321 Readable Histories

Beginning with the “father of history,” Herodotus, most historians crafted interesting stories designed to appeal to the reading public.  Then, in the 19th century, German historians determined to make their craft more scientific, more fact-focused, and wrote increasingly for others in the profession who were compiling (in accord with positivistic scientists) a tapestry of information.  Diligently souring archives and seeking “objectivity” was certainly admirable and useful, but what was too often lost was the literary skill needed to interest general readers.  Fortunately, there are still many histories written (often by journalists as well as scholars with literary skills) that deserve being considered as “readable” histories.  One was given to me by a good friend, Dr. Dean Nelson, who as a journalism professor appreciates effective writing and is a friend of one if its authors (Lynn Vincent).  In Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year fight to exonerate an Innocent Man (New York:  Simon & Schuster, c. 2018), Vincent and Sara Vladic tell the story of a flagship of the World War II Pacific fleet, basing their presentation in extensive interviews as well as library research.  When she was sunk, in literally the final days of the war, it “was the greatest sea disaster in the history of the American Navy” (p. 2).

Rather than write a strictly chronological account, the authors weave together technical details regarding the USS Indianapolis, personal anecdotes regarding her officers and crew, explanations regarding naval strategy and policy, insights from Japanese sources, and political perspectives regarding America’s efforts in WWII.   They thus provide highly detailed, accurate information in an engrossing manner.  For example, they describe the 610’ craft herself—construction materials, physical appearance, guns, 250 ton turrets, bulkheads, armor, etc.  They also provide pictures.  Christened in 1932, “Indy was grand but svelte.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt made her his ship of state and invited world leaders and royalty to dance under the stars on her polished teak decks” (p. 1).  One of the Navy’s 18 “Treaty Cruisers,” the Indianapolis was built to meet “treaty displacement limitations that produced thinly armored vessels shipbuilders referred to as ‘tin clads.’”  The men who manned them, however, “often fell in love with their speed and grace,” and one of the Indy’s sailors, 19 year-old Seaman Second Class L.C. Cox, simply “stood and gawked” when he saw the ship.  “She was colossal.  Sleek.  Magnificent.  He could hardly wait to get aboard” (p. 27). 

Inasmuch as the authors can make the details of a warship interesting, it’s inevitable they’ll be even more winsome when describing the men who manned her.  They provide vignettes of admirals and captains, cooks and gunnery sergeants, Japanese submariners and naval officers.  They not only portray the men but tell about their girlfriends and wives, their local backgrounds and personal proclivities.  A central figure in the story, Captain Charles McVay III, was the son of a Navy officer who’d fought in the Spanish American War and WWI, wherein he commanded two battleships.  Unconcerned with his son’s self-esteem, he routinely unleashed “a steady stream of sharp-tongued verdicts on the younger McVay’s Navy performance and demanded that he cover himself with glory befitting an admiral’s son” (p. 28).  The younger man, like has father, graduated from the Navy Academy, was commissioned in 1920, and rapidly rose through the ranks.  During WWII, he received a Silver Star for gallantry for his action in the Solomon Islands.  He was sensitive to the needs of his men and worked hard to maintain morale.  

During its activities in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the Indianapolis took part in many battles, including the Battle of Okinawa, where the Japanese fought tenaciously and sent hundreds of suicide-bombers to attack the American fleet.  The conflict was costly:  “36 ships sunk, 368 damaged, 763 aircraft lost, more than 12,000 soldiers, sailors, and Marines dead, drowned. or missing” (p. 72).  One of the ships struck was the Indianapolis, leaving her with “damage too serious for repairs at sea” (p. 35).  So she limped back to San Francisco to undergo repairs, and her captain, Charles McVay, assumed she’d see no more combat since the war seemed to be quickly approaching its end.  But as soon as the repairs were done McVay was called to a highly-secret meeting and ordered to take an important shipment back to Okinawa.

Though Japanese forces were retreating, it had become evident to Admiral Nimitz and President Truman that any invasion of the home islands might incur ghastly casualties.  Serious discussions in the very highest sectors ensued, and it was debated whether or not to use the recently-tested atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender.  Using an airplane to transport the bomb across the Pacific was considered imprudent, so it was decided to use Indy for the task.  “The contents of the shipment were not to be revealed to anyone aboard Indianapolis, even McVay” (p. 68).  On July 16, 1945, her voyage began.  The cruiser was built for speed, and McVay ordered her to move fast, since he’d “been told that ever day we take off the trip is a day off the war” (p. 95).  Ten days later Indy anchored at Tinian Island and unloaded her secret cargo.  It would then be placed in the hold of the Enola Gay, which would on August 5 make history by dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 

Having completed her mission, the Indianapolis sailed from Okinawa to Guam, preparing to sail on to Leyte, in the Philippines.  No naval officers thought this journey would be particularly risky since it would be on the periphery of the combat zone.  As Commodore “Jimmy” Carter said, “‘The Japs are on their last legs and there’s nothing to worry about” (p. 116).  Some intelligence reports indicated a handful of enemy submarines were prowling about in the area, but they were thought to be some distance from the Indy’s projected route.  The ship sailed on July 28 and planned to arrive in Leyte on July 31.  Following established procedures, the ship zigzagged during daylight but resumed base course when it became completely dark.  Then, just before midnight, July 30, a Japanese submarine commanded by Mochutsura Hashimoto launched six torpedoes toward the Indianapolis.  Built for speed, Indy had rather thin armor plates and some authorities had speculated that even one torpedo could sink her.  The Japanese torpedo “carried a huge explosive payload designed to mortally wound battleships and cruisers” (p. 151).   Two of them struck the Indianapolis, and she rapidly began sinking, disappearing 12 minutes. 

Facing the inevitable, Captain McVay ordered the men to abandon ship.  Many had died in the explosions, of course, but some 800 managed to escape and survive the initial disaster.  Yet their trials had only begun!  Clinging to life rafts and debris, they assumed rescue forces (planes and ships) would soon arrive to save them.  Indeed one of the great questions the authors raise is this:  “How was it possible that no one had known Indianapolis was missing?” (p. 262).  But day after day the survivors scoured the horizon and saw no one coming to their assistance.  The merciless sun seared their bodies and there was little food or water to sustain them.  Then came the sharks!  Since the authors interviewed many of those who survived, their description of these days renders the men’s suffering palpable.  Many of them had been injured by the torpedo blasts and quickly expired.  Each day hundreds of them disappeared.  The men prayed fervently.  Many of them behaved courageously.  And, of course, some behaved abominably.  After three days in the water they were spotted by an airplane and help began to arrive, with Captain McVay and the last survivors being rescued on August 3.  They were “ emaciated and shark-bitten.  Some had lost as much as forty pounds.  Their skin looked like burned bacon and was pocked with oozing sores.  Many were delirious” (p. 273).  In all, of the 1200 crewmen manning Indy, only 311 survived (a handful only for a brief time).  Sadly enough, hundreds more would have survived if rescue efforts had come quickly. 

Almost as soon as the tragedy transpired, it was necessary to blame someone!  Trying to escape personal accountability, high-ranking Navy officers (preeminently Fleet Admiral King), tried to blame Captain McVay and ordered him brought to trial for the disaster!  Amazingly, he was the only captain of the hundreds of Amerrican ships sunk in the war to be brought to trial.  But he was, at the end of 1945, court-martialed and his naval career effectively ended—finishing his career stuck in an insignificant posting in New Orleans.  At the time—and increasingly as the years passed—many observers thought McVay was punished to protect some of his superiors who were actually responsible.  Thus the authors devote a significant section of the book to describing “the Fifty-Year fight to exonerate an Innocent Man,” for “to a man, the survivors believed McVay was innocent” (p. 292).  Meticulous researchers and courageous witnesses were able, in time, to provide irrefutable evidence that McVay had been railroaded and was in fact innocent of the charges leveled against him.  But it would not be until George W. Bush was President that McVay was finally exonerated, so in the end his reputation (if not his career) was redeemed. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now and then I read a book I wish I could have written.  This is particularly true of John Sedgwick’s Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation (New York:  Simon & Schuster, c. 2018; Kindle Edition), since it deals with the same material I detailed in my 1976 PhD dissertation, entitled Brother Brother Slew:  Factionalism in the Cherokee Nation, 1835-1865.  (In fact, Sedgwick references my dissertation several times in his footnotes, demonstrating how exhaustively he researched the subject!).  The factionalism I discussed is portrayed by Sedgwick as a conflict between two men who personified this conflict:  “The Ridge—short for He Who Walks on Mountaintops—was a big, imposing, copper-skinned Cherokee, a fearsome warrior turned plantation owner, whose voice quieted any room, and whose physique awed anyone who crossed his path.  Smaller, almost twenty years younger, [John] Ross was descended from Scottish traders and looked like one:  a pale, unimposing half-pint who wore eastern clothes, from laced shoes to a top hat.  If The Ridge radiated the power of a Cherokee who could drop a buck at a hundred paces, Ross could have strolled into an Edinburgh dinner party without receiving undue attention.  Tellingly, The Ridge spoke almost no English, and Ross almost no Cherokee” (p. 3).  Ross and Ridge were one-time friends and allies who fell apart under the pressures for removal applied by President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.  During those years there erupted a “blood feud” which morphed “from personal vendetta to clan war to a civil war that swept through the entire Cherokee Nation before it got caught up in the even greater cataclysm of the American War Between the States” (p. 4).

Sedgwick devotes the first section of his book (“Paradise Lost”) to the history of the Cherokees during from 1770-1814.   (Invoking the word “paradise” to describe that world reveals the author’s rather romantic approach to the natives, inasmuch as my reading of the primary sources certainly unveils a great deal of violence, blood feuds, revenge killings, superstition, insecurity, factionalism, etc. that made the Cherokees something less than Edenic peoples!  Anyone wanting a more realistic depiction of Native Americans would do well to read the  multi-volume Jesuit Relations, or Kevin Seiper’s Conquistador Voices, or Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years).  During these years the Cherokees watched their territory shrink as a result of conflicts with the first English and then the Americans.  Military conflicts and treaties and trade brought the Indians and Anglo-Americans together in disparate ways, leading to the emergence of a unique Cherokee embrace of the white man’s “civilization.” 

Embodying this transition was The Ridge, formerly known as a great warrior and hunter, who declared:  “‘The hunting is almost done & we must now live by farming, raising corn & cotton & horses & hogs & sheep.  We see that those Cherokees who do this live well” (p. 69).  He and his wife discarded “the habits of their race” and took up “Christian employments.”  Intrinsically industrious, The Ridge soon built a fine house and oversaw a thriving plantation.  He supported the political organization of the tribe, beginning in 1808 with a tribal council passing its first “law.”  He sent his children to a nearby Moravian school, insisting they become literate and ready to prosper in the emerging Cherokee Nation.  Initially uninterested in the missionaries’ Gospel message, he was in time drawn to “the fall and salvation of man” story they shared.  When the great Tecumseh (a Shawnee from Indiana) came visiting in 1812, he implored the Cherokees to join in his conspiracy, averring “that the Great Spirit was furious to see the Cherokee with the whites’ gristmills, cotton clothes, liquor, featherbeds, and house cats” (p. 93).  But the Ridge and most Cherokees declined to join him. 

In fact, when the War of 1812 broke out and Andrew Jackson launched an expedition to punish the “Red Stick” Creeks in 1813, The Ridge and many Cherokees joined him, enthusiastically killing and scalping their ancient foes at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.  For his warrior-skills and courage, The Ridge was made a major—thenceforth to be called, much to his pleasure, “Major Ridge.”  In a critical phase of the battle, he killed six knife-wielding Red Stick warriors, and Jackson’s ultimate success in the battle at New Orleans was facilitated by his Cherokee allies.  Sadly enough, while the Cherokees were helping Jackson, the Tennessee militia had charged through their lands “like an avenging army, stealing horses, slaughtering hogs and cattle, destroying corncribs, tearing down fences, seizing private stores of corn, maple sugar, and clothing and what few possessions the Cherokee could call their own” (p. 115).  Helping Jackson would not, in the long run, help them!  In fact, when they asked him for compensation for these “spoliations,” he

confiscated some of the Cherokee lands!  Like Major Ridge’s son, John, began to realize, “Old Hickory” was also a “snake in the grass.”

To establish themselves in the face of the advancing frontier—some 14,000 Indians confronting hundreds of thousands of Anglo-Americans (mainly Georgians) forging westward—the  Cherokees rapidly formed a government following the pattern of the U.S. Constitution, the first to be crafted by any Indian tribe.  They launched a national newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, thanks to the phenomenal work of Sequoyah, an illiterate genius who single-handedly designed a Cherokee syllabary that enabled adult Cherokees to become literate in a few days.  In fact, “it was so easy to learn that schools didn’t bother to teach it, since children could pick it up on their own.  Remember the eighty-six symbols, sound them out, and you had it.  More than a Gutenberg, Sequoyah was a Leonardo, an inventor who created not just an invention, but modernity.  It is hard to find in all of recorded history as dramatic a transformation of a people in such a brief period of time.  It unleashed an outpouring of notes, letters, essays, records, reports, newspapers, Bible translations, books” (p. 146).  Using the weapons of the press and petitions and lawsuits and delegations to Washington, the Cherokees (led by Principle Chief John Ross) endeavored to deal with the white man on his own terms, vowing:  “Not one foot of land in cession.”  And he was fully supported by Major Ridge, elected as “first counselor to the principal chief, a post that made him, after Ross, the second most powerful man in the nation” (p. 170).

But they faced an implacable foe in Andrew Jackson, who was elected President in 1828.  One of his first concerns, following his inauguration, was passing and implementing the Indian Removal Act.  All Indians east of the Mississippi were to be driven from their homes and resettled in the West.  In resistance, the Cherokees won important legal victories (most notably in the Supreme Court in Worcester vs. Georgia) and found much support throughout the United States, especially in religious sectors.  Jackson, however, cared little for courts or public opinion.  “Incredible as it seemed to Ridge and Boudinot, Jackson had indeed decided that this epic Supreme Court ruling was merely John Marshall’s opinion, nothing more. ‘John Marshall has made his decision,’ Jackson was said to have declared, and rather idly.  ‘Let him enforce it’” (p. 193).  Seeing the writing on the wall, some Cherokees decided it would be wiser to remove to the West (where there was already a settlement of Western Cherokees) on their own rather than wait for the U.S. to force them.  Thus Major Ridge and his extended family, supported by a largely mixed-blood faction, formed what would be known as the Treaty Party—Cherokees willing to negotiate the best removal treaty possible.  They signed a treaty offered them by Jackson’s envoy (Rev. John F. Schermerhorn, a former missionary), taking $4.5 million for their eastern lands and getting lands in Indian Territory.   Though John Ross and the national assembly staunchly rejected the spurious “treaty,” President Jackson claimed it was legitimate and submitted it to the U.S. Senate for approval.  There Jackson “prevailed by just one vote beyond the two-thirds needed.  So, on May 23, 1836, the New Echota Treaty became the law of the United States—and this was one law that Andrew Jackson had every intention of enforcing” (p. 248). 

The Treaty Party (numbering about 1000, including many slaves), led by Major Ridge, his son John, Elias Boudinot (the editor of The Cherokee Phoenix) and his brother Stand Watie, removed on their own.  In what is today northeastern Oklahoma, they settled amongst the “Old Settlers”—Cherokees (including Sequoah) who had on their own migrated west in the previous two decades.   “‘It is superior to any country I ever saw in the U.S.,’ John Ridge declared after he’d had a chance to ride about the territory.  ‘In a few years it will be the garden spot of the United States’” (p. 269).  But when the U.S. Army rounded up and drove west the bulk of the tribe, they were understandably bitter and disillusioned, blaming both the United States and the Treaty Party.  “Of the 15,000 Cherokee who undertook the journey that became universally known as the Trail of Tears, roughly 2,000 died, and countless more simply disappeared en route.  Two thousand more died after they arrived from disease, starvation, and the misery that comes with such suffering” (p. 188).

Their misery prompted thoughts of revenge, and the tribe’s “blood law” justified them.  “No one was to sell Cherokee land without official permission.  No one.  John Ridge had written this law himself, at his father’s instigation.  The fury had been smoldering for some time, possibly from the moment the ink was dry on the page just after Christmas 1835, now almost three and a half long years before.  Did they not know that the land was not theirs to sell?” (p. 297).  Thus a well-orchestrated plot targeted the leaders of the Treaty Party and assassins killed Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot.  The nation divided into a bitter factional strife, punctuated by clandestine killings and political turbulence, sometimes rendered dormant by peaceful interludes supported by all sides.  “With each side cloaked in righteousness, the killing went on and on.  Murder became so common, said one Cherokee, that it was like hearing ‘of the death of a common dog.’  From the end of 1845 to the end of 1846 [for example], thirty-four killings were recorded, nearly all of them political” (p. 338).

Nevertheless, when the American Civil War broke out, the old Treaty Party folks supported the Confederacy and followed Stand Watie, who was commissioned a colonel, leading a corps known as the Cherokee Mounted Rifles.  Ultimately Watie became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army (the highest rank attained by any Indian during the Civil War), fighting a series of battles in Arkansas and Indian Territory.  “Watie, fighting to the end, was the last Indian commander” to lay down arms “just north of the Texas border.  It was there that Watie officially surrendered, the very last Confederate officer to give up the fight” (p. 392).  The Ross Party, led by John Ross, joined the Union as soon as possible, and many of his followers took up arms and battled for the North in the Cherokee Nation.  “In the Cherokee Nation, the ravages of the American Civil War had been compounded by the internal equivalent. Six thousand Cherokee, a quarter of the population, had died in the battles that occurred in every corner of the nation, or from the terrible starvation and rampant disease that followed them.  It turned 7,000 more out of their homes to roam the landscape in search of sustenance and shelter.  It widowed a third of all Cherokee wives, orphaned a quarter of the children, killed or scattered 300,000 head of cattle, and drove virtually everyone to depend on the federal government dispensing scant aid from the major forts, chiefly Fort Gibson” (p. 394). 

In short:  a Blood Moon shown on the tribe for 30 years wherein “brother brother slew.”  

320 New Conversations on Faith and Science

Two months ago I attended a conference hosted by Faith Bible Church, a large church in The Woodlands, Texas, titled “Reasons 2019:  New Conversations on Faith and Science.  Four speakers were featured, so I read books by each of them before joining others to hear their presentations.  The first presenter was Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Leheigh University and one of the leading thinkers advocating the superiority of “Intelligent Design” over “Natural Selection” as the key to understanding the living world.  Nearly 30 years ago Behe published Darwin’s Black Box:  The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, arguing “that life was designed by an intelligent agent” fully evident in his own study of biochemistry, revealing the intricacies of molecular life, the actual basis of life on planet earth.

A decade later he developed his position in The Edge of Evolution, wherein he noted that current orthodoxy in the scientific community defends a Darwinism composed of “random mutation, natural selection, and common descent.”  Of the three, random mutation is most crucial for understanding the emergence of novel life forms, but “except at life’s periphery, the evidence for a pivotal role for random mutations is terrible.”  In fact, we need the kind of precise, empirical data evident in engineering and anatomy.  For this we must plumb the mysterious realms of tiny molecules, proteins, and DNA.  To do so Behe focused on malaria—“the single best test case of Darwin’s theory.”  Because of its widespread devastation, malaria has been carefully studied for a century, and we can see, in 100 years of malaria parasites’ development, what has taken 100 million years in other species.  Amazingly, “the number of malarial parasites produced in a single year is likely a hundred times greater than the number of all the mammals that have ever lived on earth in the past two hundred million years.”  And though mutations have occurred, rendering us less susceptible to the disease, only minor molecular changes distinguish the parasites.  The Darwinian theory simply cannot explain one of the best-documented stories in biology.

Behe has recently published Darwin Devolves: The New Science about DNA that Challenges Evolution (New York: HarperOne, Kindle Edition, c. 2019).  He begins by reflecting on the philosophical questions he began asking as a boy—where did we come from? why are we here?  And in a simple but deeply profound way there are only two possible world-views addressing such questions, for “the enigma of where nature came from goes back as far as there are written historical records and, with a few lulls, has continued strongly up to the present.”  And despite many variations, “all particular positions on the topic can be considered to be elaborations on either of just two general mutually exclusive views:  (1) contemporary nature, including people, is an accident; and (2) contemporary nature, especially people, is largely intended—the product of a preexisting reasoning mind” (p. 1).  Though the two positions were debated in the Greco-Roman world, the “epitome of science” in antiquity “was arguably the work of the second-century Roman physician Galen, who had a very definite point of view on the origin of nature.  In his book On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, . . . Galen concluded that the human body is the result of a “‘supremely intelligent and powerful divine Craftsman,’ that is, the result of intelligent design” (p. 3).  That ancient insight, Behe holds, has been confirmed by the latest scientific understandings of DNA, and he has written this book “to give readers the scientific and other information needed to confidently conclude for themselves that life was purposely designed” (p. 20).

