Author Archives: Dmitry Chernikov

Absurdity of the Welfare State: “Love”

Brink Lindsey writes:

I see overwhelming evidence that government social programs greatly improve outcomes in key dimensions of human welfare. And I see no reason to think that there is any invisible hand that could guide the voluntary nonprofit sector toward matching or improving on the government's record.

I therefore conclude that a purist libertarian program of severely reducing or completely zeroing out the welfare state would result in disastrous increases in human suffering.

He does not present any of this "overwhelming evidence," only its alleged conclusion, so there is not much to argue with here.

But there are a few a priori insights about "welfare" that I'd like to mention.

First, there is no natural precept for charitable giving. A man is bound by natural law not to hate his fellow man and not to demonstrate such hatred by acting unjustly toward him by murdering or looting him. He is not required to love anyone or to show such love with tokens of friendship, such as donations. Love for strangers is not mandated at all by natural morality.

And in the absence of such love in the state of pure nature, interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible, and so "transfers" make no sense. The government takes $1,000 from Smith and gives it to Jones. Smith loses; Jones gains. Nothing whatsoever can be affirmed of the change in "total utility." It cannot be calculated whether an absence of such a transfer decreases or increases human suffering, let alone "disastrously."

Lindsey is simply pretending to be an all-loving saint who knows every motion of the people's hearts and is therefore capable of maximizing total utility with his "transfers." He longs for the power to shove around cash and "benevolently" scatter largess to the populace, because he, Lindsey, is such a good and wonderful person. He needs the authority to take from the callous, sinful, and hard-heated Smith whom Lindsey despises and impart the stolen money unto the humble, pitiful, and "needy" Jones whom Lindsey adores. But such delusions of grandeur are unbecoming a libertarian.

Moreover, no taxation is neutral. It has varied, depending on the type, pernicious side effects. For example, income taxation at its worst damages society in three ways: (1) by hampering an individual's ability to accumulate wealth; (2) when the government spends the tax revenues on useless things, thereby misallocating scarce factors of production; (3) when those things are not merely useless but destructive of prosperity, as when government bombs kill innocent people and ruin property. Now in pure transfers, perhaps only (1) is extant. Nevertheless, society suffers net harm, e.g.:

But today taxes often absorb the greater part of the newcomer's "excessive" profits. He cannot accumulate capital; he cannot expand his own business; he will never become big business and a match for the vested interests.

The old firms do not need to fear his competition; they are sheltered by the tax collector. They may with impunity indulge in routine, they may defy the wishes of the public and become conservative.

It is true, the income tax prevents them, too, from accumulating new capital. But what is more important for them is that it prevents the dangerous newcomer from accumulating any capital. They are virtually privileged by the tax system.

In this sense progressive taxation checks economic progress and makes for rigidity. (Mises, HA, 808-9)

Virtuous entrepreneurial risk-taking is discouraged by income taxation, as the reward is made smaller, while the risk is preserved.

Then there is the fallacious argument for progressive taxation from utility analysis. It is argued that a rich man benefits less from a marginal dollar than a poor man. To rob the former of $1,000 would be harming him less than so to rob to latter. Now the argument is unscientific for two reasons: first, it depends on interpersonal comparisons of utility (as we have already seen); second, it neglects the utility to people of money. We might argue that a rich person is rich precisely because he attaches higher utility to money and has devoted more effort to obtaining it. Even if we let these slide, however, the argument works for wealth, i.e., if we expropriate and distribute existing fortunes. It leads to the opposite conclusion, namely, regressive taxation, in the case of income. For a rich man presumably benefits "little" from an extra $1,000 of money income added to his net worth, and a poor man benefits "a lot." Surely, a panhandler on the street will glow with joy upon receiving one grand; the same amount will leave a modern-day Croesus unperturbed. In order to equalize these marginal utilities, we would need to take away most of the poor man's wage and leave most of the rich man's in his hands.

Progressive income taxation does not equalize total utilities, because "net worth" and "rate of increase of net worth via an income stream" are completely different variables; and it does not equalize marginal utilities for the reasons just stated. Hence, the argument fails. Is that was the reason for Lindsey's faux benevolence, he is clearly undone.

And so on regarding the social inefficiency of taxation.

It should be clear that "charity," understood as (1) feelings of love toward a person and (2) the sacrament of such love of rendering help to him, is a precept not of nature but of grace. It's a religious and specifically Christian injunction.

One immediate consequence is that it is morally repugnant to force non-Christians who do not feel any such charity to finance others through coerced "welfare."

Now I've already argued that only if Smith loved Jones with love of friendship would a free gift of money by Smith to Jones, as per Smith's own choice, unequivocally increase total utility.

But all these considerations are minor, and the problem is actually far more formidable. The main point is that works of mercy increase the love in one's heart. Dostoevsky asserts the importance of "active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably," he advises. "In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain." (Brothers Karamazov)

And that is ultimately the only reason to do such works. Service to mankind is rendered by Smith for the sake of Smith's own virtues including the theological virtue of charity within him. It is through such humble service in grace that Smith earns his exaltation in glory and happiness in the life to come. The recipient of Smith's charity Jones obtains temporal goods. Smith, in addition, obtains the eternal good of friendship with God and happiness in heaven. St. Thomas makes it abundantly clear: "Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has more charity; because where there is the greater charity, there is the more desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt and prepared to receive the object desired. Hence he who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and will be the more beatified." (ST, I, 12, 6)

It should now be clear that coerced "welfare" shorts-circuits this dynamics. It still bestows the temporal goods on Jones (at a cost to Smith and with net loss to society), but Smith earns no eternal goods for himself. The "transfer" does not result in the moral improvement of the giver. Thus, the "welfare" state endangers Smith's salvation. In this sense, it is a demonic institution and as such, an enemy to the human race.

This constitutes the first perversion of the welfare state, relating to love. The next post will consider the second one, relating to knowledge.

