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Demographic Nonsense

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.


Today, when we try to explain political results or describe the political landscape, we often do it in terms of which demographic groups—genders, races, orientations, classes, regions—voted for whom. And as political consultants and politicians try to win elections, they start the same way; they try to figure out how to dominate among white suburban women, for example. I’ve argued that politics relying on exploiting demographics—a style and a strategy more and more relentlessly prosecuted by both parties—is a contradictory nonsense, as well as a terribly unfortunate attempt to make the divisions between Americans ever more extreme. Here, I’m going to elaborate on articles I wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

First, it’s all rather evil.  The basic approach of the Clinton campaign, according to its own strategists and surrogates—white guys such as Robby Mook and Joel Benenson—was to focus on relentlessly on turning out “women and minorities.” As demographics shift, they’ve long held, Democrats will dominate this growing segment of the population, and hence elections. (There is one problem here; the category “women and minorities” makes no sense.)

This has been a strategy for the last several cycles, in particular since the emergence of the “gender gap” in the 1990s; it was relentless in 2016. And I think it’s fair to say that Republicans have implicitly focused on white people and men as their basic constituency for decades, at least since Nixon played “the Southern card.” In Trump/Bannon nationalism, with its throwback style of sexuality and racial signaling, this appeal has become explicit.

In 2016, both sides leaned heavily on demographic analyses in deciding where the candidate should appear, for example, or in figuring out how to assemble an Electoral College majority. Particularly for the Democrats, however, this style of analysis is breathtakingly incoherent. The electoral coalition they imagine—of women, minorities, urban dwellers, gay and trans people—is conceptually impossible. The simplest way to see this is that the population cannot be split into two groups, women/minorities and men/white people.

A majority of American women are white, while half the members of racial minority groups are men. A coalition in which one party represents women and minorities and the other represents men and white people splits each of the white women and each of the minority men right between the hemispheres of their brains. Mook and Benenson were calling on people’s race to vote against their gender, and vice versa. If people can’t undergo fission into their demographic memberships—if, for example, a black, straight, middle-class man can’t be pulled apart into four different voters—this is all nonsense.

As a matter of fact, Trump won white women, leading to an outraged feminist condemnation of their reactionary sisters. Didn’t they know they were women first and white people second? Trump also did surprisingly well among minority men. These splits could continue to grow as the parties try to maximize them, and neither party would win an enduring advantage.

If I want to vote the way the parties want me to vote, and I am, for example, a rural straight Latino female, how would I proceed? The parties not only want to slice up the population and turn bits of it against the other bits, but to slice up each of us and, I suppose, turn us against ourselves, or force this poor sap to figure out whether she’s more straight than female, or more rural than Latino.

This does, in part, explain the interminable deadlock of our politics. Even as Democrats wait for demographic shifts to carry them to power, the growing minority population is half-male, the growing out-gay population is mostly white, and so on. Almost any way they try to maximize the demographic advantages they believe will serve them will also maximize the advantages of their opponents. We’re likely to be stuck here for a long time.

The parties got into this hell through polling, which has dominated every campaign. You can poll women, and you can poll white people. These two polls deliver different numbers; they appear to focus on different demographic segments. But the populations overlap at a rate of 50 percent, and your appeal is liable to alienate the other 50. These data heads seem clever, but they’re making howling mistakes.

If there’s a stage further into or beyond demographic politics, it may be signaled by Cambridge-Analytica-style “psychometrics.” The Democrats were still operating in 2016 at the primitive and incoherent level of large demographic segments, but the data analysis and targeting tools that are coming online now promise to target voters, or consumers, “down to the level of the individual.” If that were indeed possible, it might to some extent overcome the sort of conceptual problems I’m identifying. The Trump’s campaign’s micro-targeting, as opposed to the Dems’ primitive approach to the electorate in terms of large-scale groups demographic segments, might in part explain how Trump beat Clinton.

Micro-targeting might also lead to more sophisticated manipulations, more divisive appeals to group identities, smaller echo chambers. And yet if they come into my social media feeds appealing to my eccentric politics or consumption behavior as well as my demographic memberships—if they really atomize their appeals down to the level of individuals—the lines between groups might liquify a little.

I’m a white, heterosexual, rural male. And yet, if I were forced to choose sides among the demographic parties, I’d choose to go with the women and minorities (or I would, if the category were coherent). I don’t mean to make parties representing male whites and female people of color precisely morally equivalent, and the historical oppression exercised by people like me would make me go in the opposite direction; I don’t want to be in the racist, sexist party (though I also don’t want to be in the statist party). But, standing outside the process, it’s hard not to notice the cumulative effects of both parties together trying to maximize the gender and racial gaps. It’s tearing the country apart, at the scale of whole regions and groups, but also in villages, offices and families.

We might say that demographic politics imply a theory of human identity in which each of us is a stack or collage of memberships in social groups, in which each of us is a race/gender/nationality/orientation/class. Our behavior, and in particular our consumption and political behavior, is supposed to follow out of this stack, and hence to be manipulated through these memberships, which call out loyalties and real interests, but which are also in conflict, between the groups or within the self.

I wonder whether that exhausts the way you understand your self, whether that’s all you are or all you might aspire to be.

By Crispin Sartwell published on March 26, 2018 in Splice Today and can be seen here.


No-Fault Divorce Does Not Violate Hindu Husband’s Free Exercise Rights

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Bhandaru v. Vukkum, (KY App., Aug. 19, 2016), a Kentucky appeals court rejected an argument that the state’s no-fault divorce law violates the free exercise rights of a Hindu husband.  The husband argued that his Hindu religion only permits divorce if some grounds for divorce are stated. The court concluded however that the divorce law is a law of general applicability and the state has a rational basis for it.  It thus survives a 1st Amendment challenge and the free exercise provisions of the Kentucky constitution offer no greater protection than those in the 1st Amendment.  The court also rejected the argument that under notions of comity it should have applied the Indian Hindu Marriage Act.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Reasoned Voting

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:


Keeping in mind that this site does not engage in party politics, I still feel prompted to share something in the context of the up-coming election in the U.S. Although most of this will discuss the political climate in the U.S. I also send this out to any readers “across the pond” in the U.K. as they approach the very important vote on whether or not to remain in the E.U. Distributism is based on certain philosophical principles which originate in a scientific view of philosophy. It has become all too common in our political environments to use fear tactics to try and convince people to vote a certain way. These tactics can sound reasonable, but are truly an attempt to get you to abandon reason. Therefore, I want to present certain principles of reason as I think they apply to deciding how to vote.

The philosophical principles of reason which come down to us from the great minds of the past like Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas are those precepts which we must follow when applying reason to anything. The failure to do so will ultimately lead us to accepting absurd things. They are employed by all of our natural sciences. They are employed by all of our ethical reasoning. They are crucial to fulfilling our capabilities as rational beings. Unfortunately, some people throw around some of these principles in an incorrect or incomplete manner. Because we no longer learn true philosophy (even philosophy students seem to spend more time learning about philosophers – both good and bad – than about the actual science of philosophy) many people are ill equipped to see that these are false applications.

“Choosing the lesser of two evils”

This is a frequent claim used as an election draws near. In the U.S. It has long been used by pundits for the Republican party and has recently been used more by those of the Democrat party. The failure to nominate a candidate their voting base can really support has forced them to use this claim. They essentially say, “we know you think our candidate is bad, but he’s not as bad as their candidate.” This call to choose the “lesser” of two evils is usually followed by the next claim.

“A vote for x is really a vote for y”

This is a double-attack on your reason. Not only is your decision not to vote for their candidate or policy wrong, but you will somehow be guilty for the fact that the other candidate or policy won. In essence, the claim is that by voting other than the way they want, you are actually choosing what (presumably) neither of you want. This is used by both of the major parties in the U.S. as an attack against anyone who considers a third party option. It is based on the premise that the candidate or policy you want has no chance of winning, which leads us to the next claim.

“Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”

Politics is the art of compromise, so why don’t you just compromise and vote for us? Since your position or candidate has no chance of actually winning, you should back down a little and vote for us. By doing so, you’ll get at least some of what you want instead of “wasting your vote.”

