Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK has given generic approval allowing “human-animal embryos to be created and used for research.” According to a Christian Science Monitor report, Evan Harris, “a lawmaker on a parliamentary committee that has oversight in this field,” says that “No scientist I have found has provided scientific reasons as opposed to religiously based ethical reasons for not proceeding,” he adds, even though his committee “looked high and low for such scientists.”

Typically the case that secular scientists make for such research is based on the necessity of the measure for their all-important research: “Stem-cell researchers say they desperately need the animal matter because not enough human eggs are available. Britain has adopted an accommodating attitude toward stem-cell science, fostering a favorable environment that scientists argue would be undermined if this latest experimentation is rejected.”

“We pride ourselves here on working in a pro-science environment,” says Stephen Minger, director of stem-cell biology at King’s College London, one of two scientists who have applied for the HFEA license. “It would be viewed as a depressing turn of events” if the application were turned down.

Anything not clearly “pro-science” in such a narrow way, like any ethic with religious foundations, is similarly understood to be archaic, obsolete, irrelevant, and reactionary.

For some such “religiously based” arguments, see my series on chimeras in five parts.

For more on how scientists and religious leaders dialogue in the public square, see Thomas M. Lessl, “The Priestly Voice,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 75, no. 2 (1989): 183-97; and this 2005 interview on science and rhetoric.

Update: Reformation21 provides a link to the “Linacre Centre Submission to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos” (PDF). The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics is a bioethics research institute under the trusteeship of the Catholic Trust for England and Wales.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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Bilal Sambur, Ph.D., is assistant professor on the faculty of divinity at Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey. He is a guest scholar this summer at the Acton Institute.

Islam, Democracy and Turkey

By Bilal Sambur

The inauguration of Abdullah Gul as Turkey’s new president has provoked a great deal of discussion — and anxiety — about the rise to power of a man who is an observant Muslim with a background in Islamic politics. Instead of anxiety, the world should be celebrating Gul’s election as the greatest breakthrough in the history of Turkish democracy and a sign of hope for Muslim nations all over the world.

In July elections, Gul’s Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkey) won 47 percent of the popular vote and came to power without having to form a coalition. But the main message to the military and secular elites who have run Turkey for so long was not about religion. It was about reforming Turkey’s government.

Today, the biggest problem in the Muslim world is the absence of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, with the exception of Turkey, there is no true democratic rule in the Muslim world at the present time. Most Muslim countries are ruled by militarist dictatorships, kings, monarchs and totalitarian regimes. Under these anti-democratic and illiberal regimes, Muslim people have no opportunity to participate in the political life of their countries.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, a number of former communist countries established democracy rapidly and successfully. Although some former communist regimes have been transformed into democracies, the Muslim world has not been influenced by this new wave of democracy. The anti-democratic regimes of the Muslim world have successfully isolated themselves from this third wave of democracy. And everything seems to be the same as it used to be in Muslim world.

Liberal democracy has taken root in many places outside its birthplace in Europe and the United States. India is the best example of that. Although India has Hindu culture, it is the most populous democratic country in the world now. Having a liberal democratic rule or a totalitarian/autocratic regime is a matter of choice. But Muslim societies have not, for the most part, been given an opportunity to choose between a liberal democratic rule and anti-democratic regime. Recent developments in Turkey show that Muslim people choose democracy when they have a chance to choose it. (more…)

A recent NBER paper, “Distributional Effects of Globalization in Developing Countries,” by Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg and Nina Pavcnik examines some effects of trade liberalization on low-skill workers.

Les Picker summarizes the findings, “Not surprisingly, the entry of many developing countries into the world market in the last three decades coincides with changes in various measures of inequality in these countries. What is more surprising is that the distributional changes went in the opposite direction from what the conventional wisdom suggests: while trade liberalization was expected to help the less skilled, who are presumed to be the relatively abundant factor in developing countries, there is overwhelming evidence that they are generally not made better off relative to workers with higher skill or education levels.”

