Atheists & secularists, like anyone else, will sometimes speak of what gives their life meaning and purpose. It might be fighting against religious dogma, or helping people think rationally, or spending time with their family, or "making the world a little better place", or... whatever. Note that these are self-imposed "purposes" or "meaning", often involving leaving some sort of intellectual or philosophical legacy. But, is this really consistent with their worldview? Have you ever heard of Lawrence M. Krauss or Glenn D. Starkman? Even if you don't run in scientific circles, you may be familiar with Krauss, who is a well-known ...
"Those who are unwilling or incapable of discerning or judging between good and evil are in this manner revealing either their disobedience or their immaturity." -- Pastor E.L. Bynum In our last "episode", we began to address the issue of what it means to "judge" others. Specifically, we took a practical, nonsectarian look at why people cry, "Don't judge me!" and why we should, in fact, make fair judgments about others' behaviors & beliefs, always with the welfare of them and others around them in mind. Now, what about Christians, in particular? Aren't we supposed to be extra loving and kind and ...
If you are at all familiar with Christian apologetics, whether engaging challenges from non-theists or from Christians with different views, you know that the topic of pain, suffering, and death is a major issue. (In fact, Darwin's struggle with this was the impetus for developing his theory.) These things are considered "evil", so the question is "Why would a 'good' God make a world full of pain, suffering, & death for His creatures to endure?", or "How could God include pain, suffering, & death (for millions of years) in His 'very good' creation?" The Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) solution is that none ...
Welcome to the 3rd and penultimate installment of this series, in which I explain how self-deluded I have been about my own hatred and bigotry regarding, well, just about everyone but straight, white, white-collar males between 18 & 65 years of age (or thereabouts). Where was I? Oh... [caption id="attachment_1341" align="alignleft" width="225"] Pro-choice Activists[/caption] 7) I hate women. And it's not just because I'm single. (Or, should that be the other way around?) ;-> In particular, I think most of today's "feminist" positions and causes reveal a certain level of narcissism and another excuse to play the blame game for ones woes, real ...
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -- Abraham Lincoln "AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!" That was my response (posted on Facebook), give or take an "R" or two, to the 2012 Election results. Actually, that was my second FB post. My first was, "Crap on a stick! I'm so depressed." But, that's not quite right. I'm very disappointed, obviously. And a bit morose. But, really, I'm angry. So, here goes the rant... Are you freakin' kidding me?!! Do we really have to listen for 4 more years to this pompous, Marxist ...
Sometimes, I can't help myself. I mean, people make spurious claims and ridiculous accusations against God, Christians, "the Church", etc., all the time. Usually, I let it go. Can't be constantly getting into long, drawn-out internet debates ALL the time, after all. But, sometimes, I just have to say something. And, so it went the other day, when a FB friend of a FB friend, amidst generally mocking comments, claimed that Christians were responsible for "lots of mass murders." Of course, I had my suspicions about what she was referring to. There are some nasty stains on Christianity's record. But, I also ...
"I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother." -- Mitt Romney, in an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe (7/26/2005) In "The Pro-Life Position: Just One Question", I argued that if the unborn is indeed a member of the human family, no matter how small or odd it looks, then "no justification for killing it is adequate." But, then I left a footnote saying that there are rare exceptions to that rule. So, I figured I may as well address those now.... When the ...
Part 1: Firm Foundation "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam." -- Popeye, the sailorman Given the subjects that I usually read and write about on this blog, critical thinking really comes in handy. Not that I'm some great logician or anything. Far from it! But, over the last few years, I've been exposed to the discipline of informal logic by some pretty darn good thinkers. (At least, I think they are.) I've noticed that I am now more apt to notice logical errors & fallacies when reading or listening to someone's arguments for his/her position on a ...
[caption id="attachment_1464" align="alignleft" width="300"] Original Star Trek bridge crew[/caption] I remember when, many years ago, I first found out that the cast of the original Star Trek series did not always get along and a huge part of the problem was William Shatner's ego. Star Trek was one of my all-time favorite TV shows (and the movies and the books), and Shatner was a favorite actor when I was growing up -- right up there with Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, and later Tom Selleck of Magnum, P.I., fame. So, I was understandably disappointed to find out my "heroes" ...
"[S]cience and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach." -- Dr. Martin Andreas Nowak, mathematical biologist Once upon a time (actually, it was about a year ago) in a land far, far away (OK, it was here in NE Florida), I had a brief but interesting discussion. I had been taking a few skills & personality assessment tests, which involved identifying what I thought my strengths & weaknesses were, figuring out my personality traits, etc. While discussing the results with a couple family members, the religiously-agnostic one noted, "Huh! You consider yourself ...
“[W]ith all these crises we’ve been discussing, the nation is confronting a dangerous era, facing multiple threats and challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Islamic terrorist groups, you name it. If I wasn’t in there shaking things up, I probably wouldn’t have been doing my job.” — Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
After 33 years of service in the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is retiring a year earlier than planned as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. While Flynn downplays the possibility (though neither does he categorically deny it), rumor has it that Flynn was pressured into early retirement by the Obama administration, in particular Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. Flynn was known for being “disruptive”, as much for his management style as for his refusal to go along with the administration’s official positions regarding, for example, whether or not the U.S. is safer now than before 9/11, or the current state of al Qaeda, or the best way to structure and deploy intelligence assets.