All of these arguments sound reasonable, but are actually not so, and a serious look at the principles of reason will reveal why.

When people use variants of the “lesser of two evils” argument, keep in mind that this is only a partial statement of the actual principle of reason. The actual principle is, “If one cannot avoid doing one of two acts, from both of which will follow an evil effect, one is obligated to choose the lesser of the two evils.”  Note that the premise here, which is fundamental to the entire principle, is that you cannot avoid doing one of the two acts. For this to apply in the context of an election, you would have to be constrained to only choose one of two candidates and have no other option – you must vote and you must vote for one of the only two candidates presented to you. Is this the actual case in our elections? Do you really only have two choices? I am not speaking of the so-called “practical” choices, by which is meant those choices generally accepted as having a chance to win. If there is in fact another option, then you are not limited by the constraint of the principle, so it simply doesn’t apply. Actually, if one were to insist on applying it to the case of an election, a reasoned expansion of this principle would be that, in the case of more than two choices, you must choose the one from which will follow the least evil effect. Don’t forget that, when electing candidates in the U.S., there is usually a blank line where you can write in the name of a better choice than the ones being presented.

This leads us to the next claim. Is it true that choosing something other than the two “practical” choices is equivalent to choosing one of them? The answer is obviously no. They say that the only choices are A and B because C has no chance of winning. Therefore, if you vote for C, you are effectively giving the election to whichever option they don’t want from the choices of A and B. This is nonsense. They are trying to shift the blame to you for the fact that they didn’t present a candidate you would want to support. They are trying to blame you for all the others who also didn’t want to support their view. This seems to be a mangling of the principle which states, “Things that are identical with a third are identical with each other.”Your actual responsibility in an election is to vote for the candidate or position you think should win. What you vote for represents what you choose regardless of the outcome. You are not to blame for the votes of others.

This leaves us with the only argument that actually deserves any consideration. “Don’t let the best become the enemy of the good” is inherently incorrect, but it can actually be applied in a way that doesn’t compromise the principles of reason. However, this argument must be properly understood in the light of those principles to determine if it actually applies to the current choices.

First of all, using the terms employed, the “good” must always be directed toward the “best” or it fails to be good. (“Every agent acts for the sake of an end.”) Therefore, one can accept the merely “good” for now, but only on the condition that is a movement toward the “best.” If this is not the case, then you would be violating the principle which states, “It is never lawful to reject a greater good for a lesser one.” The lesser good can only be accepted as a means to achieving the greater good, and never as an end itself. This is the essence of political compromise. Realizing that achieving the “best” may not currently be politically possible, achieving the “good” at this time with the intention of continuing to work for the “best” may be prudent.

Another consideration for this argument must be kept in mind. At what point does continual compromise from the “best” end up being an acceptance of the merely “good?” If you keep voting for an inadequate candidate on the grounds that “we can’t let the other party win,” what incentive will your party ever have to stop presenting inadequate candidates? If you continue to agree to legislation that falls short of what you really want, what are your chances of ever getting the legislation you really want? The pundits accuse those who choose to make a stand with their vote of wasting it, but the purpose of voting is to try and get the change you want. What vote could be more wasted than when you vote for something you don’t want?

At what point do we wake up to the realization that the political machines of these parties are actively engaged in saying what their base wants to hear just to secure votes, but don’t actually mean those things? How many times to we have to see them fail to even try to accomplish what they tell us they will before we accept the fact that it really isn’t all the fault of the other party? Remember that this sort of compromise is only acceptable if it is both prudential and will actually help to move from the “good” to the “best.”

A final consideration on this kind of compromise is that we have to examine the risks of the other side of the compromise. It is not enough to look at what we’ve gained, we need to look at what we’ve potentially lost through the compromise.“It is never lawful to take a risk with the right of another.” “It is never lawful to do an evil act to accomplish a good end.” “A good intention does not justify the use of an evil means for the end in view.” If your side of the compromise would fall into any of these categories, then the compromise cannot be made. Remember that your vote represents you. Your beliefs and values. “All human acts must tend towards the good of man.”

I am also reminded of something posted by Ryan Grant. There is another claim that says that you have no right to complain if you don’t vote. Of course, this is also nonsense. The officials of government have a moral responsibility in the exercise of their office. This is true even if those officials are not democratically elected. Citizens always have the right to complain about injustices regardless of how those officials came to hold their offices. In some election campaigns, there were movements of people who wanted a ballot option for “none of the above” as a way of indicating their dissatisfaction with all of the candidates. However, if you believe that elections are useless, because of the corruption of the political parties, the media, the voting process, or the ballot counting process, then why should you bother to vote even to say “none of the above?” Justice in government is a human right, not one just for those who engage in the system of voting.

Finally, I would like to point out how ironic it is when I hear Republican pundits heap scorn on those who would even consider a third party candidate. They seem to forget that their party was once the upstart third party in a political climate dominated by two other parties. The “Grand Old Party” is significantly younger than its chief rival. Why is it that they don’t address the growing popularity of third party candidates among their voter base? The Republican party was propelled to electoral victory because the voting public got sick and tired of the fact that neither of the major parties of the time were putting forth candidates and positions that truly reflected their views. Well, the same thing is happening today in both of the major parties. It is common for pundits of both parties to lay the blame for an electoral loss on the votes “stolen” by a third party candidate. The truth is that these votes were not stolen because they didn’t “belong” to any candidate or party. They never “owned” our votes and they shouldn’t take them for granted. If they want our votes, then they should present candidates and positions we want to support. If they want to keep our votes, then those candidates better use their time in office actually trying to accomplish what they were elected to accomplish. In other words, voters need to remember that parties and individual candidates need to earn our votes, and need to keep doing so. If they fail to do this, then why shouldn’t we look elsewhere and be proud of doing so?

In their attempts to convince others to vote for a particular candidate, many people are using arguments that invoke the fundamental principles of reason from the philosophical sciences. Unfortunately, many of these invocations use these arguments in an improper way. I addressed some of the most common in a recent article titled Reasoned Voting. I recently came across another use of a principle of reason in support of voting for a particular candidate which, in the interest clear reasoning, I would like to address in this follow-up to that article. The principle is known as “Double-Effect.”

The main goal of these articles is not to convince or dissuade people about voting for a particular candidate or party. It is to foster a better understanding of the principles being invoked because an improper use of these principles can have bad results.

“A small error in principle can lead to a big error in conclusion.”

Doing something, even something good, for a bad reason is not something we should be willing to accept because that would be acting contrary to our nature as rational beings. Therefore, even if you continue to support a given candidate, it should not be because of a faulty application of the principles of reason.

Where the principle commonly called “the lesser of two evils” is used to decide between two choices, the principle of double-effect only applies to a single choice. It is the method used to determine if a particular choice can or cannot be made. Thus, we have seen questions like “can a Catholic vote for Trump/Hillary?” Some commentators have attempted to answer these types of questions pertaining to the upcoming election using the principle of double-effect, but I believe these attempts are a misapplication of the principle.

The principle of double-effect answers the question of whether or not a specific single act is permissible when it is known that the act will produce not only a good, but also a bad effect. In the context of the political election it is proposed that, because we know a candidate will do both good and bad things, double-effect applies to the question of whether or not we may vote for a specific candidate. However, I believe that this is a misunderstanding of the principle as it applies to the question at hand.

The principle of double-effect addresses the following question.

Given an act that that produces two effects, one good and one bad, can we do the act?


To determine whether or not a particular act is permissible, the principle of double-effect applies four conditions to the act and its effects to arrive at an answer. If all of the conditions are met, then the principle of double-effect applies and the act may be done. The conditions which must be met for double-effect to apply are these.


The act itself must be good, or at least indifferent.
Both effects must proceed immediately from the act.
Only the good effect may be intended.
There must be due proportion between the good and bad effects.

The first two conditions determine whether or not double-effect applies to a particular act. If not, the act must be examined in light of other principles of reason. The second two conditions answer the question of whether or not an act to which double-effect does apply may or may not be done.