There’s a lot more here to digest and the article has some predictably necessary nuances and caveats, not least of which concerns the problematic elements of trying to find a causal link between temporally related phenomena: “The authors’ findings suggest a contemporaneous increase in various measures of globalization and inequality in most developing countries, although establishing a causal link between these two trends has proven more challenging. However, the evidence has provided little support for the conventional wisdom that trade openness in developing countries would favor the less fortunate.”

It’s one thing to say that globalization proportionally rewards more highly educated and skilled workers relative to less educated and skilled workers. This by itself is not obviously unjust, and indeed, it seems to pass a basic sense of justice that jobs that require more skills and training ought to command a higher wage. Maybe a system that distributes more unevenly according to a measure of merit such as education or skill-level is more just than another system which is more equitable in purely distributive terms.

That said, it’s quite another thing to say that low-skilled workers are not made better off in absolute terms by globalization. I’m inclined to think that we shouldn’t be so concerned about relative disparities as we are by comparing in absolute terms the state of the working poor under systems of liberal versus illiberal trade.

If the working poor are better off under a liberal trade regime than an illiberal one, and higher educated workers are paid relatively more, there is a simultaneous increase in the poor’s immediate economic prospects as well as a relative increase in the economic incentive to improve their skills.

But his latter point only is effective in a situation where labor mobility is a real option, and as the NBER paper points out, “the strict labor market regulation that many developing countries had in place prior to the recent reforms is a potential source of labor market rigidities.”

So, for the promise of globalization to be realized, trade not only needs to be liberalized, but so does labor. Workers need to be free to move between sectors, both within and without national boundaries. As I’ve argued before in another context, we need both free trade and free labor.

For more on international labor mobility among low-skill workers, see this NYT piece, “Short on Labor, Farmers in U.S. Shift to Mexico.” See also, “New UN Report Underscores Ties between Poverty and Productivity.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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PowerBlog has in the past endorsed the concept of micro-loans as a market-friendly and thereby effective way of aiding the poor, especially in developing countries.

Now Arneel Karnani has attacked microfinance in a prestigious publication, largely on the basis of macroeconomic data.

Over at Business as Mission Network, microfinancier Peter Greer supplies a thorough and fascinating response to the charges.

Certainly any movement needs it critics and Karnani scores some genuine points, but it seems to me that Greer’s rebuttals are on the whole convincing. Micro-loans won’t eliminate poverty, but they play an important role in its alleviation—and in the rehabilitation of the dignity of the individuals who are able to take responsibility for their economic welfare.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Monday, September 3, 2007
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Labor Day is one of those special American holidays that we all enjoy. We mark the end of summer by it, though fall doesn’t begin for several more weeks. This is the time we get back into our non-summer routines and school is now in session for most students and teachers. It is also a time for one final long weekend.

In the liturgy of my own church the benediction from yesterday’s worship said it well:

In the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, let your labors be for the glory of God and for the common good.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Mary’s son, let all of your living be for love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, let our labor not be for a paycheck but for a world changed by God’s love and justice.

May God, Creator of the universe, maker and shaper of all things, bless you labor as well as your rest. May the Son of God, the son of a carpenter, bless all of the work that you do. May the Holy Spirit, ever working for the new creation, bless your service and keep you in God’s purpose, now and forevermore.

Amen!

I am reminded, by such a solid and theologically based expression of prayer, of just how weak my own childhood tradition was in handling the question of work done by Christians. There were at least three examples of this that are common to evangelical Pietism. (1) Work is only a means to an end, make money so that you can pay the bills and serve God in other ways. Many Christian conservatives still teach this in various forms. (2) Labor unions, and various expressions of work solidarity, are wrong. Christians should submit to their employers in such a manner that all efforts to improve working conditions are seen as a waste of time, if not outright rebellion. (3) Work is entirely secular, thus far less important, than ministry, mission or evangelism, which are all seen as sacred.

