Atheists & secularists, like anyone else, will sometimes speak of what gives their life meaning and purpose. It might be fighting against religious dogma, or helping people think rationally, or spending time with their family, or "making the world a little better place", or... whatever. Note that these are self-imposed "purposes" or "meaning", often involving leaving some sort of intellectual or philosophical legacy. But, is this really consistent with their worldview? Have you ever heard of Lawrence M. Krauss or Glenn D. Starkman? Even if you don't run in scientific circles, you may be familiar with Krauss, who is a well-known ...
"Those who are unwilling or incapable of discerning or judging between good and evil are in this manner revealing either their disobedience or their immaturity." -- Pastor E.L. Bynum In our last "episode", we began to address the issue of what it means to "judge" others. Specifically, we took a practical, nonsectarian look at why people cry, "Don't judge me!" and why we should, in fact, make fair judgments about others' behaviors & beliefs, always with the welfare of them and others around them in mind. Now, what about Christians, in particular? Aren't we supposed to be extra loving and kind and ...
If you are at all familiar with Christian apologetics, whether engaging challenges from non-theists or from Christians with different views, you know that the topic of pain, suffering, and death is a major issue. (In fact, Darwin's struggle with this was the impetus for developing his theory.) These things are considered "evil", so the question is "Why would a 'good' God make a world full of pain, suffering, & death for His creatures to endure?", or "How could God include pain, suffering, & death (for millions of years) in His 'very good' creation?" The Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) solution is that none ...
Welcome to the 3rd and penultimate installment of this series, in which I explain how self-deluded I have been about my own hatred and bigotry regarding, well, just about everyone but straight, white, white-collar males between 18 & 65 years of age (or thereabouts). Where was I? Oh... [caption id="attachment_1341" align="alignleft" width="225"] Pro-choice Activists[/caption] 7) I hate women. And it's not just because I'm single. (Or, should that be the other way around?) ;-> In particular, I think most of today's "feminist" positions and causes reveal a certain level of narcissism and another excuse to play the blame game for ones woes, real ...
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -- Abraham Lincoln "AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!" That was my response (posted on Facebook), give or take an "R" or two, to the 2012 Election results. Actually, that was my second FB post. My first was, "Crap on a stick! I'm so depressed." But, that's not quite right. I'm very disappointed, obviously. And a bit morose. But, really, I'm angry. So, here goes the rant... Are you freakin' kidding me?!! Do we really have to listen for 4 more years to this pompous, Marxist ...
Sometimes, I can't help myself. I mean, people make spurious claims and ridiculous accusations against God, Christians, "the Church", etc., all the time. Usually, I let it go. Can't be constantly getting into long, drawn-out internet debates ALL the time, after all. But, sometimes, I just have to say something. And, so it went the other day, when a FB friend of a FB friend, amidst generally mocking comments, claimed that Christians were responsible for "lots of mass murders." Of course, I had my suspicions about what she was referring to. There are some nasty stains on Christianity's record. But, I also ...
"I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother." -- Mitt Romney, in an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe (7/26/2005) In "The Pro-Life Position: Just One Question", I argued that if the unborn is indeed a member of the human family, no matter how small or odd it looks, then "no justification for killing it is adequate." But, then I left a footnote saying that there are rare exceptions to that rule. So, I figured I may as well address those now.... When the ...
Part 1: Firm Foundation "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam." -- Popeye, the sailorman Given the subjects that I usually read and write about on this blog, critical thinking really comes in handy. Not that I'm some great logician or anything. Far from it! But, over the last few years, I've been exposed to the discipline of informal logic by some pretty darn good thinkers. (At least, I think they are.) I've noticed that I am now more apt to notice logical errors & fallacies when reading or listening to someone's arguments for his/her position on a ...
[caption id="attachment_1464" align="alignleft" width="300"] Original Star Trek bridge crew[/caption] I remember when, many years ago, I first found out that the cast of the original Star Trek series did not always get along and a huge part of the problem was William Shatner's ego. Star Trek was one of my all-time favorite TV shows (and the movies and the books), and Shatner was a favorite actor when I was growing up -- right up there with Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, and later Tom Selleck of Magnum, P.I., fame. So, I was understandably disappointed to find out my "heroes" ...
"[S]cience and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach." -- Dr. Martin Andreas Nowak, mathematical biologist Once upon a time (actually, it was about a year ago) in a land far, far away (OK, it was here in NE Florida), I had a brief but interesting discussion. I had been taking a few skills & personality assessment tests, which involved identifying what I thought my strengths & weaknesses were, figuring out my personality traits, etc. While discussing the results with a couple family members, the religiously-agnostic one noted, "Huh! You consider yourself ...
“You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” — Psalm 73:24-26 (HCSB)
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of old hymns, but there are a few that I like. I thought I’d share one of my favorites today: “Be Thou My Vision”. It isn’t specifically Easter-ish but more about living a life pleasing to God with Him as our guide and priority. I love the Celtic sound and feel of it. In fact, it was originally an Old Irish Hymn, “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile” (or “Rop Tú Mo Baile”) by 6th-century Irish poet Dallán Forgaill. Mary E. Byrne translated it into English in 1905, and Eleanor H. Hull versified the text in 1912, though some have made slight revisions since then. The current tune is an arrangement by David Evans of SLANE, an old Irish folk tune, first paired with Hull’s verse in 1919 by Leopold Dix.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.
