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Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

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How To Properly Interpret the Constitution – One Long Debate January 18, 2011

Posted by Bill in Constitution, Current Events, Politics.
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With all the debate about whether the healthcare bill is really Constitutional I thought it might be fun to take a look at a more basic question that directly relates to our current debate; is the Constitution meant to be interpreted narrowly or is it meant to be interpreted broadly with powers being inferred from the enumerated powers?

Now, despite some of the rhetoric floating around, our founders – even the ones who helped write the Constitution – disagreed on this question.  Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued for a narrow interpretation; George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams a broader view.

A slight digression here while I wonder aprint at the seeming conflict between Madison’s initial belief that the Bill of Rights was not needed as all of these rights and more could be inferred from the Constitution and his belief that the Constitution should be interpreted narrowly.  One of my many research goals is to learn more about Madison and his thoughts here to see how he did reconcile them.  End of my wondering.

 To go through the whole history of debate, legislation, and court rulings on this topic would turn this blog into a book. So let me instead just focus on one issue; actually it is the first issue that created this debate on how to properly interpret the Constitution. 

In 1790 Alexander Hamilton proposed the creation of a National Bank to the first Congress.   The intent in creating this bank was to bring financial order out of the chaos that then existed.  After the revolution the government had no money and most of the states had accumulated severe debt loads in financing the revolution. 

The problem lay in that the creation of such a bank was not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, a fact that some of the Southern representatives – who felt, justifiably, that such a bank would provide more benefits to the Northern industrial states than they would to the Southern agricultural states – strongly opposed.

Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that since the power to create such a bank was not explicitly given to Congress by the Constitution it was therefore unconstitutional.  A rather simple argument. 

Alexander Hamilton on the other hand argued that a more correct reading of the Constitution would be one that acknowledges that in addition to the explicit powers granted to the President and Congress there are,of necessity, implicit powers granted too; namely those powers necessary for the Congress and President to fully implement their explicit powers.   

Eventually the bill reached President Washington who polled his cabinet on what they thought about it’s Constitutionality.  It is interesting that his Attorney General, Edmund Randolph, sided with Jefferson and Madison in stating that it was unconstitutional. 

In the end though Washington found Hamilton’s arguments the more persuasive and signed the bill into law. 

Eventually though the National Bank died.  It did so when its chartered expired in 1819 under then President James Madison and failed to be re-chartered by one vote in the House. 

What is really interesting here though is that James Madison, as President, revived the Bank as the Second Bank of the United States after having first strongly opposed its predecessor’s creation.  He did so due to the rising debts from 1812 and the ineffectiveness of state banks. 

Now for a middling long aside:

So, James Madison, who argued against the initial creation of the bank on the basis of a narrow reading of the Constitution also then revived it when he became President.  What caused the change in Madison’ thinking? 

I don’t know. That is part of that same research project that I mentioned earlier in this blog. 

I will say though that something similar happened to Jefferson when he became President – his views seemed to change and what he once opposed as unconstitutional became constitutional in his mind. 

All of this is why I have stated many times that when arguing from the intent of the founders one must also ask which founder and at what point in time.

End of middling long aside.

After the National Bank was revived it was challenged in the Supreme Court and in 1819, in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, The Supreme Court found in favor of the creation of the National Bank and a broad interpretation of the Constitution correct. 

Chief  Justice John Marshall’s written ruling is very instructive in regards to our modern debate on how to properly read and interpret the Constitution.  Which is why I am about to quote extensively from it as well as provide a link to the complete ruling. 

All quotes from this ruling are from 

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0017_0316_ZO.html

“[A] criterion of what is constitutional, and of what is not so … is the end, to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority. There is also this further criterion which may materially assist the decision: Does the proposed measure abridge a pre-existing right of any State, or of any individual? If it does not, there is a strong presumption in favour of its constitutionality….”

In other words the Constitution gives Congress implied powers to implement the Constitution’s expressed powers.   

In this particular case the court ruled that the Necessary and Proper clause was ” …not to diminish the powers vested in the government. It purports to be an additional power, not a restriction on those already granted.”

and

“A Constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind. It would probably never be understood by the public. Its nature, therefore, requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves. That this idea was entertained by the framers of the American Constitution is not only to be inferred from the nature of the instrument, but from the language. Why else were some of the limitations found in the 9th section of the 1st article introduced? It is also in some degree warranted by their having omitted to use any restrictive term which might prevent its receiving a fair and just interpretation. In considering this question, then, we must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding.”

Now in our modern debates , I have also often heard the 10th amendment invoked in explaining why a certain policy or bill is unconstitutional.  This also was addressed by at Marshall:

“Among the enumerated powers, we do not find that of establishing a bank or creating a corporation. But there is no phrase in the instrument which, like the Articles of Confederation, excludes incidental or implied powers and which requires that everything granted shall be expressly and minutely described. Even the 10th Amendment, which was framed for the purpose of quieting the excessive jealousies which had been excited, omits the word “expressly,” and declares only that the powers “not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people,” thus leaving the question whether the particular power which may become the subject of contest has been delegated to the one Government, or prohibited to the other, to depend on a fair construction of the whole instrument. The men who drew and adopted this amendment had experienced the embarrassments resulting from the insertion of this word in the Articles [p407] of Confederation, and probably omitted it to avoid those embarrassments.”

Further he stated that the Constitution is a document that is built to evolve and adapt to a changing world.

