Category Archives: Polemics

Are Nordic countries succeeding with socialism like Bernie Sanders says?

Individials pay extremely high income taxes in Nordic countries
Individials pay extremely high income taxes in Nordic countries

Last week, I saw back to back studies on Nordic countries reported by the far-left UK Independent and Barron’s magazine. We’re probably going to hear more about how great socialism is from socialists, and since they seem to point to Nordic countries as proof, we should probably look at the studies and see what the truth is.

Let’s start with the report from Barron’s. You’ll have heard of Barron’s if you’re an investor.

It says:

Although there are areas—especially in taxes and labor market regulation—where socialist elements still exist in the Nordics, the region is by no means socialist today. In fact, according to the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark rank among the 30 most capitalist countries in the world.

These countries used to be socialist in the 1970s and 1980s. Socialism means a huge government work force, high taxes, massive regulation of private sector businesses, and massive spending on welfare programs. You didn’t have to marry before having children, the government would give you welfare. You didn’t have to take care of yourself, the government would give you free health care. You didn’t have to save for retirement, the government would give you a pension.

The article mentions one country in particular – Sweden. And here is what socialism looked like in Sweden:

In 1960, for every 100 “market-financed” Swedes (i.e. those who derived their income predominantly from private enterprise), there were 38 who were “tax-financed” (i.e. dependent on the public sector for their income, whether as civil servants or as recipients of payments from the state). Thirty years later, that number had risen to 151—in other words, there were significantly more people living off of the state than paying into the system. This reflects Sweden’s move away from a capitalist free-market economy to a socialist model.

When people talk about socialism, they mean more people living off the state than paying into the system.

But socialism can’t last forever. Eventually, the people in the private sector realize that they are keeping less and less of what they earn, and they stop working, or just leave. The article notes that IKEA, which started out in Sweden, moved out to avoid paying the 57% corporate tax rate.

Eventually, and this is the part that Bernie Sanders is ignorant about, Sweden slashed or eliminated taxes across the board, then cut their government spending on welfare, subsidies and gv:

A major tax reform in 1990/91 slashed corporate taxes from 57% to 30%. Income from shares was exempted from taxation, while capital gains from shares were taxed at only 12.5%.

The top marginal income-tax rate was set at around 50%, a reduction by 24 to 27 percentage points for the majority of the workforce. The proportion of earners taxed at a marginal rate of over 50% dropped from over half to only 17% paying income tax to the central government.

The reforms continued over the following years: in 2004, the estate tax of up to 30% was scrapped. Today, there is no estate tax in Sweden. The abolition of the wealth tax, which had already been cut, came into effect retroactively as of 1 January 2007. The corporate tax rate continued to decline, getting cut from 30% to 26.3% in 2009 and to 22% in 2013. Property tax rates were also cut substantially.

Between 1993 and 2000, social spending dropped from 22.2% to 16.9% of GDP, economic subsidies from 8.7% to 1.8% and public-sector payroll costs from 18.2% to 15.6%.

Sweden might be a little further ahead of some of the other Nordic countries. Over in Finland, they are still climbing out of it, and the massive government spending is so hard for socialists to cut.

Here’s a story from Finland about their government-run health care system – the same kind that Bernie is always bragging about, and telling us how well it works in Finland.

Far-left Reuters reports:

Finland’s coalition government resigned on Friday a month ahead of a general election, saying it could not deliver on a healthcare reform package that is widely seen as crucial to securing long-term government finances.

Healthcare systems across much of the developed world have come under increasing stress in recent years as treatment costs soar and people live longer, meaning fewer workers are supporting more pensioners.

Nordic countries, where comprehensive welfare is the cornerstone of the social model, have been among the most affected. But reform has been controversial and, in Finland, plans to cut costs and boost efficiency have stalled for years.

The very health care systems that Bernie lectures American voters about are all in decline and failing:

Other Nordic countries have also grappled with the need to cut costs. Sweden is to gradually raise its retirement age and has opened up parts of the healthcare system to the private sector in a bid to boost efficiency.

Denmark will gradually increase the retirement age to 73 – the highest in the world – while cutting taxes and unemployment benefits to encourage people to work more.

