Original Sin and the Purpose of Evil

"How could a morally perfect, all powerful God," asks McCloskey, "create a universe in which occur such moral evils as cruelty, cowardice, and hatred, the more especially as these evils constitute a rejection of God Himself...?" The typically given answer is that "free will alone provides a justification for moral evil. ... men have free will; moral evil is a consequence of free will; a universe in which men exercise free will even with lapses into moral evil is better than a universe in which men become automata doing good always because predestined to do so." (217) This version indeed has the difficulty that it would also perversely justify a world with no moral good and unshakeable moral wickedness. As a result, theists must insist that "in fact men do not always choose what is evil."

McCloskey then brings up the question of why free will and absolute moral goodness are incompatible. At the very least, he suggests, free will should be compatible with must less moral evil than marks this world. In what follows, I will reply to this objection.

Beside physical and moral goods, there is further metaphysical good such as indeed free will which McCloskey does not identify as such. In discussing it, it will help to divide it into "levels." On level 1, the metaphysical good is the degree of perfection of creaturely essences. To illustrate: Socrates is better than a pig metaphysically; Socrates is better than a fool morally; and Socrates satisfied is better than Socrates dissatisfied physically. Here metaphysical evil is the distance between the completeness of a creature and the completeness of God, with God being perfect and containing zero metaphysical evil.

However, it will immediately be apparent that each creature is content with being what it is; thus, frogs do not dream of wanting to be cats; nor cats, humans; nor (it seems) humans, angels. Despite the fact that a cat has the cat nature and not the divine nature, the cat is at peace and does not envy God. On level 2, there is no metaphysical evil at all!

Level 3 comes in when we admit that humans are a unique and astonishing exception to the rule. Humans are the only creatures with an ineluctable tendency to corrupt their own nature, as the Christian story of the Original Sin indicates. Now the story of man's fall from grace is compatible with old earth, etc. if we follow Dembski and propose that Adam and his Garden may have been created billions of years ago, but the universe was created still earlier with physical evil in anticipation of Adam's sin which God had foreseen.

In thus sinning originally, Adam and Eve brought the entire lower world down with them, which explains animal suffering. Both human and external nature are now partially corrupt; moreover, actual sin follows on original, and men can now act in morally evil ways.

Human corruptibility is a unique metaphysical defect of the human nature. When tempted with the promise that "you will be like gods," man, by unjustly coveting the divine nature, despised and therefore corrupted his own human nature. (God made us as good as possible, and though it was not good enough, God's ad extra omnipotence is safeguarded.) It was therefore impossible to make humans who would always choose good. Provisions were made through the incarnation of the Son much later for the partial amelioration of this defect. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son," etc. We cannot hope to deal with the problem of evil without rightly understanding early Genesis.

So much for revelation. But reason suggests the same answer. We need to undo our corruption. We must purposely purge the evil from our souls, purify our nature of its innate corruption evident to everyone (and not just to Christians). It is ironic that our physically evil environment reflects our fallen nature and proneness to commit moral evil. The world is as wild and savage and merciless physically as man is wild morally. The only way for us to succeed in staying alive and avoiding pain and physical disorders of every kind is to cooperate and in so doing relentlessly abide by natural law and justice. God is not sticking it to us, rubbing our noses in our flaws with this irony. The point was to make justice toward men the crucial means to success in subduing the earth. Mastering the natural world -- and the concomitant alleviation of physical evil -- depends greatly on mastering one's own human nature. Physical suffering is an incentive to us to be moral.

The moral good promoted by physical evil is not heroic sainthood or glorious works of mercy inspired by divine grace but merely purity of the human nature. It is not divine Christian love but merely absence of demonic hatred. But that is sufficient. For one, corrupt nature is the greatest obstacle to grace. Heal the nature, and God will not disappoint us with His supernatural gifts. McCloskey considers the argument that "pain is a goad to action and that part of its justification lies in this fact." I agree with him in rejecting this defense, because even absence of pleasure (coupled with anticipation of future utility) is sufficient for action, not any pain. It would seem that in paradise that will be precisely the reason for the everlasting economic improvement. It could have been this way in this world, too, and the reason why it's not is the corrupt human nature which makes occasional physical pain necessary in order for man to regain his full humanity.

Nor is physical evil a good incentive to charity. Even without this evil, one can be motivated by a desire to improve his neighbor's welfare. Even if one could not relieve the neighbor's pain under no-physical-evil, he could still create pleasure for him. But does not physical evil grow charity more efficiently? Is man best motivated by the plight of his fellow men than by opportunity to bring about pleasure? Further, under pure nature and no physical evil, nature alone suffices to yield fastest economic progress. What use is there for charity then? And isn't it a mighty spiritual achievement to learn to love people who ought to be loved but are somewhat unlovable? Well, charity makes practical interpersonal utility comparisons possible. Therefore, one is enabled to improve overall happiness through some sacrifices of own smaller interest for the beloved's greater interest. This can be accomplished even in a physically perfect world. Now Jesus said: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (Jn 15:13) But in a no-physical-evil world there is never a need to lay down one's life. Hence expressions of perfect love are impossible in an Earthly Paradise. I do not know how great a loss this would be, but my guess is not enough of a loss to justify physical evil.

