning problem known in physics,” wrote cosmologist Lawrence Krauss in a groundbreaking paper on the subject.

Something cancels the cosmological constant out to 119 decimal places, but fails at the 120th. What would happen if it didn’t? Using well-established methods of theoretical physics, as noted earlier, the “predicted” value would rip the universe apart. But what if dark energy were canceled out by, say, one less decimal place? Physicist Paul Davies weighs in:

“So our existence depends on the dark energy’s not being too large. A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life: if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does, the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form. A factor of ten may seem like a wide margin, but one power of ten on a scale of 120 is a pretty close call. The cliche that ‘life is balanced on a knife-edge’ is a staggering understatement in this case: no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine.”

As noted earlier, an original recognition that the mass of the universe was incredibly fine-tuned was explained away by the idea of inflation. But what replaced it was fine-tuned to a vastly more precise degree, almost beyond the ability to visualize. The ratio represented by that fine-tuning, astronomer Hugh Ross observes, is “vastly greater than the difference between the mass of a single electron and the mass of the entire universe.”

The depth of the fine-tuning we encounter makes a subtle point about the difference between our world and our tools for exploring it. Our human efforts are characterized by hard-won progress. We struggle with the facts, we argue, and some theories gain sway at the expense of others. In that sense it is an evolutionary process, after a fashion — with the effort, intellect, and will of human scientists standing in for natural selection.

But our universe had no such latitude. It had to be right, exactly right — “dime in the universe” right — from the earliest conceivable instant. Our best scientists argue and struggle to find the truth, and over the course of a century they have found this: an unexplainable moment forming a universe that is incomprehensibly fine-tuned for life.”

Reading and hearing of such exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, down to the subatomic level and the very fundamental forces of nature, reminds me of God’s incredibly great love for us. It also demonstrates His incalculable power and the fact that He not only created all matter, energy, space, & time, but He continues to hold it all together — balanced on that “knife’s edge” — as an act of His almighty will. There are many Bible passages that speak of this, but here is one of my favorites:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power….”  — Hebrews 1:1-3a (NASB)

Yahweh, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!

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The Right to Refuse Service

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

– signs posted on restaurants nationwide

I’m sure you have all heard about the “Sweet Cakes” case, in which Aaron and Melissa Klein were recently ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to a lesbian couple because they refused to bake them a wedding cake based on their religious convictions. (And, now, the state of Oregon says it will place a lien on the Kleins’ home, if they don’t hurry up and pay.) The Kleins didn’t refuse to bake said cake because the potential customers were lesbians, but because the cake was for celebrating something the Kleins could not in good conscience be party to. Commenting on the case, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said,

“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are.”

She is absolutely wrong.

Assuming you own the business, you should have every right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. I don’t care if they are LGBT or straight; liberal or conservative; Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist; black or white; Trekkie or Whovian; open carry or pacifist; vegan or meat-eater. I also don’t care if you are a racist, bigot, or generic jerk, or if you have legitimate, practical and/or principled reasons for discriminating against one or more groups, characteristics, or behaviors. If it’s your business, you should be able to serve or not serve whomever you want, in general or only in particular circumstances, for whatever bleepin’ reason you please!

AAUGH!!!

AAUGH!!!

You should be able to make this known with signs or word-of-mouth, via social media or traditional media, or not at all until a certain situation arises. Of course, as soon as any such restrictions to your clientele become known, you run the risk of losing business, because even people whom you would not turn away but who object to your policy can & will take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, others will appreciate and support you all the more. You chalk it up to competitive risk within a free-market system and go into it with eyes wide open. That’s up to you. And any businesses involved in marketing, tax prep, vendors, etc., that you want to do business with should have the right to accept or refuse your business, for the same reasons and with the same potential ramifications.