Why God “Allows” Evil

A meme on an atheist Facebook group showed a picture of a crawling starving black African with the following caption: "People who think that their god grants them special favors, while that same god allows millions of people to suffer and starve, are not only delusional, they're also especially arrogant, vain, and self-absorbed."

I asked, "Why do the atheists allow them to suffer and starve?"

Justin replied: "Because we don't all have the resources to help them. There are atheist foundations trying, plenty of them. They just aren't as well funded or as old as religious organizations."

I countered with: "It is no argument against God's existence that He will not do your work for you."

A woman named Jennifer continued the argument:

You're missing the point here, Dmitry. Atheists don't claim to be treated special because we believe in a higher power. I've met plenty of "Christians" who think if God wanted people to have food he would supply them with it.

The point of this meme wasn't to say the religious are doing a bad job helping world hunger (they are), but to show how arrogant you are for thinking you have food because of your religion.

There is a genuine confusion here. I have food on the one hand because of the conjunction of numerous secondary causes, such as because I live in a capitalist society, because of the human mastery of the material world, because of my own usefulness to fellow men within social cooperation or other people's charity toward me, and so on.

But as regards the first cause, I may have food to the extent that Jesus' advise was true and sensible: "So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Mt 6:31-33)

In other words, if you seek only food, then obeying natural laws, including the laws of economics and physics, is both necessary and sufficient for success at finding it.

If, however, you seek "God's kingdom and righteousness," then such obedience is only necessary and not sufficient. The promise of Christianity is that even if your main concern is not food but moral perfection, God will still, through whatever sneaky way He invents, help you find food. (What could those ways be? Well, they may take the form of surprising and welcome opportunities to escape danger or succeed financially.)

The important for us point is that, as we can see, prudent conduct is necessary in both cases. For example, it was only a relatively short while ago that people "learned with stupefaction that there is another aspect from which human action might be viewed than that of good and bad, of fair and unfair, of just and unjust," writes Mises. "In the course of social events there prevails a regularity of phenomena to which man must adjust his actions if he wishes to succeed. ... One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature." (HA, 2)

The reason why the African in the meme was starving is that one way or another, he failed to provide for himself. Now Jesus indeed fed 4,000 with 7 loaves and a few fish. But the purpose of this miracle was to authenticate Him as God. Miracle-working is not God's usual MO. The error of Jennifer's Christian opponents is that they think that God will provide even for those who are uninterested in learning the natural laws and harnessing the knowledge for their own profit. "The economic policies of the last decades have been the outcome of a mentality that scoffs at any variety of sound economic theory and glorifies the spurious doctrines of its detractors," Mises goes on. "The blame for the unsatisfactory state of economic affairs can certainly not be placed upon a science which both rulers and masses despise and ignore." (HA, 9-10) In reality, however, such contempt is a major sin, and God does not listen to sinners. It does not matter how much one strives for heavenly glory if he refuses to work and as a result dies from starvation. All divine grace builds on nature. The top will be torn down, if the foundation is corrupted.

Now it may be objected that the African's plight is not strictly his own fault. Maybe bad government policies in his country have caused a famine. Very well, consider the following: "As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.'" (Jn 9:1-4)

Each of us is his brother's keeper. So, do the works of God that Jesus spoke of and gave examples of and worry less about the theological problem of evil.

P.S. Jennifer then is right that the argument she's heard from some Christians is grotesque. God will not up and "supply" the African with food through some miracle. The African's miserable condition is not some punishment for a personal sin of his. Access to food is simply conditional on science, technology, capital accumulation, and well, hard work. The purpose of evil is to incentivize (1) human striving for happiness in general and (2) works of mercy in particular. There are failures even in these two, because the incentives are imperfect. There is suffering which does not get corrected. Human progress, making on earth as it is in heaven, is slow and unsteady. Nevertheless, on the whole, the world works, and evil is evidence for rather than against theism, because theism, too, predicts a battlefield earth, a bleak yet full of potential, vast but finite world suspended between heaven and hell, in which human souls are forged.

Nuns

What do Catholic nuns do? They are human, so they have to act, to pursue happiness. How can happiness be attained in the course of a 100% boring and purposeless life in which nothing happens? In a typical day, does a nun hang around? Does she stare at the wall? Does she occupy herself by watching the grass grow? What else is there to do in a convent? "How was your day, sister?" "Uneventful." And every day is like this.

Perhaps nuns aim to imitate Mary. But this is completely hopeless. We may grant that Mary has Perpetual Virginity; I find that entirely plausible. But she was married! To two "men": God the Father and Joseph. Again, she may not have had sexual relations with Joseph, but for all we know, they still cuddled. Far more incredible, she produced fruit. And what fruit! God the Son made flesh! Mary had adventures. She felt enormous joys for which she paid with equally enormous sorrows. Nuns pale in comparison.

Now regarding Mary's perpetual virginity, the Catholic Encyclopedia writes: "As to Mary's virginity after her childbirth, it is not denied by St. Matthew's expressions 'before they came together' (1:18), 'her firstborn son' (1:25), nor by the fact that the New Testament books repeatedly refer to the 'brothers of Jesus.'" Well, perhaps.

Regarding Mark 6:3, the Catholic New American Bible comments: "in Semitic usage, the terms 'brother,' 'sister' are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters... While one cannot suppose that the meaning of a Greek word should be sought in the first place from Semitic usage...," etc., concluding matter-of-factly, "The question of meaning here would not have arisen but for the faith of the church in Mary's perpetual virginity."

I think it makes a lot of sense, despite the disputed meaning. God the Father was her "husband," and it is bizarre to believe that He would share her with anyone, before or after Jesus' birth. But God would not let Mary stay in an unbecoming condition as a single mother or shouldering the burden of raising Jesus alone or without Joseph's patronage. Her human family had to be complete, and Jesus probably needed a human step-father, anyway, if only for physical protection as a child, such as against Herod (the angel of the Lord appeared indeed to Joseph with the message to flee to Egypt).