Moral goods like courage and prudence, too, can co-exist with absence of physical evil. Courage can be cashed out as tactical mastery, athletic performance, presence of mind, and so on. There is no need for violent aggression toward fellow men in order to manifest courage.

To conclude, a world in which physical evil is plentiful but not overwhelming is justified by the need for it for purification of human nature. A world in which further moral evil is plentiful but also not overwhelming is justified as an inevitable result of free will. It's not the case that every particular physical evil is an essential part of the overall good. A given moral evil can never be justified, but moral evils are permitted by God through His mercy for the metaphysically problematic human nature: "Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done." (Gen 8:21)

Note again that (1) the presence of both physical good and evil means that the world is physically, regarding narrow happiness, ambivalent;

(2) the presence of both moral good and evil means that the world is morally evil, since even a single sin or vice can ruin a person;

(3) finally, the world is as metaphysically good as it can possibly be which means that it is metaphysically good tout court.

McCloskey on the Problem of Evil

In a penetrating paper, H.J. McCloskey considers a number of arguments in defense of God's existence when faced with the theological problem of evil.

Let me mention a few that seem to be straw men that McCloskey gleefully demolishes. The second argument is "physical evil is God's punishment for sin. This kind of explanation was advanced to explain the terrible Lisbon earthquake in the eighteenth century, in which 40,000 people were killed. There are many replies to this argument, for instance Voltaire's. Voltaire asked: 'Did God in this earthquake select the 40,000 least virtuous of the Portuguese citizens?'" (209) But the argument rather is that the world with physical evil (i.e., one in which such evil occurs from time to time) is punishment for the Original Sin to the human race as a whole; it's not the case that a given instance of physical evil is punishment to a particular Smith for a particular actual sin.

Prior to that, McCloskey ascribes to theists the fault of "denying the reality of evil by describing it as a 'privation' or absence of good." (207) Now evil is not mere absence of good; it is absence of good that ought by right to be there. This is unlike true absence of good for which it is not the case that this good ought to have been there all along. An obvious example of the latter is poverty. It's a natural human condition of lack of wealth; that man ought to be prosperous is in no way the "correct" state of affairs unjustly violated; hence poverty is not an evil but absence of good. It is ironic that McCloskey dismisses this argument, since any genuine physical evil depends on the existence of a good God who for seemingly unfathomable reasons lets us suffer. It is McCloskey who must deny the reality of evil. It is wrong to conflate evil and absence of good; but it is also wrong to fail to realize that it is meaningless to speak of physical evil without God.

The fifth argument is that "the universe is better with evil in it." McCloskey wants proof that all physical evil is "in fact valuable and necessary as a means to greater good." (212) Again, however, the problem of evil is a logical -- and hence strong -- puzzle of how a good and perfect Creator can co-exist with a perilous world like ours. In order to dispose of the paradox, it is sufficient "simply to suggest that physical evil might nonetheless have a justification, although we may never come to know this justification."

McCloskey goes on to assert that on this argument "we could [then] never know whether evil is really evil, or good really good. ... By implication it follows that it would be dangerous to eliminate evil because we may thereby introduce a discordant element into the divine symphony of the universe; and, conversely, it may be wrong to condemn the elimination of what is good, because the latter may result in the production of more, higher goods." (213) But he himself disposes of this objection by admitting that "physical evil enriches the whole by giving rise to moral goodness..., noble moral virtues -- courage, endurance, benevolence, sympathy, and the like." When a man eliminates physical evil, he by that fact creates a moral good; moreover, no discordant element is introduced, because he leaves "enough and as bad," to parody Locke, for everyone else.

Now moral good can be elicited by physical evil, but so can moral evil. The theist "then goes on to account for moral evil in terms of the value of free will and/or its goods." (214) McCloskey objects that free will would then seem to justify a hellish world with only moral evil, and in such a world physical evil would incidentally not be justified.

We will deal with moral evil in the next post.

Essentially Lovable

There are only two things that are lovable essentially.

First, man's own happiness, relatively, by man's nature. In other words, man seeks his happiness necessarily.

Second, God, absolutely, by God's nature. God is goodness itself and is lovable by anyone who sees it for what it is.

As a result, any search can terminate either in man or in God. Both the relative and absolute termini have their places in the scheme of things.

Authoritarian vs. Humanistic Religions?

Erich Fromm distinguishes them, condemning the former and generally praising the latter:

The essential element in authoritarian religion... is the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue of this type of religion is obedience, its cardinal sin is disobedience. Just as the deity is conceived as omnipotent or omniscient, man is conceived as being powerless and insignificant. ...