Don’t you think that the liturgical benediction expresses a much better approach to labor and rest?

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening." His home blog is located here.

It turns out that the Chinese were really thinking ahead back in 1979 when they implemented their one child policy. After all, imagine what their carbon emissions would be today if they hadn’t:

The number of births avoided equals the entire population of the United States. Beijing says that fewer people means less demand for energy and lower emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.

“This is only an illustration of the actions we have taken,” said Su Wei, a senior Foreign Ministry official heading China’s delegation to the 158-nation talks from Aug 27-31.

He told Reuters that Beijing was not arguing that its policy was a model for others to follow in a global drive to avert ever more chaotic weather patterns, droughts, floods, erosion and rising ocean levels.

But avoiding 300 million births “means we averted 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005″ based on average world per capital emissions of 4.2 tonnes, he said.

Well thank goodness we dodged that bullet. The link is from Hot Air, which notes that China’s strategy is “brilliant”:

Expect more of this in the future — human rights abusers being criticized by the international community for dubious practices and parrying the thrust with an appeal to the left’s tippy-top-most social virtue.

In a somewhat similar vein, yesterday brought word that all is not well in the world of leftist activism – a conflict is brewing between animal rights activists and the climate change crowd:

According to an interesting piece that ran in yesterday’s New York Times, animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argue that being a meat-eating environmentalist–like Al–is an oxymoron… As writer Claudia H. Deutsch points out, the groups have compelling ammo to back it up: last November the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a startling report revealing that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.

The common thread in these stories? That humans are, simply put, a problem: we consume too much and emit too much in doing so, and if only there were a great deal fewer of us, things would get a lot better. It’s a very static worldview, allowing adherents to make no allowance for technological advances or scientific discoveries that may mitigate or entirely solve the problems that they fret about. In reality, it comes dangerously close to what Jordan Ballor described as The Matrix Anthropology, which is summed up by the words of Agent Smith, a villain in that film:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

Jordan concludes that post thusly:

This comes, of course, from a piece of software representing the machines who view humans as essentially batteries and feed the liquidated dead to the living. It is perhaps not the best anthropological foundation to adopt.

Perhaps.

While lifeguarding during the summer of my college years, I remember an attractive young woman who worked with me who complained she could not meet any guys at her school, The University of Notre Dame. I inquired further, figuring it to be the beginning of a punch line to a joke. She noted the problem as being young male students, and their over-interest in video games. Maybe you have seen the bumper stickers which declare, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” Diana West, a Washington Times columnist, just released her new book, Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.

In an interview with FrontPage Magazine, West discusses some of her ideas about the perpetual adolescent but shifts into the subject of the War on Terror. West herself notes in the interview with FrontPage:

The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say “cool,” and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (“I’m too young to be called ‘mister’ “) that I was observing in society at large.

But then it hit me: The death of the grown-up was quite suddenly much more than a theory to explain a largely academic culture war; it applied directly and, I thought, most urgently to what had shockingly become a real culture war between the West and Islam–a civilizational struggle that our society doesn’t want to acknowledge precisely, I argue, because of society’s extremely immature, in fact, downright childish, nature.

In the interview, West also makes the connection between socialist dogma and adolescent behavior, noting:

In considering the strong links between an increasingly paternalistic nanny state and the death of the grown-up, I found that Tocqueville (of course) had long ago made the connections. He tried to imagine under what conditions despotism could come to the United States. He came up with a vision of the nation characterized, on the one hand, by an “innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls,” and, on the other, by the “immense protective power” of the state.

Continuing with the Tocqueville portrayal of a possible despotism in America, she says:

“It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but, on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.” Perhaps the extent to which we, liberals and conservatives alike, have acquiesced to our state’s parental authority shows how far along we, as a culture, have reached Tocqueville’s state of “perpetual childhood.”

