Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Movie Review: God's Not Dead

The last couple weeks I've been feeling rather bad. A bunch of people at work came down with some sort of stomach flu. It's mild but causes diarrhea and mild dizziness and lasts for two or three weeks. I'm guessing I got the same thing. So please keep that in mind when I say this: I balled like a baby several times during the new Newsboys movie, God's Not Dead. This review will be spoiler-free because it's really not a movie review. I've been reading some other reviews which claim that the scenarios acted out in this movie are unrealistic because we live in a country that is over eighty percent Christian, so I'm going to tell some real stories from my own life that might bear some resemblance to parts of the movie. Mostly, this is me writing to figure out why it affected me so much. I don't think it was either happiness or sadness. It was more validation.

I went to college to study biochemistry because of the book Darwin's Black Box. My dad gave it to me in high school and I was instantly hooked. I was amazed by all the fascinating things that happen routinely in our own bodies. Molecular biology is the mother of all How It Works episodes. I had heard everything that young Christians hear about secular colleges, but I was prepared for it. In some ways, I was too prepared, always expecting a big debate on substantive issues to emerge in every class. Unfortunately I went to a university where just about everyone pretty much only cared about getting through the day, checking the box, signing on the dotted line, getting a degree. College was a big disappointment for me in some ways. I remember taking my Genetics class as an honors course. In order to get honors credit, we had to have a couple of sessions with just the honors students and the professor. The first session we decided what book to read and what chapters we would each be assigned. I advocated for Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, but pretty much everyone else voted for another one. I wanted a debate, and was denied. The second session we presented our assigned chapters to the group. We weren't even required to read the entire book. What a joke. At the second session I was the only one who presented without notes, mostly because I didn't care. From the looks of things nobody else did either. Three more honors credits. Check.

Nothing along the lines of what happened to the protagonist in God's Not Dead happened to me randomly or out of the blue. At my university there was the infamous anti-Christian professor just like in the movie, and some of my friends took his Old Testament class on purpose. I did not. But I did experience situations quite similar to those in the movie, mostly because I expected them and deliberately sought them out. That is an important thing to remember. The secular university is just fine letting people go along to get along, and most students do. The powers that be will only respond with a vengeance when threatened. If you are not threatening, you don't have much to worry about.

My first experience wasn't much to write home about. In my freshman English class which I took as a sophomore, we were required to give a presentation at the end of the semester. Most of the students, in fact I think all of them, presented the same topic as their final paper which made for some real yawners. But our teacher had said we could present on any topic we wanted, so I chose intelligent design. I remember going through most of the presentation completely serious, professional and stone-faced, except for a small bit of early 20th century comic relief:

I remember seeing several very serious looks back from the class, but the professor on the other hand behaved like she had ants in her pants the entire presentation. I was the only one out of the entire class whom she warned for time.

Sometime during my sophomore or junior year I started an intelligent design student club. The club was unsuccessful, mostly because I fail at marketing and people skills. For instance, I refused to go around to the various campus Christian groups to pitch the club, even when my own campus minister wanted me to pitch it for our group, because I was very intent on the group avoiding accusations of religious bias. I wish someone had told me then that the success of the group should not be a lower priority than what people would say about it. I organized a disbursal of table tents in the student union once, but as I found out it takes quite a bit more than that to make a student organization work. The one event we (really I) held was a debate with the campus atheist group, which went very well. I remember holding my own very well against several atheist students who showed up. In particular, I remember telling them very clearly and directly that I had no designs on forcing my religion on anyone, I merely wanted to be able to pursue an academic career in science without being in danger of losing my job. I'm not sure what they thought of that, but I received only silence in return. I knew then and now that many atheists actively and openly advocate against allowing Christians into scientific fields.

(EDIT: A couple years after I graduated, I learned that Dr. Martin Gaskell, the astronomy professor who had signed on as the faculty advisor for my intelligent design club at Nebraska, was denied a position at the University of Kentucky because he was, and I quote, "potentially evangelical". This and other revealing things were learned from subpoenaed emails, such as the revealing conversation among the committee responsible for filling the position saying in plain English that Dr. Gaskell was by far the most qualified applicant. Dr. Gaskell settled the case for $125,000. There are numerous other similar examples of persecution within scientific fields. When it comes to persecution of professional academics, the bias in our academic system is far, far worse than what is shown in God's Not Dead. Even President Obama's appointment of Francis Collins to head the NIH was vigorously opposed by atheists and scientists for no other reason than Collins was a Christian.)

