Out of Step with the Times

Block’s commentary on Ezekiel raising an interesting question about tragic death. On Josiah:


In the case of Josiah, it’s possible his failure to reform the kingdom would have led to his overthrown and death. Even if it hadn’t, he avoided the terrible judgment that would soon visit Jerusalem.

Some early deaths are merciful.

Are humankind’s best days ahead?

Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical. -C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Yesterday I watched a Munk debate on the resolution: humankind’s best days lie ahead. In favor of the proposition were Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley, while Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell took the negative.

Pinker and Ridley had the easier task and won the debate handily. (I say that as someone who would have gladly taken up the contrary position.) Pinker’s opening statement was merely a list of the many ways in which material life has improved over the last several centuries: greatly increased life expectancy, eradication of deadly diseases, massive decline in extreme poverty, fewer working hours and more leisure, fewer wars, less crime, more education, increased human rights, better gender equity, and a general increase in IQ. Pinker then added a critical qualification to preempt claims of perfectionism: that while there will always be some measure of poverty, disease, and oppression, there will be much less in the future. Ridley offered a similar line of reasoning, although he provided a different set of facts, such as increased innovation, and dealt with a potential counter on climate change, which most everyone seemed to think was the preeminent threat to human progress.

Botton tried to argue that material prosperity isn’t enough to bring about complete happiness. Yet he came across as ungrateful rather than insightful. He made several tactical errors, such as claiming a millionaire in Switzerland can still live in “poverty,” and asserting that material increase will not bring about a “perfect” world. While I appreciated his sober reminder that, despite significant medical progress, all of us must still face our inevitable demise, he often argued against propositions that the pro side did not offer (as Ridley rightly reminded Botton throughout the debate).

Gladwell’s approach was different and, perhaps, more sophisticated, although it still conceded that progress is an almost entirely material affair. Instead of suggesting the indicators of progress were incomplete, he claimed that while our ability to manage “ordinary” crises had improved, we have simply engaged in the “reconfiguration of risk.” We might be experiencing less warfare, but the wars we do fight are far more catastrophic than in the past. On so on. The key issue for Gladwell was whether the changes in the nature of our risks should concern us.

Human progress is a tricky subject. It is easy enough to make self-satisfied assertions about the direction of humanity–that, perhaps, one’s political enemies are on “the wrong side of history” on some transient political or cultural issue. It is far more difficult to make a claim that is supported by a thorough, disciplined inquiry into the many subjects that govern the seemingly unfathomable proposition that humanity’s best days are ahead. History, economics, politics, philosophy–is there any area that would not factor in at least some way? Master of one subject takes a lifetime. A suitable synthesis would require many. Not only must someone get the facts right, but they must cast a narrative (or create a model) that successfully orders and accounts for all the relevant facts.

Furthermore, analysis of the proposition is beset by intractable sociological bias. It is a curious feature of history that most societies, save the middle-to-late Roman period, have thought their best days were ahead. Yet each society has held to its own, mutually exclusive version of progress. For example, no conception of medieval progress could be sustained without including some measure of spiritual progress, yet in the Munk debate the only discussion of spirituality was thoroughly secularized and treated mostly as a symptom of material deficiency. How can it be that so many societies were so sure of their future, yet so decisively wrong? Perhaps it is because the sort of person who has the leisure, learning, and aptitude to ask whether humanity is progressing is also the sort of person who enjoys a fairly good life, and almost necessarily (if we are reading their writings) the sort of person who holds a great deal of power and influence. Is it really any surprise that those whose lives were defined by success and comfort would see the future as holding more of the same? Just as the child who was raised in abject poverty finds himself worrying about food and money as an adult, so too will the child of privilege believe that life is, and will always be, generally stable and prosperous. (In fact, there were a couple moments in the debate when participants offered personal anecdotes that clearly colored their broad understanding of the question.)

