The Miller-Urey Experiment Is Irrelevant

“We have reached a situation where a theory has been accepted as fact by some, and possible contrary evidence is shunted aside. [This is] mythology rather than science.”  — Robert Shapiro, OOL researcher and gadfly to naturalist orthodoxy, Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth (1987)

You may have expected a post on current events this week, what with the RNC & DNC conventions, the latest shootings & bombings, controversial court rulings and legislation, etc. (Unfortunately, except for the conventions, the rest of it is all too common, these days.) But, I needed to focus on something else, so… let’s jump into some science, shall we?

Miller-y-UreyFrom what I’ve heard, it takes years for new scientific discoveries and theoretical breakthroughs to make it into the textbooks, particularly when they disrupt the preferred “scientific” narrative. After the initial papers are published in professional journals, the findings first show up in advanced, graduate-level books. Then, they appear in undergrad-level texts and, eventually, maybe, trickle down into High School and, finally, middle-school textbooks. Similarly, the popular-level science magazines and TV shows, while overhyping some discoveries, seem to forever repeat old theories, assumptions, and experiments, despite them having been disproven or, at least, cast into serious doubt by current research.

There doesn’t appear to be a good excuse for the delays, either. Seems to me, if the scientific establishment wanted to, they could pressure the writers, publishers, and producers to incorporate new discoveries and advances sooner. Heck, they might even sell more books that way. So, why not do this? Why do they drag their feet in informing students and the public? I’m not usually partial to conspiracy theories, and this may not even be a conscious effort on the part of many. But, it does occur to me that continuing to propagate old “knowledge” that supports metaphysical naturalism and/or evolution serves to keep the ignorant masses indoctrinated and intellectually invested in that idea, even once it has been discredited.

The iconic 1953 experiment by Miller and Urey is once such event that was invalidated decades ago, yet it is still taught as a significant discovery. Under the supervision of Nobel laureate Harold Urey, grad student Stanley Miller set out to test the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis. (Or, at least, part of it.) The idea was to reproduce the conditions of Earth’s primordial atmosphere and demonstrate how life might have arisen from nonliving chemicals. Prevailing theory at the time was that the Earth formed out of a condensing cloud of interstellar dust and gas (mostly hydrogen), so the primordial atmosphere would reflect that. Urey, Oparin, and Haldane all thought that the atmosphere would have been composed of hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and water vapor.

I should explain that this is an example of a “reducing” atmosphere, which is absent of free oxygen. A reducing atmosphere is required for the synthesis of organic molecules, as had been demonstrated in other experiments. On the other hand, an “oxidizing” atmosphere (i.e., one containing free oxygen) results in the process of respiration, in which energy is extracted from organic molecules by breaking them down. A reducing atmosphere was then assumed necessary for the appearance of first life and, thus, for Miller’s experiment.

chap-27-evolution-24-728Miller built a closed gas apparatus (see pic) in Urey’s lab that would allow him to contain the above mixture (after pumping out the air), heat the water, circulate the gases past a sparking Tesla coil (i.e., to simulate lightning), and collect any resultant chemical residue. After a week, he sampled the now “deep red and turbid” water’s surface but found no amino acids. He rearranged his apparatus and tried again. This time, he discovered several organic compounds. Most of them were not the type found in living organisms. But, he did find the two simplest amino acids found in proteins — namely, glycine and alanine.

Afterward, Miller and others were able to reproduce the experiment. These efforts also yielded small amounts of “most [of the 20] biologically significant amino acids, as well as some additional organic compounds found in living cells.” (No one has ever been able to produce more glycine (2.1%) or alanine (1.7%) than Miller did in his second attempt.) The Miller-Urey experiment was deemed a successful confirmation of the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis and a breakthrough in itself. The results published in 1953 energized the scientific community, and a comprehensive theory of life’s origin was anticipated in the near future. Lay explanations in the popular press (e.g., New York Times, Life, Newsweek, Time) rocketed Miller to fame in the rest of the world, too. Problem was, there was already some doubt about the foundational assumptions of the experiment.

Even as early as 1952, geochemist Harrison Brown began questioning the origin and composition of Earth’s original atmosphere. In the 1960s, geochemist Heinrich Holland and geophysicist Philip Abelson echoed Brown’s conclusions. Abelson also pointed out that a) ammonia absorbs ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and would be quickly destroyed by it, and b) the lack of organic molecules in the earliest rocks indicates that methane was not present in abundance. Similarly, Sidney Fox and Klaus Dose later conceded that most of the hydrogen would have been lost to space, and the remaining methane and ammonia would likely be oxidized.

Abelson and Brown proposed instead that the early atmosphere was the result of volcanic outgassing, composed primarily of water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and trace amounts of hydrogen. This is what is called a chemically “neutral” atmosphere. Biologists, geologists, and atmospheric scientists also chimed in over the next couple decades, with theoretical models implying some primitive oxygen (how much was uncertain) and biochemical evidence seeming to suggest significant levels of oxygen produced by the photo-dissociation of water vapor.

geometry of glycineIn the late-70s to early-80s, a few origin-of-life (OOL) researchers began admitting that reluctance to give up the “reducing atmosphere” theory was because everyone well knew that the presence of even minute amounts of oxygen tends to shut down prebiotic chemical pathways. Geophysicists Harry Clemmey and Nick Badham declared it mere “dogma” to cling to the old theory in the face of actual, physical evidence to the contrary. (They were right.) This is particularly odd, though, since labs had been synthesizing organic molecules for many years, including in local environments with extremely low levels of oxygen. As Wells points out,

“The success of the Miller-Urey experiment doesn’t prove that the entire primitive atmosphere lacked oxygen any more than the success of modern organic chemistry proves that the modern atmosphere lacks oxygen.”

I mentioned the problem of the lost hydrogen earlier. Hydrogen gas accumulates during Miller-Urey-type experiments, reaching up to 76% of the mixture, which does not mimic natural processes. Thus, Fox and Dose (1977) showed that, not only did Miller-Urey have the wrong “primordial atmosphere”,

“[it did] not satisfactorily represent early geological reality because no provisions [were] made to remove hydrogen from the system…. The inference that Miller’s synthesis does not have a geological relevance has become increasingly widespread.”

As more OOL researchers began to concede, more attention was paid to Abelson & Brown’s “neutral” theory. However, Fox and Dose reported that no amino acids were produced by performing a Miller-Urey-type experiment with water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and a bit of hydrogen. Holland reported the same results. In a 1983 experiment with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and a little free hydrogen, Miller and a colleague were only able to produce a small amount of glycine.

All the evidence indicates that prebiotic atmospheric conditions were hostile, not friendly, to the production of life’s building blocks. Exploring other OOL approaches, theories, and experiments is outside the scope of this article. The bottom-line, however, is that none have been able to compensate for the many crucial problems and develop a demonstrable scenario for purely naturalistic origins of life from non-life (aka abiogenesis). (See Origins of Life by Rana and Ross for a great discussion of the various bottlenecks and showstoppers for naturalistic scenarios.) It seems that life just can’t get started on its own, no matter how much time it has.

“[A]n accumulating body of geochemical evidence has shown that there likely never was a prebiotic soup. Two leading geochemists, James Brooks and Gordon Shaw, argued that if an ocean rich in amino and nucleic acids had existed, it would have left large deposits of nitrogen-rich minerals (nitrogenous cokes) in metamorphosed Precambrian sedimentary rocks. No evidence of such deposits exists. [And, as Brooks concluded,] ‘if such a soup ever existed it was only for a brief period of time.’”  — Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell

biology textbook - macaw-reflectionIronically, as Rana and others have pointed out, Miller and those who followed him “demonstrated that this chemistry requires the input of an intelligent agent to successfully produce organic materials. Mechanistic studies highlight the need for careful adjustment of the gas composition and concentrations, selection of the right type of energy source, and implementation of special features to isolate and protect the prebiotic products from their energy source once they have formed. In other words, apart from the experimenters’ handiwork, gas phase reactions would never produce organic compounds.” Sounds like intelligent design rather than chemical evolution to me.