West argues that the end of grown-up culture cripples the West’s ability to understand the Islamist threat, and its desire for globalist expansion. She surmises, “The struggle underway between the West and Islam begins and ends in the world of pretend.” She believes political correctness, multicultural, “non-judgmental” beliefs hinder the ability to respond to the threat, and she calls this “bedtime story” belief “absurd.”

It will be left to the reader to determine whether the author is accurate in asserting that behavior and symptoms of the adolescent culture are a threat to the West’s ability to defend itself. In addition, the reader will have to decide if all facets and followers of Islam are inherently dangerous to freedom and Western Civilization, which she seems to imply.

It looks like her publication will be a clear confrontation of clashing ideologies, without the nuances, and usual compromises, allowing readers to take her side or another. On a related note, in seminary I had a couple of professors who railed against ‘Constantinianism,’ and told us to embrace an absolute pacifism. In class I asked another professor what he thought about this and gave an impassioned address about Charles Martel and his victory at the battle of Tours in 732 A.D., which saved Western Europe from an Islamic invasion, thus preserving Christianity. Passionately noting, “not all facets of Christianity dubbed Constantinian is valueless or corrupt.”

Every generation in very general terms seems to think that the generation that follows has lost its way. On a lighter note, I think that living in the Deep South caused me to have a higher respect for elders and a higher esteem for the value of manners. That’s why I resisted the suggestions of some professors who said we were permitted to use their first names. Incidentally, when I first moved to Mississippi, it took a little while to get use to calling my teachers in high school, “sir or ma’m.”

West certainly believes the baby boom culture and its multicultural zeal, along with its inability to know or define a shared sense of value has hurt us. At the same time, my brother being a Marine and Iraqi war veteran, has allowed me a greater opportunity to get to know other current combat veterans and their stories. Many of them share a stronger bond with what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” embodying a quiet courage and selfless sacrifice. These veterans stand in sharp contrast to the pop culture’s glorification of celebrities, narcissism, and selfishness.

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.

Here’s your broad, strong agreement among scientists:

In 2004, history professor Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of research papers on climate change. Examining peer-reviewed papers published on the ISI Web of Science database from 1993 to 2003, she found a majority supported the “consensus view,” defined as humans were having at least some effect on global climate change. Oreskes’ work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.

Medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

And here’s your incontrovertible scientific evidence:

For a weatherman who has spent most of his career in front of a TV camera or radio microphone, Anthony Watts was a little concerned about speaking in front of dozens of scientists.
“Although I’m great at giving a weather forecast, I’m a little rusty giving a scientific presentation,” Watts said Friday.

During a scientific workshop this week in Boulder, Colo., Watts presented his research on hundreds of weather stations used to help monitor the nation’s climate.

The preliminary results show Watts and his volunteers have surveyed about a quarter of the 1,221 stations making up the U.S. Historical Climatology Network. Of those, more than half appear to fall short of federal guidelines for optimum placement.

Some examples include weather stations placed near sewage treatment plants, parking lots, and near cars, buildings and air-conditioners — all artificial heat sources which could affect temperature records…

…The research received new prominence, being cited in articles and commentary on global warming after a recent recalculation of global and U.S. temperatures at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. After adjusting for a discrepancy between two weather data sets, the recalculated data showed that 1934 was the “hottest year” on record for the United States, rather than 1998.

Although the change was a slim fraction of degree, Watts expressed concern that the numbers being talked about by the media and the public may not be fully accurate. He said his goal is to ensure the science is correct.

It’s upon this type of evidence and strong consensus that climate change alarmists want to reshape society and create massive economic disruption. Are we really sure that’s a good idea?

Readings in Social Ethics: Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.References below are to page numbers.

  • This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis, and a new centenary edition has been released this month by HarperSanFrancisco and includes responses to each chapter from figures such as Jim Wallis, Tony Camplo, Cornel West, Richard Rorty, Stanley Hauerwas, and others.