A fairly common example of how the principle is legitimately applied is the question amputating a limb infected with gangrene. Amputating the infected limb will remove the threat to life, but it will also result in the loss of the limb. Can we amputate the limb?

First: The act is amputation of the limb. This act is indifferent because the goodness or badness of it depends on the end toward which it is directed.
Second: Both effects will proceed immediately from the act. The moment the act is performed, both the threat to life and the limb will be removed.
Third: We only desire the good effect. If we could remove the gangrene without doing harm, or with less harm, we would do so.
Fourth: The good of preserving life is greater than the evil of losing a limb.

From this we can see that the principle of double-effect applies to this case, and that the reasonable conclusion is that we may amputate the limb.

Those who attempt to apply this principle as an argument for casting your vote for candidate X seem to do so on the basis of campaign promises. Even though it is likely that X will do some things we consider bad, X has promised to do other things we believe are good. We believe there is due proportion between the good and the bad that X will likely do while in office. Therefore, they conclude, the principle of double-effect shows that we can vote for candidate X. I will explain two reasons why I believe double-effect just doesn’t apply to the question of your vote. Note that I am only addressing the question of whether or not double-effect applies to the question of your vote, there are certainly other factors that do.

Double-effect applies specifically to “an act that produces two effects, one good and one bad.” We are examining the effects of specific individual act, so the act in question must clearly be the cause of those effects. In the case of amputation, both effects are produced by the act of amputation – they are both unavoidable effects of the act and the act is clearly the cause of those effects. Can we say the same thing about your vote? Is your vote the cause of both the good and the bad that candidate X will do while in office? The answer is obviously no. You cast your vote based on various things like campaign promises and position statements, but your vote does not actually cause any of those things to actually occur. Whether candidate X keeps or breaks every campaign promise, whether X does exactly what you expect or the opposite of what you expect can not reasonably be attributed as an effect of your vote. It is an effect of the free will of the candidate while in office.

I know that some will argue that your vote is the cause of the candidate getting elected and therefore, by extension, it is the cause of what the candidate does in office. I maintain that double-effect still doesn’t apply even if we accept the argument. The principle of double-effect states that both effects must proceed immediatelyfrom the act. This is clear in the case of amputation. Both effects are immediate. They happen simultaneously and there is no delay between the act as the cause and its effects. In regard to your vote, none of the effects can be considered to proceed immediately from your vote. Even if we were to say that the effects in question will take place over a period of time, they don’t even start to happen when you cast your vote. The candidate won’t even get sworn in for two months after you cast your vote. X could refuse to be sworn in or die before doing so. Amputation guarantees that both the limb and the disease will be removed. Your vote does not even guarantee that candidate X will win the election. Clearly, double-effect does not apply to the question of your vote.

In the end, as stated in the previous article, you must exercise your prudential judgement. Faced with the fact that the candidate is not ideal, is it prudential to vote for X rather than one of the several other available candidates? Is it prudential to (once again) compromise on what you really want and vote for X as a step toward a greater good to be more fully achieved in the future? There are many factors to consider for this important decision. I hope that these articles will help clarify the good and bad points some are making on the subject. These decisions are unfortunately difficult and complex. The principles of reason exist to assist us in understanding the factors that go into making a good decision. It does not help if our thinking gets muddled by the improper application of these principles, even if those doing it have the best intentions.

Originally posted on June 16, 2016 (part one: see here) and August 18, 2016 (part two: see here).

Suit Challenges Latin Cross In County Seal and Flag

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

A suit was filed in federal district court this week seeking to enjoin Lehigh County, Pennsylvania from continuing to display the current county seal and county flag that includes a Latin cross (partly hidden by a depiction of the county courthouse) as a prominent part of the design.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. County of Lehigh, (ED PA, filed 8/16/2016) contends that the cross amounts to an endorsement of Christianity, while the county Board of Commissioners says the cross was made part of the design to honor the original settlers of Lehigh County who were Christian. FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Ohio town must pay back millions of fines collected from speed cameras, court rules

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights as described in the article below.


A small Ohio town that lived by the red light camera could soon die by it, after a federal court ruled the speed trap has to pay back more than $3 million in automated speeding tickets.

The case of New Miami, population 2,321, highlights the controversy behind the tickets, which make stoplight-running motorists see red, but help keep the budgets of cities and towns in the black. New Miami will almost certainly go bankrupt if the Supreme Court doesn’t reverse a lower court’s ruling and spare it from refunding tens of thousands of tickets at $180 apiece plus interest.

The case of New Miami is seen by many drivers across the country – including numerous lawmakers and lawyers – as the epitome of municipalities abusing their power by setting up speed traps and red light cameras in an attempt, not to make roadways safer, but to line their coffers.

“As with most issues there are elements of truth on both sides,” Bill Seitz, a Republican state representative from Ohio, told Fox News. “But many of these jurisdictions are using these tickets as revenue enhancements that ticket people for only minor infractions.”

Seitz is currently working to push a bill through the Ohio statehouse that would require cities to file all traffic camera cases in municipal court and would reduce state funding to cities by the same amount cities collect in traffic camera revenue.

The Ohio representative, who himself was caught on camera rolling through a red light in Columbus, added that in 2006 and 2014 lawmakers approved restrictions on photo enforcement cameras and that limits or bands on the devices enjoy wide support in cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland.

The current animosity directed at the cameras marks a shift in public sentiment toward the cameras.

While it is tough to pinpoint the national pulse as most studies are conducted at a state and regional level, but it appears that there are a growing number of areas who are starting to question whether the speed camera programs are effective or even constitutional.

Seven states are currently considering legislation to prohibit red light and speed camera use amid concerns that they are ripe for abuse and IIHS study found that the number of red light cameras in the U.S. dropped to 467 in 2015 from its peak of 553 in 2012.

“It’s really a money making venture,” Israel Klein, a lawyer in New York City, told Fox News. “They’re raking in the dollars and it’s an extreme abuse of power.”

Klein earlier this year filed a class action lawsuit against the city that argues that speed camera tickets are invalid and violate New York state law as the city failed to file all of the required paperwork with the court before allowing a private contractor to drop the photo ticket in the mail. New York City’s 2018 budget expects to haul in $119 million in photo enforcement fines.

“City officials don’t care about the law as long as they’re making money,” Klein added.

Proponents of the cameras, however, argue that they significantly lower the number of accidents on the road as both speeding and going through red lights are two of the biggest causes of car crashes in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The most recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that nearly 1,300 lives were saved through 2014 in 79 large U.S. cities that installed red light cameras and, in a study of one county in Maryland, radar cameras installed on local roads reduced fatal or incapacitating injuries by 39 percent.

“Red light running is one of the biggest factors in crashes,” Russ Rader, a spokesman for the IIHS, told Fox News. “But [these crashes] are sharply reduced when cities use red light cameras.”

But a slew of recent corruption cases across the country involving local government officials and companies selling the cameras is not helping the image of them as moneymakers for municipalities.

In Chicago, camera vendor Redflex won in 2003 a $120 million contract to install 384 cameras and collected more than $400 million in traffic fines. It was eventually revealed that Redflex bribed Chicago City hall manager John Bills with $2,000 for every camera installed as well as giving him vacations, a condominium in Arizona and Mercedes among other favors.

Bills was eventually sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in a corruption scandal that rocked the city, while two Redflex higher-ups were sent to jail and the company was forced to pay $20 million to the city to settle a lawsuit.

Redflex did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

In Ohio, New Miami will have to wait to see if the state’s Supreme Court decides to take a look at their plea – something it only does with roughly seven percent of cases filed annually. Engel, the plaintiff’s lawyer, says he believes that going to the state’s highest court is just another move by the village to delay making their payments.

“The village is well aware that the chances of the Supreme Court deciding to hear this issue is slim. So why are they pursuing this Hail Mary?” Engel told the Journal-News. “This is another stalling tactic to further delay having to pay back the money taken from motorists in an unconstitutional scheme.”

By Andrew O’Reilly and originally published on Fox News on March 14, 2018 and can be found here.