If you learned anything from this article, I’d like you to do me a favor. Please share and/or tweet this post, or share and/or tweet the posts from Barron’s and Reuters. We have an election coming up in 2020, and right now, the people are being lied to by foolish socialist politicians who talk and talk about things they have no knowledge about. We need to correct the views of the American people with facts. We can’t make the mistake of electing Democrats who are terrible at health care, and only good at making promises to spending taxpayer money. They have no idea how economics actually works in the real world, and we need to do everything we can to keep them out of power.

 

What is the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence, and does the multiverse counter it?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

One of the best arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe is the cosmic fine-tuning argument. The argument argues that individual constants and quantities in nature cannot be much smaller or larger than they are, because it would remove the ability of the universe to support life of any kind. Dr. Michael Strauss, an experimental physicist, explains some examples of the fine-tuning in a recent post on his blog.

He writes:

I liken the finely-tuned universe to a panel that controls the parameters of the universe with about 100 knobs that can be set to certain values. If you turn any knob just a little to the right or to the left the result is either a universe that is inhospitable to life or no universe at all.

Consider the knob that controls the strength of the strong nuclear force that holds quarks inside the neutrons and protons and binds the nucleus of the atom together. If the strength were increased by 2%, the element hydrogen would be either non-existent or very rare. Without hydrogen there would be no water (H2O) or stars that burn hydrogen as their nuclear fuel like our sun.  Without hydrogen there would be no life. If the strength of the strong nuclear force were decreased by about 5%, then hydrogen would be the only element in the universe. That would simplify the periodic table and make Chemistry class very easy, but it would render life impossible.

All known life in this universe is based on the element carbon, which is formed in the final stages of a star’s life. The carbon you and I are made of is the result of the nuclear processes that occurred as previous stars ended their lives. One nice recent study showed that if the mass of the quarks that make up neutrons and protons were changed by just a few percent, then the process that makes carbon as stars die would be altered in such a way that there would not be sufficient carbon in the universe for life. The masses of the lightest sub-atomic quarks are the precise value that is required for carbon to form and for life to exist.

Regarding the multiverse, let me just quote from MIT physicist Alan Lightman, writing in Harper’s magazine about the multiverse:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible.But even if there were a multiverse, the generator that makes the universes itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

It’s very important to understand that if these values were any different, then it’s not like we would bridges on our foreheads, or have green skin, or have pointy ears, etc. That’s what science fiction teaches you. And many atheists form their view of science by watching science fiction entertainment. But the truth is that the consequences of changing these values are much more consequential: no stars, no planets, no hydrogen, no heavy elements, the universe re-collapses into a hot fireball. You’re not going to have complex, embodied intelligent agents running around making moral decisions and relating to God in a world like that.

Questions like the existence of God should be NOT decided by feelings and faith and superstitious nonsense. They ought to be decided by evidence. Specifically, scientific evidence. Everyone has to account for this scientific evidence for fine-tuning within their worldview, and they have to account for it in a way that is responsible and rational. Punting to the multiverse, without any evidence for it, is neither rational nor responsible. Holding out hope that the evidence we have now will all go away is neither rational nor responsible.

By the way, if you are looking for a good book on the cosmic fine-tuning, especially for evangelism and debating with atheists, you really need to get a copy of “A Fortunate Universe“. Although it is from one of the most prestigious academic presses, it is pretty funny to read, and the main points are made clearly, even if you don’t understand the science. Two astrophysicists wrote it – one who believes that God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning, and one who doesn’t. I really think that Christians need to get used to the idea that evangelism can be pretty easy, so long as you are arguing from peer-reviewed facts. When you get a good book on evidence for God that is not in dispute, then you are invincible. Everybody ought to believe in God in a universe with this much overt scientific evidence spilling out everywhere. Whether this Creator and Designer is the God of the Bible, who visited us as Jesus of Nazareth, takes more work to establish. Working through the emotional objections people have to God, and coaching them to take on the difficulties of living out a authentic Christian life (very unpopular!), is even harder.

Ben Shapiro promotes books that challenge atheism and naturalistic evolution on his podcast

Come here, Mr. Dragon, I want a word with you
Come here, Mr. Dragon, I want a word with you

So, I was listening Ben Shapiro’s podcast, and he mentioned how he had been reading Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”, which makes the case for intelligent design in the origin of the first living system. Dr. Meyer is a Christian, and got his PhD from Cambridge University. His work is the most effective statement of the case for intelligent design. His second book, “Darwin’s Doubt”, strengthens his argument for intelligent design by discussing the sudden origin of body plans in the fossil record.