In Icons of Evolution (2000), Jonathan Wells noted several then-recent examples of publications that still promoted the idea that Miller-Urey successfully demonstrated the beginnings of organic life from inorganic compounds within a reducing atmosphere. These included the March 1998 issue of National Geographic, the 2000 edition of Ken Miller & Joe Levine’s Biology (a popular HS textbook), the 1998 Life: The Science of Biology (an undergrad textbook by Purves, Orians, Heller, & Sadava), the 1998 edition of Futuyma’s Evolutionary Biology (an advanced college textbook), the latest edition of Alberts et al.’s Molecular Biology of the Cell (a graduate-level textbook), and a 1999 booklet put out by the National Academy of Sciences (the U.S.’s premier science organization). Not much has changed since then.

Researchers and other scientists are justified in recognizing Miller-Urey for launching (sparking?) origin-of-life research as a formal scientific discipline. But, as should be clear, the assumptions and conclusions of the experiment itself have been proven to be grossly mistaken and effectively irrelevant. The question remains, however, “Why do the educators and popularizers of science continue to teach mythology?”


Sources:

Wells, Jonathan, Icons of Evolution (2000)
Rana, Fazale and Ross, Hugh, Origins of Life (2004)
Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell (2009)
Rana, Fazale, Creating Life in the Lab (2011)

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Why I Don’t (Usually) Recommend the King James Version

“That languages change over time is one of the strongest arguments either for the revision of older Bible translations or for completely new translations.”  — Dr. James White, The King James Only Controversy

I am sure that some who love the King James Version (KJV) will immediately be defensive. (Especially if they are KJV Onlyist, but I’m not even going to delve into that whole mess.) So, let me begin by assuring my readers that I am *not* saying that the KJV should never be read. Far from it. Many Christians (and others) read it and like it and are spiritually fed from it, and that’s fine. Some prefer the lyrical structure of much of the KJV for memorization. That’s great. I would hope that they read it along with a decent modern translation or two, too, though. (And there are several options available.) But, if they prefer the KJV while acknowledging its deficiencies (see below), more power to ‘em.

king-james-version-bible-still-useful“[The KJV] has justifiably been called ‘the noblest monument of English prose’… because of its gracious style, majestic language, and poetic rhythms. No other book has had such a tremendous influence on English literature, and no other translation has touched the lives of so many English-speaking people for centuries and centuries.”  — Dr. Philip W. Comfort, Essential Guide to Bible Versions

The KJV has served Christians quite well to communicate the Gospel and the history of God’s redemptive plan for over 400 years. Indeed, it has been “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16b (KJV)), just as many other translations in English and other languages have been wholly adequate for God’s purposes both before and after the KJV came on the scene.

With all of that said, if someone were to ask me which translation they should get to read and study, I would probably not recommend the KJV. This is especially true if it is to be the first or only Bible for a new believer or curious non-believer. The first reason is the archaic language.

The KJV is, of course, a product of its time. The Elizabethan/Shakespearean language used in England in the early 17th century can be quite lyrical, beautiful, and even fun to read/speak when learning plays and literature of that period. On the other hand, it can sometimes be awkward even for those fluent in modern English — children, in particular, and others with a limited education. It is even more difficult for non-native speakers. So, it can be a stumbling block both in witnessing and in spiritual growth.

Of course, some people — particularly those who have “always” read and heard Scripture from the KJV — are so used to it that they think that is what Scripture is supposed to sound like. Indeed, many grew up with the KJV and learned their first (or all) memory verses in that translation. Also, the combination of formality and lyrical quality sounds more “spiritual” to some. Unfortunately, quoting from the KJV — especially with all of the “thees” and “thous”, etc. — often sounds silly to skeptics, thereby reinforcing the idea that it’s just a bunch of ancient tales with no contemporary relevance. I suggest, then, that neither a sense of nostalgia nor of being “more spiritual” are sufficient reasons for sticking with the KJV at the expense of considering other, more modern translations.

There are several words & phrases used in the KJV that either are no longer used or they mean something very different now than they did 400 years ago. Here is a list compiled by Dr. Edwin Palmer:

“Just to drive the point home even more clearly, what is the meaning of ‘chambering’ (Rom. 13:13), ‘champaign’ (Deut. 11:30), ‘charger’ (Matt. 14:8 — it is not a horse), ‘churl’ (Isa. 32:7), ‘cieled’ (Hag. 1:4), ‘circumspect’ (Exod. 23:13), ‘clouted upon their feet’ (Josh. 9:5), ‘cockatrice’ (Isa. 11:8), ‘collops’ (Job 15:27), ‘confection’ (Exod. 30:35 — it has nothing to do with sugar), ‘cotes’ (2 Chron. 32:28), ‘covert’ (2 Kings 16:18), ‘hoised’ (Acts 27:40), ‘wimples’ (Isa. 3:22), ‘stomacher’ (Isa. 3:24), ‘wot’ (Rom. 11:2), ‘wist’ (Acts 12:9), ‘withs’ (Judg. 16:7), ‘wont’ (Dan. 3:19), ‘suretiship’ (Prov. 11:15), ‘sackbut’ (Dan. 3:5), ‘the scall’ (Lev. 13:30), ‘scrabbled’ (1 Sam. 21:13), ‘roller’ (Ezek. 30:21 — i.e., a splint), ‘muffler’ (Isa. 3:19), ‘froward’ (1 Peter 2:18), ‘brigadine’ (Jer. 46:4), ‘amerce’ (Deut. 22:19), ‘blains’ (Exod. 9:9), ‘crookbackt’ (Lev. 21:20), ‘descry’ (Judg. 1:23), ‘fanners’ (Jer. 51:2), ‘felloes’ (1 Kings 7:33), ‘glede’ (Deut. 14:13), ‘glistering’ (Luke 9:29), ‘habergeon’ (Job 41:26), ‘implead’ (Acts 19:38), ‘neesing’ (Job 41:18), ‘nitre’ (Prov. 25:20), ‘tabret’ (Gen. 31:27), ‘wen’ (Lev. 22:22)?”

(I would throw “unicorn” in there, too.)

181_deniro_bv4These can be confusing or offputting to the modern reader. Attributing a modern definition or connotation to a word that sounds familiar can lead to a misreading and, thus, a misunderstanding of the Biblical text. Not good. For a few more examples, the words “target” (I Sam. 17:6),  “turtle” (Song of Sol. 2:12), “carriages” (Isa. 10:28; Acts 21:15), “tire” (Ezek. 24:17), and “feebleminded” (I Thess. 5:14) do not mean what we normally think of.

Also, here are a few samples of wording from the KJV that can be awkward and/or bewildering to the modern ear and mind:

o  And Mt. Sinai was altogether on a smoke (Exod. 19:18)

o  To fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing (II Sam. 14:20)

o  The noise thereof sheweth concerning it (Job 36:33)

o  Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing (Psalm 5:6)

o  The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market (Ezek. 27:25)

o  We do you to wit of the grace of God (II Cor. 8:1)

That, of course, is a very limited sampling. However, if outdated language was my only concern, I might recommend the New King James Version (NKJV), 21st Century King James Version (KJ21), or Modern English Version (MEV) instead, all of which have updated the language of the KJV and generally read more smoothly. Or, maybe one of the editions of the KJV that has glossary-notes to clear up the outdated verbiage would be sufficient. But, there is another concern I have about the KJV, which also affects these.

While there is no doubt that the KJV translators were very scholarly men who did admirable work, it is generally recognized today that they were working with inferior source texts and had much more limited linguistic knowledge than scholars have today. Dr. Comfort sums it up nicely…

“First, knowledge of Hebrew was inadequate in the early seventeenth century. The Hebrew text they used (i.e., the Masoretic Text) was adequate, but their understanding of the Hebrew vocabulary was insufficient. It would take many more years of linguistic studies to enrich and sharpen understanding of the Hebrew vocabulary. Second, the Greek text underlying the New Testament of the King James Version is an inferior text. The King James translators basically used a Greek text known as the ‘received text’ (the Textus Receptus — commonly abbreviated as TR), which came from the work of Erasmus, who compiled the first Greek text to be produced on a printing press. When Erasmus compiled this text, he used five or six very late manuscripts dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. These manuscripts were far inferior to earlier manuscripts.”

