Thursday, 31 July 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Religious Toleration in Athens

What to do with religion in the public square? It is a vexing question. However, in recent years post-Christian Athens has adopted a remarkably similar position around the globe. The following principles are attract pretty much universal adherence in the City of Unbelief.

1. Civic religion is not only inescapable, it is a necessary good. All human beings, and all human enterprise is ennobled if we baptise them with an appeal to a higher power and dignity. Thus law courts, schools, parliaments and civic occasions are endowed with a greater gravitas and dignity if civil society is able to invoke a higher power to bless them. Religious ritual has an important place.

2. Thus prayers to the deity or deities are acceptable, provided the invocation reflects Athens's doctrine of society itself, which is one of universal human rights and inclusion. The whole idea, therefore, is that civil religion is extremely useful if it genuflects to the higher secular religion of Athens, which is that Man is the universal.

All religious expression in the civic square must therefore be inclusive of all men. It must be sufficiently vague and malleable to allow all groups and religions to attribute their own distinct beliefs to the being invoked, so that all are recognised and all are included. Thus, addressing the deity as “god” is useful, because that three letter word can be filled with whatever content, allowing each religion or philosophy to partake in the civic religious exercise. The god might be Pure Reason, or Pure Being, or Allah, or Jehovah, or Zeus. In the end, that is unimportant.

What is really important is that provided all can be included, when we take oaths and vows in the name of this god, and we invoke this god in our civic ceremonies, we are really glorifying and dignifying our liberal inclusive modern Athenian society. We are deifying it and granting modern secular society itself with the attributes of deity. The invocations to the gods are mere formal, warranting concepts to reflect greater glory upon the City of Unbelief.

3. Public prayers and religious exercises which invoke a specific religion are verboten. Thus, civic prayers in the name of Jesus Christ are forbidden because they are exclusive. No non-Christian could participate in good conscience; nor are they represented in the invocation—thereby, any invocation in the Name of Jesus would undermines the fundamental religion of Athens which promulgates the equality, and therefore inclusion, of all men.

For example, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States recently ruled that city councils can properly prohibit all civic prayers in the Name of Jesus Christ because: “The restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds, not to exclude or disparage a particular faith.” (Read more.) The quotation is from the decision, written by Sandra Day O'Connor, former Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

4. Reverse discrimination and special rights, however, can be attributed to those religions that are held by those who are regarded as being oppressed, downtrodden or disadvantaged. Now, we need to be careful here. Athens, you remember, is interested only in the religion of the State, of the ultimacy of corporate man. It will tolerate a pluriformity of religions, provided all religions tolerate one another, and provided all acknowledge the overlord status of the secular state. Thus, like Rome of old, modern Athens wants all citizens, regardless of their religion, to confess that above and beyond all, “Caesar is Lord.” If they do that, then their religion is approved and tolerated.

But there are some religions that don't. One of the most militantly intolerant is Islam. Nevertheless, modern Athens finds itself willing to do all that it can to accommodate Islam. Since Islam represents, at least on the surface, a denial of the civic religion of Athens, the question is begged as to why this official accommodation and tolerance exists.

The reason lies in an attitude egregious paternalistic superiority that flows through the streets of Athens. It is a hangover from Marx, Engels and the Fabian Socialists. If a culture is regarded as superstitious or ignorant or poor or “disadvantaged” then Athens will treat the culture or religion as immature and childish and will seek to extend protection and indulgence to it, in the same way that a parent indulges a child, believing that in time it will grow out of its childishness. In the meantime, let the child have his childish fancies.

In such cases, the role Athens systematically adopts is one of defender and protector. Just as every child need protection from bullies, so Athens sees it has a duty to defend such childish beliefs against criticism from others. It quickly brands such criticism as divisive, or hate speech, or phobic (as, for example, in, islamophobic). When Islamists engage in criticism of others it is not regarded in turn as anti-Semitic or Christophobic. The first response of Athens is to smile indulgently and say, effectively, well children will be children. They will grow out of it.

In New Zealand we find another example. The Maori have long been regarded with a pernicious paternalistic eye. Traditional Maori animistic religion has now come to be welcomed and especially protected and promoted as part of the civic religion of Athens in New Zealand. No public building can be opened without Maori performing religious idolatries and incantations. Public works have to go through protocols to appease the spirits.

Why the indulgence of such animistic idolatry? Well, precisely because it is an indulgence. It is a paternalistic toleration of ignorance because Maori are regarded as oppressed and disadvantaged. The religions of the disadvantaged are welcomed in the public square—even though no-one else can join in or participate—because in the end we all know Maori will eventually grow up and stop such childish practices.

Thus, when a new highway was crossing a swamp where the local Maori believed a taniwha dwelt, offerings of money had to be made to appease the evil spirit. Athenian officialdom kept a straight face through it all, muttering about the need to be culturally sensitive, by which they meant the need to be paternalistic and indulgent.

Jerusalem, for its part, has seen it all before. Its confession is, Christ Jesus is Lord of all. Jerusalem, when its citizens are thinking properly, will have nothing to do with the secular civic religion of Athens. It will not participate in invocations to amorphous gods. It will not enter into the religious displays or services of the modern Athenian state. It rejects civil religion and will not participate in it. It will not declare “Caesar is Lord” so as to win acceptance and toleration.

Its exclusive loyalty to the Lord Jesus means that it regards all other religions as idolatries which leave people outside the heavenly City. But at the same time it seeks to do good to all men as it has opportunity. The stranger and the exile are welcome—but only as they lay down their idolatries at the door. They may pick them up again when they leave and go outside, but not while they are under our roofs and at our tables.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Failed Education Experiments

When A Hundred Blows on the Back of a Fool Make No Impression

How long does failure have to persist before the plug is pulled? In Athens, it is well over a century—and counting. In 1877, the government enacted the Education Act, which made education in New Zealand free, secular and compulsory. Now, over 130 years later systemic failure is evident on every fundamental metric by which the country's education model ought to be tested.

Education is not free. It is increasingly expensive, with money not going to front line education, but to a burgeoning bureaucracy, both in schools and out of schools. Schools, unable to survive financially, are having to load more and more costs on to parents, and are having to market their services to foreign students in order to generate sufficient income to survive.

Education is not secular. Secularity back in the “good old days” meant not biased towards any particular belief system. For the past thirty years the education system has overtly and deliberately adopted the religious and ideological world view of fundamentalist secular humanism, and has marshaled schools as their key propaganda organs for the promulgation of the religion.

Finally education is no longer compulsory. Truancy is endemic; enforcement is now impossible. Without parental and familial discipline, education is an optional extra, to be taken or not at one's convenience. The most recent survey on truancy was conducted in 2006. The survey employs a category called “Overall Absence”, which includes absences of the following types:

1. Justified absences, recorded in the register and satisfactorily explained.
2. Unjustified absences which are recorded in the register, but not explained satisfactorily.
3. Intermittent absences during the day which are unexplained or justified.

On an average daily basis in 2006, the Overall Absence rate was 11.5%. On any given average day, over ten percent of the nation's school pupils are not in school. Compulsory education is a joke.

When faced with this morass, the devotees of, and apologists for, the current system have two stock responses.

Firstly, they ask for more time. One hundred and thirty years has not been enough time. We need more, please. How much time, you ask. Just more.

Secondly, they ask for more money. How much more, you ask. More, and more, and more. To get things right we need more committees, surveys, research, reviews, promotional campaigns, qualifications authorities. More of all that which will make the system work costs money. We must make our offerings to the gods.

Athens will not not turn away from this idol easily. It is far too near to the heart of its religious belief. In a modern western democracy there are few means available to build the perfect society, to make the perfect man, to achieve secular redemption. Passing laws banning things is one favourite. The other is education. By educating children we will stop them sinning and doing evil. Society will condition its citizens to become perfect beings. Is crime a problem? Education will deliver us. Is illiteracy a problem? Education is the answer. Teenage pregnancy? Drink driving? Unemployment? Obesity? Racism? War? These and every other social malady, we are told, will be cured by education.

Athens will not turn away from its idolatry of education because without it there would be no hope. Nada. So, it is inevitable that our “free”, “secular” and “compulsory” state education system will indeed be given more time and more of your money—indefinitely. It is blasphemy in Athens even to suggest something else.

But we who came out from Athens a long time ago care not for their charges of blasphemy. It is stock in trade. We will indeed suggest something else—even for Athens's own sake, although we know that they will not listen because they cannot.

Firstly, remove compulsion from the education system. Make all education voluntary. As we have seen, compulsion is a joke anyway. Unless parents are valuing education and insisting upon it for their children, schools are absolutely wasting their time. It is far more likely that parents will value education more than they do now if they are given responsibility to ensure that their children receive it.

Secondly, introduce a parental contract, which each parent must sign, and resign annually when their children return to school. The contract would spell out the obligations, expectations, and requirements of parents towards their children and their education if they are to gain and retain a place for their children in a school. Persistent breaching of the contract would result in the place for their children being lost.

