Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Correct Temperature

There is an interesting recent article in The Freeman arguing that it makes sense, from an economic standpoint, to stop worrying about “climate change” and simply create more wealth.  It is worth reading.

But as I listen to certain elements in our culture engage in hand-wringing, preaching, exhorting, and condemning people, especially people in the U.S., on the urgent need to do something about “climate change” I have a nagging question that no one seems to bother answering.  I’ll come to that question in a moment.

In an article previously online (2009) at NOVA online, Kirk A. Maasch writes:

During the past billion years, the Earth's climate has fluctuated between warm periods - sometimes even completely ice-free - and cold periods, when glaciers scoured the continents. The cold periods - or ice ages - are times when the entire Earth experiences notably colder climatic conditions. During an ice age, the polar regions are cold, there are large differences in temperature from the equator to the pole, and large, continental-size glaciers can cover enormous regions of the earth.

In a related article, this same author says:

During the present ice age, glaciers have advanced and retreated over 20 times, often blanketing North America with ice. Our climate today is actually a warm interval between these many periods of glaciation. The most recent period of glaciation, which many people think of as the "Ice Age," was at its height approximately 20,000 years ago.

That NOVA is certainly not in the camp of those some would call climate “deniers” should be conceded by all.  But even this bit of information from outside the debate about “climate change” leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the earth’s thermostat is always changing.

This is not difficult information to discover.  So why is our societal din about climate change continuing?  Why have so many ordinary people been convinced to feel guilty about turning on a light for fear of creating some carbon dioxide?  Why does everyone keep harping about “carbon footprints”?  I have my suspicions about this, but that is not the point here.

The point is to finally ask my question, the one no seems to ask, let alone answer, in all this hubbub.  Here it is:  What is the “correct” temperature for planet earth?  And if you think you know what that is, tell us how you know this.

Earth cannot be too warm or too cool unless we know what the correct temperature is.  When politicians yap on and on about the need to do something about “climate change” because the earth is getting warmer, they owe us an explanation as to how they know what temperature the earth ought to be.  As Maasch points out, earth’s temperature has varied greatly in the past, both far above and far below what it is now.  Which of these many temperatures was “correct”?

And if you don’t know an answer to that question, an answer for which you can offer substantial proof, why are you still flapping your lips about the dangers of global warming?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lawless ‘Law’

"It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?" --James Madison, Federalist No. 62, 1788

Kent comments:

This has been the case for a long time, and it presents a problem for those who are of the “law and order” mindset, which includes many Christians.  It seems to me that at the level of the recent book titled, “Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff” we hardly need laws, except in the sense of making clear what will happen to those who do such things.

But now we live in a time and place where law is generally unknowable due to its complexity and sheer volume.  Almost unending amounts of regulation are declared to be law also, which only makes the problem worse and helps prove the point here.  It is simply impossible to know what the “law” says on most topics, so it is impossible even to attempt to comply with it.

But the problem is much worse than that.  The producers of never-ending and thus unknowable law are in fact themselves lawless.  Not in the official sense, of course.  But practically speaking, they have destroyed the very concept of law.

It is very clear that the modern incarnation of “law” is simply a somewhat inefficient attempt to control everything.  It hints at (at the very least) an attempt to paralyze and diminish the role of individuals to make ever more room for the power of the modern, and actually lawless, state.

In this situation it is inappropriate, it seems to me, to talk about “obeying the law.”  We should instead urge people not to hurt other people or take their stuff.  But hurting people and taking their stuff is exactly what the modern state and its pseudo-law is doing.  This makes avoiding the state, circumventing it, generally “laying low”, and trying to avoid hurting people and taking their stuff an appropriate attitude for the Christian toward the modern state and its “laws of lawlessness.”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Time to Face the Constitutional Reality of the Matter

"On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 1823

Kent comments:

Jefferson’s implied point, and a good one I think, is that those who attempt to “squeeze” something out of a text of the Constitution, or “invent” something against it, are doing so in order to evade the meaning of the text.  The most likely reason for doing that is to evade the restraints imposed by the text of the Constitution.  But the only thing much restrained (or at least attempted) by our Constitution is the power of the state, especially the central state.

I think it is time to admit that our Constitution was a valiant effort at creating a limited central government.  The opponents of limited central government, in other words, the advocates of unlimited central government have won.  They have won, and continue to win, by those squeezings and inventions mentioned by Mr. Jefferson so long ago.

