Memebuster no. 2: Silly mommy. God is for kids!

It has been a while since I’ve posted a memebuster since the opening post of this blog. Fortunately, I’ve found a doozy to tackle:

Where did faith go

Isn’t that cute?

Yup, we know  that there is no god because there are molecules. And solar systems. And monkeys that evolved into humans.

With memes like this, perhaps we should have stayed as monkeys.

Just because God can’t be observed through scientific method doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. In fact, as smart as New Atheists claim to be, one would think that they would recognize that no one can prove the negative of anything!

New Atheists like to claim that they won’t believe in anything unless there is EVIDENCE that what they believe is true. While on the surface this may be seem reasonable, in the end it’s a ridiculous notion to live by. We all must live our lives with some preconceived notions of how the world works, why certain relationships (like family relationships) are important, and so on. To think otherwise is to have a permenantly sceptical relationship with reality, which is impossible, if not unhealthy.

Furthermore, NAs discount evidence that are inconvenient to their world views. NAs aren’t unique in this deficiency, but that doens’t discount the importance of their mistake. For example, NAs love to claim that the Bible doesn’t provide sufficient proof that God exists. However, that means that they are unwilling to accept the testimonies of the disciples of Jesus and their followers as provided in the four Gospels. The claim is that the Gospels aren’t “scientific,” and yet as Brad Pitre points out in his important book The Case for Jesus, the Gospels were written in the same manner as biographies of important people during that time. One may dispute the veracity of those testimonies, but to be intellectually honest, one must take into account as many sources as possible, and logical reasoning, when doing so. To flippantly call the Gospels lies without any basis serves no one, particularly the one making this claim.

It is true that the Bible includes many books from a wide variety of sources over long period of time. It would be impossible to think that there wouldn’t be inconsistencies among these books. That’s where theology comes in. That’s where the Catholic church comes in to sort out and interpret all of these scriptures in a consistent manner. After all, the Catholic church claims that it was founded by Jesus himself, and that he gave Peter authority over it. The doctrines and traditions of the Church seek to communicate that the Son of God came down to earth to save humandkind. Thus the saying the Old Testemant informs the New Testament, and vice verca. To mock Catholic doctrine without understanding it serves no one, particularly those who are doing the mocking.

Finally, far too many NAs hold the view that religion feels threatened by science because it somehow competes with religion over understanding reality. Nothing can be farther from the truth. As John Polkinghorne demonstrated in his little book Science and Religion in Quest of Truth, science and religion can co-exist with one another because they seek to understand from different perspectives. Furthermore, Bishop Robert Barron has mentioned in countless occassions that God seeks to be in the world without competing with humans in the process. Unlike pagan gods that battle humans and each other, the very fact that Jesus is both God and man shows that God can be in the world in a noncompetitive, nonviolent manner.

There is no either-or. When it comes to religion and science, there is no reason to think that it is anything but both-and.

Book review no. 2: The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, by Brant Pitre

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre is a fascinating, step-by-step analysis of the claim that a first-century Jew named Jesus was neither a prophet nor a madman, but in fact the Son of God.

Before addressing that claim, Pitre had to clear out a great deal of intellectual deadwood. Specifically, he took on the current fashionable thinking that the stories about Jesus were not true, and should merely be thought of as legend.

The Case for Jesus

The primary basis for thinking the Jesus stories as legend is what Pitre calls the “theory of the anonymous Gospels.” According to this theory, all four Gospels were originally published without any titles identifying the authors; circulated for almost a century before being attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; and the titles were added to give the Gospels “much needed authority” since Jesus’s disciples had been dead and buried.

Pitre finds three major problems with this theory. First, there are no copies of anonymous Gospels. Pitre shows the names of the ancient manuscripts that attribute the four Gospels to the four authors. Second, there is no trace of disagreement among the manuscripts circulating around the Roman Empire as to who were the authors of the four Gospels. Third, if providing the Gospels “authority” was such a priority to ancient scribes, Pitre asks why they would attribute two of the Gospels, Mark and Luke, to men who never even knew Jesus.