Finally, there is the "virginity" of the nuns. The Catholic Encyclopedia relates that "the Church... has always considered the state of virginity or celibacy preferable in itself to the state of marriage, and the Council of Trent pronounces an anathema against the opposite doctrine." This extremely dubious teaching is justified as follows: "The state of virginity means a signal victory over the lower appetites, and an emancipation from worldly and earthly cares, which gives a man liberty to devote himself to the service of God. ... experience bears witness to the marvelous spiritual fruit produced by the example of those men and women who emulate the purity of the angels."

What purity of the angels? The angels are no more pure than rocks. They, too, may be male and female, but they have no sex drive. They do not reproduce. They were not told, as both Adam and Jacob were, to "be fruitful and multiply." They literally cannot marry. And, as I have pointed out, human beings are explicitly distinguished from angels by having and requiring their bodies for a meaningful happiness, both here and in the life to come, and an active life. Contemplation in heaven and action in paradise for humans are united in a most sublime and spectacular way; but however pleasurable the contemplation of God will be in itself, its ultimate purpose will be practical.

Each human person is born woefully incomplete and requires, for any kind of tolerable existence, union with his or her complements. No one is born self-sufficient. Special God's grace may grant a reprieve from the sorrow for being unmarried, but this signals almost always a priestly vocation, a unique job, and has nothing to do with "victory over the lower appetites," which have always been meant to be controlled, not destroyed.

Here's what I mean: some people end up cultivating a peculiar form of charity, namely one that's more universal in scope. To combine it with the deeply particular love for and loyalty to a spouse and children may be difficult. One may decide to renounce marriage for the sake of his service to "humanity." However, neither kind of charity is superior to the other. A government bureaucrat is not morally better than an entrepreneur, even if the bureaucrat looks after some "public goods." A modern "social justice warrior" is far more likely to be a contemptible creature than a man who minds his own business.

It may be argued that a Catholic clergyman ought to exhibit precisely this sort of "universal" charity. But again, a male priest does actual work. He celebrates mass, he hears confessions for the sake of the people. What, to reiterate, do nuns do?

In short, service of God consists in serving fellow man and improving in virtues as a result. But man finds happiness in the active life, including marriage. "Service" to others is then ordered toward and for the sake of this sort of happiness. The means are inferior to the end; hence the service of the religious, just as the service of everyone else, consists in promoting the true happiness of mankind in all its forms. Simply to renounce the world and the "worldly and earthly cares" is a monstrous act of contempt for one's mission in life. If you hate living here, what makes you think you'll suddenly develop a taste for life in the hereafter? What natural drive is stronger than sexual desire? If you casually despise that, then you are indifferent to life, and then who are you? A robot that just sort of goes through the motions while waiting for death? What is there about you that's worth saving? I wonder how many nuns ask themselves this very question.

Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit

Can the Holy Spirit ever lie? (Actually, like Mark Twain and unlike George Washington, He can lie; the proper question is, does He?), Well, it is at the very least obvious that He can withhold truth, especially since the content of the divine wisdom is infinite and telling any truth is grace, a free gift. God allows us to be deceived, as Descartes famously pointed out: "If, however, it is contrary to His goodness to have made me such that I constantly deceive myself, it would also appear to be contrary to His goodness to permit me to be sometimes deceived, and nevertheless I cannot doubt that He does permit this." (Meditations, I) The Holy Spirit is under no general obligation to remedy that.

I can concede that God may lead people to different faiths for His own reasons. These reasons may depend on what opportunities God actually detects to improve us, on which faith will most benefit each particular person, on what's going on with the angels and saints in heaven (or less pleasant places "up there"), on overall "utilitarian" providence, and so on. Can we expect the Holy Spirit to testify truthfully?

Regarding the commandments, God did murder a bunch of people both directly and indirectly in the Old Testament. Could He sometimes bear false witness, too? Not about things above human nature, such as the Christian articles of faith, or "official" prophecies about distant future, as we are helpless regarding them without Him. But regarding scientific things, I can see how He might mislead someone who does not deserve the truth, such as explicitly to make him more self-reliant. If a scientist is praying to God instead of conducting his experiments properly, I can see God getting annoyed and lying to the scientist in order to cause him to fail and thereby set him straight. There are the sins of superstition and temptation of God to remedy which God might lie. Or asking for a revelation of some supernatural truth, perhaps like the specifics of the afterlife or future events, in prayer that might not be our business to inquire of, may elicit a lie to impart the crucial lesson unto the believer to focus instead on his own salvation.

Or consider a question, "God, will I be saved?" This is a tricky one. For one, answering "no" might fill the person with despair, leading to self-fulfillment of the prophecy. And answering "yes" may fill him on the contrary with presumption, if he imagines that he is guaranteed heaven and immune from sin, also hindering salvation. If God does reply, it may well be a lie in order to prevent these perverse consequences. There are things in this life that are best not to know, and God, realizing this, might mislead you.

Or what if telling a person a divine secret will in the long run hurt his happiness or salvation? Since happiness is our last end, I think God would rather, foreseeing all the consequences of His own actions, tell a saving lie than a condemning truth.

Or what if a person is asking to be enlightened idly out of some bored curiosity? It does not belong to a man to bother God with pointless questions. God would not necessarily lie, but He definitely need not reveal anything He does not feel like revealing. I can see Him dismissing the question with an irritated "Yeah, sure, whatever."

So then: There is truth in Islam, and if God helps to impress on a man a deep seated conviction that Islam is true, then He does so by testifying to the true aspects of Islam while abstaining from commenting on its false aspects. If this testimony thereby causes the man to accept Islam as a whole, both the truth and falsehood in it, then the false beliefs are no skin off the Holy Spirit's nose. It's not His fault the man was too enthusiastic and ultimately by his own choice and discernment swallowed the good along with the bad.

