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 ...
Came across this interesting nugget of science news this week and had to share….
Who would have thought that commercial optical fiber networks would be instrumental in developing quantum teleportation technology? But, yes, it’s true. Now, we’re not talking about Star Trek-type teleportation, here. (Sniff!) Quantum teleportation is limited to transmitting information, not physical things. Even so, it’s pretty cool. See, there’s a weird phenomenon called “quantum entanglement”, which Einstein once called “spooky action at a distance”. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….
Any subatomic particle is said to have a “quantum state”. For a photon, this is a combination of its “phase” and a mixture of vertical and horizontal “polarization”. If we wanted to send that “state” (i.e., information about the particle) to another location, how would we do it? Well, we can’t just make a copy or take a snapshot. Any measurement of the particle’s state only captures limited information, plus it results in the “collapse” of the original state. (It’s a pain, but that’s how quantum theory works.) What can we do? That’s where “entanglement” comes in, as well as the use of a third particle as a middle-man… sort of.
When two particles (e.g., photons) are entangled, they have a strange-yet-subtle connection, such that what affects the quantum state of one affects the state of the other, and the distance between them is irrelevant. “[T]he state of each photon is completely uncertain but the two states are correlated.” So, despite taking certain necessary measurements, we can use this to transfer that state to another particle. As Hamish Johnston points out in Physics World,
“Crucially, the original particle loses all of the properties that are teleported. This satisfies the ‘no-cloning’ theorem of quantum mechanics, which dictates that it is impossible to make a perfect copy of a quantum state.”
Science‘s Adrian Cho breaks it down for us (using a “point on a globe” as analogy for the precise quantum state):
“Here’s how it works. Suppose you have two people, Alice and Bob, with a third, Charlie, in the middle. Alice prepares a photon that she wants to teleport — that is, she sets its position on the [aforementioned] abstract globe. She sends it down an optical fiber to Charlie. At the same time, Charlie prepares a pair of entangled photons. He keeps one and sends the second one on to Bob.
Now, here’s the tricky part. When Charlie receives Alice’s photon he can take it and the one he’s kept and do a particular type of “joint” measurement on them both. Because quantum measurements collapse the states of photons, Charlie’s measurement actually forces those two photons into an entangled state. (Charlie’s measurement actually asks the either/or question: Are the photons in one particular entangled state or a complementary one?)
But as soon as Charlie does the entangling measurement on the two photons he has — the one he got from Alice and the one he kept from the original entangled pair — a striking thing happens. The photon he sent to Bob instantly collapses into the state of Alice’s original photon. That is, the globe setting of Alice’s photon has been teleported to Bob’s even if Bob is kilometers away from Charlie — as he was in these two experiments.”
Why was this in the news this week?
Two independent teams — one at the University of Calgary in Canada, and the other at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, China — recently performed quantum experiments that took advantage of the local communications infrastructure. The Canadian team successfully used entanglements to send quantum information 6.2km across optical fiber; the Chinese team used a little different method and sent quantum information more than twice as far: 12.5km. These aren’t the furthest distances achieved, but they are the furthest outside of a lab. This was crucial in demonstrating the “viability and practicality of the process.” The teams both published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Nature Photonics.
The Canadian and Chinese teams didn’t do things exactly as described above, but close.
“The only difference is that they used two slightly different arrival times for the basic states of the photons, not different polarizations. The hard part in the experiments was guaranteeing that the two photons sent to Bob arrived at the same general time and were identical in color and polarization. If they were distinguishable, then the experiment wouldn’t work. Those were the technical challenges to teleportation over such long distances.”
So, what’s this quantum teleportation good for, if it can’t “beam me up?” As Avaneesh Pandey put it in the International Business Times,
“From the development of super fast quantum computers to quantum crypotography and the creation of extremely secure ‘quantum internet,’ feasible and reliable teleportation has the capability to revolutionize communications.”
That sounds pretty good, and if it requires a little “spookiness”, that’s find by me.
[For more details on the experiment(s) and the quantum physics behind them, as well as the implications for computing, follow the above links to Physics World and Science.]
“He is there, and He is not silent.” — Francis Schaeffer
This should sound familiar to some of you….
Sometimes, skeptics of Christianity or of “revealed truth” more generally will throw out various claims about the Bible or about what (they think) God would/should/could do, in an attempt to undermine Christians’ faith in what we believe to be the inspired Word of God. One way they do this is to make it sound as if using a book — really, a collection of manuscripts of different types — as the primary means of communicating His desires and intentions to mankind is not very smart or effective.
Why use fallible people in the writing, copying, and translating? After all, such a book can easily be corrupted and misunderstood. (That’s another favorite attack vector of skeptics, btw.) Also, why give this revelation in pieces, in a very limited area of the planet, starting well after humanity first showed up? Wouldn’t it make much better sense to speak audibly and unmistakably to all people everywhere, repeatedly throughout human history, so that there was no mistake about who God was and what He wanted us to do? Couldn’t He avoid a lot of confusion, suffering, death, and damnation of souls that way? (To be fair, Christian believers can legitimately be curious about some of this stuff, too.) On the other hand, how can we be sure that the real God, if there even is one, would speak to us propositionally at all?