“This provision is made in a Constitution intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs. To have prescribed the means by which Government should, in all future time, execute its powers would have been to change entirely the character of the instrument and give it the properties of a legal code. It would have been an unwise attempt to provide by immutable rules for exigencies which, if foreseen at all, must have been seen dimly, and which can be best provided for as they occur. To have declared that the best means shall not be used, but those alone without which the power given would be nugatory, would have been to deprive the legislature of the capacity to avail itself of experience, to exercise its reason, and to accommodate its legislation to circumstances.”

Let me end this rather long blog by posting one more bit from Justice Marshall’s ruling:

“This Government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers. The principle that it can exercise only the powers granted to it would seem too apparent to have required to be enforced by all those arguments which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted. But the question respecting the extent of the powers actually granted is perpetually arising, and will probably continue to arise so long as our system shall exist.”

Important Enough To Read, But Not Important Enough To Listen To January 8, 2011

Posted by Bill in Constitution, Current Events, Politics, Right wing.
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First the House Republicans make a huge production about the importance of reading the Constitution on the floor of the House.  Then when they read it, most do not stay all the way through.   Attendance was rather sparse for this supposedly important event. 

In fact the speaker of the House, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, second ranking Republican in the House, could not even make time to stay and respectfully listen to the document they supposedly hold in such high regard and whose reading was so important. 

Now I am not going to state whether this was just a political stunt on the part of the Republicans or not.  If it was it was clumsily done.  If it was generated by a sincere appreciation of the Constitution and an honest belief of the importance of reading it aloud in the House – well that sincerity and honesty must be only half felt.  Otherwise they would all have attended and stayed throughout the reading. 

And would have read the complete Constitution. 

They left out the bit about slavery and also omitted the 18th amendment.  Even though both were later changed they are still part of the original historical document.  The Original…. that is something that Republicans have made into a bit of a fetish. 

For example, take their mantra of original intent.  That sounds nice –  just look at how our founders understood the Constitution and follow along.  However there is a huge problem with this, that being when you cite original intent you must also ask which founder’s original intent. 

A quick look at history shows that our founders, many of whom were at the Constitutional Convention and helped write this document, disagreed vehemently with each other on the meaning  of what they wrote and how best to implement it.  In fact, at times the rhetoric of their disagreements reached truly Glen Beckian proportions in terms of its vitriol.   

Republicans are fond of quoting just one of the founders and ignoring the voices of the other founders who disagreed.  For example, I recently carried on a conversation with a very conservative Republican individual who argued that our social security, welfare, and many other such programs were unconstitutional since they were not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.  In fact, he was for eliminating about 90% of our government as unconstitutional.

He further stated that liberals and the courts have erred in their reading of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution that has been used to justify some of these programs and cited Jefferson and Madison as the basis of his views.  He seemed to believe that their beliefs on how to interpret this clause was shared by all of our founders.

Before I post my response to this claim let me point out that it should be fairly obvious that the Constitution was meant to be interpreted.  It is too short to be an effective guide to forming and running a government without being interpreted.  Just think of government policies or even private industry policies and how long they are as they try to deal with every circumstance.  Now compare that to the length of the Constitution, even with the amendments, that is our guide to running a complete national government. 

It is an conceit born of ignorance to think that the Constitution can work without interpreting it.  Especially since this greatest of all political documents has to deal with a changing world – internet, easier travel, better communications, improved technology and medicine, etc – all of which create issues our founders never had to deal with. 

I was pleased that in doing research for my response that this point had been brought up in previous Supreme Court rulings. 

As for my response to my very very conservative Republican: 

You seem to overlook the fact that our founders did NOT agree with each other.  This holds true both for the meaning of and how to properly implement “the general welfare” clause as it does for every other section of the Constitution. 

In fact, Madison’s co-author of the Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton, disagreed with Madison and Jefferson and took a much broader view of what this clause meant.  This broader view was one that at least two other of our founders, Washington and Monroe, shared.  

Now, while it was not until the 1936 U.S vs. Butler ruling that the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that Hamilton’s more literal and broader interpretation of the “general welfare” clause was the correct one there were several other rulings that laid the foundation for a  broader interpretation of the Constitution along the lines that Washington, Adams, Monroe, and Hamilton argued for.  

For example, Jefferson and Madison argued against a national bank by stating that it was not explicitly allowed by the Constitution.  Hamilton, with Washington’s concurrence, argued that it was necessary in order to carry out the provisions of the Constitution.  Hamilton won, both in the Congress at the time and later on in a Supreme Court ruling – McCulloch vs. Maryland in 1819.

In that ruling, Chief Justice Marshall argued that Congress can act on both explicit and implied powers.  He stated that this must be so just as a matter of pragmatism; that if all the means of implementing the explicit powers were listed the Constitution would become much too lengthy to be practical or to be understood.

In other words, the Constitution was a framework of basic ideas that would need interpretation to be fleshed out into a working government. 

In this particular case his ruling said that since Congress had the explicit powers to issue and borrow money, collect taxes, and maintain armies then they had the implicit power under the “necessary and proper” clause to establish a National Bank.  

In this decision Justice Marshall wrote that:  “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional…” 

He also stated that the Constitution “…intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crisis of human affairs.”

In other words this unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court in 1819 stated that the Constitution had to be interpreted to be a workable document and may have to be “adapted” to changing times.   

As a side note I should mention that Daniel Webster argued this case before the Supreme Court and argued brilliantly for a broad view of the Constitution.  He obviously won the case. 

Perhaps I should let Alexander Hamilton now have the last say here. 

 [A] criterion of what is constitutional, and of what is not so … is the end, to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority. ”

In other words, broad readings of the Constitution are Constitutional.  And have been argued to be so by many of our founders from the beginning.