Defending Trump Without Selling Out

I think we can all agree that many of President Trump’s problems, including several of his agenda items getting stalled, are his own fault. In his recent “Open Letter to President Trump”, Ben Shapiro took the president to task for this, saying,

Headache? Psychic?

“Yes, dealing with Congress is like trying to herd cats. But you can’t herd cats if you’re too busy shooting yourself in the foot. Yes, dealing with media is like attempting to feed a pack of hyenas. But you can’t deal with them if you’re too busy providing them red meat to dissect….

This isn’t on Democrats. This isn’t on the media. This is on you, because you decided that the political universe would bow to you, and when it refused, you crapped the bed.”

In another article, Shapiro pointed out that the elusive (or illusive) Comey memo, allegedly documenting Trump’s urging that the Flynn investigation be dropped, could indeed be evidence of obstruction of justice. On the other hand, said Shapiro, it is equally plausible that the whole brouhaha is a manufactured “hit” by the intelligence community for some of the things Trump has said about them. Or, it could be a mix of the two.

“It is quite possible that Trump obstructed justice, and in doing so, fell into the waiting hands of an intelligence community that wants Trump gone, bolstered by hysterical media coverage. But before we leap to our respective trenches, let’s wait to see all the facts come out: what does the memo say? What’s Comey’s excuse for not dumping it earlier? And will Trump appoint a new head of the FBI who will quiet fears? It’s too early for impeachment talk, and it’s too early to dismiss rational suspicions. In the meantime, let’s take a deep breath. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

I have long thought — though I can’t remember if I put it in writing — that, if Trump is forced out of the Oval Office, it will not be due to true corruption or treason but due to his own foolishness, where he commits some ostensibly impeachable offense out of ignorance or carelessness. That, or assassination by some nutjob.

Arrogance, thin-skinnedness, imprudence, given to conspiracy theories, etc. None of these are impeachable offenses, though they may be qualities that could get a leader into trouble and even lead to impeachable actions. (Of course, they also describe Obama; the difference is that Obama wasn’t a Twitter-phile. OK, there might be other differences….) So far, though, the only things of substance(?) that his enemies have against Trump are 1) this purported “obstruction of justice” re Comey/Flynn and 2) the “leaking” of classified info to Russian delegates. The first of these, however, has yet to be substantiated, and the latter is a mischaracterization of the facts. The president, after all, has authority to share classified information about an enemy with those allied against that enemy. The only real issue seems to be one of prudence in this particular case, since it involved another ally’s intelligence asset.

Talk of Trump’s possible resignation or impeachment from the Left (and even by a few conservatives, like Ross Douthat) right now, for the reasons given, is *so* very laughable, not to mention hypocritical. In comparison to multiple counts of Obama’s behavior that demonstrably fell under “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”, for which no one on the Left would consider impeaching him (and the Right insisted there was insufficient public & political will), the accusations against Trump are incredibly weak. At this point, calls for impeachment just make those doing the calling look ridiculous.

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh has a very good article at Townhall, in which he discusses the fact that some people are accusing anyone who tries to defend Trump on this stuff — and I guess that would include me, to some extent — of being “tainted, partisan, idolatrous cheerleaders who have sold their souls and principles…. Some argue that even if former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton engaged in similar activities, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

After pointing out that “[j]ust because he’s handled some things disappointingly doesn’t mean he’s committed a crime or an impeachable offense,” Limbaugh brings up not just the hypocrisy of Democrats in general but of the liberal media in particular. For example, they looked the other way when Obama inserted himself into Hillarymail. They’re also on a “ceaseless witch hunt” regarding the allegations that Trump colluded with Russians to undermine and beat Hillary in the election. He continues…

“So no, two wrongs don’t make a right, but there aren’t two equal “wrongs” here, and attempts to attribute moral equivalence to these separate sets of conduct are deceitful and scurrilous.

Of course, Trump supporters should not compromise their principles to defend him against legitimate charges, but we shouldn’t throw him to the leftist wolves when the Democrats make false, excessive and otherwise unwarranted charges against him. There are a number of things I will criticize Trump for, but I am not going to accede to the Democrats’ outrageously over-the-top characterization of these actions as criminal or impeachable just to appear fairer or nonpartisan.

I’m also not about to quit pointing out the monumentally worse behavior of the leftist media and Democratic Party just to avoid the undiscriminating claim that I am a Trump cheerleader.

We have to analyze whether Trump is culpable of those things of which he has been accused, but in no event should such accusations intimidate or deter us from condemning the left for making false charges and trying to wrongfully undermine Trump’s presidency.”

I heartily concur.