In that case, Craig is right that to the extent that the Holy Spirit continues to testify to a Muslim true believer, presumably it's to turn him toward a better faith, such as indeed Christianity which at least teaches that the Holy Spirit exists!

And what of different Christian theologies? People have all sorts of wrong ideas about God or angels or the afterlife. God is not hurtling lightning bolts at them immediately to correct them all the time, though He may manifest His influence as He chooses.

This does suggest that even true sincere religious believers can be wrong about many particulars and even some fundamental things.

So, I think the witness of the Holy Spirit regarding divine things above our nature is always true and would be "an intrinsic defeater-defeater," if one always listened to it carefully enough, or such as to identify His voice perfectly from all other considerations, or such as to act virtuously by fully accepting His grace. The flaw in not in God but in ourselves, and life is too complicated for knock-down arguments like this.

Moreover, my justification for Christianity is not weakened because Muslims are also well-justified in Islam. So, perhaps the deep assurance / conviction do justify a belief to each believer, but the belief itself need not be true or at least fully true. Again, however, regarding supernatural things, God never lies in the foregoing sense. As per the distinction I've drawn, both a Christian and Muslim true believer would have scientific knowledge of the best religion; but only one of them would have philosophical knowledge of it.

Dying in the State of Grace?

I have heard an argument that "when Jesus died, all of your sins were still in the future, but they were already forgiven through His sacrifice." It's entirely spurious. Sins are not forgiven by simply being ignored by either you or God. God's love is both unconditional and conditional at the same time; but forgiveness of sins is 100% conditional on: repentance, penance, and (upon being restored by the Holy Spirit) reformation.

Reformation signifies improvement which can be in any virtue or even art but which is generally ordered toward the growth of charity.

(All virtues are in the service of happiness, but charity is closest to it.)

Since man is mortal, improvement must stop at dying and at death. Improvement is possible only here and no longer in the hereafter. Therefore, if a man dies with a sin upon his soul for which he has not repented, reformation cannot be a condition of having this sin forgiven.

I also cannot insist that any penance will be demanded from this man when facing God and judgment (or "life review" which, however, may in itself be purgatory).

Therefore, if one dies with his grace stained by a sin, he will need only to repent, which should be possible in or before entering heaven, and all will then be well.

As a result, one should not worry that he should "die in the state of grace" but rather that he should live in the state of grace and demonstrate continuous progress throughout his life if at all possible.

Production in Paradise: Objections

1. In one account of a near-death experience, the person saw a group of folks with Zeus-like physiques who were playing some kind of game which involved a ball. Where did this ball come from? If humans in paradise acquire a power to simply have things wished for magically appear, then they become equal to the Father who can create ex nihilo. This is impossible; besides, such absolute power would corrupt everyone (but the Father).

(St. Thomas' argument proves this last proposition decisively: "God's power is His goodness: hence He cannot use His power otherwise than well. But it is not so with men. Consequently it is not enough for man's happiness, that he become like God in power, unless he become like Him in goodness also." (ST, II-I, 2, 4, reply 1) But the latter is not possible. Hence, neither is the former, and not even close.)

2. Could those players have asked the Father to create a ball for them? This, too, is grotesque, because humans already have their own power to control the material world. This life is partly about subduing the earth and learning to tame wild nature for our own benefit. The idea that such a major aspect of human existence as mind over matter would just disappear so completely in paradise is difficult to take seriously.

Even worse, we would be dependent on the Father for everything. We'd have to beg Him to give us toothbrushes. But humans are noble and self-sufficient creatures. It is completely unbecoming for us to grovel before God for basketballs.

3. Another possibility is that we won't need any goods at all in paradise. Perhaps life will consist of endless carousing: parties, sex, consuming those nectar and ambrosia (this is really the only way to get food without harming the plants). But I think this would become boring quickly. Everlasting life cannot consist of an endless stream of identical experiences.

4. Finally, perhaps there is no paradise; only heaven, where there is nothing but the Thomistic "contemplation of God seen in His essence." This, however, is a most perverse opinion, because humans are not angels, and they differ from angels precisely in having (and needing) an active life. As such, humans fill a unique niche in the hierarchy of being and essence, and help complete that hierarchy together with the angels.

Tower of Babel

The story of the tower, when the "whole world had the same language and the same words," and how God decided to "confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another" (Gen 11:1-9) is a unique suggestion that the world for humans was purposely built in order to demand and elicit mighty effort from them in mastering it, as per "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen 1:28)

Subduing the earth was never supposed to be an easy task, and it is so entirely by divine design. God, we are told in this parable, apparently made a slight error at first by setting the difficulty too low, since, as He realized with some consternation, "nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach." But He speedily corrected Himself with this remarkable intervention of scattering an originally "one people" "over all the earth."

This passage is of course wide open to interpretation. How did the variety of languages arise and when? But the foregoing I think is a useful lesson it teaches.

Justifications for Christianity

We have seen that divine grace is a contributing cause of faith. For example, there must be (a) grace2 given to move the will to desire to believe, and (b) prevenient "regenerative" grace1 to rid one of the vices that would interfere with accepting grace2 by fully embracing this desire. The soul must be healed and only then given faith.

What of justification? Barring a private special revelation (which some saints have on occasion received), public special revelation and its best interpretations are what we all go on. That's all the "external inducement" and evidence we have.

Now we need to believe that this revelation comes from the same God as the God of the philosophers. We need to believe what this God tells us about Himself that natural reason cannot of itself discover. And we need to attribute the firmness of our faith to God.

Regarding the last of these, it seems that the feeling of peaceful assurance in the truth of the articles of faith is the work of God. Without it, doubt could not be overcome. So, can't we say that God through both grace1 and grace2 helps to justify the belief to the faithful?