So I think it is time to stop pretending that the Constitution in any way controls the central government.  The officials of central government now either squeezes the Constitution into the shape they desire, invent justifications for their assumed powers that cannot be found in the text, or – and this is now very popular – they simply ignore the Constitution as irrelevant to their power.  That is, they do whatever they wish, and implicitly dare anyone to try to stop them.

Thus it is pointless, almost idiotic, to keep talking about the Constitution when complaining about the vast powers now assumed by the central government.  While I don’t have an “answer” here about this matter, I do now realize that appeals to the Constitution do not and cannot matter for those to whom the Constitution simply does not matter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

No Signs of Intelligence at the New York Times

According to this New York Times article:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.

I get this mental picture of “too many camels.”  It wouldn’t take many to be “too many” at my house.  Then I picture my copy of the Bible on the table.  I see little camels being squeezed out of it because there are just “too many camels in the Bible” and the must, of course, get out of there and go somewhere.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Seriously, it is the same old story of Bible + archeology + news media always equaling something stupid.

The story reports that two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University excavated at an ancient copper smelting camp in Israel and Jordan.  There, they did not find evidence of domesticated camels until long after the time of the patriarchs.  Which logically implies that the Biblical reports of the patriarchs using camels must be wrong, doesn’t it?  That’s what the article states, but logic in the report is shoddy to absent.

I am neither an archeologist, nor the son of an archeologist, but I am not quite a complete idiot.  Lack of evidence does not prove a negative, not logically, at least.  This excavation might suggest that camels were not used at this particular location this early, but that tells us nothing definitive about other locations.  A general conclusion drawn from two instances does not a good inductive argument make.  No matter what you think about the Bible, logic is logic.  Perhaps the Bible is all wrong about camels.  Perhaps there are “too many” of them mentioned in the Old Testament, at the wrong times and the wrong places.  But absolutely nothing in this article shows that to be the case.

But realizing that requires logic, something that seems to be lacking at the New York Times.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

God, the Ultimate Fan

This is from a Christianity Today interview with William Lane Craig:

As football fans prepare for the big game, what thought would you want to leave them with?

I think the overriding thing I want to say is God's providence rules all of life, even down to the smallest details. Nothing happens without either God's direct will or at least his permission of that event. That includes every fumble, every catch, every run. All of these things are in the providence of God, and therefore, we should not think that these things are a matter of indifference. These are of importance to God as well even though they seem trivial.

Craig is a well-known philosopher/theologian/apologist in evangelical Christian circles.  Much of what he writes will make your head hurt.  So who am I to disagree with him?  Nevertheless, I do disagree, sort of . . .

I agree with his general statement, “Nothing happens without either God's direct will or at least his permission of that event.”  So it is true that, in this sense (which allows for much in the way of “permission”) God does rule all of life.  But this is not a good reason to conclude that we should not think things involved in each play of the Super Bowl might not be of at least relative indifference to God.

That we decide something like a football game will consume our attention, and for many, their resources, does not mean that God is necessarily concerned with every detail of that event – things like which team converts a key third down, for example.  Perhaps God is a football fan, of sorts – how could we ever know that since He has decided to reveal nothing about it to us?

I have no doubt that God, as our Creator and Sustainer, has some level of interest in almost everything we do.  But everything that God has revealed about Himself would indicate that, while He is completely aware of human spectacles like the Super Bowl, they are not the sorts of things about us that are in the important category to God.  To give Craig his due, earlier in the interview he implied this, but here I thinks he jumps far beyond the evidence he presents for his conclusion.

There is nothing wrong with watching and enjoying a sporting event of almost any kind.  But a sporting event, especially of the professional kind, is staged primarily to amuse ourselves.  Again, some amount of amusement is not wrong.  But in all likelihood, for many people, the kinds of things surrounding something like a Super Bowl that would most concern God would be matters other than the details of game play.

God is concerned about those who wasted more of their resources on sports than on the kingdom of heaven.  God might think it important that so many people can think of nothing but a sporting event for several weeks, to the exclusion of their knowledge of and relationship with Him.  God might very interested in the fact that some of us think more of our favorite sports hero than we do of Him.  God could well think it quite important that so many of the events surrounding a Super Bowl include all sorts of rank immorality – sometimes, especially, the half-time show.

Therefore, Dr. Craig, I must disagree, sort of.  (P.S. – I plan to watch the game tonight, at least until it gets boring, which I don’t expect this one will.  I will even enjoy some of the creative commercials.  I won’t watch the half-time shows.  Even when they are not tawdry, or even pornographic, they are too often just idiotic.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

What Is Required to Change a Mind?