The contrary position was disadvantaged on other terms as well. Pollyannish as the opposition might have been, it is far easier to believe life is going to be splendid, or at least very comfortable, than to accept that life could get very hard, very fast, especially if life no longer has any transcendent meaning to give potential (or actual) suffering a purpose.

I would have modified Gladwell’s risk argument by appealing to the problem of induction. As Hume famously inquired, how do we know the the sun will rise tomorrow? How do we know the future will be like the past? We certainly feel justified in believing the sun will rise tomorrow. Yet as any skeptic will be quick to tell you, feeling is no reliable guide to what is real, logical, or certain.

As a Christian, I am happy to dismiss the problem given certain properties about the character of God. But for the secular humanist or other materialist, it turns out there really is no good reason to believe the future will be like the past. If this holds true for generally reliable facts like the rising of the sun, how much more cautious should we be about projecting the future given the tumultuous history of human affairs, with the rise and fall of empires, cultures, and religions? It is a great irony that the same Enlightenment tradition of skepticism and scientific inquiry that provided such great material prosperity is unwittingly its own undoing.

I am under no illusion this line of reasoning would be cogent when dealing with the privileged attendees of a Munk debate, but perhaps it would at least make some people think.

Botton’s argument had the greatest potential for undermining the pro side. If it could be shown that spiritual indicators should factor into an assessment of progress, any argument that relies solely on increasing material indicators would be inherently flawed. This approach would still be subject to our problems of predicting the future, and it would have likely been laughed out of the debate (at least I am imagining Ridley eviscerating such a proposition with the all polite scorn of a Brit who thinks you are treading dangerous ground, but doesn’t quite wish to grant legitimacy to your position with a real counter-argument). But it would turn Pinker and Ridley’s certainty on its head. Material progress at the expense of spiritual progress is no progress at all.

Alas, Botton’s argument languished under the sort of impotence I have come to expect from someone who tries to pit the secular humanities against the secular sciences. He was right to say that there is more to the human condition than material prosperity, but his self-identification as a secular Jew and his appeal to fictional literature, rather than a truly authoritative text, rendered his questions inert. Botton may be haunted by the transcendent, but lacks the conceptual tools necessary to share that conviction with others.

Unless we are willing to claim something wildly transcendent–perhaps that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead and, as such, the world is beholden to his standards of spiritual fitness–spiritual concerns will ever only be evaluated through the lens of material progress.

The immanent frame was on full display during the Munk debate. Gladwell could only argue within its confines, and Botton was hopeless to challenge it.

The Poverty of Nations: A Review

(I posted this review in 2013 on another site. I am reposting it here for easier access.)

The following is an extended review of The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Crossway, 2013) by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus (hereafter referred to as TPN).  I received an advanced digital copy of this book through the NetGalley program.  TPN will be published August 31 and is available at Amazon.


The discipline of economics is in a state of confusion. This is no more apparent than when surveying the myriad solutions offered to alleviate poverty around the world.

Enter Wayne Grudem, a theologian, and Barry Asmus, an economist. This pair has undertaken to create a “sustainable solution to poverty in the poor nations of the world, a solution based on both economic history and the teachings of the Bible” (25). Written primarily to leaders of nations and lay persons, it is concerned with the laws and cultural principles that govern the economic arrangements of nations as a whole, rather than how local ministries or relief efforts should operate. With a major focus on the creation of goods and services, it advocates the free-market as the most efficient and morally superior method of increasing worldwide wealth. With its global perspective on poverty reduction, this is an ambitious book.

Grudem and Asmus claim that their contribution is “unique” inasmuch as it comes from both a Biblical and economic perspective. I suppose this is true insofar as I am unaware of a work of this caliber with such an interdisciplinary focus. On the other hand, many of their recommendations come from an old economic tradition and will be familiar to those who study or even merely follow politics. (Grudem and Asmus seem to acknowledge as much.) Many of the issues they discuss, such as whether multinational corporations pay unfair wages in poor countries, are not particularly in depth. As such, the value of this book is that it constitutes an introduction to the conservative perspective on international poverty.

