Archived Posts September 2006 - Page 3 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 25, 2006

This week, University of Chicago faculty members Richard A. Posner and Gary S. Becker discuss and debate the relationship between DDT and the fight against malaria on their blog.

As a self-proclaimed “strong environmentalist” who supports “the ban on using DDT as a herbicide,” Posner writes first about the contemporary decline in genetic diversity due in large part to the rate of species extinction. (Posner has issued a correction: “Unforgivably, I referred to DDT as a ‘herbicide.’ It is, of course, a pesticide. A herbicide is used to destroy weeds and other plants.” Presumably enough DDT would kill plants, and also presumably Posner would oppose such a use. But even so, Posner’s clarification is duly noted.)

“The decline in genetic diversity–to which spraying crops with DDT would be contributing significantly if it were permitted–is alarming even from a purely selfish anthropocentric perspective,” says Posner, “Because such diversity, like other forms of diversification, performs an important insurance function.”

Even so, Posner notes, “The quantities of DDT used in spraying indoor houses in Subsaharan Africa (where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur) are so minute that the environmental effects are inconsequential.” Despite the ban on DDT as an herbicide, an exception allows its use in the fight against malaria. “The puzzle is why the exception is so rarely invoked,” says Posner, because the use of malaria in residual indoor spraying is so cost-effective when compared to many other tools in the fight against malaria.

Comparing the threat of AIDS versus that of malaria, Posner concludes, “Considering how much cheaper and easier it would be to (largely) eliminate malaria than to eliminate AIDS (which would require behavioral changes to which there is strong cultural resistance in Africa), the failure of the African countries, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and private foundations and other nongovernmental organizations to eliminate most malaria by means of indoor spraying with DDT is a remarkable political failure.”

I might also observe that at one point Posner comments, “Not that eliminating childhood deaths from malaria (I have seen an estimate that 80 percent of malaria deaths are of children) would be a completely unalloyed boon for Africa, which suffers from overpopulation.” A commenter rightly takes Posner to task for this statement, saying, “Economic analysis of social problems can be useful and even compelling. The foregoing, however, seems a bit cold-blooded even for an economist. I suspect and hope Posner doesn’t really mean it.”

Gary Becker provides an excellent narrative of the relationship between DDT and malaria in his post. He also points out, “One unintended consequence of the DDT ban was a devastating comeback by malaria and some other diseases after they had been in retreat. Other pesticides that replaced DDT have been much less effective at reducing malaria and other diseases transmitted by insects.”

“I am an ‘environmentalist’,” says Becker, “But I do not believe that all reasonable cost-benefit analysis should be suspended when discussing environmental issues. The ban on using DDT in houses to fight malaria is an example of environmentalism that lost all sense of proportion.”

For more on the campaign to bring back DDT to the malaria-fighting arsenal, check out Acton’s Impact ad project.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 25, 2006

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, September 22, 2006

A਋it of green conservative politics for your Friday – You’ll see why in a minute.

First, read this blog post by the Sierra Club on Linc Chafee (Republican, RI), and then this:

Meet Wayne Gilchrest, Republican member of the House of Representatives, First Congressional District of Maryland, former house painter, teacher, Vietnam veteran — and past, present and future canoeist who has yet to find himself up that well-known proverbial creek without a paddle, though he must think at times the current and wind is against his flimsy craft. For years, I’ve wondered what the real Wayne Gilchrest was like, this congressman from the Eastern Shore where the words ecology, environment and conservation aren’t spoken much with positive fervor. From what I’ve read, he’s a maverick Republican, doesn’t hesitate to part from the party line; he paddles his own canoe, and sometimes on a collision course with the thinking of many constituents.

But when we lunched, he was unopposed in the primary.

Over at E/E we’ve been chronicling conservative folks of faith as they begin to find momentum in ecology.ꃯforts to get ecology into the pulpits of San Antonioਊre a good example. Apparently this has been going on in conservative political circles as well. 

I recently came across a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP). Jim DiPeso, REP policy director, has a਋log here. After scouring their website, I initially saw a lot of stuff that quite frankly seemed no different that most progressive political groups: global warming, endangered species activism, etc. I wanted to see if they were interested in folks like me (and perhaps you) who were both conservative and faith-filled in their views on these things.

I emailed REP President Martha Marks with these concerns, and she not only assured me that the “tent was big enough for me,” but gave me some names of folks who shared my ecological and faith values. Based on her response I think they’re worth bookmarking, and may be worth considering your membership, for at least three reasons.

First, I’ve become aware over the past several months of some Christian environmental programs in different areas of the country that will take political influence within the Republican party to move them forward. Specifically, there are Republican political actors in decision-making positions that view these Christian conservatives in ecology as sellouts to the green agenda. In terms of rendering to Caeser and honoring those in government appointed over us, we have an obligation to both pray for and influence our elected leadership in a proper way. What could be more appropriate/Biblical?

