Monday, November 30, 2015

political evolution on abortion in America

A book review on a thesis I first read here in a Human Life Review article by George McKenna.

In a nutshell, the GOP was more pro-abortion than Democrats in the 1970s. For example, "Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to favor total legalization of abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. While Ronald Reagan was signing an abortion liberalization law in California, Ted Kennedy was endorsing the 'right to life' in Massachusetts."

The history of that evolution is fascinating. But the most interesting concept is that pro-life may one day return to the Democrats, since that position is ostensibly more at home in the Democratic party. Democrats used to stand for justice and "the little guy", individual rights of those being oppressed, and so on. (They also claim to be fond of science, but I'm not so sure that's not as likely to be a principled position for them.) These days, it's much more about crony capitalism and appealing to various interest groups.

Another terrific book in this arena-- that ranges from America's colonial days to the present day: Marvin Olasky's Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

on young/old earth...

One can easily read the Bible to be "young earth". In fact, that's the easiest way for Western contemporaries to read it. But as with its Bible bookend, the book of Revelation, reading it "straight up" may not be the proper approach. (I like what Nelson Kraybill said about Revelation in this regard: trying to read Revelation "literally" [whatever that term means] is akin to reading the phone book like a novel.)

I have a much longer post on this. But here a few, brief/summary thoughts on addressing the possibility of an "old earth", biblically...

1.) On "apparent age"-- the idea that God created everything in a way that necessarily looked like it was more than a minute "old"-- it's interesting to note that Jesus' first miracle (recorded in John 2, just after the reference to Jesus as deity and Creator in John 1) is to turn water into wine, creating something with apparent age.

2.) For those who want to stay "more literal"...
a.) Habakkuk 3:6 and II Peter 3:5 seem to imply an old earth (Is the earth 120 hours older than Adam?); 
b.) Adam had a *really* busy "sixth day"; and
c.) Recognize that the Hebrew word for "day" is used a half-dozen ways just in the first chapter plus of Genesis.

3.) For those who are willing to go "less literal"...
a.) "literary theories" on various ways to read Genesis 1-11 more broadly (I'd recommend Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna's Understanding Genesis here); and
b.) John Walton on the connection of the Creation story in Genesis 1 to the Temple. (He's interviewed in CT on this, but his book is good-- here's my blog post on it.) 

4.) A closing thought from science: In The Science of God, Gerald Schroeder lays out why time will look different from earth vs. the center of the universe in a way that accommodates both views. (Russ Humphreys seems to make similar case here.) The result is a both/and theory in which Creation occurred over six days from a cosmic perspective and the universe is 15.75 billion years old from earth’s perspective. This lines up with OE science, the manner in which light travels, and the relativity of time. 

Bottom line: The age of the Earth should not be a stumbling block for those considering entry into the goodness of God's Kingdom. 

P.S. Leon Kass taught Genesis at the University of Chicago for decades as a "great books" course and his amazing book, The Beginning of Wisdom, came out of those efforts. If you're doing a study of Genesis and can handle a big book, it's a must read.

on Tim LaHaye's eschatology and politics

I read the first book in the Left Behind series, since I wanted to stay up with things. (LB was really popular, back in the day. So, was its philosophical opposite-- Bruce Wilkinson's The Prayer of Jabez, but that's another story.) I thought it was really bad. But I had seen the movie too. So, I thought I'd give the series another shot and read the second one. They are quick, easy reads, so there's not a lot of lost time reading them. But I'd certainly go elsewhere for a fiction fix! 

I also read LaHaye's book on eschatology and it was brutally incoherent. Aside from its a.) overly-wooden hermeneutic; b.) its limited and selective references to historical and contemporary data; and c.) its reduction of the Cross and Pentecost, LaHaye's version might start to be attractive. 

If I was the sort of person to read one book on a topic, it would have scared me completely away from pre-mill, pre-trib eschatology. (Then again, if I were the sort who only read one book per topic, I might have found it compelling. Who knows?!) Reading David Reagan's book on pre-mill has moved it back toward the "possible but unlikely" pile. 