One danger of books on economics is a lack of clarity. Here the book avoids serious pitfalls: the material is accessible and the writing generally clear—a refreshing change from other many other economic or theological works. Additionally, TPN has footnotes rather than endnotes, greatly enhancing the value of its citations.

Unlike some authors, Grudem and Asmus have done their homework—at least for the most part. They are conversant with many leading economists or other relevant scholars (Easterly, Collier, Novak, Ferguson, Acemoglu, Mauldin, Soto, etc.) and have sought to incorporate relevant historical evidence in their analysis. This has led to an impressive, if not daunting, list of seventy-eight specific causes of poverty.

The nuance is most welcome; indeed, it is necessary for a subject as complex as economics. Poverty is not reduced to a single cause—say, the laziness of individuals. The authors acknowledge, for instance, that structural corruption can allow leaders to act in ways that prevent individuals from escaping poverty.

However, sometimes it felt as if they were arguing with popular slogans or ideas rather than with leading liberal economists; the arguments against socialism felt anachronistic. What modern, currently living political leaders or economists are Grudem and Asmus critiquing? This was unclear to me, and the book risks shadowboxing with conservative caricatures or historical ghosts. This is additionally problematic given that the national leaders Grudem and Asmus would like to reach are likely to have more sophisticated views on economic matters than whatever passes for popular wisdom on a liberal blog or The Daily Show, and might not feel their position has been adequately addressed (or even that it has been addressed at all).

One of the great strengths of TPN is that it defines and explains core concepts in economic policy. Wealth and poverty are explored with reference to critical ideas such as GDP, per capital income, market value, commodity dumping, comparative advantage, composite price, what constitutes wealth creation and so on. Anyone who wants to make a lasting and serious comment on economic matters needs to understand these concepts and how they function as indicators of or factors in economic growth.

The Bible and Economics

TPN attempts to find support, perhaps even justification, for its free-market views in the pages of Scripture. To be frank, sometimes it felt as if Scripture was being tacked onto an economic philosophy. For example, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 are invoked to imply that Paul “wanted [Christians] to continually create goods and services that were of value to other people” (61). It is difficult to see that in these texts. This is not to say that Paul would have been against this idea, but these passages seem to be dealing with work from a different angle, and I do not know if our Enlightenment understanding of goods and services is coterminous to Paul’s Jewish understanding of work.

One familiar argument is their use of the eighth commandment to justify the ownership of private property, as the law could not function without the assumption of ownership. This is true enough, although this kind of argument seems stuck in the concerns of the previous generation. Communism is all but dead; even ostensibly communist countries like China functionally operate under principles much closer to a free market than communist ones (China has introduced private property legislation). The danger to private property tends not to come from unsound economic policy, but the selfish actions of governments, many of which care not one whit about the Bible’s commandments.

Much of what we call economics we might otherwise call wisdom. For example, it is wise to learn from the failures of, say, sixteenth century Spain toward the accumulation of gold and apply those lessons to modern, oil-rich nations (80). Yet while wisdom is Biblical in one sense, it is inappropriate to loosely cite Scriptural passages in defense of free-market economics, especially when many of the leaders in the world who are not Christian do not take Scripture as a reliable source for economic policy. It often felt as if the Bible was being used to justify the cultural position of its authors, rather than being exposited to challenge and shape it.

This touches on the debate between Christian economists over whether Christians can offer anything substantially unique to the field of economics that cannot already be discerned through secular study. In some ways this book inadvertently vindicates the critics of a distinctively Christian economics, as its value lies primarily in its economic prescriptions rather than its Biblical injunctions.

Morals and the Free Market

Grudem and Asmus spend chapter six arguing that the free market contains the greatest moral advantages as compared with other economic systems. This chapter is one of the weakest in the book.