He begins illustrating his case by discussing polar bears, who have evolved, Darwinists claim,  from black bears and are uniquely adapted to the stark polar landscape.  “Yet,” he says, “a pivotal question has lingered over the past century and a half: How exactly did that happen?” (p. 16).  Just recently new research techniques have revealed the polar bear’s genetic heritage, and the “results have turned the idea of evolution topsy-turvy” (p. 16).  Scrupulous studies have shown that the genetic mutations differentiating polar bears from nearby relatives were “likely to be damaging—that is, likely to degrade or destroy the function of the protein that the gene codes for” (p. 17).  “It seems, then, that the magnificent Ursus maritimus has adjusted to its harsh environment mainly by degrading genes that its ancestors already possessed.  Despite its impressive abilities, rather than evolving it has adapted predominantly by devolving.  What that portends for our conception of evolution is the principal topic of this book” (p. 17).

Only recently have scientists been able to study life on a molecular level, where, “it turns out that, as with the polar bear, Darwinian evolution proceeds mainly by damaging or breaking genes, which, counterintuitively, sometimes helps survival.  In other words, the mechanism is powerfully devolutionary.  It promotes the rapid loss of genetic information.  Laboratory experiments, field research, and theoretical studies all forcefully indicate that, as a result, random mutation and natural selection make evolution self-limiting.  That is, the very same factors that promote diversity at the simplest levels of biology actively prevent it at more complex ones.  Darwin’s mechanism works chiefly by squandering genetic information for short-term gain” (p. 38).  Rather than developing new, more vibrant life-forms, natural selection degrades those that already exist.

To Behe, this points out a fatal flaw in the Darwinian dogma.  In fact, Darwin never showed how “purposeful systems could be built by natural selection acting on random variation.  Rather, he just proposed that they might.  His theory had yet to be tested at the profound depths of life.  In fact, no one then even realized life had such depths” (p. 155).  But now we know something about such depths!  And the more we ponder the mysterious inner workings of molecular life the more we’re prompted to discern a Mind at work informing it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Following Behe’s evening presentation, the next morning’s session featured a Brazilian biochemist, Marcos Eberlin, who just published Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose (Seattle: Discovery Institute, c. 2019).  Eberlin is an internationally-acclaimed scientist, and his treatise has garnered “endorsements” from an impressive variety of world-class scientists.  Thus Sir John B. Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012, recommends Foresight to anyone “interested in the chemistry of life.  The author is well established in the field of chemistry and presents the current interest in biology in the context of chemistry.  I am happy to recommend the work.”  One of his Brazilian colleagues, Rodinei Augusti, says the “book demonstrates that the currently available scientific knowledge increasingly points to the existence of a supreme being who carefully planned the universe and life.  This breakthrough will revolutionize science in the years to come.”

Listening to Eberlin speak, I was both pleased and amazed at his enthusiasm for his work.  As he described some of the intricate, complex processes evident in the natural world, he had an almost childlike joy in showing just how wonderful it all is.  On a cosmic level, it’s amazing that earth, a tiny planet amidst two trillion galaxies, each containing some 100 billion stars, is perfectly placed to nourish life.  Our sun is perfectly sized and exudes just the right amount of energy for earthlings.  Our atmosphere perfectly protects us from harmful radiation, allowing just the right amount of sunlight to reach the earth and promote life. The earth’s magnetic shield perfectly protects us from solar winds.  The moon stabilizes earth rotation, promoting the yearly seasons so needed for life to flourish.  Water itself is a most amazing substance, containing some 74 unique properties.  As Eberlin touched on these topics he obviously rejoiced to be alive and well—and able to understand a bit—on this wonderful planet. 

Much of Eberlin’s speech emphasized how much scientists have learned in the past decade!  Current technology enables them to probe both the vastness of the universe and the intricacies of the cell in novel and illuminating ways.  In Foresight, he begins by saying, “as plainly as I can:  This rush of discovery seems to point beyond any purely blind evolutionary process to the workings of an attribute unique to minds—foresight” (#118).  Such is evident, for example, in cell membranes, which must both protect it from external threats, allow nutrients to enter, and expel waste.  “Selective channels through these early cell membranes had to be in place right from the start.  Cells today come with just such doorways, specialized protein channels used in transporting many key biomolecules and ions.  How was this selective transport of both neutral molecules and charged ions engineered?  Evolutionary theory appeals to a gradual, step-by-step process of small mutations sifted by natural selection, what is colloquially referred to as survival of the fittest.  But a gradual step-by-step evolutionary process over many generations seems to have no chance of building such wonders, since there apparently can’t be many generations of a cell, or even one generation, until these channels are up and running.  No channels, no cellular life.  So then, the key question is: How could the first cells acquire proper membranes and co-evolve the protein channels needed to overcome the permeability problem?” (#144).

Were you to try and hire the best engineers in the world to make such a membrane, they “might either laugh in your face or run screaming into the night.  The requisite technology is far beyond our most advanced human know-how.  And remember, getting two or three things about this membrane job right—or even 99% of the job—wouldn’t be enough.  It is all or death!  A vulnerable cell waiting for improvements from the gradual Darwinian process would promptly be attacked by a myriad of enemies and die, never to reproduce, giving evolution no time at all to finish the job down the road” (#164).  Membranes merely protect the cell, of course, and when you study the inner working of the cell itself you behold wonders within wonders.  Scientists receive Nobel Prizes for describing tiny bits of cellular life, but it’s obvious to Eberlin that “if Nobel-caliber intelligence was required to figure out how this existing engineering marvel works, what was required to invent it in the first place?” (#272).  More Nobel Prizes were recently given scientists who discovered how cells repair damaged DNA by making tiny nanomachines.  Their incredible “research and engineering sophistication thoroughly deserved” world acclaim.  But, asks Eberlin:  “Are we then to believe that the marvels of engineering that these brilliant scientists discovered were themselves produced by a mindless process?  If discovering the function of these engineering marvels took genius, how much more genius would be needed to create them?” (#836).

Foresight contains Eberlin’s explorations through a multitude of revealing details—“the code of life,” “bacteria, bugs and carnivorous plants,” birds, “the human form,” etc.  He clearly understands and writes clearly, helping readers share his awe at the wonders of the world we live in, and it is clear to him that it’s all here because of foresight, which by nature requires intelligence.  “The need to anticipate—to look into the future, predict potentially fatal problems with the plan, and solve them ahead of time—is observable all around us.  It is clear from the many examples in this book that life is full of solutions whose need had to be predicted to avoid various dead-ends.  Put another way, many biological functions and systems required planning to work.  These features speak strongly against modern evolutionary theory in all its forms, which remains wedded to blind processes” (#2066).

So Eberlin concludes his book thusly:  “Nobel laureate J. J. Thomson—one of the giants of early modern physics, the discoverer of the electron, and the father of mass spectrometry, my field of expertise, beautifully conveyed this optimistic, open-ended view of science.  I can think of no better words for concluding a book about a world filled with evidence of foresight, words as true today as when Thomson penned them in the early twentieth century:  ‘The sum of knowledge is at present, at any rate, a diverging, not a converging, series.  As we conquer peak after peak we see in front of us regions full of interest and beauty, but we do not see our goal, we do not see the horizon; in the distance tower still higher peaks, which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects, and deepen the feeling, the truth of which is emphasized by every advance in science, that “Great are the Works of the Lord”’”( #2149).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The third speaker at the “Reasons 2019” conference was Melissa Cain Travis, a young professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University.  She has recently published Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals about God (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, c. 2018, Kindle Edition).  Citing Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne, she says: “‘I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains. The very success of science in showing us how deeply orderly the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause of that order’” (#102).  She thus argues, developing what she calls a “Maker Thesis,” that “Christian theism uniquely provides a well-rounded account of both the findings and the existence of the natural sciences.  I will argue that not only do scientific discoveries have positive implications for the existence of a Mind behind the universe, they strongly suggest that this Mind intended for human beings to take up the noble project of rational inquiry into the mysteries of nature.  In other words, Christian theism, unlike atheism, offers a sufficient explanation of the observable features of the natural world as well as mankind’s impressive scientific achievements” (#107).

Travis thus begins by critiquing the philosophical naturalism and scientism so evident in many modern scientists’ worldview, citing as evidence evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, who dogmatically declared:  “‘It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door’” (#222).  Lewontin nicely illustrates what G.K. Chesterton noted: “I never said a word against eminent men of science.  What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion” (#132).

Countering this new religion, Travis directs us back to an ancient insight famously crafted by Virgil in The Aeneid:  “The moon’s bright globe, the sun and stars are nurtured / By a spirit in them.  Mind infuses each part / And animates the universe’s whole mass.”  And Virgil was just poetically phrasing Cicero’s philosophical position, set forth in The Nature of the Gods:  “What can be so obvious and clear, as we gaze up at the sky and observe the heavenly bodies, as that there is some divine power of surpassing intelligence by which they are ordered?”  Centuries later St Augustine would blend these Roman thinkers’ views into Christian theology, saying creation is “a great book” we should read carefully.  Indeed: “‘Look carefully at it top and bottom, observe it, read it.  God did not write in letters with ink but he placed what is created itself in front of you to recognize him in; he set before your eyes all these things he has made.  Why look for a louder voice?  Heaven and earth cries out to you:  God made me’” (#510).

Augustine’s philosophical position, Travis thinks, is forever true and can be sustained amidst all the details of modern science.  Thus she conducts a knowledgeable tour of both historical and contemporary astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.  It’s important to note that “Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Boyle were key players in the scientific revolution, and all five of them saw the attributes of the cosmos as indicators of a wise Creator in whose image we are made” (#1210).  Their position, however, was significantly undermined by Charles Darwin’s evolutionary naturalism, effectively removing divine design from the universe.  But a growing number of contemporary scientists—such as Michael Behe and Marcos Eberlin—have effectively set forth evidence favoring Intelligent Design.

Thus there took place a “Revival of the God Hypothesis” in 20th century physics and cosmology.  For example, Max Planck (sometimes called the “father of quantum physics”), “was particularly fascinated by the congruence between the mathematical, law-governed structure of the material world and human rationality; he saw this correspondence as indicative of a designing Mind” (#2256).  Travis finds mathematicians particularly interesting, for they often conclude that inasmuch as the cosmos follows mathematical laws it makes sense to posit a Divine Mind responsible for it all.  To her: “The Maker Thesis has no difficulty explaining the objectivity of mathematical truth, how beautifully mathematics applies to physical reality, and mankind’s corresponding intellectual capacities.  If the cosmos is the creation of a rational Mind in whose image we are made, a Maker who desires our awareness of him, this deep interconnection makes perfect sense.  As Oxford mathematician John Lennox has said, it is ‘not surprising when the mathematical theories spun by human minds created in the image of God’s Mind find ready application in a universe whose architect was that same creative Mind’” (#2816).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The fourth and final speaker at the “Reasons 2019” conference was a historian, Michael Newton Keas, who provided a brief survey of his treatise, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion (Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, c. 2019, Kindle Edition).  As serious scholars know all-too-well, many “historical truths” are anything but true!  In part that’s because the past is a “story” made up of multiple stories.  And stories can be either true or imaginary!  Thus when scientists tell their stories, detailing their endeavors to understand the cosmos, their renditions “sometimes have implications for belief or disbelief in God or a spiritual heaven.  Too often, however, these stories are false.  They are nothing but myths.  And yet many leading scientists and science writers offer these stories as unassailable truth.   The myths make their way into science textbooks—which is a useful measure of a myth’s influence, as we will see in this book” (p. 2).  The myths further shape minds through science fiction, including Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series, and films such as the wildly popular Star Trek.  In fact: “The executive producer of Cosmos 2014 says that he has spent most of his professional life creating myths for the greater truth of atheism” and celebrated “his part in creating “atheistic mythology” in more than 150 episodes of Star Trek: Next Generation” (p. 153)

The myths Keas endeavors to deconstruct involve baseless stories about such things as the “Dark Ages” and pre-modern thinkers’ failures to understand the immensity of the universe and the global shape of planet earth.  Following Carl Sagan’s example, Neil deGrasse Tyson routinely invokes the “Dark Ages” to mock Christians, asserting they believed in the “flat earth” for five centuries.  Doing so, “Tyson, probably the world’s most influential public voice for science, is spreading misinformation about medieval views of the earth’s shape” (p. 43).  Tyson et al. tell demonstrably untrue but emotionally-evocative stories about persecuted scientists such as Bruno, Galileo, and Copernicus.  Keys describes how these misleading stories made their way into school textbooks and thence into the public consciousness.  He is particularly persuasive when pointing out how textbooks—so often taken as the final word on whatever they cover—serve as propaganda devices for the regnant worldview.  Doing so he provides needed clarity, refuting many of the allegedly “scientific” certainties pervasive in our culture.

319 Suspect “Science” – the Low-Fat Diet

Fifty years ago I regularly read Organic Gardening and Prevention Magazine—back-to-the earth publications urging readers to embrace a simpler, more natural approach to life.   The articles contained much dietary advice, some of which I embraced and still follow.  I also heeded the advice set forth in Runners’ World, loading up on carbohydrates as the best fuel for active athletes.  Then when the leading “experts” in nutrition began promoting a “low fat” diet and my primary care physician urged me to embrace it, I more-or-less ate in accord with its dictates.  Now and then I heard of folks embracing a “low carbohydrate” rather than “low fat” regimen (as in the Atkins diet), but I assumed they were food faddists or kooks of some sort.   After all, the US Department of Agriculture had issued its “food pyramid” that supposedly summed up the nutritional experts’ evidence—the last word on it all.  Eating lots of carbs, following a near-vegetarian diet and exercising, I believed, was the sure way to good health.  

But recently my curiosity was piqued when my step-son and his family embraced the “Keto” diet.  Then I met a man who’d lost nearly 30 pounds following a “low carb” diet who he suggested I read Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet (New York:  Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, c. 2014).   I did so and found it both provocative and persuasive.  It’s a very personal book, since Teicholz had for many years devoutly followed the low-fat prescriptions promoted almost everywhere.  But then she moved to New York and found work writing restaurant reviews—and getting free meals!  “Suddenly,” she says, “I was eating gigantic meals with foods that I would have never before allowed to pass my lips:  pâté, beef of every cut prepared in every imaginable way, cream sauces, cream soups, foie gras—all the foods I had avoided my entire life.  Eating these rich, earthy dishes was a revelation. They were complex and remarkably satisfying.  I ate with abandon.  And yet, bizarrely, I found myself losing weight” (p. 2).  That led her to seriously question what she’d been told, and in time she came to believe “that all our dietary recommendations about fat—the ingredient about which our health authorities have obsessed most during the past sixty years—appeared to be not just slightly offtrack but completely wrong.  . . . .  Finding out the truth became, for me, an all-consuming, nine-year obsession.  I read thousands of scientific papers, attended conferences, learned the intricacies of nutrition science, and interviewed pretty much every single living nutrition expert in the United States” (p. 2).

She discovered that a small coterie of nutritionists, trying to explain skyrocketing numbers of heart attacks, had “hypothesized that dietary fat, especially of the saturated kind (due to its effect on cholesterol), was to blame.  This hypothesis became accepted as truth before it was properly tested” (p. 3).  Critics of the hypothesis—and there were many—found themselves ostracized and effectively silenced, “cut off from grants, unable to rise in their professional societies, without invitations to serve on expert panels, and at a loss to find scientific journals that would publish their papers” (p. 4).  The dissenters, however, have been proven right!  For what Teicholz discovered “was not only that it was a mistake to restrict fat but also that our fear of the saturated fats in animal foods—butter, eggs, and meat—has never been based in solid science.  A bias against these foods developed early on and became entrenched, but the evidence mustered in its support never amounted to a convincing case and has since crumbled away.  This book lays out the scientific case for why our bodies are healthiest on a diet with ample amounts of fat and why this regime necessarily includes meat, eggs, butter, and other animal foods high in saturated fat” (p. 7).

Teicholz begins her presentation with some telling illustrations, including the story of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who lived for several years with the Inuit natives in the Canadian Arctic a century ago.  They ate virtually nothing but fat meat and enjoyed good health.  Subsequently he and another man volunteered to duplicate the Inuit diet and thrived for a year (under medical supervision) eating nothing but meat.  Then comes evidence from Africa, where the Masai and other tribal peoples eat little except meat and dairy products without experiencing significant heart disease.  And in India, “Sir Robert McCarrison, the British government’s director of nutrition research in the Indian Medical Service and perhaps the most influential nutritionist of the first half of the twentieth century, wrote that he was ‘deeply impressed by the health and vigour of certain races there.  The Sikhs and the Hunzas,’ notably, suffered from ‘none of the major diseases of Western nations such as cancer, peptic ulcer, appendicitis, and dental decay.’  These Indians in the north were generally long-lived and had ‘good physique[s],’ and their vibrant health stood ‘in marked contrast’ to the high morbidity of other groups in the southern part of India who ate mainly white rice with minimal dairy or meat” (p. 14).

Given such evidence, one wonders why meat and dairy products suddenly became the great culprits to be avoided!  In large part the notion “that saturated fat causes heart disease was developed in the early 1950s by Ancel Benjamin Keys, a biologist and pathologist at the University of Minnesota” (p. 19).  He and his colleagues zeroed in on cholesterol as the primary culprit causing heart disease.  Though it “is a vital component of every cell membrane, controlling what goes in and out of the cell,” it also helped form the “atherosclerotic plaques” which clogged “the arteries until it cuts off blood flow, [and it] was thought at the time to be the central cause of a heart attack” (p. 21).   Keys himself ran tests that involved giving volunteers massive amounts of cholesterol-rich foods without affecting the cholesterol levels in their blood.   “He found that ‘tremendous’ dosages of cholesterol added to the daily diet—up to 3,000 milligrams per day (a single large egg has just under 200 mg)—had only a “trivial” effect” (p. 23).  Disregarding his own research, Keys simply, instinctively knew better—eating fat must make you fat; cutting calories would cut down weight.  “‘No other variable in the mode of life besides the fat calories in the diet is known which shows anything like such a consistent relationship to the mortality rate from coronary or degenerative heart disease,’” he declared in 1954.  “If people just stopped eating eggs, dairy products, meats, and all visible fats, he argued, heart disease would ‘become very rare’” (p. 32). 

Soon thereafter, in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had the first of several several heart attacks and his personal doctor, a Harvard Medical School professor, Paul Dudley White strongly endorsed Keys’ position.  Speaking to the nation from Ike’s bedside, White explained why heart attacks occurred and urged everyone to stop smoking and eat less saturated fat and cholesterol-laden foods.  Writing a front-page New York Times article regarding the President’s health, White cited Ancel Keys’ “brilliant” work and urged the nation to follow his advice.  In fact, the President had no family history of heart disease and had quit smoking a decade earlier.  He exercised, had normal blood pressure, and his total cholesterol (167) was considered normal.  After his heart attack, however, Ike became “obsessed with his blood-cholesterol levels and religiously avoided foods with saturated fat; he switched to a polyunsaturated margarine, which came on the market in 1958, and ate melba toast for breakfast”(p. 33).  He rarely ate meat or eggs or cheese, but by the end of his presidency his cholesterol registered 259—just days after Ancel Keys appeared on Time magazine’s cover, urging everyone to embrace the heart-healthy diet Ike had been so diligently following.  In  Ike’s case, sadly enough, the more he dieted the more cholesterol flooded his system!  He died of heart disease in 1969.

To prove his diet-heart hypothesis, Ancel Keys orchestrated a “Seven Countries” study that seemed to do so.  Yet though frequently cited as evidence, his study at best established “an association between a diet low in animal fats and minimal rates of heart disease; it could say nothing about whether that diet caused people to be spared the disease” (p. 42).  Carefully examined, Keys’ study was full of flaws—nearly fraudulent in some aspects.  But though considerable evidence existed to suggest he had little demonstrable (i.e. clinical) proof, he managed to enlist the American Heart Association in his cause and persuaded the National Institutes of Health to subsidize his research.  Time magazine celebrated him as “Mr. Cholesterol” and he enjoyed virtually unanimous media support, urging folks to eat less meat, drink less meat, and eschew fats of all sorts. 

Columnists such as New York Times health writer Jane Brody relentlessly promoted Keys’ diet-heart hypothesis, and everyone of consequence agreed!  Brody urged everyone to follow a low-fat diet and in 1990 published a seven-hundred-page manifesto:  The Good Food Book: Living the High-Carbohydrate Way.  The message was crystal clear:  dietary fat elevated blood cholesterol which “would eventually harden arteries and lead to a heart attack.  The logic was so simple as to seem self-evident.  Yet even as the low-fat, prudent diet has spread far and wide, the evidence could not keep up, and never has.  It turns out that every step in this chain of events has failed to be substantiated:  saturated fat has not been shown to cause the most damaging kind of cholesterol to go up;  total cholesterol has not been demonstrated to lead to an increased risk of heart attacks for the great majority of people, and even the narrowing of the arteries has not been shown to predict a heart attack” (p. 53).