Of course, much of why God did what He did and how He did it can be gleaned from careful study of those very scriptures being maligned. To answer all of those questions in an intellectually satisfying way, however, would take a lot of time, so I don’t intend to try that here. But, at least a couple aspects of the issue can be addressed. The following excerpt from James White’s book, Scripture Alone, is the first of “Three Arguments Related to Scriptural Sufficiency” (aka Chapter 1). It actually precedes the section I quoted from in last week’s post about the sola scriptura principle, but I thought it was worth backtracking a bit for this helpful explanation.
“While most of God’s complex earthly creatures communicate with one another in basic ways, much of this communication is merely instinctual and not definitive of the species. Man, on the other hand, is marked not only by his ability to communicate but also by the near necessity of communication…. While people communicate in many ways, they interact primarily though language, whether spoken or written; the complexity and capacity of human language testifies to humankind’s inherent desire to communicate and relate with others.
It is eminently logical to believe that the God who formed man’s body, with all of its intricate biological facilities, who created the wonder of man’s mind, with all of its amazing intellectual capacities, and who instilled man’s very ability and desire to communicate, would Himself be capable of communication with His creatures. The very thought of a mute God is on its face absurd: The only basis upon which one might suppose God to be silent would be God purposefully choosing to remain so. But even this makes no sense, as if God would create man to be desirous of communication and then absent Himself from the scene so as to leave us wandering alone in the midst of the vast, silent creation. Such a God would hardly be worthy of praise or emulation.
No, God must be able to communicate, and that on a level at least equal to that of His human creatures. Otherwise, from whence would our abilities come? God is able to make Himself known, to communicate His will, His thoughts, and His desires to His creation. This is simply necessary if, in fact, God is the Creator of all that is.
And so we should ask ourselves not if God has revealed Himself to man, but how and when? Again we are struck immediately by the fact that if God is to reveal Himself with clarity, His revelation must be capable of carrying the same kind of ‘truth content’ as our own speech. That is, through the use of context (including grammar, syntax, connotation, et al.) we expect to be able to communicate to another person certain facts. Our society functions on the basis of this truth…. Therefore, God must be able to communicate truth to us.
If we combine this line of reasoning with the assumption that God has a purpose in His creation and is pursuing His own ends therein, we can see that God would have a motive to reveal His truths in such a fashion so as to produce the ends He desires. If those ends were to include the clear communication of truths to the whole of humanity or to any specific portion thereof, how might God communicate so as to allow this revelation to serve generations of human beings? Obviously, a written document, or set of documents, transmitted over time would allow for a revelation of transcendent truths. The consistency of the revelation would provide a means of maintaining its integrity over time.*
[*Footnote: I refer here to the consistency of the revelation itself providing the means (through exegesis) of correcting misinterpretation, not specifically to the transmission of the text. The protection of the text over time falls under God’s purpose in giving the revelation in the first place; that is, if God has a purpose in giving the revelation, He will then see to its protection over time.]
The preceding series of arguments, taken as a whole, is consistent within itself — there are no logical contradictions. Obviously, if God wished to reveal Himself to His creation, He could do so in a written body of revelation. In fact, such a revelation is consistent with the facts of creation as we have experienced them.”
There is a *lot* more that could be explored regarding God’s purposes, His means of communication (even besides the written Scripture), the role(s) of humans (corporately and individually) at different times, etc. But, I thought White did a great job in communicating this particular argument. What about you?
“[T]he Bible alone is the written Word of God, and as such is the only infallible, definitive standard in matters of controversy in the church.” — Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Orthodoxy and Heresy
If you are a Christian (and maybe if you aren’t), you have probably heard of the term sola scriptura. It is one of the “Five Solas”, Latin phrases that came out of the Protestant Reformation and represent central, theological principles held by the Reformers in opposition to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Given its origin, it’s not surprising that sola scriptura is held most dearly by those who identify with a conservative and “Reformed” theology. Other groups, Protestant and otherwise, may claim to hold to some form of “sola scriptura”, but it is often a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what the term actually means. Even some who identify as Reformed can be a bit confused as to what it does and doesn’t mean.
So,… What does sola scriptura mean?
Translation of the Latin phrase is “Scripture alone” (or, “only Scripture”), and the principle is based on passages like II Timothy 3:14-17 and II Peter 1:20-21. But, obviously that needs to be fleshed out a bit. In his book Scripture Alone, James White observes that the term is often taken to mean something like, “Scripture in isolation, Scripture outside of the rest of God’s work in the church.” But, he says a much more accurate definition would be,
“‘Scripture alone as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.’… A rule of faith is that which governs and guides what we believe and why.”