Some of these earlier manuscripts, discovered (or, at least, made available) in the years since the first edition of the KJV was published in 1611, date back as far as the second through fifth centuries. Just as the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated 150 BC to AD 100) and other ancient texts have increased scholars’ understanding of ancient Hebrew and provided a corrective on the Masoretic Text, intense study and comparison of these earlier Greek manuscripts — e.g., Codex Vaticanus (ca. AD 325), Codex Sinaiticus (ca. AD 350-375), Codex Alexandrinus (ca. AD 400), and various papyri — have allowed Greek scholars to put together a more accurate, “modern critical edition” of the New Testament. This critical text is put out by two groups — Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society — with variations in punctuation, capitalization, and critical apparatus.

Latest update of the Nestle-Aland critical text

Latest update of the Nestle-Aland critical text

Most modern translations now use the NA/UBS critical text as the basis for their New Testament and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia edition of the Masoretic Text for the Old Testament, while sometimes opting to use variants from other sources (e.g., Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls). There are a minority of scholars and publishing houses who still prefer the TR or the Majority / Byzantine Text type. (This should be obvious, given the continuing popularity of the KJV.) While there are no huge theological differences with the critical text, there are cases in which theology is affected. I will again allow Dr. Comfort to summarize the “eclectic” perspective:

“The Nestle-Aland edition is a far superior representation of the original text than is the TR or the Majority Text. This does not mean, however, that those who read the TR and/or KJV are receiving a ‘different gospel’ or a different theology than what is found in the Nestle-Aland text. What it does mean is that they are reading a text that — for the most part — was not read in the first three centuries of the church. They are reading a text that is heavily edited with interpolations and harmonizations, and they are reading a text that is somewhat misrepresentative in Christology…. This text presents the same basic truth about the Trinity as do modern versions, which are based on better Greek texts. What is problematic about the TR and KJV is that they obscure some significant titles of Christ.”

Regarding these Christological issues, compare verses like Matthew 24:36; John 1:18; John 6:69; I Tim. 3:16; Jude 4. I could go on and give examples of whole & partial verses that are found in the KJV but not in most modern versions (or, they are present but bracketed and given a footnote), but I think I’ll wait and do a separate post on those. The KJV is also known for inconsistent translation of certain words, as well as simply poor translation choices — not surprising given the issues already mentioned. But, I don’t have time to get into those, too.

In conclusion, and in my opinion, there are good reasons — both practical and theological — that one should not rely on the KJV. Therefore, I do not recommend that it be used exclusively, nor as a first Bible for a child, non-native English speaker, new believer, or curious non-believer. What Bible translation(s) do I recommend? That’s a topic for another post, as well. But, in general, I suggest avoiding paraphrases like The Message and The Living Bible. They may be easy to read, but they just play too fast-n-loose with the text, sometimes dangerously so.

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A Few Words on Recent Shootings In the News

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The past few days have been terrible for us all to witness, but especially for those close to the events or who otherwise feel a strong connection to the victims. First, there were the controversial shootings of two black men by police officers — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, followed by Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, a day or two later. Then, a black man decided to get some revenge by shooting several police officers after a peaceful #BlackLivesMatter march in Dallas, TX. Many, both the informed and the uninformed, have spoken or written about these events from all different perspectives. I wasn’t sure I had anything to add, or even wanted to, yet I felt like I should post something. (I was also tempted to write about the non-prosecution of Hillary’s Emailgate, but I’m even more sick of that subject.)

All blood runs redRegarding the shootings of Sterling and Castile, I know it’s easy to get angry, on the one hand, or defensive, on the other hand. My instincts fall somewhere in the middle. The only thing I want to say, though it is probably too late, is to urge everyone to NOT jump to conclusions, either about racist motivations by the cops or about whether either shooting was justified. Don’t assume it was justified just because the victim had a record, but also don’t assume he was an innocent victim shot for no “good” reason. Even now, despite various disturbing videos and revealed rap sheets and what not, we still only have partial information. Sometimes, a thing is just what it looks like, but often it isn’t.

We like to THINK we have sufficient information to play judge & jury in these cases — I’m speaking to myself, too –, and that’s exactly what certain people in the media and certain politicians and activists want us to do. But, we need to quit throwing accusations around, wait for more evidence to come to light, and let the investigations run their respective courses. (Of course, those who automatically distrust law enforcement and/or the justice system are rarely satisfied, particularly if the official conclusions are not the same as theirs — witness the Michael Brown case, for example.)

Beyond that, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the cases or speculate on my own. I just wanted to post a few videos and article links that I thought were helpful and/or informative. Nothing inflammatory (though it may not be what you want to hear/read), nothing graphic, no recriminations (maybe later), no I-told-ya-sos, etc.

First, here’s a brief article w/ video that give helpful advice re traffic stops:

“Concealed carry requires extra care during police encounters”

The second video is a brief Fox News interview with SC Sen. Tim Scott regarding his feelings about the recent shootings:

This third video is a bit longer (9+ min.) but is a very good, on-the-street interview by MSNBC with a black man, Kellon Nixon, who was at the march in Dallas with his 5-year-old son and witnessed the shootings there firsthand. He had some very good personal observations and reflections…

“Eyewitness: ‘I’m recovering spiritually today’”

I thought this article by Ryan Bomberger had some very good points to make, some of which I touched on above.

“#BlackLivesMatter, White Guilt and the Marketing of Racism”

Finally, this last is a piece by Heather MacDonald, who is one of the most knowledgeable on the relevant research. First, here’s a quote:

“The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying…. One can debate the tactics used and the moment when an officer would have been justified in opening fire, but these cases are more complicated and morally ambiguous than a simple “unarmed” classification would lead a reader to believe…. The Post’s cases do not support the idea that the police have a more demanding standard for using lethal force when confronting unarmed white suspects.”

And, here’s the link: “Black and Unarmed: Behind the Numbers”

While there are many things not addressed here, I hope you find at least one of the preceding videos or articles of value in thinking about these tragedies and also taking a realistic look at the facts in re to some of the claims made in this and similar circumstances.

Take care, everyone!

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Calvin Coolidge’s Independence Day Speech (1926)

President Calvin ‘Silent Cal’ Coolidge was known as a “quiet and somber man whose sour expression masked a dry wit.” He was a small-government conservative Republican who fought for racial equality and “embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class.” He could also give one heckuva good speech, as exemplified here. (Fwiw, this is the 90th anniversary of the speech.) It may be a bit idealistic here & there, but good stuff nonetheless, and a great history lesson. It’s also kind of long, so I’ll shut up now….


Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, PA

Fellow Countrymen:

Calvin Coolidge book cover - red bkgrdWe meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July. Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgement of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.

Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience.

It is not so much, then, for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound. Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken. Whatever perils appear, whatever dangers threaten, the Nation remains secure in the knowledge that the ultimate application of the law of the land will provide an adequate defense and protection.

It is little wonder that people at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear to the uninstructed as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell of a former time, useless now because of more modern conveniences, but to those who know they have become consecrated by the use which men have made of them. They have long been identified with a great cause. They are the framework of a spiritual event. The world looks upon them, because of their associations of one hundred and fifty years ago, as it looks upon the Holy Land because of what took place there nineteen hundred years ago. Through use for a righteous purpose they have become sanctified.

It is not here necessary to examine in detail the causes which led to the American Revolution. In their immediate occasion they were largely economic. The colonists objected to the navigation laws which interfered with their trade, they denied the power of Parliament to impose taxes which they were obliged to pay, and they therefore resisted the royal governors and the royal forces which were sent to secure obedience to these laws. But the conviction is inescapable that a new civilization had come, a new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual than that which characterized the Old World. Life in a new and open country had aspirations which could not be realized in any subordinate position. A separate establishment was ultimately inevitable. It had been decreed by the very laws of human nature. Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.

declaration_of_independence_and_us_flagWe are obliged to conclude that the Declaration of Independence represented the movement of a people. It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions. It had the support of another element of great significance and importance to which I shall later refer. But the preponderance of all those who occupied a position which took on the aspect of aristocracy did not approve of the Revolution and held toward it an attitude either of neutrality or open hostility. It was in no sense a rising of the oppressed and downtrodden. It brought no scum to the surface, for the reason that colonial society had developed no scum. The great body of the people were accustomed to privations, but they were free from depravity. If they had poverty, it was not of the hopeless kind that afflicts great cities, but the inspiring kind that marks the spirit of the pioneer. The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

The Continental Congress was not only composed of great men, but it represented a great people. While its Members did not fail to exercise a remarkable leadership, they were equally observant of their representative capacity. They were industrious in encouraging their constituents to instruct them to support independence. But until such instructions were given they were inclined to withhold action.