“Flynn had challenged the Obama administration narrative that al-Qaeda’s brand of nihilistic extremism had died with Osama bin Laden in 2011. He had bruised egos at the DIA trying to transform the 17,000-person bureaucracy into a more agile and forward-deployed intel operation, one shaped by the lessons he had learned as intelligence chief for Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan, working for the ill-fated iconoclast Gen. Stanley McChrystal. As early as 2010, Flynn made waves with a report, Fixing Intel, that said US intelligence could not answer ‘fundamental questions’ in Afghanistan.”
Apparently, his superiors finally decided they had had enough head-butting with their contrarian DIA director and told him it was time to go. [Note: To be clear, I have not read anything implying any unprofessional or insubordinate actions or attitude by Flynn. Quite the contrary.] Whether or not one agrees with Flynn’s vision for improved intelligence-gathering at the DIA or the frankness of his disagreement with the administration, he has a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a great understanding of the Middle East situation that needs to be heard and seriously considered by Congress and others.
The above quote is from the intro to an “exit interview” Flynn did recently with James Kitfield at Breaking Defense. Following (and at the top of this post) are a few quotes from Flynn himself that stood out to me….
“[W]hat I see each day is the most uncertain, chaotic, and confused international environment that I’ve witnessed in my entire career.”
“[W]hen we pull combat troops out of Afghanistan at the end of this year, it’s not going to feel like that war is over. To me, it feels like we’ll be facing a familiar threat and heightened uncertainty for a long time yet.”
“What I see is a strategic landscape and boundaries on the global map changing right before our eyes. That change is being accelerated by the explosion of social media. And we in the intelligence community are trying to understand it all.”
“[A]nother threat I’ve warned about is Islamic terrorists in Syria acquiring chemical or biological weapons. We know they are trying to get their hands on chemical weapons and use what they already have to create a chemical weapons capability.”
“These proliferating Islamic terrorist groups have also for years been developing connective tissue to each other and back to al-Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Some of those connections are pretty strong. We’re not talking bits and pieces or nascent connections….
So when asked if the terrorists were on the run, we couldn’t respond with any answer but ‘no.’ When asked if the terrorists were defeated, we had to say ‘no.’ Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to either of those questions either doesn’t know what they are talking about, they are misinformed, or they are flat out lying.”
Granted, I’m no expert. But, it sounds to me like the general has — and has had — a better handle on what’s going on and what needs to be done intel-wise than his soon-to-be former bosses at the Pentagon and the White House. Contrary to the President’s claim three years ago, the “tide of war” is certainly not “receding”. If al Qaeda is any less of a threat now, it is because of the rise of the even more barbaric “Islamic State”, who in a few short months have effectively taken control of an area roughly the size of Great Britain and who fully intend to aggressively fulfill their “vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate.”
As Newt Gingrich concluded in his own review of Flynn’s interview: “America needs a new strategy for global affairs. But as long as our leaders refuse to understand the emerging world as it is, not as how they want it to be, we will be stuck with a floundering foreign policy of wishful thinking. Congress can help meet this challenge by inviting General Flynn to expand on his candid thoughts in Congressional testimony about the threats we are facing and how we can keep America safe.”
I’m with Newt. I sincerely hope our congressional leaders take Lt. Gen. Flynn’s assessments seriously and act wisely upon them.
“The Universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.” — Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)
In my last post (part 1), I briefly explained in principle and procedure what comprises the “scientific method”. Today, I want to get a bit into the intersection of “science” and “faith”, as you may have guessed from the question posed in the subtitle of this post. From this, you may think I’m questioning whether or not Christians should even use the scientific method. (That is, is it consistent with scriptural doctrine and principle? I mean, isn’t “science” supposed to be the enemy of “faith”?) I’m not. Rather, I am assuming the answer to that is “Yes” and am going a step further to ask if the scientific method can, in some sense, be found in the Bible. My original title for this post was going to be “Biblical Origins of the Scientific Method”, so that should give you some idea of how I would answer the question….
The suggestion that the “scientific method” can be found in the Bible may sound odd to some of you, as it originally did to me. But, upon closer consideration, it really isn’t. I take my cue from astrophysicist & pastor Dr. Hugh Ross, whom I greatly respect and have quoted many times in the past. Ross is known for saying that the scientific method is really, or could/should be called, the “biblical method”. However, I am reluctant to make such a bold claim. By stating it that way, I think some people assume that Ross is claiming that the multiple steps of the scientific method itself (see previous post) are — to some degree, at least — explicitly found somewhere within the Bible and/or identified as such. When I first heard him say this, I thought it smacked of the tendency among certain Christians — though, not usually Dr. Ross — to overstate the strength of a particular argument when making a case. Still, I understand what he’s getting at. I would simply be more comfortably stating the idea differently, perhaps something like this:
“The underlying principles of the modern scientific method — e.g., searching and testing for truth, the necessity of careful observation, sticking with established facts, maintaining integrity — can be found, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, within Judeo-Christian scripture. Indeed, it might even be said that the Bible ‘inspired’ modern scientific method, given the preponderance of theists (particularly Christians) among those early founders of modern science.”