In fact, while Keys was promoting his hypothesis a multitude of careful, clinical studies—“some of the biggest and most ambitious trials of diet and disease ever undertaken in the history of nutrition science” disputed it (p. 57).  Triglycerides, not cholesterol, looked like a more probable culprit.  Total cholesterol apparently has little significance, for HDL-cholesterol (the “good” kind) contributes to good health whereas LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” kind) proves deleterious.  Consuming vegetable oils, not animal fats, appeared closely linked to the increased incidence of heart disease.  And carbohydrates, not fat, seemed to actually cause obesity.  One of the most celebrated studies—the Framingham Study—early seemed to substantiate Keys’ position, but in 1992, a study leader admitted:  “‘the more saturated fat one ate . . . the lower the person’s serum cholesterol . . . and [they] weighed the least’” (p. 67).  More alarmingly, many studies revealed  “an extremely uncomfortable fact for the promoters of the diet-heart hypothesis:  people who eat less fat, particularly less saturated fat, appear not to extend their lives by doing so. Even though their cholesterol inevitably goes down, their risk of death does not” (p. 74).  “Another study in Israel followed ten thousand male civil service and government employees for five years and found no correlation between heart attacks and anything they ate.  (The best way to avoid a heart attack, according to the study, was to worship God, since the more men identified themselves as being religious, the lower was their risk of having a heart attack” (p. 98).

Yet such dissenting studies failed to register with the American public.  In large part this was because the federal government threw its massive weight into promoting the low-fat diet.  In 1977 Senator George McGovern issued a committee report—“Dietary Goals”—which declared that Americans’ diet was harming their health.  Eating too much meat and eggs and dairy products was responsible for “heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity,” whereas eating grains, fruit, and vegetables, would improve the nation’s health.  Though the Dietary Goals came out of a typically brief Senate hearing—not a demonstrative scientific study—it had enormous impact.  “We cannot afford to await the ultimate proof before correcting trends we believe to be detrimental,” said the senators.  “So it was that Dietary Goals . . . without any formal review, became arguably the most influential document in the history of diet and disease.  Following publication of Dietary Goals by the highest elective body in the land, an entire government and then a nation swiveled into gear behind its dietary advice” (p. 120).  Thereafter the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published, including the USDA food pyramid which was widely endorsed as a guide to good health.  “Here, then, was the new reality:  a political decision had yielded a new scientific truth” (p. 125).   As of 2010 the USDA was still promoting a plant-based diet—grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Yet the USDA had no good evidence for its edict!  In fact, “the largest and longest trial of the low-fat diet ever undertaken” (the Women’s Health Initiative) demonstrably failed.  “A review in 2008 of all studies of the low-fat diet by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that there is ‘no probable or convincing evidence’ that a high level of fat in the diet causes heart disease or cancer.  And in 2013 in Sweden, an expert health advisory group, after spending two years reviewing 16,000 studies, concluded that a diet low in fat was an ineffective strategy for tackling either obesity or diabetes. Therefore, the inescapable conclusion from numerous trials on this diet, altogether costing more than a billion dollars, can only be that this regime, which became our national diet before being properly tested, has almost certainly been a terrible mistake for American public health” (p. 173).  Unfortunately:  “Despite the original good intentions behind getting rid of saturated fats, and the subsequent good intentions behind getting rid of trans fats, it seems that the reality, in terms of our health, has been that we’ve been repeatedly jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The solution may be to return to stable, solid animal fats, like lard and butter, which don’t contain any mystery isomers or clog up cell membranes, as trans fats do, and don’t oxidize, as do liquid oils.  Saturated fats, which also raise HDL-cholesterol, start to look like a rather good alternative from this perspective” (p. 285).

That “good alternative,” Teicholz believes, is conveniently set forth in the Atkins Diet.  Robert Atkins was a cardiologist who helped tens of thousands of patients lose weight.  “Based on his experience treating patients, Atkins believed that meat, eggs, cream, and cheese . . . were the healthiest of foods.  His signature diet plan was more or less the USDA pyramid turned on its head, high in fat and low in carbohydrates.  Atkins believed that this diet would not only help people to lose weight but also fight heart disease, diabetes, and possibly other chronic diseases as well” (p. 287).  As an active physician, however, he had no “scientific studies” to bolster his claims.  He urged academic “experts” to look at his files, but none was interested.  Though many considered Atkins a faddish innovator, his dietary prescriptions actually had a long, impressive history, beginning with William Banting’s 1863 pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which sold thousands of copies around the world and enabled him personally to shed unwanted pounds.  Then:  “In the United States, Sir William Osler, a worldwide medical authority in the late nineteenth century and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital, promoted a variation of the diet in his seminal 1892 medical textbook.  And a London physician, Nathaniel Yorke-Davis, used a version of the low-carbohydrate diet to treat the obese President William Taft from 1905 on, helping him lose 70 pounds” (p. 293).

Scores of other researchers reached the same conclusion, for during the first half of the 20th century it was discovered how insulin profoundly affects body-weight.  “The body secretes insulin whenever carbohydrates are eaten.  If carbs are eaten only occasionally, the body has time to recover between the surges of insulin.  The fat cells have time to release their stored fat, and the muscles can burn the fat as fuel.  If carbohydrates are eaten throughout the day, however, in meals, snacks, and beverages, then insulin stays elevated in the bloodstream, and the fat remains in a state of constant lockdown.  Fat accumulates to excess; it is stored, not burned.” However, “the absence of carbohydrates would allow fat to flow out of the fat tissue, no longer held hostage there by the circulating insulin, and this fat could then be used as energy.  A person would lose weight, theoretically, not because they necessarily ate less but because the absence of insulin was allowing the fat cells to release the fat and the muscle cells to burn it” (p. 296).  A small group of scholarly researchers have been compiling compelling evidence regarding the advantages of a low-carb, high-fat diet, though they have as yet failed to dislodge the dominant “consensus” regarding healthy diets. 

Yet to Teicholz:  “The sum of the evidence against saturated fat over the past half-century amounts to this:  the early trials condemning saturated fat were unsound;  the epidemiological data showed no negative association; saturated fat’s effect on LDL-cholesterol (when properly measured in subfractions) is neutral;  and a significant body of clinical trials over the past decade has demonstrated the absence of any negative effect of saturated fat on heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.  In other words, every plank in the case against saturated fat has, upon rigorous examination, crumbled away.  It seems now that what sustains it is not so much science as generations of bias and habit—although, as the latest 2013 AHA-ACC guidelines show, bias and habit present powerful, if not impenetrable, barriers to change” (p. 326).

So the low-fat mantra is dutifully repeated in most sectors, and Americans have obediently reduced their consumption of red meat, eggs, and butter.  “Americans continue to avoid all fats:  the market for ‘fat replacers,’ the foodlike substances substituting for fats in processed foods, was, in 2012, still growing at nearly 6 percent per year, with the most common fat replacers being carbohydrate-based” (p. 330).  Yet what they’ve believed lacks credibility.  Angel Keys declared, in 1952, that heart disease would “become very rare” if folks followed his low-fat diet.  In fact, while following his prescription “Americans have experienced skyrocketing epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and the CDC estimates that 75 million Americans now have metabolic syndrome, a disorder of fat metabolism that, if anything, is ameliorated by eating more saturated fat to raise HDL-cholesterol.  And although deaths from heart disease have gone down since the 1960s, no doubt due to improved medical treatment, it’s not clear that the actual occurrence of heart disease has declined much during that time” (p. 327).

Teicholz concludes her presentation with these sobering words:  “If, in recommending that Americans avoid meat, cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, and the rest, it turns out that nutrition experts made a mistake, it will have been a monumental one.  Measured just by death and disease, and not including the millions of lives derailed by excess weight and obesity, it’s very possible that the course of nutrition advice over the past sixty years has taken an unparalleled toll on human history.  It now appears that since 1961, the entire American population has, indeed, been subjected to a mass experiment, and the results have clearly been a failure.  Every reliable indicator of good health is worsened by a low-fat diet.  Whereas diets high in fat have been shown, again and again, in a large body of clinical trials, to lead to improved measures for heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes, and are better for weight loss.  Moreover, it’s clear that the original case against saturated fats was based on faulty evidence and has, over the last decade, fallen apart.  Despite more than two billion dollars in public money spent trying to prove that lowering saturated fat will prevent heart attacks, the diet-heart hypothesis has not held up. In the end, what we believe to be true—our conventional wisdom—is really nothing more than sixty years of misconceived nutrition research” (p. 330).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Much that Nina Teicholz says in The Big Fat Surprise was earlier set forth, in much more detail and scholarly erudition, by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories (New York:  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, c. 2007).  “The reason for this book is straightforward,” he says:  “despite the depth and certainty of our faith that saturated fat is the nutritional bane of our lives and that obesity is caused by overeating and sedentary behavior, there has always been copious evidence to suggest that those assumptions are incorrect, and that evidence is continuing to mount. ‘There is always an easy solution to every human problem,’ H. L. Mencken once said—‘neat, plausible, and wrong’” (#216).  That easy solution—the low-fat diet—was promoted by Universities and federal bureaucracies, but doing so has not particularly affected death rates or overall health because total cholesterol—the big bogeyman in dietary circles—has little to do with heart disease!   But Ancel Keys had insisted, based on statistical data, the contrary.  And he won the day, making low-fat diet virtually mandatory for folks desiring to live well.  Yet he may well have been wrong!  And we’ve all paid the price for his error! 

318 Christian Ethics

As is evident in the New Testament, from the beginning Christians have been concerned with both theology and morality—what we believe and how we behave.  Commending Wayne Grudem’s just-published Christian Ethics:  An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, c. 2018, Kindle edition), Al Mohler Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says:  “Insightful, encyclopedic, biblical, and distinctively evangelical, this new book from Wayne Grudem is a massive contribution to Christian ethics. It will stand as one of the most important and definitive works of this generation.  Readers should engage it chapter by chapter, and then keep it close at hand for continuing consultation.”  High praise from an esteemed evangelical scholar!  As the book’s title indicates, Grudem endeavors to set forth a biblical ethic, saying:  “I have written this book for Christians who want to understand what the Bible teaches about how to obey God faithfully in their daily lives.  I hope the book will be useful not only for college and seminary students who take classes in Christian ethics, but also for all other Christians who seek, before God, to be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,’ with the result that they will live ‘in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Col. 1: 9– 10)” (#334).

Grudem follows the pattern he established 25 years ago in another valuable work, Systematic Theology, “asking what the whole Bible says about various topics” (#560).  Thus every chapter ends with questions to consider, books to consult, a verse to memorize, and a hymn to sing.  He’s little interested in historical or philosophical or theological or natural law ethics inasmuch as he’s persuaded that “only Scripture has the final authority to define which actions, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God’s approval and which ones do not, and therefore it is appropriate to spend significant time analyzing the teaching of Scripture itself” (#573).  Thus he sets forth what ethicists label a “divine command” ethical system.  As embedded in the Bible, God’s moral standards illuminate His moral character, and He “could not have made other moral standards for us than the ones that he made” (#1425).  

God’s moral standards are clear, for Grudem believes one of Scripture’s hallmarks is clarity.  Though recorded only in the Bible, they are applicable to all men at all times.  They are absolutes—and they never conflict.  Though they may demand careful thought to implement we never need to choose the “lesser of two evils” as some Christians, such as Norman Geisler (who thinks there are times when we must choose, for example, to save a life while destroying property) have averred.  Gruden champions what he calls “the nonconflicting biblical commands view” and insists “that God requires us to obey every moral command in the entire Bible that rightly applies to us in our situations” (#4715). 

He believes that problematic passages—such as Rahab helping the Hebrew spies in Jerico—can be fully explained without justifying sinful behavior (such as lying in Rahab’s case).  So if a Christian were asked by Nazi soldiers if he was hiding some Jews he must always tell the truth—for in such situations “there are always other options besides lying or divulging where the Jews are hidden.  Silence is one option.  Inviting the soldiers to come in and look around for themselves is another option.  In a comparable situation, several other possible responses might present themselves, including offering hospitality and refreshments to the soldiers” (#4508).  Here Grudem joins the Kantians who insist one must always both intend to do what’s right and then do it, regardless of the consequences, since you cannot control them.  In a frequently cited and debated passage Immanuel Kant declared that if your friend takes refuge in your home, fleeing from a man intent on murdering him, you cannot lie to save your friend’s life.   

Some apparent dilemmas find resolution in Grudem’s Old Testament hermeneutic.  The material included in Genesis 1 to Exodus 19, he says, is relevant to all people at all times.  Thus the “Noahide Covenant” with its seven “laws” is ever and everywhere valid.  Obeying these laws, as prescribed by the Jewish tradition, all of us must (1) refrain from denying God’s Oneness or (2) cursing Him.  We are not to (3) murder, (4) eat the flesh of a living animal, or (5) steal.  We must (6) rightly channel our sexual drive and thereby maintain the family.  And we are to (7) establish civil laws and authorities to maintain justice.  These OT moral imperatives, Grudem says, are for all mankind.  But, he contends:  “The Mosaic covenant, which began when God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20), was terminated when Christ died, and Christians now live instead under the provisions of the new covenant.  Nevertheless, the Old Testament is still a valuable source of ethical wisdom when it is understood in accordance with the ways in which the New Testament authors continue to use the Old Testament for ethical teaching and in light of the changes brought about by the new covenant” (#5034).  Thus the sacrificial, ceremonial, dietary, and civil laws of the Hebrew scriptures carry no mandate for Christians.  Nor do the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books, as part of the Mosaic Covenant, provide normative laws for Christians.  So too for the Decalogue:  “Although the Mosaic covenant was terminated at the death of Christ, the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20: 1– 17; Deut. 5: 6– 21) still provide a useful summary of ethical topics.  However, all of these commandments (except the Sabbath commandment) are reaffirmed in the New Testament and should be thought of as part of the ‘law of Christ,’ which should guide the lives of Christian believers in the new covenant” (#6068).

Consequently, Grudem structures his Christian Ethics in accord with “protecting” (1) God’s honor, (2) human authority, (3) marriage, (4) property, and (5) purity of heart, seeking guidance from the Ten Commandments, which provide “a useful framework for studying all ethical topics” (#6113).  Thus, for example, the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” can be followed by urging moments of prayer in public schools, and the second commandment, prohibiting “graven images” can be applied to deviant notions of God.  “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” should prompt us to treasure “purity of speech” and avoid cursing and obscenity as well as specifically misusing the God-word.  Bearing false witness includes lying, so one should ever speak truly.  Even a lack of punctuality, Grudem thinks, constitutes a kind of lying and merits censure.  Thus one can find hundreds of ethical questions answered by bringing to bear appropriate biblical texts. 

Few folks—other than ethics teachers such as myself—would read right through Grudem’s Christian Ethics, but it has real value as a reference work.  Should one want to deal with any number of issues—ranging from parental authority, capital punishment, war, self-defense, abortion, suicide, birth control, divorce, vacations, to borrowing and lending—he will likely find them helpfully addressed in this book.   

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Whereas Wayne Grudem espouses a divine command version of Christian ethics, David Haines and Andrew Fulford take a different approach in Natural Law:  A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (The Davenant Press, Kindle Ediction, c. 2017).  The Davenant Institute, which published this guide, “supports the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church.  It seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness” (p. 126).  Clearly written, brief without being superficial, the book accomplishes its purpose and could easily be used in either college or Sunday school classes. 

The authors begin by listening carefully to the great declaration found in both Bible and Creeds, where we read that “God is the source of all creation, and that all created things were, in their divinely instituted natural states, good.  As we will see, the very fact of divine creation seems to point towards what has been traditionally called natural law:  the notion that there is, because of the divine intellect, a natural order within the created world by which each and every created being’s goodness can be objectively judged, both on the level of being (ontological goodness), and, for human-beings specifically, on the level of human action (moral goodness).  Ontological goodness is the foundation of moral goodness” (Introduction).  The best biblical passage clarifying this is Romans 2:14-15, and to great theologians, including John Calvin (whom the authors generally follow), this passage says all persons have “engraved on their hearts, a warning and judgment by which they discern between right and wrong, between honesty and villainy.”  Still more, Calvin continues:  “Men, therefore, have a certain natural knowledge of the law, which teaches them and tells them, in themselves, that one thing is good, and the other detestable.”

In accord with Calvin and other Christians, Haines and Fulford say:  “By natural law, then, we mean that order or rule of human conduct which is (1) based upon human nature as created by God, (2) knowable by all men, through human intuition and reasoning alone (beginning from his observations of creation, in general, and human nature, in particular), independent of any particular divine revelation provided through a divine spokesperson; and, thus (3) normative for all human beings” (p. 5).  It is not human (or positive) law but God’s law revealed in His handiwork—and primarily in us.  He designed us in His own image, giving us an ability to think and understand our own essence, and “if there is a natural law, then there is a Being which is superior to Human-beings, which is rational, and which is powerful enough to enforce the standard He has imposed upon the beings He governs” (p. 13).  Divinely-ordered, the natural law combines a “combination of metaphysical and epistemological Realism which we will call Moderate Realism” (p. 23). 

Most fully developed in the “common sense” or philosophia perennis tradition shaped by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Moderate Realism holds that all things are what they are because they were designed to be so—and their designs can be rationally known by us.  As Étienne Gilson, said, when we know a thing we simply grasp its “nature,” a reality “‘situated in an existence which is not that of the knower, the ens of a material nature’” (p. 41).  As human beings (i.e. rational animals) we are able  “to love sacrificially, communicate through language, laugh,” and choose to sacrifice our own “good” in order to help another person.  “These distinguishing features of Human nature are what we should call essential attributes, that is, attributes which result from human nature. The word rational refers to, among other things, the capacity to reason, to consider abstract concepts for the sake of knowing, to deliberate about means to ends, etc. We propose, therefore, that humans are rational animals” (pp. 32-33).  Thus we have developed the natural sciences, such as astronomy, physics, and chemistry, wherein we seek to rigorously describe and fully understand the essence (or nature) of such things as gravity or water or osmosis.  There are real things that have their own essence, quite apart from our observations, that can be truly known when we study them, enabling us to their material, efficient, formal, and final causes.

The natural law tradition easily synthesizes with a biblically-based ethic, for the Bible “everywhere assumes, and in some places explicitly appeals to, natural law. The written book of God constantly bears witness to God’s other book, the book of nature” (p. 50).   Consequently, Haines and Fulford take us on a tour of the Hebrew, extra-canonical Jewish literature, and the Christian scriptures, showing how frequently they rely on natural law thinking.  For Christians, of course, the locus classicus for such is Romans 1 and 2.   Thus “Christians who believe in Scripture ought to be defending the existence and visibility of natural law, both to other Christians and to the world at large” (p. 107).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To the great Roman philosopher and orator Cicero:  “The absolute good is not a matter of opinion, but of nature.”  A good knife has a sharp blade and cuts effectively—it’s good because it attains its end, not because we like the way it looks.  A good surgeon removes a diseased kidney—he’s good because he does what he’s equipped to do, not because he’s a congenial guy.  Cicero’s words mark him as an advocate of the “natural law,” which is not a “law of nature” such as gravity but the right reading of human nature, both in its essence and end.  Embracing this approach in An Introduction to Ethics A Natural Law Approach (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018), a young philosophy professor now teaching at Ohio Dominican College, Brian Besong, endeavors “to explain clearly and briefly to a non-philosophical audience the principles of ethics that dominated moral thinking in the West at least until the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ that began in late seventeenth-century Europe” (#53).  For all to many intellectuals, little value can be found in the ancient and medieval eras, so most modern ethicists embrace systems such as existentialism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, etc.  However, as Besong insists, the “natural law approach” was for many centuries simply called ethics since “most of the major philosophers in the West [Plato; Aristotle; Cicero; Augustine; Aquinas] endorsed views that fell within this tradition” (#106). 

He begins by looking at “foundational” issues, showing why he finds many positions (such as rational egoism, moral relativism, and logical positivism) inadequate.  Then he begins building his own case by citing Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy:  “Nature has implanted in the minds of men a genuine desire for the good and the true, but misled by various delusions they often reach the wrong goal.”  Most deeply and by design we all desire happiness—to flourish in a fully human way—and the only way to do so is to live rightly, to be morally good.  Natural law philosophers, following Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, identify “happiness” as our final end, the ultimate goal of the good life.  But such “happiness” cannot be confused with pleasures, all of which “are cheap thrills, which Aristotle suggests are mainly pursued by the ‘most vulgar type’ of people, who prefer a life ‘suitable to beasts’” (#1160).  So too neither prosperity nor fame provide lasting happiness, for it is, rightly defined, a state of completeness and contentment, a spiritual reality attained through right reasoning, a contemplative activity transcending worldly endeavors.  Though Aquinas will largely embrace Aristotle’s position, he insists the true happiness for which we hunger cannot be attained on earth, where we are limited and mortal.  Real happiness can come only in Heaven, where we may enjoy the beatific vision.  Though agreeing with Aristotle that contemplative thought makes one happy, Aquinas, insisted God Himself is Truth and Goodness, so rightly understanding God most fully makes one happy.