While North Carolina has the honor of first authorizing its delegates to concur with other Colonies in declaring independence, it was quickly followed by South Carolina and Georgia, which also gave general instructions broad enough to include such action. But the first instructions which unconditionally directed its delegates to declare for independence came from the great Commonwealth of Virginia. These were immediately followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts, while the other Colonies, with the exception of New York, soon adopted a like course.

This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion, it did not partake of dark intrigue or hidden conspiracy. It was well advised. It had about it nothing of the lawless and disordered nature of a riotous insurrection. It was maintained on a plane which rises above the ordinary conception of rebellion. It was in no sense a radical movement but took on the dignity of a resistance to illegal usurpations. It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.

2nd continental congress - slide_4When we come to examine the action of the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence in the light of what was set out in that great document and in the light of succeeding events, we can not escape the conclusion that it had a much broader and deeper significance than a mere secession of territory and the establishment of a new nation. Events of that nature have been taking place since the dawn of history. One empire after another has arisen, only to crumble away as its constituent parts separated from each other and set up independent governments of their own. Such actions long ago became commonplace. They have occurred too often to hold the attention of the world and command the admiration and reverence of humanity. There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation, great as that event would be, in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but was everywhere to ennoble humanity.

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows as a matter of course that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed. While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination. But remarkable as this may be, it is not the chief distinction of the Declaration of Independence. The importance of political speculation is not to be underestimated, as I shall presently disclose. Until the idea is developed and the plan made there can be no action.

It was the fact that our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion and by the armies of Washington already in the field, which makes it the most important civil document in the world. It was not only the principles declared, but the fact that therewith a new nation was born which was to be founded upon those principles and which from that time forth in its development has actually maintained those principles, that makes this pronouncement an incomparable event in the history of government. It was an assertion that a people had arisen determined to make every necessary sacrifice for the support of these truths and by their practical application bring the War of Independence to a successful conclusion and adopt the Constitution of the United States with all that it has meant to civilization.

William & Mary, Bill of Rights (1688) -- by James Northcote

William & Mary, Bill of Rights (1688) — by James Northcote

The idea that the people have a right to choose their own rulers was not new in political history. It was the foundation of every popular attempt to depose an undesirable king. This right was set out with a good deal of detail by the Dutch when as early as July 26, 1581, they declared their independence of Philip of Spain. In their long struggle with the Stuarts the British people asserted the same principles, which finally culminated in the Bill of Rights deposing the last of that house and placing William and Mary on the throne. In each of these cases sovereignty through divine right was displaced by sovereignty through the consent of the people. Running through the same documents, though expressed in different terms, is the clear inference of inalienable rights. But we should search these charters in vain for an assertion of the doctrine of equality. This principle had not before appeared as an official political declaration of any nation. It was profoundly revolutionary. It is one of the corner stones of American institutions.

But if these truths to which the Declaration refers have not before been adopted in their combined entirety by national authority, it is a fact that they had been long pondered and often expressed in political speculation. It is generally assumed that French thought had some effect upon our public mind during Revolutionary days. This may have been true. But the principles of our Declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Connecticut, as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that…

“The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people…. The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andros in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise, entitled “The Church’s Quarrel Espoused,” in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.

While the written word was the foundation, it is apparent that the spoken word was the vehicle for convincing the people. This came with great force and wide range from the successors of Hooker and Wise. It was carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina, showing its influence by significantly making that Colony the first to give instructions to its delegates looking to independence. This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his “best ideas of democracy” had been secured at church meetings.

Rev. John Wise's grave

Rev. John Wise’s grave

That these ideas were prevalent in Virginia is further revealed by the Declaration of Rights, which was prepared by George Mason and presented to the general assembly on May 27, 1776. This document asserted popular sovereignty and inherent natural rights, but confined the doctrine of equality to the assertion that “All men are created equally free and independent.” It can scarcely be imagined that Jefferson was unacquainted with what had been done in his own Commonwealth of Virginia when he took up the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. But these thoughts can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710. He said, “Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man.” Again, “The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, and so forth. …” And again, “For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine.” And still again, “Democracy is Christ’s government in church and state.” Here was the doctrine of equality, popular sovereignty, and the substance of the theory of inalienable rights clearly asserted by Wise at the opening of the eighteenth century, just as we have the principle of the consent of the governed stated by Hooker as early as 1638.

When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature’s God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”

No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the Colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

July4_Eagle_flagIf this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government — the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that “Democracy is Christ’s government.” The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.

On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

John Adams on religion and freedomIt was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook to balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence, they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

I bolded a few passages that I found particularly noteworthy, but there are others. Rather than address anything in more detail, I think I’ll just leave it at that.

Happy Independence Day!!

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Pass the Brexit, Please

“Once we step outside the moral universe of the [post-national, post-democratic] elites, there is no case whatever for Britain to surrender its self-governing democracy to Brussels.”  — the Editors of the National Review

“The vote for Brexit is a vote for sovereignty and self-determination.”  — Nile Gardiner, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

When I first heard the term “Brexit”, I thought it was a new breakfast “bisquit”. Or, maybe a certain cut of meat? Alas, I was very wrong. (And, apparently, feeling a bit peckish.)

Brexit - for and againstIn the past couple weeks, I’ve learned what Brexit was all about. Well, sorta… I confess, I never got into the details. But, I did learn enough (I think) to be in favor of it — i.e., I would have voted “Leave”, if I were a Briton. Leaving the European Union (EU) seems a bit scary to many. In fact, while 48% of Brits who voted voted “Remain”, I wonder if many were not so much sufficiently informed to make an educated decision as they were frightened — thanks to David Cameron’s “Project Fear” (as the Scots called it) — into thinking that the UK would fall over a financial, economic, and cultural cliff if left to itself. (Sounds like many of my fellow Americans, to be honest.) Rubbish! Those who are in favor of the “progressive”, globalist idea of the EU are/were particularly appalled at the idea of the UK’s secession. To which, I can only say, “Too bad!” (I say that in my best Lt. Worf imitation, hoping that some “Star Trek: TNG” fan out there understands the reference.)

While there are sure to be “bumps” along the way for the UK, the rest of the EU, and even the U.S., I think such fear is largely unfounded in the long term. Particularly, for the UK. I mean, it could go very badly, especially if people panic and make major decisions based on fear and/or spite. But, it doesn’t have to and certainly isn’t inevitable. I’m not about to attempt to detail any path-to-success for the UK, which would be well out of my wheelhouse, but there are other countries in Europe that do not belong to the EU and they are doing OK. (To be fair, a couple of them have tried to join the EU but were either rejected or dropped their bid.) Of course, the UK is a much bigger player — 5th largest economy in the world — so the impact for it and those it does business with is much broader.

Consider this, as explained in a National Review editorial published before the vote:

“Economically speaking, leaving the EU would mean that Britain was outside both a customs union with an average tariff of 3 percent and a system of massive and intrusive regulation. The first would be a trivial disadvantage, the second a strong positive benefit…. [C]omparable countries — Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Australia — are doing much better than those in the EU. Countries in the euro zone are doing worst of all. And Britain’s trade is already being diverted from Europe to the Americas and Asia because that is where the growing markets are. In other words, even if leaving the EU were to produce transitional market disturbances, the long-term fundamentals for Brexit would be fine.