Humanistic religion, on the contrary, is centered around man and his strength. Man must develop his power of reason in order to understand himself, his relationship to his fellow men and his position in the universe.

He must develop his powers of love for others as well as for himself and experience the solidarity of all living beings.

His must have principles and norms to guide him in this aim. (164-5)

It's ironic that Fromm's "anti-authoritarian" "religion" is interspersed with so many "musts."

Fromm completely ignores the crucial task of reforming criminals, psychopaths, perverts, and cruel abusers. A "humanistic" religion is for humans, but these miscreants are anything but; they are precisely subhumans who must be punished, including and especially for their own sake, lest they in their savagery destroy their own souls.

Eric Hoffer propounds the following monstrosity:

It's disconcerting to realize that businessmen, generals, soldiers, men of action are less corrupted by power than intellectuals...

You take a conventional man of action, and he's satisfied if you obey. But not the intellectual. He doesn't want you just to obey. He wants you to get down on your knees and praise the one who makes you love what you hate and hate what you love.

In other words, whenever the intellectuals are in power, there's soul-raping going on.

Now this is slander of astonishing viciousness. An intellectual is a man with interesting new ideas. It turns out, according to Hoffer, that having interesting ideas ineluctably leads one to rape others. What other pearls of wisdom will our author offer from on high?

In any case, however, there are people who must change themselves indeed to "love what they hate and hate what they love." Such people need not intellectuals but demons to beat them with many blows. They need to purify their evil wills through strenuous self-denial and discipline.

I'd have thought that a murderer who finds pleasure in his victims' suffering must go through a (hopefully) temporary stage where his ill-directed power must be reduced to nothing before he can cultivate his powers to do good. Complete surrender is indeed the hidden key.

Religion is and ought to be authoritarian whenever a man's nature is corrupt and disordered; it becomes humanistic only when his nature is healed and grace is bestowed on him.

The Christian church, consistent with its mission of being all things to all people, thus properly retains within itself both authoritarian and humanistic aspects.

Then, Fromm writes, "God is not a symbol of power over man but of man's own power." (172, italics removed) Well, first, God is not a symbol; He is a real thing. Second, "man's own power" can be either creative or destructive. If it is creative, then it is rather man who is a "symbol" of God, imitating Him. If, however, it is destructive, then the authorities of the world ought to punish him for violating the natural law.

E.g., love is a Christian, and not natural, phenomenon. If the natural law is fully heeded, no external religious constraints are necessary, and a man is free to "self-actualize," including grow in charity; for a bad man, Christianity (justly) consists mostly in a litany of prohibitions.

Fromm's thesis of course also suffers from failure to admit grace as the "beginning of glory" which lifts man above his nature into deiformity or the state of being godlike.

Finally, religion is not "humanistic" but divine insofar as the object of man's happiness is God. Again, God is not a "symbol of man's need to love"; God is the unique thing that is perfectly lovable by its very essence.

Why Rational Theology Is Important

In an earlier post I wrote that regarding existence of God, "absence of evidence is not evidence for absence."

This may be true formally but I now think is mistaken in substance. First, complete lack of evidence for "God" would make it impossible to know what the term "God" even meant.

Second, if an arbitrary idea of God were floated (and many very different ones might be), a god that left no evidence of himself in the world is not one I'd bother with heeding in my personal life. As per the previous post, I'd be an "agnostic atheist."

A distinction could be made between knowing that God exists and being able to prove definitively that God exists to another person. One may "know" via some "self-authenticating" mystic communion or private revelation, but be helpless in trying to persuade, i.e., "show," someone who was not a beneficiary of such grace. However, I think that this sort of "faith" could not work at all without a solid foundation in reason.

Agnosticism vs. Atheism

Some people draw spurious distinctions between the pair "gnosticism" / agnosticism and theism / atheism, saying that the former concerns "knowledge" while the latter, "belief."

But "belief" is not "blind faith without evidence"; it's a very normal and everyday intellectual phenomenon: an assent to a proposition. Further, knowledge is often defined in philosophy (not entirely correctly, but let's not worry about that now) as justified true belief. Knowledge and belief are not independent of each other. One cannot know P without giving mental assent to, i.e., without extending belief to, P.

I suggest rather that the gnostic / agnostic distinction regards contemplative life, wherein proofs of God's existence or non-existence are entertained for the edification of all concerned.

The theist / atheist distinction regards the active life.

Here's the key difference: when speculating, one can assume anything and see where the assumptions lead him. One need not actually believe anything, and the assumption may be false, as long as it is useful or reasonable to assume it.

When acting, one must base his plans on true beliefs, regardless of evidence for or against them. If one is building a bridge, then one is ipso facto extending assent or beliefs to a vast number of (hopefully) true propositions in math, physics, etc. It may be that the builder is using a controversial theory in his project. Despite the fact that many scientists hold this theory in contempt, all is forgiven as long as the bridge works.