I don’t care if you run a bakery, print shop, B&B, restaurant, gun store, florist, photography studio, computer repair service, or anything else. No private business should be told — either by government or by any other group (unless you voluntarily submit to their authority) — who they must or must not serve or what kinds of services/products they must or must not provide. No one has a right to demand that you serve them, nor do they have a “right” to not be offended or have their feelings hurt. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” These aren’t legal arguments. And you should not be under threat of a lawsuit — with potentially huge fines, legal fees, even jailtime, putting your business, home, and/or life at risk — for not serving them. That’s just wrong and a violation of your rights! The fact that this is even an issue in this of all countries is a symptom of the sad state of affairs we are in and the constant battle to maintain our constitutionally recognized freedoms.

AAarrgh!!

Now, many of you are probably yelling at me through your screen and reminding me of anti-discrimination law like the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin — “places of public accommodation” being hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs, and stores. (Non-profits, e.g., churches (for now), are generally exempt.) Also, there is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on disability. In return, I would first point out that you can refuse to serve someone even if they are in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people. (Unfortunately, this can work for or against you, depending on the judge.) But, I also question the constitutionality of such anti-discrimination laws and suspect that they impinge on First Amendment rights like freedom of association and, in cases like that of “Sweet Cakes”, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. I would also point to the benefits of full competitiveness in a free-market capitalist economy and the often detrimental effects of unnecessary regulation and other manner of government intervention in business.

But, my rant is not really about what laws may or may not be in force right now. I’m talking about what, in my humble opinion, should be the case. Ultimately, it’s your business. Barring any criminal activity or issues of genuine public health & safety, you should be able to determine your own clientele. It’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.

OK, I’ve said my piece….

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On This 4th of July

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

I hope y’all are enjoying your long holiday weekends! If you have been fortunate enough to have good weather, fantastic! My family didn’t plan any activities, and it’s just as well, because it has been raining on and off here all weekend. Even got a brief thunderstorm Saturday. But, rain or shine, it is still time to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made in the founding of this nation, and the many freedoms we still — for the most part and for the moment, anyway — enjoy as citizens and residents of the United States of America.

Fun Fact: Nobody actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776!

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On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee presented his resolution for independence from Great Britain to the 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Not all the colonies were ready to commit, so the delegates took a few weeks off to rest, discuss informally, and communicate with their constituents. Meanwhile, a “Committee of Five” — with Thomas Jefferson as lead penman — was tasked with drafting a formal declaration, which was presented for review on June 28. Congress then reconvened on July 1 to resume debate on Lee’s Resolution. The next day, July 2, they formally adopted the resolution for independence, with 12 of the 13 colonies voting in favor. (Still-hesitant New York abstained.) The day after that, John Adams wrote the following to his wife, Abigail, about the momentous occasion:

“… The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

Of course, we now know that it was July 4th, when the 2nd Continental Congress formally adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, that became historically celebrated. But, Adams got pretty much all the rest of it correct, even if the celebratory specifics have been modified over time and vary from place to place.

Despite later claims by Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson that they signed the document on July 4, most historians agree that this was false. New York’s delegates finally gave their official support to the Declaration of Independence on July 7, after receiving authorization from their home assembly. But, it wasn’t until August 2, after the Declaration had been copied in clear handwriting onto parchment, that most of the 56 signatories signed the official document. (A few held out until a later date, and two never signed at all.) Thus marks the formal and auspicious birth of the great “American Experiment” that continues even today.

Now, we don’t claim to be a perfect nation or to consistently actualize our founding principles. Our nation and our government will never be perfect. It never can be, because ‘We The People’ are imperfect. But, what we have done for the good, domestically and around the world, over the past 239 years has been truly amazing and unmatched in blood and treasure. It is easy to get caught up in the politics and the various worldview battles evidenced by daily headlines. But, although we are under assault from without and within, I firmly believe that the U.S.A. is still the greatest, most exceptional nation that has ever been. I, for one, am Proud to be an American!

That said, I invite you to follow this link to a video of country music legend Lee Greenwood, backed up by the Jay Sekulow Band, performing Greenwood’s beloved tribute to America, “God Bless the U.S.A.”. Enjoy!