P.S.  If you’re interested, here’s another piece by Shapiro: “No, Republicans Aren’t Going To Impeach Trump – And 8 Other Random Thoughts On Comeygate”

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You Gotta Fight… for Your Right… to Study the Rocks

“[W]hen the government starts refusing access to even collect the information because it dislikes one scientist’s views, it undercuts science and violates the law.”  — Gary McCaleb, ADF Senior Counsel

If the name “Andrew Snelling” is familiar to you, you probably have an interest in the creation/evolution/ID debates. Snelling has been a stalwart on the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) side for decades, including the past decade working for Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis (AIG) organization. He has a PhD in geology from the University of Sydney and has done both theoretical and practical geological research on two continents. He has also written for standard geological publications, but his YEC position is clear from his articles for creationist journals. (He currently edits AIG’s research journal.) That position, of course, includes beliefs that all of Creation is no more than 10,000 years old and that major geological features (e.g., mountains and canyons) were formed around the time of Noah’s Flood only a few thousand years ago.

One of Snelling’s particular areas of interest is the Grand Canyon. In addition to his AIG work, he contracts with Flagstaff-based Canyon Ministries to lead Christian bus tours and rafting trips in Grand Canyon National Park. He has conducted three research projects there over the past two decades “without complaint” from park officials. So, Dr. Snelling was a bit surprised to get the runaround when he submitted a routine request in November 2013 for permission to collect up to 60 fist-sized rocks during river trips planned for April and July 2014. Specifically, he wanted “to gather samples at folds inside the canyon where all the layers were bent, but were not shattered because the rocks were still soft as they folded – supposedly remaining soft over a period of 450 million years.” (WND)

“The samples I have been blocked from collecting in the GCNP are to be subjected to routine lab processing and investigations any good scientist would perform. The results are to be openly reported for all scientists to draw their own conclusions, whether or not they agree with my worldview interpretation of the history of the Earth.”

As reported by WND, “Scientists who conduct research in the park must explain their objectives and obtain a permit. However, in Snelling’s case, the lawsuit explains, permit coordinator Ronda Newton insisted on two peer reviews of his plans. He provided three, all recommending his work. But then Newton went to additional lengths….” Newton first sent the proposal for review by Dr. Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico. In a Feb. 10, 2014, letter to park officials, Karlstrom criticized Snelling and AIG’s beliefs and suggested that Snelling use “alternate sites”.

Newton then sent Snelling’s proposal to Ron Blakely of Northern Arizona University and Peter Huntoon of the University of Wyoming. Blakely called it “an outlandish proposal”. Referring to our “secular society”, Huntoon used terms like “dead-end creationist material”, further suggesting that “inappropriate interests” should be “screened out”.

Snelling’s request was denied in March 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) essentially telling him to “take a hike” and find his rocks somewhere else. But, the “unique” nature of the rocks were critical to his research. So he pushed back, methodically answering or rebutting each bureaucratic challenge. This allegedly earned him a warning from one official that collecting rocks without a permit would get him banned from future research in the park. He then tried submitting an amended proposal early last year, asking permission to collect only 40 samples. According to the ADF website,

“Then Park officials changed their story, and issued a permit which required Dr. Snelling to traverse the Canyon in a separate trip and locate every proposed sampling site with GPS coordinates and photographs, without any assurance of ever being authorized to actually collect the samples needed. No other scientist has been subjected to such a demand.”

Dr. Andrew Snelling

By the end of 2016, Snelling still had not been issued a collection permit. Also, “public records requests revealed that Park officials were specifically discriminating against Dr. Snelling’s faith,” which prompted an inquiry by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) as well as requests by attorneys. These were ignored. Dr. Snelling has now retained the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and Grand Canyon National Park on his behalf.

As per the Phoenix New Times,

“ADF wants a court to order NPS to issue Snelling a permit and pay his attorneys’ fees and a nominal damage award. ADF claims that the NPS is violating Snelling’s First Amendment rights to free speech and religious freedom, his Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, and the 2000 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The complaint also makes reference to a May 4, 2017, executive order by President Trump that promises protection of religious freedoms from ‘undue interference by the federal government.'”

Noting Karlstrom’s rock-collecting expedition in the canyon a few years ago, Snelling said,

“I don’t really expect an apology. I just expect to have fair treatment…. They need to be neutral in these world views…. To say ‘no, you can’t collect samples,’ is really hindering [scientific] investigation. By being open, that’s how science works.”

I may not hold to YEC doctrine on geology or a number of other things, but I agree with Snelling and the ADF on this matter. There doesn’t appear to be any fair or rational reason to disallow Snelling or anyone else with an applicable degree to gather a few rocks for scientific testing. Who knows? Maybe some interesting discovery will be made. (Yes, YECs are capable and have contributed to science in the past.) Maybe Snelling will even begin to change his mind about the age of the Earth. Probably not, but it shouldn’t matter.