What constitutes morality varies from nation to nation, so it is not clear that this appeal will successfully translate in an international context. Additionally, claims that the free market system provides the best incentives for the development of virtue seem exaggerated, at best, or naïve, at worst. For example, Grudem and Asmus argue that the free market promotes more truth-telling than any other system. Given the enormous amounts of deception in the American market, especially in areas such as marketing or finance, this hardly seems like an advantage worth commending as morally superior!

Additionally, their appeal to the free market as the best solution to environmental problems assumes people will act in the long-term interest. Yet what is to prevent one generation from plundering the local environment for their own gain?

In another example, Grudem and Asmus argue that the free market promotes social cohesion. This is not so clear. Some of the most popular technology that has been invented, developed, produced and marketed in the United States—the mobile device—has led to a serious breakdown of relationships. Even secular sociologists have warned about these trends (cf. Sherry Turkle’s Together Alone). This is anecdotal, but one of the chief complaints I have heard from refugees who come to this country is how lacking the community is in the United States, and these people often come from countries run by brutal dictators.

Most importantly, their distinction between greed and self-interest seems weak. The idea that markets are the best, even if inadequate, corrective to greed does not account for how people who idolize greed tend to be those who dominate industries. Consider the hours required of the modern CEO and the negative effects this has on his family life (if he can even have a family), to say nothing of serving his local church or community.

It hardly seems useful to talk about the moral superiority of the free market when true behavioral change—the kind that makes for sacrificial, selfless living—arises from the kind of community Jesus promotes in John 17. The Church in Acts lived under an oppressive dictatorship, yet they gave more generously than most American Christians today, who are comparatively far richer.

Influences and Perspective

TPN is informed by the work of Corbett and Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts, which strongly warns against the ills of a paternalism wherein those helping others approach the situation as a parent over the needy rather than partner with the “poor” in mutually giving relationships. This is refreshing. It also signals a change in the thinking of Christians on relief efforts.

It is also heavily informed by David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which in turn is derived from the classic (and highly disputed) work of Max Weber, who argued that the ethic of Protestantism led to the economic prosperity of the West. In addition to other familiar appeals and conservatives sources, such as to the Laffer Curve or The Heritage Foundation, economic liberals are unlikely to find this work convincing.

Changing the World

Many of the recommendations in this book will be familiar to political conservatives. Given that it comments on many issues, this work is best suited as an introduction rather than an in depth discussion. In some ways, I suspect this undermines their desire to speak to national leaders in two critical ways. First, many national leaders are already trained in or familiar with economics; it will take more than an introductory level book to change their minds. Second, few lay persons are likely in any position to change economic policy in either the West or poorer nations. The average American voter has surprisingly little influence on foreign policy arrangements and the actions of foreign governments, and the American Evangelicals who read this book are increasingly irrelevant in the major cultural institutions that actually do shape international policy. How much more so for American missionaries in countries ruled by brutal dictators or unelected oligarchies!

Rick Warren closes his foreword to TPN by exhorting its readers to: “Study it! Reread it and make notes, then put it into practice and teach it to others” (20). Not only is the book described as a new classic that should be “recommended reading” for every major Christian educational institution, local pastor and relief organization, but the book “could change the world” (Ibid.). Grudem and Asmus are no less fervent, as they tell national leaders that “there is a solution to poverty that really works. It has been proven again and again in world history. And it is supported by the moral teachings of the Bible. If this solution is put into place, we are confident it will lift entire nations out of poverty” (32).

The driving assumption, all but explicitly stated in Rick Warren’s foreword and otherwise claimed in the introduction (“preaching and teaching can eventually change a culture,” 32), seems to be that if enough people spread the ideas of the book, those ideas will become policy in other nations. As much as this would be nice, culture does not change through the popularity of an idea or even though how many pastors believe and preach it. This is a democratic, individualistic approach to change, but I don’t think it has any real historical backing, and it certainly overestimates the cultural capital of conservative Christianity. Additionally, having Rick Warren write the foreword automatically alienates a significant number of the people Grudem and Asmus believe would most benefit from reading this book.