This seems to be what Dr. Ross is getting at, anyway. Perhaps it would be best, though, to let Dr. Ross explain his thoughts on the matter himself. The following can be found almost verbatim as an appendix in two of Ross’ books, Creation as Science and More Than a Theory:
“A major source of optimism for resolution of the creation/evolution debates, or at least for significant progress toward resolution, is that all the participants in the debates appear to agree on the best method for testing models. That method is popularly termed the scientific method, though a more accurate label would be the biblical method.
The Bible alone among the ‘scriptures’ or ‘holy books’ of the world’s religions strongly exhorts readers to objectively test before they believe. According to the apostle Paul, no teaching is to escape testing:
Test everything. Hold on to the good. (I Thess. 5:21)
Paul exhorts us that such testing, to be effective, will require objectivity, education, and training:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. (Rom. 12:2)
Testing before believing pervades both the Old and New Testaments and forms the heart of the biblical concept of faith. The Hebrew word for faith, ‘emuna, means a strongly held conviction that something or someone is certainly real, firmly established, constant, and dependable. The Greek word for faith, pistis, means a strong and welcome conviction of the truth of anything or anyone to the degree that one places deserved trust and confidence in that thing or person. In every instance, faith in the Bible connotes the response to established truth. Just as there is no faith, from a biblical perspective, without an active response, neither is there faith apart from established truth(s).
Christian scholars throughout church history, from the early church fathers, to Renaissance naturalists, to Reformation theologians, to present-day evangelical scientists, philosophers, and theologians, have noted a pattern in biblical narratives and descriptions of sequential physical events: the Bible authors typically preface such depictions with a statement of the frame of reference (point of view) and initial conditions and then close with a statement of the final conditions and conclusions about what transpired. The Scottish theologian Thomas Torrance has both written and edited book-length discussions of how Christian theology, and Reformed theology in particular, played a critical role in the development of the scientific method and the amazing advances achieved by Western science.”
In the post “Can You Accept Revealed Wisdom and Still Be ‘Scientific’?”, I answered the title question in the affirmative, investigating the subjectability of the Bible to scientific and historical testing and whether or not religious ideas (and those who hold them) have a place in science. As part of my argument, I listed many well-known scientists of the past and present who were/are theists. Among these august notables of science were Roger and Francis Bacon, whom I discussed in last week’s Part 1. So, obviously, there have been a whole lot of “people of faith” (i.e., the properly understood biblical concept of “faith”, as described above) who have had no problem applying the scientific method in their investigations of God’s Creation. As Dr. Ross (and others) point(s) out, it works pretty well for biblical investigation and interpretation, too. If only we would apply it more often….
After last week’s post of the Dr. Hugh Ross video, I got to thinking about “the scientific method”. Ross is certainly a big fan of it, as is anyone — scientist or layman — who is at all familiar with the scientific enterprise. Indeed, anyone in search for truth in any arena should be a fan of the underlying principles.
So, what *is* the “scientific method”, anyway?
As with the definition for “science” (and a number of other things), if you ask a dozen scientists or philosophers of science to define or explain the scientific method, you’ll probably get a dozen (or more) variations on an answer. But, before I try, I think a brief bit of history is in order.
In a previous post, I mentioned two early, groundbreaking scientists, Roger Bacon (13th cent.) and Francis Bacon (16th-17th cent.), both of whom were noted for their advocacy of the “scientific method”. In fact, Roger Bacon, who was himself heavily influenced by Robert Grosseteste, is called by many the “father of modern scientific method”. The investigative approach we now call the “scientific method” — though it has since been refined — was so closely identified with his descendant, Sir Francis Bacon, that it was known as the “Baconian method”.
At the time, not all research by “natural philosophers” (i.e., scientists) was consistent or methodical and relied too much on the application of deductive reasoning via Aristotelian syllogisms. Bacon and others, though, encouraged a more structured and systematic approach that emphasized experimentation and the application of inductive reasoning to get at the truth. Sometimes called the “Father of Empiricism” or “Father of Experimental Science”, Bacon outlined his ideas for a new system of logic in his Novum Organum (1620). His contemporary, René Descartes, then established a framework of guiding principles for the scientific method in his treatise, Discourse on Method (1637). There have been those (e.g., Charles Peirce (19th-20th cent.)) who disagreed on one or many points of this approach, but for the most part this new, “modern scientific method” has dominated scientific inquiry ever since.
For a decent summary of what it entails, I grabbed the following from Wikipedia:
“The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself, supporting a theory when a theory’s predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false.”