White later gives a longer definition, which he used in a debate years earlier. But, what I’d like to cite instead are a couple sections of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, which White also quotes and which I think puts it quite well (if somewhat archaically)….
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation….
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.”
There is more, but I’ll leave it at that. I want to get to a section of Robert M. Bowman’s book, Orthodoxy and Heresy, where he explores the topic by identifying some common misperceptions….
“Taken in its true sense, this [“Sola Scriptura”] means that only Scripture is an unerring verbal expression of the mind of God for the church prior to Christ’s return. Unfortunately, the doctrine of sola scriptura is often misunderstood and misapplied in our day. Often the ‘Bible-only’ kind of approach criticized by Catholic and Orthodox Christians is actually a distortion of the protestant (with a small ‘p’) principle. [Here, Bowman is referring to the first of four principles for identifying and exposing heresy, which I quoted at the top of this post and which is summarized by “sola scriptura”.] So let me specify very clearly what sola scriptura does not mean.
First of all, the protestant principle should not be interpreted to mean that truth can be found only in Scripture. There are many truths — mathematical, scientific, historical, psychological, and other sorts of truths — that are not found specifically in the Bible. All such truths, if indeed they are truths and not mistaken notions, must cohere with the Bible. Sometimes our knowledge of the Bible will lead us to correct our mistaken notions about history or science or psychology. On the other hand, sometimes advances in our knowledge in these fields will force us to reexamine and refine, even correct, our understanding of the Bible. This happened, for example, when Galileo proved that the earth revolves around the sun and therefore that the earth moves, contrary to the standard interpretations of the Bible at that time. The motto “all truth is God’s truth” is itself true. Granted sometimes people accept as true theories and speculations that are not, but that is an abuse….
Second, the protestant principle does not mean that all traditions are based on falsehood. Traditions that cannot be found in the Bible are not thereby proved false. To prove a tradition false, it must be shown to contradict the Bible. If this cannot be done, then the tradition must be evaluated on the basis of the historical evidence for its authenticity. For example, the Bible never identifies explicitly any of the authors of the four Gospels. However, that does not invalidate the traditions that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the other hand, traditions that cannot be substantiated from the Bible should not be made binding on Christians. That is, Christians should not be required to accept as dogmas traditions that do not have biblical warrant. This is the aspect of the protestant principle that is most troublesome to Catholics….
Third, the protestant principle should not be interpreted to forbid using words not found in the Bible to express biblical doctrine. For example, the idea that the Bible is a “canon,” or rule of faith, is biblical even though the word canon is not found in the Bible. The idea that God is “self-existent,” meaning that his existence depends on nothing other than himself, is biblical even though the word self-existent is not in the Bible. [I would add that the same goes for “Trinity”, which is commonly pointed to by skeptics, Muslims, and Unitarians.]
A related point is that necessary deductions or inferences from the Bible are as normative as the statements of the Bible themselves. That is, any statement that logically follows from the express statements of Scripture is just as true and binding as the statements of the Bible themselves. For example, once we understand that the biblical statements that God is not a man and God is spirit (among many other statements in Scripture) logically imply the statement God is incorporeal (that is, God does not have a body), then to be faithful to Scripture we must agree that God is incorporeal. It is perfectly valid for the church to require, as a test of orthodoxy, that Christians confess that God is incorporeal, even though this statement is never found in the Bible. (By the way, this statement is speaking of God in his eternal divine nature, and does not deny that God became incarnate in a bodily form in Jesus Christ.)”
Some of the above explanation may sound obvious, but some people do indeed try to make such arguments against the Bible and orthodox (small ‘o’) doctrine. In fact, White gives a few more in an imaginary dialogue between a “Reformed” Christian and a Roman Catholic.
The following definition of sola scriptura from The Cambridge Declaration (1996) of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (also cited by White) may be helpful, as well:
“We affirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.”
Two notes on this: 1) Notice that it begins by assuming inerrancy, which is a separate but related issue. As White says, “trying to defend an errant view of sola scriptura always results in defeat.” 2) While I lean strongly Reformed these days, I am not totally convinced of cessationism. However, if the Holy Spirit does still speak via prophecy or “words of knowledge”, we know that it will be in accordance with God’s written word in the canon of Holy Scripture.
I’ll finish by attempting my own summary statement: “Sola scriptura, or ‘Scripture alone’, is the principle that the Bible is the sole, divinely-inspired and reliable revelation in written form and the ultimate authority in matters of salvation, doctrine, and right-living. This does not deny, however, the existence of other sources of truth, the active working of the Spirit in the lives of believers, or the authority of elders in the church, etc.”
That’s it for this week. I hope it was helpful.
“Mourn the dead, Fight like hell for the living.” — Mother Jones
There are scads of 9/11 memorial images and memes online, but I wanted to share just a few that I really liked.