And then there's LaHaye on (Religious Right) politics-- another huge problem. In addition to an incoherent Christian political philosophy (a common problem, but one expects more from someone writing in the area, yes?), I have a quote from him in my second book that expresses an explicit idolatry toward the State.

brief review of "The Dirty Dozen"

Here's Robert Levy and William Mellor's book on 21 SCOTUS cases that "radically expanded government and eroded freedom"-- "the dirty dozen" and nine "dishonorable mentions"...

Levy and Mellor (LM) use two criteria for choosing cases: weak constitutional foundations and profoundly negative social consequences-- both direct and indirect through the ripple effects of changed policies, going forward (xxvi). LM provide an overview of the cases in their Introduction (7-9). Most of the cases are (largely) unknown, except to policy nerds, with the exception of McConnell given its recency (1). (Richard Epstein shares his [interesting] thoughts on the topic in the Foreword.)

Broadly speaking, LM argue that the courts have been drawn toward whatever works (although oftentimes they have not worked as hoped), rather than what is constitutional (or even, what would be ethical).

They briefly discuss the loose and inconsistently-applied term "judicial activism" (10)-- before discussing it at length in an Afterword. In a word, one man's "judicial activism" is another man's conservatism, depending on whose ox is being gored. LM argue instead for "judicial engagement", but that seems like (mostly) semantics-- and isn't as helpful as their discussion of the broader topic. Along the same lines, they note the common inconsistencies among liberals and especially conservatives on the 9th and 10th Amendments (12, 13). Kentucky's Governor-Elect Matt Bevin is a welcome counter-example to conservative incoherence here-- at least in his position on "medical marijuana".

Key cases for me to cite/discuss: 

Chapter 1's Helvering v. Davis (1937) and U.S. v. Butler (1938) opened the door to mass redistribution through Social Security and Medicare. For LM's purposes, ignore whatever benefits obtained-- and ignore the brutal impact of Social Security and Medicare as poorly-designed programs with massive and direct social costs (particularly for the elderly, the working poor, and the middle class). But, ironically, given that they were sold as retirement programs, they were redistributive efforts that paved the way for all sorts of other efforts by the *Federal* government.  

Chapter 2's two cases on "interstate commerce" led to all sorts of shenanigans: Wickard v. Filburn (1942) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005). Filburn operated a small farm in Ohio, producing milk, poultry, eggs, and wheat. He grew wheat for his family, to feed his animals, and to sell at market. The Ag Dept. (under Wickard) had told Filburn he could grow 11.1 acres at a yield of 20.1 bushels per acre. Filburn planted 23 acres and was fined for his excess production. (41) The idea that government could/should regulate such things is crazy/outrageous enough. But Filburn wasn't even selling his wheat across state lines-- and yet, "interstate commerce" was invoked-- successfully!

What changed as a result? "Instead of serving as a shield against interference by the states, the commerce power became a sword wielded by the federal government in pursuit of a boundless array of regulations." (40) The SCOTUS pulled back on the reins slightly in 1995 with U.S. v. Lopez (45) and U.S. v. Morrison (46). But those small, technical victories were over-run with Gonzales v. Raich (46-47) staggering decision on medical marijuana. 

"In the aftermath of Raich, it is difficult to know what congressional action, if any, could ever exceed the scope of the Interstate Commerce Clause." (47) Clarence Thomas penned an eloquent dissent, noting the absurdity that the marijuana had not been bought or sold, not crossed state lines, and had no demonstrable effect on the national market (47-48). Thomas wrote: "If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothing drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States." Simply brutal, especially for "conservatives". 

Chapter 7's Korematsu v. U.S. (1944) covers the internment of Japanese citizens, despite the 5th Amendment's call for due process. The case was decided 6-3) and is indicative of the popularity of using government force (with the Court's approval) to address a wide variety of goals. 

Chapter 11's U.S. vs. Carolene Products (1938) and Nebbia vs. NY (1934) were two more New Deal cases that are outrageous and had massive implications to this day. For example, they established the ability of government to mandate occupational licensing in a wide array of fields. Nebbia opened the can by regulating the price of milk and "the right to earn an honest living" (188). Carolene extended the political victories won through Nebbia by allowing the government to restrict competition as it (and its cronies) saw fit. To this day, although government is far more famous for anti-trust activity, it is (literally) 10,000 times more active in enhancing monopoly power. 