Thus, if you live your life without relying on God in any way, then you are a (practical) atheist. If, in building a life for yourself (and not just a bridge), you do not depend on anything God-related, regardless of any speculative disputes about any proofs of God's existence, you're an atheist. If you resolve in your heart: things of God "have no use to me, and so I make all my plans without regard to them," then you are a confirmed atheist.

Further, the distinction between agnostic theists and agnostic atheists is uninteresting in philosophy. The discussion proceeds between

1) those who think there is a proof of God's existence;
2) those who think there is a proof of God's non-existence; and
3) those who are unsure but are capable of contributing to the debate by taking, in a purely speculative way, at one point one side, and at another the other side, as matters appear to them.

Whether the agnostic is in addition a theist or atheist is his own personal life -- as in, paying heed to God or ignoring gods -- is his own business and no one else's.

Being unconvinced by arguments either for or against God's existence makes one an agnostic. If one also lives his life without worrying about God (or gods, or unicorns), then he is demonstrating his atheism to all concerned. But that's an arbitrary lifestyle choice of one's own personal career. It has no value for the speculative question of whether God exists.

If one is an agnostic, both atheism and theism are choices in the same manner as the choice of preferred ice cream flavor. For example, one might lean toward agnostic theism simply out of overabundance of caution, as per the Pascal's wager. Only if one is a "gnostic" is he ineluctably moved toward belief by evidence either for or against God's existence. I'm not concerned here to analyze Pascal's wager, only to point out that the two distinctions fall into the two axes of the division of life into active and contemplative.

Atheism vs. Materialism

Walter Block writes about Rothbard: "I'm an atheist, but I just know he's up there somewhere, looking down on us, and rooting us on."

Well, Block's atheism does not entail materialism, and as an Austrian economist, he'll probably want to disavow materialism on independent grounds.

But then Rothbard has an immaterial "soul," which may, for all Block knows, be immortal.

And in that case there may be, say, an infinite cycle of deaths and rebirths, such that a man lives in this world, dies, lingers in some sort of otherworldly heaven for a while, and is reborn again.

So, Rothbard may already have reincarnated; or he may indeed be "up there somewhere, looking down on us, and rooting us on," even if that new life for him still lacks God.

In short, "there is no God" does not entail "there are no men," i.e., there are only clouds of atoms that seem special and different from mere matter (as in, say, heeding the laws of economics) but in fact are an "illusion," whatever that means.

Specified Complexity and Design

Matson presents the "Humean" design inference in the following manner:

(1) Natural objects share with artifacts the common characteristics of adjustment of parts and curious adapting of means to ends.
(2) Artifacts have these characteristics because they are products of design.
Therefore,
(3) Natural objects are probably products of a great designer. (84)

He has 2 objections to it. First, this argument is "by analogy" and resembles too well an utterly fallacious reasoning such as:

(4) Natural objects share with artifacts the common characteristic of being colored.
(5) Artifacts are colored by being painted or dyed.
Therefore,
(6) Natural objects are probably colored by a great painter-dyer. (85)

My reply is that if we inspect any object that exhibits specified complexity (SC) (for "curious adapting," etc.) for which we can find out by other means whether it was intelligently designed, then it will turn out that it actually was intelligently designed. It will then stand to reason that even SC objects for which we have no other evidence that they were products of intelligent design still were products of intelligent design also.

Color, on the other hand, cannot spark a design inference. That X is red is no reliable indicator of X's having been designed, because many red objects that are such that we know whether or not they were products of ID (by evidence other than their color), were not in fact products of ID. Unlike SC objects. As a result, (3) follows, and (6) does not.

Second, Matson suggests that we are often "able to tell whether something is an artifact without knowing what it is for or whether its parts are accurately adjusted." (88) That's very true. (Note that complexity, purpose, and design inference are 3 different things.) Sometimes design may be inferred through something other than specified complexity. This does not affect the point that SC is in itself a reliable indicator of design. SC is sufficient for a design inference, even if not necessary. But no more than this is needed for ascribing design to many "natural objects" such as biological systems.

If we restrict our attention to SC, then we may indeed miss a few instances of design, such as based on "machining, materials that do not exist in nature, regular markings, and the like." (89) There may be false negatives. But there will not be false positives; SC is almost fully guaranteed to yield correct inferences. Once again (3) follows from (1) and (2), even if on occasion we might fail to detect design via those premises.

Wise Dembski

William Dembski has used the term "4th law of thermodynamics" to describe the law of conservation of information. For this he was savaged by the Darwinian fanatics who suggested that postulating a new law of nature was insane.

But here is philosopher Wallace I. Matson who in a 1965 book The Existence of God gave an example similar to one Dembski used to illustrate the law:

A common example of increase of entropy is the diffusion of liquids.

Half fill a beaker with water and then very carefully pour red wine into the upper half. There will then be two layers, the bottom one colorless and the top one red. If the beaker is left undisturbed, in time the differentiation will vanish; a uniformly pink fluid will be found in it.