“It’s difficult to agree on secure borders without realizing that Donald Trump is the only candidate that has the spine, conviction and love for America to do what is necessary.” — Dan Celia, “Trump’s Immigration Plan is a Winner”
The subject of immigration, and particularly of illegal immigration, into the U.S. has been a hot potato for several years now, and it’s only heating up during the run-up to the 2016 elections. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ, in which he laid out his official position on the matter. Now, some thought what he said betrayed a “softening” of his earlier comments. This is worrisome to some, encouraging to others. On the other hand, there are those like Townhall.com’s Dan Celia who think that Trump’s stance on immigration is now “more solidified than ever. We have more detail — and conviction — than we did four months ago.”
However, I’m still mulling it over and am not going to comment on that particular controversy. What I want to focus on is Trump’s longstanding and consistent call for an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” along the border with Mexico and, especially, his insistence that he will make Mexico pay for it. That one has had me stumped for awhile and shaking my head every time I heard him say it.
We know that both the current Mexican president (Enrique Peña Nieto) and his predecessor (Vicente Fox) have spoken adamantly against it, and many of the Mexican people don’t like it, either — especially those with an interest in a porous border. (Of course, they don’t appreciate some of the incendiary remarks Trump has made about Mexico/Mexicans, either.) The Mexican government isn’t just going to build a wall voluntarily, and they aren’t going to write a huge check to the U.S. for that purpose. How in the world can Trump force Mexico to pay for a massive, expensive undertaking that they want nothing to do with?
There are legal, diplomatic, pragmatic, and ecological concerns regarding such a barrier, as well, which I think are probably all surmountable with reasonable solutions. But, for purposes of this post, let’s just take a quick look at the direct costs. Originally, Trump was talking about the wall covering the complete 1900 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. But, now he is estimating more like 1000 miles, with rough terrain being a natural impediment for the remainder. Assuming this is satisfactory (and I’m not convinced it is), we’re still talking hundreds of millions of cubic feet of concrete. Costs include production (e.g., materials, labor, overhead) and transport of the concrete slabs, along with labor for the installation. Trump has given an overall cost estimate of $8-10 billion (or was it $10-12 billion?), but various fact-checkers and engineers have since weighed in. A study by the Bernstein Group puts a more realistic cost at $15 billion and possibly as high as $25 billion. (The decisions on height and thickness have yet to be made.) Plus, there will be ongoing maintenance.
According to the narrative by many news outlets, Trump doesn’t really have a plan for paying for his proposed wall, let alone for making Mexico pay for it. In fact, Trump has mentioned some ideas on this, and he even provided a two-page memo to The Washington Post back in March that outlined several funding options he was considering.
One idea involves amending a provision of the Patriot Act which would allow the federal government to cut off money transfers (aka remittances) from illegal immigrants back to their relatives, friends, and associates in Mexico. This would hurt not only those Mexican nationals but the Mexican government — to the tune of $24+ billion per year. So, Trump would essentially threaten to enact this stranglehold plan unless Mexico makes a one-time payment of $X billion (likely $5-10 billion), which would of course go toward paying for the wall. This option sounds a bit like extortion on a massive scale, but the argument can be made that the illegal immigrants aren’t even authorized to make money here. That money should be earned by Americans in the first place, which means that most or all of it would stay in the U.S. I’m still thinking that one over. However, I am also uncomfortable with this option for the reason that it exploits an already controversial law and requires “redefin[ing] applicable financial institutions to include money transfer companies like Western Union, and redefine ‘account’ to include wire transfers.” This might have bad, unintended consequences for the rest of us down the road.
Another idea proposed by the Trump camp involves “[t]rade tariffs, or enforcement of existing trade rules”:
“There is no doubt that Mexico is engaging in unfair subsidy behavior that has eliminated thousands of U.S. jobs, and which we are obligated to respond to; the impact of any tariffs on the price imports will be more than offset by the economic and income gains of increased production in the United States, in addition to revenue from any tariffs themselves.”
Since Mexico needs our markets much more than we need theirs, it is reasoned that we have the leverage on this front. OK, but I am uncomfortable with the imposition of trade tariffs to begin with, so this isn’t a favorite of mine, either.
The next couple options in the memo involve visas for Mexican nationals. The point is made, “Immigration is a privilege, not a right,” and we always have the right to cancel immigration visas (idea #3) from Mexico and perhaps put a moratorium on issuing anymore for the forseeable future. “We also have leverage through business and tourist visas for important people in the Mexican economy.” Threatening these would definitely have an economic impact on Mexico. I suppose it’s worth considering, but I’m not sure the pluses outweigh the minuses from antagonizing a close neighbor and partner in trade. On the other hand, increasing visa fees (idea #4) sounds like something I could get behind. According to the memo,
“Even a small increase in visa fees would pay for the wall. This includes fees on border crossing cards, of which more than 1 million are issued a year. The border-crossing card is also one of the greatest sources of illegal immigration into the United States, via overstays.”