Joining Cicero as an advocate of the natural law, another Roman philosopher, Seneca, said:  “True wisdom consists in not departing from nature and in molding our conduct according to her laws and model.”  There are rights and wrongs.  Good and evil truly exist and can be known.  Moral goodness resides in acts that contribute to our flourishing, making us happy as we realize our true end.  Rightly understanding our nature as human beings gives us objective guidelines, enabling us to live well.  It is thus demonstrably true that we need to drink water, not gasoline, and doing so satisfies our thirst; we need love, not neglect, so children thrive in loving families; and we need to see how things really are rather than believe illusions or “social constructions,” so students must learn to think realistically.  Analyzing moral action, C.S. Lewis, a 20th century natural law proponent, suggested, in Mere Christianity, that we understand it in nautical terms, thinking how a naval fleet needs to function.  First, you need sea-worthy ships, capable of sailing across the waters; then you need to adjust your trajectory in light of other vessels, seeking to sail with rather than bump into them; and finally you need to know where you’re going, using maps and instruments to guide your journey.  Morality is thus personal (a solid ship), social (cooperating with other vessels), and teleological (knowing where to go). 

Natural Law ethicists hold people responsible for their behavior, though they always realize, with Velleius Paterculus, a Roman historian, that:  “It is customary for people to excuse all their own faults but never the faults of others, and to blame the affairs of others always on the person’s will rather than attendant circumstances.”  We don’t hold accountable tornadoes or three year old children or passengers in an out-of-control car.  We understand that one must be in full possession of his faculties (being mature and rational).  Thus neither instinctive acts, be it breathing or screaming or having “spontaneous thoughts, being characteristically both unfree and unintentional, are not something we are morally responsible for.  We need not feel guilty if we randomly and uncontrollably find ourselves feeling jealous of another person, for instance, or feeling an inappropriate attraction for someone, among many others.  To the degree that these were unintentional and unavoidable, they are not our fault, and we are not to blame for them” (#2642).  Good actions are fully rational, intentional, and volitional. 

Indeed:  “Intentionality, freedom, and knowledge are the three requirements for having an act that is morally evaluable, at least in the normal way” (#2331).  Professor Besong carefully explains these criteria, making helpful distinctions and developing a meaningful position capable of dealing with many of the true complexities of moral reasoning.  There is, for example, the “principle of double effect.”  One may primarily want to act rightly, but in fact there may be (honestly understood) bad as well as (equally well understood) good consequences.  You might, for example, decide to rescue a child from a burning house while leaving his pet dog (or even an elderly, obese quadriplegic) to die.  That would be a difficult but good act.  And unlike the disciples of Immanuel Kant (or Christians such as Wayne Grudem), there are important ethical distinctions we need to make.  “Consequently,” when wondering if it was right for Christians to mislead Nazis hunting Jews, “it is not always wrong to intend to deceive. It is always wrong to intend to lie, but lying and deception are not the same thing” (#2966). 

“To be mindful of his duty is true honor to an upright man,” said the Roman playwright Plautus (in Trinummus).  Thus “we must act (or avoid acting) in a certain way to be good and achieve happiness” (#3143).  By nature we are duty-bound to live rightly, that is righteously.  Doing one’s duty requires revering the rights of others.  This begins by defending everyone’s right to life, the most basic of all rights.  Murder—the deliberate taking of an innocent person’s life—is always wrong.  It logically follows that we also “have a right to health and bodily integrity” #3380), so to poison, or punch, a person harms him and should not be done.  Not all killing, however, is murder.  At times we may need to kill an aggressor—in self-defense of just war—because it is right to stop an aggressor intent on harming innocent persons.  Other nature-based rights include such things as a right to education (since we are rational beings who need to develop our minds) and private property (since we are material beings needing material goods to live well).  Such basic rights “do not depend upon an individual’s degree of maturity or physical growth, least of all upon an individual’s ability to physically defend himself. Instead, rights depend upon an individual’s potential to pursue happiness” (#3586).

To properly pursue happiness, the natural law tradition almost always emphasizes the importance of the classical virtues.  So Besong devotes an illuminating chapter to analyzing the four “cardinal” virtues—prudence (practical wisdom, knowing how to act); temperance (finding balance in all we do, avoiding extremes); fortitude (patiently enduring, courageously holding course); and justice (giving everyone what is due him).   Living virtuously makes us happy, so rather than deliberately trying to find what makes us happy we need to discover it comes as a side effect to living righteously.

317 Facts, Not Fear

Two decades ago, Bjorn Lomborg insisted (in The Skeptical Environmentalist:  Measuring the Real State of the World)that if more of us were more skeptical fewer of us would fear environmental catastrophes.  He provided a densely documented repudiation of the environmentalist litanies which then orchestrated world opinion and political action.  As “an old left-wing Greenpeace member,” it was difficult for Lomborg to entertain second thoughts about the movement he’d supported, but reading an interview with Julian Simon prodded him “to put my beliefs under the statistical microscope” (p. xixi).  The results—displayed in charts and graphs on almost every page as well as 2,930 footnotes and 1,800 bibliographical entries—undermined the worldview he’d too easily championed.  Lomborg devoted 68 double column pages to global warming, easily the most emotionally-charged current environmental issue.  He emphasized that many factors point to a slowly warming planet.  But the data are not totally persuasive.  And even worst-case scenarios will not dramatically change life on earth.  Many of the headline-grabbing projections are little more than “computer-aided storytelling.”  Frantic efforts to retard the warming trend would do little to alter the process.  We could easily expend enormous sums and slightly reduce the amount of global warming, but in a century such efforts will make little difference!  So Lomborg urged us to invest in more realistic endeavors and deal with the consequences of global warming when and if—when and if!—they transpire.  He further cautioned that if an estimated $100 trillion were spent during this century to curtail global warming it would reduce global temperature by only one-sixth of a degree Celsius!

Inasmuch as Congresswoman Aexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently rolled out a “New Green Deal” that has garnered endorsements from a variety of Democratic politicians (many of them running for President), it’s obvious we need to treat such proposals with considerable skepticism.  That’s especially true when we’re told we have only 12 years to save the planet!  (I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s quip in Life on the Mississippi:  “There is something fascinating about science.  One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”)  Agitators such as Ocasio-Cortez know that bad news makes the news, and popular publications and public school teachers pick up on alarming announcements, so that all too quickly extreme cases become accepted as basic norms.  Fears fly faster and further than facts!  Ungrounded alarms send folks scurrying for shelter when nothing has happened!  Scientists, as prone to vanity as any other professional group, enjoy the spotlight as lonely prophets and feed the frenzy.

So it’s helpful to peruse Gregory Wrightstone’s recent work, Inconvenient Facts:  The Science Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know (Silver Crown Productions, Mill City Press, c. 2017) for a readable (and well-illustrated) update to Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist.  Introducing the book, England’s Viscount Monckton of Brenchley says:  “The Roman poet Virgil wrote of the scientist:  ‘Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas:  Happy the one who finds the why of things.’  Science was originally known in the West as philosophia naturalis—the love of the nature of wisdom that is love of the wisdom of nature.  The noble philosophical mission of ‘the seeker after truth’, as the Iraqi mathematician and empiricist al-Haytham beautifully described the scientist, was to discern what is so in nature and why it is so, and to answer the question of the Greek philosopher Anaximander:  how to distinguish what is from what is not?” (Kindle #43).  Still more:  Science, to al-Haytham, “is not done by mere head count:  ‘The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any consensus, however venerable or widespread.  Instead he questions what he has learned of it, applying to it his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he inspects and inquires and investigates and checks and checks and checks again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.’” 

“Gregory Wrightstone,” Viscount Moncton continues, “is a man of true science, firmly in the tradition of al-Haytham.  His mission in this book is not to prop up some failed Party Line willy-nilly, nor—on the other hand—unthinkingly to oppose that Party Line merely on the basis that it is as scientifically disagreeable as it is histrionically hysterical.  His mission is to distinguish what is from what is not in the climate debate.  He has splendidly succeeded” (#65).  Wrightstone himself says he writes “to provide non-scientists with well-documented, easily understood data on the basics of the science, while spotlighting the many glaring flaws in the climate-catastrophe arguments.”  The facts on display easily equip us to evaluate claims set forth by “climate change catastrophe” devotees who indulge in scare tactics to advance their political agendas.  “The inconvenient facts presented here show that the threat to humankind is not climate change or global warming, but a group of men (and women) intent on imposing an agenda based on severely flawed science” (#271). 

Wrightstone is a “geoscientist who has dealt with various aspects of the Earth’s processes for more than 35 years” who knows “that the brief hundred or so years of recorded temperatures—and the even shorter time frame since the first satellite was launched—is just a blink of a geologic eye.  It is too brief a period to evaluate the data adequately” (#258).  The planet has been much cooler—and much warmer—in the past, and carbon dioxide levels have oscillated wildly.  Indeed:  “Our current geologic period (Quaternary) has the lowest average CO2 levels in the history of the Earth” (#448).  Still more:  we also know that there were several previous eras (Minoan, Roman, Medieval) “that all were warmer than today, even though CO2 concentration was only 70% of today’s” (#581).  “It was warmer than today for 6,100 of the last 10,000 years,” and “the current warming trend is neither unusual nor unprecedented,” so it’s obvious CO2 levels had little to do with it (#858).  Contrary to alarmist articles, water vapor, not carbon dioxide, is mainly responsible greenhouse warming.  Indeed:  “Nearly 99% of the atmosphere consists of nitrogen and oxygen.  The remaining 1% consists of several trace gases, including CO2, whose current concentration represents just 0.04% of the atmosphere, or 400 molecules out of every million” (#375). 

Understanding elementary geoscience frees us from “climate apocalypse myths” popularized by National Geographic and environmental groups.  Fortunately the world is not “careening toward planetary doom because of our excesses.”  In fact:  “Humanity and the Earth are prospering wildly, not in spite of rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide, but because of them” (#1119).  Nor does anything like an overwhelming “consensus” regarding global warming exist in the scientific community.   A 2016 a survey of 4,000 members of the American Meteorological Society “found that 33% believed that climate change was not occurring, was at most half man-made, was mostly natural, or they did not know.  Significantly, only 18% believed that a large amount—or all—of additional climate change could be averted” (#1221).  Amazingly:  “Only 0.3% of published scientists stated in their papers that recent warming was mostly man-made” (#1223). 

Wrightstone presents data and charts to show that, contrary to apocalyptic myths, during the past several decades there have been fewer droughts, forest fires, famines, heat waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  Polar bear populations have increased, rather than decreased, and the rising sea levels have been doing so for 15,000 years with no dramatic increased rate during the past century.  Though a small peninsula of Antartica has been losing its ice cover, “Most of Antarctica is cooling and gaining ice mass” (#2006).  In sum:   “The inconvenient facts in this book support quite a different narrative from that offered by proponents of apocalyptic human-driven climate change.  On every key topic examined, the evidence, supported by voluminous peer reviewed studies, reveals that the ‘consensus’ opinion promoted by climate-apocalypse proponents is consistently at odds with reality” (#2026). 

For the reader’s convenience, there’s a list of the 60 “inconvenient facts” appended to the text. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Landscapes & Cycles:  An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism (c. 2013) Jim Steele, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, explains why he, as an active field scientist, came to distrust alarmist statements when they ran counter to his careful experiments.  He ever emphasizes:  “Although it is wise to think globally, all wildlife reacts locally” (p. 1).  Rather than endorse warnings issued by “authorities” (such as James Hansen—the “father of modern global warming theory”), he looked at the evidence he best knew, and “to my great surprise and great relief, when I examined 100 years of local climate observations throughout California, I found they contradicted the global models.  Global warming was not global and the local perspective suggested wildlife was not being harmed by climate change” (p. 3).  Though alarmist articles blamed rising CO2 levels for wildlife extinction, Steele found that “local temperatures never warmed or were never examined” (p. 15).  Instead, the slightly warmer temperatures during the past 60 years seemed to have benefitted rather than harmed the state’s wildlife.   Yet when he dared state this obvious truth he was attacked as a “denier and accused of helping Big Oil” (p. 9). 

Steele carefully examines celebrated environmentalist horror stories, beginning with Dr. Camille Parmesan’s research on butterflies.  She “is considered one of the leading figures in climate-change research” and was “ranked as the second-most cited author in papers devoted expressly to global warming and climate change” (p. 19).  She is one of the “global” thinkers, looking for “overall patterns” rather than specifics.  Importantly, her views garnered the endorsement of “one of the most prestigious scientific journals with one of the highest rejections rates, Nature” (p. 21).  Though she had become a scientific celebrity—even invited to speak in the White House—her claims triggered questions for Steele since they “contradicted the butterfly’s well-established biology” and “blamed ‘global’ warming even through local maximum temperatures had cooled.  Although butterfly experts and scientists dedicated to saving the butterfly from extinction had pointed to habitat destruction as the culprit and sought habitat restoration, Parmesan argued for reduced carbon emissions” (p. 20). 

Since one of the nation’s best butterfly experts, Paul Opler, finds no evidence bolstering Parmesan’s position Steele contacted her and “asked for the locations of her research sites.”  She refused!  “More than three years later,” he says, “I am still waiting” (p. 25).  And the butterflies she said were going extinct have, in fact, “been recovering” nicely, but one would never know it since “there have been no press releases to celebrate the good news” (p. 26).  After checking the facts in one of her famous papers—“Impacts of Extreme Weather and Climate on Terrestrial Biota”—Steele declares it “egregious.  Her conclusions are based on deceptive half-truths and grave sins of omission, yet it mesmerized the nation’s top climate scientists, who rapidly adopted her as blindly as the ants adopted a Large Blue [butterfly species]” (p. 85). 

Turning to another example, Steele examined the much-publicized decline of Emperor penguins—the largest of all Antarctic penguins.  Recent satellite surveys indicate that there are probably 600,000 of them, but the media persist in referring to “old data from a single colony that had suddenly declined during the 1970s to create a model demonstrating that rising CO2 will cause the Emperors to soon go extinct” (p. 52).  On-site data show “there has been absolutely no local warming,” yet climate scientists still issue warnings that the “Emperors are on the precipice of collapse, when in reality there are more penguins and more Antarctic sea ice now than as ever been observed before” (p. 16).  The same is true of Adelie penguins, cited by Al Gore as a sure indicator of climate change.  He, along with the World Wildlife Fund, focused on “one small area where 80% of the penguins have been lost” while withholding data showing that elsewhere the “Adelies are thriving” (p. 174), unfazed by global warming! 

Polar bears are likewise alive and well!  As are golden toads, pikas, walruses, and gray whales!  Unlike the computer generated alarmist declarations of species doomed to extinction, careful local studies often show them doing quite well, easily adjusting to changing environmental conditions.  Reading Steele’s essays provides a healthy antidote to the frenzy animating the “climate change” movement.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A decade ago Lawrence Solomon was working for Energy Probe, one of Canada’s oldest and largest environmental organizations.  For years he’d helped sound the alarm on global warming.  He also wrote a weekly column for the National Post.  Learning that there were a few distinguished scientists who disputed the global warming forecasts, he decided to devote a few of his columns to them.  One name led to another and in time he “profiled some three-dozen scientists, all recognized leaders in their fields, many of them actually involved in the official body that oversees most of the world’s climate-change research” (p. 6).  Ultimately he collected his columns in a highly readable and informative book—The Deniers:  The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud, and those who are too fearful to do so (Richard Vigilante Books, c. 2008).  One of the striking  truths he discovered was that the scientists he interviewed almost always said:  “‘I’m sure global warming exists.  All the science from all the different scientific disciplines say so.  But there is one exception—my particular area of expertise has found no compelling evidence of manmade global warming’” (p. 46).   So there seems to be a pervasive pattern:  “Affirmers in general.  Deniers in particular” (p. 46). 

For his first column he interviewed Dr. Edward J.Wegman, a professor at George Mason University who is considered one of the world’s finest statisticians.  He’d become involved in the global warming issue when asked by the House of Representatives to evaluate the famous hockey stick graph, the “poster child” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and frequently featured “in the global warming debate” (p. 10).    Constructed by Professor Michael Mann, the graph showed global temperatures dramatically increasing throughout the 20th century, in tandem with increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2.  (Mann’s graph simply ignored long-accepted evidence regarding the “Medieval Warming Period” wherein temperatures were much warmer than they are today and during which the civilization of the “High Middle Ages” flourished.) 

Mann’s methodology had been subjected to intensive scrutiny by Stephen McIntyre, who concluded it was inaccurate at best and devious at worst!  So Professor Wegman was asked to decide who was right.  He assembled “an expert panel of statisticians” to help him, and pronounced Mann’s “hockey stick” was rooted in an erroneous methodology.  “Wegman argued not only that Mann was wrong but also that the mistakes he made were those that would have been fairly obvious to a top-notch statistician” (p. 18).  That Mann’s work had been “peer reviewed” also distressed Wegman , for discovered that the “peers” evaluating it all belonged to a small, tightly-bound circle of men committed to the global warming agenda.  In light of Wegman’s devastating critique, the IPCC dropped the hockey stick from its publications.

As a committed environmentalist, Solomon had long believed the UN climate-change scientists who linked hurricanes, such as Katrina, with global warming.  So he was “dumbfounded” when he found that the leading expert on Atlantic hurricanes, Dr. Christopher Landsea, denied any correlation, much less causation.  Summing up, he said:  “‘There are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between global warming and observed hurricane frequency and intensity’” (p. 31).  He wrote IPCC officials, “protesting:  ‘Where is the science, the refereed publications, that substantiates these pronouncements?  . . . .  As far as I know there are none’” (p. 33).  He then resigned from his IPCC position, lamenting that “I personally cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by preconceived agendas and being scientifically unsound’” (p. 35).  Subsequently, “the IPCC quietly banished hurricanes as cover-story material.  Also like the Mann hockey stick, the hurricane fears have done their work” (p. 36).

Of particular importance is the stance of Dr. Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists.  He authored a chapter in an IPCC report, only to find it seriously misrepresented in its “Summaries for Policymakers.”  To counteract the distortions therein, he wrote a short piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Climate of Fear.”  Peoples’ fears were being stoked by alarmists who spread “‘model results we know must be wrong’” and predict “‘catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right’” (p. 50).  Testifying before the U.S. Senate, Professor Lindzen condemned both the media and politicians such as Al Gore who spread untruths.  “‘How is it that we don’t have more scientists speaking up about this junk science?’ he asks.  His grim answer:  carrots and sticks.  Those who toe the party line are publicly praised and have grants ladled out to them from a funding pot that overflows with more than $1.7 billion per year in the United States alone.  This who don’t are subject to attack’” (p. 52). 

When the White House asked the National Academy of Sciences to appoint a panel on climate change independent of the IPCC, Professor Lindzen was one of eleven American scientists asked to assess the evidence.  After careful study, the panel issued a finely-nuanced statement:  “‘Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should to regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)’” (p. 56).  So how was this careful assessment conveyed to the public?  “CNN, in language typical of other reportage, stated it represented ‘a unanimous deacon that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man.  There is no wiggle room’” (p. 56).  No wonder Richard Lindzen despairs! 

Dr. Vincent Gray is more than despairing.  He’s angry!  So he wrote The Greenhouse Delusion:  A Critique of “Climate Change 2001.  He is one of the “2,500 top scientists” the IPCC cites as endorsing the global warming agenda.  He did, indeed, serve as a reviewer of the organization’s reports, submitting some 1900 comments on one of them.  But Gray has become “aghast at what he sees as an appalling absence of scientific rigor in the IPCC’s review process” (p. 58).  In fact he thinks the whole thing may be little more than a “swindle”!  He even challenges what’s taken for granted by many scientists—the fact that the earth is excessively warming.  He notes that global temperature records may well be flawed since temperature stations “are disproportionately located near cities and towns, which are heat sources, rather than out in the country,” and “many stations that were once in the country have had cities grow up around them, affecting temperature trends” (p. 59).  And even to focus on one century’s trends belies a mental myopia, for over the millennia earth’s climate has dramatically changed.  We have, in fact, recently emerged from the Little Ice Age, for which we should be grateful!  