Some time after that I took a philosophy of science course even though it satisfied none of my graduation requirements. Turns out, two of the guys I had debated ended up in the class with me. I thought, "Jackpot!" This was going to be fun. I was itching for a fight and was determined to make it happen. Unfortunately the professor was some LGBT fanatic who apparently had studied philosophy of science to prove the legitimacy of alternative sexual orientations. We spent an inordinate amount of class time going over the myriad genetic diseases affecting gender in excruciating detail, so there wasn't a lot of time for grander ideas. But I did manage to pin her down once when we were discussing matter as a basis for philosophy. I poked holes, prodded and provoked with questions until she finally lost her cool a little bit, took a few menacing steps toward me, loomed over at me and asked, "Well what would you suggest?" I must admit, having spoiled for a fight I was somewhat unprepared to be directly challenged. I will forever regret that the words which came out of my mouth were spoken only loud enough that a few students next to me heard them. The moment passed and never came again. I had won control of the agenda, and she had offered a portion to me, and I wilted. Not for lack of ability or passion. I wasn't a coward. I was simply surprised that what I was speaking about evoked a menacing response from her in the midst of what had been a cool, rational discussion. I wilted because I was embarrassed, yes, but embarrassed for her. The veneer of rational cool had lifted, only for a moment, and the bare emotional core revealed. After the moment passed, I couldn't help but glance at the president of that atheist club taking the class with me. The look on his face was priceless. A nerve had been struck, and he was looking at the professor with new eyes.

The next year I offered to debate the same atheist group again, but their leadership had all graduated and it was being run by completely different people. My debate offer was met with epithets and vitriol. I was directed to the natural history museum to which I had already been many times, being in my hometown. In short, a debate was out of the question. Interestingly though, the old leaders of the group still got all the emails, and several of them, including the old president, responded to the group in no uncertain terms that they would all be better for it if they would take me up on the offer. They still did not of course, but I'm happy to have made a positive impression on someone.

This incident made me quite angry, and I stewed over it for awhile. The thought arose in my mind that if they refused to talk to me in person after their own people told them they should, than they damn well would hear from me in another forum. I pounded out an massive, angry, ill-advised column for the student newspaper and turned it in, never believing for a moment that it would be published. I had published editorials in real newspapers before, and I knew there were standards which I had completely disregarded. Unfortunately for me, student newspapers do not have the same standards. So a few days later I walked into my early morning anthropology class, plopped down in my seat, and started reading the student paper before class started. There to my dismay, in full, five-column glory at the top of the opinion page, was my angry article. My friend told me later it was like I was punching everyone, which he described with the appropriate hand gestures. The general thesis was that truth was being subverted by power on both sides of the origins debate, and that science and reason should be sought out by anyone interested in forming their own, unbiased opinion. I was quite specific about how professors at universities used their power to enforce conformity with certain scientific viewpoints.

That same day, I went to my physical chemistry course. I was still completely mortified and hoping the day would pass without anyone acknowledging my existence. This professor brought in his usual Pyrex beaker full of coffee, a fun little joke of his, as well as a copy of the student newspaper, which he slapped down on his desk with more than a little force. After the lecture, he spent about five minutes of class time going over some obscure enzyme with an active site that could mutate between two different reactions with a single mutation or something. The class was dead silent. This was the same professor who had somewhat randomly lectured the class before on how all professional organic chemists descended from two old European families or some such nonsense. There was the class material, and then there were his soapboxes. This was clearly a soapbox, though I'm not sure how many of the students had either read my article or understood that this professor was doing exactly what I had accused him of doing: using his power to enforce evolutionary orthodoxy. When he made this presentation, his voice wavered like it never had before. His hand shook a little when he drew on the chalkboard. It was extremely disconcerting. This time I knew the whole class felt that same sense of embarrassment for this man as his veil dropped. When it was over, I walked out of class, something which I regret to this day. There was an obvious, sound-byte worthy response to the professor's presentation, one which could even take the form of an innocent question, but like the God's Not Dead protagonist, I did not have it prepared. Unlike him, I never got another chance.