What about Roe v. Wade? LM cover it as the first of two postscripts. (The other is Bush v. Gore.) LM agree that the SCOTUS abortion decision was wrong-headed. But they note that many states had already legalized abortion-- and other states would have gone that path in the future. Thus, the impact of the decision and its ripple effects to other legislation is not enough (in the eyes of LM) to warrant inclusion. 

Finally, a point of miscellany on the cause/effect of the financial crisis in 2007 (xvi). LM point to the double taxation on dividends; the government's subsidy of deducted interest; the Fed's artificially low interest rates; political pressures on Congress and the Presidents to promote inefficient lending; and the inherent moral hazard problems with government subsidizing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and (some) large banks as "too big to fail". (On this last point, they say, "not a bad deal for private financial institutions: heads, the banks win; tails, the taxpayer loses"). A good review/summary; interested parties are encouraged to read my blog post on John Allison's book here.

Kipling and evolutionists in Houston

Google is using an evolution narrative as its graphic design today. At first, I was tweaked, but then I realized that they do Santa and the Easter Bunny too, so they're not making any particular claims about that story of human origins.

Anywho...the last issue of World continued its exploration of "natural history" museums (in Houston this time) and their frequent use of "just-so" stories (a la Rudyard Kipling).

After providing some examples, Olasky says: "Notice that in Darwinian dogma all of these changes should be described in the passive—no one planned or activated these changes—but HMNS makes them active: Scorpions modified their gills, squids responded, bears invaded and set up evolutionary centers, somewhat like real estate model homes..."

Olasky has fun with the museum's comparison between B-17s and trilobites: "B-17s are clearly a product of intelligent design, so it’s strange that the trilobites’ optical equipment just happened. The trilobites seemed to will their way not only to eyes but eyelids."

Olasky also takes a poke at Dawkins here too, citing his story on "How Critters Got Their Ears": "Ya gotta love those words like 'natural outgrowth' and 'automatically.' Presto, change-o, nothing to it." Of course, theists have their own just-so stories on the development of life, but at least we recognize ours!

on Bigfoot and the "gender pay gap"

A really nice piece by Mark Perry at AEI on the "pay gap" and why it makes no sense, from a variety of angles...

There is widespread acceptance by the general public...[of] the completely bogus claim that women are paid “77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” 

Despite the widespread acceptance of the...claim, there is rarely ever any specific evidence presented showing that specific firms are in violation of federal law by paying women 23% less than men for doing the same job. What Obama, Clinton and gender activists are really implying is that firms across the country are illegally violating the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by paying women 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men, and those deliberate and ongoing violations are somehow going undetected. 

Where are these companies? Where are these cases? And if it's true, why is the government such a profound regulatory failure in this regard? (And why do the biggest proponents of government in this realm have so much faith?) Why aren't greedy lawyers going wild in this arena? 

From there, Perry covers examples where blatant gender discrimination is not likely: 
1.) Women-owned businesses
2.) Female CEOs
3.) Union Members
4.) Workers Paid by Commission
5.) Government Employees
6.) Waiters and Waitresses (It's difficult to imagine differences in pay. There could be differences in tip income, based on *consumer* discrimination against women. But where is the evidence for this claim?)
7.) Public School Teachers and College Professors (Not as compelling as the above, but again, you never hear complaints here (except for the occasional note that women can be over-paid in fields where women are far less prevalent). And in the case of K-12, teachers usually insist on the status-quo, monopsony-power relationship to their employers, implying their satisfaction with the arrangement.) 
8.) Human Resource Professionals (Direct and indirect evidence here: Given that about 3/4ths of HR'ers-- including the top executive in many cases-- are female, what's the likelihood that they would stand for this?

Of course, the case is even worse when one considers that 77 is actually an average-- so that some are above the average and amazingly, some are supposedly (far) below the average.

Bottom line: Belief in the pay gap is popular, but embracing it is anti-science, anti-logic, and makes you look like a rube. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tony Love lays a "power move" on the old lady

A blast from the past from grad school days...

on two spiritual autobiographies by atheists

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Murray's "By the People"

Here's my brief review of Charles Murray's latest book, By the People... (For a quick, short, pictoral discussion of the book, check out this AEI post.) 