Admittedly, it is true that both the British and the world economies are suffering from a serious attack of nerves about growing debt and, in the case of the U.K., a balance-of-payments deficit equal to 7 percent of GDP. When markets are nervous otherwise, modest problems can send currencies spiraling upward or downward temporarily. In such circumstances, governments should stress the transitional character of any change, pointing out that currencies and other indicators quickly adjust to the economic fundamentals…. Instead of soothing the markets, however, almost all governments and international economic bodies now exaggerate the financial risks of Brexit. That is deeply irresponsible, of course, but it also invites the observation that the current debt levels and higher risks of the world economy are the result of policies pursued by the very authorities that now use them as bugaboos to frighten the voters.”

The whole article is quite informative and a very helpful read for understanding the European Commission’s control over the EU’s member states and “Why Britons Should Vote to Leave the EU”.

Switzerland not in EUThere are at least three directions the UK could go as an independent from the EU. Some (e.g., Andrew Stuttaford at the National Review) have recommended the “Norway option”. Norway is one of four members of the intergovernmental trade organization known as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA has a co-ordinated trade policy which allows its members “jointly concluded free-trade agreements” with many other countries. However, to do business in the EU’s internal market (aka the European “single market”), members must sign onto the Agreement on a European Economic Area (EEA), which is regulated by the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court. Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway have done so. (I’m not sure why this is called the “Norway option”, except perhaps due to its being of more comparable size to the UK.)

Polling earlier this month had British voters overwhelmingly in favor of this option, at least for a 5-10 year transitional period. However, Norway’s own Prime Minister warned, “They won’t like.” While such a relationship grants greater flexibility over agriculture, fisheries and external trade, the think-tank Open Europe points out, “it would still be bound by great swathes of the EU regulation that rankles with businesses and the general public, but — and this is the crucial point — without any vote on it.” This would probably include the lax border/(im)migration policies (i.e., “free movement”), which many see as part of the current problems.

Note: According to the survey commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), 42% of Britons who said they would vote for Brexit also believed that EFTA membership should be considered, versus 45% of leavers who said it should not.

The second option would be to follow the lead of the fourth member of the EFTA, Switzerland. Refusing to agree to all the EEA stipulations, Switzerland instead independently negotiated a set of bilateral agreements with the EU. This seems like the best option to me. Considering the size of its economy and everything else mentioned by the National Review above, I would think the UK brings a lot to the bargaining table, and the other European nations literally can’t afford to be too picky or proud about their trading partners. (Some are willing to do business with some pretty “bad actors,” too, unfortunately.) However, there is something to be said for a Norway-like transitional period to alleviate short-term impact on GDP.

Another option for the EU-free UK is “relying on the minimum tariff rates secured by the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation,” rather than forging new trade agreements. That one doesn’t sound too promising. I’m sure there are other options, hybrid models and the like, but those are the three I’ve seen discussed most — especially the first two.

UK and US flags crossed - sky bkgrdI’m confident that the UK can come out of all this as a much stronger nation, with returned control of their own borders, laws, and trade policies, along with reduced regulations and the accompanying bureaucracy. If the rest of the EU a) doesn’t panic and b) starts making some smarter (i.e., right-leaning and security-minded) decisions, they should survive, too. In fact, if a few more EU members (e.g., France, Netherlands) jump ship and follow the UK’s lead, perhaps partnering up on some things, all the better. As for the U.S., Brexit works in our best interests, as well. Nile Gardiner and Matthew Dunn, for example, believe that Britain can now be a more reliable ally against Russian aggression, Islamist terrorism, and other threats. Gardiner also points out,

“The United States should seize upon Brexit as a tremendous opportunity to sign an historic free trade agreement with the United Kingdom — a deal that would advance prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic…. Britain’s decision to leave the EU should be a cause for celebration here in America. Brexit embodies the very principles and ideals the American people hold dear to their hearts: self-determination, limited government, democratic accountability, and economic liberty. A truly free and powerful Great Britain is good for Europe and the United States.”

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher seemed to think the UK was better off outside the European Union, too. For what it’s worth, I agree.

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Should Free Speech Have Limits When It Comes to Terrorism?

“With an enemy committed to terrorism, the advocacy of terrorism — the threats, the words — are not mere dogma, or even calls to ‘action.’ They are themselves weapons — weapons of incitement and intimidation, often as effective in achieving their ends as would be firearms and explosives brandished openly.”  — Andrew C. McCarthy, columnist, author, and former federal prosecutor

In a recent column, Newt Gingrich took Congress to task for “passively allowing the American left to set the focus for responding to the Orlando attack.” As we have seen over the past few days, many Democrats and the MSM have bent over backward to avoid admitting that the real problem is Islamic supremacist terrorism, instead blaming guns, the NRA, Republicans, even (somehow) Christians. In the Washington Times piece, Gingrich then went on to examine a few facts about the recent terrorist attacks in Orlando, France, and the Philippines — each with a different kind of weapon, btw. After quoting CIA Director John Brennan on the health and tactics of ISIS, he advised that some serious assessment by Congress is required re the “Long War”. I want to focus briefly on his third recommendation:

“[W]e have to develop new laws for American citizens who want to wage war against America. For example:

  • nyt- orlando terrorist shootingsAmericans who pledge loyalty to ISIS and other Islamic supremacist movements are engaging in treason and should lose their citizenship.
  • Americans who learn about potential terrorist attacks should be charged as accomplices if they fail to turn in the plotter.
  • Supporting Islamic supremacist groups overseas (as the Orlando killer’s father does) should lead to being put on a watch list and other restrictions, subject to judicial review.
  • Islamic supremacist propaganda should be outlawed and its possession should be a criminal offense. Limits on the First Amendment in wartime are unavoidable, and we are at war. I first made this point in 2006, and it is still true today.”

What do you think of this? Others have promoted similar legislation. I think they are reasonable actions to take, given the current state of world affairs and the strength and reach of ISIS (thanks largely to the foreign policy and strategies of the Obama administration). But, I think there may be some pushback from various quarters. I’m not sure where the most resistance will come from — Liberals, Libertarians, conservative Republicans, Constitutionalists — but some will be quite squeamish about restricting First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens, even of terrorists and their supporters.

Now, I want to turn to what Gingrich said in that 2006 article he mentioned, from when he was a Senior Fellow for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). After referring to comments he made at a First Amendment rights-focused dinner, he wrote:

“I’ve heard from many Americans who understand the seriousness of the threat that faces us, Americans who believe as I do that free speech should not be an acceptable cover for people who are planning to kill other people who have inalienable rights of their own.

A small number of others have been quick to demagogue my remarks. Missing from the debate? Any reference to the very real threats that face Americans.

There was no mention of last week’s letter from Iranian leader Ahmadinejad that threatens to kill Americans in large numbers if we don’t submit to his demands.

There has been little attention drawn to any of the many websites dedicated to training and recruiting terrorists, including a recent one that promises to train terrorists “to use the Internet for the sake of jihad.”

No mention of efforts by terrorist groups like Hezbollah to build “franchises” among leftist, anti-globalization groups worldwide, especially in Latin America.

The fact is not all speech is permitted under the Constitution. The First Amendment does not protect lewd and libelous speech, and it should not — and cannot in 2006 [or 2016] — be used as a shield for murderers.”

My boy joined ISISGingrich is absolutely right. The reality is that today’s technology allows “speech” of all sorts to spread worldwide. As a still-relatively-free country, we generally balk at censorship. Indeed, though we have to keep reminding the political Left of this, the First Amendment was written to protect the rights of people — at least, citizens and legal residents — to say things that would be considered nasty or offensive by some who hear it. (After all, who needs to assure the right to say things everyone agrees with?) But, does that right extend to enabling terrorists — from within the nation or without, citizen or otherwise — to not only spread hate but direct others how to kill and maim others in violent acts?

We Constitution-minded conservatives are so used to defending First Amendment rights that we sometimes forget it is not holy writ or absolute moral law. It makes me nervous to say/write this, but there are times when the general rule of the F.A. can and perhaps should be bent or exceptions made, as long as it is in keeping with the larger spirit and intent of the Constitution (e.g., general welfare and security of the nation). And, of course, any actual changes must be enacted through the amendment process.