Riches I need not, nor vain, empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and thou only first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Here are a few versions I like, and I hope you will, too:
Nice harmonies on this one…
This one is quite haunting…
“Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.” — Daniel Webster, early American politician
When a wrong has been committed, it’s a normal, healthy human desire to want to see justice done. I am defining “justice” here as fair punishment that is proportional to the severity of the offense. As Thomas Jefferson said, “justice is instinct[ive] and innate; the moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing and hearing.” Of course, there are times when mitigating circumstances justify (if I can use that term here) some amount of leniency or mercy. And, when *we* are on the receiving end, mercy sounds awfully good. But, generally speaking, justice is what we want and rightfully so.
The thing is, for a philosophical naturalist/materialist to be consistent with his own worldview, he can neither condemn a criminal nor seek justice. I have three reasons for making this claim (though there may be more), and they boil down to 1) biology, 2) determinism, and 3) a lack of moral grounding. To start us off, here are a few observations from Christian author & apologist Hank Hanegraaff:
“From a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material, they could not be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year, because physical identity changes over time. We are not the same people today that we were yesterday. Every day we lose millions of microscopic particles. In fact, every seven years or so, virtually every part of our material anatomy changes, apart from aspects of our neurological system. Therefore, from a purely material perspective, the person who previously committed a crime is presently not the same person. Yet a criminal who attempts to use this line of reasoning as a defense would not get very far. Such legal maneuvering simply does not fly even in an age of scientific enlightenment. Legally and intuitively, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time.”
In other words, in demanding justice for crimes committed, the philosophical naturalist must borrow, however subconsciously, the supernaturalist’s concept of a non-physical soul in order to assume continuity of identity of the one on trial.
Hanegraaff then lays out the naturalist’s second problem…
“Freedom of the will presupposes that we are more than material robots. If I am merely material, my choices are a function of such factors as genetic makeup and brain chemistry. Therefore, my decisions are not free; they are fatalistically determined. The implications of such a notion are profound. In a worldview that embraces fatalistic determinism, I cannot be held morally accountable for my actions, since reward and punishment make sense only if we have freedom of the will. In a solely material world, reason itself is reduced to the status of a conditioned reflex. Moreover, the very concept of love is rendered meaningless. Rather than being an act of the will, love is relegated to a robotic procedure that is fatalistically determined by physical processes.”
We can, of course, replace ‘love’ in those last couple sentences with just about any emotion or psychological phenomenon. Those would include hate, greed, lust, jealousy, cruelty, or any longing for justice when Person A is injured in some way by Person B. The philosophical naturalist must accept that anyone who commits a crime — or any other act the naturalist deems to be “bad” — can’t help themselves, as they are just “dancing to their DNA”, as Richard Dawkins might put it.
What is “bad”, anyway? How did the philosophical naturalist decide what was bad/wrong vs. what is good/right? Some will tell you that the individual can decide what is good/right for himself, while others prefer the “society says” model. But, those are just versions of moral relativism, whereby good/right becomes merely one’s preference or opinion. In such a scenario, if a person (or his self-governing community) decides that lying, theft, rape, and murder are acceptable behaviors, then they are morally “good”… for them. If you think they are morally bad/wrong, that’s just your opinion. (Ironically, proponents of such a view will often judge your view as “bad” and tell you you should not say or believe that way.)
For more on this, I turn to another author/apologist, David Wood:
“If naturalism is true, there are no objective values (i.e., values that are valid independent of our opinions or preferences). Of course, in a naturalist’s world, human beings would still be free to value various things, such as life, money, freedom, pleasure, and so on. But in naturalism, such values are either personal (I like grape soda best), cultural (we like freedom of speech in the West), or a product of evolution (we should work for the good of our species). These values aren’t objective, however. There is no independent standard by which to judge that such values are more valid than their opposites. You may hate grape soda. Some cultures despise free speech. And while human beings clearly want to preserve our species, many competing species seek their own preservation, often at the expense of other species that are seeking their preservation. What makes human beings right when it comes to our values? Assuming naturalism is true, nothing makes our values right in any objective sense.”
Bottom line, then, is that the philosophical naturalist has no grounding for his “moral” preferences. Without valid grounding, there is no true basis for demanding justice for acts that are merely the outcomes of personal preferences or reflections of opinion. (Which, remember, were determined by the perpetrator’s genetics.) He can’t be blamed (or commended), let alone punished, for anything… period. In such a worldview, there can be no such thing as true criminal justice. The concept doesn’t even make sense.
The Christian worldview, on the other hand, includes the existence of the immortal human soul, which allows for continuity of identity over time. Christian orthodoxy also teaches that humans are not merely material robots; we do indeed have free will and are morally responsible for our thoughts and actions. And, of course, Christianity holds that objective moral law does exist and is grounded in the existence and character of the Moral Law Giver — i.e., the triune God of the Bible. This same God will also judge the living and the dead. Christians, therefore, have a strong foundation for condemning criminals for violation of moral laws and for believing in, advocating, and hoping for justice, both here on Earth and in the afterlife.