This is because the molecules of water and wine at the boundary are in constant random motion, some up, some down. The molecules of wine will pass into the water, and vice versa. The process is not reversible...

But suppose now that a solid disc is placed horizontally in the middle of the beaker. There is a hole in it just big enough to allow a single molecule to pass; and the hole is provided with a cover. This cover is held by an infinitesimal but intelligent being ("Maxwell's demon") who is able to distinguish water molecules from wine molecules, as in their random motion they approach the hole.

Whenever he sees a wine molecule approaching from below, or a water molecule from above, he opens the hole and lets the molecule pass through; otherwise he keeps it shut. In this way, the mixture might separate itself (for the demon does not shove any of the molecules; he does no work on this isolated system), and its entropy might decrease under the guidance but not added physical energy of an intelligence. (Critiques of God, 79)

Matson then objects that human intelligence is embodied, and so the 4th law is not by that fact an exception to the 2nd law. There may be something to this objection, but the point is this: as long as an intelligent agent has certain true beliefs, however acquired, then he may be able to costlessly decrease the entropy in a system.

It may be that in order to obtain those true beliefs, such as which molecules are water and which are wine, an embodied intelligence must expend energy and in the end increase overall entropy, with the upshot that "there is no 'anabolic and antientropic factor of whose existence we are certain in ourselves.'" But an ideal mind is immaterial, as for that matter is God. Hence the argument works, and Dembski is correct.

Leftist Race Fanaticism Explained

Progressives define racism as prejudice + "power." Thus, Tom Woods writes, in connection with the looming official robbery of whites in South Africa:

So if as a black person you were to say, "Let's start burning down white neighborhoods," this would not be racist.

But what about in black-run countries, where virtually all-black political parties rule? Surely those black people, who obviously do hold power, can be racist?

(Doesn't a person who is burning down a neighborhood have power over his victims? Why limit power to holding political office?)

Progressives believe that black people cannot be racist even when they hold all power in African countries and proceed to loot and murder whites, because blacks, they feel, are pathetic miserable sad sons of bitches who should be pitied for their weak and woeful worthlessness.

They are just animals, or at best half-devils, half-children. It's as absurd to blame blacks for killing whites as to blame wolves for killing sheep.

Their minds are too primitive to come up with an ideology, even as dumb as racism.

White people's flaws, on the other hand, cannot be forgiven so easily, e.g., "from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded," etc.

In short, white liberals consider blacks to be like the zerg, an infestation, a natural disaster. Blacks are a plague of locusts that destroys entire towns, which is a defensible opinion. But locusts are man's natural enemies and to be exterminated at will, and lefties also tend to grasp, rightly, that blacks are human beings who cannot be exterminated and ought even to be loved. The contradiction and cognitive dissonance thereby created are the reason for the left's striking fanaticism about race.

All Partial Evil, Universal Good?

Ernest Nagel criticizes the argument that

the things called evil are evil only because they are viewed in isolation; they are not evil when viewed in proper perspective and in relation to the rest of the universe. ...

it is unsupported speculation...

For the argument can be turned around: what we judge to be a good is a good only because it is viewed in isolation; when it is viewed in its proper perspective, and in relation to the entire scheme of things, it is an evil. This is in fact a standard form of the argument for a universal pessimism. Is it any worse than the similar argument for a universal optimism? (Critiques of God, 13-4)

Yes, but the point is that as long as it is merely possible, even if unknown and unproven, that all partial evil contributes to the universal greatest good, the attack on theism by the problem of evil is to an extent blunted. I already pointed out that, contra Nagel, atheism dissolves rather than solves the problem of evil, as an atheist is willy-nilly forced to contend that there is no such thing as evil at all. At the same time, the theological problem of evil posits a logical contradiction between the goodness and perfection of the Creator and the sorry state of the creation. Since our author does not demonstrate that this is not the best possible world, his refutation of this particular defense fails.

God’s Formal Cause

Recall that man has his material, efficient, and final causes within, but his formal cause, the answer to the question, "What am I?" is external to him and is determined by God.

God in turn has all 4 Aristotelian causes inside natively. This has two implications.

First, God is His own eternal act of self-actualization, such that His self-discovery and self-creation are one and the same act. God "comes to be" upon understanding Himself, as His act, essence, and existence are numerically identical with each other.

Second, God must agree to be God. He must approve of it and like it. As a result, God even upon grasping His own simple essence is free to become anything. If God had been annoyed at being God and preferred to be a horse instead, He had the right to become a horse. Thankfully for all concerned, it pleased God immensely to be Himself.

Christ’s Free Knowledge, 2

I have considered one reason contra and one pro to the effect that God the Son was fully ad extra omniscient prior to the Incarnation.

The question is motivated by Mt 24:36, "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."

But reason, too, suggests something like that, insofar as Christ must've lived through the human experience before He could "learn" how He would decide.