Maybe I made some impression on this professor, because I actually failed his course. Physical chemistry was the hardest course I have ever taken, but I also failed two other very easy courses that semester. I was having some romantic issues and could barely concentrate. Normally when students fail PChem they retake it in the summer, a class known to be much easier. I'm sure this professor was used to students doing that. I wonder if he didn't gloat at my failure. But I refused to take the easy way out. I retook his course the next year. When I sat down to take the final, the TA told me, somewhat conspiratorially, that I could break the curve in the class. I ended up getting an A- because I couldn't remember how to do a specific problem that I had studied very hard, which ended up being the difference. But hey, I went from failing to an A-, so I can't complain. I got the impression during the second time around that this professor had staked a little too much on my not being able to succeed in his course, so when I did it may have shook him up a bit. But I don't know, and probably never will. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

The reader will probably have to actually see the movie to understand why it meant so much to me. God's Not Dead showed me my own world the way it could have been. The way it should have been. I did something, but I feel like it wasn't enough. Goliath is standing in the valley and mocking the Almighty God. If fighting him was as simple as walking out with a sling in one hand and five stones in the other, I would have done it long ago, consequences be damned. This beast lives in minds instead of muscle, and God in His wisdom has granted the beast of man free will. It cannot be slain with a sling, even in the wildest dreams of a man forever reliving his short-lived academic career.

We write and read stories because they are better than the real world. In stories, the good guys win. In stories, Justice is served. In stories, there are happy endings. We can make everything work out in a story. We say the right thing. We remember the right words. The truth is spoken out loud. In the real world, things usually don't go as planned. Things don't work out. We forget the words, and falsehood goes unanswered. Sometimes there just isn't a right thing to say or do because there's something wrong with this world. It's easy to despair of it. It's easy to believe that nothing we've done or said has made a difference in anyone's life. I don't know that much of what I have done or said has mattered, but I know a God who has promised me that nothing I have done for Him is in vain. I believe that promise because God's not dead, and He is the only one who can write stories in the real world.

Now that's whack.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Epic Battle

 I decided to post another chapter from my book called The Epic Battle. I have cut out a few paragraphs and the footnotes to make it shorter. There are some other things I could probably condense or write better, but I feel this is enough for now. The Restoring Honor rally I refer to occurred in August 2010, and I wrote this sometime between then and the next summer, for reference. Also, my state at the time was Nebraska, not Texas where I live now.

American conservatism is at the very bottom a belief that the person most affected by the consequences of a decision should be the one to make that decision. The classic example of this belief is free market capitalism. Every time an economic exchange occurs, a capitalist believes that both parties have made an economic decision that is in both their best interests. When you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread for two bucks, you are telling the seller that the loaf of bread you bought is worth more than two bucks to you. It cannot be worth exactly two bucks to you, because you also expended the effort to drive to the store, find the bread aisle and bring it up to the counter to buy it. It may seem trivial to add value to those actions, but store owners know that value exists. Store owners know that the more convenient a location, the more likely customers are to come and shop there, and thus the higher profit margin they can make. They also know the importance of where products are placed in the store and a multitude of other factors that add or subtract value from their products. Thus the capitalist believes that prices are at least in part generated from a multitude of local factors, such as the amount of consumers living within a certain radius of the store, the types of jobs and levels of salaries in that area, the price of gas in the area which affects how often people choose to drive to the store. Prices can only be decided at the local level. Government intervention in setting prices is resented because a government is averaging their policies over the entire political body and doesn’t care about variations in localities. All taxes are government intervention in prices, because taxes always adjust the price of a good or service and the price for a good employee. Therefore higher taxes are bad because it represents more government intervention and less local control over economic activity.

All economic choices are made by the relationship between the consumer and the seller, and all of those choices, once made, are “right” automatically. If they were “wrong,” the buyer would not have bought that loaf of bread for two bucks. But since this buyer made the choice to buy that loaf of bread for that price, he is declaring that the loaf of bread is worth more than two bucks to him. The seller in turn, is declaring that he wants the two bucks more than that loaf of bread, and so those two bucks are worth more than the loaf of bread to him. Most likely, both the buyer and the seller will complain to the high heavens that the price is “unfair” and that he is being “ripped off,” but the capitalist pays attention to actions not words. People will say just about anything. A person who likes to complain will wail on and on even if they’ve been treated fairly, whereas a more stoic person will grin and bear it even when they are being screwed. What people say is more dependent on their personalities than actual economic reality. It’s their actions that determine what they really believe about the value of a good or service. In the economy, that action is whether or not a particular transaction takes place.