“The government isn’t allowed to discriminate against someone based on their viewpoint, and National Park officials have absolutely no legal justification in stopping a scientist from conducting research simply because they don’t agree with his views. Using someone’s views to screen them for a government benefit is unconstitutional.”  — Michael Kitchen, ADF-allied attorney serving as lead counsel for Dr. Snelling in the lawsuit, Snelling v. United States Department of Interior

I’m all for lawful “discrimination” for valid reasons, but this isn’t that. I wonder if they would have treated an Old Earth Creationist the same way….

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A Biblical Argument Against Religious Inclusivism

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”  — John 20:30-31 (NASB)

I’ve mentioned Greg Koukl et al. from ‘Stand to Reason’ and drawn from their wonderful materials in previous posts. This will be another of those times.

Greg Koukl

I was listening to a podcast from early 2016 in which a caller asked Koukl about a proper definition and understanding of biblical faith (i.e., a step of trust based on evidence). This was in the context of the caller being a student at a Catholic university, so the discussion also touched on the inclusivist teaching now common in Roman Catholic churches and institutions (as of Vatican II), as the caller was discovering. This doctrine might be summarized as, “Yes, Jesus is necessary for salvation, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe in Him.” Koukl noted that this is a radical departure from what Jesus and the Apostles taught, as we see in New Testament Scripture.

The ‘faith’ discussion included the attesting miracles, as referenced in the above quote. Koukl continued:

“The claims are either true or false, and we know they’re true because there are good reasons to believe they’re true, and that’s the evidence that John is talking about there — the attesting miracles. And, so, now that we have good reason to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, now it’s up to us to act on that by putting our trust in Him.

And, by the way, if the reason he wrote the Gospel of John is so that we would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in believing have life, then if you do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then you don’t have the life that believing in Him gets you. Which means their [i.e., the Roman Catholics’] inclusivism is false. There is no such thing as ‘implicit faith in Christ’, that Jews — “well, they’re really believing in Jesus, even though they don’t know about Jesus.” There is no such thing. Hindus don’t have implicit faith in Christ by worshiping idols! They are disobeying God by breaking the First Commandment! And the same with Buddhists and everybody else who is ‘pursuing their faith tradition as best they know how.’ It may be the best that they know how, but it’s false. They are deceived by the Deceiver, and they are going to suffer as a result of being deceived.

This is something that I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church wants to stand up to, or to step up to. And that is the reality of the deception in the world, that other religions are false ways of characterizing God and salvation, and therefore they are false religions. If they are false religions, then they are not going to get people to God.”

A little bit later, they got back to the inclusivism doctrine…

“I think it’s entirely coherent. It makes all the sense in the world, if you say you don’t have to believe in Jesus in order to be saved by Jesus, you can believe in something else and God honors that as faith in Jesus. That makes perfect sense. I just don’t think it’s true. And the only way we know what’s true is going back to the text, and the text teaches this NOwhere.”

Koukl pointed to Acts 4, where Peter and John heal a lame man and are then arrested “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” They are brought before the high priests and other Jewish leaders assembled in Jerusalem, who ask Peter, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Peter answers that it is by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, and he ends with, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 (NASB))

“And he doesn’t say, ‘And, by the way, you can just ignore what I’ve said, because you are really good Jews, doing the best you can following Judaism. So, you’re already in. No need for you to whip me again for saying what I said, because I’m acknowledging that you are really in! No worries.’ Now, why did the Jewish leadership scourge Peter? It’s because he was declaring Jesus, the resurrection, and the necessity of faith in Jesus. Look at his opening sermon there in Acts 2. There is no way you can take Peter’s words in Acts 2 or 4 and make them conform to this inclusivistic gospel. There just is no possible way.

But, it’s worse than that, because you can also go further in the Book of Acts to chapter 10. This is where Peter is called in a vision by God to go speak to Cornelius, who is a God-fearer. Now, a ‘God-fearer’ is a kind of guy who’s doing the best he can under the circumstances to follow God by the light he’s been given. So, he’s a Gentile; he’s not in the assembly of the Jews. But, he’s doing the best that he can, right? An angel appears to Cornelius, and then an angel appears to Peter and brokers a meeting.

Here in verse 34 of Acts 10, when Peter finally goes to see Cornelius, he’s a little reluctant, because this guy, after all, is a Gentile. Here’s the way the text describes Cornelius: ‘Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.’ (Acts 10:1-2 (NASB)) And then, in virtue of all this godliness, has a vision from an angel.

Wow! He’s in! Right? He’s the guy! He’s doing everything that the inclusivists say. And then Peter goes and visits him and says, verse 34-35 (NASB), ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’ Wow! End of issue! Peter gets up and he leaves…. No, he doesn’t. What he just gave was the inclusivist gospel of the Roman Catholic Church. But, Peter knew Cornelius still wasn’t saved. He needed the Gospel, which he then gives him….