Gingrich continued with the following recommendations, much like the ones above from his current article:

“We need a serious dialogue — not knee-jerk hysteria — about the First Amendment, what it protects and what it should not protect. Here are a few baseline principles to consider.

We should be allowed to close down websites that recruit suicide bombers and provide instructions to indiscriminately kill civilians by suicide or other means, or advocate killing people from the West or the destruction of Western civilization;

We should propose a Geneva-like convention for fighting terrorism that makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous. A subset of this convention should define the international rules of engagement on what activities will not be protected by free speech claims; and

We need an expeditious review of current domestic law to see what changes can be made within the protections of the First Amendment to ensure that free speech protection claims are not used to protect the advocacy of terrorism, violent conduct or the killing of innocents.”

Notice that part I italicized in the third paragraph? I truly hope it isn’t too late, already. I also wouldn’t count something like this getting very far under the current administration, who cannot even acknowledge the true threat. But, I am hopeful that a more conservative President — even Trump — would support and encourage a bipartisan effort in Congress to take Gingrich’s advice. This isn’t the only “serious dialogue” that needs to be had by Congress and the American people in general, as well as by our counterparts in other nations. But, hopefully, with the tragedies of Orlando, Paris, and other attacks fresh in our minds, it is one that most of us can largely agree on. With such policies and programs in place, maybe we can actually start to turn the tide of the advancing, brutal, and decidedly INtolerant, Islamist caliphate.

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Unicorns in the Bible? Not a Problem…

“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.” — Numbers 23:22 (KJV)

This week, I decided to do a fun (but, it turned out, rather laborious) study on an issue that some Bible skeptics have used to mock or dismiss the reliability of God’s Word. You see, in nine different places in the Bible (Num. 23:22; 24:8; Deut. 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7), it refers to unicorns. One could assume that the author and his original audience knew they were mythical and merely used it/them for literary effect. But, many (most?) readers now tend to read those passages as if they are referring to real creatures. Of course, “everybody” knows unicorns are fictional, which would be further evidence that the Bible is a bunch of myths and fables, right? Well,… that’s exactly what I want to investigate here.

395px-Unicorn.vinycomb1907When most of us hear the word “unicorn”, we think of a creature that looks something like the one in this picture — a majestic, horselike creature, usually white, that has a long, straight(?) horn growing out of its forehead. Or, as it says in my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1977),

“a fabulous animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead”

Tales of these unicorns go back many hundreds of years. They are usually considered to be very intelligent (as quadrupeds go) and possessing mystical powers of some sort, either in life or death. Nowadays, they often show up in fantasy literature, TV shows, and movies, from Disney and C.S. Lewis to Blade Runner (director’s cut) and Harry Potter. But, they’re not real. Are they? Some people might try to defend the Bible’s reference to unicorns by positing that the legends were based on reality, that they are either very rare creatures who stay hidden and/or they existed in biblical times but are now extinct. As skeptics and anyone else familiar with zoology past and present will tell you, there have been no reliable sightings of these creatures in modern times, and there is no fossil evidence anywhere to substantiate that they lived in any era in Earth’s past. Of course, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, and the stubborn proponent of this idea will probably stick with it. But, there are better explanations.

A second way to address this challenge is to look more closely at the word “unicorn”. Now, part of the issue lies with the particular Bible translation being quoted — usually, the ever-popular King James Version (KJV). Modern translations do not use “unicorn” in these verses, which I will get back to in a minute, but very early translations — e.g., Wycliffe Bible (1382), Bishops’ Bible (1568), Geneva Bible (1599), King James Version (1611; 1769), et al. — all say “unicorn”. So, in order to know what that word meant back then, we need to find a really old dictionary.

The first English dictionary, Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabetical (1604), was rather limited (120 pages, 3000 words) and had no entries under “U”. Next best I could find was Nathan Bailey’s An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1756), which has this entry: “UNICORN (of unus, one, and cornu, L. a horn) is by some supposed to be a very rare and beautiful beast, like an horse, having one long horn in the middle of the forehead twisted. But this creature not being well attested to have been seen, may well be thought to exist rather from its being mentioned in scripture; some persons suppose there must be such a creature….” What follows is mention of associated legends, as well as anecdotes of encounters with “unicorns” of varying size and description. The entry concludes, “It follows plainly, from all that hath been said, either that the generality of such accounts that mention unicorns must be false, or that travellers have blinded [sp?] and confounded several species of animal into one.” So, there was a bit of skepticism about the mystical horselike version back then, too, at least among some more educated folk. Very interesting…

Northern White Rhino

Northern White Rhino

The original edition of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) has the following: “U’NICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.] 1. an animal with one horn; the monoceros. this name is often applied to the rhinoceros. 2. The sea unicorn is a fish of the whale kind, called narwal, remarkable for a horn growing out at his nose. 3. A fowl.” If one then looks up “rhinoceros” in the same volume, we see this: “RHINOC’EROS, n. [L. rhinoceros; Gr. nose-horn.] A genus of quadrupeds of two species, one of which, the unicorn, has a single horn growing almost erect from the nose. This animal when full grown, is said to be 12 feet in length. There is another species with two horns, the bicornis. They are natives of Asia and Africa.” So, we see that two types of rhinoceros were known to the British almost 200 years ago and possibly long before that, one with a single horn and one with two horns. (We now know of two extant single-horned species and three extant two-horned species.)

Modern rhino species are not native to anywhere near Ancient Palestine, with the closest being the now-endangered northern white rhino (see pic) of East and Central Africa south of the Sahara and the Indian rhinoceros, or greater one-horned rhinoceros, of the Indian subcontinent. There was, however, a lot of travel and trade with surrounding regions — including northeastern Africa — that the ancient Hebrews and their precursors (e.g., Job) could very well have been familiar with them, though rarely via personal encounter. Rhinos were likely the source of some ancient tales of one-horned beasts. However, this only seems like a possible — not probable — scenario for the biblical “unicorn”.

Elasmotherium sibiricum by phil chenFor what it’s worth, there once was a genus of Eurasian rhinoceros, Elasmotherium, at least one species of which was the size of a mammoth and is informally known as the “Great Rhinoceros” or “Great (Siberian) Unicorn”. Current estimates are that it died out about 29,000 years ago; but, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a few survived into the time of the Biblical patriarchs. Some young-earth creationists (e.g., Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis) believe that this is indeed the animal God is describing in Job and that the other passages refer to. (Of course, Ham believes the Earth is only about 6000 years old, so Elasmotherium probably would have gone extinct about 3000 years ago.)

So, why would the KJV (and its predecessors) use the word “unicorn”? Stick with me, as I need to get into the ancient languages a bit here…

First, a couple things about the King James Bible: 1) The Hebrew text used by the translators (i.e., the Masoretic Text) was sufficient for the task, but the translators’ understanding of Hebrew vocabulary was somewhat lacking. 2) The king instructed the translators to use the wording of the Bishops’ Bible whenever possible, unless a more accurate rendering could be found in either the Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew/Rogers, Whitchurch/Cranmer, or Geneva Bible. These English translations were based either in whole or in part on Latin translations. It is interesting to note that the Latin Vulgate, completed by St. Jerome in AD 405, uses five different words in the verses in question, all variations on “rinoceros” and “unicornis”. The translators into Latin may have seen (con)textual clues that convinced them to use different words. I have read an explanation (by a layman) for why the one (supposedly referring to two-horned rhinos) is used in some places and the other (supposedly referring to one-horned rhinos) in other places, but I didn’t buy the argument.

When the early Latin translations of the Bible were done (2nd-5th cent.), Hebrew was even less favored and less known than Greek. There were also few Hebrew texts available by then. So, the translators often used, or at least consulted with, the Greek Old Testament. (Note: Even Jerome did several books of the Vulgate based on the Septuagint before switching over to Hebrew source texts.) It should also be noted that the Greek for the verses in question uses variations of “monokerotos” (i.e., one horn). This background about the Greek and Latin explains why the early English translations kept using “unicorn”, even though the Hebrew does not demand it.