Now, we understand that from the education utopians this will elicit howls of outrage. Think of all those poor children denied a decent education because of the irresponsibility of their parents! Yes, indeed. Please think about it. Those poor children will be denied an education no matter how long they spend in school. Because of their parents' irresponsibility they will not benefit from education. If their parents will not deny themselves and discipline themselves for the sake of their children's future, their children sure won't. And the essence of education is a willingness to discipline oneself now for the sake of future advantage. Any child unwilling to do that is simply impossible to educate.

Thirdly, apply a tax rebate for every child kept in school for 95% of the available school days per year, to the effect that every taxable dollar attracts no more than the lowest marginal rate of income tax. If this is achieved for two or more children, rebate all income tax. This would only apply if the child or children achieved pass rates for that year in core subjects (see below).

Fourthly, divide the curriculum up into core subjects (of which there must be no more than four) and the rest (which are optional) through junior and middle schools (that is, up to the end of year eight). The core subjects must focus upon language and number, as these are the building blocks of all other learning. National standards for each year need to be set, and each children assessed for achievement of the standard every year.

Fifthly, follow Sweden's example, and introduce a voucher system that will entitle parents to place children at the school of their choice (assuming place availability). Several policies need to be introduced to support the voucher system. For example, abolish all zoning. Allow schools to combine and co-operate across geographical regions. Publish the results of each school's achievements in the national standards annually. Abolish centralised funding and do not introduce bulk funding of schools. School funding must come entirely from voucher income. Soft support, padding, and compensatory payments to schools must be entirely excluded. The voucher would pay for education in the core subjects only. Any additional subjects and activities must be funded by direct charges upon the parents (who of course will now be able to afford them, due to their tax rebates, non?) Abolish all salary scales for teachers and school staff.

Sixthly, allow schools to fail and go out of existence. If schools are failing to educate, or are failing to attract sufficient students, they must be allowed to fail, rather than propping them up. The sole focus of a school must be upon educating children, not lobbying for money from the State.

We suggest that were this programme adopted, the New Zealand education system would be world leading within ten years. But will Athens adopt this programme? Never. It would never countenance such blasphemy, such disrespect to the idols of fundamentalist secular humanism

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The S-Files

Mendacity or Blindness?

Contra Celsum nominates Sue Bradford for an S-Award

Sue Bradford is an extreme left-wing ideologue who successfully changed the law effectively making smacking illegal when administered by parents for purposes of training of children. She was aided and abetted in her success by Helen Clark, a fellow extreme left wing ideologue.


The website Family First has fisked the report of a speech delivered by Sue Bradford to a national conference. The complete fisk can be read here. The speech was reported by the Otago Daily Times. (Hat Tip: Half Done)

The speech by Bradford was replete with half-truths, lies, and misleading statements. Amongst the misleading statements were the following:

1. Powerful forces were working to overturn and repeal her anti-smacking legislation.
2. They were backed by money (and by implication, monied interests).
3. That 5,000 signatures on the original anti-smacking petition were declared invalid.
4. That some people will have changed their mind since signing the petition.
5. A repeal of the law would “send a message” that violence against children was acceptable.
6. There is no evidence that parents were being dragged off to court for minor offences.
7. That 44% of voters are in favour of the smacking ban legislation.
8. The real divide of proponents and opponents is around 50%.

Family Integrity has recently been placing large ads in national newspapers highlighting cases where parents have been investigated by police for administering physical discipline to their children, even if only physically restraining them from hitting others or running on to the street. We are now up to nineteen cases or incidents.

So, what are we to make of Bradford's statements? Is it simply a case of the perverted blindness of an ideologue who will not see because ideology is blinding her to evidence and truth that is as plain as the nose on her face? Or is it mendacity—deliberately and self-consciously lying to promulgate a perceived higher cause?

Either way, Bradford is a blight upon the body politic. The fact that she remains tolerated in the public square, listened to by social policy makers and executors, and supported electorally as part of a greenist political party stands as a perpetual indictment of Athenian Unbelief.

Sue Bradford, MP: S-Award, Class II, for actions that are Stupid, Short Sighted and Stupefied

Monday, 28 July 2008

Meditation on Text of the Week

As Having Nothing, Yet Possessing All Things . . .

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things which are not that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.
I Corinthians 1: 27—29
Human pride, the vaunting of self, boasting, arrogant railing, the arrogation of power—these things characterise Athens and have done so since the time of its founding upon the earth. The Kingdom of God has a radically different currency. It addresses itself to what the world regards as the foolish, the weak, and base. It comes to the nothings and the nobodies. God's Kingdom addresses the wretched of the earth. God's choice falls amongst the weak.

There is a reason for this. Pride and human boasting have no place before God. Therefore God despises the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And the humble respond by expressing amazement at God's goodness to them, acknowledging they were utterly unworthy of such mercy. So David, in II Samuel 7: 18, when reflecting on all of God's mercies to him and his family, says, “Who am I, and what is my house, that Thou has brought me thus far?”

Our sister, Mary expresses the same sentiment when she says, “For He has regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.” Then, in the rest of the Magnificat she confesses that what has happened to her is typical of, and no different from, God's dealings with His people throughout the generations, for:

He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble,
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his offspring forever.
Luke 1: 51—55
It is a sad travesty of biblical truth that Unbelievers have sought to gloss this and other passages of Holy Writ with a marxist patina. They turn poverty and degradation into a virtue that merits or earns God's attention. They so distort the truth that they turn poverty into a cause for pride and vainglory. But Mary has it right: He rejects those who are proud in their hearts. This is why cultures and societies which have been indoctrinated with socialist concepts are amongst the coldest and hardest mission fields in the world. In such societies, even the poorest believes he has rights before which heaven and earth must bow.

If the poor and the hungry are bitter and arrogant in their degradation; if they dare to think in terms of their merits and their worthiness, that their situation is unjust, that they deserve better, and how unfair things are for them, they are every bit as arrogant as he who sits upon a gilded throne and spouts his superiority, disdaining others.

But amongst the truly poor this is not normally the case. Amongst the truly degraded their circumstances have usually made them wretched in heart. They hope for nothing, even as they long for wholeness and life. They are far beyond being concerned about their rights and their dues. Their deprivation and lowliness makes such talk ludicrous and incongruous to them. Oftentimes it is accompanied by a deep consciousness of personal sin, of personal unworthiness and guilt. They are too lowly to think good of themselves.

Our Lord expressed it this way: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 1: 17) The wealthy, the great, the rich, and the comfortable most often have no needs; they regard themselves as healthy. Our Lord condemned all such by saying He did not come for such as these. They already have their reward in this life.

He came instead for those who, deeply conscious of their needs, would call out to Him for help. As someone once said, the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven is very low. All who enter must do so on their hands and knees. For all others, the doorway is beneath their dignity and held in contempt. God is beneath their dignity: He too is held in contempt. Thus Michal despised her husband as he danced before the ark. He had shamed her. David, however, sought to portray his lowliness and the worthlessness of his house before God.

It is not by accident that the Gospel in our days is spreading rapidly in the poorer countries of the Southern Hemisphere: in Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia. Neither is it accidental that the post Christian West considers itself too noble and sophisticated for God. It pleases God that it should be so, and thus it is deliberate.

Loser Letters #10

Can Natural Selection Work Faster, Please

In this final letter, A F Christian is checked out from rehab. Her question this time to her new comrades, the Athiest Brights is why natural selection has not worked sufficiently to the point that it has got rid of guilt--that most debilitating universal reality. Atheist Brights need to find an explanation, and find it fast. Read the final letter, here.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

ChnMind 2.7 The Freedom of the Individual

True Freedom and Its Counterfeits

In the anglo-saxon world much ado has been made about freedom. Probably the United States has been the most prominent in this regard, celebrating the cause in its anthem as being “the land of the free.” We are all familiar with the historical provenance of that nation. It came into existence in opposition to the perceived tyranny of the state—in this case the Crown of Great Britain.

The assertion of freedom from the tyranny of an unjust government is enshrined, of course, in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .” We notice that life and liberty are declared to be co-fundamental. If one is to be truly alive, one must be truly free. But life and liberty are also declared to be co-fundamental with the pursuit of happiness. One is only truly alive and free, if one is allowed to pursue one's own happiness.

The hagiography of the Founders and the idolising of their Declaration has now become bizarre, to say the least. A massive transformation of meaning of the Declaration has taken place in little over two hundred years. It is now understood to mean the precise opposite of what the revered Founders meant. Yet the same formulaic words are applied. For the Founders, freedom meant at least two things: it meant freedom from the government, in order to be and do as one saw fit in the pursuit of happiness. Now the very same formula is glossed to mean the reverse. Now it is understood to mean freedom from having to pursue happiness; to which end it is the duty of the government to be and do all it can to provide happiness for its citizens. Of course, it can only pursue this course and deliver freedom from want and need for its citizens if it has already arrogated to itself powers and tyrannies unimagined by the King of England or the American revolutionaries at the time.