But, exactly how many steps there are (or should be) to the method and the proper description of each will vary according to who you talk to and what is being investigated. The briefest explanation I have heard/read boils down to this:
2. Hypothesis (inc. Prediction)
4. Conclusion (inc. Revision?)
On the other hand, some would insist on 12 or more steps. (Honestly, I can’t remember where I heard or read that, and I didn’t see an actual list, but I’m pretty sure it was at least twelve steps.) I have also seen versions with any number of steps in between. This is often because what one scheme may characterize as a single step actually has several sub-steps, which a different scheme may opt to break out into one or more separate steps. (For example, the analysis and interpretation of data and the publication of results may be lumped into one step, broken out into two or three separate steps, or assumed to be parts of “Experimentation” and/or “Conclusion”.) But, particularly when applied to a given physical event or sequence of events, most would agree that some variation of the following nine steps is essential:
1. Identify the phenomenon to be investigated and explained and/or collect relevant texts and observations.
2. Identify the frame(s) of reference or point(s) of view to be used in studying and describing the phenomenon.
3. Determine the context and initial conditions for the phenomenon.
4. Perform an experiment or observe the phenomenon, noting what takes place when, where, and in what order.
5. Note the final conditions for the phenomenon.
6. Form a tentative explanation, or hypothesis, for how and why things transpired as they did.
7. Test the hypothesis with further experiments or observations, eliminating extraneous data and adding any previously overlooked important information.
8. Revise the hypothesis accordingly.
9. Determine how well the hypothetical explanation of the phenomenon integrates with explanations of related phenomena (i.e., consistency with all available information).
Of course, the steps should not be performed only once. Rather, it is designed to be a continuous and cyclical process. How far back towards the beginning one returns in each cycle will depend on the results of the latest testing, their interpretation, and the extent of the revision(s). If one finds that major revisions are repeatedly called for, it may be time to accept it as a failed hypothesis. And that is fine, as it is all part of the scientific enterprise. Propose your hypothesis (but, hopefully, don’t get too attached to it), test it, and follow the evidence.
On the other hand, if a hypothesis is on the right track, continued testing and good interpretations should lead to increasingly smaller revisions. As it explains and predicts more and more, it may be re-classified as a “theory”. (There is no hard-and-fast rule for when this happens, and a hypothesis’ proponents will likely be more disposed toward its promotion than will its opponents.) With continued success, often involving newly developed tests and progressively precise/sensitive technology, a scientific “theory” may eventually become sufficiently detailed and comprehensive to earn the designation of “model” — though, sometimes, “theory” and “model” are used interchangeably. (Again, as far as I can tell, there are no definitive guidelines for how or when this occurs.) And the observations, experimentation, and revisions continue….
The benefits of following such a methodology are many. It recognizes that our knowledge, understanding, and objectivity will always be finite. It minimizes (though it cannot eliminate) the potential effects of things like human error, confusion, operational and ideological bias. It fosters the view that hypotheses should be held tentatively and that testing and re-evaluation be ongoing. And, when followed honestly, it helps to ensure (though it cannot guarantee) that the best ideas, the ones that are held onto, are the ones with the greatest explanatory power & scope and predictive success.
As Dr. Hugh Ross has stated:
“Consistent application of this step-by-step method encourages the necessary meticulousness, restraint, and humility a truth-quest warrants. Use of this process rests on and even builds on confidence that the natural realm is a well-ordered, consistent, contradiction-free system. This method and this underlying conviction, more than anything else, launched and propelled the scientific revolution of the past four centuries.”
Dr. Ross and I would both disagree with the philosophical theory of empiricism, which holds that true knowledge can only be discovered & known via sensory experience and experimentation. But, the “scientific method” has proven itself an excellent, practical tool for investigating the world(s) around us!
This post is a little different — a break for me (since I wasn’t sure I’d have something else ready in time) and, hopefully, a treat for you. It is a video from a conference held not long ago at Woodcrest Worldwide Church called “In the Beginning” — not to be confused with another conference by that title — that featured Dr. Hugh Ross and others from the Reasons to Believe (RTB) apologetics ministry/organization.
This particular clip is different than the usual seminar or debate-style vidoes. Instead, Dr. Ross is essentially interviewed by a pastor (who reminds me a bit of Glenn Beck). They begin by talking a little about Ross’s early interest in science (e.g., reading books on physics and astronomy at age 7) and what struck him about the Genesis account, when he first read through the Bible at age 17. Then, they step through Genesis chapter 1 (with reference to passages in other books, like Job and Psalms), discussing the Creation Days and the scientific discoveries that support/confirm what is stated and described in the biblical text.
It’s a fun exchange, and Dr. Ross gets to lay out much of the RTB Creation Model, explaining several points of fine-tuning and -timing in the preparation for life on Earth. (He even mentions how YouTube is becoming a “research database”!) Whether you are a Christian or not, creationist or not, I think you will find it fascinating.
The other day, I was listening to a Christian podcaster by the name of Joe Messina — the first time I’d ever heard him. His normal topics are, I think, politics and culture. But, he had on a guest who was explaining his skepticism of the validity of radiometric dating. At one point, they were discussing how conservative Christians are often accused of being “against science”. Not so, they said. Well, if it were me, I would amend that by saying that Christianity or “traditional, orthodox Christian doctrine” is not against the practice of science. But, there are some Christians that are either deeply suspicious of science — really, of scientists in general, who they see as being in a great, secular conspiracy to hide the truth about God’s Creation — and/or their own methods of doing & evaluating science are somewhat suspicious and skewed toward proving their own biblical interpretations. To that extent, I suppose it could be said that those Christians are at least partially “against science”. I think both cases are sad, even shameful.