  • R’s introduction to the American situation: “We have now arrived, and all the characteristic conditions of American life will henceforth combine to make the social struggle here more intense than anywhere else. The vastness and the free sweep of our concentrated wealth on the one side, the independence, intelligence, moral vigor, and political power of the common people on the other side, promise a long-drawn grapple of contesting forces which may well make the heart of every American patriot sink within him” (xi-xii).
  • Religion, specifically Christianity, is a vital force in the coming social conflict between rich and poor: “It follows that the relation between Christianity and the social crisis is one of the most pressing questions for all intelligent men who realize the power of religion, and most of all for the religious leaders of the people who give direction to the forces of religion” (xii).
  • The writings of the prophets are the foundational biblical precedent for R’s program: “However our views of the Bible may change, every religious man will continue to recognize that to the elect minds of the Jewish people God gave so vivid a consciousness of the divine will that, in its main tendencies at least, their life and thought carry a permanent authority for all who wish to know the higher right of God. Their writings are like channel buoys anchored by God, and we shall do well to heed them now that the roar of an angry surf is in our ears” (2-3).
  • Juxtaposing ceremony and morality, R emphasizes that the prophets focused solely on moral conduct, not on external matters of divine appeasement: “The prophets demanded right moral conduct as the sole test and fruit of religion, and that the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation. This they preached, and they backed their preaching by active participation in public action and discussion” (11).
  • A summary of the significance of the prophets: “If anyone holds that religion is essentially ritual and sacramental; or that it is purely personal; or that God is on the side of the rich; or that social interest is likely to lead preachers astray; he must prove his case with his eye on the Hebrew prophets, and the burden of proof is with him” (43).
  • R calls for a transformative ethic: “Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it…. Jesus was not a mere social reformer. Religion was the heart of his life, and all that he said on social relations was said from the religious point of view. He has been called the first socialist. He was more; he was the first real man, the inaugurator of a new humanity. But as such he bore within him the germs of a new social and political order. He was too great to be the Saviour of a fractional part of human life. His redemption extends to all human needs and powers and relations” (91).
  • Anticipating the basis for the ecumenical movement: “Common work for social welfare is the best common ground for the various religious bodies and the best training school for practical Christian unity” (340).
  • The prophetic role of the pastor: “The ministry, in particular, must apply the teaching functions of the pulpit to the pressing questions of public morality. It must collectively learn not to speak without adequate information; not to charge individuals with guilt in which all society shares; not to be partial, and yet to be on the side of the lost; not to yield to particular partisanship, but to deal with moral questions before they become political issues and with those questions of public welfare which never do become political issues” (412).
  • An indictment of industrial society: “The force of the religious spirit should be bent toward asserting the supremacy of life over property. Property exists to maintain and develop life. It is unchristian to regard human life as a mere instrument for the production of wealth” (413).
  • An attack on property rights, broadly defined: “The most fundamental evils in past history and present conditions were due to converting stewardship into ownership. The keener moral insight created by Christianity should lend its help in scrutinizing all claims to property and power in order to detect latent public rights and to recall the recreant stewards to their duty” (413). Presumably stewardship practically requires some sort of property rights, however.
  • This would be news to missionaries around the world today: “The championship of social justice is almost the only way left open to a Christian nowadays to gain the crown of martyrdom. Theological heretics are rarely persecuted now. The only rival of God is Mammon, and it is only when his sacred name is blasphemed that men throw the Christians to the lions” (418).
  • It must be noted that R was writing before WWI and WII: “Humanity is gaining in elasticity and capacity for change, and every gain in general intelligence, in organizing capacity, in physical and moral soundness, and especially in responsiveness to ideal motives, again increases the ability to advance without disastrous reactions. The swiftness of evolution in our own country proves the immense latent perfectibility in human nature” (422).