Superior Court Ruling Gives Hope to Custody-Seeking Grandparents

Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5324, grandparents and great-grandparents, if they meet the statutory criteria, may be awarded legal and physical custody of their grandchild(ren) (or great-grandchildren). Typically, grandparents assert their potential custodial rights in opposition to the rights of the parents of the children. In some situations, however, more than one set of grandparents may seek to exercise their custodial rights at the same time. How is that conflict resolved? The recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of G.A.P. v. J.M.W. v. S.J. and R.J., 2018 Pa.Super. 229 sheds some light on how such a matter could be handled.

In G.A.P., the father of the child has a history of substance abuse and also a criminal history, and was alleged to have committed sexual abuse against the child. Similarly, the mother of the child also has a history of substance abuse. The child has lived, from time to time, with the maternal great-grandparents over the course of his entire life, and has lived continuously with them since 2015.

In the summer of 2016 the great-grandparents filed for custody of the child on the basis that he had been living with them continuously since October 2015 and asserted that he was unsafe when in the custody of the father. The trial court, on an emergency basis, awarded the great-grandparents sole physical custody of the child and suspended the father’s partial physical custody, and an agreement was reached with the mother awarding her supervised physical custody of the child. At the end of 2016 the trial court awarded the great-grandparents and the father shared legal custody, the great-grandparents primary physical custody, and the father supervised physical custody. The mother was not awarded anything as she failed to appear for the hearing.

In the spring of 2017 the great-grandparents filed a petition for special relief requesting the father be drug tested and have his custody modified to supervised visits only, on the basis that he allegedly had relapsed into drug use. As a result, the trial court suspended the father’s unsupervised partial physical custody and replaced it with supervised physical custody.

Not long after the father’s custody was reduced, the paternal grandparents filed a petition to Intervene and requested physical custody of the child. The grandparents asserted that their petition was filed pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5324(3)(iii)(B) which permits grandparents to file for custody of their grandchildren if “the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity.”

In response, the great-grandparents filed preliminary objections against the grandparents’ petition to Intervene, asserting that the grandparents did not have standing as, allegedly, the child was not “currently” at substantial risk. The trial court agreed and dismissed the grandparents’ petition to Intervene for lack of standing, leading them to file an appeal to Pennsylvania Superior Court.

During the litigation of the petition to Intervene, the great-grandparents conceded that the grandparents had a relationship with the child that began with the consent of a parent, and were willing to assume parental responsibility over the child. In other words, the great-grandparents admitted that the grandparents essentially met the other requirements of Section 5324 except, in their view, the requirement that the child be currently substantially at risk.

The grandparents argued that the risk to the child, by the plain language of the statute cited above, is due to “parental abuse” specifically and, therefore, the claim that the great-grandparents are not a source of risk is irrelevant. Furthermore, the “grandparents also argued that the purpose of the statute is to grant grandparents standing in custody matters, not ‘to create a situation where grandparents are essentially in a race to file to receive standing’ because the grandparent who files first is the only one able to obtain standing in a custody matter.”

The Superior Court agreed that Section 5324 confers standing upon grandparents when the child is substantially at risk “due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity.” In its view, these words are clear and unambiguous and make no exception for a child’s potential custodial situation at a given time. In the court’s words “the plain language of the statute confers standing to grandparents when a child is substantially at risk due to ongoing parental behaviors.”

Upon review of the trial court record, Superior Court noted that the conditions required by Section 5325—including the risk factors—were present to grant the great-grandparents standing. Superior Court determined that there was nothing to suggest that the risk created by the parents had changed or somehow subsided. Significantly, the court observed, as the parental rights of father and mother have not been terminated or relinquished, either or both father and mother could seek (additional) custody of the child at any time. As a result, the ongoing risk from the parents is still ongoing.

Finally, it is in Superior Court’s opinion that the General Assembly did not intend, by its adoption of the specific language in the statute, to create a so-called race-to-the-courthouse standard by which the (great) grandparent who files first gets awarded custody at the expense of the others. Instead, the Superior Court reasoned, the court should have the opportunity to consider all possible or viable options in order to decide how to allot custodial rights according to the best interests of the child at issue. As a result, Superior Court reversed the trial court’s sustaining of the great-grandparents’ preliminary objections and remanded the case back to the trial court.

This case should provide practitioners the justification, and potential custodial grandparents hope, that they can pursue potential custodial rights over their grandchildren even if others who are in a similar state of life or situation (e.g., another set of grandparents) seemingly have done so already.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on October 2, 2018 and can be found here.

Ministerial Exception Doctrine Bars ADA Claim By Adventist Music Teacher

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Curl v. Beltsville Adventist School, (D MD, Aug. 15, 2016), a Maryland federal district court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to prevent a music teacher at a Seventh Day Adventist school from pursuing federal claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.  The teacher sued when her contract was terminated because she was unable to return fully to work a number of months after being seriously injured in a fall at work. In finding that plaintiff ‘s position was ministerial in nature, the court said in part:

Although a portion of Plaintiff’s responsibilities were secular in nature, Plaintiff acknowledges that she is personally a Seventh-day Adventist whose role at the School included teaching religious music and leading prayer services…. [S]he agreed to abide by the Education Code, which “requires that schools employ only those who live in complete harmony with the beliefs and practices of the Church” and therefore required that all School teachers be “baptized Adventists committed to the Church’s program of ministry.”… [A] portion of her salary was paid by tithe funds, which are intended to be used for ministry…. Moreover, Plaintiffs performance was evaluated in part based on her spiritual leadership.

You can learn more about this issue here.

The Ignoble Lie

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.


During one of the more infamous moments in Plato’s Republic, Socrates suggests that the ideal city needs a founding myth—what he calls “a noble lie”—to ensure its success. The myth has two parts. The first relates that every person in the city comes from the same mother, and thus encourages belief in a common origin and kinship of all the citizens who live in the city. The second relates that every person belongs by birth to a particular class based upon his or her talents and abilities, indicated by a metal gilded upon each soul at birth: gold for the ruling class; silver for ministers, soldiers, and high-ranking servants; bronze and iron for the workers.

Socrates argues that both parts of the myth must be believed by all citizens for the city to succeed. The myth at once seeks to unite and to differentiate, to explain what is common and distinct, to foster civic patriotism amid significant difference. The first part encourages civic commitment, shared sacrifice, and belief in a common good. The second justifies the existence of inequality as a permanent feature of ­human society.

Socrates is reluctant even to speak the myth aloud, recognizing how repulsive it is likely to sound to his hearers. More, he admits that it will require great acts of persuasion—likely over generations—before it is accepted by denizens of the city, and even then, it is likely not to be persuasive to the ruling class. If anyone is likely to accept the myth, he suggests, it is the uneducated working class.

When I present the noble lie to students in my classes, it rankles—as Socrates predicted it would. They dislike the idea that the just polity must be based upon a deception. But what irritates them even more is the suggestion that the just city must be based upon inequality. As good liberal democratic citizens, they intensely dislike the suggestion that inequality might be perpetuated as a matter of birthright, and they identify with the injustice done to the underclass. Over twenty years teaching at Princeton, Georgetown, and Notre Dame, I can’t recall a single student who regards the myth as anything but troubling. Most find it repugnant.

When pressed on the question of why it will prove more difficult to persuade the ruling class of the truth of the noble lie, most students believe that the ruling class’s superior education and intelligence make them more resistant to propaganda, while the simple working people are likely to succumb to deception because they don’t adequately understand their own interests. My students implicitly side with Marx in believing that the less educated are likely to adopt “false consciousness.”

Plato intends us to understand the myth ­differently. Unlike Marx, he did not believe that the members of the lower class would be unlikely to know their own interests. The underclass is likely to accept the myth because they realize it works to their advantage. Its members are keenly aware of the fact of inequality. That part of the “lie” hardly seems false to them. What is novel, and what works to their advantage, is the idea that inequalities exist for the benefit of the underclass as well as the rulers. That is, members with noble metals in their souls are to undertake their work for the benefit of everyone, including those whose souls are marked by base metals. By contrast, members of the ruling class are likely to disbelieve the myth out of self-interest. They balk at the claim that every person, regardless of rank, belongs to the same family. They do not want the advantages that might solely benefit their class to be employed for the benefit of the whole.