Of course, it is also true that much of the “scientific consensus” nowadays about some topics presupposes a decidedly non-Christian view of the world and/or of what is allowed in science (see below). Therefore, while the facts of science — to the degree that current technology and careful practice allows — are simply facts, the interpretation of those facts is often biased toward one’s philosophical world-and-life view. So, when the interpretation of particular scientific evidence is presented — whether in scholarly journals or in the popular press — with “anti-Christian” implications, then I think the Christian is justified in questioning the interpretation. Some skepticism is warranted. But, one is not justified in being “against science”.
The next thing the podcaster said (and his guest agreed) was that “God created science.” I think I understand what he meant by that, and maybe he was just using a sort of shorthand to get across the idea. But, technically, I don’t think that claim is accurate, and it’s worth closer examination. Perhaps I’m being nit-picky, but let’s think about it for a minute….
What is “science”? Well, I’m sure you could get a million-and-one variations on an answer to that. Those with naturalistic or deistic leanings would probably be sure to throw in something about empirical proof or limiting scientific theories and interpretations to the purely “natural”. However, I am among those who hold to a more historically traditional definition of science that does not pre-determine the kinds of answers that are philosophically (and socially) acceptable. So, here’s my attempt at a workable definition:
“Science is the practice of using systematic methodology to study the natural realm in search of answers.”
It could probably be tweaked a bit, but that’s sufficient for my point. “Science” is a particular type of activity conducted by curious and intelligent beings. Such activities are not themselves created. Rather, the beings that conduct them may be, and as a “creationist” I believe that humankind was indeed created de novo by God. Secondly, God is indeed responsible for creating humanity in general with the intellectual capacity for such study, and some of those humans have a particular natural curiosity about the world around them that can be nurtured and encouraged, so that they get the education and training to become “scientists” — i.e., those whose profession is to do some sort of work in one or more branches of “science”. (Though, of course, there are knowledgeable amateur scientists, too.)
Is Christianity “anti-science”? Certainly not — but, definitely against, or highly skeptical of, certain interpretations of scientific data.
Did God “create” science. Not exactly, but He did create beings with the intellectual capacity and curiosity to engage in endeavors leading to discovery about His Creation.
“The general Principles on which the Fathers achieved Independence were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their Address, or by me in my Answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united; and the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.”
– John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28th, 1813
When discussing the Founding of America and the language of the founding documents, especially with skeptics and non-theists, the issue often comes up of whether or not America was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs/principles, which also speaks to the question of whether or not America can legitimately be called a “Christian nation”. Once in a while, a more historically-informed skeptic will point to the Treaty of Tripoli as proof that America was never intended to be “Christian”.
Before I address the treaty itself, some background/context is in order….
Following the American Revolutionary War, the new nation of the United States of America went about securing agreements of trade, peace, and mutual defense with nations everywhere, thereby establishing itself on the world stage. At the time, Europe was dealing with the Barbary States of North Africa, who made their living via piracy and extortion. Even Britain and France had agreed to pay annual tribute to the leaders of these states in exchange for them leaving their ships/goods/people alone. That’s right, the Barbary pirates even captured and enslaved European and American sailors and citizens. In fact, the white slave trade was big business! Did I mention that the Barbary States were Muslim?
Anyway, the British (sore-losers) encouraged the Barbary pirates to attack the U.S. ships. (Algiers even declared war on the U.S. in 1785.) It became quite a problem. Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, tried to organize an alliance of less-powerful nations whose combined naval forces would attack and defend against the Barbary pirates. He was unsuccessful, due largely to British and French influence. America’s leaders realized that, in order to (sort of) guarantee safe passage of their ships in the area, they would have to negotiate similar agreements. Early attempts at diplomacy were doomed by incompetence, bad timing, and just plain bad luck.
The “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” with Tripoli was initiated under George Washington’s administration in 1796 and completed/signed by President John Adams in 1797. Unanimously approved (without discussion or argument) by the Senate on June 10th of that year, it consisted of 12 articles in total, dealing mostly with matters of commerce and maritime trade. But, there was one part towards the end that briefly addressed matters of state and is our current concern. Here is the relevant section of the Treaty (see also image above):
Article XI: “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility, of Musselmen [i.e., Muslims], — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahomitan [i.e., Mohammedan, or Islamic] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever interrupt [alternately, 'produce an interruption of'] the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Some have argued that Article 11 merely reflects the views of Joel Barlow, U.S. consul-general to the Barbary States. It was Barlow’s duty to negotiate agreements with leaders in North Africa — particularly Tripoli, Tunis, & Algiers — and (hopefully) keep the U.S. from getting into armed conflicts. After an original drafting by Richard O’Brien, one of the first American seamen captured by Barbary pirates, Barlow finished negotiating the revised treaty with Jussof Bashaw Mahomet, Bey of Tripoli.
Unfortunately, peace under the Treaty of Tripoli did not last. Relations broke down due ostensibly to lateness of tribute payments, leading to renewed attacks on U.S. ships, U.S. naval blockades, and a new treaty. The corresponding article in this 1805 treaty, while stating clearly that the U.S. has no established church, contained no anti-”Christian nation” language.