Today, the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence stand as one of the greatest cynical historical jokes of all time. It has produced an all regulating, all controlling government with pre-emptive powers claiming omni-competence over every aspect of its citizens' lives and property. But it also stands, like Ozymandius, as a sober warning to all who will heed. The Founders appealed to the Laws of Nature and to Reason as the ground and authority of their Declaration. Really, they were appealing and testifying to themselves and their own autonomy. They were seeking to revolt and establish a new nation on the grounds of beliefs and principles and the world as they saw and understood it to be, not as it truly was.

They were rationalists, closet rationalists to be sure, but rationalists none the less. When fallen men seek to build kingdoms on the shifting sands of man and his reason, their kingdoms will not stand. When reason is autonomous, one generation's lie becomes another generation's truth. One man's view or belief is as good as another's. Autonomous reason is a prostitute: it will go with whomever has the money at the time. And so it has proved to be.

Jerusalem, that great City of God upon earth, also believes in freedom, but not as in Athens. In Jerusalem, freedom is a function of truth, and truth is a function of God and not the creature. It is the truth which sets free. But God's Word, which represents the constitutional documents of the City, is the truth. Anything contrary to His Word is a lie. As each individual man submits to God's Word and embraces it in his heart, he is set free. The freedom of Jerusalem also has two aspects. It also is a freedom from, and a freedom to be and to do.

Firstly, freedom in Jerusalem means freedom from sin and its guilt, which enslaves every human heart in Athens. But it also means freedom to be and to pursue something. It means freedom to be a steward or servant of the King. It means freedom to pursue the duties and responsibilities of servanthood. This is why within Jerusalem every citizen is respected and honoured. They are respected because they are cleansed of sin and forgiven by the Lord Himself. None dare question the prerogatives of the King in this regard. Secondly, every citizen (man, woman and child) is respected as being the servant or steward of the King, who has both responsibilities and duties to perform at each and every stage of their lives. None must interfere with the Lord's servants, doing the Lord's business, carrying out the tasks He has assigned.

The prohibition against interfering with the lives of the servants of the Lord fundamentally establishes the principles of civil liberty within Jerusalem. Whilst every individual must respect the due roles of Family, Church and State, by exactly the same token those institutions are bound to respect each family member, each church member, and each citizen respectively as the servant and steward of God, Himself.

This basic principle of liberty is highlighted most sharply and clearly in the encounter between Peter and John and the Lord after the Resurrection. The Lord had been restoring and recommissioning His servant, Peter after the latter's denial of the Christ. Peter turned around and saw John standing near, and asked, “Lord, and what about this man?”Jesus said, in effect, mind your own business! “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21: 21,22)

This stinging rebuke is the charter of liberty for every steward and servant of God in the Kingdom. People are to be left to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of a steward of God as it falls to them. Paul echoes the words of the Lord when he is reasoning through the liberty that is to apply within the Church of the Lord.
Now, accept the one who is weak in faith, but for for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14: 1—4)
Notice that the Scripture does not say that everything which a particular servant of the King does it thereby right or as good as it could be. Some people are weak; their opinions are immature. All our lives are mixtures of truth and error but the Lord will make us stand at the end of the day. For our part, it is not given to us to be the judge the servants of the Lord. He will deal with His servants in His way, in His time, as it seems good to Him. He is the Lord.

Our fathers, when writing the Westminster Confession put it this way: "God alone is the Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith and worship.” (Westminster Confession 20:2)

The Kingdom of God reflects the totalitarian government of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is Lord of the conscience of each individual soul. Therefore, no other entity or institution of the Kingdom can enslave or lord it over an individual's heart and mind. Always the higher lordship of the King must be respected and feared. Every human soul is to be respected and honoured as a servant of the Lord.

But this does not mean that each individual is without law. Far from it. For everyone is commanded to love the Lord His God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love his neighbour as himself. This is the true law of liberty that sets the redeemed and forgiven sinner free. This is the true freedom of God's Kingdom, and it comes about and is protected by the Spirit of God Himself at work within the City.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Tea Leaves and Belgian Dentists

Has the Reserve Bank Got it Right? Or, Should it Matter?

There has been a lot of debate recently over whether the Reserve Bank has done the “right thing” by starting to loosen monetary policy. We at Contra Celsum do not make it our business to prognosticate on near or immediate outcomes. It is far too difficult for mere, fallible humans to do credibly. It is even more difficult to benefit fiscally from such speculations. When a near term prediction is credible and widely believed it will be already priced in markets—so that, perversely, by the time conviction arrives, it is too late. The price horse has bolted, as it were.

When predictions of near term outcomes are uncertain, the risks are even greater. To invest or divest capital on the basis of such fantasies or speculations is folly indeed. Yet thankfully many do, which usually leads to the wonderful phenomenon of artificially and speculatively inflated or depressed capital markets—which, in turn, usually offers wonderful investing or divesting opportunities for a careful allocator of capital.

Whether the Reserve Bank was “right” in loosening monetary policy in New Zealand this week is a very difficult call. So prudence would suggest that we pass and consign it to the realm of speculation on a near term outcome.

What is more useful, however, is to consider some longer term economic fundamentals—factors which are usually overlooked in the frenzy of near term speculation, but which will inevitably “play out” in the longer term. Here, then, are some longer term fundamentals which we believe the sagacious need to keep in mind—in no particular order.

Economic growth occurs when capital and labour are both deployed to produce desirable goods and services of such quality and price to attract buyers. New Zealand is a small economy. It is an open economy. It can only sustain economic growth over the long term if it succeeds in producing goods and services which are more attractive in either quality or price, or both, than what other peoples and nations can produce. Thus, the key to economic growth is a competitive tradeable sector (that is, goods and services that are either exported or can be used efficiently to substitute imports, such as oil.)

New Zealand has few tradeable sectors which are sufficiently productive to cut the mustard in a global market. Agriculture is one (dairying in particular). Owing to the application of knowledge, research, and technology the productivity of the agriculture sector has steadily increased over the past thirty years, once the artificial subsidies of the Muldoon era had been removed.

The economic lifeblood of the nation is wedded to businesses that can trade effectively with the world, which means exporting to selling to domestic consumers who may also buy competitor imported goods on a cost-effective basis. There are two longer term critical impediments to doing this. Firstly, our labour productivity is falling. That is, less is being produced for every hour worked. Wages, however, are rising—therefore labour costs are going up, while productivity is going down. This means that in general New Zealand is economically terminal. Secondly, our cost of capital is high. This is due to its scarcity. We do not save enough: therefore, we rely on international savers to lend to, or take equity in, our businesses. They require a higher premium, a higher return, for investing in New Zealand because the risks are higher.

Given our higher costs of capital, and the falling productivity of our labour force, the longer term outlook for the New Zealand economy is not good. Things will have to change for the longer term outlook to become more positive—and change is likely to mean lower standards of living and some considerable economic pain.

Inflation is a hydra with many faces. Inflation is not caused by rising prices, per se. Inflation is caused by an increase in the supply of money. Prices can rise and fall due to imbalances of supply and demand. This is not inflationary. Thus, to the extent that prices have risen due to inadequate supplies of oil to meet increasing global demand, it reflects a non-inflationary market effect. It is highly unlikely that such market driven price increases will flow through to self-reinforcing general price and wage spirals without a commensurate increase in the supply of money (regardless of whether the increase comes from the actions of the Reserve Bank or from overseas investors.) Choke off the supply of money and an inflationary spiral is far less likely.

A small open economy will always be subject to occasional global economic shocks. It is not the shocks that are critical, for they are inevitable and unavoidable—it is the speed and efficiency with which the productive sector of the economy can adapt that is vital. The greatest impediment to a speedy adjustment is the government sector, both with its artificial propping up of the economy through distributive spending, and with its endlessly complex spaghetti of rules and regulations. New Zealand's government sector has grown substantially relative to the size of the economy over the past nine years. The ability of the economy to adjust to the current global credit crunch and oil shock has been commensurately weakened. This suggests that the pain will go on for longer. If the government introduces a carbon trading tax, it will go on for much longer.

A country that runs a large current account deficit can ordinarily expect that its currency will devalue over time. This, in turn, allows the tradeable sector to price itself more competitively. On the other hand, when an economy is competing effectively in the tradeable sector, over time one would expect that the currency would appreciate, forcing greater efficiencies—a virtuous circle.

New Zealand's currency has been propped up for a long time by our relatively high interest rates. Japanese housewives and Belgian dentists have lent money to New Zealand banks because the interest rates were so much higher than they could earn at home. This has made the New Zealand currency attractive. With such strong buying support, the dollar has remained high, creating a huge headwind for the tradeable sector.

Unfortunately, most of the investment in New Zealand by Japanese housewives and Belgian dentists has flowed through to the non tradeable sector—namely, housing. So, we have been subjected to a debt fueled lifestyle-consumption extravaganza. It has created a false sense of wealth. It has created a dual economy: one which has a productive, tradeable sector struggling in the face of significant impediments, and a consumption sector turbo-charging its appetites with easy credit. Government hand-outs have abetted the chimera of prosperity and given its speculation greater impetus.