Second, Republicans need to regain the moral high ground on conservation nationally. Conservation and conservative share the same root for a reason. It seems like it’s been since T.R. (or since Nixon’s signing of EPA and other legislation) that we’ve had an outdoorsman/conservationist in office. Not talking about touchy-feely hug-the-earth sort of ecology here, but credible, effective stewardship and management of our valuable, God-given resources. And even those areas where the current administration is doing good work (Clear Skies is one that comes to mind) the good stuff is overshadowed by our anti-green reputation.

Third, my experience is the vast majority of conservatives, and Americans in general, view conservation as a good thing. The old saws that ecology must come at a price (jobs, taxes, etc) aren’t overcome by ignoring them, but rather by confronting them with green business models and reasonable legislation that balance environmental, human and economic needs. If the GOP wants to survive in the 21st century, it will have to do what the rest of industry (politics, etc) is already doing and green up.

And hey – If you need yet one more reason, how ’bout doing this because liberals absolutely, positively abhor the idea of being co-opted by Republicans on the environment.

The folks at REP say we need to make the GOP the “Green Old Party” once again. 

I like that a lot. 

Courtesy of today’s Zondervan>To The Point comes this announcement, replete with extensive related links:

The MacLaurin Institute is sponsoring a conference at the University of Minnesota through tomorrow exploring what it means for people to demonstrate a Christian perspective as they live their lives at the interfaces of three “worlds” — natural, engineered, and human. It will also study how Christian virtues ought to influence public and private policies regarding the interaction of these worlds.

Here are a couple of the talks that look interesting:

  • “Genetic technologies promise us greater control over creation and its creatures than at any time previously. From a Christian perspective, how do we seek good and avoid harm as we pursue shalom for God’s creation?” From Rev. Dr. Rolf Bouma, “Rules for Intelligent Tinkering: Should Nature Be Engineered?” There will be more on this topic here at the Acton PowerBlog next week, as a I launch a five-part series providing a biblical/theological examination of the creation of human/animal hybrids, or chimeras.

  • John Nagle of the University of Notre Dame Law School will be giving a talk, “The Evangelical Debate over Global Warming” (PDF abstract here). You can still expect a response from me to Andy Crouch on this topic early next week.
Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 22, 2006

In a way, the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford recognizes a fact that Ron Sider has written on and I have thought about for a long time. In “A New Take on Tithing,” Claude Rosenberg & Tim Stone write:

Too often, individuals make decisions about how much money to donate to charitable causes on an ad hoc basis. As a result, many people give less money than they can actually afford. If the affluent contributed as much to nonprofits as the authors believe they can, charitable giving in the United States would increase by $100 billion a year – enough to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

Sider has previously written: “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”

The Stanford estimate is about one-third higher than Sider’s estimate with regard to how much extra charitable income there might be if the tithe were rigorously implemented. Part of the difference might be due to the fact that there are somewhat different sets of people under examination. The Stanford estimate is primarily based on “the affluent,” while Sider is talking about “American Christians” in general (clearly there is significant but not complete overlap).

But another aspect of the difference might in fact be the nuance of the Stanford piece’s analysis, and one of its key points: charitable giving should not be based simply on take home pay. Under what they call the “old tithe,” the following seems to be the case, “When people tithe, they typically base the amount they give on their income alone, not on their income and investment assets.”

Of course, assuming that at first the investment asset seed money was take home pay, the tithe would have already been applied to those funds. In essence, the “new tithe” is a double application of the tithe, the second time pertaining to profits earned with money to which the tithe had previously been applied.

Whether or not you think this sort of double tithe is appropriate, the Stanford piece does raise the important question of the responsible stewardship of investment profits. And while at first Sider’s estimate may seem more conservative than the Stanford estimate, if you take into account Sider’s endorsement of a graduated tithe, Sider’s model would end up being much more stringent in terms of its expectations (the graduated tithe is the idea that as income increases, so should the percentage of giving increase, eventually to 100% above a certain threshold).

Some may object that the new double tithe or the graduated tithe, or even the old tithe itself is too legalistic, too stringent, or both. To that I have two things to say.

First, let’s put the level of giving in perspective. Whether or not you think the tithe is a biblical requirement, it is valid as a consistent baseline measure. According to Barna’s research, “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church – that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry – has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002.” In addition, “9% of born again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2004,” and “When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.”

Second, even if you agree with Russell Earl Kelly, Ph.D., that the tithe is not a biblical requirement, it is a far more difficult case to make that the tithe is “unbiblical” or anti-Scriptural. The category of adiaphora would apply here, I think. So, for example, the assertion that the New Testament does not explicitly endorse or teach tithing does not necessarily mean that Christians cannot practice it or that it is “wrong” to tithe.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, September 21, 2006

The debate has not been confined to Catholic circles, but it has been concentrated there. Many (most?) American Catholic moral theologians of the post-Vatican II era have been enamored with one form or another of “proportionalism,” a theory of morality that eschews the traditional Catholic focus on the “intrinsic” goodness or badness of human acts. (Bad acts must be avoided always.)