The basic principle at work can be expressed in game theoretic terms as a non-zero sum game. In a zero-sum game, there must be an equal number of winners and losers. If there are only two players in the game, in this case the buyer and seller of that loaf of bread, then one of them must be a winner and the other one must be a loser. But in fact both are winners because otherwise they would not have consented to the transaction. Therefore the most basic possible economic transaction is a win-win scenario and shows that economics is a non-zero sum game. If the transaction doesn’t take place, then both the buyer and the seller are losers, because they wanted something that they didn’t get. This is the very basis of determining whether or not the economy is doing well in general. An economy is doing well when lots of transactions are taking place and doing poorly when transactions are not taking place. A good economy means there are lots of transactions and thus more winners than losers. A slow economy means less people are making transactions, and there are more losers.

A socialist on the other hand believes against all logic that economics is a zero-sum game. A rich person only obtains their money and wealth at the expense of someone else, usually the poorly defined “poor.” Thus the “rich” person is a winner and the “poor” person is a loser. How does the socialist view economics then? He must believe that when an economic transaction takes place, one person is getting screwed and the other one is getting rich. Thus the socialist always believes that an injustice occurs whenever an economic transaction takes place, and there are usually only two candidates: the buyer and the seller. A socialist must then decide who is being screwed. Because there is no objective way to determine value, who is getting screwed and who is getting rich depends entirely on where the socialist is standing. If the socialist is a public school teacher and a member of the union, then he will likely complain that he is getting screwed by his employer, the government, especially if the government is currently controlled by a political interest he doesn’t control. If, however, the socialist is a politician and a member of the government, they are likely to believe that they are getting screwed by private corporations or in extreme cases, the voters (i.e. taxpayers) themselves. Thus when socialist lawmakers decide to get involved in economic transactions, such as paying for the people’s health-care, they will inevitably complain that health-care providers are charging prices that are too high, and will start making laws that fix those prices below a certain level or simply refuse to pay altogether. But if the socialists are in charge of the milk producing industry, then those socialist dairy farmers will complain that milk prices are too low and they are getting screwed by the consumer. Then they will lobby socialist lawmakers to fix the price of milk above a certain level. If the socialist is on neither side and simply observes as a third party, he will almost inevitably believe that whoever has the most money is the one who is screwing everyone else. When a socialist is not directly involved in an economic situation, any economic inequality means that injustice is occurring because anyone with more money than anyone else must be getting rich while everyone buying the rich person’s product is getting screwed.

A socialist sees an injustice in every economic transaction involving an “unfair” price. He will tend to believe that unless all prices in an economy are “fair” than injustice decreases when economic activity decreases. Economic problems are less important to a socialist than the primary concern of fixing all these perceived injustices. What is a little recession when God Himself is offended? If the socialist cannot directly control prices through the use of political force to make sure every transaction is “fair” in his own eyes, then every economic transaction over which he has no control is automatically unjust. If every economic transaction is a zero-sum game with winners and losers, than the fewer economic transactions there are, the more justice there is in that economy. If a socialist wants to fight injustice as he sees it and does not have the power to control the economy, he will inevitably find himself fighting to lower the amount of economic transactions and in so doing lower the amount of injustice in that economy. He will be in effect fighting against a healthy economy. Thus the socialist must either have absolute power over the economy, or fight to make that economy less healthy. A socialist must be a either a rebel or a tyrant. He has no other options.