Central to the “climate change” hysteria is claim that CO2 has dramatically increased during the past few decades.  Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, a famed Polish scientist, has protested the IPCC’s reliance upon ice-core data to prove the CO2 threat.  “‘These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis,”” he says, “‘but the foundation is groundless—the IPCC has based its global warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false’” (p. 98).  In fact:  “Scientists have been studying and measuring ‘CO2 since the beginning of the 19th century, and they have left behind a record of tens of thousands of direct real-time measurements.  These measurements tell a far different story about CO2—they demonstrate, for example, that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated greatly and that several times in the past 200 years CO2 concentrations have exceeded today’s levels’’’ (p. 107).  Despite such facts, desperate politicians still stoke the fears of an ignorant populace! 

316 Solzhenitsyn’s Witness

Since becoming aware of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 50 years ago I’ve read—and read about—him.  He has remained for me a powerful witness, revealing important truths regarding Communism, 20th century history, the importance of writers, and the durability of “permanent things.”  I’ve recently read the first three volumes of The Red Wheel novels:  August 1914, which focuses on the pivotal first month of Russia’s engagement in WWI, showing why and how the Tsarist state failed to rightly respond to the conflict; November 1916, which deals with the disintegrating home front (and is the most explicitly Christian of the novels); March 1917, which shows the government beginning to dissolve amidst the collapse of traditional authorities.  In the judgment of David Walsh:  “There is no doubt that The Red Wheel is one of the masterpieces of world literature, made all the more precious by its relevance to the tragic era through which contemporary history has passed.  Moreover, the impulse of revolutionary and apocalyptic violence associated with the age of ideology has still not ebbed.  We remain confronted by the fragility of historical existence, in which it is possible for whole societies to choose death rather than life.”

In toto, The Red Wheel constitutes what Solzhenitsyn considered “the chief artistic design of my life.”  He believed the two Russian revolutions in 1917 were the crucial events of the 20th century—the cauldron of destruction still defacing the globe.  Unfortunately, few Americans would plough through these massive (thousands of pages!) tomes since they deal, in intricate fashion, with figures and events in Russian history unlikely to interest them.  But to Solzhenitsyn, “there is always only one right path:  to tackle the main job.  That job will lead you to the right path of its own accord.  Tackling the job meant seeking out, for myself and for the reader, how, through our past, we can conceive of our future” (#5054).  Russian history merits our attention since it provides an important lesson regarding the fatal consequences of embracing any utopian, socialist vision for society.  Especially enlightening are passages such as one finds in November 1916, surveying the leftist movement that would finally prevail in the Bolsheviks’ triumph.  Largely responsible for that triumph was a “hapless Russian liberalism, prostrating itself, dropping its spectacles, raising its head again, throwing up its hands, urging moderation, and generally making itself a laughingstock” (p. 59).  Though feigning impartiality, Russian liberals unfailingly aligned themselves with leftist ideologies.  “Educated Russian society, which had long ago ceased to forgive the regime for anything, joyfully applauded left-wing terrorists and demanded an amnesty for all of them without exception.” (p. 59).  As the 20th century dawned, the democratic liberals issued angry fulminations against the Tsar and his government while refraining from any critique of “the revolutionary young” who had gained control of the universities and “knocked their lecturers down and prohibited academic activity.”  Students—then and now—unleash what seems to be an effluence of adolescence—“the normal sympathy of the young for the left” (p. 495).   

In a passage I’ve pondered many times—for it speaks as directly to the United States of 2019 as the Russia of 1917—Solzhenitsyn said:  “Just as the Coriolis effect is constant over the whole of this earth’s surface, and the flow of rivers is deflected in such as way that it is always the right bank that is eroded and crumbles, while the floodwater goes leftward, so do all the forms of democratic liberalism on earth strike always to the right and caress the left.  Their sympathies always with the left, their feet are capable of shuffling only leftward, their heads bob busily as they listen to leftist arguments—but they feel disgraced if they take a set to or listen to a word from the right” (p. 59).  Indeed, as Lenin as other revolutionaries realized:  “The wind always blows from the far left!  No Socialist in the world could afford to ignore that fact” (p. 485).   In a 1979 interview with the BBC Russian service, Solzhenitsyn lamented the 1917 failures of liberals and moderate socialists in the Duma and the Provisional Government.  They lacked the courage needed to oppose the hard left—a pattern of “weakening and self-capitulation” that would be “repeated on a world-wide scale since those days.”

Russian revolutionaries, many of them representing the “hard left,” also relied on a supportive Russian press.  As the main protagonist of The Red Wheel, Colonel Georgi Vorotyntsev, mused:  “It’s always leftist.  All destructive. Vilifies the Church, vilifies patriots—they narrowly avoid mentioning the throne directly, they’ve learned to yap about what they call the regime.  Every fly-by-night journalist speaks in the name of Russia.  They shower us with sewage but never print our denials, that’s their idea of freedom.  And any newspaper that stands up for the government is called reptilian or said to be on the government payroll” (pp. 902).  Joining the left-leaning press were the nation’s teachers.  “There is in Russia some sort of ‘education league,’ teeming with hundreds and thousands of teachers.  But what does ‘education’ mean to them?  To them there is nothing sacred in Russia, it has no historic rights, no natural foundations.  They hate everything Russian, everything Orthodox, everything that goes back into the depths of time.  Education, to them, means revolution” (pp. 903-904).  Thereafter, as Solzhenitsyn notes in his recently published, autobiographical Between Two Millstones, at the beginning of 20th century, Russia witnessed “a powerful student movement” whose “consequences . . .  were horrific.  Everything they did was from the purity of their hearts, but they lacked any civic experience and ended up being engulfed by theories of revolution and violence” (Millstones, #2165). 

It became evident, with the publication of August 1914,that Solzhenitsyn was a conservative—both a Russian patriot and an Orthodox Christian—who treasured much about the “old Russia,” despite its deeply-flawed Tsarist authoritarianism.  So he soon lost support in liberal circles in both Russia and the West.  Even Secretary of State Henry “Kissinger for a long time prevented the Voice of America from broadcasting me, and the BBC and Radio Free Europe were also beginning to avoid me as an ‘authoritarian figure,’ which was how I was being portrayed after my Letter to the Soviet Leaders” (#4165).  In particular he defended Pyotr Stolypin, the Russian prime minister from 1906-1911 who had sought to bring into being a “solid class of peasant proprietors,” convinced that they could support and preserve a constitutional monarchy of some sort.  Unfortunately, Stolypin was assassinated in Kiev in 1911; he was probably the last hope for a “conservative liberal” regime that might have avoided the revolutionary chaos that subsequently ruined the nation. 

For the many Americans interested in Solzhenitsyn but uninterested in his lengthy,  ponderous, history-laden literary works, Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney have assembled The Solzhenitsyn Reader:  New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (Washington:  ISI Books, c. 2006) and provided helpful editorial comments on all of his works.  “The purpose of this book,” they say, “is to make the broad sweep of Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable oeuvre available to English-speaking readers” (p. xv), emphasizing that:  “Amid the exceptional flux of his life, one thing remained constant:  He remained committed to exploring the subject he had chosen in youth as the topic of his magnum opus, namely, the Bolshevik Revolution and its causes” (p. xvi).  Importantly, The Solzhenitsyn Reader contains important non-fictional pieces, including some poetic, deeply religious musings such as his autobiographical Acanthistus:  “When, oh when did I scatter so madly / All the goodness, the God-given grains? / Was my youth not spent with those who gladly / Sang to You in the glow of Your shrines? / Bookish wisdom, though, sparkled and beckoned / And it rushed through my arrogant mind, / The world’s mysteries seemed within reckon, / My life’s lot like warm wax in the hand.  / My blood seethed, and it spilled and it trickled, / Gleamed ahead with a multihued grace, / Without clamor there quietly crumbled / In my breathe the great building of faith.  / Then I passed betwixt being and dying, / I fell off and now cling to the edge, / And I gaze back with gratitude, trembling, / On the meaningless life I have led.  / Not my reason, nor will, nor desire / Blazed the twists and turns of its road. / It was purpose-from-High’s steady fire / Not made plain to me till afterward.  / Now regaining the measure that’s true, / Having drawn with it water of being, / Oh great God!  I believe now anew! / Though denied, You were always with me. . . .”  (P. 21). 

Solzhenitsyn came to the world’s attention with his publication One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (a fictional depiction of his experience in Stalin’s prison camps) during the “Khruschev thaw.”  He was briefly a celebrity in his native land and welcomed by the state-controlled literary establishment.  In time he would be awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature, something he deeply appreciated simply because it enabled him to survive as a writer.  Before long, however, he encountered mounting governmental opposition.  So he began recording his struggles in a work entitled The Oak and the Calf:  Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union (New York:  Harper Colophon Books, c. 1975).  He began by confessing:   “For the writer intent on truth, life never was, never is (and never will be!) easy:  his like have suffered every imaginable harassment” (p. 1).  Knowing this, Solzhenitsyn “entered into the inheritance of every modern Russian writer intent on the truth:  I must write simply to ensure that it was not all forgotten, that posterity might someday come to know of it” (p. 2).  He committed himself to writing because he believed “the Soviet regime could certainly have been breached only by literature.”  No military coup or political movement could begin to challenge Stalin’s brutal dictatorship.  “Only the solitary writer would be able” to effectively oppose it, simply because “one word of truth outweighs the world.”  Thanks to his international status, Solzhenitsyn continued working for several years, though little he wrote would be published in Russia.  But when he documented Stalin’s massive slave labor system in the three volume The Gulag Archipelago (first published only in the West) he was expelled from Russia in 1974.  As he departed, he left behind a short, memorable message to his people:  “Live Not by Lies!” 

After spending some time in Switzerland, Solzhenitsyn ultimately settled in Vermont’s mountains, near the village of Cavendish, in 1976.  Here he tried, inasmuch as possible, to create a little Russian outpost wherein he could continue his artistic/historical work.  He also granted interviews and delivered lectures, many of them reprinted in his Warning to the West.  Surprisingly he was not delighted by all things Western!  In 1978 he delivered the commencement address at Harvard University.  Entitled A World Split Apart, he began his speech abrasively, noting that though Harvard’s motto is Veritas graduates should know that “truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter” (p. 1).  But he resolved to speak Veritas anyway!  And his words proved “bitter” to many who heard him!  After assessing various developments around the world, he questioned the resolve of the West to deal with them.  Unfortunately, he said, “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.  The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political part, and, of course, in the United Nations.  Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society” (pp. 9-11).  This decline, “at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood,” portended a cataclysmic cultural collapse.  

 He especially upbraided the media.  Granted virtually complete “freedom,” journalists in the West used it as a license for irresponsibility.  Rather than working hard work to discover the truth, they slipped  into the slothful role of circulating rumors and personal opinions.  Though no state censors restricted what’s written, “fashionable” ideas get aired and the public is denied free access to the truth.  Fads and fantasies, not the illumination of reality, enlist the mainstream media.  “Hastiness and superficiality—these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press” (p. 27).    Consequently, “we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion into the privacy of well-known people according to the slogan ‘Everyone is entitled to know everything’” (p. 25). 

Politicians who appeased Communism especially elicited Solzhenitsyn’s scorn.  Appraising America’s recent withdrawal from Vietnam, he declared the antiwar agitators were “accomplices in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in the genocide and the suffering today imposed on thirty million people there.  Do these convinced pacifists now hear the moans coming from there?  Do they understand their responsibility today?  Or do they prefer not to hear?  The American intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence the danger has come much closer to the United States.  But there is no awareness of this.  Your short-sighted politician who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however a hundredfold Vietnams now looms over you” (p. 41).  He envisioned an immanent  “fight of cosmic proportions,” a battle between the forces of Good and Evil.   Two years before Ronald Reagan was elected President, Solzhenitsyn insisted that only a moral offensive could turn back the evil empire. 

Cowardice had led Americans to retreat in Southeast Asia.  Indeed, democracies themselves, Solzhenitsyn feared, lack the soul-strength for sustained combat.  Wealthy democracies, especially, become flaccid.  “To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.  Nothing is left, in this case, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal” (p. 45).  More deeply, the “humanism” that has increasingly dominated the West since the Renaissance largely explains its weakness.  When one believes ultimately only in himself, when human reason becomes the final arbiter, when human sinfulness is denied, the strength that comes only from God will dissipate.  Ironically, the secular humanism of the West is almost identical with the humanism of Karl Marx, who said:  “communism is naturalized humanism” (p. 53). 

Consequently, he said, “If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era” (pp. 60-61).  The Harvard address ended Solzhenitsyn’s speaking career in the United States.  The nation’s elite newspapers—the New York Times and Washington Post—thenceforth ignored him.  Prestigious universities, such as Harvard, slammed shut their doors.  He became something of a persona non grata and spent the last 15 years of his life in America living as a recluse, working industriously on manuscripts devoted to Russian history. 

He also wrote a personal memoir—much like The Oak and the Calf—recording his observations while living in the West.  Entitled Between Two Millstones, Book 1:  Sketches of Exile, 1974– 1978 (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, c. 2018), it provides us, says Daniel J. Mahoney, “one of the great memoirs of our time.”  To Donald Rumsfeld, it “is an indispensable part of history,” a “lasting testimony to his unbending moral courage, his persistence, and his persuasiveness— all of which helped bring down Communism.”  The two “millstones” grinding away at him refer to the dictatorial, dehumanizing regime in Russia and the vapid Western “freedom” that proffered little meaning for mankind.  In America, Mahoney says:  “He had a new tension-ridden mission: to write with force, clarity, and artfulness about the Russian twentieth century while doing his best to warn the West about the pitfalls of a free society caught up in the cult of comfort and increasingly unwilling to defend itself against the march of evil” (Kindle, #158).

This march of evil, he thought, gained considerable impetus from the media, which pounced on him as soon as he arrived in Zurich.  In the USSR the press was rigorously censored and thus untrustworthy.  In the West, the press was “free” but irresponsible and thus also untrustworthy!  Consequently, “from the very outset the Western media and I were not to be friends, were not to understand one another” (#332), for he “was completely aware of how careful one had to be not to throw oneself into the arms of the press, though I did not know how to take cover from their relentless siege” (#443).  Bewildered by their indifference to his privacy and message, he thought “their fly-by-night trade” consisted mainly in trying “to outdo one another in snooping, conjecturing, and snatching at whatever they can.”  Having just published The Gulag Archipelago, “my book about the perishing of millions,” he found journalists nastily “nipping at some puny weeds” regarding passing remarks he had recently made.  Angrily he declared:  ‘You are worse than the KGB!’  My words instantly resounded throughout the world.  So from my first days in the West I did much to ruin my relationship with the press; a conflict that was to continue for many years had begun” (#527). 

Mystifying to him, Western elites reacted negatively to his letters defending Orthodox Christianity and the war in Vietnam.  Consequently, “in the wake of all the recent enthusiasm came a flood of abuse from the Western press, an about-turn in just three weeks!  If they had at least read the letter carefully!  From the reviews and the invective, it quickly became clear that these newspapermen had not taken the trouble to read the letter in its entirety.  It was the first time that I had encountered such a thing, but dishonesty of this kind quickly proved to be a steadfast characteristic of the press.  The New York Times, which had refused to print my letter, was among the most violent critics” (#907).  Pressured to sit down for a TV interview, Solzhenitsyn reluctantly agreed to do so with Walter Cronkite on CBS.  “They came to our house with a noisy, well-equipped crew of about ten, the only shortcoming being that they had not brought with them competent translators.  I, too, was poorly prepared, not realizing who Walter Cronkite was, how left his leanings were, his questions bristling with hidden jabs, all about the Western media and my attitude toward it (which by now had become common knowledge), and also about the Russian émigré community” (#1324).  He was especially angered by articles claiming to be based on interviews with him that never happened—and by reporters who cherry-picked statements from interviews to advance their own views rather than truthfully report his. 

Yet another source of evil Solzhenitsyn discerned in the West was the harm being done by industrialization.  He anticipated Anthony Esolen’s recent defense of “people in the modern world struggling against the Leveling force of a technocratic and culture-dissolving state.”  Thus Solzhenitsyn:  “Today’s prosperous world is moving ever further from natural human existence, growing stronger in intellect but increasingly infirm in body and soul” (#581).  On a personal level, he craved pastoral regions.  Though he found some cities such as Zurich charming, he preferred to work in the Swiss countryside, where the industrious farmers’ work “strengthened the peace within my soul.”   Looking at the alpine scenery “every day, every morning— somehow cleanses the soul and clarifies one’s thoughts.  The simple act of standing and looking is already labor for the soul and the mind. The task of evaluating one’s past and tracing out the future becomes easier” (#1484).   Struggling to settle into his writing routine, he found that “the grandeur and wisdom of this mountain place (almost as if a high mountain altar . . .) were soon to put me back in form” and he could resume his work on Russia (#1548).   Thus in time he found  inVermont a suitable environment wherein he could continue his literary work.  Returning to Russia in 1994 and dying in 2008, he failed to much influence developments in has native land.  And he is today largely ignored by most Westerners.  But to those with ears to hear, he remains a lasting witness to what ought ultimately concern us.

315 Culture of Fear

One of the more amazing contemporary phenomena—despite our very evident safety and comfort —is the pervasive insecurity and fragility identifiable in various segments of the West.  As the Norwegian philosopher, Lars Svendsen, says:  “a paradoxical trait of the culture of fear is that it emerges at a time when, by all accounts, we are living more securely than ever before in human history.”  Aware of this, Pope John Paul II frequently encouraged believers to “fear not”—for that biblical phrase, reiterated by the angels announcing Jesus’s coming, indicates the importance of courage in the Christian tradition.  (Indeed, some 365 times the Bible says “be not afraid!”)  But with the waning of Christendom courage seems similarly sidelined.  Thus Alexander Solzhenitsyn said (in his 1978 Harvard Commencement Address):  “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.  The Western world has lost its civic courage. . . .”  Prophetically, he warned:  “Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?” 

Courage, traditionally understood, enables one to conquer his fears, and most of us admire it—at least in theory.  “But in everyday practice,” Frank Ferudi says in How Fear Works, “we have become estranged from this ideal and do very little to cultivate it.”  It has frequently, in fact, been “downsized” and even extended to assorted self-help endeavors!  Rather than a moral virtue best evident on the field of battle, it has turned into a therapeutic suggestion.  Thus we commend the “courage” of suffering poor health or recovering from romantic distress or speaking in public.  “The classical virtue of courage rooted it within moral norms that emphasized responsibility, altruism and wisdom.  The twenty-first-century therapeutic version is not based on an unshakable normative foundation; it has become disassociated from moral norms and is adopted instrumentally as a medium for achieving wellness” (#3040).

This cultural shift is generally justified by the necessity of “worst-case thinking” and the “Precautionary Principle,” a philosophical rationale “systematically outlined in the works of the German philosopher Hans Jonas, whose influential 1979 text The Imperative of Responsibility advocated the instrumental use of fear—what he calls the ‘heuristic of fear’—to promote the public’s acceptance of a dreadful view of the future.  Jonas offers what he perceives to be an ethical justification for promoting fear, which is that through its application, this emotion ought to be used to avoid humankind’s infliction of an ecological catastrophe on the planet” (#2749).  Jonas propounded “a teleology of doom based on the premise that modern technology threatens the world with an imminent threat of disaster” (#2756).  Among the intelligentsia he is “something of a philosophical saint” revered for his ecological sensitivities.  However, Furedi warns:  “his promotion of the principle of fear, his elitist contempt for people, and his advocacy of deception and tyranny, are rarely held to account” (#2798).

Inasmuch as courage is rooted in moral convictions, the increased fear in our society indicates a loss of moral certitude.  This phenomenon was diagnosed by Frank Ferudi in his 2016 work, What’s Happened to the University:  A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation.  The author began his academic life as a student in 1965 and is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in the UK.  In his own student days universities were open to new ideas and touted the virtues of free speech and debating ideas.  As the decades passed, however, they became “far less hospitable to the ideals of freedom, tolerance and debate than in the world outside the university gate.”  They became fearful!   Students now seek to ban books that threaten their vulnerable psyches and protest speakers who might offend a spectrum of sexual and ethnic groups.  The free speech mantras of the ‘60s have morphed into speech codes; the former devotees of free speech have frequently become, as tenured professors, enforcers of censorship.  Many teachers forego the use of red pens to mark papers lest they damage fragile students’ egos, and    “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “microagressions” and “chill out rooms” (replete with play dough and “comfort” animals to relieve anxieties) indicate how many universities have in fact become infantilized.

Two decades ago Ferudi published Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectations, arguing that moral confusion had hollowed out Western culture, making persons both increasingly less able to deal with risk and uncertainty and less positive about human nature and man’s ability to aspire and adventure.  Now he has revisited the subject in How Fear Works:  Culture of Fear in the Twenty-First Century (London:  Bloomsbury Publishing, c. 2018; Kindle Edition).   To illustrate his thesis Ferudi notes:  “Even an activity as banal as forecasting the weather has been transformed into a mini-drama through adopting a rhetoric that inflates the threat posed by relatively normal conditions.  Routine occurrences like storms, heavy snowfall or high temperature have been rebranded as extreme weather by the media.”  Indeed:  “The term ‘extreme weather’ is a paradigmatic culture of fear expression” and is, strangely enough,  “often interpreted through a moralistic narrative that presents it as the inevitable outcome of irresponsible human behaviour” (#338).  Summing up his study, he says “society has unwittingly become estranged from the values—such as courage, judgement, reasoning, responsibility—that are necessary for the management of fear” (#580).