I've reviewed a few of Murray's books. See: my journal article on his recent work of great importance, Coming ApartSee also: my blog post on a.) his seminal book on welfare policy in the 1980s, Losing Ground (considered radical at first, but quickly became conventional wisdom); and b.) his book on how to think much more clearly and completely about public policy, In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government (indispensable if clear thinking on policy is a goal for you).  

I've never read his most (in)famous book, The Bell Curve. But I have read enough critiques and defenses to be confident that it's more of his usual good work. See: this blog post for excerpts from a fun and revealing interview with Murray on the occasion of TBC's 20th anniversary. 

In By the People, Murray critiques much of our current approach to governance, while arguing for mild forms of civil disobedience by individuals and by groups, strategically trying to dismantle some of the particularly heinous and "ridiculous" aspects of governance. 

In his intro, Murray talks about "Progressives" and the "Progressive Era"-- some liberalism, but generally a greater passion for "rule by disinterested experts led by a strong, unifying favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective". The assumptions of this are dubious. For example, how does one find "experts" who are also "disinterested"? One might imagine one or the other, but rarely both. Beyond that, the implications-- to at least most people-- are troubling. Are we comfortable with the elitism and paternalism? (Certainly not when exercised toward us, albeit "on our behalf"!) And what about the combinations of crony capitalism and ineptness that will inevitably follow when we can't find enough "disinterested elites"? In any case, for Murray's thesis, the important angle is the pursuit of these "Progressive" goals through the judiciary (rather than the ballot box, since it was dominated by the unwashed masses) and the massive market and social distortions that followed. 

(As some asides, here's a provocative essay about Gabriel Kolko's work on the Progressive Era's goal to pursue [or its capture in the pursuit of] crony capitalist interests. This blog post provides an overview of a related argument on the connection between Progressive Era pursuits and Jim Crow laws. Also of interest, given the connection between "Progressives" and "eugenics", I'll soon be writing a review of a book on Darwinism, eugenics, economics, etc. But I've already written a long essay on eugenics and Indiana as the first state to institute those laws. And here's a follow-up blog post on an article in Reason by Jesse Walker.)  

In Part I, Murray has five chapters on "where we stand"-- and it ain't pretty. Chapter 1 describes our "broken Constitution". Its limits have been superseded and they will not be rolled back. 

Chapter 2 details the lawlessness of the governmental regime and its system of laws. Murray defines lawlessness as a condition that must obtain when laws are sufficiently costly, incoherent, subjective, arbitrary, complex-- and allow takings. Progressive reforms put much faith in the legal process to remedy injustice and extend justice. Unfortunately, this theory has not been strong in practice. The predictable problems manifested fully in the late 1960s, as the litigation rate exploded by sevenfold over the next 35 years (61). The new system's impact on "alpha/beta errors" is relatively famous (and a common example in Statistics courses): it became "easier for wronged individuals to obtain redress... [but] easier for plaintiffs to get money from innocent defendants." (60) As for remedies, Murray is again convinced that this facet is beyond reform; this will not be rolled back, given lawyer cronyism. 

In Chapter 3, Murray critiques our extra-legal regulatory system. In Chapter 4, Murray discusses our corrupt political system, describing a.) our relatively mild, pre-1970s corruption (80-82); b.) the self-serving reforms that were supposed to make things better (83-85; I studied the ill effects of the campaign finance "reforms of the 1970s in my dissertation); and then, c.) the sort of "fruit" that one harvests from a kleptocracy which is focused on short-term political goals, crony capitalism, and the pursuit of powers. Dems are a mess, but the GOP is just as bad (98-102)-- and sadly, partisan enablers (often blindly) facilitate the system's continuance. In Chapter 5, Murray wraps up the first section of the book with a variety of topics, including Public Choice economics, the problems of "advanced democracy", and "institutional sclerosis". 

In Part II, Murray moves to his grounds for civil disobedience in Chapter 6: government's "lost legitimacy" constitutionally in the 1930s; in terms of political practice in the 1960s (122); in contemporary subjective views and evidential outcomes (123); and its change in (or clear failure at) the relevant social compacts (124-127). 