Only if each group accepts each part of the “lie,” as Socrates explains, is a kind of social contract achieved. Elites and commoners both accept the part of the myth that does not appeal to them for the sake of the part that does. Elites are distinguished in a society that justifies inequality; commoners are best off in a society that compels service of elites for the whole. Instead of acting as warring parties, both sides work for the good of all.

Such a compact is difficult to achieve. Much of the rest of The Republic is taken up with the question of how the ruling class can be persuaded, or even compelled, to throw in their lot with the rest of the city, rather than simply dominating or neglecting the others. Given the brute fact of inequality, Plato sees the great challenge of politics to be the task of persuading the advantaged to see themselves as part of the whole.

Compare Socrates’s expected response of the ruling class to this “noble lie” to the typical reaction of students at elite universities. Today’s elite students tend to focus on the myth’s claims about perpetual and generational inequality as the most objectionable part of the myth. The claim of common kinship seems unproblematic and even uninteresting. What explains the apparent reversal of scandal and resistance among the ruling class in our age?

Elite college campuses are hotbeds of activism against inequality, especially as it touches on race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. In recent years, students and faculty from UC Berkeley to Yale to Reed College have protested instances of perceived bias, but few incidents have been quite so remarkable as the protests that greeted the social scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College on March 2, 2017. Before speaking a word, Murray was greeted with twenty minutes of unbroken denunciatory chants by hundreds of students in the audience. In order to hold the planned discussion, he and his host, professor Allison Stanger, had to leave the lecture hall for a private studio. Students followed them and beat on the walls and windows of the room. As they left that secure space, the crowd buffeted and grabbed at Murray and Stanger, leaving Stanger with a neck injury and a concussion.

Murray had been invited to discuss his book Coming Apart, a study of the growing inequality between rich and poor white Americans between 1960 and 2010. Murray’s book focuses on two phenom­ena. First, he points to the way Americans have been sorted into separate geographic enclaves according to wealth, class, and education. Second, he points to the way poor and uneducated Americans suffer unprecedentedly high rates of social pathology, including divorce, out-of-wedlock childbirth, crime, drug addiction, ­unemployment, bankruptcy, isolation, and anomie.

The students who prevented Murray from speaking mostly come from, and will settle in, what Murray calls the “HPY” (Harvard, Princeton, Yale) bubble, a place of remarkable ideological, economic, and social homogeneity. Admission and graduation from an institution like Middlebury is the passport into the HPY bubble. This is no mean feat. According to U.S. News and World Report, Middlebury College is tied for sixth with Pomona College, behind Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Swarthmore, and Wellesley, in the rankings for best liberal arts colleges in America. It is among the most selective schools in America, accepting only 17 percent of applicants in 2017. Students have an average SAT score of 1450 out of 1600, along with a 3.95 high school GPA. Its cost for tuition plus room and board tops $64,000.

One might have thought that students at such a school would be keenly interested in hearing a lecture by someone who would discuss the evidence, basis, and implications of economic and class divergences in America today. Indeed, one might suspect that if the students were upset about inequality, they would have been inspired by Murray to direct the onus of their discontent against Middlebury College itself as a perpetrator of class division or even against themselves as willing participants in that perpetuation. At the very least, one might have thought that they would be interested in listening to an analysis of the role educational institutions play in creating and maintaining inequality. Instead, they shouted down the man who was going to speak with them about the role they play in perpetuating inequality—in the name of equality itself.

Of course, it wasn’t the subject of Murray’s lecture that was being protested, but the fact that he had discussed statistical differences in IQ among different races in his 1994 book, The Bell Curve. The main point of that book, however, was concern that social sorting would exacerbate class differentiation in America—just the kind of sorting that elite schools like Middlebury help to advance. The violent protests against Murray had the convenient effect of preventing any exploration of the pervasive class divide in America today, and leaving the elite students and ­faculty of Middlebury self-satisfied in their demonstrative support for equality.

Like so many similar demonstrations against inequality at elite college campuses, the protest against Murray was an echo of resistance of the ruling class to the noble lie. The ruling class denies that they really are a self-perpetuating elite that has not only inherited certain advantages but also seeks to pass them on. To mask this fact, they describe themselves as the vanguard of equality, in effect denying the very fact of their elevated status and the deleterious consequences of their perpetuation of a class divide that has left their less fortunate countrymen in a dire and perilous condition. Indeed, one is tempted to conclude that their insistent defense of equality is a way of freeing themselves from any real duties to the lower classes that are increasingly out of geographical sight and mind. Because they repudiate inequality, they need not consciously consider themselves to be a ruling class. Denying that they are deeply self-interested in maintaining their elite position, they easily assume that they believe in common kinship—so long as their position is unthreatened. The part of the “noble lie” that once would have horrified the elites—the claim of common kinship—is irrelevant; instead, they resist the inegalitarian part of the myth that would then, as now, have seemed self-evident to the elites as well as the underclass. Today’s underclass is as likely to recognize its unequal position as Plato’s. It is elites that seem most prone to the condition of “false consciousness.”

The dominion of this new elite has been long anticipated, discussed most cogently by social critics such as Michael Young, C. Wright Mills, and Christopher Lasch. Among the ablest chroniclers of the new elite has been New York Times columnist David Brooks, who in April of 2001 published “The Organization Kid,” an essay describing the replacement of America’s WASP aristocracy by a “­meritocracy.” After spending several weeks with students on Princeton’s campus, Brooks concluded that there had been certain gains and decided losses resulting from this regime change. One loss he bemoaned was abandonment of “noblesse oblige,” or an encouragement of concern among the ruling class for those less fortunate as a consequence of the mere luck of birth and genealogy. Brooks contrasted this with the older WASP ideal based on civic, military, and Protestant values: “The Princeton of that day aimed to take privileged men from their prominent families and toughen them up, teach them a sense of social obligation, based on the code of the gentleman and noblesse oblige. In short, it aimed to instill in them a sense of chivalry.”

Noblesse oblige—“obligations of the nobility”—provided some measure of legitimacy to the older aristocratic order. It allowed the ruling class to claim that their actions weren’t merely self-serving, but instead supported the whole community, especially the poor and powerless. The image of the knight-errant coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress was a romantic and dramatic representation of a much broader ethic, that of the strong protecting and standing for the weak. The ancien régime—premised upon the rule of a hereditary aristocracy that ruled for the good of the whole polity—was overthrown because most people ceased to believe its conceit. Its flattering self-portrait of a paternalistic and caring overclass was increasingly viewed as a self-serving rationalization and a form of societal self-deception in the service of status maintenance. Barbara ­Tuchman described the crisis of legitimacy of the chivalric code in her book A Distant Mirror:

The ideal was a vision of order maintained by the warrior class and formulated in the image of the Round Table, nature’s perfect shape. King Arthur’s knights adventured for the right against dragons, enchanters, and wicked men, establishing order in a wild world. So their living counterparts were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed. In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder. When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down. Legend and story have always reflected this; in the Arthurian romances the Round Table is shattered from within.

We may be quick to agree that there was a gap between the stated ethic of noblesse oblige and the ­actual actions of the nobility of the ancien régimeBut, much like those who took for granted the naturalness of political arrangements during the medieval ages, today’s elites seldom subject their meritocratic justifications of their status and position to the same skepticism.

While elites may suffer self-inflicted blindness to the nature of their position, the rest of society clearly sees what they are doing. The uprising among the working classes across the developed West arises from a perception of illegitimacy—of a gap between claims of the ruling class and reality as experienced by those who are ruled. It is no coincidence that these rebellions come from the socialist left and authoritarian right, two positions that now share opposition to state capitalism, a managerial ruling class, the financialization of the economy, and globalization. These populist rebellions are a challenge to the liberal order itself.