Ben also mentioned that he was reading agnostic biologist Michael Denton’s book “Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis”, which is a comprehensive argument against naturalistic evolution. If that were not enough, he has previously mentioned reading “On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision” by Dr. William Lane Craig, and Ed Feser’s book “Five Proofs of the Existence of God”. He’s already had Ed Feser on his podcast, and William Lane Craig was mentioned as a future guest.

I posted this good news on my Facebook page and declared something like: 1) “Wow! Isn’t it great that this Jewish conservative thinker is publicizing arguments to his audience that will help people explore belief in God, and evaluate naturalistic evolution?” and 2) “I wish that more Christians were reading these books, and that pastors in the churches encouraged Christians to read them, too”.

In a later dialog, I also mentioned how good it was for Jordan Peterson to have tweeted an article about the minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus to his massive audience. Peterson also had a dialog with William Lane Craig where Dr. Craig presented his arguments for Christianity. Many people went to that dialog to hear Dr. Peterson, but they came away having heard the arguments of Dr. Craig – the most able defender of Christianity today. I considered both the tweet and the dialog to be good things, because any time evidence for the Christian worldview is promoted to large audiences, it is good for the Kingdom of God. Most people haven’t heard of this evidence, and they are settling these important questions based on their feelings, or what the popular culture tells them. It is good for people who are still deciding the big questions to know that there is real evidence to evaluate before they decide.

Two women disagreed

Imagine my surprise when two Christian women I was friends with on Facebook disapproved of my two observations.

The first one said this exactly:

“What difference does it make if he has all the knowledge in the world and not Christ? Maybe I’m missing something?”

And the second one is even worse than the first:

“What good is the evidence, though, if people remain in unbelief toward Jesus, as Peterson and Shapiro do.”

Does the Bible support the use of evidence?

As I blogged before, the Bible records believers in God using evidence to convince non-believers from the start through to the finish. Whether it’s the miracles of Moses, Elijah on Mount Carmel, or Jesus’ miracles, or the resurrection, you can barely find a page where evidence is not being presented to non-believers in order to get them to believe. That is God’s approach, it’s seen in Jesus offering “the Sign of Jonah” (his resurrection) to unbelievers. These people were not saved FIRST. Evidence was presented to them FIRST. Evidence was part of God’s saving initiative in the lives of these non-believers. They were expected to evaluate and respond to the evidence when it was presented to them.

Why did they say it?

So then why not get excited when influential people promote resources filled with evidence relevant to the big questions of life?

First, some people think of Christianity as being about themselves. One Christian woman I worked for once told me why she wouldn’t read books about apologetics: “there’s enough unhappiness in the world already, I’m sure God doesn’t want me to do anything that would make me feel unhappy”. This woman was a troop leader for the “Calvinettes”, the Reformed equivalent of the Girl Scouts. She saw Christianity as being about her, and her feelings. Any expectations, responsibilities, obligations, etc. in the Bible could easily be dismissed, because she knew (from her feelings) that God would never want her to do anything that would make her feel unhappy.

Her view was: “Who cares about those people over there in the university, in Hollywood, in government, and in the Supreme Court, who are discussing whether God exists and whether evolution is true? I shouldn’t have to do any work to convince them that the Christian worldview is correct about these big questions.” It doesn’t matter to some people whether Christianity is respected as a “live option” in the marketplace of ideas. It doesn’t matter whether the rationality of the Christian worldview is diminished in the culture. They don’t care about being ready with an answer to questions from college professors, co-workers, and children. God’s concern for the universe begins and ends with their happiness.

There are conversations going on out there in the culture about big questions. How did the universe begin? Does God exist? How did life begin? Is there life after death? Is anything really right or wrong? We should read good books in order to know how to participate in those conversations with non-Christians. And we should rejoice when  influential non-Christians recommend those books to people still leaning and deciding those big questions.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Dr. Walter Bradley lectures on scientific evidence for the creation and design of the universe

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it from Access Research Network just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. A lot of people come to their convictions about God’s existence because of parents or church or intuitions, but for me it’s all about the scientific evidence. This lecture changed my life. I wish more people taught their children about this evidence! This lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

About the speaker:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.