It’s interesting that what he says to Cornelius in verse 42 (NASB) is that this is a message that He, Jesus, ‘ordered us to preach to the people.’ Well, how is it, if Jesus orders them to preach to the people, that some church official here in the Roman Catholic Church is ordering their people *not* to preach it?! So, I encourage you to read Acts 10, because I think this passage all by itself proves that the inclusivist message is just, flat-out false. Because, if it were true, then Cornelius would already be saved.”

I think he’s absolutely correct.

Unfortunately, the RCC subordinated Scripture to Catholic tradition and the rulings of the Magisterium long ago….

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100 Days In

Everyone’s talking about Trump’s first 100 days in office, but I’m going to keep my comments fairly short.

Trump himself, as I’m sure you know, is now saying that this “100 Days” marker is arbitrary and doesn’t mean much. And he’s right,… mostly. The media started doing this awhile back, and it makes for a nice benchmark and a countdown for news stories, etc. But, unless those first 100 days are marked by significantly good or significantly poor performance, the time period should have no special, er, significance. Of course, if the President & Congress had gotten a couple more important pieces of legislation passed within the past 100 days, I’m sure Trump would have been TRUMPeting those accomplishments as the most amazingly YUGE first 100 days ever.

Speaking of Congress, their inability or refusal (for various reasons) to put together and pass bills that do what needs to be done — e.g., repeal and replace Obamacare being the biggest and most obvious — are a huge part of the problem. The President can only encourage legislation and then sign or veto it when presented with the final bill. He can’t force the Legislature to do their jobs. I truly pray that the Republican majority (and perhaps even a few centrist Democrats on some issues, at least) can unite behind a solidly conservative agenda, which is exactly what this nation needs.

Another major impediment, of course, has been from activist, progressive federal courts. I’m not saying the EOs to stem illegal immigration and enact “extreme vetting” (a term that I loathe) haven’t needed improvement. But, the intent behind them is clearly to protect American citizens (and legal residents), which is within the President’s constitutional authority. Same goes for withholding of federal funds from sanctuary cities (which never should have been allowed to buck federal law in the first place). These federal judges who have thrown roadblocks at Trump’s orders appear to be doing so purely for ideological reasons, which is shameful.

That said, I do not absolve the Executive branch from blame for some of the missteps, and there have been a few. In an understandably hectic time, the President has been trying to get his Cabinet and other high-level positions filled, including personal advisors, all while developing executive orders and dealing with foreign and domestic affairs. He has had personnel problems and verbal gaffes (e.g., Flynn, Bannon, Spicer, Conway, etc.), which have left smudges on the otherwise pretty successful fledgling administration. (I have concerns over other people and things in the administration, too, but I won’t go into them here.) But, hopefully, they are all learning from those mistakes. And, Trump does seem to be learning, as evidenced by things he has said and tough decisions he has had to make. I think the size, scope, and complexity of the various issues that the President must deal with here and abroad have become much more tangible to the New York real estate developer and “reality TV” celebrity.

I will say that, overall, I have been pleased with most of Trump’s appointments — from A.G. Sessions to Sec. Mattis to, of course, Justice Gorsuch. I had a little more concern about Sec. Tillerson, for example, but he seems to be shaping up to be a good choice, as well. Still, it has only been 100 days, and there will be plenty of time to take the true measure of President Trump and the rest of his administration. The “1 year” mark will perhaps be a more noteworthy milestone.

So, what *has* President Trump achieved in his first 100 days? Quite a bit, actually. Laying aside artificial time restrictions, and despite the stumbles and disappointments, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives. In fact, I think I’d grade him a solid ‘B’, maybe ‘B+’. Rather than stepping through it all myself, I point you to the following summary assessments:

“Trump’s Unconventionally Successful First 100 Days” by Mike Needham, CEO of Heritage Action for America

“Promises Kept, and Not Yet Kept, in Trump’s First 100 Days” by Fred Lucas, White House correspondent for The Daily Signal

“The 10 Best Things About Trump’s First 100 Days in Office” by John Hawkins, columnist, commentator, owner of Right Wing News

I look forward to what comes next — e.g., healthcare reform, tax reform, increased energy independence, repeal of Obama’s internet regulations, various efforts that strengthen the economy, a wall on our southern border, etc. But, I also expect some disappointments, including implementation of tariffs and partial support of LGBT agenda. So, as always, I remain “cautiously optimistic”….

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Trump Makes Men More Sexist

To be clear, I don’t believe the titular statement is true, nor would anyone else in their right mind. (Hey, I made a pun!) But, there are certain people on the Left who think it’s true, or at the very least would like you to believe it is. Take Vanity Fair, for instance….

As I learned in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, there was a recent study that supposedly demonstrated that the rise of Donald Trump to the Oval Office has resulted in men “acting more aggressively toward women.” How did they determine this? Rather than real-world observations and documentation, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School conducted a social-psychology experiment.