Final Verdict

I would recommend this book with some caveats. Its value lies chiefly as a popularization of conservative economic philosophy. Its theological arguments are less impressive, and here I would hesitate to commend the book as an example of sound exegesis. The arguments are too loose and there is a risk it will serve as a negative example of Scripture use for impressionable lay persons, especially with the endorsement from Warren. I suspect the book would have been more successful without the Biblical arguments.

Attempts to end poverty are not new. I remember a talk at NYU several years ago by Columbia professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was promoting his (then) new book, The End of Poverty. With opening remarks by U2’s Bono, the event was charged with anticipation and hope. Sachs went on to make a presentation that would have inspired even the most languid liberal. Yet what has come of that effort today?

The only material difference I see between Sachs and Grudem and Asmus is which portion of the white, American, Enlightenment-indebted economic tradition they embrace. Moral sentiments draped over economic philosophies will never change the world. And what Bono was to Sachs, Warren is to Grudem and Asmus: a celebrity endorsement.

In their introduction, Grudem and Asmus state that what they are recommending is hardly new (20). And in sense they are right: like so many books claiming to have solutions to enormously complex, intractable problems, it will make a splash and fall by the wayside.

I am reminded of something wise someone once said:

“You will always have the poor among you.”

Anger as a Window into Your Soul

I recently read about a fascinating exchange between some liberal seminary students and a religiously conservative Imam:

My first “welcome to America” moment occurred when I invited an imam to my Introduction to Islam class at Columbia Theological Seminary. The imam talked about the basic tenets of Islam for an hour and asserted, among other things, that Jesus is not the Son of God, denied that he was crucified, and maintained that the Bible has been falsified. My students listened respectfully throughout the lecture. When he paused and invited discussion, the students replied with rather timid and politically correct queries, at which point the imam said: “Why are you not asking me about jihad, about terrorism, women? I know you have all these questions. Why are you not asking me the hard questions?” So one student queried him about Islamic teaching on homosexuality. The imam answered by defining the practice as un-Islamic, not of God, unnatural. Suddenly, the faces of a good number of the students went red with shock and rage. I stepped in and gently steered the discussion away from the topic.

I recall a similar situation during an NYU All University Gospel Choir concert, perhaps ten years ago now. As was tradition for such concerts, songs were interspersed with various testimonies, often given by the emcee. All of these were politely received by the theologically mixed audience, except one: a young African American gave a testimony where he mentioned, almost off-hand, how he had been saved out of the gay lifestyle.

I don’t recall all the details, but you could tell the mood in the room had shifted to something between discomfort and outrage. One guest my roommate had invited, who I think was a seminary student at the time, was particularly offended.

Everyone has some sense of justice, and when it is sufficiently violated, it causes us to become angry. We become upset that the world is not the way it is supposed to be, or at least the way we want it to be. In this case of the gospel choir concert, people were offended that something they deeply value was not cherished as they thought it should be. Moments like these can tell us a lot about others–and ourselves.

Our defensiveness is a window into the soul. It is rather telling that the professed Christians at Columbia Theological Seminary cared more about sexual autonomy than whether someone honored the revealed character of God. That suggests a near total capitulation to secular moral values.

But using the anger diagnostic on others is easy enough. It is rather convicting when used on yourself.

I was recently quite defensive about an insult I received on social media. It wasn’t really all that different from any of the other condescending and smug responses that all too often characterize interaction between groups with differing ideology. Yet for some reason it cut deeply. Was it because of external circumstances (say, a lack of sleep from raising young children)? Or perhaps the accusation was particularly unjust? Whatever the reasons, my defensiveness signaled to me that I cared a great deal–and probably far too much–what some stranger on the internet thought of me.