In the past, many of our fears were restrained by religious faith, the confidence that some things were eternally true and worth risking—or even giving—one’s life to secure.  “Religion has always been interwoven with guidelines about what and what not to fear. Secular fear appeals concerning health, the environment, food or terrorism continue this tradition and are also often conveyed through a moral tone.  However, in the absence of a master-narrative that endows the unknown and the threat it poses with shared meaning, people’s response to threats has acquired an increasingly confusing and arbitrary character” (#1875).  Thus as we enter the 21st century “a pessimistic teleology of doom pervades the public deliberations on this subject” (#1202).  Every hurricane elicits warnings regarding climate change—as do arctic cold fronts, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes!  No solid evidence or logical analysis is required to stoke the fears of folks immersed in our media world.  Think for a moment about the current Socialist superstar in Congress, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who solemnly says we only have 12 years to save the planet!  Such somber predictions of environmental collapse (following the pattern cut out by Rachel Carson 50 years ago in Silent Spring) are often accompanied by warnings of a global demographic time bomb (confidently decried by Paul Ehrlich in his now thoroughly discredited Population Bomb). 

Consider the outlandish rhetoric of many social justice warriors!  Former President Jimmy Carter, for example, recently published a book entitled A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power and grandly declared that right now (today!) slavery is “a ‘serious problem in the US’” and is even “‘more prolific now than during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.’”  It is, however, invisible!  Somehow Carter just knows it’s there, unseen and insidious.  “Like the hidden toxins ‘playing their tricks’ . . . modern slavery is not visible to the eye.  Typically, its hidden victims are said to be invisible and, therefore, the number of cases that have been actually detected are only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’”  To the former president “the transatlantic slave trade, which was responsible for the brutal enslavement of 12 to 15 million Africans, is merely a less prolific version of the ‘modern’ variety of the twenty-first century” (#1932).   This mantra is also recited by Jeff Nesbit, a former White House communications director, who said:  “‘No one knows the numbers.  That’s what’s so scary!’” (#1940).  To which Furedi retorts:  what’s scary is the fact that highly influential men such as Carter and Nesbit knowingly spread baseless falsehoods!

Then we’re fed alarming reports of rampant obesity and of children facing a barrage of threats to their well being.   “In most Western societies, the population is healthier and lives longer than in previous times.  The latest generation of young people is likely to live 20 years longer than their grandparents.  Yet there has never been so much propaganda warning the public about yet another danger to its health” (#1736).  It’s apparently even risky to drink tap water!  “There was a time when people did not walk around holding different brands of bottled water in their hands; they drank tap water unless they lived in areas where tap water was considered to be unsafe, in which case water was boiled.”  But we now see people everywhere “clutching their bottles of water,” gripped by fears of contaminants of some sort.  “In 2016, bottled-water consumption in the US reached 39.3 gallons per person.”  This is done despite the fact “that the fears directed at tap water are not based on an objective evaluation of the risks of drinking it.  From a health perspective, the consumption of bottled water makes little sense.  Unfortunately, the sensible message that tap water is in most places safe to drink and that paying for the bottled variety is unnecessary is often distorted through a narrative of fear.  Instead of merely stating ‘Let’s get real and drink tap water’, opponents of the bottled-water fad frame their argument through the perspective of fear.

As one might expect from a sociologist, Furedi is most helpful when compiling data and describing problems.  He clearly demonstrates the pervasive fears stalking contemporary society.  And he clearly shows how the lack of courage contributes to their currency.  But while he recognizes the need for the moral virtues, courage included, he fails to acknowledge the necessarily deeper philosophical or theological foundations necessary to establish courageous persons. 

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2018; Kindle Edition), Greg Lukinoff and Jonathan Haidt stress the harm done children by teachers and parents excessively fearful for their safety.  The authors had become increasingly distressed by the onerous “speech codes” hindering free thought and expression on university campuses.  “Something began changing on many campuses around 2013, and the idea that college students should not be exposed to ‘offensive’ ideas is now a majority position on campus” (p. 48).  The “rationale for speech codes and speaker disinvitations,” once limited to racist or sexist declarations, “was becoming medicalized:  Students claimed that certain kinds of speech—and even the content of some books and courses—interfered with their ability to function.  They wanted protection from material that they believed could jeopardize their mental health by ‘triggering’ them, or making them ‘feel unsafe’” (p. 6).  To address their concerns Lukinoff and Haidt first wrote a widely-discussed article for The Atlantic Monthly and then, subsequently, this book to unmask three fashionably propagated “Great Untruths”:  1) “The Untruth of Fragility”—the notion that stress or discomfort harms you; 2) “The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning”—the injunction to disavow reason and “always trust your feelings; and, 3) “The Untruth of Us Versus Them”—the warning that evil people continually seek to damage you.  Consequently the authors say:  “We will show how these three Great Untruths—and the policies and political movements that draw on them—are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies” (p. 4). 

To illustrate the falsity of fragility, Lukinoff and Haidt point out how parents trying to protect their youngsters from peanut allergies actually endanger them by prohibiting children’s powerful immune system from properly developing.  A careful study revealed:  “Among the children who had been ‘protected’ from peanuts, 17% had developed a peanut allergy.  In the group that had been deliberately exposed to peanut products, only 3% had developed an allergy.  As one of the researchers said in an interview, ‘For decades allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies.  Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in the peanut and other food allergies’” (p. 21).  Indeed, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in The Black Swan:  “Just as spending a month in bed . . . leads to muscle atrophy, complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors.  Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions . . . which do precisely this:  an insult to the antifragility of systems.  This is the tragedy of modernity:  as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most’” (p. 23). 

That human beings—homo sapiens—should renounce reason and trust their feelings is similarly untrue.  Though pop psychologists and media personalities may urge it, trusting your feelings flagrantly contradicts “much ancient wisdom.”  Whether pondering Epictetus or Buddha or Shakespeare or Milton, the best philosophers have inisted we think rather than feel.  Consult, for example, Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, once one of the basic texts for the liberal arts, wherein he praises “Lady Philosophy,” who “chides him gently for his moping, fearfulness, and bitterness at his reversal of fortune” before helping  “him to reframe his thinking and shut off his negative emotions.  She helps him see that fortune is fickle and he should be grateful that he enjoyed it for so long.  She guides him to reflect on the fact that his wife, children, and father are all still alive and well, and each one is dearer to him than his own life.  Each exercise helps him see his situation in a new light; each one weakens the grip of his emotions and prepares him to accept Lady Philosophy’s ultimate lesson:  ‘Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it’” (p. 35).  Wise words for all ages!

The “us vs. them” untruth has gained currency to a large degree because of identity politics.  When race becomes the key to your identity you easily suspect racism in anyone who differs from you.  When sex defines you, you easily accuse others of sexism when you feel dissatisfied.  A widely-discussed incident at Yale illustrated this.  Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center responded to an administrative edict regarding Halloween costumes.  She approved concerns for “avoiding hurt and offense,” but “she worried that ‘the growing tendency to cultivate vulnerability in students carries unacknowledged costs.’”  Rather than issue behavioral rules, she suggested:  “Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society’” (p. 57).  Her rather mild email aroused angry students who protested and denounced her for racial insensitivity.  The university president sided with the aggrieved students, and in time Erika resigned from her position.  So goes “academic freedom” in modern America!

As was evident at Yale, intimidation and violence are manifestations of the coddling of the American mind!  Defining speech they find objectionable as “hate” speech, it is easy to then insist it is a form of violence.  And in response to violence self-defense is justified.  So conservative speakers on university campuses are not only shouted down but physically attacked.  Witch-hunts are employed to root out dissenters on campus.  When a liberal mathematics professor at Evergreen College refused to approve a campus shutdown to show solidarity with people of color, students demanded he be fired.  Successfully intimidating the college president, “students chanted, ‘Hey hey/ho ho/these racist faculty have got to go’’ (p. 117).   “President Bridges, who at the beginning of the school year had criticized the University of Chicago for its policy protecting free speech and academic freedom, agreed to many of the protesters’ demands.  He announced that he was ‘grateful’ for the ‘passion and courage’ the protesters displayed, and later, he hired one of the leaders of the protests to join his Presidential Equity Advisors” (p. 119).  Most everything that’s wrong with the modern university stands starkly revealed at Evergreen College!

Having described the “coddling of the American mind,” the authors turn to explaining how it came to be and set forth “six interacting explanatory threads,” beginning with “rising political polarization and cross-party animosity.”  Political positions no longer reflect a positive agenda, rooted in traditional and reflection; rather they are too often fueled by angry disdain for perceived enemies.  Secondly, they point out the importance of “rising levels of teen anxiety and depression.”  An alarming, and very recent, increase in teenage depression and suicide clearly constrict the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  Data recently collected from 139 colleges indicate that “half of all students surveyed reported having attended counseling for mental health concerns” (p. 156).  Importantly, some persuasive studies especially stress the negative role electronic devices play in the lives of our young. 

Thirdly, “changes in parenting practices” or “paranoid parenting” clearly contribute to the malady.  The “permissive parenting” associated with Dr. Spock has morphed into the “intensive parenting” now dominant.  Responding to perceived threats to their children—such as being abducted by strangers, something that happens less than 100 times a year—parents overreact.  Though seat belts and bicycle helmets have certainly made children’s live safer, “efforts to protect kids from risk by preventing them from gaining experience—such as walking to school, climbing a tree, or using sharp scissors—are different.  Such protections come with costs, as kids miss out on opportunities to learn skills, independence, and risk assessment” (p. 169).  Fourthly, there has been a “decline of free play,” something absolutely necessary for childhood development.  A child’s brain needs “thousands of hours of play—including thousands of falls, scrapes, conflicts, insults, alliances, betrayals, status competitions, and acts of exclusion—in order to develop.  Children who are deprived of play are less likely to develop into physically and socially competent teens and adults” (p. 183).  Unfortunately, school children are less likely to have physical education classes or recess.  And rather than learning to play ball with neighborhood kids—and to choose teams and referee the game—kids are shoved into organized leagues with uniforms and trophies and assorted adult paraphernalia irrelevant to healthy personal development. 

Fifthly, once in the university students face a burgeoning “campus bureaucracy” devoted to insuring their comfort and security.  Thus we find the president of Louisiana State University declaring:  “‘Quite frankly, I don’t want you to leave the campus ever.  So whatever we need to do to keep you here, we’ll keep you safe here.  We’re here to give you everything you need’” (p. 199).  Such protective “safetyism” increasingly extends to emotional as well as physical well-being.  Students must be shielded from “microaggressions,” given “trigger warnings” when scary subjects are be breached, and supplied with “safe spaces” suitable for children.  Finally, students are immersed in “a rising passion for justice in response to major national events, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires” (p. 125).   They then become “social justice warriors” determined to eliminate inequalities and inequities wherever possible.  Little concerned with distributive or procedural notions of justice, they are increasingly devoted to “equal-outcomes social justice,” even if they trample on important concepts such as “innocent until proved guilty.” Concluding their treatise with a section titled “wising up,” Lukinoff and Haidt first proffer advice for parents who want to rear “wiser, stronger, and antifragile” kids who will become self-reliant adults.  Giving them lots of time for “free play,” encouraging them to walk or bike to school, placing limits on the time they spend with electronic devices, including television, are important aspects of their prescription.  And for “wiser” universities they urge a return to the vigorous pursuit of truth once considered essential for liberal arts education.   Rather than promoting “social justice,” universities should urge persons to freely think and speak, embracing Benjamin Franklin’s commitment to founding the University of Pennsylvania:  “‘Nothing is of more importance to the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and good men are, in my opinion, the strength of a state: much more so than riches or arms, which, under the management of Ignorance and Wickedness, often draw on destruction, instead of providing for the safety of a people’” (p. 269).

314 Luther’s Reformation and Its Consequences

In his Requiem for a Nun William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  This is especially true when it comes to Church history, so it was predictable that to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (launched by Martin Luther in 1517) a plethora of books were published.  Inevitably—given Luther’s personality and positions—interpretations varied widely and nothing approaching a consensus is possible.  But I read and commend two works, beginning with Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (New York:  Random House Publishing Group, c. 2016, Kindle Edition).  Roper is an Australian historian who did doctoral research at Tübingen University under Professor Heiko Oberman, the author of a notable study of Luther.  Now the first woman to hold the prestigious Regius Chair at Oxford University, she is less interested in Luther’s theology than his personality, seeking “to explore his inner landscapes so as to better understand his ideas about flesh and spirit, formed in a time before our modern separation of mind and body.  In particular,” she says, “I am interested in Luther’s contradictions” (#400).  Thus she diligently mined a wealth of primary sources newly available in archives opened to scholars in the wake of East Germany’s demise.

Roper believes Luther’s “theology sprang from his character, a connection that Melanchthon, one of the first of his biographers and his closest co-worker, insisted upon:  ‘His character was, almost, so to speak, the greatest proof’ of his doctrine.  Luther’s theology becomes more alive as we connect it to his psychological conflicts, expressed in his letters, sermons, treatises, conversations, and biblical exegesis.  Such a rereading of the original sources,” enhanced by psychoanalytical insights, will provide “a richer understanding not only of Luther the man but also of the revolutionary religious principles to which he dedicated his life, the legacies of which are still so powerful” (#405).  His letters especially “give us a sense of the charisma he must have radiated, and the sheer delight his correspondents must have experienced in being his friends.  It was Luther’s vivid friendships and enmities that convinced me that he had to be understood through his relationships, and not as the lone hero of Reformation myth” (#476).

Luther’s early beginnings took place in Mansfield, where his father was a prosperous miner, followed by scholarly instruction in the nearby cities, including Erfurt, where he attended the university.  Though the university specified strict rules of behavior, “Luther acidly remembered, ‘Erfurt is a whorehouse and beerhouse’ . . . .   Founded in 1392, the university was the oldest German institution to have a charter, and in the early sixteenth century it boasted an outstanding collection of humanists, interested in the revival of ancient learning and in returning to the sources” (#1029).  Luther was only an “average student,” but he absorbed much of Erfurt’s weltgeist—both “the via moderna and nominalism, a direction in philosophy that reached back to William of Ockham in the fourteenth century.  Luther’s teachers included cutting-edge nominalists” who promoted the via moderna rather than the via antiqua evident in Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.  Luther especially became committed to “critical thinking” and “empirical evidence,” i.e. primary sources. 

Then came his famous awakening in the 1505 thunderstorm!  Fearing he might die, he consecrated himself to the religious life, joined the Augustinian order, and entered its monastery in Erfurt.  Here he followed a normal course of studies but also struggled with what seems to have been an inexplicable “sense of overwhelming guilt.”  Strangely enough:  “Luther seems almost to have luxuriated in feelings of guilt, as if, by driving them to their extreme, he could experience a heightened devotional state of self-hatred that would bring him as close as possible to God” (#1241).  Conversely, his mentor, Johan von Staupitz, “had a relaxed attitude to sin—he once joked that he had given up making vows, for he was simply unable to keep them—but what worried Luther were not the usual sins but the ‘real knots’:  his lack of love of God and his fear of judgment” (#1336).  He would ultimately solve this conundrum by replacing the obligation to love with faith alone as the touchstone of salvation. 

In 1511 Luther was sent to Wittenberg, a town of some 2000 residents, the site of a new university, a castle, and a magnificent cathedral—all thanks to the Elector Friedrich.  Here he became a professor and found the academic life fully suited him, plunging into it with gusto, reading and writing and thinking deeply about the Gospel.  By 1517, when he posted his famous 95 Theses, he had discarded scholasticism and declared that Aristotle (whose works were basic to the medieval university curriculum) “was not only unnecessary for the study of theology, but positively harmful” (#1958).  Indeed, Greek philosophy in toto—given its celebration of reason—had no value since it “was just a distraction from the meaning of Scripture, and one must give up on attempting to find God through ‘the whore’ of reason, for the point of faith is that it exceeds rationality and reveals the distance between God and man” (#338).  So:  “‘No one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle’” (#1965).  Claiming instead to follow St. Augustine, Luther said:  “‘The truth therefore is that man, made from a bad tree, can do nothing but want and do evil;’” consequently:  “‘Man is by nature unable to want God to be God.  Indeed, he himself wants to be God, and does not want God to be God’” (#1968).  Thus Sola Scriptura became a Reformation dicta

Yet another dicta was justification by faith alone.  In 1545, the year before he died, Luther recalled how Paul’s Letter to the Romans proved central to the Reformation:  “‘At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’”  There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.  And this is the meaning:  the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”  Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates’” (#275).

Luther’s paradise included increasing sensual indulgence!  Thus he encouraged monks and nuns to marry and himself wedded Katherina von Bora, a “poor noblewoman” who “was, by all accounts, attractive, feisty, and passionate” (#5455).  In a fascinating chapter entitled “Marriage and the Flesh,” Roper describes and analyzes the importance of Luther’s marriage.  Katherine was a valuable helpmate, effectively running the household and allowing Martin to focus on his studies.  She bought and farmed some land and “was famed for her beer brewing, a necessity in a period when water was not safe to drink” (#5579).  But to his friend Melanchthon this step indicated “that something had changed in Luther by 1525, and he did not like it.  The ascetic was becoming a sensualist” (#5498).  And, indeed, Luther entertained “remarkably uninhibited views about sexuality—and consequently marriage” that accorded well with his “radical Augustinianism.  If we can never do anything good, as all human acts are sinful, then sexual acts are no different or worse in kind than other types of sin.  This gloomy anthropology paradoxically freed Luther to take a relaxed view of sexuality.  Lust was part of human nature—it was how God had created mankind” (#5615).

Though Luther insisted he’d found the absolute truth proclaimed in the Scripture, his reformation quickly splintered.  When the great humanist Erasmus differed from him regarding predestination, Luther excoriated him.  Then Erasmus published A Discussion or Discourse Concerning Free Will, asserting man may cooperate with God in the salvation process and denying total depravity, and Luther responded with De servo arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will), arguing that God arbitrarily determines everything.  We are so congenitally sinful that “only God’s grace can enable us to do anything good.”  Indeed, speaking personally, he did “not wish to be given free will.”  “His newfound relationship with God required there be no free will, because “‘I am certain and safe, because he is trustworthy and will not lie to me, and also because he is so powerful and great that no devils, no adversities could break him or snatch me from him’” (#5666). 

Others joined Erasmus in dissenting from Luther.  His Wittenberg collaborator and supporter, Andreas Karlstadt, began stressing the importance of Gelassenheit—a total surrender of one’s will to God’s Will, “a state of mystical receptivity and openness where the boundaries between oneself and God disappear—as if one were to return to the womb where there is no separation between mother and child” (#4430).  He thus proclaimed the possibility of attaining a kind of Christian perfection Luther could not tolerate.  Then, dressed in lay clothing while celebrating Mass, Karlstadt distributed both bread and wine, allowing anyone present to participate in Communion.  Consequently, of the thousand parishioners present “many of those who took Communion had not kept the obligatory fast but had eaten and drunk beforehand” (#445).   Such behavior outraged many in the community—including the Elector, whose support Luther surely needed! 

Added to Karlstadt’s increasingly aberrant behavior, more radical reformers arrived in Wittenberg!  Known as the Zwickau prophets, three zealous laymen claimed God directly spoke to them.  No need for Bible or trained pastors!  They could read the Bible—as Luther insisted—for themselves.  And they could also—as Luther denied—interpret the Bible as they wished.  “The Zwickau prophets represented a new kind of evangelical movement that owed little or nothing to universities.  God’s spirit, it seemed, was being poured out onto laypeople to preach and prophesy, bypassing traditional authority” (#4534).   Predictably, the radicals appealed to university students, and considerable chaos erupted.  Soon, wherever the reformation took root, evangelicals were “interrupting sermons, destroying altarpieces, tearing up Mass books, urinating in chalices, or mocking the clergy—and they drew on the same repertoire of carnivalesque ritual and comedy that the Wittenberg students had developed” (#4227).  Even more threatening was yet another reformer, Thomas Müntzer, who came to Wittenberg and took an apocalyptic approach to Scripture, saying he felt led to  violently usher in the Kingdom of God.  Consequently, the Peasants’ War erupted in 1524 and proved to be “the biggest social uprising in the German lands before the era of the French Revolution began” (#5113).  Celebrating Reformation themes—“freedom,” “Christ alone,” Scripture alone”—peasants, armed “with pikes and swords had remarkable success” and briefly controlled “vast swathes of south and central Germany” (#5174).