Our ruling class is more blinkered than that of the ancien régime. Unlike the aristocrats of old, they insist that there are only egalitarians at their exclusive institutions. They loudly proclaim their virtue and redouble their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They cast bigoted rednecks as the great impediment to perfect equality—not the elite institutions from which they benefit. The institutions responsible for winnowing the social and economic winners from the losers are largely immune from questioning, and busy themselves with extensive public displays of their unceasing commitment to equality. Meritocratic ideology disguises the ruling class’s own role in perpetuating inequality from itself, and even fosters a broader social ecology in which those who are not among the ruling class suffer an array of social and economic pathologies that are increasingly the defining feature of ­America’s underclass. Facing up to reality would require hard questions about the agenda underlying commitments to “diversity and inclusion.” Our ­stated commitment to “critical thinking” demands no less, but such questions are likely to be put down—at times violently—on contemporary campuses.

Campaigns for equality that focus on the inclusion of identity groups rather than examinations of the class divide permit an extraordinary lack of curiosity about complicity in a system that secures elite status across generations. Concern for diversity and inclusion on the basis of “ascriptive” features—race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation—allows the ruling class to overlook class while focusing on unchosen forms of identity. Diversity and inclusion fit neatly into the meritocratic structure, leaving the structure of the new aristocratic order firmly in place.

This helps explain the strange and often hysterical insistence upon equality emanating from our nation’s most elite and exclusive institutions. The most absurd recent instance was Harvard University’s official effort to eliminate social clubs due to their role in “enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values,” in the words of its president. Harvard’s opposition to exclusion sits comfortably with its admissions rate of 5 percent (2,056 out of 40,000 applicants in 2017). The denial of privilege and exclusion seems to increase in proportion to an institution’s exclusivity.

Highly touted commitments to equity, inclusion, and diversity do not only cloak institutional elitism. They also imply that anyone who is not included deserves his lower status. If elites largely regard their social status, wealth, and position as the result of their own efforts and work (and certainly not of birth or inheritance), then those who remain in the lower classes have, by the same logic, chosen to remain in such a condition. This scornful view is shared by prominent voices on the right and left. For instance, James Stimson—the Raymond Dawson Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina—recently told the New York Times:

When we observe the behavior of those who live in distressed areas, we are not observing the effect of economic decline on the working class, we are observing a highly selected group of people who faced economic adversity and choose to stay at home and accept it when others sought and found opportunity elsewhere. . . . Those who are fearful, conservative, in the social sense, and lack ambition stay and accept decline.

In other words, it’s their own fault. They deserve to lose, just as Harvard’s meritocrats deserve to win.

That the ruling class today is more prone to denounce inequality from its manicured campuses than promote among its own denizens belief in a common civic life is not a sign of its greater enlightenment and progress, but a sign of a new aristocracy that is unconscious of its own position and its concomitant responsibilities. They are deluded by an updated “noble” lie.

From the vantage of nearly 2,500 years, Plato’s noble lie doesn’t appear to be a falsehood after all. For a society to function, two seemingly contradictory beliefs must be simultaneously held: We are radically different and radically alike. We are extensively differentiated yet bound together. We are called to sometimes radically unequal tasks, but those tasks are part of an effort to benefit the whole. Plato thought the “fact of difference” would be easy for people to acknowledge, since it is so evident to our senses, if not always easy for those in a position of lower status to accept. The challenge was how to achieve belief in a common origin and shared kinship. The Republic of Plato was one effort to answer that challenge, if a fairly absurd and implausible one (as Socrates readily admitted). We have two main answers on the table today.

For as long as our nation has been in existence, confused and diverging streams have fed into the American creed. The first of these was political liberalism. It puts a stress upon individual rights and liberty, promising that if we commit to a common project of building a liberal society, our distinct and often irreconcilable differences will be protected. Liberalism affirms political unity as a means to ­securing our private differences.

Christianity has been the other stream. It approaches the question from the opposite perspective, understanding our differences to serve a deeper unity. This is the resounding message of St. Paul in chapters 12–13 of 1 Corinthians. There, Paul calls upon the squabbling Christians of Corinth to understand that their gifts are not for the glory of any particular person or class of people, but for the body as a whole. John Winthrop echoed this teaching in his seldom-read, oft-misquoted sermon aboard the Arbella, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop begins his speech with the observation that people have in all times and places been born or placed into low and high stations; the poor are always with us, as Christ observed. But this differentiation was not permitted and ordained for the purpose of the degradation of the former and glory of the latter, but for the greater glory of God, that all might know that they have need of each other and a responsibility to share particular gifts for the sake of the common. Differences of talent and circumstance exist to promote a deeper unity.

So long as liberalism was not fully itself—so long as liberalism was corrected and even governed by Christianity—a working social contract was possible. For Christianity, difference is ordered toward unity. For liberalism, unity is valued insofar as it promotes difference. The American experiment blended and confused these two understandings, but just enough to make it a going concern. The balance was always imperfect, leaving out too many, always ­unstably oscillating between quasi-theological evocation of unity and deracinated individualism. But it seemed viable for nearly 250 years. The recent steep decline of religious faith and Christian moral norms is regarded by many as marking the triumph of liberalism, and so, in a sense, it is. Today our unity is understood almost entirely in the light of our differences. We come together—to celebrate diversity. And today, the celebration of diversity ends up serving as a mask for power and inequality.

In this settlement, the language of rights prevails. But as Simone Weil noted decades ago, the language of rights ultimately cannot build, or even sustain, a common life:

If you say to someone who has ears to hear: ‘What you are doing to me is not just’, you touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love. But it is not the same with words like ‘I have the right . . .’ or ‘you have no right to . . .’ They invoke a latent war and awaken the spirit of contention. To place the notion of rights at the centre of social conflicts is to inhibit any possible impulse of charity of both sides.

Weil predicted what we now experience. After more than two centuries, we can no longer assert the compatibility of Christianity and liberalism. Liberalism is ascendant, but its victory will be pyrrhic. A ­society solely premised upon a shared belief in individual differentiation will end in a war of all against all. The state of nature lies not in an imagined past; it is plainly visible in a near and all too real future.

The new aristocrats believe we have transcended the need for Christianity, which they regard as a myth no less mendacious than Plato’s noble lie. They believe that by dispelling the old myths, they can become the vanguard of an ever more equal society. They blind themselves to the fact that this claim is a form of status maintenance, allowing denial of a deeper commonality with those they regard as benighted and backward. Elites denounce the “populists” while denying that they have fomented a class war. They deplore the obnoxiousness of Donald Trump, perfectly obtuse of their complicity in his ascent.

We are in uncharted territory. Liberalism coexisted with Christianity for its entire history, with Christianity moderating the harder edges of the regnant political philosophy, supporting forms and practices that demanded from elites the recognition of their elevated status, and hence, corresponding responsibilities and duties to those less fortunate. The thoroughgoing disdain and dismissiveness of today’s elites toward the working class is a reflection of our newfound “enlightenment,” just as is the belief among the lower class that only a strong and equally disdainful leader can constrain the elites. Liberalism has achieved its goal of emptying the public square of the old gods, leaving it a harsh space of contestation among unequals who no longer see any commonality. Whether that square can be filled again with newly rendered stories of old telling us of a common origin and destination, or whether it must simply be dominated by whoever proves the strongest, is the test of our age.

By Patrick J. Deneen and published in First Things in April 2018 (see here).

Trenton Curfew Arrangement With Churches Is Questioned

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

AP reports today on the church-state questions that are being raised by the juvenile curfew enforcement policies of the Trenton, New Jersey police department. Last month Trenton police began enforcing a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew for juveniles under 18.  If police pick up a violator, they first call the juvenile’s parents.  However if the parents do not answer, or refuse to pick up their child, police under arrangements with a number of faith-based groups drop the juvenile off at a local church. Police say that the churches may not discuss religion with the drop offs, and they are usually held in a community room rather than in the sanctuary.  The juvenile is given the option of instead being dropped off at a police building. The ACLU says that police should provide a number of non-religious drop-off alternatives, though the group has broader objections to the curfew as well.

You can learn more about this issue here.

How Christianity Led to the Rise of Modern Science

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Equip which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.