Now, we get to the crux of it. Lest we forget, the Old Testament books were originally written in ancient Hebrew. So, rather than focusing on a particular English word, or even a Greek or Latin word, we should really check out the Hebrew word being translated ultimately as “unicorn”. The word is transliterated “rem” (or “reem” or “ram”) in the singular and “remim” (or “ramim”) in the plural. Truth is, even with better texts and superior Hebrew scholarship, current experts admit that they aren’t entirely sure what animal this is referring to. The early translators did their best, and it may indeed be some sort of rhino. However (and I could be wrong), I see no examples among the nine verses that demand the creature have only one horn. In fact, Psalms 92:10 is the only one that refers to a horn in the singular, and six of the verses don’t refer to horns at all. On the other hand, there is a pretty good argument that the horns of the animal in Deut. 33:17 are of different lengths, since they seem to represent the “ten thousands of Ephraim” and the mere “thousands of Manasseh”.

Artist's rendition of a great aurochs

Artist’s rendition of a great aurochs

By the late 19th century, English Bible translators recognized that “unicorn” was misleading and began to use other words. For example, the Darby Bible (1890) used “buffalo”, the Douay–Rheims Bible (1899 Amer. ed.) used “rhinoceros”, and the American Standard Version (ASV) (1901) used “wild ox”. Most modern translations — e.g., CEB, GNT, ESV, HCSB, ISV, LEB, MEV, NABRE, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, REB, RSV, TLV, WEB — opt for “wild ox(en)” or “wild bull(s)” in these verses. As I said, the exact meaning of the Hebrew word is unclear, but many believe it refers to the now-extinct great aurochs (Bos primigenius), aka urus. (Last recorded specimen died in Poland in AD 1627.) This “wild ox” was the ancestor of today’s domestic cattle, known for its size, strength, and long horns that were quite effective at goring.

So,… the third explanation is that the word “unicorn” was simply an ill-advised attempt at a translation way back when, from the Greek to the Latin and then into English. (Maybe it got into a few other non-English translations, too.) But, current scholarship, while not 100% sure, points to a creature a little less exotic and much more believable. This is no reason to doubt the credibility of Judeo-Christian Scripture.

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Ramm’s Interpretative Principle for Geology & Biology

“Almighty God is Creator, World Ground, and Omnipotent Sustainer. In his mind the entire plan of creation was formed with man as the climax. Over the millions of years of geologic history the earth is prepared for man’s dwelling, or as it has been put by others, the cosmos was pregnant with man…. From time to time the great creative acts, de novo, took place. The complexity of animal forms increased. Finally,… he whom all creation anticipated is made, MAN, in whom alone is the breath of God.”  — B. Ramm

Young Bernard Ramm

Young Bernard Ramm

While looking through some old files, I came across the following, which I thought might be of interest to those of you interested in science-faith issues and the creation/evolution/ID debates. They are the concluding remarks from a paper by noted Christian theologian Dr. Bernard Ramm, presented in absentia to the American Scientific Affiliation over 65 years ago, then published in the Journal of the ASA (June 1949). The title was “The Scientifico-Logical Structure of the Theory of Evolution”.

If you are familiar with some of Ramm’s later writings (e.g., Protestant Biblical Interpretation (1950), Protestant Christian Evidences (1953), The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954)) you know that he was an apologist who spent a lot of time studying and writing about these issues, along with biblical hermeneutics and apologetics in general. Both Ramm’s theology and his approach to apologetics evolved (hah!) over the years. But, when this paper was written, Ramm was theologically a conservative evangelical and a proponent of evidentialist apologetics.

“[W]hat is the interpretative principle that the Christian brings to the myriad of facts, biological, geological, and the like?

The general interpretative principle that this writer adopts is that Genesis 1 records in broad outline the successive creative acts of God in bringing the universe and world to the state when it could be inhabited by man. Being a very general and broad sketch, Genesis 1 leaves considerable room for the empirical determination of various and diverse facts. Hence a multitude of facts now generally accepted by scientists would remain unchanged according to this view we are advocating.

Secondly, there is no advance upward apart from the creative activity of God. There may be horizontal radiation of life but no vertical. This is precisely the point where this view differs from theistic evolution. Evolution, theistic and naturalistic, believes in the radiation of life from lower to higher forms, from the simple to the complex. According to our view radiation can only be horizontal. That is, the “root-specie” of, shall we say the “dogs” may radiate outward into wolves, coyotes, and dogs and all the varieties of each. But there is only unraveling of gene potentialities — no upward evolution. And this seems to be in keeping with the fact that we do have in geology no demonstrable vertical radiation but plenty of horizontal radiation.

Thirdly, Genesis gives us the general movement of the origin of geological strata and life forms. The six work-days are geologico-biological work days. We expect then the basic rocks to be azoic. We expect the simpler forms on the bottom layers. We expect the higher forms on the higher levels, and man the highest form on the highest level.

This presentation is, of course, limited by space, and thus somewhat sketchy but if fully worked out we believe that it would constitute a general interpretive concept that would replace the evolutionary one because it can account for all that evolution tries to account for, and then can go on and account for the things that evolution cannot. The reason for this is, we believe, that the basis of it, namely Genesis 1, is a divine revelation.

fossil-recordIn closing we wish to point out that to indicate weaknesses and inconsistencies in evolution theory is all right but it does not go far enough. For example, in modern psychology there are serious objections to all the major schools of psychology yet the adherents to these various schools do not give up their convictions. Convictions are surrendered when a more unifying and integrating hypothesis is suggested and demonstrated. So, we as Christians must not think we have done our job by indicating the difficulties with evolutionary theory. We must go on and present clearly and factually the Christian interpretative principle in geology and biology. If we can show that this view has the maximum of internal consistency, and has a high degree of accuracy in material prediction, then we have really done something to the evolutionary theory. Until then we fight pretty much of a guerilla warfare that may sting but does not force a retreat.”

This generally concordist approach was and is taken by many Christians, both professionals and laymen (like me), while often differing on how best to work out the scriptural and natural details. I think Dr. Hugh Ross and the scholar team at Reasons to Believe (reasons.org) have done a wonderful job of building on such a foundation and developing “a more unifying and integrating hypothesis”, known as the RTB Creation Model. Plus, as Ramm recommended, they not only point out “weaknesses and inconsistencies in evolution theory” but also present positive arguments for divine Creation by the God of the Bible. I think Ramm — or, at least, Ramm c.1950 — would be pleased.

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A Brief History of Memorial Day

“By the flow of the inland river, Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver, Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew, Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue, Under the other, the Gray.”
– first stanza of “The Blue and the Gray”, by Francis Miles Finch

Even before the American Civil War ended, it became customary in some communities for women to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Normally, Southerners only decorated graves of Confederate soldiers and Northerners those of Union soldiers. But, there were instances of non-partisan honors, one of which inspired the above poem by Finch. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans, issued his General Order No. 11, calling for May 30th to be designated a national day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Memorial Day montageOriginally known as Decoration Day, the first official memorial was held May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. General James Garfield and other officials gave speeches before 5000 attendees, then flowers were scattered on the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there, while prayers were recited and hymns sung. Some accounts say that flags were placed on the graves, as well. Flowers and small American flags have become the customary decorations at such ceremonies, though sometimes family & friends add a photo or other memorabilia to specific gravesites.

Beginning with New York in 1873, the Northern states had all officially recognized the holiday by 1890. Most Southern states, on the other hand, stubbornly refused to do so. However, they relented after World War I, by which time the purpose of the holiday had broadened to memorializing members of the American military who died in war, regardless of which one. Also, it was following WWI that the U.S. (along with several other countries) erected a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (or “Tomb of the Unknowns”, or some variation thereof).

I might also mention that it was during World War I that the National Poppy Movement began in the U.S, France, & Belgium, in which people wore red poppies in honor of those who died while serving their nation in war. The proceeds from selling poppies — real and artificial — went to benefit war widows and orphans. The VFW’s “Buddy Poppy” Program continues that tradition, with the artificial poppies being assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals. The proceeds, though, now go to help those disabled and needy veterans, “provid[ing] financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.”