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Executive Authority vs. Executive Privilege

“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” — President Obama, not-so-subtly implying that he’ll do whatever he can to advance his agenda

As you may have noticed, the current administration of the U.S. government, arguably more than any before it, has a habit of pushing the boundaries of its authority (to put it mildly). It isn’t very subtle about it, either. In fact, usually its efforts are rather bold (e.g., unconstitutional “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); “executive amnesty”) and obvious to those paying attention. Unfortunately, the other two branches of government haven’t always taken the necessary measures to put the President in his place. Or, whatever they do is too little, too late. But, what exactly is “executive authority”, what are its limits, and how does it differ from, say, executive privilege, another term thrown around that sounds like it might be sort of similar? I decided to do a little research to help clarify.

checks and balancesFirst, let’s look at the words separately. The adjective “executive” is defined generally as “of, relating to, or suited for carrying out plans, duties, etc.,” or, even more relevantly, as “pertaining to or charged with the execution of laws and policies or the administration of public affairs.” (See Dictionary.com.) The noun “authority” means “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine,” though it can also refer to “a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.”

Now, a quick review from American Government (or Civics) class. In the U.S., we have a separation of powers between three branches of government: the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive. The first consists of the two houses of the U.S. Congress — i.e., the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their main purpose is to make (i.e., write and pass) federal laws. The Judiciary consists of the federal court system, with the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) being at the top. Their main purpose is to interpret the laws. The Executive branch consists of the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet, and various administrative agencies (e.g., IRS, EPA, FDA, SEC, Cabinet-level departments) that help to carry out executive functions. Those functions are the implementation, enforcement, and administration of federal laws, as directed by the President. The President is also head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. (For more details, visit whitehouse.gov. Wikipedia gets some of this shamefully wrong.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to realize that “executive authority” refers to the jurisdiction or rights of the President (with the aid of his underlings) to perform the various duties of the Executive Branch. It does not include creating or interpreting laws or performing any other duties reserved by the Constitution for the Legislative and Judiciary Branches or for the individual States and/or the citizens themselves. (See Article II of the Constitution.) These would be examples of “executive overreach”. Of course, this works both ways, since the other branches and the States should not be allowed to assume or usurp duties that belong to the Executive Branch or one another, either. (Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems to be effectively (re-)writing laws, these days.) This function of the separate branches of government with their respective domains and responsibility of keeping an eye on each other is called “checks and balances” and is designed to prevent any one branch from getting too powerful.

“Executive privilege”, on the other hand, is a totally different sort of thing. As per Dictionary.com, a “privilege” is “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most,” or, more specifically, “a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities.” In this context, “executive privilege” has a very particular application. Here is the legal definition (from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary):

“The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decision-making processes of the executive branch. As demonstrated by the Watergate hearings, this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.”

frabz-holderironyHistorically, a president will invoke executive privilege in an effort to resist a subpoena or other means by which Congress or the courts demand access to information and/or personnel from the Executive Branch. Sometimes, the administration will then volunteer limited or partial access to what was requested. If challenged, the “executive privilege” invocation may be denied, if SCOTUS determines the reasoning for it was insufficient and that the larger public interest is served by full(er) disclosure. An example of the George W. Bush administration invoking executive privilege was during the investigation into former presidential counsel Harriet Miers. An example from the Obama administration can be found in the infamous “Fast and Furious” investigation.

It must be very tempting to abuse this privilege and, to be fair, it isn’t entirely clear what its limits are. The concept is not explicitly found in the Constitution but has been inferred by SCOTUS as either inherent in “separation of powers” or rooted within “the supremacy of each branch within its own assigned area of constitutional duties.” But, it is not meant to be simply a CYA maneuver for the President, nor does it appear to be the presidential version of “pleading the 5th”.

In the near future, I hope to also address executive actions, orders, and memoranda, which are often the means by which Obama (as with others before him) attempts to overreach his constitutionally granted executive authority.

‘Til next week….

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