A central tenet of the new atheism is that Christianity and reason are antithetical, and that throughout history Christians have held back progress in science. Atheist historian Dr. Richard Carrier has promoted similar views in his contributions to essay collections such as The Christian Delusion and Christianity Is Not Great. He suggests that, but for the rise of Christianity, the ancient Greeks would have enjoyed a scientific revolution so that the “Dark Ages” never would have happened. However, the truth is very different. The science of the ancient Greek pagans was intended to reinforce their ethical and philosophical positions, rather than to be an objective study of nature. Admittedly, when Christians came to develop their own science in the Middle Ages, they were not being objective either. For them, science was the study of God’s creation. But the metaphysical assumptions of Christianity, unlike those of the Greeks or even Muslims, turned out to be extremely conducive to uncovering true knowledge about nature. They weren’t trying to, but it was Christians who laid the foundations for modern science.

It’s hard to imagine what life was like before the rise of modern science. For example, there were no computers, few effective medicines, and only the rich could afford colorful clothes because there were no artificial dyes. So central is science to our lives that the charge Christianity tried to hold back its advance is particularly damaging. It is particularly unfair as well. As historians have now realized, the evidence that the Christian faith actually had a positive influence on science is becoming ever stronger.

In this article, I’ll explain how it was medieval Christians rather than ancient Greeks who provided the philosophical framework in which modern science could arise. I’ll be paying special attention to the work of the atheist historian Richard Carrier, in particular the assertions he makes in two essays in anti-Christian collections edited by John Loftus.1Carrier is one of the few scholars working today who still supports the “conflict thesis,” so it is important to understand why he reaches conclusions contrary to the vast majority of historians of science.

The common perception of a historical conflict between science and Christianity remains strong. That hasn’t stopped almost all serious scholars from queuing up to condemn it. For example, historians David Lindberg and Ron Numbers have stated unequivocally that the popular view is wrong. But as Lindberg and Numbers ruefully admit, “Despite a developing consensus among scholars that science and Christianity have not been at war, the notion of conflict refused to die.”2 It is also becoming increasingly clear that much of the evidence cited to support the conflict thesis turns out to be bogus.3 For example, the church never tried to ban human dissection, the number zero, or lightning rods, as has frequently been alleged. Although Christians did once countenance the despicable practice of burning heretics, no one was ever executed for scientific beliefs. Even the notorious trial of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) turns out to have had almost as much to do with the papal ego as with astronomy. Finally, no one in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat: Christopher Columbus most certainly did not need to prove it is a sphere.


Richard Carrier is far too knowledgeable a historian to fall for these old canards. Neither does he make the mistake of saying Christians deliberately held back science. However, in his chapter in The Christian Delusion, entitled “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” he does make some striking claims. Much of this interesting chapter is taken up by a catalog of the achievements of ancient science. Carrier’s thesis is that a “scientific revolution” was imminent in the third century AD, but this was curtailed by an economic collapse of the Roman Empire. The Empire partially recovered and survived for another couple of centuries, but it quickly succumbed to Christianity. Because Christians were simply not interested in science, the chance of the ancient world matching the achievements of the seventeenth century was lost. Carrier accuses Christians of sins of omission because they neglected science. He doesn’t claim that they actively opposed it.4 Given that Christianity controlled all the seats of learning, it didn’t have to go to the trouble of attacking what it didn’t like. Just ignoring science ensured its stagnation.

Progress in Greek Science

I’ll come to the question of whether Christianity supported science in a moment. But first, it is worth examining exactly how far the achievements of ancient science extended. Is it true that a scientific revolution was just around the corner? To answer that, we need to examine the specific examples Carrier gives of progress in Greek science to see if they point toward a looming scientific revolution. He cites Hero of Alexandria (d. AD 70) as a major figure demonstrating that progress. But can we detect any real advances in science between the work of Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Hero, writing in the first century AD?

Carrier supports his theory with the example that one Strato of Lampsacus (335–269 BC) extended Aristotle’s “experimental method to machines and physics.”5 Strato was the second head of Aristotle’s Athenian school of philosophy in the mid-third century BC. Little of his work survives, but in antiquity he had such a reputation for science that he was known as The Naturalist. His major achievement that we know about today was to show that a true vacuum can be created artificially and that air can be compressed. That’s an impressive step forward from Aristotle, who said a vacuum is impossible. However, the relevant passage of Strato’s work has been incorporated into the introduction to Hero of Alexandria’s Pneumatics, written three hundred years later.6 Carrier claims that Hero experimentally refuted Aristotle’s claim that a vacuum is impossible.7 So why is Hero using a source that is three centuries old to prove it? This does not seem to be evidence of any progress in science at all.

Furthermore, in his Mechanics, Hero states unambiguously that heavy objects fall faster than light ones.8 Now, this is a fundamental error that is easily proven wrong by the simplest of experiments. Yet Hero did not do this. He simply accepted the authority of Aristotle on the question. Hero also wrote about the law of reflection, correctly noting that the angles of incidence and reflection in a mirror are the same. But this had been known since at least Aristotle’s day, so again Hero’s knowledge is not new or the product of new experiments.9 It would be fair to conclude that Hero was a practical mechanic and a tinker who pulled his theory from old books and never did anything approaching a true experiment in his life. As one eminent historian notes, “Hero is not very original. His significance lies in the way that he summarises existing knowledge in the form of a handbook.”10 This is very different from the assessment of Hero implied by Carrier.

Faltering Science

It looks like there was little scientific progress in the three hundred years between Hero and Aristotle’s pupil, Strato. Admittedly, in the field of mathematical astronomy, we do see the models used to describe the movements of the planets getting more accurate up until the work of Ptolemy of Alexandria (fl. c. AD 150). But the underlying physical theory didn’t really improve. The general impression is that science stagnates after the third century BC. There is a temptation to denigrate the ancient Greeks for making a good start and then letting it slip. But that would not be fair. The fact is, they were not trying to develop modern science. How could they when no one had any idea that such advances were even possible? Instead, the point of Greek science was to explain the natural world in terms that correlated with their ethical theories. Aristotle thought that the key to happiness was to know the ends for which we should live. His science is all about trying to find the purpose for which nature is designed. Plato (427–348 BC) wanted to raise our sights above mundane matters to unworldly perfection. For him, nature is a dim reflection of that perfection, and mathematics is a good way for the mind to contemplate higher reality. The other philosophical schools, such as the Epicureans and the Stoics, also had their own versions of science that were intended to provide a foundation for their ethical theories.11

So, the key to understanding Greek science is to realize that no one was seeking objectively to understand the natural world purely for its own sake. On the Nature of the Universe, the Epicurean poem of Lucretius (d. c. 55 BC), which lays out an atomic theory that was influential in the seventeenth century, is actually intended to teach morals and not science. Indeed, its science was already two hundred years out of date when it was written.12 That didn’t matter to Lucretius, whose purpose was not to describe accurately how nature worked but to show that the Epicurean philosophy was the best way to navigate life’s perils.


Much ink has been spilled on the relationship between Christianity and pagan science. However, as we’ve seen, there were as many pagan sciences as there were pagan philosophies. And each of these philosophies developed a vision of science that reinforced the way they saw the world. The Christian attitude toward the natural world was very similar to that of their pagan contemporaries. Christian thinkers were acutely aware that ancient Greek science was not the objective study of nature but an adjunct to pagan ethics and religion. Unsurprisingly, this meant some of them treated it with suspicion. For example, Tertullian (AD 160–220) famously asked what Athens (representing pagan philosophy) had to do with Jerusalem (representing Christianity).13 Christians could not simply adopt one of the pagan natural philosophies since they were all intended to provide ballast for particular ethical systems. What was needed was a specifically Christian natural philosophy that understood nature as God’s creation and the backdrop against which the drama of salvation was played out. Christians did not neglect science but they did use it for their own purposes. Where pagan philosophy was helpful, Christians were happy to coopt it. A popular analogy, first proposed by Origen of Alexandria (AD 182–254), was that pagan learning was like the gold of the Egyptians that the Israelites took with them into the wilderness in the exodus.14

For church fathers such as Origen and St Augustine (354–430), God’s creative freedom always had to be respected. That meant reason alone was not enough to comprehend nature. This more skeptical attitude toward rational inquiry had some interesting results. For example, the Christian philosopher John Philoponus (490–570) carried out the simple experiment of dropping a heavy and light ball in the sixth century AD. He found they both fell at almost the same speed.15 This demonstrated that the Aristotelians were wrong and showed that, to truly understand the laws of nature, empirical investigation was essential. Nonetheless, we should avoid applauding Philoponus for anticipating some elements of modern science. He was a Christian thinker whose aim was to attack pagan philosophers, not a protoscientist.