Over two dozen towns across the North and South claim to have been the first to celebrate a “memorial day” for American soldiers killed in war. For example, a gravestone in a cemetery in Carbondale, IL, Gen. Logan’s wartime home, says that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. In 1966, though, Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, NY, to be the official “birthplace” of Memorial Day. On May 5, 1866, the residents of Waterloo had begun a tradition of closing businesses for the day and flying flags at half-staff in honor of local veterans who had fallen during the Civil War. Reasoning in favor of Waterloo’s claim includes the facts that, as opposed to other towns, their ceremony was formal, community-wide, and not a one-time thing.

Decoration Day slowly became known as Memorial Day in some quarters, but it was always celebrated on May 30. That is, until 1968, when President Johnson signed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” (PL 90-363) into law, thus assuring a 3-day weekend for federal employees by establishing Memorial Day as a federal holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May. (Other federal holidays were similarly affected.) This is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “National Holiday Act of 1971″, presumably because the law didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 1971. It should also be mentioned that several Southern states have set aside their own days for honoring Confederate veterans only.

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance…. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”  — John A. Logan, General Order No. 11

In December 2000, Congress passed (and President Clinton signed) “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” (PL 106-579), which created the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. As per VA.gov, “The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.” Or, if you have three minutes to spare, you could watch this very moving video montage:

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Racial Profiling, Black Crime, and Criminal Justice

“Though prosecutors and judges may well make discriminatory judgments, such decisions do not account for more than a small fraction of the overrepresentation of blacks in prison.”  — James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein, Crime and Human Nature

Please Stop Helping Us - books13_1Once again (as I did here, here, and here), I would like to cite from Jason L. Riley’s very educational book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. The combination of personal insights and statistical facts make what he has to say particularly worth taking note of. In this section, Riley begins by discussing how he was racially “profiled” in his youth:

“While attending the University at Buffalo, where I lived off campus, I was stopped regularly while driving through the main drag of a tony suburb on my way to morning classes…. Like so many other young black men, I was also followed in department stores, saw people cross the street as I approached, and watched women clutch their purses in elevators when they didn’t simply decide to ride a different one. It was a part of growing up…. Was I profiled based on negative stereotypes about young black men? Almost certainly. But then everyone profiles based on limited knowledge, including me.

In high school I worked as a stock boy in a supermarket. The people caught stealing were almost always black. As a result black shoppers got more scrutiny from everyone, including black workers. During college I worked the overnight shift at a gas station with a minimart. Again, the people I caught stealing were almost always black. So when people who looked like me entered the store my antenna went up. Similarly, when I see groups of young black men walking down the street at night I cross to the other side. When I see them on subways I switch cars. I am not judging them as individuals. Why take the risk? If I guess wrong my wife is a widow and my children are fatherless. So I make snap judgments with incomplete information.

My attitude and behavior are hardly unique, even among other blacks. Like white cabdrivers, black cabdrivers have been known to avoid picking up black males at night, something I also experienced firsthand upon moving to New York City after college. Black restaurant owners ask groups of young black diners to prepay for their meals, seat them away from the exit, or take other steps to make sure that the bill is settled. And the lady who is nervous about sharing an elevator with a black man might be black herself. Describing her numerous conversations about racial perceptions with other black women, former Spelman College president Johnetta Cole wrote, ‘One of the most painful admissions I hear is: I am afraid of my own people.’

o-LOS-ANGELES-POLICE-CAR-facebook-661x349Some individuals who avoid encounters with black youths may indeed be acting out of racism, but given that law-abiding blacks exhibit the exact same behavior it’s likely that most people are acting on probability…. My encounters with law enforcement growing up were certainly frustrating: I was getting hassled for the past behavior of other blacks. But that doesn’t necessarily make those encounters arbitrary or unreasonable. After all, perceptions of black criminality are based on the reality of high black crime rates. I say that as though it’s a given, and it is a given in the real world. But in the alternate universe of academia and the liberal mainstream media, there is still a raging debate over whether people’s fears of young black men have anything at all to do with the actual behavior of young black men.

Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, has written an entire book, The New Jim Crow, that blames high black incarceration rates on racial discrimination. She posits that prisons are teeming with young black men due primarily to a war on drugs that was launched by the Reagan administration in the 1980s for the express purpose of resegregating society…. ‘What this book is intended to do is to stimulate a much-needed conversation about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetrating racial hierarchy in the United States.’ Liberals love to have ‘conversations’ about these matters, and Alexander got her wish. The book was a best seller….

But the conversation that Alexander wants to have glosses over the fact that black men commit a hugely disproportionate number of crimes in the United States. The New Jim Crow is chock-full of data on the racial makeup of prisons, but you will search in vain for anything approaching a sustained discussion of black crime rates. To Alexander and those who share her view, the two are largely unrelated. Black incarceration rates, she wrote, result from ‘a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control.’ The author seems reluctant even to acknowledge that black people behind bars have done anything wrong…. ‘Hundreds of years ago, our nation put those considered less than human in shackles; less than one hundred years ago, we relegated them to the other side of town; today we put them in cages.’ Really?

When I say that someone is being treated like a criminal, I mean that person is being treated like he broke the law or otherwise did something wrong. (When I want to say someone is being treated as less than human, I say that person is being treated like an animal, not a criminal.) Her chattel slavery and Jim Crow analogies are similarly tortured and yet another effort to explain away stark racial differences in criminality. But unlike prisons, those institutions punished people for being black, not for misbehaving. (A slave who never broke the law remained a slave.) Yet Alexander insists that we blame police and prosecutors and drug laws and societal failures — anything except individual behavior — and even urges the reader to reject the notion of black free will. ‘The temptation is to insist that black men “choose” to be criminals,’ she wrote. ‘The myth of choice here is seductive, but it should be resisted.’ What Alexander and others who buy into her arguments are really asking us to resist are not myths but realities — namely, which groups are more likely to commit crimes and how such trends drive the negative racial stereotypes that are so prevalent among blacks and nonblacks alike.”

Question: If, God forbid, a black man were to commit a violent crime against Ms. Alexander or a loved one, would she be content to rail against poverty, unemployment, and an imperfect criminal justice system? Or, would she demand that the police find & arrest the SOB who chose to violate her rights, work with the prosecuting attorney to build a case against him, and expect the courts to sentence him to the fullest extent of the law?

SDT-racial-relations-08-2013-03-11“The black inmate population reflects black criminality, not a racist criminal justice system, which currently [i.e., at the time Riley wrote this, of course] is being run by one black man (Attorney General Holder) who reports to another (the president). Black crime rates are vastly higher than white crime rates. And it’s hard to see how wishing away this reality, inventing conspiracy theories to explain it, or calling those who point it out ‘racist’ will help improve the situation.

Perceptions of black criminality aren’t likely to change until black behavior changes. Rather than address that challenge, however, too many liberal policy makers change the subject. Instead of talking about black behavior, they want to talk about racism or poverty or unemployment or gun control. The poverty argument is especially weak. In the 1950s, when segregation was legal, overt racism was rampant, and black poverty was much higher than today, black crime rates were lower and blacks comprised a smaller percentage of the prison population. And then there is the experience of other groups who endured rampant poverty, racial discrimination, and high unemployment without becoming overrepresented in the criminal justice system….

Those who want to blame crime on a lack of jobs cannot explain why crime rates fell in many cities during the Great Depression, when unemployment was high, and spiked during the 1960s, when economic growth was strong and jobs were plentiful. Indeed, the labor-force participation rate of young black men actually fell in the 1980s and 1990s, two of the longest periods of sustained economic growth in U.S. history. Shouldn’t ghetto attitudes toward work at least be part of this discussion?”

I’ll stop there, but Riley goes on to discuss gun control and other related issues, citing many statistics that counter the claims of many Black “leaders”, academics, and other liberals.

Contrary to what some might assume, I don’t bring this stuff up because I’m a racist who likes to see Blacks fail. Rather, I see a segment of American society that has effectively shot themselves in the foot, and liberal/progressive policies have provided the metaphorical gun to do it, while continuing to blame others for their problems. The more people who recognize and acknowledge this, and the sooner they do, the sooner steps can be taken at all levels of government and in local communities to halt the harmful attitudes & practices and to institute policies that really will help Blacks in America to get past the victim-mentality, take advantage of opportunities, and truly succeed.

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