Because of this inherent extremism and volatility, a socialist system can only be stable if there is unanimous agreement on virtually every price and every salary in the marketplace. No disagreement can be judged rationally, and so every economic argument must be settled through the use of political force. A capitalist society on the other hand accepts disagreements on value as a matter of course. Capitalists do not assign injustice to every economic transaction. One person may not think that loaf of bread is worth two bucks, but that person’s reaction is not to cry foul but to simply not buy the loaf of bread. If someone else wants to buy it, then obviously they disagree with the first person’s opinion, and that disagreement is not a problem which needs to be solved through the use of political force. The person who thinks the price of bread is too high simply finds another seller willing to sell it for less. If no lower prices are available, he bets that most other people agree with him and waits for the seller to lower his price when not enough people buy it. If the price does not get lower, then he will be forced to buy the loaf of bread at a price determined by the market because most people disagree with him. In the end, prices are determined naturally without the need to go through all kinds of political nonsense. And in the end, the prices and salaries are in fact agreed upon by all the parties involved, not by grandstanding politicians fighting for this or that interest, or by third party observers with no actual stake in the transaction who are simply crying wolf about everything because of their socialist worldview. Thus a capitalist society can easily handle diverse economic opinions, in fact it celebrates diversity of opinion (because diversity of opinion generates innovation), and any economic dispute is easily settled without resorting to politics. A socialist society, on the other hand, must be either naturally conformist in economic opinion or give its politicians more and more power to decide every little economic issue since socialism has no natural way to make these decisions.

The socialist then argues, “What if everyone is naturally conformist? Why is that a problem?” It is not of course a problem theoretically. If everyone wants to think the same thing about everything, then more power to them. Socialist systems do tend to work better in smaller, more homogenous states such as Sweden, but the same problems still exist with a smaller impact. The problem is that in the real world there are always disagreements about value. A capitalist system provides a natural and non-political way for these disagreements to be resolved where both buyer and seller have power over the final decision. The seller gets to set the price, and the buyer gets to decide whether he buys it or not. A socialist system must resolve these disagreements through the use of political force wielded against those with whom the socialist disagrees. In a socialist system, value is determined by the most powerful politicians, and the one party, now genuinely being screwed, loses his power thus unbalancing the economic equation. So how is this party to respond? The only way is to lobby the politicians to move the price more in their favor. The only way is to play the game and buy into the system. Politicians are already invested in economic transactions because of taxes. It is already difficult for a politician to act in the interest of the people who voted for him. Add lobbyists to the mix and it becomes even more difficult. In this way socialism leads to more corruption in politics because in order to stay in business sellers must compete with each other and with buyers for political influence. In a socialist system, a smaller group of people, politicians, are given a larger and larger amount of power at the expense of buyers and sellers.

Thus we come to the real evil of socialism: Big Business. Readers might be surprised to learn that the father of capitalism, that nefarious swash-buckler Adam Smith himself, in the seminal capitalist text Wealth of Nations, explained his aversion to large corporations—in fact, to corporations in general:

"The pretence [sic] that corporations are necessary for the better government of the trade, is without any foundation. The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman, is not that of his corporation, but that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence. An exclusive corporation necessarily weakens the force of this discipline. A particular set of workmen must then be employed, let them behave well or ill. It is upon this account, that in many large incorporated towns no tolerable workmen are to be found, even in some of the most necessary trades. If you would have your work tolerably executed, it must be done in the suburbs, where the workmen having no exclusive privilege, have nothing but their character to depend upon, and you must then smuggle it into the town as well as you can."

It should be obvious why capitalism is naturally against Big Business. The capitalist believes that the primary constraint on the seller is the buyer: the larger the corporation, the more separation between the individual sellers and individual buyers, and the lesser the constraint upon the seller. The primary advantage in forming a corporation is the ability to remove the risk of failure from the individual. If a corporation goes bankrupt, its creditors cannot seize the assets of the individuals involved, but only the assets belonging solely to the corporation. Thus the larger the corporation, the lesser the risk to the individual and lesser motivation for the individual to work hard and provide a good product or service, as Smith observes. Larger corporations are more able to protect themselves from the consequences of failure, and are therefore never as responsive to the needs and wants of the buyers as are smaller businesses. The ability of small businesses to maneuver with the ebb and flow of the market is the hallmark of a capitalist system and why capitalism works so well. Eventually the small business becomes the large business, and in a capitalist system large businesses are at a disadvantage. The natural thing for a large business to do is to split off into smaller businesses to remain agile and competitive. The unnatural thing to do is a merger to make your business even larger and more unwieldy. Yet mergers and acquisitions happen all the time and large corporations seem to have more power and market share than ever before. Why?