In response, Luther determined to arrest and stabilize the movement he’d launched!  Consistently aligning himself with secular authorities, he insisted only his version of Protestantism be allowed.  So in 1524 he assailed Karlstadt in Against the Heavenly Prophets, and responded to the peasants’ uprisings by publishing Against the Robbing Murdering Thieving Hordes of Peasants.  His attack on the peasants led to their repudiating him as the “Brother Fattened-swine and Brother Soft-life,” “Doctor Liar” and “the spiritless, soft-living flesh at Wittenberg.”  Then he had to deal with deviants in Switzerland!  Huldrych Zwingli had orchestrated a reformation in Zurich and shared many of Luther’s views.  But he differed from him regarding the Eucharist.  In 1529 the two men met at the colloquy of Marburg, where Luther insisted Christ’s words, “This is my body” be taken literally, insisting on the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine.  “As it became clear that the two sides could not agree, Luther washed his hands of them, consigning them to the judgment of God, ‘who will certainly decide who is right,’ at which Zwingli burst into tears.  At the end of the meeting, Oecolampadius and Zwingli, pleased that at least they had all now met in person, wanted to embrace their opponents as brothers and allow all of them to take Communion with one another, but Luther bitterly refused” (#6300).

In the final 15 years of his life, Luther continued to teach in Wittenberg and influence the Reformation he had launched.  But his more eirenic associate, Melanchthon, presided over Lutheran theological developments, and secular rulers established essentially “magisterial” (i.e. state-controlled)  churches.  As Roper illustrates with Luther’s letters, he became increasingly bitter and routinely lashed out in anger against his many foes.  Even Melanchthon experienced his wrath!  And though he died with an assurance regarding his own salvation he seemed distressed by much of what the Reformation accomplished.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For a thoughtful assessment of Luther and the Reformation I commend Brad S. Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks:  Martin Luther, the Reformation, and Conflicts that Continue to Our World (New York:  Harper One, c. 2017).  Gregory is a history professor at Notre Dame who writes with clarity and authority.  The subject is important, he thinks, for “anyone who wants to understand how and why we have the Western ideas and institutions we have today must understand the Reformation and all that followed in its wake” (p. 13).  Though fascinated with Luther, Gregory is more interested in the unexpected consequences of his reformation, which “had the long-term impact of gradually and unintentionally transforming Europe from a world permeated by Christianity to one in which religion would be separate from public life, becoming instead a matter of individual preference” (p. 8).  There had in fact been many “reformers” over the centuries—such as the Cluniacs—calling for the restoration of morality, but Luther and his followers were distinguished by “asserting that many of the Church’s teachings were themselves false.  The problem wasn’t just bad behavior; it was also erroneous doctrine” (p. 9).  “Taken together, these new ideas, practices, and institutions became the foundations for the modern world.  They led eventually to the modern secularization of Western life—an unintended outcome of a sixteenth-century religious revolution” (p. 10).

After retelling Luther’s story, emphasizing the familiar themes of his reformation—sola scriptura, sola fides, etc.—Gregory turns to his central concern, the “fractious” nature of Protestantism, revealing the deeply political aspects of the movement.  Within a decade of its inception, Protestants divided into rival camps, including the despised Anabaptists as well as the officially supported Lutheran and Reformed churches.  Especially in Reformed regions political powers asserted themselves and there occurred a “reversal of clerical and lay roles:  local magistrates are asserting religious authority—and not just in matters of jurisdiction, as in the late Middle Ages, but in matters of doctrine” (p. 100).  Thenceforth Protestants divided and subdivided:  “Lutheranism in Denmark, Sweden, and much of Germany; Reformed Protestantism in Scotland, England (in some respects), the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and Switzerland” (p. 145).

Then the Protestant churches themselves fractured.  For example, Lutherans soon differed in their understanding of Luther.  “A rift opens between Philippists, named after their leader, Philip Melanchthon,” and “the self-described Genuine Lutherans” who “think Melanchthon and the Philippists are betraying Luther’s views with mistaken interpretations of scripture on a whole range of doctrines concerning faith, grace, and works, among other issues” (p.151).  Reformed Protestants in the Netherlands split between “orthodox” Calvinists and Arminians.  “At the heart of this conflict are theological disagreements about human nature, will, sin, and grace derived from differing interpretations of scripture.”  “Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), a theology professor at the Dutch Republic’s new University of Leiden, arrives at conclusions about core Protestant doctrines that are at odds with those of Calvin (and Luther).  According to Arminius, original sin does not completely corrupt human nature; human beings do have some free will and so can cooperate with God’s grace in salvation.  To card-carrying Calvinists, this is crypto-Catholic backsliding, like taking Erasmus’s position against Luther in their debate about free will and salvation.”  Tensions escalated and led to the Synod of Dort (1618-19), which approved a strong version of Calvinism while dramatically demonstrating “that the principle on which the Reformation rests—‘scripture alone’—is powerful enough to generate rival assertions about what the Bible actually says and therefore rival views about how it is to be applied” (p. 159).

The reformation in England followed the same trajectory.  Though the Tudor and Stuart monarchs tried to control the Church of England, they failed to restrain internal dissent—as was evident in the growing power of the Puritans and their violent revolution in the 1640s, culminating with the beheading of the king.  “Radical Protestants in the English Revolution really come into their own after the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Republic in 1649.  Gerrard Winstanley and his Diggers champion a biblical vision similar to the Hutterites: an agrarian, communitarian Christian commonwealth without private property.  The radically different George Fox and other early Quakers are spiritualists who claim illumination by the same ‘inner light’ that they believe inspired Jesus’s first apostles.  Utterly different again are the Fifth Monarchists:  their Christian duty, as they understand it, is to take up arms against Oliver Cromwell’s regime in their own country, hastening the Second Coming of Christ.  Seventh-Day Baptists depart from the already existing General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinist) Baptists by insisting, as do some other groups, that the Sabbath be celebrated on Saturday rather than Sunday.  And Ranters, like Ebiezer Copp, allegedly take Christian freedom and rejection of the Old Testament law to mean complete sexual permissiveness—for, as scripture says, “To the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15).  If you don’t think something is sinful, it’s not sinful for you.  If this all sounds confusing and complicated, that’s because it was—much more chaotic and complex than any brief account can convey.  Like the early German Reformation, the English Revolution shows that scripture interpreted through the Spirit, as Luther emphasized, could come to mean almost anything” (pp. 165-166).

Such unexpected (and unintended) consequences of the Reformation were thoroughly analyzed in Gregory’s earlier, much more detailed Unintended Reformations, wherein he documented, in successive chapters, first, how God was progressively ignored as a non-material and thus unknowable reality.  Secondly, he shows how Christian doctrines were relativized by contentious theologians; as Erasmus lamented, in 1524:  “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of who swears to have the Spirit?”  Thirdly, Gregory demonstrates how the nation states increasingly controlled the churches, for “no Protestant regime was even possible save through dependence on secular rulers” (p. 152).   By 1555 it had been decided:  “cuius region, emus religio—whose kingdom, his religion.”  Fourthly, as a result of the reformations, rival moral authorities presided over diverse moral communities, and in time everyone became not only his own priest and theologian but ethicist.   Fifthly, Gregory notes how the “good life” became increasingly defined as the acquisition of good things.  “The earliest New England Puritans rail against greed and endeavor to punish it in ways that would have made Calvin proud.  By the late seventeenth century, however,” various Christians viewed “material prosperity, including the highly profitable participation in the Atlantic slave trade, as part of God’s benevolent plan for the chosen people of England, his elect imperial nation.  In a dramatic reversal, the pursuit of profit is being aligned with religion, not regarded as a deadly sin or a grave danger to your soul or the common good”(p. 234).  Finally, knowledge became deeply secularized, reduced to describing material entities as a result of powerful prejudices favoring methodological naturalism and evidentiary empiricism.  Metaphysical or theological views were excluded from making any truth claims about anything more than one’s inner feelings.     

More celebratory treatments of the Reformation are easily available, but Gregory’s arguments deserve careful thought and reflection, for the fragmentation of Christendom and the secularization of society cannot be ignored.  And his yoking the Reformation to these developments has much merit.  Rooted in his longing for a “world we have lost,” his works provide a deeply Catholic critique of the Reformation—but they are sorrowful rather than scathing in tone.  As Lucy Wooding says:  “This book is truly breathtaking in its scope, erudition and sheer nerve . . .  There may yet be tie to fix some of what went wrong in the Reformation.”  Understanding it is a place to start!

313 Postmodernism, Scientism

When I first encountered “postmodernism” several decades ago I wondered at the sheer irrationality of the term itself.  After all, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “modern” as “being at this time; now existing; of or pertaining to this present and recent times.”  By definition, then, nothing can be post-modern!  It is, in fact, oxymoronic—self-contradictory.  So I was gratified, recently reading Alexander Solshentisyn’s 1993 essay, “Playing Upon the Strings of Emptiness” (crafted when he was awarded the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature), to find him sharing my view.  “Whatever the meaning intended for this term,” he wrote, “its lexical makeup involves an incongruity:  the seeming claim that a person can think and experience after the period in which he is destined to live.”   Importantly:  “For a post-modernist, the world does not possess values that have reality.  He even has an expression for this:  ‘the world as text,’ as something secondary, as the text of an author’s work, wherein the primary object of interest is the author himself in his relationship to the work, his own introspection.”  

Yet, amazingly enough, throughout the past century growing numbers of people embraced the position Solshentisyn opposed and embraced the motto propounded in Luigi Pirandello’s 1916 play:  Right You Are If You Think You Are.  In their own inner worlds postmodernists fantasize—or “construct” their own reality”—even to the extent of self-selecting their sex!  New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio recently defended this, allowing residents to rewrite their birth certificates, choosing any of three sexual categories.  “New Yorkers,” he said, “should be free to tell there government who they are.”  Now boys insisting they are girls join female wrestling team and easily win matches.  In all bizarre behaviors we see postmodernism triumphant!  George Orwell, writing 1984, envisioned such a time as ours, when:  “All words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word oldthink.”   He prophetically skewered the twin pillars of Postmodernism:  epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism.  What Orwell called “oldthink” (objective reason), postmodernists reject and claim to transcend.  

To understand this phenomenon, I commend Explaining Postmodernism:  Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault  (New York:  Ockham’s Razor Publishing, Kindle, c. 2011) by Stephen R. C. Hicks.  Primarily, he thinks:  “Postmodernism is the end result of the Counter-Enlightenment attack on reason” (#913).  So to understand it we need to review two centuries of intellectual history, beginning with Immanuel Kant, a philosopher often touted as the personification of the Enlightenment and its dedication to reason, yet who was deeply anti-rational inasmuch as he “asserted that the most important fact about reason is that it is clueless about reality” (#940).  Kant thought we can observe and link together phenomena, but essences—any inner noumena—must remain forever unknowable.   We can describe and manipulate the material world, but the “objects that science explores exist ‘only in our brain,’ so we can never come to know the world outside it” (#1075).  Thus Kant discarded the Enlightenment’s understanding of reason, holding “that the mind is not a response mechanism but a constitutive mechanism.  He held that the mind— and not reality— sets the terms for knowledge.  And he held that reality conforms to reason, not vice versa.  In the history of philosophy, Kant marks a fundamental shift from objectivity as the standard to subjectivity as the standard” (#1143).  “‘I had to deny knowledge,’ wrote Kant in the Preface to the first Critique, ‘in order to make room for faith.’”  Setting forth his “first hypothesis about the origins of postmodernism,” Hicks says: “Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the history of epistemology since Kant” (#1976).  

Subsequent to Kant, various 19th century philosophers (e.g. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) and theologians worked out the implications of his position.  In particular there transpired a profound shift in Lutheran theology inspired by F.D.E. Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant Liberalism who declared:  “‘The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence.  I repudiated rational thought in favour of a theology of feeling’” (#1410).  Soon thereafter Soren Kierkegaard “gave irrationality an activist twist” and profoundly influenced (with his “Christian Existentialism”) 20th century theologians such as Karl Barth.  “‘Faith,’” wrote Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, “‘requires the crucifixion of reason’”; so he proceeded to crucify reason and glorify the irrational” (#2164).  Equally Kantian is the atheistic version of Existentialism was set forth by Martin Heidegger, who effectively jettisoned reason and logic “to make room for emotion.”   Heidegger rejected “the entire Western tradition of philosophy . . . based as it is on the law of non-contradiction and the subject/object distinction” and propounded a despairing version of metaphysical nihilism (#1670).  He “is unquestionably the leading twentieth-century philosopher for the postmodernists” (#1518).  

In addition to Kant’s philosophical idealism one must understand the importance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s socialistic political ideology.  Though postmodernism is certainly a philosophical persuasion, it is equally a political position, leading to Hicks’ “second hypothesis about postmodernism:  Postmodernism is the academic far Left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and in practice” (#2153).  Since the French Revolution in 1789, socialism (or progressivism) had become a Rousseau-inspired religion for many.   “Rousseau’s writings were the Bible of the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution, absorbed by many of the hopeful Russian revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century, and influential upon the more agrarian socialists of the twentieth century in China and Cambodia” (#2204).  Rousseau routinely elevated feeling over reason and determined to follow his “inner light;” he also celebrated the supremacy of simplicity (i.e. the “Noble Savage) over the artificiality of civilization and its consequent corruptions.  

Yet the 20th century’s sorry record of socialist revolutions and regimes effectively refuted its ideology, whereas the much-derided capitalist system had, in fact, made life much better for millions of people.  Marx’s oft-celebrated motto—“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—lost its allure in prospering societies wherein virtually all material needs had been satisfied!  So Leftists abruptly stopped talking about “needs” and declared themselves committed to “equality.”  Capitalism had failed, not to satisfy basic needs, but to give everyone equal shares of everything.  Rather than seeking to rectify economic injustices, Socialists promoted “multiculturalism” and crusaded to eliminate racial and sexual inequities.  In addition, Marxist activists embraced environmentalism, which promoted “the radical moral equality of all species” as a movement capable of discrediting capitalism.

In their desire to destroy distinctions and abolish hierarchies, Leftists reveal their deeply nihilistic perspectives.  Indeed:  “Nihilism is close to the surface in the postmodern intellectual movement in a historically unprecedented way.  In the modern world, Left-wing thought has been one of the major breeding grounds for destruction and nihilism.  From the Reign of Terror to Lenin and Stalin, to Mao and Pol Pot, to the upsurge of terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s, the far Left has exhibited repeatedly a willingness to use violence to achieve political ends and exhibited extreme frustration and rage when it has failed.  The Left has also included many fellow-travelers from the same political and psychological universe, but without political power at their disposal” (#4125).  As Nietzsche, one of the architects of postmodernism, said, in Daybreak:  “When some men fail to accomplish what they desire to do they exclaim angrily, ‘May the whole world perish!” 

Consequently, some of the most influential postmodernists, awash in despair at the failure of their socialist faith, seem happy to envision the abolition of man.  Michel Foucault, for example,  “speaks almost longingly about the coming erasure of mankind:  Man is ‘an invention of recent date’ that will soon ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’  God is dead, wrote Hegel and Nietzsche.  Man too will be dead, Foucault hopes” (#4186).  Deconstructionists such as Foucault and Jacques Derrida seek to get behind or beneath the apparent meaning of language.  More deeply, following atheistic nihilism of Nietzsche, they deconstruct not only language but Reality itself!  Nothing can be said because, ultimately, nothing ontological is really There.   If there are objective “things” (and especially all eternal, substantial, non-material realities) around us—they are beyond knowing and thus unreal.  What’s real is simply what, at the moment, we consider real for us, whatever works for us.  So here we are:  men calling themselves women!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rivaling postmodernism for modern man’s allegiance is what’s frequently dubbed “scientism”— carefully examined by J.P. Moreland, a professor at Biola University and one of today’s best evangelical philosophers, in Scientism and Secularism:  Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, Kindle Edition, c. 2018).  A quotation from Dallas Willard, another fine evangelical scholar, nicely sums up Moreland’s thesis:  “The idea that knowledge—and of course reality—is limited to the world of the natural sciences is the single most destructive idea on the stage of life today.”  Anticipating Willard’s concern, C.S. Lewis devoted a significant amount of his writings, beginning with his first Christian work, The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), to a critique of Scientism.  During the Second World War, delivering some lectures published as The Abolition of Man, he warned that:   “The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists.”  In fact, he declared that:  “many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.” 

To introduce his case Moreland gives a bit of personal background.  Reared in a very nominal Christian home and church, he entered the University of Missouri determined to pursue a degree in science.  While there, however, he encountered Campus Crusade, had a life-changing conversion experience, and subsequently served as a Crusade staffer for a decade.   Subsequently, he continued his academic work and,  “during the process of my various studies . . . constantly bumped into something dark, hideous, and, I dare say, evil.  It was the philosophical notion of scientism, roughly the view that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality” (#240).

“At the very least,” its devotees declare, “this scientific knowledge is vastly superior to what we can know from any other discipline.  Ethics and religion may be acceptable, but only if they are understood to be inherently subjective and regarded as private matters of opinion.  According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore ought to be affirmed like scientific truths, may be a sign of bigotry and intolerance” (#275).  Inasmuch as the public schools and universities embrace and promote it, scientism has become rather like the air we breathe—something so pervasive we hardly notice it.  Sadly, few of us consider “what it does to a culture and to the church.  It puts Christian claims outside of the ‘plausibility structure’ (what people generally consider reasonable and rational)” and makes it difficult for the Gospel to get a fair hearing (#365).  On the defensive, many Christians have left and “reasonable and rational” realm to scientists and embraced various versions of “blind faith.” 

Representing such scientism, Robert B. Reich, a Harvard professor and Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently declared:  “‘The greatest conflict of the 21st century . . . will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma.’  Reich understands that ideas matter, and he hopes that scientism destroys our confidence in Christianity” (#482).  Indeed, Reich is a sterling example of Moreland’s claim that “Scientism is a silent yet deadly killer of Christianity” (#3173).

Despite the self-assurance of folks such as Robert Reich, scientism is, rightly evaluated, irrational.  Bringing philosophical rigor to the discussion, Moreland builds a persuasive case showing “that strong scientism—the view that true knowledge is found only within science—is self-refuting.  It is self-referentially incoherent, meaning that it refutes or defeats itself” (#657).  To explain:  “when a statement is included in its own subject matter (i.e., when it refers to itself) but fails to satisfy its own standards of acceptability, it is self-refuting” (#667).  A self-refuting statement is necessarily false!  If you say “All sentences are exactly three words long,” or “I do not exist,” or “There are not truths,” you refute yourself.  You make no sense, so you’re speaking nonsense!  So too when you say “Truths can only be verified by the five senses or by science” you refute yourself you are stating something that cannot be so verified’” (#671).  

Given his background, Moreland fully understands the scientific world, and he knows its champions assume some utterly non-scientific positions.  For example, they assume there’s a world “out there” to be studied.  Physicists and chemists purport to weigh and measure actual things “independent of mind, language, or theory.”  Whether or not the know it, they are philosophical realists—assuming there’s a world that’s quite real apart from their own inner worlds.  They simply assume our senses and minds enable us to come to grips with and understand a real world.  Scientists further assume the natural world functions in accord with orderly laws (e.g. mathematics or logic or gravity or electromagnetic fields)—constants underlying the changing world of sense perceptions.  Inasmuch as they celebrate “peer review” to establish scientific truth, practicing scientists necessarily believe in “objective truth.”  What’s done in one experiment can be replicated in another—thus what’s discerned is not simply something within the head of the researcher.   “Not only is objective truth a presupposition of science (for most advocates of scientism), but its reality presupposes a certain understanding of truth, namely, the correspondence theory of truth” (#853).  Importantly, Moreland says:  “The conclusions of science cannot be stronger than their presuppositions.  There are many things that science presupposes.  But science itself cannot justify those presuppositions.  It needs philosophy to do that.  And therefore the philosophy of scientism—which is not itself science—ends up also being the enemy of science itself” (#962).

Inasmuch as science cannot advance any pretense of intellectual sovereignty, Moreland invites us to recognize the dignity and worth or other forms of knowing, including logic and math.  Both intellectual disciplines are known not by empirical processes but “by direct rational intuition or awareness, without appealing to sense experience to justify them”  (#1096).  We simply know them a priori or at first sight—prima facia.  The natural sciences, however, are limited to a posteriori reasoningdetermined by observation and calculation.  Thus mathematics and logic are not sciences!  They are, rather, important ways of thinking which are necessary for the sciences.  And then, perhaps most importantly, we know our own minds in ways inaccessible to empirical science.  My self-consciousness is as manifestly real as the earth and stars.  Knowing myself as I really am requires a non-material process, but it is absolutely essential to living as a human being.  To Moreland this is a critical issue, for:   “Simple introspection—combined with biblical, theological, and philosophical reflection—is the most rational and very best way to learn facts about the nonphysical nature of mental properties and mental/conscious states” (#1335). 