Similar to other such experiments, participants played a standard negotiation game. “A pair of students had to agree to divide up $20, but do so unevenly: One would get $15, the other $5, but who? If the two couldn’t agree, neither would get anything. Played out through the fall, [researchers] found that the young men, when paired with females, were more gentlemanly before the election and more ‘aggressive’ afterwards.”

I have always been a bit suspicious about making too much out of experiments/games like this, whether in labs or classrooms or other environments. For one thing, people don’t always (perhaps rarely) behave completely normally in such circumstances, ‘cuz they know it isn’t “real life”. Secondly, when done repeatedly over long periods, there can be many different factors influencing participants (e.g., stress over classes or work or family life, or maybe freaking out over the fact that the “evil _____ Party” won a major election), which might account for changes in behavior. Plus, I suspect that very few of these experiments have enough data to truly make them statistically significant and, thus, representative of a much larger group. Those reasons for skepticism are just off the top of my head.

The TWS article pointed out that the school’s press release was titled, “How Trump’s Election May Be Making Men More Aggressive”. At least they were honest enough to include “May Be” as a qualifier of doubt. But, that wasn’t strong enough for the feminists at Vanity Fair. When they reported on the experiment, there were no qualifiers, and the word “Aggressive” had changed to the more definitive “Sexist”. Their headline was: “Research Shows Donald Trump Is Making Men More Sexist”. Anything to maintain the party-line and promote an agenda, I suppose.

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Be Thou My Vision

“You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.”  — Psalm 73:24-26 (HCSB)

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of old hymns, but there are a few that I like. I thought I’d share one of my favorites today: “Be Thou My Vision”. It isn’t specifically Easter-ish but more about living a life pleasing to God with Him as our guide and priority. I love the Celtic sound and feel of it. In fact, it was originally an Old Irish Hymn, “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile” (or “Rop Tú Mo Baile”) by 6th-century Irish poet Dallán Forgaill. Mary E. Byrne translated it into English in 1905, and Eleanor H. Hull versified the text in 1912, though some have made slight revisions since then. The current tune is an arrangement by David Evans of SLANE, an old Irish folk tune, first paired with Hull’s verse in 1919 by Leopold Dix.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

Riches I need not, nor vain, empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and thou only first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Here are a few versions I like, and I hope you will, too:

Nice harmonies on this one…

This one is quite haunting…

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Philosophical Naturalists Can’t Condemn Criminals

“Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.”  — Daniel Webster, early American politician

When a wrong has been committed, it’s a normal, healthy human desire to want to see justice done. I am defining “justice” here as fair punishment that is proportional to the severity of the offense. As Thomas Jefferson said, “justice is instinct[ive] and innate; the moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing and hearing.” Of course, there are times when mitigating circumstances justify (if I can use that term here) some amount of leniency or mercy. And, when *we* are on the receiving end, mercy sounds awfully good. But, generally speaking, justice is what we want and rightfully so.

The thing is, for a philosophical naturalist/materialist to be consistent with his own worldview, he can neither condemn a criminal nor seek justice. I have three reasons for making this claim (though there may be more), and they boil down to 1) biology, 2) determinism, and 3) a lack of moral grounding. To start us off, here are a few observations from Christian author & apologist Hank Hanegraaff:

“From a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material, they could not be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year, because physical identity changes over time. We are not the same people today that we were yesterday. Every day we lose millions of microscopic particles. In fact, every seven years or so, virtually every part of our material anatomy changes, apart from aspects of our neurological system. Therefore, from a purely material perspective, the person who previously committed a crime is presently not the same person. Yet a criminal who attempts to use this line of reasoning as a defense would not get very far. Such legal maneuvering simply does not fly even in an age of scientific enlightenment. Legally and intuitively, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time.”

In other words, in demanding justice for crimes committed, the philosophical naturalist must borrow, however subconsciously, the supernaturalist’s concept of a non-physical soul in order to assume continuity of identity of the one on trial.

Hanegraaff then lays out the naturalist’s second problem…

“Freedom of the will presupposes that we are more than material robots. If I am merely material, my choices are a function of such factors as genetic makeup and brain chemistry. Therefore, my decisions are not free; they are fatalistically determined. The implications of such a notion are profound. In a worldview that embraces fatalistic determinism, I cannot be held morally accountable for my actions, since reward and punishment make sense only if we have freedom of the will. In a solely material world, reason itself is reduced to the status of a conditioned reflex. Moreover, the very concept of love is rendered meaningless. Rather than being an act of the will, love is relegated to a robotic procedure that is fatalistically determined by physical processes.”