As we head into the Easter season, I can’t help but think of one particular Man who was executed ~2000 years ago, even though he had committed no crime. Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man, who lived a perfectly sinless life, became the Lamb that was slain in our stead. When He died, He took on our sin, and His righteousness was imputed to those who did and would serve Him. He then rose from the dead and, weeks later, joined the Father in Heaven.
We all commit crimes against the Holy and Sovereign God. Some spit in His face when He offers redemption and continue to rebel against Him until their dying day and beyond. When He banishes them from His presence for all eternity, perfect justice will be carried out. They will get exactly what they want, and justice will be done. But, for those of us who know and serve Him, the Father “sees” only Christ’s righteousness and, thus, we obtain mercy from the just wrath of the Father.
“Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God…. The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” — John 3:18,36 (HCSB)
“In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals.” — CNN’s Elizabeth Landau reporting on Case Western Reserve University research (Jan. 2011)
When asked why they are atheist/humanist/naturalist, most people will tell you that it’s only rational, it’s obvious, science proves it, etc. But, is that really why they adopted that worldview, either consciously or subconsciously?
I think it’s much more complex than that and involves a whole lot more emotion and “illogic” than many will admit or perhaps recognize in themselves. Of course, just as with any worldview or philosophical tenet, we have go be careful about generalizing. Every individual’s “reasons” are particular to their background and circumstance. But, I find it enlightening to read what some of the luminaries from the non-theist community have said themselves on this subject. Let’s begin with a quote from evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin’s famous “Billions and Billions of Demons” article from the New York Times (1997). Many are familiar with the “Divine foot in the door” bit, but here’s a little more context:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”
It sounds to me as if Lewontin is admitting that the philosophical commitment to materialism gives rise to — and, thus, precedes — the naturalistic approach to science. This is contrary to the “Science disproves the existence of God” claim we’ve been told.
In the PBS documentary Nine Conversations: The Question of God (2004), professional skeptic Michael Shermer explained his “de-conversion” this way:
“Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just like the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with — just socially. It just felt more comfortable for me…. In reality I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.”
A remarkable admission from Shermer.
In Ends and Means (1937), humanist Aldous Huxley wrote:
“The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. The voluntary, as opposed to the intellectual, reasons for holding the doctrines of materialism, for example, may be predominantly erotic, as they were in the case of La Mettrie… or predominantly political, as they were in the case of Karl Marx….
For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever….
Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless.”
So, justification of one’s political and/or sexual desires was the order of the day for Huxley’s generation. (I’ve heard/read other, more contemporary non-theists say as much. For example, I think Christopher Hitchens did, but I can’t find the quote.)
Philosopher Thomas Nagel is quite forthright about his own motivations, as revealed in The Last Word (1997):
“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world.”
Such honesty is refreshing! (It is also precisely why Nagel has gotten in hot water with many of his fellow atheists.)
Again, these are only a few examples of reasons given for adopting an atheist view, as shared by famous exemplars. As I said before, I found them to be enlightening. (That was a pun.) What did you think? Do you have any other quotes or personal anecdotes to add? Please share…
“Please stop blaming the House Freedom Caucus as a bunch of stuck-up ideological Pharisees. We need more in their ranks who will demand the best for the Constitution and the American people.” — Arthur Schaper, political commentator and radio host
As we all know by now, Ryancare was pulled at the eleventh hour, because GOP leadership knew they didn’t have enough votes in the House to pass it. And that suits me just fine. Now, most Democrats & other liberals are gloating, laughing out one side of their collective mouth while scolding the Republicans out the other. Meanwhile, many Republicans are also rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in frustration, and probably resenting the 30+ holdouts in the Freedom Caucus for not voting on a bill that they knew was not the healthcare solution that the American public wants and needs. (Plus, some have argued that it would have been DOA at the Senate, anyway.)
Of course, I want to see the repeal and replacement of the disastrous Obamacare just as much as the next non-Leftie. Probably more than some. But, that doesn’t mean we should settle for “Obamacare Lite” — or, as some have put it, the “crap sandwich” that is the American Health Care Act (AHCA). And our representatives in Congress should not be pressured, coerced, or satisfied with anything of the sort, regardless of how much their “leadership” or the White House wanted a huge legislative ‘win’ a.s.a.p.
Frankly, I am rather disappointed with Trump and even more so with Paul Ryan et al. I think Sean Hannity is right. They should have included various groups — moderate, conservative, libertarian — from within Congress, the Executive, and outside think-tanks, in the discussions from the beginning — negotiating, building consensus, etc. But, Ryan and his Establishment buddies took a more exclusivist approach. They also had *plenty* of time to develop the plan and work this stuff out, at least since Nov. 9, 2016. But, that didn’t happen, so instead we got weeks of confusion and infighting and intense pressure at the end to support this AHCA bill that was developed largely “in secret”.