This artificially propped up currency has to fall if the economy is to have any hope of righting itself. It would possibly be best if it were left to fall drastically and quickly. This would lessen the chances of creating a wage and price spiral as a result of gradually increasing import prices, due to a gradually falling currency. But fall it must—eventually.

In the light of the above, prudent investment of capital becomes a simple matter, although not easy. Firstly, there are businesses in New Zealand operating in the tradeable sector which have made a reasonable fist of growing their earnings, despite the huge headwinds of the past five years. As the currency falls, they are only going to do better.

Secondly, in tough economic times, the best companies get better still. They tend to increase market share as their competitors fade away. Consequently, it is a wonderful time to be a capital allocator, provided you can read a balance sheet and an earnings statement with a modicum of intelligence, and provided you have a reasonable dash of common sense, and your investing time frame is at least ten years. However, without those attributes, don't even think about it. Every time you get tempted to speculate (for that is what you will be doing) imagine Dirty Harry aiming his 44 magnum at your eyeballs, and growling, “I know what you are thinking, punk.”

Many of the things we have discussed will not play out tomorrow, or the next day, or the next year. Maybe not in the next five years. But, play out they will. The New Zealand economy is a huge leaky home. In the end, the rot will show through.

In the meantime, there is no better course as a capital allocator than to buy high quality assets at attractive prices, then take a ten year holiday.

Thursday, 24 July 2008


Christopher Monckton of Brenchley Speaks Out Again

Monckton is a fiercely intelligent British aristocrat. The American Physical Society, a forum on physics and society, has recently published a thorough critique of the IPCC's pseudo-science by Monckton. Those of you that love equations will enjoy. The conclusion to the paper is worth quoting in full:

Even if temperature had risen above natural variability, the recent solar Grand Maximum may have been chiefly responsible. Even if the sun were not chiefly to blame for the past half-century’s warming, the IPCC has not demonstrated that, since CO2 occupies only one-ten-thousandth part more of the atmosphere that it did in 1750, it has contributed more than a small fraction of the warming. Even if carbon dioxide were chiefly responsible for the warming that ceased in 1998 and may not resume until 2015, the distinctive, projected fingerprint of anthropogenic “greenhouse-gas” warming is entirely absent from the observed record. Even if the fingerprint were present, computer models are long proven to be inherently incapable of providing projections of the future state of the climate that are sound enough for policymaking. Even if per impossibile the models could ever become reliable, the present paper demonstrates that it is not at all likely that the world will warm as much as the IPCC imagines. Even if the world were to warm that much, the overwhelming majority of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature does not predict that catastrophe would ensue. Even if catastrophe might ensue, even the most drastic proposals to mitigate future climate change by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would make very little difference to the climate. Even if mitigation were likely to be effective, it would do more harm than good: already millions face starvation as the dash for biofuels takes agricultural land out of essential food production: a warning that taking precautions, “just in case”, can do untold harm unless there is a sound, scientific basis for them. Finally, even if mitigation might do more good than harm, adaptation as (and if) necessary would be far more cost-effective and less likely to be harmful.

In short, we must get the science right, or we shall get the policy wrong. If the concluding equation in this analysis (Eqn. 30) is correct, the IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity must have been very much exaggerated. There may, therefore, be a good reason why, contrary to the projections of the models on which the IPCC relies, temperatures have not risen for a decade and have been falling since the phase-transition in global temperature trends that occurred in late 2001. Perhaps real-world climate sensitivity is very much below the IPCC’s estimates. Perhaps, therefore, there is no “climate crisis” at all. At present, then, in policy terms there is no case for doing anything. The correct policy approach to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing.

Read the full text here.

As credulous politicians in both Australia and New Zealand are currently trying to talk up emissions trading schemes, claiming that they will deliver both economic growth and wealth, claims that are deceptive, misleading and downright dishonest, we stand at the edge of the precipice. In 1930, a recession turned into a five year world-wide depression, because of incompetence and diametrically-wrong government policies. It is now highly likely that we will see a replay mutatis mutandis of that folly, which resulted in extreme suffering of millions. In fact, with biofuel madness it has already begun.

Once analyzed rigorously, the IPCC's formulations and pronouncements have turned out to be hot air in search of whispers. Any government that devises economic and social policies based on such folly makes itself unfit to govern. As Monckton says, if you don't get the science right, you shall get the policies wrong. How true.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Dangers of a Governing Elite

Career Politicians, Baubles, and “Mushies”

The madcap world of Athenian politics is “exceedingly diverting”, to use Jane Austen's phrase, particularly if you enjoy the theatre of the absurd. If you don't, tough bikkies. It is not likely to change any time soon. However, in New Zealand now, something more sinister has emerged, which is not nearly so diverting. There is now also a deep sense of unease, that reflects a profound disconnection between the governed and the governors.

This has happened, of course, many times in various nations the past; it will no doubt happen in the future. Such is the way of the world. Nevertheless, we all ought to be aware of the risks that are represented when a governing elite is disconnected from the “real world”—that is, the world in which the large majority of the governed live every day, and eke out their existences.

The first risk is that the governors will pass laws and introduce policies that are exceedingly damaging to the governed. The governors inevitably have a view of what is the best interests of the governed, but because of their distance and isolation they are wrong more times than right. This builds anger and generates resentment throughout society. Disrespect for the law, for the governing institutions of society is an inevitable outcome.

Secondly, it can generate conditions where the disconnect is so severe, that it leads to violent resistance, to the point where society fractures and falls apart. The modern term is balkanisation. At such times, constitutional structures and legal traditions offer little protection.

Most societies and civilisations collapse from within. To be sure, there are external threats of one kind or another—but that is always the case. Robust and strong societies usually are able to withstand such threats, and even become stronger through engaging with them. But when there has been a long and sustained disconnection between governors and governed, and when society has started to become balkanised, the ability to withstand external threats is diminished: collapse is the usual outcome.

New Zealand is not immune to such historical realities—although to date the vast majority of our countrymen would think such extreme societal breakdown impossible. Whilst most Athenian Unbelievers in this country would have a “manifest destiny” view of the future of the country, believing that our society as we know it will continue in perpetuity, all the historical evidence is to the contrary. And, as Santayana observed, those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The historical lesson we need to learn is that “there ain't no manifest destiny, baby.”

Some serious thought needs to be given to constitutional mechanisms to prevent the disconnect between the governed and the governors. It would go a long way to keeping society relatively robust and more coherent. Before we throw up some things that ought to be done, let's look at the problem from another vantage point.

Several years ago, Professor James Holt characterised a certain kind of politician and political leader he saw taking the political stage in New Zealand as being a “mushie”. He wrote:

A typical mushie is of middle class origin who acquired an interest in left wing or liberal causes whilst studying history or politics or sociology at university. He or she (they are often shes) was drawn to the Labour Party because of its stand on issues such as Vietnam or the Springbok Tour, or because he wished to use the party to push such issues. Mushies are generally warm to environmentalism, feminism, ban the bomb causes, and any issue that has a high moral high ground content and a slogan that can be conveniently placed on a lapel button. They are concerned about underdogs and hostile to establishment forces in a general sort of way, though they live rather well themselves and collect fine paintings and wines along with fine values . . . . Their mushiness lies in their economic issues. . . . They are almost invariably protected from the sort of life situations that teach people about economic realities. Usually they work in the public sector and have little fear of unemployment or of a fall in real income. Although well educated, they know nothing about economics and indeed have studiously avoided studying it. (Hat Tip: Inquiring Mind)
Over the past nine years, New Zealand has been ruled by a government of “mushies”. This is unparalleled in our history. One consequence, we believe, will be that history will record that the Clark administration, together with its fellow-travellers, the Greens and NZ First, did enormous damage to New Zealand society. With very little “real-life” experience, yet with an arrogant belief about how the world ought to be, they have systematically damaged, and in some cases, done a great deal to ruin the social fabric. This damage will have come about largely because of the kind of people that made up the governing elite during those years. Fundamentally they were, or became, unfit to govern.

The disconnection between the governors and governed is self-correcting in a democracy, many would argue. Political polls indicate that the "mushies" will be cast into electoral oblivion come November, 2008—so, that's the end of that. But the damage done is considerable, and will take years to repair. It may never be repaired.

We believe it would be better to put some constitutional safeguards in place to endeavour to prevent "mushies" or anyone else unfit to govern entering Parliament. This is even more critical now that under MMP, there are many “representatives” who never have to persuade an electorate to support them—they are career political party animals from beginning to end.

We suggest that the following constitutional conventions need to be enacted to help ensure fitness for parliamentary service.