Have you heard about the big debate coming up?  It’s happening here in my geographical backyard, but caught my attention for many reasons.  In this post commenting on this debate event about creation and evolution Bart Gingerich says:

People are not coming into the event with the mindset of “I will keep my mind open and may very well change it after hearing these arguments.”

Apart from this particular debate, this brings up interesting questions about our worldviews (that whole collection of ‘big ideas’ that we use to understand ourselves and the world around us) and particular items of data we run into as we live (claims people make to us, things we experience, and the like).

It is unlikely that a single debate will change many minds on large questions like these.  Worldviews don’t, and probably shouldn’t, change quickly or too easily.  If they did, we would be intellectually anchorless, so to speak.  For example, if you are a Christian, your favorite pet dies, and someone tells you “If God really existed He wouldn’t let your Fido die” – should you just give up your Christianity based on that?

All the ‘big ideas’ of the Christian faith actually inform Christians how to think about new things we encounter.  And for many people in our culture, “evolution” is not just a part of biology.  It is a worldview that helps inform many people how to think about EVERYTHING.  It is their justification for how they approach all of life.  Who would really expect that to change based on one debate?

This is not to say that worldviews can never justifiably change based on new things we learn.  But we typically need to learn a lot, over a rather long period of time, to change our minds about the big bundle of views that interpret the world around us.  There is a kind of reasonable inertia to any person’s worldview (examined or not) that should not surprise anyone.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Of Books, Poverty, and the Like

I ran across an article at Tech Crunch that illustrates why it is so difficult to gain and maintain liberty, at least in the area of economics. (There is more to liberty, but freedom of exchange is essential to it.) The reason is simple: people are often ignorant of how human economic interaction works. Sometimes this ignorance is the result of holding faulty ideologies. Whatever the details of the author’s thinking (which are not all stated in the article), it is an interesting example of what results from this.

The revealing title of the article is “The ‘Anti-Amazon Law’ Is About To Become A Reality In France, But It’s Not A Bad Thing.” With the title, the fun – and the stupidity – have just begun.

This is all about the selling of books in France. It seems that since 1981 the government has established a minimum price for books there. This official price is stamped on books, and it is illegal to sell them for less. (Already, freedom-lovers cannot wait to move to France to enjoy the abundance of “liberty” there!) But wait, it gets worse.

This official book price law allowed for a little wiggle room. You could, if you wished to be a book discounter, sell your book for 5% less than the official, government-imposed minimum price. (Let freedom ring!)

But along came (never quite stated, but implied) evil Amazon. They (thank the almighty French government, may it be praised forever) were required to abide by the official book price requirements just like everyone else. But Amazon came up with a little twist: they discounted by the allowed-by-the-benevolent-state 5%, BUT . . . they also offered free shipping on every order, all the time.

Drat those wicked Amazonians! But, to the rescue came the French Minister of Culture (and, we might add, economic stupidity). She says she has nothing against Amazon, but that horrible free shipping must stop. Thus shall the goodness of government intervention prevail, making life better for everyone.

Everyone, that is, except all those people who want to buy books. What the French Minister of Culture has decreed is, economically speaking, that consumers shall have fewer books. And that, of course, is certain to make any culture better – especially the French culture, I suppose.

Let’s turn to some of the author’s comments. First, “many bookstores chose to take advantage of this exception, but 5 percent was a reasonable price difference.” What, exactly, makes a price difference “reasonable”? What is implied is that too large of a price difference is automatically unreasonable. But economically speaking, this translates into “the ability of people to buy more books is unreasonable.”

Try this one: “Amazon won’t be able to offer free shipping for books in order to protect independent bookstores.” Here, economically speaking, this means “consumers should have fewer books so independent bookstores don’t have to compete in the marketplace.”

The author ends the article by wondering about the effects of the French government’s dictatorial powers. The article ends with this amazing statement: “So the real question isn’t whether the law is going too far, but whether it will be enough to save the 2,500 independent bookstores in France.” Again, in economic terms: has the French government taken enough books out of the hands of consumers to make its dictatorial policy work, or will it need to reduce book consumption even further?

But alas Americans, this sort of economic stupidity is not limited to France. For many decades American consumers of sugar have been forced by our benevolent government to pay more for sugar that the world market would require. All that means is that we have been able to afford less sugar, or less of something else, than we would have otherwise.

This is a common practice of many governments, and we are all the poorer for it.