In any case, by the sixth century, the antique world was collapsing rapidly. The Western Roman Empire had been overrun by barbarian invaders in the course of the fifth century. The fragmentation of the empire into petty kingdoms caused an economic decline that was exacerbated by the policies of the barbarians themselves. The civilian elite that had patronized philosophers was gradually replaced by a warrior aristocracy, which eventually gave rise to the systems of chivalry and feudalism. The Eastern Roman Empire survived longer. Unfortunately, a devastating war with Persia in the seventh century meant it was in no condition to resist the rise of Islam. Muslims took over swaths of the empire, including its breadbasket of Egypt and the sacred city of Jerusalem. Although the Byzantine Empire, ruled from the great city of Constantinople, hung on for another seven centuries, it was under an almost constant state of siege from then on.

Scientific Light of the Church in the Early Middle Ages

The period from the fifth to the tenth centuries used to be called the “Dark Ages.” Historians now reject that label as prejudicial, but there is little doubt that the years after the collapse of the Roman Empire were hard. The population shrank, and the economic surplus available for culture was reduced to a fraction of what it had been under Rome.16 Only the Christian church remained a haven for learning. It helped preserve literacy and knowledge of the classics through the early middle ages. Dr Carrier claims, in his chapter on the Dark Ages in Christianity Is Not Great, that the decline of science in this period was the fault of Christians.17 We’ve already seen how it is a category mistake to equate ancient natural philosophy with modern science. But even allowing that there was less interest in investigating the natural world in this period, the reasons are entirely down to external invasions and the change to a feudal society. In fact, as the example of John Philoponus shows, science in Alexandria continued to break new ground in the three centuries after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. The end came only with the annexation of the city by Muslim invaders in AD 641.


We’ve seen how the schools of ancient Greek philosophers and early Christians developed their own versions of science to explain the world in a way that was consistent with their belief systems. The methodological mistake of Carrier is to measure ancient natural philosophies against the rules of modern science. But no one in the classical world was doing science objectively to study nature as an entity in its own right. They were all seeking to understand the natural background to their overarching philosophies. Admittedly, Carrier’s mistake is one shared by some partisans of Christianity’s place in the development of the modern world such as Rodney Stark and Thomas E. Woods.18 Christians have always used science as a way to understand the natural world’s part in a bigger picture, which, in Christianity’s case, includes the Trinity and salvation. Medieval theologians studied God’s creation without any inkling or wish to produce the comprehensive account of the material universe provided by modern science. Nonetheless, their activity uniquely led to the incredible successes enjoyed by physics, chemistry, and biology, not to mention medicine, over the last couple of centuries. To believing Christians, it is hardly surprising that theologically conditioned natural philosophy should be better at leading to true knowledge about nature than rival systems of thought. However, the historian must tread carefully to understand the factors that Christianity brought to the study of the material universe.

The Bible has relatively little to say about the natural world, but at least the book of Genesis makes it clear where the universe came from. It is not eternal but created by God at the beginning of time. In the fourth century, St. Augustine clarified the doctrine that the world was created ex nihilo, out of nothing.19 God did not use preexisting material whose properties He had to work with. Thus, as Genesis affirms, creation was “good” and as God wished it to be.

From the twelfth century, Christian theologians began to explore what this meant in practice. One consequence was that nature was separate from God and followed the laws He had ordained for it. William of Conches (1085–c. 1154), one of the most important of the twelfth century’s thinkers, explained, “I take nothing away from God. All things that are in the world were made by God, except evil. But He made other things through the operation of nature which is the instrument of divine operation.”20 Various Greek philosophies had accepted the rationality of the laws of nature, but for Christians, nature’s laws were God’s laws rather than the laws of logic. God was free to do as He pleased, so it was impossible to work out the laws of nature by using reason alone. To be sure, not everyone accepted this. A group of philosophers in thirteenth-century Paris, called the Averroists after a Muslim philosopher from Spain named Averroes (1126–1198), took the extreme view that everything, including God, was subject to logically necessary rules.21 This meant that rational philosophy alone was enough to comprehend all of existence, even the divine mind. Orthodox Christians rejected this doctrine and insisted that God was not subject to any limits, except perhaps the law of noncontradiction. The principle of God’s freedom and absolute power was the subject of a decree by the bishop of Paris in 1277. He stated that because God could do as He pleased, He could do things that philosophers said were impossible, like creating a vacuum or more than one universe.22 This opened up a world of possibility that Christian natural philosophers were quick to exploit.

In the fourteenth century, they began to consider many previously unthinkable ideas, such as whether the Earth was rotating. The Parisian scholar John Buridan (1295–1361) showed that the concept of relative motion means that we cannot tell if the Earth is moving. His arguments were used by Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) to support his theory that the Earth is orbiting the sun.23 Buridan also built on concepts first suggested by John Philoponus in the sixth century to argue that the lack of friction in space means that the planets should continue to move forever after God has set them on their course. This anticipated the conservation of momentum.24 These theories formed the basis of Galileo’s work and reached perfection with the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) in 1687. Newton himself was explicit about the religious roots of his work, as were Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), Rene Descartes (1596–1650), and Robert Boyle (1627–1691), among many others.25 Over the following centuries, their new kind of science grew into modern physics, chemistry, and biology, something that could never have happened in the ancient Greek or Islamic worlds.

Of course, we need to remember that medieval Christians were not deliberately trying to make progress toward science as we know it today. They were simply studying God’s creation so that they could become better theologians and Christians. In that sense, their motives for doing science were no different from those of earlier eras. It was just that the metaphysical background to Christianity turned out to be uniquely conducive to successfully understanding the working of nature. In summary, atheist historians such as Richard Carrier are wrong to say Christians neglected science and that pagans were on the point of a scientific revolution. On the contrary, Christianity was a necessary, if not sufficient, cause of the flowering of modern science.

James Hannam, PhD (history of science, University of Cambridge), is the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Regnery, 2011).


  1. Richard Carrier, “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, ed. John W. Loftus (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2010), 396–419; Richard Carrier, “The Dark Ages,” in Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails, ed. John W. Loftus (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2014), 209–21.
  2. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 6.
  3. Many of the myths surrounding the conflict thesis are debunked in Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
  4. Carrier, “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” 413.
  5. Ibid., 401.
  6. Morris R. Cohen and I. E. Drabkin, A Source Book in Greek Science (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1958), 248n.
  7. Carrier, “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” 402.
  8. Cohen and Drabkin, A Source Book in Greek Science, 208.
  9. Ibid., 262n.
  10. Menso Folkerts, “Hero,” in Hubert Cancik et al., eds., Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World, vol. 6 (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 244–47.
  11. Geoffrey Lloyd, Greek Science after Aristotle (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1975), 21.
  12. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, trans. Ronald Melville (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), xxiv.
  13. David Lindberg, “Science and Early Church,” in God and Nature, ed. Lindberg and Numbers, 25.
  14. Origen (London: Routledge, 1998), 211 (Letter to Gregory 2).
  15. Cohen and Drabkin, A Source Book in Greek Science, 208.
  16. Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 139.
  17. Carrier, “The Dark Ages,” 209.
  18. See, e.g., Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003) and Thomas Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization(Washington, DC: Regnery, 2005).
  19. Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 2002), 285 (XII: 8).
  20. David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 201.
  21. James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2011), 88.
  22. Ibid., 95.
  23. Ibid., 278.
  24. Ibid., 179.
  25. John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 18–19.

By James Hannam and published in Equip in 2015 and can be found here.

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