This seems like a valid, reasonable method of raising the funds with a minimum of additional cost or effort required. It has the added bonus of negatively impacting many of those who would abuse the privilege of visiting the United States.
Trump’s memo concludes:
“Mexico has taken advantage of us in another way as well: gangs, drug traffickers and cartels have freely exploited our open borders and committed vast numbers of crimes inside the United States. The United States has borne the extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations. Not to mention the even greater human cost.”
Just this past week, another innovative funding proposal has come to light that might be called a taste of “poetic justice” re the above, and it is my favorite. In short, the idea is to use drug money and other assets seized from cartels and others involved in illegal drug-trafficking to pay for construction of the wall. After all, $8.7 billion worth was seized by the U.S. Justice Dept. in just 2015. Add in similar assets seized by Mexico, and we’re well on our way to paying off that wall. One version of the plan would have both countries depositing said assets into a “joint border security fund,” from which funding for the construction and ongoing maintenance of the wall would be paid out.
According to LifeZette, which got the scoop on this proposed plan,
“A 2012 estimate compiled by the RAND Corporation at the request of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, found that Americans, on average, spend $100 billion annually on the four most widely trafficked illegal drugs: crack/cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine (meth)….
A 2013 study published by the University of Pittsburg estimated the annual profits hauled in by the cartels in Mexico total $25 to $30 billion dollars….
Advocates of the “make the cartels pay” plan believe it has the added benefit of punishing the “worst of the worst who bring violence to our streets and prey on innocent Mexicans and Americans,” while giving political cover to both leaders to accomplish their objectives….
A combined, cooperative effort to boost border enforcement could bring significant economic, national security, and health and safety benefits to millions of citizens in both nations.”
Depending on what option(s) Trump decides to go with, the Mexican government might pay for some of the wall, but they won’t be paying for 100% of it. Mexican nationals and/or Mexican criminals (along with criminals and their customers from the U.S. and elsewhere) will end up paying for everything else. Mexico does have some skin in the game, as noted above, so they should want to at least pay for measures to combat illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans by gangs, cartels, and others. In fact, I heard or read recently that Mexico has decreased the dangers from those elements over the past few years. But, there is still much to be done.
The problem is that Mexico probably benefits more from illegal immigration — i.e., relocating many poor and/or criminals to the U.S. and getting an influx of cash from the remittances — than if they kept those people in country, so they are understandably reluctant to support a huge and costly wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. Certain Mexican officials are probably also pressured/threatened by the cartels et al. to block any efforts that would put a serious dent in their bottom line. If anyone can “remind” the Mexican government of their dependence on us and use that leverage to negotiate a more favorable status quo, it’s Trump.
Personally, I’m in favor of both the visa fee increase and the “make the cartels pay” options.
“Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!”
Did you miss it? Splashdown!
Just a couple days ago, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule came home after spending over a month at the International Space Station (ISS). This mission was the 9th (out of a planned 20 under contract) since 2012, when Dragon “became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth.” It is still the only such spacecraft that can return large amounts of cargo to Earth.
Dragon has been effectively functioning as a remote-controlled shipping container, hauling essential equipment and supplies to the crew of the ISS and returning with, for example, results from various scientific experiments being performed up there — even live mice. All together, it transports thousands of pounds worth of cargo on both legs of its journey. For instance, this time…
“Among the 5,000 pounds of cargo it delivered was a docking ring that will enable astronauts to visit the orbiting research complex in commercial capsules SpaceX and Boeing are developing under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program…. NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed the docking ring, called International Docking Adapter-2, or IDA-2, during a spacewalk last Friday.” (Florida Today)
That’s right. SpaceX is planning manned missions, too. In fact, once it finishes refining and installing the necessary modifications to Dragon for “crew configuration”, two-person crews will suit up for manned flights to the ISS. These are currently scheduled for late-2017 and early-2018.
But, SpaceX isn’t the only commercial space venture with big plans or making news with their progress. Earlier this month, it was announced that the U.S. government has finally approved the first private mission to the Moon. The “winner” of this honor goes to Moon Express (aka MoonEx), the first company to apply (back in April 2015) for a commercial space mission beyond Earth orbit.
Under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, each country must “authorize and continuously supervise” any space missions, governmental or otherwise, from within its jurisdiction. This involves reviewing safety measures and ensuring compliance with “proper planetary protecting procedures.” This being the first such commercial mission, new ground is being broken in regards to regulations and procedures. In this case, the review process involved not only the FAA and NASA but the White House, State Dept., and additional participation by the NOAA, FCC, and the Dept. of Defense. It was a long and complex undertaking, but they somehow managed to work through all the issues and developed what they hope to be a model for “a standard launch licensing process for deep space missions.”