In Chapter 7, Murray lays out "ground rules" for ethical and practical forms of civil disobedience. He exempts certain categories: laws that prohibit evil acts; the tax code; and regulations that try to foster the public good (130-131). But he argues that other categories deserve automatic scrutiny: regulations on legitimate land use, practicing a legitimate vocation, taking voluntary risks, and arbitrary/capricious regulations (132-136). In this, one is reminded of deSoto's seminal work, The Other Path, on stifling regulations in Peru-- to the point that one could not live, work or form a business there, legally! 

In Chapter 8, Murray describes the hypothetical efforts of a "Madison Fund"-- a group of lawyers who would litigate these matters. This would be at least a cousin of similar and effective work done now by the Institute for Justice. In Chapter 9, Murray makes an interesting proposal to turn industry efforts from lobbying against regulations to insuring against the impact of regulations.

In Chapter 10, Murray notes the potential importance of the "Administrative Procedures Act" which "sets out the scope of judicial review of regulatory actions"-- in particular, section 706 clause 2A: "The reviewing court shall...hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be...arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." (159) Murray believes that this clause could be exploited with respect to many regulations-- and spends the rest of Pt. II spelling this out. In a word, if he's correct, one needs to argue cases based on this clause before sympathetic judges-- and ultimately, at least five SCOTUS members. 

In Part III, Murray turns to the good news of our contemporary setting, in both the public and private spheres. Here, Murray may be optimistic, but I appreciate his effort at promoting hope. In Chapter 12, Murray notes that we may be near a breakthrough on matters of diversity and tolerance. Contemporary incoherence on this is disturbing, but it may wrap around on itself, given the ridiculousness of where we've gone. The recent "debate" on "same-sex marriage" and the threat of trampling religious rights in order to protect civil rights is another example-- and hopefully, a low-water mark in this regard. Murray notes that we have "a heritage of cultural diversity", including colonial times (192ff). And he argues that it was only dampened, temporarily, by a confluence of events from 1940-1970-- but in particular, the move from rural and cities to suburbs (201-203). If so, then we may be able to rebound nicely in the years to come. 

Chapter 13 reports good news in terms of tech advance and greatly-increased competition in goods, services, capital, and labor. Bad outcomes in markets will increasingly be regulated by competition. Bad outcomes in government policy will be mitigated to some extent by political competition. We've seen the market work feverishly to get around the crony capitalism of bad government policy-- e.g.,  Uber and Lyft vs. local and state governments' taxi and limo cartels. And one sees a number of "feisty" state (and local) governments, working against the inequities and inefficiencies of federal (and state) governments. 

Finally, in Chapter 14, Murray draws hope from an analogy to Reagan and the Berlin Wall (247-248). One might also point to the bi-partisan welfare reforms, improving a remarkably broken and ineffective system in the mid 1990s. Murray recommends a "It is ridiculous that..." test-- to judge which policies and interest groups ("factions"; 251-254) to attack and to make the case to people who generally don't pay much attention to politics (256-259). 

This is not one of Murray's best books. Then again, his good books are still better than most other books. I can't recommend it over the books of his that I've mentioned above. But if this topic strikes your fancy or you want an easy/quick intro to Murray, this is still a good choice for your reading list. Enjoy!

review of "The Slain God": on anthropology and religion (esp. Christianity)

My review/summary of Timothy Larsen's award-winning book, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith...

Larsen says that the theme of his book is "how findings and theories in the discipline of anthropology have been interpreted as undermining or even discrediting the claims of Christianity" (1)-- or more succinctly, the field's supposed "anti-faith bias". (9) (In his review of Larsen's book, Christian Smith describes a perception of anthropology as "post-religious if not anti-religious.") Conversely, Larsen looks at "how anthropological insights have been perceived to be compatible with or even to reinforce Christian faith". (1)

Given the mixed relationship between anthropology (A) and Christianity (C), Larsen ultimately concludes that any "tendency toward unbelief among A's-- far from being hard-won insights-- should rather be viewed...[not] as a product of the advance of knowledge but merely as a cultural bias..." (168)

