May 13 2012

fiscus Christianus

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Romans added insult to injury by turning the Temple Tax into the Jewish Tax (the infamous fiscus Judaicus). The half-shekel that was originally offered to the Lord’s sanctuary (Exodus 30:13) was now being sent to Jupiter’s temple in Rome. Jews were required to pay this tax on top of all the regular Roman taxes.

As you can probably imagine, the Jewish community resented every denarius that found its way into the coffers of their pagan oppressors. The Jews of Palestine, in particular, honed their passive-aggressive evasion of taxes into a fine art.[1] We see a glimpse of this simmering hostility in Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew 22. The Lord’s response on that occasion became the definitive Christian view: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Christians believe in paying their taxes, but this doesn’t mean they like where the money is going. They have long objected to federal funding of abortions, and the idea of using tax money to support “spouses” of homosexual public employees seems no less odious.

On a broader level, Christians have a strong track record of giving to the local church and church-related organizations, and so are often ambivalent to government spending on social services. Critics complain that these donations do not represent real charity. Giving money to the church, they insist, is like paying a club membership fee, and has little to do with housing the homeless or feeding the poor. Except that it does. As Albert Brooks has observed from extensive survey data, religious people are “more charitable in every nonreligious way—including secular donations, informal giving, and even acts of kindness and honesty—than secularists.”[2]

In my view, tax-supported funding of materialistic science comes closer than anything else to a kind of fiscus Christianus. Following the triumph of Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, major universities, museums, and research institutes succeeded in marginalizing people of faith. Striking evidence of this coup shows up in the ranks of the National Academy of Sciences. According to one poll conducted in the late 1990s, only 7% of NAS members profess a “personal belief” in God.[3]

Charles Darwin coin

"Render therefore unto Darwin the things are Darwin's." The Royal Mint of Britain issued a two-pound coin in 2009 to celebrate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth.

Meanwhile, the dissidents are suppressed at every turn. Caroline Crocker earned her Ph.D. in immunopharmacology and had an outstanding teaching reputation before losing her job at George Mason University. Her plight was featured in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, but this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are countless unpublicized stories of discrimination against Darwin dissenters and religious conservatives.

Being hounded out of a job is only part of the story. Billions of tax dollars are committed every year to support Big Bang cosmology, evolutionary biology, and other pursuits of materialistic science.

Christians have been asked through their tax dollars to fund missions to Mars because it is inconceivable that life could have evolved only on Earth. Ditto for funding of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). They have been asked to fund museum exhibits that portray the story of human evolution. They have been asked to fund large-scale physics experiments that promise to tell us how something could have come from nothing. In other words, the very same people who are obligated by God to pay their taxes are the very same people who are expected to fund the Temple of Darwin’s outreach efforts.

Thankfully, the Darwinian-industrial complex doesn’t always get what it asks for. The Superconducting Super Collider was supposed to find the Higgs boson – what Leon Lederman dubbed the “God particle” in his 1993 book of the same name. It was cancelled when cost projections climbed to the $12 billion mark, but only after researchers spent two billion dollars on a boondoggle now littering the Texas countryside.

Meanwhile, students seeking relief from the materialist worldview and its sordid consequences must pay a premium to attend a private, church-affiliated school. If they choose instead to attend a public university they will feel decidedly unwelcome in a variety of subject areas, and will have their views silenced by campus-wide speech codes.

Opportunities may be limited at the next academic level, as well. Graduate counseling students who are morally opposed to homosexuality have been required to spend extra time and money on changing their religiously-deluded minds. Eugene Volokh, of the UCLA Law School, calls this a “viewpoint-based tax.”[4]

So although there is no fiscus Christianus as such, at least not officially, Christians are still being made to support a system that is institutionally opposed to their faith.

Many Christians call or write their representatives when moral issues are at stake: abortion, homosexual “marriage,” or what have you. But how many write to object to the funding of materialistic science? How many have looked into the cost of these projects? How many have wondered whether their favorite public university supports the First Amendment?[5] Maybe it’s time to start.

[A version of this article appeared originally in Think magazine, April 2012, as “The Tax on Being a Christian,” p. 8.]

 


[1] Menachem Elon, “Taxation: Legal Aspects,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2007, 19:535.

[2] Albert C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. New York: Basic Books, 2006, p. 38.

[3] Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, “Leading Scientists Still Reject God,” Nature, 1998, 394:313.

[4] Eugene Volokh, Brief of FIRE and NAS as Amicus Curiae in support of Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, et al., October 19, 2010.

[5] The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education keeps a database of speech restrictions at http://thefire.org/.


Jan 9 2012

Blind Hopes

Whether they like it or not, evolutionists find themselves having to dabble in theology and philosophy. Typically they’re not very good at one, or the other, or both, but they don’t have a lot of choice. They know that religious belief predominates, and they know that the inference to design in nature is profoundly intuitive. It certainly was for David:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:14

To overturn three-plus millennia of what almost everyone knows very well is a tall order, and so hyper-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins know where they must begin:

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.[1]

They also know where the entire enterprise must end. Materialistic science leads to the soul destroying conclusion that there is no morality and no meaning. It’s a hard sell.