“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit. We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.” — Bob Richards, co-founder & CEO of Moon Express
This is just one hurdle, though, and there are many challenges yet to be met. MoonEx’s plan is to launch a small, single-stage spacecraft for lunar landing by the end of 2017. The endeavor is part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition, and there are others around the globe shooting for the same deadline. First Prize is $20 million for being “the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the moon, travel at least half a kilometer across the surface, and return photos and videos.”
Of course, it’s not just about the prize money, which will only partially offset the costs. MoonEx already raised $30 million, and it hopes that the federal approval will convince investors to provide the additional $25 million needed to finish constructing the “coffee-table sized MX-1 lander”. As reported by Eric Berger at arstechnica, MoonEx has been utilizing some of the latest tech in their designs.
“[T]hanks to Cubesat innovations, composites, and 3D printing, MoonEx has been able to reduce the weight and improve performance of the spacecraft’s systems.”
This is all an investment into what MoonEx (and its investors, of course) hopes will be a burgeoning new industry, capitalizing on lunar resources — from water ice to Helium-3 — and eventually further commercialization of the Moon. (Hotels, theme parks, and casinos?) Meanwhile, I suspect the technological advances will lead to other applications for the rest of us, much like the Space Race of the 20th century did. I, for one, look forward to seeing what comes of it all, though I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford a vacation on the Moon.
I recently began reading Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (2006) by Vern S. Poythress. The first few chapters are what you might call foundational for the discussion in the rest of the book. Some of it is good, some I find dry or not sure I totally agree or understand. But, that’s OK. I suspect the rest of the book will make it worth my while.
The third chapter, titled “Knowledge from Whose Authority?”, discusses issues of secularism in the U.S. and Europe and how that affects scientific inquiry, etc. The following in an excursus on public education from the end of that chapter, which I found thought-provoking and sufficiently brief to share. You might be a bit surprised at what he has to say, too.
“Earlier in this chapter I raised a problem about public, state-controlled education. State-controlled education in its present form in the United States tends to impose secularism. Secularism is a whole worldview, and in its approach to the nature of scientific law, it is intrinsically religious, in that it exchanges God for an idolatrous view of scientific law. Moreover, as we have seen, it excludes minority views like animism and Shankara’s interpretation of Vedantic Hinduism. It is oppressive toward those who radically disagree with its worldview.
But is this unique to secularism? Does not everyone have the same problem when it comes to state-controlled education? Parents naturally want their children to be taught in conformity with their own beliefs. But state-controlled education cannot possibly please all parents at the same time. It cannot please both those who believe in absolute moral standards and those who believe that morality is merely the product of personal choices and opinions. It cannot please both those who believe that scientific law is impersonal and those who believe that it is the personal word of God. It cannot please those who believe that the universe is a product of chance and mindless evolution and those who believe that it is the creation of God. In political science courses, it cannot please both political conservatives and political liberals.
At an earlier point in the history of the United States, state-controlled education tended to draw on a broad Protestant consensus as its main religious background. In Europe, education was influenced by state churches. These approaches oppressed all kinds of religious minorities, as well as atheists and agnostics. Nowadays, in the United States and to some extent in Europe, state-controlled education is controlled by secularist ideology and opposes religious ‘interference’ and minority views that would take a different approach to issues like scientific law and moral standards. The victims of oppression have shifted, but the general problem has not disappeared.
I cannot pursue the issue here, but it seems to me the morally proper remedy is not, as many Christians might wish, the reintroduction of less hostility toward the Bible and Christianity in state-controlled schools, but the introduction of real parental control and choice in education. As it is now, because of the tax system for supporting education, only the very rich can afford to send their children to schools of their choice. [Poythress’ footnote: Or the very determined can undertake to homeschool their children. I am grateful that homeschooling is allowed in the United States. But it is a great injustice that homeschoolers still see their tax money go to support public schools, while they pay out of their own pockets in time and money for their homeschooling activities.] School vouchers — or better, tax credits for education of the parents’ choice — can provide relief that gives the average parent real choice. And with choice comes control of what kind of worldview and educational approach the child receives. But there is a political price: we must then give up the hope of using state power to impose out own views on others’ children.”
I would differ at least somewhat with Poythress on the following three points:
1) I’m not sure I am entirely comfortable with Poythress’ use of the word “oppression” and its variants, since I usually associate that with something much harsher than one would see in school. But, I understand how he is using it.
2) I would disagree with Poythress’ claim that, aside from homeschooling, “only the very rich can afford to send their children to schools of their choice.” Of course, it partially depends on where you live. But, there are plenty of middle-class families that send their children to private schools. Maybe not the elite, but there are more modestly-priced schools, mostly run by Catholic or Protestant churches. There are Jewish private schools, too. Some families may have to sacrifice in other areas to afford sending one or more children to such a school, but they manage. This was true back in the ’70s & ’80s when I went, and it’s true now, as some of my friends can attest.