Pitre carefully demonstrates who the Gospel writers were and why we should believe that their authorship is authentic. He also shows that the Gospels were written in the same manner as biographies during that time. The purpose of ancient biographies were to document an important person’s life, albeit not in a verbatim manner. Finally, Pitre destroys the notion that the Gospels were written four to six decades after the death of Jesus. In fact, he clearly shows that there are compelling historical reasons to conclude that all four Gospels were written within the lifetimes of the disciples and their followers. Once he addressed concerns that the Gospels had been written by anonymous authors, Pitre then tackled the question of who Jesus claimed to be.

Pitre argues that many contemporary Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t necessarily know why, let alone understand why his first followers that he was. For Pitre, the interpretive key is using the perspective of a first-century Jew who would have heard and seen what Jesus said and did.

When Jesus came onto the scene, religious Jews were very mindful of prophecies in the Book of Daniel that pointed to the Messiah coming at some point during the reign of the Roman Empire. In fact, Jesus hinted to careful listeners that he was indeed divine, but in a very Jewish way. Jesus used riddles and parables to indicate who he was, but not in so blatant a way so as to be killed before he could complete his mission.

Basically, his mission was to be executed so that he could be resurrected. He did all of this so that all of humankind, Gentile and Jew, can turn to Him for salvation. Pitre shows that all of this, particularly Jesus’s resurrection, fulfilled Jewish Scripture. Pitre also demonstrates that Jesus said that Gentiles will believe in Him not only because of his resurrection, but also because of the inexplicable and rapid conversion of the pagan nations.

I’m only providing a high level overview of Pitre’s arguments. What’s particularly impressive is the careful manner in which he builds them. He provides tremendous detail and mindful exegesis to support each argument. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested is understanding more fully the case that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.

Why Mary being immaculate matters

…[W]e need to understand that Mary’s purity was far, far more than her remaining a virgin throughout her life. Saying she is “pure” is to say she is natural and whole and complete. She is a “virgin” as an unspoiled forest or a spring of mountain water. She is pure with a fullness of humanity and life and love that our soiled and spoiled natures cannot understand. This is why the Fathers of the Church call her “the second Eve”–because she was re-created at her Immaculate Conception as the new creation by God’s grace and by virtue of her Son’s saving work.

This purity is power. It is what conquers evil. We must understand therefore that evil is not defeated by evil means. Yes, sometimes people must use force against force in self defense, but this is not the primary way to battle evil. The primary way to battle evil is by being good. The way to overcome darkness is to light a lamp. The way to overcome cold is to light a fire. Likewise, the way to overcome evil is not to rage against it, not to establish yet more rules and regulations to force people to be good by virtue of the law. Instead it is to become more like Jesus and Mary: to be pure.

Read Father Longenecker’s powerful post here.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

James Grant: The United States of Insolvency

There are times when nothing can be more dangerous than pointing out the obvious.

James Grant provides a tremendous service by stating simply that the U.S. government is insolvent.Time should be commended for publishing Grant’s piece as its cover story.

Keynesian economists can complain all they want. Creating money ex nihilo won’t eliminate the problem.

Grant discusses his essay, and the Keynesian reaction to it, in this entertaining Mises Weekend interview.

 

Book review no. 1: Science and Religion in Quest of Truth, by John Polkinghorne

It’s a shame that I hadn’t heard of John Polkinghorne until I listened to a podcast in which Bishop Robert Barron recommended this book. Polkinghorne is a scientist and an Anglican theologian, which puts him in a unique position to discuss how religion and science interact with one another.

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Polkinghorne’s main argument is that science and religion are complementary to one another because each are seeking to understand what is real. Neither has a monopoly on knowledge, for neither seeks to understand everything. Science seeks to understand natural phenomenon, and theology seeks to understand the nature of God. The best scientists and theologians are those who search out their respective subjects with humility, and acknowledge the limits of what they can understand.