Now, it is possible that the content of Article 11 was requested by the Bey of Tripoli or even suggested by the Bey of Algiers. Barlow himself, a Congregationalist-turned-Deist whose writings revealed a strong antipathy toward the idea of a “state church”, may have taken it upon himself to insert the article for his own reasons. Historians have yet to figure it all out. But, whether or not it reflected Barlow’s private prejudice, it seems to me that the wording is diplomatic-speak that served primarily to assure the Muslim Bey(s) that America did not consider Christianity its national religion, nor did it hold the same religion-based grudges as other “Christian” nations with whom Islam had tangled in the past.
History Professor Frank Lambert of Purdue University echoes this — or, I suppose, I echo him — when he asserts that the phrasing of Article 11 was “intended to allay the fears of the Muslim state by insisting that religion would not govern how the treaty was interpreted and enforced. John Adams and the Senate made clear that the pact was between two sovereign states, not between two religious powers.”
Looking at Article 11 in its entirety, I notice three things:
1) It is the U.S. “Government” that is declared “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”. This supports the point I just made above.
2) It points out the “tranquility” of the “Musselmen”. Of course, they were not being tranquil, and that was the problem. But, once the treaty was in place, if any “Mahometan” nation acted aggressively toward America or her interests, thereby no longer displaying “tranquility”, the U.S. would have grounds to respond. (In fact, we did so then and do so now.)
3) It specifies that “no pretext arising from religious opinions” shall cause disharmony. But, if Muslim faith & practice inspires them to act belligerently toward America or her interests, it is not merely Christians who would want to defend themselves, and they would be quite justified in doing so for solely non-sectarian reasons. (Again, we did so then and do so now.)
In other words (and some of this is implied), as long as they play nice, the U.S. will leave them alone. (Unlike them, we were/are not out to conquer other lands and/or force obedience to a particular religion.) But, if they mess with our lives and livelihood, regardless of their reasons, we reserve the right to respond in kind.
With all of this in mind, I agree that the U.S. government was not “founded on the Christian religion”. Surprised? However, that is different from denying that the nation was founded largely on, or grounded in, Judeo-Christian principles (see opening quote above) — though, of course, influenced also by some Enlightenment thinking. As I have blogged on elsewhere, we were intended to have a “secular” government but not a “secular” society. Indeed, it is clearly evident from state constitutions and other official documents (state and federal), from the words and actions of America’s founders (and other influential leaders throughout our history), and from the general character of traditional American culture, that the U.S. was intended to be a nation of religious — primarily, but not exclusively, generally “Christian” — people, ruled by a body of law grounded in a basic understanding of God and of biblical principles. While sometimes disagreeing on doctrinal specifics, a broad agreement on Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs was the cornerstone of (most of) the Founders’ reasoning.
In this sense, the United States of America was founded as a “Christian nation”.
“[The U.S. income tax is] a disgrace to the human race.” — President Jimmy Carter
[Editor's note: I would probably get more mileage out of this post if I published it during "tax season". On the other hand, it is a perennial topic, so maybe it will pique someone's interest....]
We all like to complain about preparing and paying taxes, especially income taxes. And rightfully so. I’m not going to get into the issues of whether or not income tax is constitutional, whether or not the IRS should be abolished, etc. Just for now, let’s assume that some such tax is necessary, legal, and needs to be administered. As I have recently been reading through Hall & Rabushka’s The Flat Tax, 2nd ed. (1995), I have been reminded of just how astoundingly huge are the total costs in time, effort, and money that go into the functioning of and compliance with our current tax system — totally aside from the taxes themselves. Also, the unbelievable complexity of the tax code and inefficiencies of it all are just ridiculous!
“The federal income tax is a complete mess. It’s not efficient. It’s not fair. It’s not simple. It’s not comprehensible. It fosters tax avoidance and cheating. It costs billions of dollars to administer. It costs taxpayers billions of dollars in time spent filling out tax forms and other forms of compliance. It costs the economy billions of dollars in lost output of goods and services from investments being made for tax rather than for economic purposes. It involves tens of thousands of lawyers and lobbyists getting tax benefits for their clients instead of performing productive work. It can’t find ten serious economists to defend it. It is not worth saving.”
The authors give several examples of direct and indirect costs of compliance and administration. I’ll just give one here, which happens to be somewhat relevant to current events in the news:
“Every year, the IRS undertakes more than one million audits, which are heavily focused on high-income taxpayers and large corporations. The cost to taxpayers of office, field, and mail audits easily exceeds $1 billion, with assessed penalties another $2 billion. The IRS’s own annual reports admit a high rate of errors, and the IRS telephone information service gives out wrong answers as much as one-third of the time. A General Accounting Office study of the IRS’s business nonfile program found an error rate of 75 percent. Keep in mind that the government does not bear the cost of its errors; they are shifted onto taxpayers who must defend themselves against IRS mistakes. Payne documents more than a dozen government investigations of IRS mistakes. The important numerical finding is that the private-sector burden of initial enforcement contacts is higher than the total budget of the IRS. Here the taxpayer pays twice: once, to pay IRS salaries and overhead, second, to defend himself from the IRS. Estimates of tax litigation stemming from IRS contacts are again in the multibillion dollar range.”