One brutally honest approach is to put the unadulterated wares on sale knowing that the local fast food chains will have better luck selling tofu burgers at their drive-through windows. This was Richard Dawkins in a more honest moment back in 1995:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.[2]

Another approach, and the preferred mission model of the New Atheists, is to gussy up the product with a sprinkling of religion, or something that looks a lot like religion. It’s not always possible to tell whether this approach is unintentional, with religion sneaking in the back door, or just plain cynical, with atheists charging out of the portcullis to raid the enemy’s stores.[3] This is Dawkins in his latest outing, The Magic of Reality (2011).

What might be new for Dawkins is old hat for E.O. Wilson. “The evolutionary epic,” Wilson wrote back in 1978, “is probably the best myth we will ever have.”[4] Like many atheists, Wilson takes his myth-building cues from Prometheus – the old titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it back to man.

The true Promethean spirit of science . . . constructs the mythology of scientific materialism, guided by the corrective devices of the scientific method, addressed with precise and deliberately affective appeal to the deepest needs of human nature, and kept strong by the blind hopes that the journey on which we are now embarked will be farther and better than the one just completed.[5]

In the ancient Greek tragedy, Prometheus Bound, the rebellious titan not only stole fire from the gods, but “caused mortals to cease foreseeing their doom.” That seems a worthy enough goal, at least at first glance. After all, who wants to go through life knowing that Zeus is about to blast the whole of humanity into Hades? Except that Prometheus adds deception to his crimes: “I caused blind hopes to dwell within their breasts.”

The greater context of the “blind hopes” line is what makes militant atheists both less like and more like Prometheus than they usually admit. They’re less like Prometheus  because at least the titan saved humanity from the wrath of Zeus. Last time I checked, atheists have saved exactly zero souls from eternal punishment. (They haven’t done much for the living, either.[6]) And they’re more like Prometheus in that they need to offer a piece of deception along with their gift of all that counts as knowledge. If materialistic science is the only game in town, then “hope” is an answer to a question that nobody is allowed to ask. What can they pretend to offer in its place?

Unfortunately, evolution – the central creation story of materialistic science – is the perfect engine of despair. Not only is it depressingly “red in tooth and claw,”[7] it is entirely backward facing. Evolution cannot look forward to the next day, the next ice age, or the next asteroid impact. Evolution is blind. “It has no vision,” as an earlier Dawkins reminds us, “no foresight, no sight at all.”[8]

But not to worry: materialistic science will win the day. It will tell us everything we need to know.

And therein lays the deception. Materialism has shown itself to be entirely incapable of explaining the mind, the universe, life, and pretty much everything else important to the human experience. It can do even less for “the deepest needs of human nature.” Even if we lump the best of science and technology into this picture we will have no more than Prometheus’ gift of fire. It will give us something useful, perhaps, but not hopeful. It will allow us to plan and scheme based on what we see right in front of us, on what the devilish Uncle Wormwood would call “real life,”[9] on what crops we are growing and barns we are building,[10] but all such hopes are blind. What humanity needs so deeply is a future good, and nothing here and now will ever satisfy that need.[11]

[A version of this article appeared in Think, January 2012, p. 11.]



[1] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, p. 1.

[2] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York: BasicBooks, 1995, p. 133.

[3] Mary Midgley, Evolution as a Religion. London: Routledge, 2002, p. 131.

[4] Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 201.

[5] Wilson, On Human Nature, p. 209.

[6] See, e.g., Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[7] Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam, lvi.

[8] Dawkins, Blind Watchmaker, p. 5.

[9] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 8.

[10] Luke 12:16-21.

[11] Romans 8:24; 1 Corinthians 15:19.


Aug 27 2010

Slip Slidin’ Away

In an episode of Seinfeld, the title character befriends Keith Hernandez, the famous major league first baseman. Hernandez promptly invites Seinfeld to help him move. Kramer and George are stunned at the man’s audacity. “The next thing you know,” they warn their old friend, “he’ll have you driving him to the airport.”

This is a classic application of the slippery slope argument: It is wrong for Seinfeld to take this (seemingly) innocent first step because it will slide uncontrollably into a morally undesirable situation.

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Jun 1 2010

An Insane Simplicity

The ever-quotable Chesterton once credited the materialist’s explanation of the world with having “a sort of insane simplicity.”[1] Materialists derive inordinate pleasure from the physical stuff of the universe while demeaning everything that truly matters to everyone else, namely, beauty, purpose, morality, mind and, of course, God.

It is important to realize that metaphysical materialism provides the overarching framework for Darwinian evolution. We are so used to seeing evolution invoked to “explain” everything from rape to gossip that it is tempting to treat evolution as a self-contained worldview. But evolution is in fact a core doctrine of materialism.

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Mar 2 2010

Why the Robot Apocalypse will not happen any time soon

It all begins with good intentions. Engineers create cybernetic help for everything from cleaning house to  fighting wars. Or someone decides we need a master computer to make the world run, you know, a little better. In any case, the result is nearly always catastrophic. Skynet takes over the planet (Terminator). A corporate mainframe initiates the dreaded robot rebellion (I, Robot).

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