The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)

Summary slide:

This slide summarizes the content of the lecture
This slide summarizes the content of the lecture

Introduction:

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
  • A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
  • Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
  • When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing

Evidence #1: The Big Bang:

  • an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
  • In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
  • In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
  • In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model

Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws

  • the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
  • early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
  • the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
  • Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science

Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities

  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
  • organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
  • the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
  • These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
  • For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
    – if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
    – if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen

Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability

  • Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
  • Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
  • Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere

Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory

  • It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
  • But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
  • Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
  • Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
  • Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
  • Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe

Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability

  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
  • Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of  a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
  • Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
  • Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit

I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.

How do you respond to the conquests and wars in the Old Testament?

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

John Berea has an article about it on his web site.

Here’s his overview:

In the Old Testament are the military campaigns of Israel inconsistent with being led by a just and loving God, and inconsistent with his own commands?  Here, I would like to make the case for consistency and justness.

1. The nations of Canaan were evil, harming others, and needed to be stopped.  They had carried out incest with children/grandchildren and performed child sacrifice by fire. (Lev 18:6-30, Deut 12:31, Deut 18:9-10, Psalm 106:35, 37-38)  They launched unprovoked attacks on Israel (Ex 17:8-9, Num 21:1, Num 21:2-23, 33) and even guerrilla attacks against Israel’s “stragglers in the rear of the march when you were exhausted and tired.” (Deut 25:18)

2. Warfare language was likely rhetorical.  There are five reasons to support the rhetorical nature of language such as “completely destroy” (Hebrew תחרימו, literally “ban”) in Deut 20:17.  It likely meant a destruction of armed soldiers, buildings, and religious icons.

  1.  Semitic language professor and NIV, NAB, and ESV bible translator Richard Hess argues that Hebrew “ban” is “stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders” and “need not require that there really were children, senior citizens, or women there who were put to death” even when followed by the terms “men and women” (Joshua 8:25) or “young and old” (Joshua 8:25).
  2. In Israel’s destruction of enemies we see phrases like “left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” (Joshua 10:40, Judges 1:8).  But in Joshua 21:12-13 the author has no problem telling us these people were still there afterward: “if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you… God will no longer drive out these nations”.  In 1 Sam 15:3-4 Israel was to “strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death–man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.”  In 15:8 Saul “executed all Agag’s people” and Agag himself was killed in 15:33.  But later in  1 Sam 27:8 we’re told they’re still there and ” had been living in that land for a long time”.  Hundreds of years later in Esther 3:1 we’re even told Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag.
  3. Most verses on the subject speak of “driving out” and “dispossessing” the land rather than language suggestive of genocide.  E.g. Num 33:51-53, in “the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images, all their molten images,  and demolish their high places.  You must dispossess the inhabitants of the land and live in it, for I have given you the land to possess it.”  It’s the same story in Lev 18:25, Num 23:31-32, Deut 6:19, 9:4, 18:12, Joshua 3:10, and 23:9.
  4. Jer 4:20 suggests inhabitants fled before armies arrived:  “At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks”
  5. Deut 7:22 specifically says that Israel was forbidden to “destroy them all at once” and instead they would be expelled “little by little”.

So either all of these verses contradict one another, or the conquest language was rhetorical.

3. Many of the “cities” were probably military outposts.  For example with Jericho and Ai, Richard Hess argues there are no references to noncombatants (apart from Rahab), no archaeological evidence of non-military use, the term melek (Hebrew מלכי)  for “king” of the cities often meant mean a military leader in Canaan (e.g. in Joshua 2:2), they were located at defensive positions, and Jericho and Ai weren’t described as a large city as Gibeon and Hazor explicitly were.

4. A just God requires wrath.  It’s not possible to have a God who is just but not wrathful–otherwise wrongdoers continue unabated. Paranormal investigator James Randi wrote in Skeptic Magazine, “I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place” yet Dawkins and Hitchens condemn God for judgment against the Canaanites.  Which is it? Ultimately the the problem is we view death as the ultimate judgment, when in the theological context of the bible it’s only a graduation to what’s next with accountability for what we’ve done with what we were given.

The four points are developed with links for support. If you get this question a lot, it’s a good resource to bookmark.

Also, if you’re looking for a short video to share, here is a 6-minute one featuring Frank Turek:

That’s from commenter WorldGoneCrazy. It’s really good.