As with some of the inferences of "Intelligent Design" theory, if one assumes only material causes, you reach a similar angle in A. If so, one has "taken up the implicitly theological position of trying to explain, or explain away, religious phenomena as the product of psychological or sociological causes of the most diverse and even conflicting types, denying to them any preternatural origin." (192)

In fact, "if human beings are incurably spiritual, they are also incurably rational" (216). And how are we to decide-- at least in more complex matters-- whether there is a (necessary or contingent) conflict between the two? The same dilemma arises in economics: we start with an assumption of "rationality"-- that people ably weigh benefits and costs to make decisions. Without this assumption, analysis cannot get started, modeling is futile, and predictions are absurd. Sure, rationality is common, but rationality is not universal, so when do we reject it?

Larsen says there is no debate on the six scholars to include in his study (2-3): Tylor, Frazer, Evans-Pritchard, Douglas, and Victor/Edith Turner. (The two reviewers I cite below don't quibble with this claim.) I don't know the field at all, but I'd be surprised at serious disagreement, given the evidence provided and his aggressive assertions. (In fact, he's so aggressive and compelling that if this is debatable, I would not want to play poker with him!)

A few comments on the six scholars:

Of the six, Tylor and Frazer were hostile to C; the others were profoundly and unapologetically Catholic. (Douglas was raised Catholic and E-P and the Turners converted as adults.) 

Tylor: Tylor had a Quaker background and an anti-Catholic bias. "He could not find a way to think anthropologically and as a Christian at the same time" (20). Given his significance, Larsen notes the irony that there has never been a biography of him. Larsen speculates that Tylor "made the mistake of living too long" (14)-- that the field had moved away from him by the end of his life, making it awkward to write a glowing biography. 

The most memorable concept from his work is "survivals"-- "something in a culture that did not make sense there in the present context but rather bore witness to an earlier stage". (22) One concern, in practice: an assessment about a survival "seemed almost inevitable to become contaminated by the A's own prior disposition..." (35). 

The concept of "survivals" also leads to a number of ironies: Tylor was knighted late in life-- a survival among ceremonies (35). His thought was littered with survivals from his Quaker past (33). And his most famous model included three points-- "a curious survival of theological modes of thought" (21), where concepts so often come in trios. (Comte [21] follows suit in trying to diminish religion by referring to it as the first of three stages of progress: theological/fictitious, metaphysical/abstract, and scientific/positive.) 

Frazer: Some form of "comparative method" is inevitable in the social sciences, but Frazer was "a flamboyant practitioner" (39). (Joseph Campbell was a popularizer of this approach on PBS and reached similar conclusions.) Frazer spent much effort on magic vs. religion, arguing that a move to the latter is caused by "a few particularly perceptive people" (45). But Larsen argues that Frazer does not have a grasp of "the meaning of magic for its participants" and "his account of the origins of magic is highly improbable". (44) 

In a more biographical note, Larsen argues that Frazer finds boldness for his views after his parents and his mentor die (56-57)-- often a troubling sign. If you believe something, why not practice it as a conviction? Like Tylor, Frazer has his own "trinity"-- in symbolizing black as magic, red as religion, and white as science (73). And as an important aside, the title of Larsen's book comes from Frazer's use of the same phrase (40) as a central theme in his classic text, Golden Bough-- where Christianity's story is seen as one of many "savage" myths about deities killed by men.

Evans-Pritchard (E-P): E-P converted to Christianity through Catholicism at the age of 42 in Benghazi (91). One result of E-P's work was to open up an interdisciplinary conversation between A's, theologians and biblical scholars (114). 

E-P is still the "undisputed" top in the field (80). "The leap from Frazer to E-P is an athletic one in terms of method, theory, practice, and personal convictions", even though their careers overlapped (80). E-P was the first to do field experience. (Larsen argues that Lawrence of Arabia was "something of a role model" for E-P [85]). It sure seems late in the game to add that methodology (88)!