3) I think the author presents, or assumes, a false dichotomy. It seems to me to be entirely reasonable to “[reintroduce] less hostility toward the Bible and Christianity in state-controlled schools” in addition to giving more parents real control and choice over how their children are educated. “Less hostility” does not mean religious domination, of course, and it would help alleviate the concerns of those non-secularist parents who, for whatever reasons, cannot or would rather not pull their kids out of public school.
Other than these points, I pretty much agree with Poythress. Of course, the broader discussion about public education, its shortcomings, and alternatives, covers a lot more territory than this brief excursus. I’ll probably tackle it again down the road….
“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” — Sun Tzu
One of the biggest issues in national security today is what to do — what can be done? — about the rise in terrorism. Specifically, the terrorism that is perpetrated and supported by those who hold to a “radical”, “extremist”, “fundamentalist” form of Islam. Can it be defeated? If so, how? If not, can it at least be “contained”?
It’s a complicated issue, and I don’t know the answers. But, I definitely think the international community needs to marshal its resources and cooperate to root out and eradicate this brutal enemy as much as is possible. It may be an ongoing “war” for the forseeable future, but it is necessary in order to protect and defend the world from what is for many an existential threat — i.e., Islamists’ “global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate.” The United States can and should lead this fight, but we need clear vision and leadership that is up to the task.
Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn has a few ideas on how to defeat terrorism. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because he has been making radio & TV appearances lately, commenting on current issues and promoting his new book (with Michael Ledeen), The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. I wrote a post about him a couple years ago, shortly after the Obama administration pressured him to take an early retirement, resigning as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. I also recommended Flynn as a potential Secretary of Defense in a (near?) future Republican administration.
I haven’t read Flynn’s book, yet, though it’s on my list. But, he recently co-authored an opinion piece for Fox News with the NCPA’s Lt. Col. Allen West and Dr. David Grantham which addresses this topic. It isn’t a long or detailed plan. But, it lays out what both experience and, perhaps, common sense tells us are some foundational things to be recognized and acknowledged before we even have a chance at beating this enemy of all that we hold dear.
“The president refuses to know that our current adversary in radical Islam lives by an apocalyptic worldview — one that relies on unconscionable levels of slaughter to bring about its final caliphate…. This willful ignorance has prompted a dangerous mismatch in priorities….
One should never be so intransigent as to deny the truth of the enemy. That only concedes the initiative and gives the enemy an ability to outmaneuver you strategically….
Instead, we must get into the head of the enemy. All three of us have been there. It’s not pretty. There exists an unparalleled devotion to their cause; a fanatical adherence to Islamic conventions….
They are resolute in their convictions. They are dedicated to the slaughter of any who do not share their warped vision for the future. That’s the enemy.
But America must also know itself. Jihadists do not distinguish between black and white, young or old, poor or rich.
Our enemy sees us all as Americans, and we should do the same. It is essential that we champion American exceptionalism — defined not as a pompous view of self, but as the beacon of light for individual freedom in a world lacking it….
The government must also know its responsibilities. The next administration and each one thereafter must embrace its constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense, and must never put the interests of others above those they serve. Those leaders should clearly and correctly define the enemy, and articulate an unambiguous national and international strategy to defeat it….
From the Barbary Wars to Nazism, Imperial Japan to communism, America chose sacrifice over compliancy, bravery over fear. The American people squared their collective shoulders and faced the threat head-on.
All of this can be done. And we will do so with unwavering integrity, renewed strength and unapologetic resolve. Knowing ourselves and our enemy will ensure victory.”
Makes sense to me.
But, this will never get any traction under Obama or Clinton or any other globalist/multiculturalist “progressive” who refuses to recognize the enemy for what it is, nor with a majority of such people in the House and Senate. We must use our voting privilege this election season to make sure this is not the case. We must elect clear-eyed leaders who will not require that intel supports a pre-determined, positive narrative but will instead identify the real enemy — both the physical and ideological aspects — and dedicate the requisite resources to its ultimate and decisive defeat.
“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.” -– John Adams, ‘Thoughts on Government’, 1776
As I’m sure you have noticed, the United States — its businesses, communities, families and individuals — are struggling. We are struggling under mountains of debt, both personal and governmental. We are struggling under innumerable, often ridiculous regulations and increased taxes. We are struggling to feel and stay safe, when our government leaders keep opening borders without proper vetting or restrictions, releasing violent criminals into the populace, and shrinking/weakening our military despite growing international threats. And, that’s just the beginning.
But, much of the struggle is unnecessary, if only our government leaders would abandon the foolish and failed policies that got us here over the past several years. If only they would do what is right for a safe and healthy nation. The Heritage Foundation, with its various specialty institutes, recently published its “Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda”, which is meant not only to educate the American public but to (hopefully) guide the next presidential administration and Congress on how to get government and the nation back on track.