Let’s be clear. The supposed time crunch that was part of the applied pressure was basically arbitrary. Sure, it would have been nicely symbolic to pass Obamacare’s replacement on the 7th anniversary of Obamacare’s passage. And, yes, I realize that not having an Obamacare replacement in place makes it harder to move forward with budgets and tax reform. Healthcare constitutes 1/6th of the economy, after all. But, this is not something we can afford to get wrong by rushing a seriously flawed — and some might say “misrepresented” — piece of legislation into law. Ben Shapiro sums up what is wrong with Ryancare:
“Leave aside the public approval numbers, which are abysmal, far worse than they were for Obamacare: the bill maintains the Obamacare central regulatory regime, doesn’t lower cost dramatically, and provides the left a series of talking points that will crush Republicans in 2018. It’s not a significant free market reform, speculates about deficit reduction but doesn’t truly guarantee it (those block grants will increase or be replaced as political fallout hits Congress), and enshrines the Democratic article of faith that the government ought to provide health insurance to everyone via a regime of tax credits that amount to a new entitlement program. Ryan is pushing this bill because he thinks that’s all he can get through the Senate, and he’s negotiating with himself. That’s foolish. He should simply pass something that can pass the House, let McConnell do his damn job in the Senate, and then put together a workable bill.”
From the White House to the more establishment-minded pundits, we are being told that the rejection of Ryancare is a tragedy, that Obamacare will maintain its reign, that babies will die, the Democrats will regain power, and the poor, beleaguered Congress will have to waste precious time starting from scratch on this whole “Repeal & Replace” mandate within the Trump agenda. This is hogwash.
For one, Congress could easily pass a standalone bill defunding Planned Parenthood. They don’t have to wait to incorporate it into a health reform bill. They don’t have to “start from scratch” on that reform, either, which should take care of the other (overstated) concerns. Despite what many Dems have been claiming, conservatives and libertarians have been submitting alternative plans for consideration for years. Some better than others, to be sure. (See here, for example.) They’ve even voted on a few. In Dec. 2015, the Senate GOP actually got a “clean repeal” bill passed via budget reconciliation and the House passed it early in Jan. 2016, but it was vetoed by President Obama shortly thereafter. Many conservative members of Congress are pointing back to this bill for a re-start.
Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul introduced his Obamacare Replacement Act (S.222), which is very similar to the 2015/2016 legislation and looks very promising. “There are a variety of provisions that, in addition to fully repealing Obamacare, outline how the government can expand tax credits and health savings accounts, initiate individual and association pool reform, allow for interstate insurance, and even protect individuals with preexisting conditions. In other words, it does everything that Republicans want and more without expanding government power or spending any tax dollars.” Check out this article for a condensed outline of the most significant provisions.
As Conservative Review‘s Robert Eno points out,
“Members of the House Freedom Caucus have time and time again stated that this exact bill is what should be voted on by Congress. Contrary to the Journal and what Quin Hillyer wrote in the Washington Examiner, it isn’t the Freedom Caucus who is being disingenuous. It is Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the establishment wing of the Republican Party. These folks were perfectly fine with passing full repeal when they knew President Obama was not going to sign it. Now that they actually have a president that would sign that bill, they are balking at actually repealing the onerous aspects of the law — the regulations. The Freedom Caucus is only asking that the GOP once again pass what they already have.”
If Ryan et al. truly want to get rid of Obamacare and clear the way for a patient-centered, free market-driven healthcare insurance system, they need to stop belly-achin’ and reconsider Paul’s plan. At the very least, it’s an excellent place to start.
P.S. Here’s a brief interview with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) on who’s to blame for the Ryancare failure:
“Governments can develop new technology and do some of the exciting early exploration but in the long run it’s the private sector that finds ways to make profit, finds ways to expand humanity.” — Dr. S. Pete Worden, director at NASA Ames Research Center
OK, I might be a tad late in reporting on this, but for those who haven’t read all about it….
Exactly one month ago (2/19/2017), after dealing with a small leak in the upper-stage helium system and a last-minute, one-day postponement, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully blasted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station. It was a nice comeback moment after the spectacular explosion they suffered last September during a test on launch pad 40.
Some of my regular readers may remember that I wrote last August about SpaceX making deliveries to & from the ISS using their innovative Dragon cargo module. So, you may be asking, what’s the big deal this time?
Well, though they occasionally launch from a site in California, normally SpaceX launches from the aforementioned (and now damaged) Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Kennedy Space Center. This time, however, they launched from the historic pad 39A, from which the Apollo astronauts were sent to the Moon almost 50 years ago. This marks the first time that a commercial vehicle has used Launch Complex 39A.
Prior to this, the last time it was used was when NASA sent up Atlantis for the final shuttle mission on July 8, 2011. Since then, it pretty much lay abandoned until SpaceX was awarded a 20-year lease on the pad back in 2014 and began spending millions to remodel it. The activity has rejuvenated the spirits of many at NASA.
“You definitely get that sense throughout Kennedy. People are so tied to the history here and these pads, it’s like bringing them to life again, and I think everybody is really excited to see that.” — Regina Spellman, Deputy Project Manager, Mobile Launcher Element Integration Team, NASA’s GSDO Program
But, there was another “first” set that morning, too. Nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage booster flipped around and flew back to Cape Canaveral for landing. After successful nighttime tests, this was the first daylight attempt. The significance of this ability is, of course, that reusable rockets means greatly reduced costs. This in turn means that they can offer their services at much reduced prices.
Who might be the customers for those services? Well, NASA, obviously. But, eventually, you and me. If you read my earlier post, you might recall that I also wrote about another private firm, Moon Express (or MoonEx). This firm has long-term plans to do lunar landings and capitalize on various commercial endeavors envisioned for the Moon. Of course, that is a ways off, so the more short-term target for such firms is “space tourism”. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that, a few days after SpaceX’s above mission success, Founder & CEO Elon Musk announced their plans to put tourists in lunar orbit beginning as soon as 2018.