There is an emotional component here, what I called (borrowing from William James) in a previous post "lyrical enchantment" with the facts proposed as revelation. For example, I cannot prove my faith beyond doubt to a non-Christian despite being convinced of its truth. Nevertheless, I feel justified in it, while the non-Christian would not be.

This aspect of justification has been called "the inner witness of the Holy Spirit."

This is pretty much implied by St. Thomas, too:

Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation;

thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another.

If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections -- if he has any -- against faith. (ST, I, 1, 8)

But if I can't prove the articles of faith to an anti-Christian opponent, what makes me so sure? How do I prove them to myself? Well, I can by means of personal mystical illumination = the grace of God = the witness of the Holy Spirit, as helping to both cause and justify faith.

Now in my book, I claim to solve the Gettier problem in epistemology. I do so by rejecting the definition of knowledge as justified true belief. Instead, I divide knowledge into two kinds: philosophical as true belief, and scientific as something which "sounds reasonable," i.e., seemingly well justified. I then show how this enriches our concept of knowledge and helps against various Gettier cases.

So, I have philosophical knowledge that Christ is Lord, because I believe it, and if it happens to be true.

But do I have scientific knowledge of the same? Why does Christianity sound reasonable to me?

(Note that an idea that sounds reasonable and so is known "scientifically" need not be true, and one need not believe it. E.g., the idea that the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolition has been defended with some vigor, so I do not despise it; yet it may well be false, and I withhold belief in any account of 9/11 including this one.)

Well, there is the (1) public evidence in the Scripture. But we have seen that it's insufficient. It has to be supplemented with something else, which is in this case (2) grace infused into the soul by God. The combined strength of the two (1') for Christianity (2') for me personally exceeds the influence of any other religious doctrine.

But what is the essence of this grace? William Lane Craig contrasts two possible "senses of divinity": his own (i) "deep assurance of salvation and reconciliation to God"; and Plantinga's (ii) "deep seated conviction that Christianity is true."

Given (i), the content of faith would have to be rationally compared and arrived at. You read the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran, whatever, and decide which is best or most attractive. Desire kindled by God helps to confirm belief in the most plausible doctrine as you see it by reason alone without a doubt.

If, however, you change your mind and switch from Christianity to Islam, then the Holy Spirit would appear to have to testify to the truth of Islam.

Unless, that is, one argues that the Spirit testifies only to Christianity and that an adherent of no other religion literally ever felt a deep assurance of salvation and reconciliation to God. (One interesting argument in favor of this proposal is that only Christianity acknowledges the Holy Spirit. It would seem strange for this person of the Trinity to testify to the truth of a faith or metaphysics that denies His very existence.) Otherwise, the Spirit seems useless for arbitrating between religions.

Given (ii), desire kindled by God inclines you to believe specifically Christianity. Even if you are presented with devastating objections to Christianity and are at a loss for answers, you may succeed at keeping the faith, because the Holy Spirit is "an intrinsic defeater-defeater."

This again implies that no non-Christian ever felt a deep seated conviction that his own faith is true, or at least that some may have felt it but were deluded. But then "deep seated conviction" is of little value in justification: how can I tell that I am not the deluded one?

This also seems to imply a certain abdication of responsibility on the part of the believer: the Holy Spirit "will provide" even if one's grasp of the Christian faith is outrageously wrong.

So, I don't know which is right. Perhaps this dilemma is an indication that speculative theology and specific doctrines are less important than how we live.

How Grace Is Given

God can always predict whether any given grace to a particular person at a given time will be accepted or rejected.

There are then 4 possibilities:

  1. God foresees that grace will be accepted and gives it.
  2. He foresees that grace will be rejected but still gives it.
  3. He foresees that grace will be accepted but withholds it.
  4. He foresees that grace will be rejected and withholds it.

Here's what I think. (4) is default. Happens all the time. Bad humans! Bad!

(2) did occur at least once: with the angels. Some rejected their grace and became demons. It may occur on occasion, I suppose, if the person who is given grace but rejects it is used for some external to him purpose. Thus, again, Jesus berates Israelites for disbelieving in Him, which would not make sense if, in addition to Jesus' self-authentication (i.e., "external inducement"), they were also not given grace. This is done for our sake and our instruction, so that we may see their wickedness and not do likewise.

(3) may happen, because grace = free gift. It's not an obligation. Moreover, God provides for the entire world; perhaps the greatest good for the greatest number will be achieved by denying a specific grace even if it would be accepted, were it actually given.

(1), however, is likely to be God's usual MO. God should tend to take every opportunity to foster theological virtues in us. I'm guessing such opportunities are scarce and therefore treasured by God.

Note the following: God would never normally give grace that would be rejected the better to condemn a person. He will, all other things being equal, prefer (4). Nevertheless, (4) is just as bad as (2). Without grace, there is no progress in charity which leads to failure at life. If (4) happens all the time with you (though you hardly realize it), it's your fault still.

Faith: A Quick Look

Faith seems to be (1) firm and undoubted assent of the intellect to specially revealed truths via (2) a free act of the will (3) moved by and cooperating with God's inward grace.

For example, were Jesus' signs and teachings and miracles sufficient by themselves to prompt belief? St. Thomas rejects this opinion:

We may observe a twofold cause, one of external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not.

Hence we must assert another internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith. (ST, II-II, 6, 1)

There must be a lyrical enchantment with the facts revealed, a desire to believe which is through (3') grace, and giving in to the desire in full which is (2') acceptance of grace.

So, disbelief for the people Jesus spoke with was morally culpable only if grace was also given. "Since man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must needs accrue to him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly; and this is God. Therefore faith... is from God moving man inwardly by grace."

And now we are 2,000 years away from these events, and even if one believes by pure reason in the historicity of the Bible, holding that the events described in it actually happened, he may disbelieve inculpably if not given grace, or culpably if grace is given and rejected.