One consideration inclines to the opposite conclusion: how could the entire project of creation have been started (such as perhaps billions of year ago with some Big Bang), unless it was foreknown in advance that its final 3rd stage, the Incarnation of the Son, would, too, be successful? Would God have begun to build with no assurance that He would finish?

But in reply I answer that it was sufficient for the Father to have foreknown the future events. The Son would of course put 2 and 2 together and guess what His actions were going to be in AD 30. But in a standard move, the Father's foreknowledge did not necessitate the Son's actions. The Father foreknew what Jesus would freely do, i.e., accept the grace of love for men, not what He had to do or was forced to do.

The Biblical passage then hints on an astonishing truth: not only were creation and sanctification contingent events; but so was redemption by Christ. God chose to love us, having had before Himself also the option to loathe us instead.

Dynamics of a Citizens Revolt

Given that the US military boasts enormous firepower, what use is even widespread private gun ownership against such might?

Well, guns are a deterrent to tyranny. If a man actually uses a weapon against a government functionary, then the deterrent has failed, and the result is unfortunate.

The state will practice repression and double down on it again and again, but only for a time.

Its strength lies in its design as the monopoly punisher which can overwhelm any individual or private organization within its domain.

For example, the government may wipe out a whole city, murdering all men, women, and children in it, to strike terror into the hearts of others who might contemplate a rebellion.

But its crucial weakness is its tendency to make martyrs of those who resist it justly. The state cannot afford to slaughter "its own" people with tanks and attack helicopters... too much, for fear of turning public opinion decisively against it.

If that happens, the state's own soldiers will desert, refuse to protect the chiefs, and join the opposition.

There are never any guarantees, but on occasion, individual resistance can break the state's will to rule. The soldiers will drop their weapons; the prison guards will abandon their posts; the IRS agents will no longer evoke fear in the populace and disappear.

As a result, despite its massive military, the government's options are not unlimited.

“Identifying” As Napoleon vs. Transgender

It's hard for me to understand how one can maintain a delusion of grandeur by insisting he is Napoleon. How would such a person respond to the argument that (1) "Napoleon was a historical figure who died in 1821. If you are him, you must be dead. Are you dead?"

The delusion consists not so much in imagining oneself to be Napoleon but in the auxiliary false beliefs that accompany it, such as:

"I am the emperor of France."
"I command vast armies."
"I have been planning an invasion of Russia."
"All shall bow to me and acknowledge me as their ruler."

When a biological male imagines himself a woman, does he fall prey to a similar delusion? Here's why I think the analogy is less than perfect. For while both claims can be mistaken, a transsexual need not have the extra false beliefs like:

"I can bear children."
"I have a pussy."
"My breasts can produce milk."
"I am physically attractive."

And of course, it is impossible for anyone to be Napoleon; but it is possible for a person to be a woman; so (1) cannot be deployed against a trans person.

Hence a transgender person need not be considered insane like someone who "identifies" as Napoleon.

Church As “Army”

Recall my critique of Hugh Elliot's idea that the Catholic Church may be likened to a ruler's army in its stress on mindless obedience.

I only want to add to it the C.S. Lewis' understanding:

Christianity does not think this is a war between independent powers.

It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory -- that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

As the song goes:

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before. ...

At the sign of triumph
Satan's host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
On to victory, etc.

Again, the metaphor extends this far and no farther. Christianity calls for self-sacrifice, not for crazy physical slaughter of innocents in your government's unjust wars unjustly conducted.

Rothbard vs. Positive Externalities

David Gordon, in his book Essential Rothbard, writes approvingly of Rothbard's dismissing the idea that positive externalities are a social problem:

A and B decide to pay for the building of a dam for their use; C benefits though he did not pay. ... This is the problem of the Free Rider. Yet it is difficult to understand what the hullabaloo is all about.

Am I to be specially taxed because I enjoy the sight of my neighbor's garden without paying for it? A's and B's purchase of a good reveals that they are willing to pay for it; if it indirectly benefits C, no one is the loser. (28)

But isn't it obvious that the "social problem" arises not when the dam benefits C but precisely when the dam is not produced in the first place, because it is non-excludable, and people like C will free ride on it? If it were possible to offer to sell the dam's services to C at the price sufficient to cover costs, then C would agree to pay.

The positive externality is then a "problem" not because it is enjoyed by C, but because it is not enjoyed by anyone including C.

I mean, even the most primitive undergraduate micro textbook will argue that goods with positive externalities are "underproduced."

No one is saying that Rothbard ought to be taxed for enjoying the neighbor's garden. The "tax" is a (bad) solution to the problem. But the problem itself remains: since, in building his garden, my neighbor fails to count my pleasure in seeing it, there are fewer gardens than there would be if such benefits were internalized. Some predictable -- even by economists -- increase in human happiness is therefore unrealized.

Gordon does not help it when he does not present the opposing view as strongly as possible. Why would he battle a straw man? This is a pity, because Rothbard's argument has merit and deserves to be developed further. Perhaps Gordon would reply that Rothbard rejected the idea of efficiency in economics as "operationally meaningless." (29-30) Therefore, such underproduction cannot be condemned as inefficient.