While Polkinghorne discusses a variety of issues relating to the interaction between science and religion, he is at his best when taking on the supposed enmity between the two. He quickly dispels with the notion that science deals with facts and religion with personal beliefs. As for science, Polkinghorne asserts that “there are no scientifically interesting facts that are not already interpreted facts.” Experimental “fact” and theoretical “opinion” interact in a “subtle circularity.” As for religion, he points out that religious belief can only be helpful when it is true. Polkinghorne is very critical of those who use theological arguments to explain gaps in scientific knowledge; that gap can very well be closed by a rational scientific theory, leaving the theologian’s words flying in the wind. Nevertheless, given his strong belief in the unity of knowledge, he sees no reason why scientific truth can not live side by side with the poetic discourse of theology.

An example of Polkinghorne’s clearing the air between science and religion is when he takes on the myth that religious people opposed Darwin’s ideas on evolution, characterizing it as “simply historically false.” He points out how Darwin’s ideas were increasingly accepted in Christian circles as time passed. For example,

Darwin’s clergyman friend, the novelist Charles Kingsley, coined a phrase that succintly sums up the illuminating theological way in which to think about the scientific fact of evolution. Kingsley said that no doubt God could have brought into being a ready-made world, but Darwin had shown us that the Creator had done something cleverer than that, in bringing into being a world so endowed with fertility that creatures could be allowed to explore and bring to birth its possibilities, in a process in which they ‘made themselves.” (pg. 30)

Meanwhile, many scientists contemporary to Darwin never accepted his ideas, primarily because they could not see how small differences between successive generations would occur. That problem, however, was solved a few years after On the Origin of Species was published by Gregor Mendel, who was, by the way, an Austrian monk.

Don’t be misled by the small size of this book. It may only be 160 pages, but Polkinghorne’s prose is clear, concise, and precise. Whatever perspective one may have on how science relates to religion, I strongly recommend reading this engaging and provacative book.

 

So much for the Vatican bump: Clinton pummels Sanders in the New York primary

Earlier this week, Bernie Sanders got pummelled by Hillary Clinton in the New York Democratic primary by 16 points. Notwithstanding voting irregularities in New York City, such a disparity was no mean feat. Which leads me to ask a question: why on earth did Sanders think that visiting the Vatican less than a week before the primary was a good idea?

Politico published a relatively decent article that provides a post-mortem of Sander’s disappointing results in the state:

In New York, Sanders finally hit the wall, his winning streak halted by a daily pummeling that forced him on the defensive and stopped his momentum cold. The tabloids dealt him punishing hit after punishing hit. The Democratic establishment, most of it in Hillary Clinton’s camp, piled on harder than the Sanders campaign expected. Caught up in one distraction after another — a quarrel over debate details, a back and forth with Clinton over her qualifications, a trip to the Vatican in the run-up to the election — Sanders never gained his footing or even came close to pulling off the upset victory he once predicted with frequency.

Within this context, Sanders’ trip to the Vatican effectively destroyed whatever momentum he may have built up that would have been necessary for him to compete with Clinton in the state. And for what? It looks to have been no more than a Quixotic quest for an elusive endorsement of vague value:

The decision to leave the campaign trail late Thursday and head to a Vatican City conference was his own — even some of his top aides were unaware it was in the works until he told them. Some local allies were caught entirely unaware. Few developments from Sanders’ trip reached a New York audience on Friday, and the big moment didn’t come until the wee hours of Saturday night East Coast time, when most voters were asleep. By the time they were awake, Pope Francis had weighed in, simply calling the meeting a “common courtesy.”

Hopefully, Francis’s earlier broohaha with Trump cooled whatever intentions he may have had of getting involved in the US’s elections in any way.

Here’s hoping that Sanders’ debacle leads to the lesson that the Vatican is not alongside the road to the White House.