And that was 20 years ago! I don’t know about error rates, but I’m sure that the estimated costs have grown along with everything else. Also, while typing this, I can’t help but think of the parties and bonuses enjoyed by IRS personnel, which we have been hearing about lately.
“To be fair, the IRS is responsible for ensuring compliance with the tax code. Those who make mistakes or deliberately misreport income and deductions should be required to meet their lawful tax obligations. Therefore, a portion of these compliance costs is a legitimate burden of taxpayers. The difficulty arises from the complexity of the tax code. It’s easy to make mistakes, even when taxpayers purchase electronic tax preparation programs. In addition, frustrated taxpayers are not likely to take extreme care with each of the hundreds of entries in as many as a dozen or more forms…. A simple system of low tax rates would remedy a good part of this.
… On balance, we think it fair to estimate compliance costs imposed on individuals and businesses at a minimum of $100 billion but probably higher.”
Fun fact: According to the most recent (2012) IRS estimate I could find for tax revenue lost due to evasion (i.e., where taxes are illegally underreported and underpaid), the “net tax gap” for 2006 is estimated to be $385 billion.
There is, of course, much more to say on this. In short, I think we can all agree that it is foolish to continue limping along with such a burdensome tax code & system. We need something simpler, fairer, more time- and cost-efficient. From what I have read so far, I really like Hall & Rabushka’s proposal, which has had bipartisan support and been brought up for congressional consideration multiple times over the years. What about you?
P.S. I highly recommend the book, too. Note that the “Hoover Classics” edition published in 2007 (and linked to above) is the same “second edition” I’m reading, with the cover seen here. (The original came out in 1985.) I *hope* they put out an updated (with recent numbers and other historical facts), 30th-anniversary edition in 2015.
Lately, it seems like every week we read about another Christian in America being told by his (or her) employer and/or the courts that he either has to do something that goes against his religious convictions (e.g., photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony) or must stop doing something that he *thought* was protected under religious freedoms in the Constitution (e.g., posting a Bible verse on a personal whiteboard). When the case goes to court, as often as not, the judge rules that one’s religious liberty is overruled by the hurt feelings of a minority and their vocal — often militant — activists. (Well, that is the effect, anyway.)
Last month, you many have caught wind of a case involving a Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who was ordered to attend an event at the local mosque. When he objected to the assignment, citing religious reasons, he was punished. It went to court, and the panel of judges on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finally ruled against him. Sounds like another case of unconstitutional, anti-Christian bigotry, right? I mean, how can a Christian be forced by his employer to attend a mosque, right? But, there is more to the story, so let me back up and start over….
Several years ago, the Islamic Society of Tulsa organized a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” to be held at a local mosque to thank the Tulsa Police department (TPD) for its work protecting and investigating threats against the mosque. As it has for thousands of community events over the years, roughly 10% of which were “at religious venues or institutions affiliated with religious faiths”, the department planned to send representatives from all shifts. They were expected to politely mix with Muslim attendees who may want to tell them about Muhammad, the Qur’an, and their beliefs. When it looked like TPD wasn’t getting enough volunteers, the order went out that each shift must send at least two officers and a supervisor or commander.
Captain Paul Fields, a conservative Christian, objected on religious grounds. In an email to both superiors and subordinates (but addressed to his Major), Fields explained:
“I have no problem with officers attending on a voluntary basis; however, I take exception to requiring officers to attend this event. Past invitations to religious/non-religious institutions for similar purposes have always been voluntary. I believe this directive to be an unlawful order, as it is in direct conflict with my personal religious convictions, as well as to be conscience shocking….
[F]orcing me to enter a Mosque when it is not directly related to a police call for service is a violation of my Civil Rights.”
He also could not in good conscience order any similarly-minded subordinates to go. However, it would later be pointed out that Fields’ comments regarding sending others was about constitutionality, so it was a legal rather than a specifically religious objection.
Deputy Police Chief A. Daryl Webster responded, emphasizing the need for good community relations and a desire to avoid possible legal repercussions due to “disparate treatment”. More to the point, he countered Fields’ claim regarding “calls for service”, saying that these sorts of community policing events are just as much part of the department’s mission as public servants. Furthermore,
“[Officers are] not required to participate in any religious ceremony, make any profession of faith, or express opinions on or sympathy with any religious belief system. They are simply expected to meet with members of the public who have expressed a desire to meet with them at a place of lawful assembly.”
Webster also reminded Fields of the potential consequences for him personally and for department discipline, if he disobeyed orders, and urged him to reconsider. In the end, Fields refused to attend or send anyone else from his shift to the event. Despite this, there ended up being sufficient volunteers from the other eight shifts and no one had to be ordered. Following a quick Internal Affairs investigation, Fields was suspended for 2 weeks, demoted, and “reassigned to less desirable duties.”