These trips will use an upgraded Dragon capsule, perched atop a heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket, which is planned to debut this year. First, though, there will be modifications for use in manned NASA missions. Once the system has been proven, then the space tourists will get their chance. In fact, they are already lining up! Tickets won’t be cheap, especially not at first. (As of the announcement, two unidentified “private citizens” had each already made “a significant deposit”.) But, in 20 years or so, who knows? I wouldn’t mind a little excursion to the Moon for my 70th birthday!
Of course, SpaceX and MoonEx aren’t the only firms planning trips to the Moon. As for Musk, he’s not stopping there. Check out his vision for Mars! Say what you will about the guy or the viability of his proposals, he ain’t afraid to dream big!
As a political conservative, I have been waiting for quite awhile for the time when our leaders and representatives in the U.S. federal government would start chopping away at some of the unneeded and unwanted federal bureaucracy and regulatory restrictions and other laws that are a blight on our nation. From what I have seen so far, the Trump Administration combined with the current, Republican-led legislative branch is beginning to do just that. It won’t be easy, and there will be much internal disagreement. But, I am encouraged to see positive steps being taken.
So, you can probably imagine what I thought the other day, when a politically “progressive” friend of mine on Facebook — call him “SB” — shared the following on his wall:
In case anyone got overly sidetracked by the Russian spy drama, the following bills HAVE been introduced:
1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran
Please copy/paste and share widely. Call your House Representative and ask them to not only vote “NO”…but to speak up for our rights, health & safety, and our beautiful country.
[Incidentally, I found a version on Citypages that includes “11. HR 622 Removing federal policing from National Parks turning over to local authorities.” Is that really so scary?]
I didn’t engage other than to Like another person’s “Go Donald” comment (even though the above are House bills and not Executive Orders). My friend’s response to this comment was:
“Just like Christ would have done right can we stop pretending we’re either Christians or he is for once and be honest with ourselves”
I took this comment to mean that SB thinks that 1) Jesus would be against these bills and 2) it is hypocritical for Trump or anyone else who is for them to call themselves “Christian”. (Just f.y.i., SB grew up in a Christian household but no longer professes to be a follower of Christ.) Leaving aside the question of Trump’s spiritual status, I strongly disagree. So, let’s take a brief look at each of these bills….
First, the “environment”.
1) The shared goal of #1 and #4 (and a couple others) is to get the federal government out of controlling areas where it’s not supposed to be. OK, sure, an argument can be made that the federal government has a vested interest in the nation’s ecological well-being, and the EPA is supposed to ensure that. But, the unelected officials running the EPA (under direction of the Executive) have long abused their position by instituting many costly and burdensome regulations on American businesses and individuals. (Check out this article for some examples.) We don’t need the EPA to responsibly care for our natural resources. In fact, we can do better without it.
4) HJR 69 is a Joint Resolution that says both houses of Congress disapprove (and hereby nullify) the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior relating to “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska” (81 Fed. Reg. 52247 (August 5, 2016)). Basically, this rule would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “seize authority away from the State of Alaska to manage fish and wildlife on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska – a clear violation of federal law.” (Read more here.)
Next is education.
2) Simply put, HR 610 is an effort to give parents more choice in where to have their children educated. As this Forbes article concludes,
“In simple terms, public schools would be left with fewer total dollars but more dollars per student. This implies opposition is not due to concerns over funding, but likely a simple case of trying to maximize public school enrollment so as to maximize unionized teaching jobs. Opponents of school choice are not worried about children, either the ones who want to leave or the ones that would stay. They only care about the teachers’ job security. So remember, the debate about school choice isn’t about education quality, it is really about jobs and union dues.”
3) The Constitution gives the federal government *no* authority in this area. Worse, since President Carter (re-)created it in 1979/80, the Dept. of Education has become a bloated, expensive, largely ineffective bureaucracy that, along with many teachers’ unions, actually works against the best interests of the students.
Healthcare & abortion…
5) Re HR 370, we all know what an extraordinarily expensive failure the ACA (aka Obamacare) has been. Sooner rather than later, we need a truly patient-centered, market-driven healthcare and insurance system. I’m not sure “Ryancare” is the best replacement — in fact, I have serious reservations about it. But, repealing the ACA is a necessary first step to getting there, so that Americans can truly have personal healthcare that is both competent and affordable.
6) Numbers 6 & 9 are — and this should be obvious by now, but… — to protect unborn, defenseless human lives. I have written several posts on the matter of abortion (see “Pro-Life’ link at top of page), so I won’t delve into that here. But, from a moral standpoint, it should be apparent why we should defund the #1 abortion-provider in America. It should also be clear from a Constitutional and financial standpoint why the federal government has no business funding an organization responsible for such atrocities, let alone to the tune of over a half billion dollars a year!
9) As for HR 147, here’s the beginning of the official summary:
“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2017
This bill imposes criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly or knowingly attempts to: (1) perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent; (2) use force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection or race-selection abortion; (3) solicit or accept funds for the performance of such an abortion; or (4) transport a woman into the United States or across a state line for the purpose of obtaining such an abortion.