 

Venezuela is following the Mugabe model

The Economist published an important article highlighting the similarities between Venezuela’s current economic crisis and what Zimbabwe’s went through 15 years ago. In fact, the similarity can be displayed in one picture:

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Fortunately, the anonymous reporter was in Zimbabwe during its hyperinflationary period in the 2000s. He cuts through their cultural differences between the two countries and gets to the root of the problem:

Might Venezuela go the way of Zimbabwe? They are culturally very different, but the political parallels are ominous. Both countries have suffered under charismatic revolutionary leaders. Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. Hugo Chávez ran Venezuela from 1998 until his death in 2013. His handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, continues his policies, though with none of Chávez’s—or Mr Mugabe’s—political adroitness.

Mr Mugabe seized big commercial farms without compensation, wrecking Zimbabwe’s largest industry. Chávez expropriated businesses on a whim, sometimes on live television. He sacked 20,000 workers from the state oil firm, PDVSA, and replaced them with 100,000 often incompetent loyalists, some of whom were set to work stitching revolutionary T-shirts.

…Yet the key similarity between the two regimes is not their thuggishness but their economic ineptitude. Both believe that market forces can be bossed around like soldiers on parade. In both cases, the results are similar: shortages, inflation and tumbling living standards.

Mr Mugabe, who like the chavistas professes great concern for the poor, fixed the prices of several staple goods in the early 2000s to make them “affordable”. They promptly vanished from the shelves. The subsidies that are supposed to make price controls work have often been stolen in both countries. Suppliers, rather than giving goods away at the official price, prefer to sell them on the black market.

He also provides illuminating stories of the effects of Maduro’s insane policies on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans.

To learn more about the pernicious effects of inflationary monetary policies on display in Zimbabwe and Venezuela, I strongly recommend When Money Destroys Nations by Philip Haslam.

Sanders’s misunderstanding of Rerum Novarum

Reuters reports that in his speech to a Vatican conference on social justice, Bernie Sanders “decried the ‘immoral’ gap between the world’s haves and have nots, saying it was worse today than more than a century ago.”

Sanders noted that the Roman Catholic Church’s first encyclical on social justice, written in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, lamented the enormous gap between the rich and the poor.

“And let us be clear. That situation is worse today. In the year 2016, the top 1 percent of the people on this planet own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent,” the Democratic contender said.

“At a time when so few have so much, and so many have so little, we must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable,” he said.

Notwithstanding Sanders’s tired tirade against inequality, if he actually read a little bit of the document he referring to, he would quickly realize that the approach the encylical takes is nothing close to Sanders’s.

Pope Leo XIII indeed begins Rerum Novarum, the encylical Sanders is referring to, decrying the gap in both income and power between employers and workers:

3. .. [B]y degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

And yet Leo XIII considers socialist solutions as hurting the very people they presumably wish to help!

4. To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. [My emphases]

In fact, Leo XIII goes so far as to say that socialism “is manifestly against justice. For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.” Further, inequality among people is a simple fact of life:

17. It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition. [My emphases]

Leo XIII wanted workers and capitalists to recognize that they need each other and act accordingly:

19. The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity. Now, in preventing such strife as this, and in uprooting it, the efficacy of Christian institutions is marvelous and manifold. First of all, there is no intermediary more powerful than religion (whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian) in drawing the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other, and especially of the obligations of justice. [My emphasis]

Leo XIII then goes into a great deal of detail discussing the respective roles of the rich, the working class, and the Church, but I have made my point. Sanders has constantly villified the rich, presumably to benefit workers. Leo XII’s perspective was completely different. He sought the natural harmony that can exist between labor and capital. If Sanders had any inkling of what Rerum Novarum actually said, one would hope he would have been much more hesitant to use it to support his divisive claims.

Los Angeles unions want to be exempt from the minimum wage they pushed for

The LA Times reports that the Los Angeles City Council is considering a proposal to exempt unions for the city’s minimum wage law. If the proposal passed, union workers would eventually receive that wage due to the state law recently signed by Governor Brown. However, it is remarkable, to say the least, that those who fought to impose a law on others want to be exempt from it themselves.

h/t economicpolicyjournal.com