1. In order to be a Member of Parliament the previous five years need to have been spent in gainful employment. Disqualifications need to include any of those five years being employed by the government or an agency of the government or a political party. Excluded, therefore, would be people employed as teachers, public health workers, government bureaucrats, the armed forces, and the like, and any employer or employed position which relies upon government funding for its income or existence. This qualification is necessary to ensure that governors have actual experience in contributing positively to society whilst being fully exposed to the threats, risks, and dangers of ordinary life—threats to which the vast majority of the governed are exposed constantly. Such people are less likely to governed with that idealised detachment from the real struggles of life.

2. No Member of Parliament can serve longer than four terms (or twelve years, whichever is the shorter). No Prime Minister or member of Cabinet can serve longer in those offices or in Cabinet than three terms (or nine years, whichever is the shorter). The objective here would be to prevent career politicians. It also helps ensure that the governed do not lose touch with the governed. It also helps prevent that damage to the country that inevitably results when politicians use their office to promote and protect their own venal career interests.

3. No Member of Parliament, having served in the House for one term (or three years, whichever is the shorter), can return to employment (whether for wages or stipend) by the government, or any government agency, board, quango, statutory or regulatory body, or any position requiring government support or nomination, or any paid position with any political party for a period of five consecutive years after leaving the House. This constitutional rule is necessary to prevent governments buying off their supporters with offers of sinecures and compensation once they leave politics. Such, “sweetheart” deals, or baubles, are becoming all too egregiously common in New Zealand.

Such measures would not solve all constitutional problems by any means. However, given that MMP has created a political class in New Zealand that is rapidly becoming self-protective, self-perpetuating, and self-serving, such constitutional protections are desperately needed. MMP has shifted political power into the hands of a rapidly emerging and entrenching governing class. It has neutered the general populace. It has led to the destructive ascendancy of the “mushies.”

If such weaknesses and gaps in our constitutional fabric are not addressed, and addressed thoroughly, the disconnect between the governed and the governors will only grow wider over time. Tourism New Zealand will have to come up with new promotional slogans to entice dwindling numbers of tourists to come and support our economy. We look forward to the new international tourism campaign: “Welcome to the Balkans of the South Pacific”.

Along with this the following travel advisory will no doubt be issued: “While in New Zealand, leave no property unattended. Hire a personal security guard (patch wearing member of Black Power or Mongrel Mob recommended) and keep in his presence at all times. Relinquish all property and all money to your personal security guard upon departure. Enjoy our clean, green country.”

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

ChnMind 2.6 The Core Institutions of the Kingdom

Decentralised, Limited, Fair, and Balanced

Jerusalem is the city set upon a great hill. God has ordained that all the families of the earth will stream to it, and dwell within it. The City will grow in population and size until it fills the whole earth. These things are inscribed and certain. They are inevitable because God has declared that it will be so. None can stay His hand. This is the true universal history that stretches before our world. The present Athens and all it represents is temporary and will pass away.

The duty of the believing citizens of Jerusalem is to work faithfully to build, grow, and develop the City. Like Nehemiah of old, we will always face opposition in this task. When pressed and threatened by the Kingdom, Athens will bend might and main to run interference and undermine the effort. It will resort to bloodshed and murder of Believers if it deems it necessary for its own survival. For thus they did to the Christ, and, therefore, thus they will do to His servants.

But, to paraphrase Luther, in this war between Belief and Unbelief, the doom of Athens is sure. One little word will fell it. And the Word has been uttered: He rose from the dead as King of all kings, and all His enemies are being, and are to be, placed under His feet. Their doom is sure indeed.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Jerusalem continue to build, grow, and extend the Kingdom as faithful stewards and servants of the King. But how to build, grow, and extend? The Lord has ordained three essential institutions to carry, manifest, and extend His reign in the world. These three are: the Family, the Church, and the State. These three are equally ultimate, and equally important in His Kingdom. Each has its own divine appointment—and therefore, its own authority and legitimacy, which the other two institutions may neither traduce nor undermine.

In Athens, when Unbelievers speak of institutions, power, and governance the fundamental question always becomes, Where does ultimate power reside? Who or what has the final say? Whence does power ultimately originate or derive? Is ultimate power (the source of all law, truth, justice, authority, knowledge, life itself etc) invested in the individual human being, or in some abstract ideal, or in a collective—in the State? Athenians are conditioned in their Unbelief necessarily to attribute ultimate power to something in the created world.

This means that within Athens something or other in the creation is regarded at any one time as overlord, as dominating everything else. This matrix of thought is inescapable to the mind of Unbelief. It is why Athens, as a city, can never maintain freedom over the time. Something always rises up to claim ascendency: for example, male over female, female over unborn child, child over parents, poor over the rich, black over white, community over the individual, priests over devotees—or vice versa. A universal history of Athenian societies could be written according to the matrix of the struggle for ultimacy of man's assertion on the part of one aspect of the created order over another.

If the issue of ultimacy is inevitable, Jerusalem's position is emphatic. Ultimacy rests in God alone, Who created the heavens and the earth, out of nothing. The ultimate power of the Kingdom has been committed by God to the raised and ascended Lord Jesus Christ—and He does not share power. Any power given to institutions within the City of God by its King is not ultimate in any sense whatsoever. Christ alone is King of the City. All human powers and authorities are thereby limited, constrained, and derived; all are answerable and accountable to Him.

But because He alone is King, no appointed human institution can lord it over other appointed institutions, without thereby rebelling against the King Himself. By the same token, each institution of the Kingdom has due authority within its own appointment and is entitled to say to the others “you shall not pass” when they mistakenly seek to override or undermine or intrude.

Another way of putting this is to say that within Jerusalem, power and authority is decentralised, shared, limited, and, thereby, checked and balanced. If we turn to the Church and ask, “Where does ultimate authority reside in the City of God?” the rejoinder is “Not in me.” The Family and the State likewise deny that final authority upon earth resides in their institutions. Christ alone has final authority—and He administers that authority through His Word, the Scriptures (which represent the constitutional documents of the City) and through His Spirit (Who witnesses and testifies to the Scriptures as unto Christ.)

But decentralised powers does not mean limited government. Government, and the various institutions of government, within Jerusalem are pervasive, all embracing, and all inclusive. The Family, the Church and the State each have governance functions. The individual citizen of the City is governed by at least these three core institutions, as well as by a multitude of subordinate governing institutions. Therefore, whilst civil government in Jerusalem is curtailed and carefully limited, government itself is not. It is maximised. Therefore, we may say the City is exceedingly governed: its existence is the exact opposite of lawlessness.

Each of the Family, the Church, and the State—as the core institutions of the Kingdom—receives its divine appointment in the Scriptures—which are the constitutional documents given us by the King Himself. Each has its specific roles and responsibilities. When we say “core institutions” we mean that all other entities and institutions derive from these three and depend upon one or more of the core institutions for their existence and functioning.

The appointment of the Family as a core institution is as ancient and venerable as the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It's authority was formally constituted before the formal investiture of either the Church or the State. Moreover, when God announced the great Covenant of Grace to Abraham, His covenant was not with Abraham as an individual but Abraham as the head of his family. The covenant was made between the Lord and the household of Abraham. Salvation was to be accomplished in an through families.

The Church was formally constituted as distinct from the Family when our fathers came up out of the land of Egypt and the Lord established the roles and responsibilities of public worship to be instituted within the tribe of Levi. With the dismantling of the sacrificial system, the original and central importance of the Church was restated in the Newer Covenant documents. (See, for example, Ephesians 1:20—23, which establishes the Church as a central institution within the redeemed world.)

The authority of the State to exercise judgment and to punish evil was inaugurated in the civil magistracy in Israel under Moses. However, the central importance of the State is reconfirmed in the Newer Covenant, where we are commanded to pray constantly for our civil rulers, and where the Prince is explicitly called a minister of God Himself. (Romans 13: 4)

Each of these core institutions has its authority and investiture from the Lord Himself. Just as in a body, the “eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you,'" (I Corinthians 15: 21) so in the Kingdom neither the Family, nor the Church, nor the State can reject or deny or dismiss the roles and responsibilities of the others, nor the divine institution and appointment thereof.

In future posts, we will address the specific roles, responsibilities, duties and authority of the Family, the Church and the State, tracing out the particular contribution each makes to the City, and why each requires the other two if they are to be successful in carrying out their respective duties.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Meditation on the Text of the Week

“In God We Trust”

The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
Psalm 33: 16,17
“In God we trust,” is the motto inscribed on United States banknotes. Today, this may seem to many a bit hypocritical, a motto describing an historical sentiment, not an actual truthful living faith. Nevertheless it begs a fundamentally important question: in whom or in what do we ultimately trust? That question needs to be pressed home relentlessly to every soul.

As our text implies, Athens has an answer ready to hand. For the world of Unbelief, power is usually the ultimate repository of trust, hope, faith, and belief. We would hazard a guess that in the United States today, the motto on the currency is a lie: actually, most Unbelieving American citizens place their ultimate faith and trust in the military power of the United States. Even the normally dovish Left, when insulted or hurt by terrorist attacks, quickly bray for blood, for armed retaliation, for making “them” pay. Let's not forget when President Bush ordered troops into Afghanistan and Iraq his popular support levels were virtually off the scale. The doves were in war formation.