In contrast to Frazor and other contemporaries, E-P argued that the "uncivilized" (Azande) were generally as "rational" as the "civilized" (Europeans). The mistake by those in the field was "exaggerating both the extent to which Europeans are rational and the extent to which primitive people are irrational." (89) 

E-P noted that the Azande's stories did not necessarily contradict natural explanations. As an example, he uses a shelter that collapses because wood was rotten. The Azande did not deny the natural explanation but were trying to answer a question that we rarely ask: why then? Moreover, E-P notes that primitive people could not survive without "a keen understanding of the natural world which was grounded in observation and experimentation." 

Instead, they were "thinking logically within a closed system". This is a milder version of Chesterton's "maniac"-- where all observations are filtered through a narrow prism. Ironically, Chesterton applies this concept to the materialist, among others.

Beyond that, "E-P not only demonstrated that the Azande were actually quite rational, but he completed the inversion by claiming it was the ideas of figures such as Tylor and Frazer that were 'contrary to common sense'." (98) E-P pointed to the role of "just-so stories" (a la Rudyard Kipling) and although the secular anthropologist "imagines he is offering a 'scientific discovery', it would take more faith to believe in it than "religious" alternatives.

In fact, "it is their very lack of religious beliefs which tempted these theorists into many of their unscientific and absurd views" (99). E-P wrote: "their assumptions that souls, spirits, and gods of religion have no reality. For if they are regarded as complete illusions, then some biological, psychological, or sociological theory of how everywhere and at all times, men have been stupid enough to believe in them seems to be called for." (99)

That said, E-P did not see all primitive religions as equivalent, judging the Zande as magical with a god-of-the-gaps deity vs. the Nuer as "sophisticated, insightful and true" (107). Assuming E-P was an "inclusivist" in his theology, he would have seen the Nuer as "believers". 

Douglas: In comparison to the Turners and E-P who converted later in life, Douglas was raised in a devout Catholic home. She "never ceased to be grateful that the Church had given her an ordered, well-meaning world", from which she could do science effectively (125). In this, I'm reminded of the likely role of theology in general and intelligent design in particular-- that theology can explain the limits of what science will be able to do under proper assumptions-- and perhaps ironically, a clearer understanding of Science and a better practice of science. If we assume away theology improperly, we end up with a needlessly handicapped science. 

Douglas also devoted an amazing amount of energy to the study of Leviticus, with applications to anthropology (132-133a, 151-156, 160)! For those who are interested in the Bible from a "literary framework" or from its anthropological contexts, Douglas' work on clean/unclean, taboos, the role of rituals, and the absence of divination from the text (despite its contemporary practice). 

The Turners: Here are two notable, "negative" aspects (faith in X because the alternatives are lame by comparison) from Victor's statement of faith (185): "I became a theist because I could see no rational grounds for making an act of faith in the non-existence of God. It seemed more reasonable to hypothecate a purposive somebody behind the structure of the universe than a purposeless something." And "If materialism be right, our thoughts are determined by traditional processes and therefore the thoughts which lead to the conclusion that materialism is right have no relation to reason." His wife Edith started rolling at the age of 63 after her husband's death in 1984 (204). 

Larsen's conclusions: The "Ring"
Larsen wraps up the book by noting a "ring" literary structure in the chronology of the six scholars. In a "ring", themes are bookended with each other, starting with the two on the ends. With that framework, E-P is (appropriately) in the center (221), literally and figuratively. 

Key observations from this framework: Turner is the "undoing" of Tylor-- "in Tylorian terms, a revival of a survival" (219). "The project of both Tylor and Frazer was to show the pagan beneath the Christian, and curiously, the Turners often did the exact same thing (219). Tylor lost his C in studying A; the Turners found C through A (222). "We see [Frazer] straining to find a malevolent subtext even for what one encounters as apparently wholesome and innocent, and [Douglas] grasping for a benign interpretation even for what initially strikes one as rather sinister or unpleasant." (222)

Larsen notes that a ring is also helpful in getting us to imagine scholarship and progress in a non-linear fashion vs. the usual, implicit assumptions of linearity (222) for progress in general and for scholarship in particular. As Christian Smith puts it: "The simple idea of secularization theory-- hat over time, modern secularity replaces premodern religious credulity-- is negated by an exact reverse in the case of [these] leading scholars..."