Now I, too, consider neoclassical efficiency to be a naive and hopeless concept. But, first, economic efficiency is not thereby rendered a meaningless notion; it is fully tractable when applied to the market process within the Austrian tradition, as I show in my SAtK, I, 10-14.

Second, even within conventional econ, we can still have a little model in which an excludable dam would yield better results than a non-excludable one.

At the same time, I think that we are uniquely "helpless" before most externalities, whether positive or negative, and should almost never involve the state in "fixing" them, as in the longer run this will do more harm than good. Externalities must simply be endured.

Externalities then are a metaphysical complaint, a sort of economic problem of evil.

But for all that, there is evil here, and a world without externalities would be happier than the present world.

In other words, externalities are of the same type of evil as:

- entropy, or
- the fact that no factory is 100% efficient and in particular that all production emits some waste, or
- that human bodies are fragile, or
- that some people are unjust, or
- scarcity of the factors of production

is an evil. It's part of the design of this universe; some of these evils can be mitigated with time via economic progress but never eliminated; nor does the state play any role in their mitigation.

For example, technological improvement might help us to internalize some externalities, analogously to how it helped us, say, to hail an Uber taxi easily.

In another example of transaction costs, Rothbard writes: "What is so terrible about transaction costs? On what basis are they considered the ultimate evil, so that their minimization must override all other considerations of choice, freedom, and justice?" Gordon comments: "If one responds that reducing these costs has some, but not overriding importance, Rothbard's question compels one to specify how much, and why, they are to count." (34) Well, they are costs, and hopefully sooner or later, solutions that increase welfare by diminishing these particular costs, too, will be found. They count no more and no less than other costs that also constrain human happiness.

Note though that if such solutions are found, they will be found by entrepreneurs not by economists. Most economists are terrible entrepreneurs, and vice versa. Economists should not aspire to drive the market. So, I agree that this "approach" to welfare economics is absurd: economists can contribute little to diminishing transaction costs.

For these reasons, I agree that externalities are not a "social" problem or physical evils; but they are still metaphysical evils, an ultimate and irreparable defect in the nature of the world.

Christ’s Free Knowledge Prior to Incarnation

God the Son's omniscience regarding His free knowledge before His incarnation may have extended only up to that point.

For in order for Christ to know that He would love us even after our worst possible crime against Him personally, He must have possessed de se, i.e., experiential, knowledge of or intimate familiarity with "what's it like" to live -- and die -- as Jesus.

It is difficult to believe that He could simply foresee in eternity His decision to accept the grace of charity for humans after His death.

On the other hand, if the Son did not foresee it, then there was a chance that creation would have been in vain. It seems less than Godlike to go through with the project if it was truly unknown whether it would succeed or fail at its final stage.

We might then turn Jesus' own parable against Him:

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?

Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, "This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish." (Lk 14:28-30)

Could we really have ended up the pathetic creatures of a pathetic God? Surely not.

Psychology of Egalitarianism

I understand it when in an athletic competition, such as the Olympic games, one struggles to be the best in his club or country or the world. What he wants is to be champion; there is an aspect of glory in this; and seeking glory is a genuinely human vanity.

But why would anyone seek to be equal to anybody else? What does the motivation to equality consist in? What good am I gaining when I find myself equal in whatever aspect to X?

Both victory and equality are "relational" goods. For example, I am a champion when I am better than Smith, Jones, and everyone else in some sports or other. Whether I achieve glory may depend on where other people are relative to me and in particular whether I am superior to them. Similarly, I am equal only in relation to others.

And yet the search for victory in competition seems perfectly reasonable to me, and the search for equality does not.

Cohen’s Misgivings About Self-Ownership

As Cohen concludes in Chapter 10, "the thesis of self-ownership [SO] cannot be refuted." (244) But he hopes to cast doubt on it and make it less attractive.

Three arguments for SO are analyzed. 1) First, that rejection of SO licenses slavery. Cohen objects that all duties, such as between parents and children, limit freedom. Of course, the duty to care for one's mother, etc. is merely a moral not legal duty enforceable by the state, and Cohen is fully aware of that. He replies that there may be an independent (though indeed non-contractual) political obligation of a citizen to, say, pay taxes. But doesn't that beg the question? Self-ownership precludes such obligations. Hence Cohen must prove that the latter exist, which is a non-trivial task that is not broached in this work. For example, Simmons and Huemer dedicate their entire books to this question and come out against the idea that citizens have political obligations to the government. It may be true that "the socialist constitution requires the state to tax redistributively," but the libertarian point is precisely that such a constitution is unjust for violating the thesis of SO.