Importantly, consciousness “does not fit or is not at home in a naturalistic physical worldview.  As naturalist philosopher Colin McGinn admits, consciousness is one of the most mystifying features of the cosmos,” bordering “on sheer magic because there seems to be no naturalistic explanation for it:  How can mere matter originate consciousness?  How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness?  Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang; so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?  A good question indeed!” (#2051).  This leads Moreland to stress the importance “substance dualism,” the position he takes regarding human nature as composed of both body and soul.  Consciousness is not, as many thinkers insist, merely an excretion of material activity within the brain.  It is, rather, a distinct a property of an immaterial soul. 

To persuasively refute scientism, Moreland holds, we need to reinstate the West’s traditional “first philosophy” and insist there are ways of knowing Reality apart from and superior to empirical science.  “The idea of first philosophy has been central to the discipline of philosophy since Plato, but with the advent of scientism in the mid-twentieth century (and the public’s general lack of exposure to philosophy in our educational system!), first philosophy has fallen into disfavor” (#1470).  Nevertheless, as Moreland shows in significant sections interacting with contemporary thinkers, a strong case can be made for both the “autonomy” and “authority” or philosophy.  There are, in fact, at least “five things” science cannot explain:   1) the origin of the universe; 2) the origin of the fundamental laws of nature; 3) the fine-tuning of the universe; 4) the origin of consciousness, and, 5) “the Existence of Moral, Rational, and Aesthetic Objective Laws and Intrinsically Valuable Properties.”  Examining each of these things elicits from Moreland many pages of skillful (and highly persuasive) argumentation.  He then makes helpful suggestions concerning the proper ways for Christians both embrace science without elevating it to scientism, with its methodological naturalistic presuppositions.  “After carefully considering its claims,” Moreland concludes “that it is not science, that it undermines science, that it encourages people to misuse science, and that because it is so widely believed, it ends up hurting Christians who buy into its deceptive lies” (#3167). 

Consider, for example the claim of Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, “that quantum physics has made the need for a creator and designer superfluous.”   Hawking thinks “the universe can ‘create itself,’ that is, it came into existence out of nothing.”  Though he was a first-rate scientist, however, Hawking was a poor philosopher!  To think clearly, “nothing” means precisely that—no-thing.  And something cannot, logically, come from nothing.  In fact, he assumed there is an eternal “quantum vacuum, which contains energy and is itself located in space.  The universe, according to them, comes into being spontaneously as a fluctuation of the energy in the vacuum.  This is hardly a case of the universe coming into being from nothing!” (#1740).  

So too “origin of life” researchers frequently fail to think rightly and are notoriously unable to even define the term.  Thus Antonio Lazcano admits:  “‘Life is like music; you can describe it but not define it.” (#1758)  Indicative of its mystery, there are some 100 definitions of “life”—all suggesting it’s non-material in important ways.   “Interestingly, many philosophers have provided new evidence for this argument by claiming, following biologists, that living things are constituted by information.  But apart from a few exceptions, many, perhaps most philosophers that work in this area have claimed that information is immaterial, more fundamental to reality than matter, and, given its nature, there can be no material explanation for the origin of (immaterial) information and, thus, for the origin of life” (#1778).

A lengthy endorsement of the book by Jeffrey Schwartz merits repeating:  “Scientism and Secularism should be mandatory reading for serious Christians who want to intelligently engage in the interface of philosophy and science.  Moreland elegantly guides the reader through concepts typically reserved for serious analytic philosophers and academics.  In doing so, he provides a desperately needed and highly accessible treatment of elite-level arguments that both seasoned philosophy veterans and enthusiastic amateurs will enjoy.  Moreland thus demonstrates a rare ability to distill complicated and abstract philosophical concepts into a framework for everybody to understand.” 

# # # 

312 Contempt, Compromised, Hoax

In the 1980s Kenneth Starr was one of the legal luminaries circulating within the higher echelons of the federal government—appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by Ronald Reagan and then named Solicitor General by George H.W. Bush.  He was a seriously considered for the Supreme Court slot vacated by Warren Burger but was passed over when David Souter appeared to be a less controversial candidate.  “Justice Souter was even heard to say, privately, ‘I have the Ken Starr seat’” (p. 307)  When Robert Fiske (the first special prosecutor appointed to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s activities in Arkansas) resigned, Starr was named his replacement, since he was widely acclaimed as a fair, eminently-qualified lawyer.  Looking back at his prosecutorial efforts in the 90s, Starr has written Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, c. 2018).  

In sum, he tells this “story:  Twenty years ago, after a four-year investigation resulting in fourteen criminal convictions in Arkansas and leading to the resignation of the sitting governor of the state, the Whitewater investigation took a bizarre twist.  It was revealed that in 1995 President Bill Clinton had begun an extended Oval Office affair with a twenty-two-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, then tried to cover it up.  In the fallout from the president’s misdeeds, the nation went through wrenching political turmoil.  Much of the drama was tragically unnecessary, a self-inflicted wound by a talented but deeply flawed president who believed he was above the law.  In the long and painful saga, he showed contempt not only for the law, but for the American people, whom he willfully misled for his political self-preservation.  He also demonstrated a shockingly callous contempt for the women he had used for his pleasure” (p. xi-xii).  Ultimately, Starr thinks:  “By the end of this book, my personal account of the legacy of Bill and Hillary Clinton—a legacy of contempt—I believe most reasonable, open-minded people will agree with me.  Or at least they should agree with my basic proposition:  that President Clinton and the First Lady knowingly embarked on a continuing course of action that was contemptuous of our revered system of justice” (pp. xii-xiv). 

To provide suitable context for his account, Starr shares a bit of his own story.  He was born in Texas and reared in a pastor’s home (his father ministering in the Churches of Christ denomination).  Thenceforth, though moving away from his father’s denomination, he says:  “Faith proved to be a pillar of strength in my daily life” (p. 24).  Ever a sterling student, he earned a B.A. from Brown University and a law degree from Duke.  Entering the legal profession he found his true life’s calling and fully enjoyed both practicing law and serving as a judge.  Then, much to his sorrow, he was persuaded to accept the position of special prosecutor and investigate the Clintons’ Whitewater adventures.  Almost immediately the president’s political operatives (e.g. James Carville, Lanny Davis, and Sidney Blumenthal) swung into action, portraying him as a “right-wing hit man” (p. 40).  Starr thinks they mainly implemented the strategies of Hillary, the more  sinister of the Clintons, for she had been “profoundly influenced by the radical Saul Alinsky, whose ‘rules for radicals’ included tips for budding community activists such as:  ‘Keep the pressure on, never let up,’ ‘Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,’ ‘Go after people and not institutions,’ and ‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’  She’d written her ninety-two-page senior honors dissertation on Alinsky, whom she quoted as saying that gaining and holding on to power ‘is the very essence of life, the dynamo of life’” (p. 64).  Embracing Alinsky’s tactics, the Clintons left a trail of “wrongdoing” which “could have been avoided if they’d followed the Golden Rule instead of Alinsky’s rules for radicals” (p. 65). 

Presiding over a team of FBI agents and Department of Justice lawyers, Starr collected evidence from witnesses such as Judge David Hale, who repeatedly directed them to various of the Clintons’ shady deals.  “Hale became the epicenter of the Arkansas investigation.  Through his testimony, the mysteries of Whitewater and other financial crimes were illuminated.  If Judge Hale was right, Bill Clinton was a potential felon, assisted by Hillary” (p. 62).  Others in the Clinton entourage—e.g. Webb Hubbell, Jim and Susan McDougal—were interviewed and investigated and convicted of assorted crimes.  But their efforts were impeded by the mysterious disappearance of important documents and at every turn, and investigators were constantly frustrated by the Clintons’ disdain for law.  In fact:  “Engaging with the White House was like walking in molasses” (p. 86).  Or, to shift the metaphor, “Talking to Clinton,” Starr found, “was like nailing spaghetti to the wall” (p. 239).

One of Starr’s best lawyers, after taking a deposition from the president in 1995, said he “knew the president ‘was a lying dog’” who had probably committed perjury (p. 98).   While watching a film of Clinton’s deposition, his old friend and business partner Jim McCougal lamented seeing “‘the president of the United States commit perjury,’” and doing in the White House  Map Room.  “The Map Room, to Jim McDougal, was hallowed ground because of his admiration for FDR.  But that sacred soil, so to speak, had been polluted by the self-interested perjury of his hero’s successor.  Despite his own crimes, Jim was morally outraged by the lies under oath of the Man from Hope” (p. 131).  At her deposition, Hillary’s “responses were so glib, so superficial, they were almost ‘in your face,’ alternating on the theme of profound memory loss. In the space of three hours, she claimed, by our count, over a hundred times that she ‘did not recall’ or ‘did not remember’’” (p. 100).  Starr and his team “were of one accord that Hillary was a liar” (p. 203).

Starr’s team focused its attention on the Clintons’ financial activities in Arkansas and  “never pursued any case of sexual wrongdoing against Clinton” (p. 157).  In due time, however, the accusations of Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky intruded into the investigation because of illegal maneuvers Bill Clinton made trying to deny them.  He refused to accept offered “mediation to resolve the case” brought by Paula Jones and “chose a foolhardy course.  He believed he could lie his way out of it” (p. 185).   “Clinton knew what he had done.  He had lied under oath in his deposition.”  Determined to stay in office, he followed “a multifaceted strategy:  First, take care of or at least neutralize Monica, much in the way the White House had taken care of Hubbell.  Second, stonewall the investigation while purporting to cooperate.  Third, send out surrogates to aggressively attack Starr and his team—and to trash Monica” (p. 195).  That strategy, aided by the media, succeeded magnificently, and the American people rallied to Clinton’s defense. 

So Starr ultimately crafted his “referral” and presented it to the House of Representatives, which duly impeached Clinton.   He and his team clearly identified “counts of impeachable offenses” the president had committed.  He clearly “had committed perjury, tampered with witnesses, and obstructed justice in many ways” (p. 247).  But the Clintonistas effectively massaged the media to make Starr the real “bad guy,” and the president prevailed in the court of public opinion.  To explain and justify his work to the American people, Starr assented to an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  “Jettisoning her usual Kentucky charm, Sawyer immediately went on the offensive.  She lambasted me for producing ‘demented pornography, pornography for puritans.’  On and on.  When she asked me about the tone of the referral, I was matter-of-fact:  ‘Diane, don’t fault career prosecutors for telling the truth’” (p. 278).  But neither Sawyer nor the public cared much for the truth.  They were, instead, determined to discredit Starr!  “Literally for years, my personal integrity and professionalism had been subject to a well-organized, relentless campaign of character assassination” (p. 300).

Over the years I’ve distrusted few politicians more than Bill and Hillary Clinton.  My suspicions stand confirmed by Starr’s Contempt.  Though he fully recognizes their political dexterity, he concludes:  “Tragically, their legacy, despite their accomplishments, despite their talents, is, above all, contempt: contempt for the rule of law that binds us together as citizens, and contempt for human beings—especially women—as inherently worthy of dignity and respect” (p. 306).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Healthy republics require the “rule of law.”  Lex Rex (law is king) must prevail.  To do so, law enforcement must be trustworthy and transparent.  Thus Seamus Bruner’s Compromised: How Money and Politics Drive FBI Corruption (New York:  Bombardier Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018) should concern us.  The book examines the FBI’s role in a “story of corruption [which] (like so many others) begins with Hillary Clinton” (#164).  It reveals FBI officials involved in “the misdeeds committed during the 2016 election,” including “criminal allegations of lying under oath, obstruction, leaking classified material, coordination with foreign powers, and coordination with the media.”  But it all “began as a complex smokescreen apparently orchestrated by the Clinton team to undermine opponent Trump and obfuscate allegiances.”  Involved in the operation were:   President Barack Obama; his Attorney General Loretta Lynch; and James Comey, the FBI director appointed by Obama.  Working under Lynch in the Department of Justice were Sally Yates, Rod Rosenstein, and Bruce Ohr.  Having failed to block Trump’s election, they worked to undermine his presidency.  To do so they helped orchestrate Robert Mueller’s appointment as a special prosecution to investigate Trump’s Russian ties, and he “picked a team full of criminal prosecutors, many of whom are Clinton loyalists and Democrat donors who seem hostile towards Trump” (#450).  In Bruner’s searing judgment, Richard Nixon’s notorious Watergate scandal was “fairly tame compared with the FBI’s actions in 2016” (#2256).

The bad actors in his story had both financial and political reasons for their behavior.  Mueller and Comey, for example, have shrewdly moved in and out of government, working briefly for high-powered law firms or corporations that pay them millions of dollars.  They have “worked as a tag team for twenty years, drifting between FBI and DOJ leadership positions before cashing in on their valuable intel and experience” (#2163).  Comey was thus paid $6 million in one year by Lockheed—probably for his contacts within government rather than any stellar legal expertise!  In 2003 Comey was worth $206,000, “according to documents filed with Congress.”  Two years later “he left the DOJ to join Lockheed as general counsel and senior vice president and moved to Bridgewater Associates in 2010.  When Obama appointed him FBI director in 2013, Comey had amassed well over $10 million in compensation from just two sources:  Lockheed and Bridgewater Associates” (#2452). 

“The FBI and the DOJ have long been lucrative stops in the revolving door between the public and private sectors in D.C.  This intersection of money and politics at the top of the FBI and the DOJ is concerning” (#2149).  Comey and Mueller both “fancy themselves ‘Boy Scouts.’”  But they and their associates “became rich passing back and forth through the revolving door,” though Bruner could not demonstrably “link their huge compensation to direct official action.”  They did, however, receive  inordinate retainers, which are “upfront and ongoing compensation paid to attorneys so that when their services are needed, they will be on call.  This same model, applied to government employees, might explain the massive sums that individuals such as Clinton, Holder, and Comey received.”  Importantly:  “It is not even illegal” (#3417).  Both legal and lucrative!  How sweet it is!   

To investigate President Trump, Mueller employed a dossier compiled by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm which specializes in digging up dirt on Republican politicians.  The firm received an estimated $12 million for producing the document.  “Some of it went to Christopher Steele, the retired MI5 agent who assembled much of the dossier.  Some of it went to Nellie Ohr, the wife of a top DOJ official.  Some of it went to journalists who promoted the salacious findings.  And some of it allegedly even went to the dossier’s sources, which included Russian officials” (#608).  In short:  Fusion GPS created the Trump dossier and Democrats paid for it.  On the other hand, though considerable evidence exists suggesting a Hillary Clinton-Russia connection, Mueller refused to investigate the Democrat candidate.  “Mueller’s special counsel mandate . . . does not differentiate between Russian interference with the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the Clinton campaign.  The absence of any charges implicating the Clinton-connected Russian agents above should prove once and for all that the Mueller investigation is a political cover-up” (#2065). 

The FBI claimed the famous Steele “dossier” justified spying on Trump’s advisors and got a FISA judge to authorize targeting “a sitting U.S. president, which may be an unprecedented abuse of power by the bureau” (#2107).  Indeed:  Mueller’s team seemingly has one mission—to take down Trump” (#2107).  To read Bruner’s Compromised is to have one’s faith in the federal government seriously compromised!  If law enforcement officials seek personal goods rather than the public welfare the fabric of our society cannot but fray. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, John Adams envisioned a “government of laws, and not of men.”  Consequently, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis said:  “if the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”  In The Russia Hoax:  The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2018), Gregg Jarrett says:  “In truth, this book is a defense of the rule of law” (p. 281).  To do so he seeks to show how the contempt for law evident throughout the careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton persists.  He tells “a story of corruption.  It begins, as it must, with Hillary Clinton” (p. 1).  In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, evidence came to light revealing that Hillary Clinton had knowingly flaunted important laws as a federal employee.  Indeed, her “egregious breach of rules, regulations, and laws jeopardized national security” (p. 6) 

Assigned to investigate her case, FBI Director James Comey maneuvered to exculpate Hillary Clinton “from the sundry crimes she appeared to have committed by storing copious classified documents on her unauthorized private computer system at the Clinton homestead.  Despite a subpoena insisting to preserve her records, tens of thousands of government documents were deleted, her server wiped clean, and numerous devices destroyed” (#52).  But President Obama defended her and Comey penned an “exoneration statement” for her behavior long before his agents interviewed important witnesses, including Hillary Clinton.  “Danny Coulson, who served as deputy assistant director of the FBI during his three decades at the bureau,” lamented:  “‘Comey controlled it from start to finish and came out with the results he wanted’” (p. 24).  “Former assistant director of the FBI Steve Pomerantz is convinced Clinton knew she was breaking the law, but didn’t care:  ‘It is consistent with everything I know about the Clintons.  They make their own rules, and it’s wrong.  Hillary Clinton engaged in conduct that was dangerous to the national security of the United States.  And, of course, lying about it only compounds the problem.  The Clintons have a history of lying.  That’s what they do.  First they commit the offense, then they lie about it.  That’s what they do’” (p. 12).  

Jarrett suspects Comey protected Hillary Clinton because he felt pressure emanating from the Department of Justice headed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  “We are expected to believe it was a coincidence that former President Bill Clinton just happened to be on the tarmac of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, at exactly the same time as Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016, a scant five days before Hillary Clinton was to meet with FBI officials for questioning about her suspected wrongdoing.  Perhaps it was also just a coincidence that eight days after the furtive tarmac meeting the decision was announced that criminal charges against Clinton would not be filed” (p. 38).  Such convenient “coincidences” rather routinely speckle the Clintons’ records! 

Hillary Clinton obviously broke the law because she had things to hide!  Those things are amply evident in a chapter Jarrett titles “Clinton Greed and ‘Uranium One’.”  Upon leaving the White House in 2001, the former president and first lady became enormously wealthy, raking in some $230 million before taxes.   Shrouding the sources of this income doubtlessly explains Hillary’s “determination to keep her State Department emails forever hidden from public view” (p. 66).  Tellingly, much of their wealth came from “Bill’s lucrative speaking engagements, especially those abroad, [which] accelerated during the four years his wife presided over the state department.  Two-thirds of his fees came from foreign sources.  It is no surprise that many of the foreign entities who were shelling out substantial dollars to Bill were the very people and governments who were angling for favorable actions or decisions by Hillary” (p. 67).  Then there was the Clinton Foundation, purportedly established to do charitable work around the world.  Contributors surely envisioned enjoying special access to the Clintons, and the foundation quickly raised more than a billion dollars.  “The charity also became a cash conduit, helping Bill collect millions of dollars as he leveraged the foundation to secure his lucrative personal speaking engagements” (p. 68). 

The Clintons’ modus operandi is nicely illustrated in the “Uranium One” deal.  In 2005 Bill Clinton and his friend Frank Giustra, a Canadian businessman interested in buying Kazakh mines, went to Kazakhstan.  Clinton facilitated a deal with President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whom he fulsomely praised in a press conference.  “Days later Giustra got his lucrative uranium mines.  Soon thereafter the Clinton Foundation received a $31.3 million donation from Giustra, followed by a pledge to give $100 million more.  The deal also provided Bill with incredibly profitable speechmaking fees.”  In due time, following a merger, “Giustra’s company became a uranium giant called Uranium One.  According to the president of the government agency that runs Kazakhstan’s uranium industry, Hillary Clinton pressured his government to approve the merger.  Clinton herself, who then sat on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, had allegedly threatened to withhold U.S. aid if the deal did not go through.  It should come as no surprise that it did” (p. 70).   In fact, “more than half the people outside the government who met with Clinton while she was secretary of state donated money to her foundation” (p. 80).  Tit for tat!  So it goes with the “Clinton Cash” machine!

Rather than pursue an investigation of Hillary Clinton, the FBI and Department of Justice launched an inquiry into Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia!  The document cited to justify the case was a “dossier” the DNC had paid for, seeking to damage Trump’s campaign.  “On its face, the ‘dossier’ was a preposterous collection of rumors, innuendos, supposition, and wild speculation” (p. 120).  Having thoroughly examined the evidence—detailing the maneuvers, identifying the participants—Jarrett concludes:  “There was never any real evidence of wrongdoing by the Republican nominee for president.  There was no reasonable suspicion or evidence sustaining probable cause that those in his campaign were collaborating with Russians to influence the 2016 election.  In its purest form, it was a hoax that was manufactured by unscrupulous high-ranking officials within the FBI and the Department of Justice.  Their motives were impure, animated by antipathy for Trump. They were determined to tip the scales of justice and, in the process, undermine electoral democracy” (pp. 87-88). 

Jarrett has done extensive, meticulous research, evident in his many citations, his careful concern for details, and his competence as a lawyer fully conversant with the legal system.  To understand the tumultuous beginnings of Donald Trump’s presidency, The Russia Hoax is most enlightening.