Violations or attempted violations shall result in fines and/or imprisonment for up to five years….
A woman having such an abortion may not be prosecuted or held civilly liable.”
So, this is hardly an all-encompassing law to outlaw abortion, nor does it send violators to the electric chair, or even mandate anything close to a life sentence. Furthermore, the mothers are not held guilty. On the contrary, it punishes those involved in coercing, performing, or receiving funds for abortions based on sex- or race-selection. Even liberals should appreciate that!
7) Contrary to the above, the National Right-to-Work Act would not end unions. Rather, by amending a few sections of the existing National Labor Relations Act, its stated purpose is:
“To preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.”
The labor unions currently have way too much control over who can be hired in the industries they are involved in. Workers are often forced to join a union if they have any hope of getting a job, and they are required to pay union dues. There may be benefits to being part of a union, but unions (and their dues) should never be mandated, especially when there is so much corruption typically involved. This bill not only gives laborers the right to have & join unions (which they already have, of course) but also makes it clear that are not required to do so (or pay dues/fees) and they have federal support should they choose to opt out.
8) There are many issues with illegal immigration in this country. For the sake of national security and the safety of U.S. citizens and legal residents, there needs to be cooperation between local/state governments (and their law-enforcement) and the federal government (and its law-enforcement). More to the point, defiance by local/state government is a big problem. To partially address one area of conflict, HR 83 has been sponsored by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA). According to the official summary,
“This bill prohibits a state or local government from receiving federal financial assistance for a minimum of one year if it restricts or prohibits a government entity or official from: (1) sending to or receiving from the responsible federal immigration agency information regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status, or (2) maintaining or exchanging information about an individual’s status.
The bill restores assistance eligibility upon a Department of Justice (DOJ) determination that the jurisdiction no longer restricts or prohibits such actions.
DOJ shall report each year to Congress regarding state or local jurisdictions that restrict or prohibit such actions.”
Seems fair to me.
Finally, Iran sanctions.
10) Iran is a very dangerous, terrorism-sponsoring, human rights-abusing nation. The U.S. (and our allies) must use whatever means we can to curb Iran’s agenda, based on its politico-religious aspirations, while trying to avoid going to war. Introduced by Rep. Peter J. Roskam (R-IL), HR 808 (i.e., “Iran Nonnuclear Sanctions Act of 2017”) proposes to do this via a number of a) sanctions with respect to entities owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); b) sanctions relating to human rights abuses in Iran; c) sanctions with respect to the ballistic missile program of Iran; d) sanctions with respect to certain Iranian transactions; and e) miscellaneous other measures, involving the modification of requirements relating to state sponsors of terrorism.
Granted, I only skimmed the bill, but I don’t think there is anything excessively harsh or uncalled for. On the contrary, Iran deserves everything we can do to slow them down and/or “punish” them for their many terrible actions.
Of course, the liberals/”progressives” love Big Government control and the associated reductions in Constitutionally-recognized freedoms. They are all for onerous restrictions in favor of “the environment”. They love abortion-on-demand. The unions give them a lot of money, support, and votes. And many think that letting states like Iran have nuclear weapons, etc., will make them feel “respected” and, thus, no longer feel the need to “posture” and do bad things. IMO, these attitudes betray a mix of naivete, misinformation, and moral confusion, but they explain why SB and others think these 10 bills are bad and need to be voted down.
I, on the other hand, see them as potentially doing a lot of good, increasing security, improving the economy, and saving innocent lives. As an American, I think these are all good things that promote the general welfare. As a professing Christian, I hold these to be positive things, the benefits of a wise government that seeks the best for its citizens and friends.
Jesus didn’t come to Earth (the first time) as a political savior. But, do I think He would be in favor of retaining inalienable rights (and perhaps granting others based in Judeo-Christian principles); improving/ensuring people’s health & safety in a fair, ethical, and economically effective way; and responsible management of natural resources in our beautiful country; not to mention, minimizing the potential for governmental tyranny? Yeah, I think He would.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 (ESV))
Have you heard of the “two-books doctrine” before?
The short version is that God has given us two books: the “book” of nature (aka general revelation, available for all to see) and, of course, the book of Scripture/Christ (aka special revelation, the Word of God). Since God is the author of both and He doesn’t lie, both books are not only reliable but internally and externally consistent — thus, in agreement and completely trustworthy in what they have to say.
“The God who neither lies nor deceives (see Num 23:19; Ps. 12:6; 19:7-8; 119:160; Prov 30:5; John 10:35; Heb 6:18; I John 1:5) has made both books reliable and trustworthy.” — Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist, author, apologist, pastor
Many Christians and other theists — and, obviously, non-theists — aren’t aware of this concept and/or they have somehow adopted a different understanding, wherein one or both books are *not* totally trustworthy and scientific findings in nature are expected to often be at odds with (or, at least, unsupported by) the Bible. There are two versions of this: the “Non-overlapping Magisteria”, or NOMA, approach (a la Stephen J. Gould) and the “Conflict” approach. They typically think that anyone who holds a position in which nature and Scripture are in harmony is grossly mistaken and guilty of bad science, bad theology, or both.
But, the “two-books doctrine” has a firm foundation in the history of the Christian church (especially the Protestant Reformation) as demonstrated by the Belgic Confession (1561), which in turn draws directly from various Scripture passages but primarily from Psalm 19 and the Book of Job. There is a lot of great stuff in that confession*, but here is the most relevant section:
Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God
We know him by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.