Socialist Computation: P ≠ NP?

Did I (and Mises) just solve "the most important open problem in the field" of computer science?

Well, I'd have to prove that no fast algorithm for solving the socialist computation problem exists, which I haven't done. But I mean, come on.

Knowledge vs. Computation Problem

I have described the socialist computation problem as consisting of two parts: first, to solve the system of linear equations (consisting of a vast number of entries and featuring numerous factors of production), generating shadow prices; second, to improve it while preserving and creating the knowledge of new prices.

I have concluded that this problem is utterly computationally intractable. Thus, the Mises' calculation argument against socialism can now, with the development of computer science, be put in highly precise terms and proven with maximal rigor.

What then is the "knowledge" problem as described by Hayek? Perhaps it's something that applies not just to socialism but specifically to interventionism. Mises assumes that "the crowd of experts and specialists which [the central planner] assembles in his offices provide him with perfect information and answer correctly all questions he may ask them. Their voluminous reports accumulate in huge piles on his desk." (HA, 696) Mises does so in order to grant his socialist opponent his best case.

But perhaps the assumption is extremely generous in itself. Is it really possible for any human being to obtain and digest all those data? Even in merely regulating rather than running the economy, the interventionist is faced with a formidable problem. Could Hayek be interpreted as saying that "regulators" don't and can't know what they are doing?

Roderick Long’s Muslims and Guns

Long argues that gun control is wrong because most gun owners are law-abiding, and restricting their liberty is therefore unjust. Similarly, most Muslims are peaceful; hence restricting travel from certain countries is unjust.

Now Long is mistaken in holding that the Trump travel ban applies to Muslims; in fact, it applies to all citizens of Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia, irrespective of religion.

But we are philosophers, so who cares about empirical facts? Very well then, I agree that both gun ownership and travel are human rights. From that point of view, the two cases are identical.

But there is also a difference, and Long's case is incomplete. The pro-gun advocates argue, correctly in my view, that guns control will increase violent crime by greatly encouraging criminals who will be emboldened by their realization of the people's defenselessness. It will bring about results opposite those the gun haters want to achieve.

Yet those who favor Muslim immigration do not propose, in an analogous move, that allowing it will make the natives more secure. It is fully admitted by everyone that the dangers of living in America will increase as a result of such immigration.

The rights-based argument works to establish the parity between guns and immigration.

The consequentialist argument highlights the difference between them.

As a result, the pro-gun case is on a more solid footing than the pro-immigration case.

But of course, there is even more to it than that. Open borders is not a rational policy in a world marked by cheap transportation and great disparities in the standard of living. Open the borders, and within a month, 100 million of the world's poorest will arrive to the US. The disruption will be enormous; the impoverishment of the natives, certain; the reign of chaos will truly be upon us. This move undercuts the rights-based argument.

Or, if Long insists that the rights of no individual foreigner are affected by these considerations, it at the very least strengthens the utilitarian argument. Here's how.

Assume with me that preventing mass migrations through managed borders is a desirable policy. Then immigration will have to be limited, even severely so. But with half the world to choose from, why pick people from Libya, Sudan, etc.? Why not carefully let in only the best and brightest? Why not prefer Christians to Muslims? Or educated people to barbarians? Or wealthy people and businessmen to paupers?

Now perhaps there are some good pickings to be had in those miserable countries, too. Why single out them explicitly to reject everyone in them? Well, the utilitarian argument now comes into play. The dangers of making a mistake by letting in a terrorist outweigh, in Trump's judgment, the utility of possibly finding a useful immigrant who would be competitive with all the other contenders. The rights argument is defeated at the outset, and the utilitarian argument is inconclusive. Trump is therefore entitled to his opinion and policy.

Roderick Long’s Kulturkampf

Jeff Deist writes:

It is reasonable to believe that a more libertarian society would be less libertine and more culturally conservative -- for the simple reason that as the state shrinks in importance and power, the long-suppressed institutions of civil society grow in importance and power. And in a more libertarian society, it's harder to impose the costs of one's lifestyle choices on others.

Roderick Long replies:

As I see it, this gets things precisely backwards. States impose uniformity; civil society, freed of state control, caters to diversity.

This is simplistic. Diversity is due to the variety of human individual potentials. But potentialities are not possibilities. Not every possible world can arise from the present one. An attempt to create a possibility that is in violation of one's potential is an instance of perverse development. Thus, an acorn that tried to grow not into an acorn tree but into a pig would not only fail but wound itself in the process. But such monstrous diversity as a chimera that is 90%-acorn tree-10%-pig is encouraged by a state which compels others to pay the cost of one's perversions, failures, and sicknesses. That's all Deist is arguing.

In other words, libertarianism will encourage virtuous, both individually and socially, diversity; and discourage vicious diversity. The net effect on "diversity" as such is unclear.

Long links to his article on patriarchy (whatever that means), which touts turning Rothbard on his head. Rothbard argues that "the Left seems to be constitutionally incapable of leaving people alone in the most fundamental sense; it seems incapable of refraining from a continual pestering, haranguing and harassment of everyone in sight or earshot." He would like "to come to the aid of the bourgeoisie, to rescue the Middle American from his triumphant tormentors." Long proposes instead that it is precisely the Middle America that would not mind its own business and oppresses minorities via "restrictive cultural attitudes and practices." He, Long, and not Rothbard is the real champion of the tormented, acting "in service rather than violation of 'a morality of basic civility, of courtesy, of civilized life, of respect for the dignity of every individual.'"

But the situation is actually much more prosaic. It is obvious that Rothbard in his short polemic simply assumes that feminism, as a system of thought, is false. He then points out that it's not just that the feminists are intellectually wrong; the hilarious absurdity is that they are fanatically devoted to their errors. And not only that, but the feminists think their ideological opponents are not merely misguided but morally evil and need to be preached to with zealous and "continual badgering, harassing, and pestering."