An earlier published “Blueprint for Balance” document provided “detailed recommendations for the federal budget put forth by Congress”. The “Blueprint for Reform” lays out “a long-term vision, and policies to achieve that vision, that requires presidential leadership and congressional action.” This includes “tak[ing] steps to allow Americans to build for themselves a stronger economy, a stronger society, and a stronger defense…. The first six chapters of the Comprehensive Policy Agenda provide policy summaries in the areas of economics, tax, entitlements, regulation, energy and natural resources, and foreign policy and defense. The second section of the book is dedicated to establishing agency and department budgets and policy objectives for the next 10 years.”
But, here’s what it really boils down to:
“The next President of the United States and Congress will face significant challenges in restoring to public life the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
To that end, Heritage recommends beginning with the following proposals, which I have adapted from their slightly longer summaries….
Pro-growth tax reform: The tax system should raise the revenue necessary to fund a limited government at the lowest level possible for constitutionally appropriate activities. It should apply the least economically destructive forms of taxation, have low rates on a broad base, minimize interference with the operation of the free market and free enterprise, and minimize the cost of compliance for taxpayers. It should also minimize adverse impact on the core institutions of civil society. This plan includes establishing a flat tax that eliminates penalties on saving and investment.
Balance the Budget: The budget should be balanced by driving down federal spending, including through entitlement reforms, while maintaining a strong national defense and not raising taxes. Heritage outlines a plan to accomplish this balanced budget “on a unified basis” by 2024.
Reduce Regulatory Burden: Immediate reforms should include the requirement that legislation undergo an impact analysis before a floor vote in Congress; also, every major regulation should obtain congressional approval before taking effect. Sunset deadlines should be required for all major rules, and independent agencies should be subject to the same White House regulatory review as executive branch agencies.
Repeal Harmful Laws, beginning with Obamacare and Dodd–Frank, replacing the former with patient-centered, market-based reforms. Additional reforms should include removing the federal government from housing finance, ending the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending power, and ending federal loan and security guarantees.
Reform Welfare: The current system has failed to improve self-sufficiency of the poor and the cost of the welfare system is unsustainable. Welfare reform should encourage work, a proven formula for reducing dependence and controlling costs. Furthermore, states should gradually assume greater revenue responsibility for welfare programs; that is, they should pay for and administer the programs with state resources. Additionally, leaders should work to strengthen marriage. The absence of fathers in the home is one of the greatest drivers of child poverty. Policymakers should reduce marriage penalties in the current welfare system and find ways to promote marriage in low-income communities.
Rebuild the Military: The risk to Americans everywhere posed by global terrorism, the eruption of conflicts in many regions of the world, and American retreat in the face of challenges have begun to show the American people what a world without America looks like. The ability of the United States to exercise leadership and protect its interests depends substantially on the strength of the U.S. armed forces. The new President and Congress need to allocate the necessary resources to strengthen U.S. military capabilities.
Much of this probably sounds familiar, as many have been shouting the need for many of these and similar reforms for years. But, with their expertise and dedication to Constitutional conservatism, I trust Heritage to put some meat on the bones. At least one conservative columnist, however, has some reservations about Heritage’s recommendations. Constitution.com’s Joe Scudder notes four issues of concern:
1) In a recent video, “Why Trade Doesn’t Cause Unemployment”, Heritage “refused to acknowledge that the middle class is hurting and identify what (rather than trade) is causing the pain.”
2) Their agenda is “not necessarily the same as Trump’s.”
3) “In areas where they do agree, I have to wonder why the Blueprint recommends actions that Congress has refused to take when they were sorely needed.” Here he cites a Diane Katz’s summary at “The Daily Signal” regarding the call for “a variety of regulatory reforms to curtail the vast administrative state”. Scudder predicts that “[t]he moment the Democrats accuse the Republicans of wanting to “shut down” the government, the GOP majority will surrender. That’s how Republicans gave in to Obama’s budget.”
4) The Heritage report brings up our current unpreparedness to confront “Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe [and] Chinese expansion in the South China Sea” in its national defense section. Yet, Scudder point out, these haven’t exactly been hot issues in the public discussion. “It is the mark of disconnected elites to worry about such things rather than our middle class. The man who won the primary condemning our war in Iraq is not likely to get the country entangled in another foreign war—especially not with a nuclear power.”
These are all certainly fair points to bring up, but I think Scudder’s criticisms are off-base. Regarding #1, his concerns were simply tangential to the focus of the 1-minute video. Regarding the rest, those are not good reasons for Heritage to avoid addressing issues that they deem important, even those that aren’t imminent threats or current hot topics with the public or the candidates. While I haven’t gone through the “Blueprint”, I also doubt that they ignore the concerns of the middle class.
Heritage will release a third report later this year which “will identify presidential and Cabinet-level priorities for reforming major agencies consistent with the policy proposals presented in the first two parts of the Mandate series.” Meanwhile, for a few more details and a direct link to the 152-page “Blueprint for Reform”, see the Heritage article here: “Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration in 2017”.
In the end, all the Heritage Foundation can do is provide information and expert advice. It is up to Congress and the new President to evaluate it and (hopefully) take appropriate action.