The reason is we are no longer living in a genuine capitalist system, and haven’t been for a hundred years. A hundred years seems like a long time, but it is really only three to five generations. Because the United States has remained partly capitalist, it has taken this long for us to be forced to pay the piper for our socialist deviations. But how did this happen? If capitalists are against big business and so are socialists then why have big businesses succeeded more and more?

Our contemporary political intuitions insist that capitalists are for Big Business and socialists are against. This is largely because socialists have made this rhetoric one of their primary marketing strategies. But is it true? Socialists tell us that Big Business is Public Enemy #1, and the job of elected officials is to oppose Big Business and stand up for the little guy. Socialists have invented a surefire way to convince everyone they are putting it to Big Business: government regulations. Government regulations are the solution to every sin of Big Business, and socialists work hard to convince us they are up to a task normally reserved for God. I suspect some socialists are sincerely crusading for the little guy and are just naïve, but I find it hard to believe that none of them are smart enough to have realized the real game being played. Regardless of whether socialist politicians are actually sincere or not, government regulation is almost always to the advantage of Big Business and thus socialism and Big Business are natural allies.

In a true capitalist system, Big Business is always at a disadvantage against smaller businesses as already explained. In order to survive Big Business must gain advantages of its own. Government regulation provides the perfect answer. Large corporations know that regulations are just like chemotherapy. The principle behind chemotherapy is that those chemicals you are taking may be bad for you, but they are far worse for the cancer. Why? One simple reason: You, the human being, are much bigger and have far more resources to draw on then the cancer does. You have much more to lose before you die than the cancer does, so you can sacrifice part of your health in return for completely destroying the cancer. So you take those chemicals, knowing that your hair may fall out but the cancer is faring much worse. Government regulation is just like chemotherapy. It hurts small businesses far more than it could ever hurt large businesses. And there’s another consequence: Since regulations hurt both large and small businesses, the entire economy’s hair falls out. But it doesn’t matter to Big Business, because they have now evened the score and taken back the initiative which capitalist systems naturally give to small business. That they can do so while fooling most of the population into believing that what Big Business wants is really something they don’t want is just a convenient bonus.

As soon as Big Business realizes this strategy, and they realized it a long time ago, their bottom line suddenly depends on how much political influence they have. The game then becomes how much they can control the political system to cater to their needs and fight back the smaller, more agile and consumer sensitive businesses which if they survive the initial stage usually have better business models and higher profit margins. Big Business has become exceedingly good at manipulating the political system to make up for their natural disadvantage. They now routinely use their outsized political influence to buy loopholes in the regulations and even the tax code which favor them.

Of course, the game is up if any large amount of the population figures any of this out, so Big Business must now play politics just as much as the socialist. Take AT&T. Just a few days after Obamacare was signed into law, AT&T suddenly announced out of the blue that the bill would cost them a billion dollars a year. Are we supposed to believe that they just figured it out a couple days after it was signed into law? Hardly. Everyone knew Obama would sign the law. When it passed the Senate and the discussions about reconciliation started the calculations began. The timing of AT&T’s announcement was intended to be clever but any good poker player could see right through AT&T’s hand. AT&T wanted to make it look like the law would hurt them without actually bringing any pressure to bear to stop it from going through. In doing so they were helping out their natural political allies while at the same time complaining that they needed extra help from the government because they were so large the law affected them more severely than other companies. They were playing politics, pretending to be against Obamacare while in reality knowing they could easily turn it to their advantage. The facts since then have borne that out, as AT&T along with many other large businesses have been simply handed tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars from the government to cover some of their losses, losses which in most cases have not even occurred yet.

As for the socialists, if Obama is so concerned about hurting Big Business, why did he and the Democrats insist on bailing them out? After campaigning against Big Business, the first thing the Democrats did when they won the election in 2008 was to save some of the biggest businesses in the world from the natural, capitalistic consequences of their own bad behavior. What was all this “too big to fail” talk? Nonsense that’s what. The real reason the bail-outs happened is that Big Government is in bed with Big Business. They depend on each other. A truly capitalist system would have let those supposedly crucial companies fail and the smaller, more scrupulous businesses buy up their assets at bargain prices and set them straight again. Yes, it would have meant a sharper economic decline, but it also would have meant a sharper recovery instead of this slow burn we are in now. Economic recessions will happen. They are inevitable. The question is how fast do we want to recover? The fastest way is to let everyone who screwed up go bankrupt or get bought out, and let the healthier companies with better business acumen and better standards take over and build it all back up. This is the way a truly capitalist system is supposed to handle recessions. If handled this way, recessions are actually a good thing, like pruning your trees.