According to Hugh Ross, writing in his book Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, “this creedal article rests more securely on Job than on any other portion of Scripture. No other Bible book makes a stronger argument for God’s revelation of himself to all humanity through nature’s record.”
Other sections of the Belgic Confession most closely connected to the “two books” are:
Article 3: The Written Word of God
Article 5: The Authority of Scripture
Article 12: The Creation of All Things
Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence
Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Humanity
I haven’t finished reading Hidden Treasures, but I am quite enjoying it and can already highly recommend it. (I’m also re-reading Job, this time in the HCSB translation, and it’s easier to follow and appreciate than in more formal translations (e.g., KJV, NASB, ESV).) It is not your typical commentary on Job, that’s for sure. Ross’ theological and scientific insights are, as usual, atypical — yet firmly within conservative orthodoxy — and much appreciated.
If you are curious, here is a brief interview with Ross in which he discusses the “two-books doctrine” and the necessity of a testable Creation model.
* As per CARM.org, “Creeds and Confessions are written summaries of the Christian faith. Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence, and they don’t always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials…. This Reformed confession was prepared in 1561 by Guy de Bres (c.1523-1567), who was later martyred, and others, and then slightly revised by Francis Junius (1545-1602) of Bourges. First written in French, it was soon translated into Dutch and Latin. The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) made a revision but did not change the doctrine. It covers the spectrum of theological topics.”
“The U.N. was established to promote Western values. Franklin Roosevelt did not set it up to be anti-American or promote dictators and terrorist regimes.” — Fred Fleitz, a senior VP at the Center for Security Policy
There is a lot of grumbling about the United Nations and, lately, some of this has turned to talk of getting the U.S. out of the U.N. altogether. Part of me wants to support this. But, given the organization’s prominence in international affairs and its potential for good, I also have questions about the wisdom of such a move.
From what I can tell, the main complaints appear to be 1) ineffectiveness, with an associated poor use of funds, and 2) undue influence of dangerous nations and NGOs which work against the promotion of Western values, including many of the freedoms that we still (mostly) enjoy. So, the questions we must ask are, “Is it worth the roughly $10 billion per year that we spend on the U.N. and its programs for the U.S. to remain a member?” and secondly, “Should we boot the U.N. out of New York City?”
To be honest, if the U.S. withdrew from the U.N., I’m not totally sure we would have a markedly smaller influence on world affairs. Lots of diplomatic activity happens in other ways and at other venues, of course. However, it might make things more difficult, and I think it would lessen our ability to keep tabs on what other nations — in particular, non-allies — are discussing, debating, and deciding among themselves, which often affects us and our allies. Waiting for notification of U.N. plans, resolutions, and activities via the newsmedia or other intel might be “too late”, in some cases. It’s better when we are involved and can have some influence, even if the votes don’t always go our way.
Similarly, if we forced the U.N. to relocate outside the U.S., it would only make it that much harder to stay on top of U.N. activities. So, with my admittedly limited knowledge about these issues, it seems to me that a better solution is to work toward reforms within the U.N. and keep it where it is. So, what can the Trump administration do to, as Fred Lucas puts it, curtail the U.N.’s power and help make sure it is spending American taxpayers’ money more wisely?
Brett Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs with The Heritage Foundation, says that the U.S. needs to stay in the U.N. to influence actions of the U.N. Security Council. Schaefer also ideas about the various and sundry U.N. programs, which cost so much money.
“The U.S. should look at contributions to each program, and determine if it is meeting its mission.”
Late last year, Schaefer authored a Heritage Foundation report recommending several actions Trump et al. should take to address the many U.N.- and related concerns: “Eleven Priorities on International Organizations for the Trump Administration”. He begins by recognizing reform efforts that the previous administration had initiated or supported and encourages the current administration to continue and expand upon them, “especially higher standards for conduct by U.N. peacekeepers.” On the other hand, he acknowledges that “[t]he Obama Administration, however, has pursued misguided policies or failed to pursue others that would advance U.S. interests.”
Schaefer encourages Trump to ask Congress to “examine past practice on how various subjects have been treated historically (treaty, executive agreement, or congressional–executive agreement) and specify the issues or context that should mandate consideration of international agreements as treaties under Article II.” He then proceeds to lay out the titular 11 priorities:
1) “Evaluate all peacekeeping operations before supporting establishment or renewal.”
“[A] U.N. operation may not be the best option for addressing a crisis, particularly one where there is no peace to keep.”
2) “Enforce the 25 percent cap on funding for U.N. peacekeeping.”
Despite a 15-year-old deal, the current U.S. peacekeeping assessment is 28.5738 percent, and it’s Congress’ fault.
3) “Enforce whistleblower withholding as required by U.S. law.”
Unlike the Obama Administration, “[t]he Trump Administration should hold U.N. organizations to the standard established by Congress.”
4) “Strengthen independent oversight of U.N. organizations.”
U.N. employees are largely immune to criminal prosecution, and the U.N. has been historically weak in its internal oversight and accountability. “[T]he Trump Administration should establish a dedicated unit within the State Department Office of Inspector General charged with inspecting and auditing use of U.S. funds by international organizations and work with like-minded governments to establish a truly independent U.N. oversight body.”