Our text indicates that this is nothing new. There has been an abiding proclivity in Athenian circles throughout history to place hope in armies and military might. This is true in New Zealand to this day. Whilst in our nation the armed forces virtually do not exist; so that our nation has no defence force—only military tokenism—and we are to all practical purposes undefended, most New Zealanders believe that were “anything” to happen, were our nation attacked, traditional (more militarily powerful) allies would come to our aid and defence (the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom). It is our ultimate hope.

Stupid and naive—to be sure. But almost universally believed nonetheless. Test it. Ask your mates. Point out that we have no armed forces, then ask them to imagine what would happen if an Asian power (say, Indonesia) used their relatively vast navy and air force to attack and invade New Zealand. What, then, would happen. Almost everyone will answer that our “allies” would come to our aid and would go to war to defend us.

So, Unbelievers in New Zealand are doubly stupid and gullible. Not only do they believe in the efficacy of military might as the ultimate repository of trust, they take the stupidity one step further—New Zealanders almost to a man believe in the efficacy of the military might of other nations as our hope. How foolish can you be?

Our text tells us that mighty armies and great military forces are vain hopes. Over them all reigns the Almighty. He regards all the inhabitants of the earth, He fashions the hearts of them all, and He understands their works. Nothing is hid from Him. He has no regard for military power.

Instead and in the strongest contrast, the psalmist tells us His eye is upon those who fear Him, whose hope is in His lovingkindness, not in tanks and missiles. Since the Lord regards those who are so minded, there is only one reasonable response: the ultimate confidence of Believers is in God. Consequently, says the psalmist, “our soul waits for the Lord. He is our help and our shield.” Our hope is not in armies, but in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of the Lord.

“In God we trust” is a great motto—if it is truly believed, if it reflects the hearts of the people. He knows. He tests. He weighs. He is the great defender of those who truly entrust themselves to Him.

The Loser Letters #9

When Atheism Really is the Best Medicine

A F Christian finally explains what kicked her into being a card carrying atheist. No more side tracks or weird jokes. Read the ninth letter, here.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Inflation and the Truth

When Theories Become Meaningless

One of the greatest scientists in all of history, Sir Isaac Newton got some things horribly wrong. He observed, for example, that when water evaporated, it left a slight residue behind. This held true, even after repeated distillations. His experiment and observation of the residues could be repeated and confirmed endlessly in laboratories everywhere.

Newton concluded, therefore, that upon evaporation water was partly transmuted into earth. We now believe this to be nonsense. But belief in transmutation is not just a phenomenon of centuries ago. It reappears from time to time amongst reputable scientists—and has done so quite recently. Usually, it rears its head again when the scientific “environment” for some reason makes transmutation appear more plausible.

Michael Polanyi, one the great scientists of the twentieth century, gives the following fascinating account:

“Observations which can be interpreted as a transmutation of chemical elements frequently occur in the laboratory. But actual claims by reputable investigators of having achieved a transmutation appear only at times when the possibility of such a process is for some reason considered plausible. In earlier times when the assumptions of alchemy were generally accepted by scientists, such claims were of course quite common. Newton considered the fact that water, even after repeated distillation, still left behind on evaporation a slight earthy residue as a proof for the spontaneous transformation of part of the water into earth.

“Observations of a similar kind no doubt continued to be made throughout the centuries, but since the acceptance at the end of the eighteenth century of Lavoisier's views on the nature of the elements they were explained as mere dirt-effects. Such at least was the case up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Then, suddenly, under the stimulus of Rutherford's and Soddy's discovery of radioactive transmutation (1902-3) a series of erroneous claims were made by careful observers to have achieved in their own way a transmutation of elements.

“A. T. Cameron (1907) and Sir William Ramsay (1908) announced the transformation of copper into lithium as a result of the action of alpha-particles. In 1913 Collie and Patterson claimed the formation of helium and neon by electric discharge through hydrogen. After these claims had been disproved, no new ones appeared until 1922, when the discovery made three years earlier by Rutherford of certain forms of artificial transmutation encouraged a new wave of similar claims based on erroneous evidence.

“The transmutation of mercury into gold under the effect of electric discharges was reported quite independently by Miethe and Stammreich in Germany and Nagaoka in Japan. Smits and Karssen reported the transformation of lead into mercury and thallium. Paneth and Peters claimed the transformation of hydrogen into helium under the influence of a platinum catalyst.

“All these claims, however, had to be abandoned in the end. The last of them was given up in 1928. A year later came the establishment of the theory of radioactive disintegration which showed clearly that the attempts described above to transform elements had been futile. Since then, up to this date no new claims were made in this direction although evidence of transformation of the kind put forward by Newton, Ramsay, Paneth, etc., is always at hand. It is now disregarded because it is no longer considered as sufficiently plausible.” (Michael Polanyi, Science Faith and Society, [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964] p.91)

What these examples illustrate is the circularity of all scientific theorising and research. Prevailing theories have a tendency so to inform the research environment that not only will they direct research and experimentation, but they will be confirmed by experimental results. Each theory operates as a net which will determine what size fish are caught from the outset. Prevailing theories tell scientists what to look for, what they should expect to find, and when the duly expected findings are produced the theory is confirmed and has a tendency to become more entrenched.

Circularity is not isolated to science—although that profession has sometimes been found trumpeting a pseudo-objectivity as its great strength, and has sought to ignore the “queering” effect of prevailing theories—but, in fact, circularity (or subjectivity) is inescapable in all human knowledge and learning. It is only the disingenuous who pretend otherwise. Intellectual rigour, on the other hand, requires critical self-consciousness of the tilting and conditioning effect of fundamental premises and theories.

All theories tend to be self-amplifying. Thus, when contradictory evidence is produced which undermines or calls a theory into question, the theory is not thereby quickly abandoned. Rather, the theory will be referred back to for explanations and reasons which would account for the factual deviation. The more this occurs, the more the theory becomes meaningless, as it is made to account for all conceivable observations and data—even those which appear contradictory. The more widespread the prevailing assumptions are, the more self-amplifying the theory is likely to be; the more it is likely to account for all data no matter how contradictory, to the point where it can actually predict nothing because it accounts for everything.

A current example is the theory of anthropogenic global warming. As more and more evidence emerges of global temperatures actually falling, and the earth cooling, the protagonists claim that their theories (and the models which explicate them) account for such contradictory data.

Another current example is evolutionism. Because it is grounded in non-verifiable and non-falsifiable philosophical beliefs, evolutionism has become thoroughly self-amplifying, explaining everything, accounting for everything, and so predicting nothing.

In the end, the sheer meaninglessness of such self-amplifying “meta-theories” results in them being finally abandoned. But because reputations, careers, and credibility of both people and institutions are at stake, this process can take a long time.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A Very Inconvenient "Truth"

Evolutionism: It's the Stupidist Thing

Recently, we posted on Evolutionism, arguing that it was not genuinely believed by anyone anymore. You can read the original post here.

One “David W” was sufficiently generous to spend time seeking to bring us out of the Dark Ages into the realm of Enlightenment. We thought that the interchange might be both interesting and instructive.

David W: Opening Rebuttal...

Congratulations, I think this might be the single stupidist thing I've read about Evolution. Let's see how much ignorance you've crammed into your few hundred words shall we.

But for the rest of mankind, evolution is profoundly disbelieved.
Nope, of New Zealanders are on the side of reason (sic) and even in the very protestant USA it's nearly half.

Evolutionism functions as a warranting concept akin to the social contract
I'm tempted to quote Steve Jones "Evolution is to the social sciences as statues are to birds: a convenient platform upon which to deposit badly digested ideas." The modern evolutionary synthesis is a scientific theory - the framework by which all biology makes sense.

It places man at the top of the tree of being
Nope, the great chain of being is a pre-evolutionary idea. It survived into early evolutionary thinking but modern evolutionary biology has no place for it - after all every species has been evolving for as long as every other.

It removes the idea of sin and judgment in the hands of an angry God
Except most people that support evolution are theists...

But no-one really believes it. Even the academic and scientific propagators and defenders of evolutionism are just going through the motions
Repeating something doesn’t make it true. Evidence?

We know that no-one really believes the theory, because no-one is prepared to stand up and advocate, much less live out, evolutionism as an ethic. No-one is prepared to be evolutionistic
Because evolution is a scientific theory. Not a warranting concept. I'm developing a sinking suspicion that this whole essay can be put to rest by paraphrasing Hume "is doesn't mean ought". Evolution is a scientific fact and the modern synthesis the theoretical frame work we use to understand it. The very fact we could choose to live an evolutionary life means we shouldn't to it.