Proportionalism’s critics have accused its adherents of being simply consequentialists by another name. Consequentialism, which permits using evil means to achieve a good end, is more clearly antithetical to Catholic orthodox theology and, therefore, proportionalists were concerned to deny the connection.

Though criticism—including magisterial criticism—of proportionalism has not been wanting, it might be argued that sustained scholarly criticism from within Catholic academia has. But that seems to be changing as notable young theologians and moral philosophers take up the question anew. First, there was Christopher Kaczor’s Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition. Now, there is Patrick Andrew Tully’s Refined Consequentialism, in which the author examines closely the work of the best known American Catholic proportionalist, Richard McCormick, and concludes that it cannot escape the charge of consequentialism.

Earlier this month Forum 18 published an article that examined whether the establishment of a law regarding religion at a national level would be a positive step toward ending the sometimes arbitrary and uneven treatment of religious freedom issues throughout the country.

In “Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?” Magda Hornemann writes, “For many years, some religious believers and experts both inside and outside China have advocated the creation of a comprehensive religion law through the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.” The argument in favor of the establishment of such a law is that “the rights of religious believers would be better protected by being clearly stipulated and codified in an objective law of the land.”

The consensus at Forum 18 is that a law by itself would be no real positive step. After all, “Despite the words contained in China’s laws and regulations, what is even more important is how those words are interpreted – which in turn is affected by one’s view on the roles played by laws and regulations in society.”

Here’s Forum 18’s conclusion:

Without an independent judiciary, even a well-crafted law is likely to fail on its first try. Yet, it is clear that an independent judiciary is not possible within the existing political-legal context. As long as the state remains authoritarian, and while the political and legal culture remain unchanged, it also seems likely that a comprehensive religion law will not in itself end arbitrary state moves that inhibit the religious freedom of China’s citizens.

Even so, the implications of a new human rights group in China may mean that the establishment of a uniform religious law is a positive first step.

The current issue of Christianity Today features a profile on the Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM). The HRPM is an association of “lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China,” who “are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.”

In “China’s New Legal Eagles,” Tony Carnes examines in particular the legal aspects of the HRPM. That is, the HRPM provides legal defense for those who cannot afford it and challenges the Chinese government on the basis of its own written and established laws. Thus, oftentimes “the Chinese government is caught between its rhetoric proclaiming the rule of law and its practice of ignoring or abusing the law when it suits its purposes.”

This method of appealing to the current set of laws to defend freedom is one that is also used by International Justice Mission (IJM), for example, in fighting the international slave trade. IJM works “to rescue victims and to bring accountability to perpetrators through the enforcement of a country’s domestic laws.”

The basis for the work of many of the evangelical lawyers and activists in the HRPM is their Christian faith. Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, makes an compelling observation regarding Christianity in China: “We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”

What Yafeng is claiming about the relationship between Christianity and China today has often been repeated about the relationship between Christianity and the West.

In a 2004 essay, “A Time of Transition,” German philosopher and secularist Jürgen Habermas wrote, “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Over sixty years earlier German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of his historical context in an essay from his Ethics, “Church and World”:

Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance, autonomy—all these concepts, which until recently had served as battle cries against the church, against Christianity, even against Jesus Christ, now surprisingly find themselves in very close proximity, to the Christian domain. This happened at a point in time when everything Christian had been driven into a tight corner as never before, when the central Christian tenets were being emphasized in their sternest, most uncompromising, and most offensive form to reason, culture, humanity, and tolerance. Indeed, in exactly the reverse proportion that everything Christian was attacked and driven into a corner, it gained these concepts as allies, and thereby a scope of unimagined breadth

Later on Bonhoeffer reiterates the point quite stunningly:

It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth, and freedom. Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Jesus Christ alone. It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.

Sadly, abuses of the rule of law in China are commonplace and Forum 18’s concerns about the independence and consistency of the judiciary are certainly relevant. Such concerns become even more pressing in the light of recent moves by the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information about court cases.

But these issues notwithstanding, the efforts of groups like HRPM show that appeals to the existing laws, within the context of the normative rule of law, can be an effective way to work for the protection of religious freedom. It may well be that a uniform, comprehensive, and objective national religion law would help rather than hinder the work of these evangelical “legal eagles.”

As Daniel Pulliam writes at GetReligion, “Those of us who have heard from Christian Chinese missionaries, perhaps at a church function, know that Christianity could change China.” The HRPM is an example of one way in which such positive changes can be accomplished.