5) “Engage with Congress to clarify the treaty process.”
“Which international agreements constitute treaties requiring Senate advice and consent in accordance with Article II of the Constitution is often subject to dispute.”
6) “Withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”
“Unless and until [the Palestinians formally recognize Israel as a sovereign state and agree to a peace agreement acceptable to both sides], the U.S. should not provide any funding to UNESCO lest it encourage other U.N. organizations to grant membership to the Palestinians.”
7) “Withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”
“Withdrawal would not preclude the U.S. from adopting climate policy deemed appropriate. It would, however, prevent abuse of the UNFCCC as a vehicle for asserting U.S. commitments while avoiding Senate advice and consent in the treaty process.”
8) “Reduce U.S. support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).”
“[E]stablished more than 60 years ago as a temporary initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees…, [UNRWA has grown to] become a permanent institution providing services to multiple generations of Palestinians, a large majority of whom live outside of refugee camps, enjoy citizenship in other countries, or reside in the Palestinian-governed territories.”
9) “Reconsider U.S. support for the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).”
“[The HRC] remains biased against Israel, includes repressive governments among its membership, and fails to condemn many of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”
10) “Launch a cost-benefit analysis of U.S. participation in international organizations.”
Not all such organizations provide important contributions to U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security interests, so our ROI should be questioned.
11) “Instruct the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to compile and release a comprehensive report on all U.S. contributions to the U.N. system.”
Though the State Dept. is the largest contributor, some funds flowing from the U.S. to the U.N. come from other agencies; so, we cannot rely on State’s annual report as a complete picture.
These actions all seem reasonable, even necessary, to me. Trump should definitely take this report seriously and work with Ambassador Haley, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Congress to incorporate these priorities into the overall, foreign affairs agenda. Of course, Schaefer goes into a bit more detail on each item, including links to additional reports and other documents. Good summary regarding reasserting U.S. interests at the end, too. The report isn’t terribly long or technical, and I encourage you to read it.
Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, sounds like he is on board for at least some changes.
“We need to make sure that we are able to reform the U.N. development system as member states have asked us, and we need to try to get rid of this straightjacket of bureaucracy that makes our lives so difficult in many of the things we do…. [T]his also requires a lot of discussion and dialogue and mutual understanding with member states and we need to overcome many of the divides that still exist within the organization.”
Very diplomatic, in that he didn’t name any specific nations or issues in his remarks. But, then, he is now the world’s top diplomat. It remains to be seen if he is only paying lip-service or if he will make it his own priority to support and, whenever possible, implement the many reforms necessary to make the U.N. a much more effective and efficient force for peace and security in the world.
“In Washington, there is a saying that regulators never met a rule they didn’t like.” — Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Heritage Foundation’s senior legal research fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
One of the big issues of the day is the mounds of regulations that federal agencies have been inflicting upon the American people and businesses for decades, while Congress sat on their collective hands. It is the administrative state gone amok, and it has had the effect of putting a stranglehold on the American economy and freedom in general. I’ve been meaning to write about this monstrosity for some time, but I just don’t know where to start.
In an article for ‘The Daily Signal’ last week, Paul Larkin asked the question, “What if Congress could not only reverse this trend, but undo years of burdensome regulations dating as far back as the mid-1990s?” His answer is the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996. (Download a CRA Fact Sheet here.)
The Act authorizes Congress to “invalidate an agency rule by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, not subject to a Senate filibuster, that the president signs into law.” He continues…
“Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress is given 60 legislative days to disapprove a rule and receive the president’s signature, after which the rule goes into effect. But the review act also sets forth a specific procedure for submitting new rules to Congress that executive agencies must carefully follow.
If they fail to follow these specific steps, Congress can vote to disapprove the rule even if it has long been accepted as part of the Federal Register. In other words, if the agency failed to follow its obligations under the Congressional Review Act, the 60-day legislative window never officially started, and the rule remains subject to congressional disapproval.”
This sounds very promising! Larkin goes on to explain…
“The definition of ‘rule’ under the Congressional Review Act is quite broad — it includes not only the ‘junior varsity’ statutes that an agency can adopt as regulations, but also the agency’s interpretations of those laws. This is vital because federal agencies often use a wide range of documents to strong-arm regulated parties.
The review act reaches regulations, guidance documents, ‘Dear Colleague’ letters, and anything similar.
The Congressional Review Act is especially powerful because once Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it into law, the rule is nullified and the agency cannot adopt a “substantially similar” rule absent an intervening act of Congress. [emphasis mine]
This binds the hands of federal agencies to find backdoor ways of re-imposing the same regulations.”
To use a phrase from my youth, “Excellent!”
Obviously, President Trump doesn’t need congressional support to undo some parts of the Obama regulatory agenda, for example, and he has been revoking previous Executive Orders with new ones where he can. But, for those more difficult areas, this sounds like a terrific tool for our anti-regulation President and a sympathetic, majority-Republican Congress to work together to not just neutralize but make null-and-void tons of freedom-restricting — and sometimes downright stupid — regulations written by unelected bureaucrats from the past 20 years. In fact, they’ve already begun, and I’m all for it!
EPA, FDA, FCC, IRS, etc., y’all are hereby put on notice!