"survival of the fittest" is a tautology - something that is true by definition. But let's not get side tracked on technicalities.
Oh but lets (sic), since you've again shown how little you understand about the theory you would dam. (sic) The phrase "survival of the fittest" doesn't adequately describe evolution by natural selection. Evolution only works on heritable traits - the similar (less snappy) phrase might be something "The fittest survive and reproduce, and therefore pass on those heritable traits that have allowed them to survive and reproduce" Which isn't true by definition.

Evolutionists at the very least should be expected to ensure the survival of the species
The phrase "The survival of the species" has no place in evolutionary biology.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum First Reply

Hi, David

Appreciate your sarcasm. It brightened up what might have been an otherwise dull day.

Some ripostes:

1."Evolution is profoundly disbelieved": you appear to have missed the point of the argument. However, thankfully truth is not a question of opinion polls or numbers who believe or disbelieve. The vast majority of scientists, illuminati, nobility, and peasantry in late medieval Spain believed the world to be flat. That did not make it so.

2. If evolutionism is to be taken seriously as a scientific theory, perhaps you would do us the service of specifying under what terms, conditions, experimental results, and evidence it would be falsified. We, for our part, suspect that it is impossible to falsify evolutionism. But maybe you could put us straight.

3."All other species have been evolving together". That's cosy for all of us species--except presumably those which have become extinct. Not such a collegial outcome for them. Further, most greenists argue that man is the most rapacious, destructive, and deadly creature on the planet with respect to other species. Within the frame of evolutionism, would not this qualify him to be the highest on the chain of being? Apparently he is the best at surviving, and therefore, "fitter" than all other species on the planet.

Further, we think it is a reasonable proposition that within evolutionist terms, those creatures which eat other species for dinner, would be regarded as being "higher" species than those they eat, would they not? At least those they eat did not survive, so were less fit. Those that were eaten apparently lacked certain key heritable traits that were crucial to survival as they were hunted down and killed.

Within evolutionism's world-view, we believe that masticating on a mutton chop entitles us to conclude that man is a higher creature because he has overcome any threats to his survival that have been posed by sheep, but, regrettably the poor sheep has not been able to develop heritable traits that have enabled him to survive man.

And to think that we breed sheep for the purpose of killing them to eat. Not only have they been unable to survive the threats posed to them by man, but are denigrated to the point of being enslaved by man to do his bidding, his will, and to feed his belly and to clothe his back. Sounds a lower order animal to us.

4.You may want to be cautious citing Hume. His scepticism might prove too much for you. You surely cannot move from the "is" to the "ought" if you are a materialistic empiricist. You cannot even prove cause and effect, as Hume himself so courageously admitted. There's a bit of a challenge for the good old materialist empiricist scientists. Moreover, evolutionism is not entitled to employ language that indicates a moral imperative or obligation (e.g. "ought", "should") Evolutionism as a theory of being and existence only recognises the "is"; "ought" is a meaningless concept within its frame.

5."The very fact that we could choose to live an evolutionary life means we shouldn't do it" See, we told you so. You don't really believe evolutionism either. "Should" has no meaning in an evolutionist cosmogony. You are engaged in precisely the kind of equivocation and double dealing that our original post was pointing out.

6.Adding more words to the phrase "survival of the fittest" does not avoid the tautology. It only obfuscates and obscures it. But maybe camouflage is your real intent.

Finally, we wonder whether its a bit elitist of you to allege that bird excreta is badly digested. After all, the bird has been evolving as long as you. Who are you to hold such low opinion of your fellow evolutionary creature?

Have a good one.

David W: Second Rebuttal ...

Ok, please read this slowly. Evolutionary biology is a Scientific Theory. Scientific theories are frameworks that let us understand how the natural world works. They are not guides for how would should live. Of course you are right in your trivial point that "ought" has no meaning in the "evolutionist" frame. That's the point. There is no Copernican ethics, nor a quantum or a special relativistic one because these simply aren't tools for running a society. Instead we acknowledge the uncontroversial fact that evolution has happened and look to other spheres (religion for most evolutionists, secular ethics for others) for our moral guidance. But let's look at a few of your specific points...

If evolutionism is to be taken seriously as a scientific theory, perhaps you would do us the service of specifying under what terms, conditions, experimental results, and evidence it would be falsified.

Sure. If we take confirmation of novel predictions as the sine qua non of a scientific theory then Evolution by Natural Selection has passed one of the greatest tests in the history of science. Darwin's theory, published before we knew about genes let alone DNA, argued that life arose by splitting of lineages (the 'tree of life') and so should fit into a nested hierarchy. Morphological evidence was available to Darwin's generation and supported this prediction. But more than 100 years later we had a completely new set of information that we could use to test this prediction - DNA. A generation of scientists (lead by a Kiwi in Alan Wilson) went out and tested the predictions of evolution and confirmed them. If DNA had revealed a completely different hierarchy then evolution would have been falsified. Similarly biogeography and the fossil record provide potential falsifications (if they revealed different stories that the morphological and molecular evidence).

As far as mechanisms the modern evolutionary synthesis argues adaptation happens thanks to the accumulation of beneficial mutations. If you put generation of E. coli through a new environment and couldn't find beneficial mutations you start to pretty (sic) suspicious. There are experiments than can show adaptive mutations are random too. (BTW it’s very hard to think of a single observation that would falsify any theory within science cf this thesis.)

"All other species have been evolving together". That's cosy for all of us species--except presumably those which have become extinct. Not such a collegial outcome for them.
Not really want I meant. It's that in evolutionary terms every organism on earth is the current culmination of a series of 4 billions years of ancestor-descendant relationships borne from contingency, selection and good old stochastity. Clearly all those ancestor reproduced, and since that’s the only criterion that one could use to argue a species is 'higher' than another it’s hard to see the great chain as meaning anything. Most people would place mammals 'above' insects but ants produce societies many million times bigger than themselves, farm fungus, forge complex relationships other insects, wage war on other colonies and construct their environment to suit their needs. Whereas anteaters have quite long noses. Even an ant being eaten by an anteater might be doing better for itself evolutionarily - ants or more closely related to their sisters than their offspring so can benefit from laying down their life for the queen. (BTW that's another novel prediction of modern evolutionary biology...)

Adding more words to the phrase "survival of the fittest" does not avoid the tautology. Define tautology. "Survival of the fittest" doesn't describe all of Natural Selection, just one bit. The bit that makes it interesting is something of things (sic) that make an organism fit are heritible (sic) and thus those traits that are both heritiable (sic) and fit will propergate (sic). There is no tautology there.

John Tertullian and Contra Celsum: Second Reply

Hi, David. We have read your latest post very, very slowly. Unfortunately, it does not improve the slower you get.

Nevertheless we will attempt one last herculean effort to work through the issues with you.
Our debate is over evolutionism. Our contention has been that no-one really believes it. Your contention is that evolutionism is both true and is a fact and that you for one most certainly do believe it to be true.

Evolutionism is a cosmogony that can be defined (to use your terminology) as 4 billion years of contingency, randomness and irregularity during which ancestor-descendant developed to the point the natural world is now.

As a cosmogony, evolutionism seeks to explain all that has come into existence. It seeks to explain how the natural world works. (The natural world, of course, is not restricted just to sentient life. Within the frame of evolutionism, it includes all that is.) It offers a causal explanation for being itself--all matter and life. Therefore evolutionism explains what the world is, how the natural order or the universe came to be the way that it is, where we humans came from and how we came to be the way that we are, what we are like, and how the natural order works. That is what a cosmogony does. That is clearly the truth claim of evolutionism.

So far so good. We move on. Either evolutionism as a cosmogony is true or not. If true, then it correctly and truthfully explains all there is. It explains all there is about you, since you are part of the totality of the natural order, all of which has been produced by evolutionism.

Scientific theories may fail to act as guides for how we should live, but cosmogonies do act as guides. They also determine the truth of all scientific theories. If a scientific theory is not congruent with the cosmogony, assuming the cosmogony is true, the theory has to be wrong.

Now, if evolutionism is true your statement, "it is not a guide for how we should live" has no meaning whatsoever. There is no "should" in evolutionism, and evolutionism, as a cosmogony accounts for all there is. This is to say there is no "should" in being and the natural world. To pretend that there are such things as "morals" "ethics" or to believe that there is a right way that "society should be run" has absolutely no meaning within the cosmogony of evolutionism. Such language and such concepts are inconsistent with the way the natural order actually is. They are falsehoods or myths or fairy tales. You, as the representative and exponent of evolutionism, cannot be allowed to use such language without recognising that you are implicitly denying the very cosmogony you are trying to espouse.

Now we realise that this may be a bit painful, but thems the facts.

Nor is it reasonable to imply that evolutionism partially accounts for everything there is, such that we must look elsewhere for things like ethics.

If such language does have meaning, if words like "ethics", "morals", "ought", "right" "wrong", "fair", "just" do have meaning, it proves philosophically and rationally that evolutionism as a cosmogony cannot be true. So which is it to be? You cannot have it both ways, unless of course fundamental contradictions are of no concern to you. That might possibly be the case. In a random world anything is possible, except meaning, in the final analysis. But, then again, if you really believed that, why would you waste your time and ours attempting to argue a point of view. So, you both want to assert that the world is the product of 4 billion years of randomness, and you want to argue for it at the same time. If your assertion were true, your argument would be a nullity. Universal randomness cannot be argued for.