Moreover, Larsen expects this dance to continue (223-224): "A will always be a site of both deconversions and conversions, gain and loss, doubt and faith. Any narrative which latches on to only one half of this equation is likely to be disproven by events as they continue to unfold." (224) 

Two helpful book reviews: 

From Christian Smith in First Things...

Smith notes that "the methods and theories of the early secular scholars provided to be antiquated and embarrassing" to later scholars, including those with a secular bent. The "secular rationalists" produced lower-quality scholarship than the Catholic thinkers. 

In part, this is an artifact of progress in research and non-religious biases held by Tylor and Frazer. On the latter, Smith points to "Victorian- and Edwardian-era armchair anthropologizing...the arrogance of British colonialism and the pre-WWI Enlightment...paternalism and naivete toward colonized people...[and] the background assumptions of scientistic positivism and empiricism."

But the differences cannot be (nearly) fully explained by these deficiencies. Instead, "the organizational universalism of the Catholic Church and the ethical universalism of Catholic faith [and Biblical theology]" allowed for much clearer thinking and "helped make these scholars better A's". In sum, "had these world-class scholars not been Catholic [Christian], their anthropological imaginations would have been much diminished." Again, if Christian theology is true, failure to embrace will necessarily get in the way of Science and may well interfere with good science. 

From Joel Robbins in Books and Culture...

Robbins writes as one in the field. He agrees with Larsen's assessment of the field's history. In sum, "within a generation of A's founding, A's would begin to give up on the evolutionist models that first nourished their field, and they quickly began to promote the idea that there was no useful scale on which to rank societies as more or less advanced." 

Robbins is notably impressed by the retelling of the conventional narrative of the field's preeminent scholars, describing it as "a man-bites-dog kind of story of received wisdom upended...a deeply jarring, unorthodox telling of a key corner of the discipline's history...Tylor and Frazer stay where we'd always learned they belonged...but the [other] biographies...are a revelation...This book will be greeted as something of a bombshell amongst A's of religion." Robbins concludes by asking how the faith commitments of the last four "contribute to their intellectual creativity and success as scholars..."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

letter to CT on declining birth rates and "the Great Commission"

Sarah Zylstra's recent article in CT, "Babies Halt the Great Commission", conveyed important information with a strange article title. 

The Great Commission is about far more than evangelism, conversion, and new believers-- especially those who "come to the faith" from within. 

This description of the Great Commission is even more unfortunate in light of the Church's often-tepid sense of what it takes to "make disciples", its general lack of vision for making disciple-makers, and the near-universal absence of a workable plan to make disciples who can make disciples.

The ministry "model" of Jesus was to work with individuals and to teach the crowds, but especially to pour his life into the 12. All church leaders should ask how they intend to do the same. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

(unpublished) letter to the editor (and Ricky Jones) on his op-ed about Sanders

It’s been awhile since the C-J printed one of my op-eds or one of my "letters to the editor" (including this one). Oh well...

In his recent op-ed praising Bernie Sanders as a visionary, Professor Ricky Jones correctly describes Sanders as more of a socialist than most politicians. But Jones incorrectly describes our economy as “capitalistic”. Instead, the American economic system is a relatively consistent mix of capitalism, socialism, and crony capitalism. For example, both Presidents Bush and Obama have advocated this mixture, although with somewhat different recipes.

Economic markets are certainly a key feature of American life. But the government runs some key industries and is deeply immersed in others—K-12 and higher education, health care/insurance (70 years of subsidies, Medicare/Medicaid, countless regulations, etc.), labor market interventions, international trade restrictions, farming policies, Social Security, and so on.

Somehow, Jones and many others are prone to blame “capitalism”, when there’s clearly much more at play. Ironically, Sanders’ areas of greatest complaint are areas of massive government involvement—the criminal justice system, education, and health care. Even Jones’ concerns about unemployment and underemployment can be strongly connected to government policy: What else can one expect if the government busily pays people to be unemployed; makes it more costly to hire people (through mandates on pay and benefits); and encourages firms to hire part-time workers (with the ACA)?

Economic markets and market participants are far from perfect. But if political markets are heavily involved, let’s make sure to allocate blame where it belongs.

Sincerely yours,