(That's one reason why you can't have a normal conversation even with an intelligent feminist about the merits of his doctrine. The feminist will proceed by screaming condemnations and obscenities to your face. Which is boring.)

Can the same be said about the Middle Americans? Long may of course demur and insist that feminism is correct. But there is no way is it true that "the average person" in the course of his "peaceful pursuit of his own goals and his own values in his quietly sensible life" is a screaming fanatic of any kind or wants to save the world from oppressors, real or imagined, or is out to reform the alleged sinners. Hence, Long's analogy fails.

Nature and Nature’s God

In response to my post, a person on Facebook advanced the thesis that "God does not create anything evil." But God the Father's mission is now finished. It was completed upon creating nature. He no longer creates anything. The world creates or advances itself, due allowance being made for intelligent design and grace by the Holy Spirit.

And nature is for various reasons imperfect, even obscene. It's still merciless, but it can be cruel, else there would not be birth defects or sickness or famines.

I replied therefore with a line from Seinfeld: "Mother nature is a mad scientist!"

Perhaps this is yet another way to understand the necessity of the missions of the Holy Spirit and the Son: to compensate for the obvious incongruity between the ruthlessness of nature and its own scandalously wounded and perverse state.

It is a visible injustice for God to subject us to judgment by something so evidently corrupt and therefore unqualified to be an authority as the nature of the world.

This is also why worshiping material nature, such as by holding that physical phenomena are in the care of spirits, is an unfortunate mistake the ancients sometimes made: in fact, nature is grim and implacable and will not be swayed by either prayers or curses.

Whether God Is a “Hard Man”?

Jesus tells a fascinating (and terrifying) "parable of the talents" which concludes as follows:

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,

"Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back."

His master said to him in reply,

"You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?

"Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

"And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." (Mt 25:24-30)

One striking feature is how well this confirms the essence of the human condition: perpetual improvement in whatever each man is interested in, his soul included. This life requires one, as a rule, to strive for happiness and succeed. Mises puts it this way:

As long as a man lives, he cannot help obeying the cardinal impulse, the elan vital. It is man's innate nature that he seeks to preserve and to strengthen his life, that he is discontented and aims at removing uneasiness, that he is in search of what may be called happiness.

In every living being there works an inexplicable and nonanalyzable Id. This Id is the impulsion of all impulses, the force that drives man into life and action, the original and ineradicable craving for a fuller and happier existence. It works as long as man lives and stops only with the extinction of life. (HA, 882)

I conclude my book with asking, "what is the universe for if not a process of its eternal self-improvement?"

But here I want to focus on another aspect of the parable, which is God agreeing that He "harvests where He did not plant and gathers where He did not scatter."

This much is obvious, given the existence of nature and its secondary causes which interpose between the Father and His creatures. New humans themselves appear on earth through perfectly natural human reproduction and its genetic lottery. God does not determine the make-up of one's body; nature does. God then must take humans as He finds them, with all the (random) defects of their nature, bodies, and -- because of the intimate union of the body and soul -- their spirits / personalities, as well.

So then, does God get what He can from nature and impatiently waves aside the failures? Is He a cold-blooded perfect utilitarian who ushers the successful into heaven and unceremoniously throws the human refuse that proves itself worthless into hell as irrelevant aborted "clumps of cells"? Is life survival of the saintliest?

Earlier I pointed out how unforgiving nature is, and how the Father reflects (or rather causes) this condition of our lives.

In an important book on the vitamins-as-treatment medical paradigm, Abram Hoffer et al. write:

[Bill Walsh's] experiences led him to compare mineral levels in the hair of twenty-four pairs of brothers. In each case, one brother was a well-behaved member of society, while the other was a "boy from hell."

The results were amazing. The hair analyses showed that well-behaved males had normal mineral levels, but the imprisoned delinquents all showed one of two abnormal patterns.

"Boys from hell" had either very high copper and very low zinc, sodium, and potassium levels in their hair or very low zinc and copper and very high sodium and potassium.

In addition, the delinquents also had lead and cadmium levels that were three times greater than those of their well-behaved siblings. (Niacin: The Real Story, Ch. 8)

If the behavior of these boys was influenced (though not caused) by their bodily chemistry, such as poisoning by heavy metals, it seems improper to condemn the boys from hell to hell for moral flaws that flowed from something as obviously irrelevant to the fate of their immortal souls as unusual mineral ratios in their systems. Can God really be so callous as to condemn to eternal horror people whom fully to cure physically and improve morally would take nothing more difficult than prescribing a cheap nutritional supplement?

Are we toys whom God casually tosses aside when they no longer amuse Him? It seems unbecoming of the goodness of God to give up on us so easily.

And that's precisely why the history of the world from the point of view of God is incomplete without the other 2 persons of the divine Trinity, the Holy Spirit and the Son.

We can go even further and affirm that without these two, literally no one would get to the Father, who wants absolute metaphysical and moral perfection from us. The human project would be a 100% failure without (1) grace and progress in charity and (2) forgiveness of sins.

Paradise: Kreeft’s Version

Compare my vision of the afterlife with Peter Kreeft's:

There are six earthly activities that continue in heaven. These six things are the reason we are here on earth in the first place. They are our fundamental task, the meaning of life: ...

  1. To understand God
  2. To love God
  3. To understand others
  4. To love others
  5. To understand yourself
  6. To love yourself

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 263)

Much as I respect Kreeft, this is a pathetic and embarrassing proposal. It sounds like we'll all be perpetually jerking each other off!

Or perhaps we'll be floating around aimlessly and endlessly in Kreeft's paradise like souls in the Hades' underworld, "loving" each other.

Meh.