But what's in it for the socialists? Why hand out millions and billions of dollars to the biggest businesses in the industry after campaigning vociferously against them? What socialists want you to know is that Big Business is a racket. What they don’t want you to know is that they are in on it. The socialists through regulation and hypocritical anti-business rhetoric get more and more power over the economy and a bigger government, while Big Business gets their dominant position ever strengthened against all those aggressive and upwardly mobile smaller businesses competing for their market share. Socialists want absolute power and control over the economy for reasons already explained, and they have found it's much easier to control a few large businesses with the most market share than to control a very large number of ornery, disorderly small businesses. It's in the socialists' bests interests to have industries and entire economies dominated by Big Businesses which can then be more easily controlled. After all, the end goal is to have the government directly control all production. That means one super massive singularity of a government business running each industry. It's a small, practically meaningless step between a private monopoly controlled by regulations and genuine communism.

On my way back from the Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C., I decided to stop and visit an old friend from high school. He had been far more involved in politics than I had back then, volunteering for Republican candidates. He had even worked for one of our state’s Congressmen in Washington for a few years. It seemed our positions had somewhat reversed as he was now going to grad school when I had always been the one wanting to pursue academics. Now I was the political one. I asked him why he had stopped being involved with politics. He told me stories of how teams of political activists would roam the country fighting for the Republican candidate no matter what the local issues were or even if they actually liked the candidate at all. He said other things, but the gist was he had become disillusioned with politics. He said because of all the money in D.C. now the whole city was being gentrified and the poorer population being driven out, ironically because of liberal Keynesian economic policies supposedly intended to help the poor. I asked him whether he thought the money could be gotten out of Washington again, and he scoffed and shook his head no. Everyone’s in on it, he said. Democrats, Republicans, it doesn’t matter. When they are all in on it how do you fight it? I suggested, pretending to be hypothetical, a political movement whose first and only priority was to get the money out of Washington and the government in general. Their entire focus and reason for being would be to fix this problem. That stopped him. He looked past me out the window of Arby’s at a life left behind and considered. Maybe, he said, but it would be an epic battle.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Making of a Paradigm Shift: It's All Over

The final video in this series is about a human trait called "lactase persistance", the ability to digest lactose, the main sugar in milk, throughout adulthood.

Opponents of intelligent design often accuse the theory of not making any predictions. Well, I have made all sorts of predictions in this series. One prediction I made was that virtually all evolutionary adaptations can be explained by broken genetic mechanisms, or previously broken mechanisms that get fixed by interbreeding. I know a whole lot more about the lac operon in E. coli than I do about the lactase gene in humans, but I'm willing to predict that lactase persistance involves a broken gene. Even before I watched the video, if someone had told me that human beings have a trait until they are adults and then lose it, but sometimes they don't lose it, I would have told you it probably involves a broken repressor function. (At this point the definition of "gene" gets a little hazy, since it includes both protein-coding and non-protein coding components, called "switches" in the video.) The evidence in the video in addition to intelligent design theory makes it quite obvious that not only does lactase persistance involve a switch, but a switch that gets turned off by being broken.

It is much easier to break a genetic element, or "Functional Coded Element" (FCE) as Behe calls them, than to build one. If lactase persistance was the wild type, then I would explain that two thirds of adults don't have the trait because they have a broken FCE somewhere, and it's likely that there are many, many different mutations that could break it. However, the evidence shows the opposite: adults with lactase persistance have several different mutations. This evidence suggests that lactase persistance involves a broken gene and is the deviation from the wild type. Now, one of the scientists in the video, Dallas Swallow, said quite clearly that she expected there to be one mutation for lactase persistance and was surprised to find out there were several. That's because evolutionary theory makes, or rather made and apologized for it later, a different prediction than intelligent design theory. Evolutionary theory predicts that one mutation for a trait will arise and spread throughout the entire population. According to neo-Darwinian evolution, traits arise after never having existed before because of mutations which then spread through the population by natural selection. So naturally when confronted with a very positive trait like lactase persistance, an evolutionist would assume one particular mutation conferred the advantage and then spread throughout the population. They could even believe that the same mutation occurred at several different times and in several different locations, but it would probably be the same mutation causing the same trait. That's why Dr. Swallow expected a single mutation.