Cohen mentions the idea that "the state simply cannot have the particular right [such as to tax] unless it has the comprehensive right over me that betokens slavery." There is much wisdom in this observation. For if the state has the right to tax us, then it is the state and only the state that determines the amount of the tax. Nothing other than public opinion (and perhaps the Laffer curve) prevents the legislators from imposing either a 1% or 99% income tax. The government then effectively owns everything that we produce and alone decides how much to take and how much to let us keep. It follows that individuals are almost fully enslaved, and the only freedoms they enjoy are due to the magnanimous decision of the rulers not to interfere too much. That the slave-master is at times less cruel and demanding than he could be does not take the sting out of being a slave. Or, as Mises thought, "But for the inefficiency of the law-givers and the laxity, carelessness, and corruption of many of the functionaries, the last vestiges of the market economy would have long since disappeared." (HA, 859) Pile on, brother.

Cohen adduces two more arguments in regard to slavery. First, that even many libertarians agree that taxation for the purpose of financing the police is justified. "It is impossible to argue that an hour's labor that ends up as part of somebody's welfare payment is like slavery, while an hour's labor that ends up as part of a policeman's salary is not, when focus is on the condition of the putative slave himself." (235) Now it's true that self-ownership has anarchistic implications as Rothbard amply demonstrates. The problem with natural-law anarchy is that it would only work in the state of pure and uncorrupt nature. But nature in fact fails at least occasionally. The inherent injustice of taxes for law enforcement and a few other essential government services is permitted to a small degree so that the heavens do not fall. Further, taxation for the sake of police, etc., constitutes the absolutely essential taxes which fall far short of Cohen's preferred egalitarian redistribution. His first argument can in fact be brought to bear in favor of SO: "Suppose that you are an innocent person and that I forcibly detain you in a room for five minutes. ... there is a massive normative difference between this brief detention and life-long imprisonment. Brief detention of an innocent person might be justified by, for example, temporary needs of social order, even if life-long imprisonment of an innocent person could never be justified." (231) Very good, then SO survives practically intact the imposition of a small tax by the local government to preserve law and order.

Second, that slavery is as much a problem for libertarianism as it is for statism, because it need not be unlibertarian to allow voluntary slave contracts. As I have suggested, slave contracts are both somewhat self-contradictory and senseless. Another point is that while you can alienate and therefore sell your labor, you cannot alienate your control over your body as such. These are reasons not to recognize slave contracts in a free society. If, however, some such contracts are not unjust, then Cohen's argument is fixed by modifying "slavery" with "coerced / non-contractual" (such as regarding its being morally intolerable).

2) The second argument deals with decreased autonomy under no-SO. By "autonomy," Cohen means "the range of a person choice, as opposed to a feature of a person's character, related to his powers of deliberation and self-control." (236) In response, Cohen invokes his pathetic propertyless proletarians who allegedly lack autonomy under capitalism. I've dealt with this claim earlier. But it's precisely the self-control that is lacking under no self-ownership. This becomes obvious when we consider the situation of a creative artist that Cohen uses. Mises makes the following point: to promote the arts "all that society can achieve... is to provide an environment which does not put insurmountable obstacles in the way of the genius and makes the common man free enough from material concerns to become interested in things other than mere breadwinning." (HA, 155) The plight of a creative man under socialism is twofold. First, socialist citizens are required to worship the totalitarian state. A creative artist becomes a popular rival to the state for the people's affections. This cannot be and usually is not tolerated. In addition, "under a bureaucratic system it is necessary to convince those at the top, as a rule old men accustomed to do things in prescribed ways, and no longer open to new ideas. No progress and no reforms can be expected in a state of affairs where the first step is to obtain the consent of the old men. The pioneers of new methods are considered rebels and are treated as such. For a bureaucratic mind law abidance, i.e., clinging to the customary and antiquated, is the first of all virtues." (Bureaucracy, 67)

Self-ownership then permits creative advance by freeing artists and innovators from the necessity of seeking permission from the authorities to contribute to society.

3) The third argument suggests that absence of self-ownership entails using people in an un-Kantian manner as means rather than ends. Cohen replies that even in the free market people "use" each other quite legitimately: "Of course I treat the ticket-seller as a means when I hand him the money and thereby get him to hand me my ticket. For I interact with him only because he is my means of getting a ticket." (239)

But this is beside the point which is rather that Cohen cannot coercively conscript any Smith into causes for which Smith himself does not care, including helping the disabled or whatever. Cohen would then be using Smith to further ends to which Smith is opposed or at least indifferent to, and Cohen is commandeering Smith's property against his will and imposing a pure cost on him without conferring any corresponding benefit.

Treating one as an end means recognizing that each person has his own ends for which he cares; and that society is supposed to benefit all its members, such that in fact for each individual, "society is the great means for the attainment of [his] earthly ends." (HA, 179) I should naturally rejoice that other human beings exist. But unjust violence tempts me to want to leave society, because unlike social cooperation, state coercion makes me worse off. Smith would prefer it that Cohen and his fellow looters drop dead.

Redistributive taxation ignores the victim's own values and goals and projects, treating him only as a tool to be used by the redistributor for the latter's selfish ends.