We can, of course, replace ‘love’ in those last couple sentences with just about any emotion or psychological phenomenon. Those would include hate, greed, lust, jealousy, cruelty, or any longing for justice when Person A is injured in some way by Person B. The philosophical naturalist must accept that anyone who commits a crime — or any other act the naturalist deems to be “bad” — can’t help themselves, as they are just “dancing to their DNA”, as Richard Dawkins might put it.

What is “bad”, anyway? How did the philosophical naturalist decide what was bad/wrong vs. what is good/right? Some will tell you that the individual can decide what is good/right for himself, while others prefer the “society says” model. But, those are just versions of moral relativism, whereby good/right becomes merely one’s preference or opinion. In such a scenario, if a person (or his self-governing community) decides that lying, theft, rape, and murder are acceptable behaviors, then they are morally “good”… for them. If you think they are morally bad/wrong, that’s just your opinion. (Ironically, proponents of such a view will often judge your view as “bad” and tell you you should not say or believe that way.)

For more on this, I turn to another author/apologist, David Wood:

“If naturalism is true, there are no objective values (i.e., values that are valid independent of our opinions or preferences). Of course, in a naturalist’s world, human beings would still be free to value various things, such as life, money, freedom, pleasure, and so on. But in naturalism, such values are either personal (I like grape soda best), cultural (we like freedom of speech in the West), or a product of evolution (we should work for the good of our species). These values aren’t objective, however. There is no independent standard by which to judge that such values are more valid than their opposites. You may hate grape soda. Some cultures despise free speech. And while human beings clearly want to preserve our species, many competing species seek their own preservation, often at the expense of other species that are seeking their preservation. What makes human beings right when it comes to our values? Assuming naturalism is true, nothing makes our values right in any objective sense.”

Bottom line, then, is that the philosophical naturalist has no grounding for his “moral” preferences. Without valid grounding, there is no true basis for demanding justice for acts that are merely the outcomes of personal preferences or reflections of opinion. (Which, remember, were determined by the perpetrator’s genetics.) He can’t be blamed (or commended), let alone punished, for anything… period. In such a worldview, there can be no such thing as true criminal justice. The concept doesn’t even make sense.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, includes the existence of the immortal human soul, which allows for continuity of identity over time. Christian orthodoxy also teaches that humans are not merely material robots; we do indeed have free will and are morally responsible for our thoughts and actions. And, of course, Christianity holds that objective moral law does exist and is grounded in the existence and character of the Moral Law Giver — i.e., the triune God of the Bible. This same God will also judge the living and the dead. Christians, therefore, have a strong foundation for condemning criminals for violation of moral laws and for believing in, advocating, and hoping for justice, both here on Earth and in the afterlife.

As we head into the Easter season, I can’t help but think of one particular Man who was executed ~2000 years ago, even though he had committed no crime. Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man, who lived a perfectly sinless life, became the Lamb that was slain in our stead. When He died, He took on our sin, and His righteousness was imputed to those who did and would serve Him. He then rose from the dead and, weeks later, joined the Father in Heaven.

We all commit crimes against the Holy and Sovereign God. Some spit in His face when He offers redemption and continue to rebel against Him until their dying day and beyond. When He banishes them from His presence for all eternity, perfect justice will be carried out. They will get exactly what they want, and justice will be done. But, for those of us who know and serve Him, the Father “sees” only Christ’s righteousness and, thus, we obtain mercy from the just wrath of the Father.

“Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God…. The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.”  — John 3:18,36 (HCSB)

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Motivations for Atheism

“In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals.”  — CNN’s Elizabeth Landau reporting on Case Western Reserve University research (Jan. 2011)

When asked why they are atheist/humanist/naturalist, most people will tell you that it’s only rational, it’s obvious, science proves it, etc. But, is that really why they adopted that worldview, either consciously or subconsciously?

Richard Lewontin

I think it’s much more complex than that and involves a whole lot more emotion and “illogic” than many will admit or perhaps recognize in themselves. Of course, just as with any worldview or philosophical tenet, we have go be careful about generalizing. Every individual’s “reasons” are particular to their background and circumstance. But, I find it enlightening to read what some of the luminaries from the non-theist community have said themselves on this subject. Let’s begin with a quote from evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin’s famous “Billions and Billions of Demons” article from the New York Times (1997). Many are familiar with the “Divine foot in the door” bit, but here’s a little more context:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”

Egads!

It sounds to me as if Lewontin is admitting that the philosophical commitment to materialism gives rise to — and, thus, precedes — the naturalistic approach to science. This is contrary to the “Science disproves the existence of God” claim we’ve been told.

In the PBS documentary Nine Conversations: The Question of God (2004), professional skeptic Michael Shermer explained his “de-conversion” this way:

“Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just like the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with — just socially. It just felt more comfortable for me…. In reality I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.”

A remarkable admission from Shermer.