An intelligent design theorist would predict that if lactase persistance was the mutation then it would probably involve several different mutations, since all they would have to do is break or delete a FCE to cause the same trait. This little tidbit shows how evolutionists love to pretend that failed predictions are awesome because it's...a surprise! What fun! We were wrong again! Isn't science wonderful! The point of making scientific predictions is to distinguish between competing theories, but in the field of biology, so we are told, there are no competing theories. Only neo-Darwinian evolution counts, and therefore it doesn't really matter how many failed predictions it makes because, you see, there are no alternatives. See how the game is played? "Our theory's failed predictions don't matter because your theory doesn't make any predictions at all. Wait, you say it does and made the correct ones?  LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA. Intelligent design makes no predictions. LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA."

Lactase persistance is very much like the persistance of fetal hemoglobin and probably involves a similar type of mutation. Hemoglobin is the protein that, together with its cofactor heme, makes blood red and binds oxygen in the lungs to carry it everywhere in the body. Fetuses have a different kind of hemoglobin than adult human beings for one very obvious reason: fetuses must get their oxygen from their mother's hemoglobin instead of breathing it themselves. In order to do that, fetal hemoglobin has a higher binding coefficient for oxygen than adult hemoglobin, allowing fetal hemoglobin to get enough oxygen off the mother's hemoglobin. When humans are born, a genetic switch turns off the fetal hemoglobin gene and turns on the adult hemoglobin gene. If this switch is broken, then the person would continue making fetal hemoglobin, and some cases have been documented. This is very similar to lactase persistance. There must be a switch in the non-protein-coding region of the lactase gene that gets broken so the repressor FCE doesn't turn off the lactase coding region as the person gets older. That's why the researchers did not find the mutation in the protein-coding region and had to look in non-protein coding areas of the gene. An intelligent design theorist would have found it faster because we would have looked in the non-protein-coding areas first, knowing as we do that gain-of-function traits such as this are highly unlikely to involve gain-of-function changes in protein folds. Oh, and also because evolutionists predicted for decades that most of the human genome, meaning the non-protein coding regions, was junk leftover from the messy process of evolution and had no function.

Another prediction: there is a reason why human beings were designed to only digest lactose as babies and not as adults. There is likely some fitness cost involved in adults being able to digest lactose and drink more milk. The excitable dude in the video said that the selective advantage of lactose persistance is "mind-bendingly strong" because in a culture which uses milk for food getting diarrhea because of it might kill you. I'm looking around today and not seeing a whole lot of places where that is currently the case. In Africa, maybe it will persist or even spread. But I predict the trait will slowly go away in European populations because the selective advantage is no longer there, and there's probably some other, hidden cost working against lactase persistance.

Intelligent design makes predictions. It is a perfectly acceptable scientific theory. The major hold-up is that science during the 20th century came to be dominated by atheists, mostly because Darwin's theory of evolution removed the need for a creator God. The National Academy of Science, for instance, was 92% atheist at last count, a statistic that would elicit howls of discrimination if it was against blacks or some other politically favored group. Not a peep when the discrimination is against Christians. But I believe in science. More than that, I believe in the power of the Truth. What many atheists believe and admire about science is true. It does tend to weed out theories that do not fit the evidence. It just doesn't do it the crisp, clean way that we were taught in school. People do not abandon deeply held beliefs because of rational argument or evidence. In fact, people do not tend to abandon deeply held beliefs at all. But people do tend to accept the more rational argument when they are deciding what to believe initially. Max Planck was an important early 20th century physicist who oversaw one of the greatest scientific revolutions ever, the rise of quantum mechanics over Newtonian or classical mechanics. He had this to say about scientific revolutions: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." Intelligent design has won all the arguments. It's all over but the dying.

Now that's whack.