Production in Paradise, 2

Many Christians have propounded fantastic and absurd ideas about the conditions of glorified life (or at best refused to speculate altogether), and as a result caused great embarrassment to the Church, enabling atheists like Mises to dismiss the matter entirely:

There are no such things as perfect happiness, perfect men, eternal bliss. Every attempt to describe the conditions of a land of Cockaigne, or the life of the Angels, results in paradoxes.

Where there are conditions, there are limitations and not perfection; there are endeavors to conquer obstacles, there are frustration and discontent. (HA, 70)

I've already suggested how the glorified life is going to look:

  1. The essence of everlasting life is switching between contemplation and study of the Father in heaven, and active life that uses the knowledge gained thereby for fun and profit in paradise.
  2. Glorified existence is characterized by mighty charity and mutual indwelling of the saints, angels, and God, making interpersonal utility comparisons possible.
  3. Utility monsters (i.e., spiritual giants) should not be a problem.
  4. Production in paradise will make use of prime matter and be 100% efficient; no physical entropy will interfere with work.
  5. Jesus will act as a "central planner"; and we will see why shortly.

Let's fill in the picture further. The truths to be learned from the Father are infinite in number. Moreover, one's glorified life is without end. Yet each person is finite. We therefore face 2 impossibilities: (1) the impossibility, if the Father is uncountable, of choosing which subjects, out of an infinity of all, to pursue and which forever to set aside; (2) the impossibility of planning out the study over the course of the actual infinity of one's everlasting life. But the Son is equal to the Father (rightly understood), and is united with all humanity though His Incarnation and with each saint through the Holy Spirit. He can solve both problems by designing a curriculum for each saint.

Jesus will do so by considering the interests of each person, the pleasure each will derive from his discoveries in heaven, the fun to him of building the things studied in paradise, and the utility to other saints of using the goods thereby created. His goal will be the greatest good for the greatest number, and in particular the most efficient "economic growth" planned out for all eternity. (I realize that the total utility over the whole everlasting life would seem to be infinite, regardless of whether or not it is achieved "efficiently." But I think Jesus could still optimize it in some way.) Note that Jesus could not take over "production" himself and wait on the humans' every whim, because that would greatly devalue and diminish their happiness rightly understood.

Now we come to the most pressing problem, namely the scarcity of the material factors of production. Now basic goods like great climate, nectar and ambrosia, bodies with godlike physiques and physical prowess, will still be there. I suggest that the problem of scarcity will be solved by building Star Trek-like "replicators." Such things are probably impossible as actually depicted in the shows in this world, but why not in paradise? If replicators do not exist in paradise as part of its original furniture, then building them will be the very first task of the first saints. (Since there would in this original state be no other goods to be compete for, scarcity will not exist in a vacuous sense.)

With these machines, the only constraint would be technological knowledge, precisely something that one obtains in heaven. Once programmed in, the replicators will be able to produce any number of copies of objects of arbitrary complexity. (The art of programming them, too, may be one of the things taught by the Father.) The information can then be copied into parcels of matter instantaneously and at no cost.

Even a single replicator can be sufficient, since it can be programmed to output other, perhaps improved, replicators. Of course, with physical perfection, there will be no problem of pollution. Regarding trash, there would presumably soon be machines that would grind unneeded objects back into prime matter.

Scarcity is eliminated; omniscience and "perfect happiness" are still fittingly denied to men, such that their knowledge and happiness can and will increase; and everlasting progress, as time goes on, as the essence of proper human condition, remains.

Why Sins Against the Holy Spirit Are Not Forgiven

As per Lk 12:10. I know there have been cases when people freaked out thinking that they have sinned against the Holy Spirit and are therefore damned.

To avoid such mishaps, this point should be rightly understood. The very purpose of our existence in this world is to achieve unity or unities of different kinds:

  1. between oneself and other people through charity;
  2. between oneself and God through a combination of charity and religion;
  3. between self and the material world through artistic mastery of nature and technological and economic improvement;
  4. with one's own body through health and fitness;
  5. in the "big picture," both complete, coherent, and true, contemplated by the mind through knowledge, understanding, and wisdom;
  6. between one's intellect and will through morally approving of all that one enjoys and through enjoying the things one morally approves of;
  7. between self and existence through (minimally) avoiding suicide and (normally) love and enjoyment of life.

All these unities require appropriate forms of love which is the 2nd-level unitive force. Love is of course a natural power but can be upgraded by God the Holy Spirit through grace.

Now reflect on the sacrifices God the Father has made in order to produce a world in which growth in love is possible.

He sacrificed billions of His angels, including the best created being ever, who became demons.

He sacrificed a massive amount of natural happiness for humans, for suffering in this world is ubiquitous, varied, and enormous.

He sacrificed His Son by bidding Him to receive the grace of charity for humans and then choose whether to accept the grace and love us or reject the grace and essentially destroy the world.

Sinning against the Holy Spirit, i.e., refusing to love or even hating what one ought to love instead, is acting contrary to the very purpose of life. Ignorance (sin against the Father) or weakness (against the Son) can be forgiven, as being obstacles to charity but not the essence of its contrary. Hatred (say, of other men or one's own life), on the other hand, is an explicit act of defiance of God's project and everything that living in this world is about.

The world in which each creature was first created in autonomous natural happiness is now to be unified as per the will of God into what eventually will be a far more astonishing and beautiful creation. Refuse to go along, and you may as well dive into hell right now.

“Exploiting” Animals

To deny that "people have a moral right to make money off exploiting animals" is to confuse self-control with self-ownership.

All living organisms control themselves and their own actions to a greater or lesser extent. A cheetah decides by and for itself whom to hunt and where to rest in a limited sense. We say that it is guided by "instinct," whatever that means. But it moves itself; no external force moves it directly. Humans exercise self-control superlatively and rationally, but for our purposes, the difference is in degree not kind.

However, it can be proven that humans are also self-owners in a legal and moral sense. No such proof is available for animals. Since an animal does not own itself (despite controlling itself), it can be legitimately owned by a second party, such as a human being.