Captain Fields, feeling he had been the victim of religious discrimination and other constitutional violations, filed a lawsuit dubbed Fields v. City of Tulsa, though the primary defendants are Police Chief Chuck Jordan and Deputy Chief Webster. First it went to the district court, which ruled against Fields. His counsel from the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) appealed the decision, which is how it ended up at the 10th Circuit Appellate Court.
Fields claimed that the “Attendance Order” and the “conduct of the event conveyed an official endorsement of Islam,” thereby violating the Establishment Clause. The courts disagreed. The defendants pointed out that Webster advised the Society early on to make the discussion of any topic discretionary. This was reflected in event flyers, announcing a “Casual Come and Go Atmosphere”, with opportunities (upon request) to tour, observe, talk and learn about Islam. Fields maintained that the event’s occurrence on a Friday (i.e., Islam’s holy day), dominated by religious discussion and encouragement to purchase books & pamphlets, constituted proselytization, which made it unlike other such events. (There was also the fact that the Islamic Society had hosted Shariah-adherent, anti-Western speakers, like Imam Siraj Wahhaj.) The courts disagreed, stating that none of the “proselytizing” activities were required, and efforts to understand a religion or promote tolerance cannot be deemed a violation of the Establishment Clause.
To be honest, I’m sort of ambivalent about these issues. I can understand Fields’ concerns, especially if he felt pressured by his superiors to fully engage with the Muslim leaders and/or attendees. He also may have felt that the Muslims would be somewhat aggressive, which could be *quite* uncomfortable for a (presumed) minority of non-Muslim attendees. But, the court makes good points, too. Remember, though, Fields’ main concern was not so much attendance per se — though he was reluctant to do so voluntarily himself, and I’m not sure I agree with his reasons — but the questionable constitutionality of being ordered to attend such an event and what he felt was an implied endorsement of Islam.
What is equally of interest and perhaps more disturbing to me has to do with the second part of the suit, involving Freedom of Association and Free-Speech Retaliation. According to the Tenth Circuit’s analysis:
“Fields contends that the City, Jordan, and Webster violated his right to freedom of association by punishing him for objecting to the Attendance Order, which, he claims, compelled an association contrary to his religious beliefs. This claim fails because there was no interference with his freedom of association….
[Fields] does not assert that he has been prevented from engaging in any association. His complaint is that he was being forced to associate with the Islamic Society. But the Attendance Order did not require him to attend the event, much less join the Islamic Society or endorse its faith or message in any way.”
This seems clear to me, as well. But, the other part of the lawsuit claims that “the city’s ‘reason for imposing punishment, or at least the reason for the severity of the punishment, was the religious nature of Fields’ objection to the order.’” According to Robert Muise of the AFLC,
“We have argued throughout this case that Capt. Fields was summarily punished for simply raising and asserting a religious objection to the order mandating attendance at the Islamic event, and that such discriminatory treatment violates the First and 14th Amendments. Yet, inexplicably, the 10th Circuit refused to address this main issue on appeal, claiming that it was not raised below.”
I certainly understand (and generally agree with) Fields being punished for disobeying a direct order and for the manner in which he publicized his objections. But, the extent of his punishment may not have been necessary to make the point his superiors felt needed to be made.
“The appellate court further noted that ‘there is evidence in the record that would support [Fields'] assertion. Some statements by TPD officials suggest that at least part of the motive for punishing Fields was that he posed a religious objection to the order and refused to attend the mosque event on religious grounds.’ Yet, the court refused to address the issue on appeal, claiming ‘that it was not preserved in the district court.’ Instead, the court avoided this central issue and simply held, as did the district court, that the order ‘did not burden Fields’ religious rights because it did not require him to violate his personal religious beliefs by attending the event….’
It is impossible to square the court’s opinion with the briefs and the record presented on appeal.”
This matter really should be addressed, and it seems either lazy or suspicious that the appellate court didn’t take it up.
David Yerushalmi, co-founder of the AFLC, added:
“The evidence is overwhelming that the city and its senior police officials wanted to make an example of Capt. Fields by harshly punishing him, a Christian, for objecting on religious grounds to an order compelling attendance at an Islamic event.”
My assessment is that Fields may have a case regarding the severity of his punishment, assuming the AFLC can get the courts to address it. The rest, I’m not so sure. But, this mess could have been avoided if:
a) the Police Chief had rescinded the Attendance Order and made it voluntary again (as Jordan admitted in his deposition); or,
b) a religious exemption was made for the Attendance Order; or,
c) the Major in charge of Fields’ division had ordered the requisite officers & supervisor to the event and Fields’ punishment had not included permanent demotion (which I suspect is the part deemed unnecessarily severe); or,
d) Fields had not included subordinates in his email, had lodged a formal complaint with his superiors and the state, but then proceeded to do his best to assign representatives from his shift who had no religious objections.
All of this having been said, I do have to wonder — and the AFLC and others have also brought this up — how things might have gone differently if a Muslim officer was ordered to attend such an event at a Christian church or, “worse” yet, at a Jewish center or temple. (Of course, Jews don’t normally proselytize, but evangelical Christians do.) Given the history of disdain and hostility between Muslims and Jews, would the powers-that-be have made a religious exemption for a Muslim officer? If not, would the politically-correct courts have let them get away with it?