We can go further. You state that we need to look elsewhere than the natural order to find guides as to how we ought to live. Upon the sea of randomness posited by evolutionism--that sea of randomness which you claim explains how the "natural world works"--there can be no guide to anything. "Guides" and "randomness" are mutually contradictory.

Moreover, you make mention of looking to other "spheres" such as religion or secular ethics to supply what evolutionism "lacks". There can be no other spheres. Evolutionism as a cosmogony either explains all there is, or in the end it explains nothing.

These other spheres, whatever they may be, must also be products of the billions of years of the randomness of evolution. These other spheres can no more tell us right, wrong, ethics--whatever--for they too are part of the natural order, and are subject to the same randomness. That's what a cosmogony is, after all.

As someone once said, if evolutionism were true, it could never be described. If it has been described, it cannot possibly be true. Since you have made a good fist of describing it, and arguing for it, by your very doing so, you have proven that it cannot be true. Which is to say that you, if you really sat down and thought about it critically, don't believe it either.

And that is the whole point.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

ChnMind 2.5 Gradualism and the Kingdom

The Kingdom Comes Gradually, and Therefore Peacefully

The Kingdom of God is both radical and revolutionary.

It is radical insofar as it affects, controls, and commands all reality, all culture, all human acts and endeavour—the entire created order. It is revolutionary insofar as it turns the world of sin and every sinful culture upside down. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Consequently, whilst the Kingdom has power structures, it does not deal with, nor replicate, the power structures of this sinful world. It is far too radical and revolutionary to accommodate the governing structures of Athens.

This does not make the Kingdom “other worldly” in the sense of being beyond this world or belonging to some kind of platonic upper storey, irrelevant to the realpolitik of the material, tangible world. On the contrary, the Kingdom reflects a restoration of the world as it was created both to be and become in the first place. The Kingdom is not tangential to this world, as if its subjects are transients, passing through to another realm. The only transient element in the world is sin and its effects. Sin is the true transient. Athens, representing and reflecting sin and unbelief, is itself transient; it will eventually pass away from human history as the Kingdom of God comes and replaces it.

This is the prophetic declaration made when Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream. “In the days of those kings,” says Daniel, that is, the days of ancient Greece and Rome, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2: 44) This Kingdom would become a great mountain that would fill the whole earth. (Daniel 2: 35). The prophetic declaration was reified and confirmed when the Lord pronounced the Great Commission: go and “make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18—20).

Between Athens and Jerusalem there are irreconcilable differences so radical and so revolutionary that any appearance of similarity is just that—an appearance only. But one of the the glories of the Kingdom is that, despite its radical and revolutionary nature, it comes to pass gradually, by degrees. Just as the individual believer, whilst radically born again from above, and whilst (as far as Athens is concerned) being truly revolutionary in his goals, motives and standards, nevertheless is transformed gradually throughout his life from infancy to maturity in Christ, so also the Kingdom of God itself comes gradually upon the earth.

The constitutional documents of the Kingdom talk about individuals “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3: 18). So also, the broader institutions of the Kingdom. One of the realities which makes this so is the promise of God to work across and through generations of Believers. It is generally the case that children of godly parents learn habits and practices from their parents, such that they stand on their shoulders and are able to achieve, in the Kingdom, far more than their parents. They start their Kingdom service from a higher level, as it were. This does not happen randomly, but by the Spirit and power of the Lord Himself.

Over time, as more and more people in a community become Christians, as they walk more faithfully and consistently in Christian truth, their wider cultural influence and power grows, because they are acting with the created order, not against it. The Lord blesses them and they prosper by His hand. The institutions of law and government, justice and judgment, education and knowledge, commerce and charity, become increasingly conformed to the constitutional documents of the Kingdom, reflecting the beliefs and world view of its citizens.

As a cosequence, perverse practices and institutions fade away. They end up having neither protagonists nor customers. Homosexuality, casinos, abortion, and brothels all fall into this category. The notion that homosexuality is an inherited, genetic alternative—when disbelieved and rejected by the vast majority of the populace, and when that rejection is Spiritual, grounded upon the authority of God's Holy Word—fewer and fewer people end up adopting the lifestyle. All the institutions in Athens which currently support and promulgate the sin—school curricula, newsmedia, television and film, the law (to name a few)—eventually cease and desist, and propagate the opposite. Homosexuality, as a result, attenuates and falls away. Even Unbelievers become conformed at least outwardly to standards and mores of Belief.

The same dynamic applies to many “social” evils—they die off, having grown in the first instance less common or influential, in the face of the growing influence of Jerusalem. There are many public and social evils in Athens which it behoves the citizens of Jerusalem not to get too wound up about in the meantime—without ever laying aside the biblical condemnation of such evils. They will die away in due time. They will be dealt to, and with, gradually. Polygamy and slavery are two excellent historical examples of evil institutions which had died out under the influence of the Gospel. (As Athens has regained a temporary ascendancy in our culture, incidentally, both polygamy and slavery have started returning and are becoming institutionalised once again. Now that civil unions have been recognized, polygamy necessarily will come to be protected. More women and children are being trafficked and sold as sexual slaves now than at any time in the last century. This is not to be marveled at. It is to be expected. These perversions are inseparable from the very essence of Athens.) But as the Kingdom comes, these and many more evils will simply die away.

The gradualism of the Kingdom's coming betrays its radical and revolutionary nature. It is so radical and so revolutionary that it can only come gradually. Otherwise it would tear up the very fabric of the creation itself. Time is not master but servant. A thousand years to the Lord is but one day. The wheels of God's truth and justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Meditation on Text of the Week

Worship that is Both True and Spiritual

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth.
John 4: 23,24
Our Lord made this declaration amidst a discussion about the right way to worship God. Such a discussion is vitally important, although in modern days little thought and study appears to be given to such things. Today, so much worship within the Church is focused upon man, his ideas, desires, impressions, and upon human impact. This is what our ancient fathers called “will worship”—that is, worship practices that arose out of human desire and determinations, not from God's direction, instructions and commands.

Our fathers also declared, truthfully, that God alone can determine how and where He is to be worshiped.
It is a divine prerogative, not a human determination. The Second Commandment explicitly forbids worship that is “graven”—that is, crafted or made up by man.

Worship which comes from God and which is right and honouring and pleasing to God has always been in the Spirit and in Truth. This was equally true under the Older Covenant as in the Newer Covenant. Thus, when David worshiped before the Lord in Jerusalem at the Tent of Meeting, he was worshiping as the Lord had commanded (that is, in Truth) and he was being led by the Spirit and enabled by the Spirit of God to worship. All worship under the Older Covenant was required to be in Spirit and in Truth, if it were to be pleasing to God. This is the clear import of our Lord's declaration that “those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

The discussion in which Messiah was engaged in our text was with a Samaritan woman, who was arguing the cause of Samaritan worship—that is, worship upon Mount Gerazim, not in Jerusalem. It turns out that Samaritan worship was neither in Spirit, nor in Truth. It was not worship as commanded by God: therefore it was neither in Truth, nor being led by His Spirit. Messiah underscored this, when He declared to the woman: “You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know.” They worshiped in error and ignorance.

The Jews, however, worshiped in Truth, for salvation was from the Jews. They were worshiping in the place commanded by the Lord, where He had set up His Tent of Meeting. Jerusalem was where the Lord required His people to meet with Him. All worship in Spirit and Truth, therefore, had to be focused upon that holy place—under the Older Covenant.

But change was in the air. This is to say that God's directions and commands concerning worship were changing. An hour was coming, and now is, said our Lord, when God would not be worshiped neither at Mount Gerazim nor in Jerusalem. Why? Although Jerusalem had been the place where the Lord had established His Name and Presence, it would soon be no longer. Jerusalem would become as benighted and cursed as a place and order of worship as Mount Gerazim had always been. The Jews had made the temple a den of thieves. They had utterly corrupted the true worship of God—even as they had in the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

Would this mean an end to the true worship of God? No. True worship would continue: it would continue according to His commands and direction and as led by His Spirit. But, coincident with the Gospel being on the cusp of being taken throughout the whole earth, to the uttermost parts of the earth, no one place would be designated as where the Lord would cause His presence to dwell.

Worship under the Newer Covenant would involve pilgrimage no longer. Pilgrimage would no longer be part of worship in Spirit and in Truth. Under the Newer Covenant, there was to be no one holy place. The whole earth was to become holy as He would come to be be worshiped everywhere. “For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them,” He declared. (Matthew 18:20) The hour of which He spoke has come indeed.

Those who under the Newer Covenant mistakenly believe there is one (or more than one) holy place to which faithful pilgrims must repair in order to be blessed by God and to appear before Him are worshiping neither in Spirit nor in Truth.