In Ends and Means (1937), humanist Aldous Huxley wrote:

“The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. The voluntary, as opposed to the intellectual, reasons for holding the doctrines of materialism, for example, may be predominantly erotic, as they were in the case of La Mettrie… or predominantly political, as they were in the case of Karl Marx….

Aldous Huxley (1946) – Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever….

Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless.”

So, justification of one’s political and/or sexual desires was the order of the day for Huxley’s generation. (I’ve heard/read other, more contemporary non-theists say as much. For example, I think Christopher Hitchens did, but I can’t find the quote.)

Philosopher Thomas Nagel is quite forthright about his own motivations, as revealed in The Last Word (1997):

“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world.”

Such honesty is refreshing! (It is also precisely why Nagel has gotten in hot water with many of his fellow atheists.)

Again, these are only a few examples of reasons given for adopting an atheist view, as shared by famous exemplars. As I said before, I found them to be enlightening. (That was a pun.) What did you think? Do you have any other quotes or personal anecdotes to add? Please share…

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Let’s Just Take a Breath re Healthcare

“Please stop blaming the House Freedom Caucus as a bunch of stuck-up ideological Pharisees. We need more in their ranks who will demand the best for the Constitution and the American people.”  — Arthur Schaper, political commentator and radio host

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., talks about the American Health Care Act

As we all know by now, Ryancare was pulled at the eleventh hour, because GOP leadership knew they didn’t have enough votes in the House to pass it. And that suits me just fine. Now, most Democrats & other liberals are gloating, laughing out one side of their collective mouth while scolding the Republicans out the other. Meanwhile, many Republicans are also rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in frustration, and probably resenting the 30+ holdouts in the Freedom Caucus for not voting on a bill that they knew was not the healthcare solution that the American public wants and needs. (Plus, some have argued that it would have been DOA at the Senate, anyway.)

Of course, I want to see the repeal and replacement of the disastrous Obamacare just as much as the next non-Leftie. Probably more than some. But, that doesn’t mean we should settle for “Obamacare Lite” — or, as some have put it, the “crap sandwich” that is the American Health Care Act (AHCA). And our representatives in Congress should not be pressured, coerced, or satisfied with anything of the sort, regardless of how much their “leadership” or the White House wanted a huge legislative ‘win’ a.s.a.p.

Frankly, I am rather disappointed with Trump and even more so with Paul Ryan et al. I think Sean Hannity is right. They should have included various groups — moderate, conservative, libertarian — from within Congress, the Executive, and outside think-tanks, in the discussions from the beginning — negotiating, building consensus, etc. But, Ryan and his Establishment buddies took a more exclusivist approach. They also had *plenty* of time to develop the plan and work this stuff out, at least since Nov. 9, 2016. But, that didn’t happen, so instead we got weeks of confusion and infighting and intense pressure at the end to support this AHCA bill that was developed largely “in secret”.

Let’s be clear. The supposed time crunch that was part of the applied pressure was basically arbitrary. Sure, it would have been nicely symbolic to pass Obamacare’s replacement on the 7th anniversary of Obamacare’s passage. And, yes, I realize that not having an Obamacare replacement in place makes it harder to move forward with budgets and tax reform. Healthcare constitutes 1/6th of the economy, after all. But, this is not something we can afford to get wrong by rushing a seriously flawed — and some might say “misrepresented” — piece of legislation into law. Ben Shapiro sums up what is wrong with Ryancare:

“Leave aside the public approval numbers, which are abysmal, far worse than they were for Obamacare: the bill maintains the Obamacare central regulatory regime, doesn’t lower cost dramatically, and provides the left a series of talking points that will crush Republicans in 2018. It’s not a significant free market reform, speculates about deficit reduction but doesn’t truly guarantee it (those block grants will increase or be replaced as political fallout hits Congress), and enshrines the Democratic article of faith that the government ought to provide health insurance to everyone via a regime of tax credits that amount to a new entitlement program. Ryan is pushing this bill because he thinks that’s all he can get through the Senate, and he’s negotiating with himself. That’s foolish. He should simply pass something that can pass the House, let McConnell do his damn job in the Senate, and then put together a workable bill.”

From the White House to the more establishment-minded pundits, we are being told that the rejection of Ryancare is a tragedy, that Obamacare will maintain its reign, that babies will die, the Democrats will regain power, and the poor, beleaguered Congress will have to waste precious time starting from scratch on this whole “Repeal & Replace” mandate within the Trump agenda. This is hogwash.

For one, Congress could easily pass a standalone bill defunding Planned Parenthood. They don’t have to wait to incorporate it into a health reform bill. They don’t have to “start from scratch” on that reform, either, which should take care of the other (overstated) concerns. Despite what many Dems have been claiming, conservatives and libertarians have been submitting alternative plans for consideration for years. Some better than others, to be sure. (See here, for example.) They’ve even voted on a few. In Dec. 2015, the Senate GOP actually got a “clean repeal” bill passed via budget reconciliation and the House passed it early in Jan. 2016, but it was vetoed by President Obama shortly thereafter. Many conservative members of Congress are pointing back to this bill for a re-start.

Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul introduced his Obamacare Replacement Act (S.222), which is very similar to the 2015/2016 legislation and looks very promising. “There are a variety of provisions that, in addition to fully repealing Obamacare, outline how the government can expand tax credits and health savings accounts, initiate individual and association pool reform, allow for interstate insurance, and even protect individuals with preexisting conditions. In other words, it does everything that Republicans want and more without expanding government power or spending any tax dollars.” Check out this article for a condensed outline of the most significant provisions.

As Conservative Review‘s Robert Eno points out,

“Members of the House Freedom Caucus have time and time again stated that this exact bill is what should be voted on by Congress. Contrary to the Journal and what Quin Hillyer wrote in the Washington Examiner, it isn’t the Freedom Caucus who is being disingenuous. It is Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the establishment wing of the Republican Party. These folks were perfectly fine with passing full repeal when they knew President Obama was not going to sign it. Now that they actually have a president that would sign that bill, they are balking at actually repealing the onerous aspects of the law — the regulations. The Freedom Caucus is only asking that the GOP once again pass what they already have.”

If Ryan et al. truly want to get rid of Obamacare and clear the way for a patient-centered, free market-driven healthcare insurance system, they need to stop belly-achin’ and reconsider Paul’s plan. At the very least, it’s an excellent place to start.

P.S.  Here’s a brief interview with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) on who’s to blame for the Ryancare failure:

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Another Historic SpaceX Launch

“Governments can develop new technology and do some of the exciting early exploration but in the long run it’s the private sector that finds ways to make profit, finds ways to expand humanity.”  — Dr. S. Pete Worden, director at NASA Ames Research Center

OK, I might be a tad late in reporting on this, but for those who haven’t read all about it….

Exactly one month ago (2/19/2017), after dealing with a small leak in the upper-stage helium system and a last-minute, one-day postponement, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully blasted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station. It was a nice comeback moment after the spectacular explosion they suffered last September during a test on launch pad 40.

Some of my regular readers may remember that I wrote last August about SpaceX making deliveries to & from the ISS using their innovative Dragon cargo module. So, you may be asking, what’s the big deal this time?

Falcon 9 blasts off!

Well, though they occasionally launch from a site in California, normally SpaceX launches from the aforementioned (and now damaged) Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Kennedy Space Center. This time, however, they launched from the historic pad 39A, from which the Apollo astronauts were sent to the Moon almost 50 years ago. This marks the first time that a commercial vehicle has used Launch Complex 39A.

Prior to this, the last time it was used was when NASA sent up Atlantis for the final shuttle mission on July 8, 2011. Since then, it pretty much lay abandoned until SpaceX was awarded a 20-year lease on the pad back in 2014 and began spending millions to remodel it. The activity has rejuvenated the spirits of many at NASA.

“You definitely get that sense throughout Kennedy. People are so tied to the history here and these pads, it’s like bringing them to life again, and I think everybody is really excited to see that.”  — Regina Spellman, Deputy Project Manager, Mobile Launcher Element Integration Team, NASA’s GSDO Program

But, there was another “first” set that morning, too. Nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage booster flipped around and flew back to Cape Canaveral for landing. After successful nighttime tests, this was the first daylight attempt. The significance of this ability is, of course, that reusable rockets means greatly reduced costs. This in turn means that they can offer their services at much reduced prices.

Who might be the customers for those services? Well, NASA, obviously. But, eventually, you and me. If you read my earlier post, you might recall that I also wrote about another private firm, Moon Express (or MoonEx). This firm has long-term plans to do lunar landings and capitalize on various commercial endeavors envisioned for the Moon. Of course, that is a ways off, so the more short-term target for such firms is “space tourism”. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that, a few days after SpaceX’s above mission success, Founder & CEO Elon Musk announced their plans to put tourists in lunar orbit beginning as soon as 2018.

These trips will use an upgraded Dragon capsule, perched atop a heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket, which is planned to debut this year. First, though, there will be modifications for use in manned NASA missions. Once the system has been proven, then the space tourists will get their chance. In fact, they are already lining up! Tickets won’t be cheap, especially not at first. (As of the announcement, two unidentified “private citizens” had each already made “a significant deposit”.) But, in 20 years or so, who knows? I wouldn’t mind a little excursion to the Moon for my 70th birthday!

Of course, SpaceX and MoonEx aren’t the only firms planning trips to the Moon. As for Musk, he’s not stopping there. Check out his vision for Mars! Say what you will about the guy or the viability of his proposals, he ain’t afraid to dream big!

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