Compare that to Jesus’ sense of justice. He had a finely tuned sense of anger; he was defensive about all the right things. He often absorbed slights to his honor (and even commanded us not to trade insult for insult), yet was incensed when the religious elite put spiritual stumbling blocks between regular Israelites and God.

Jesus’ anger showed his love for others–for his people. What about yours?

Stick to Science

Bill Nye recently came out with a video blasting the pro-life position. He took this shot at religious belief:

Sorry, you guys. I know it was written — or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they always have a baby. That’s wrong, and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature. I mean, it’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody.

There are several errors here, but I’ll just focus on the interpretive assertion. Is there any pro-life, Christian leader who believes intercourse always results in a baby? No, of course not, since the Old and New Testaments record the stories of several women who struggled with infertility, including Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Michal. How does Nye imagine these women found out they were infertile?

Nye should stick to science.

What the Automobile Hath Wrought

I was reading an article on the Pope’s recent visit to America when I ignored every sensible piece of internet advice and scrolled down to read the comments. Aside from an atheist troll peppering the thread with nonsensical, boorish, or otherwise tangential broadsides, there were some rather lengthy exchanges about the level of disunity in Protestantism. Several commentators cited the fact that Protestantism has 33,000 denominations as evidence it is not being led by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, we should not be Protestant or follow sola Scriptura. Evidently, the level of division within Protestantism is clearly a sign it is a failed expression of Christianity.

The claim is deceptively simple. I think it plays on vague, broadly Christian assumptions about what is good and bad in faith and practice, but when you try to tease out just what is being argued here it gets rather difficult to prove.

I gather the argument goes something like this:

  1. Division is ungodly.
  2. Protestants are divided into 33,000 denominations.
  3. Therefore, Protestant ecclesiology is “unworkable” and/or “false.”

Or maybe it might go like this (which obviously assumes premise #1 from the first argument):

  1. The Church was united before Protestants began practicing sola Scriptura.
  2. Ever since sola Scriptura was invented, Protestants have continuously divided, and now there are over 33,000 denominations.
  3. Therefore, sola Scriptura is “unworkable” and/or “false.”

Now, the second argument strikes me as a simple post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy given historical and sociological changes over the past several centuries (which I will discuss below). But let me treat some of the issues with the first.

The 33,000 Statistic

The source of this rather high number is Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia. As far as I can tell, the methodology in Barrett’s work is such that each “denomination” is counted along organizational lines, not doctrinal lines. In other words, two Baptist churches in the same town that are virtually united in doctrine–same creeds, same practice of church discipline, etc.–would be counted as separate denominations simply because they are hierarchically independent of each other.

So baked into this argument are certain assumptions about what counts as ungodly disunity. The objection seems to be that Protestants are not organizationally united. But why assume that should be our standard? Barrett’s work is both informative and thorough, but it is neither inspired nor authoritative. In fact, the New Testament doesn’t define godly unity along organizational lines, so why should we? Consider Jesus’ remark in Luke 9:49-50 to the disciples upon discovering a miracle worker who wasn’t part of their organizational structure: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” On Barrett’s methodology, this man would have counted as his own “denomination,” yet there is no indication Jesus frowned upon this sort of “division.” Quite the opposite. And Paul pointed out that though the Corinthians came together under one roof–one Apostolic organization–they were still divided.

What about Doctrinal Division?

Now, let’s say an interlocutor wants to refine his objection. He acknowledges the difficulty with citing the unqualified number: he says the New Testament does seem to care more about unity of ideas than unity of organization. But surely there are some major doctrinal divisions present within Protestantism. Just look at all the differences over baptism, elders, and eschatology! Doesn’t this mean Protestantism is unworkable or false?

First I would want to know what is meant by Protestantism. Whole swarms of people claim to be Protestant, yet it is clear that not everyone who calls themselves a Protestant would even count as a Christian. Unitarians, Mormons, and Jehovah Witnesses seem to count as “Protestant,” but is there any reason to think they are Christian? They deny core tenants of the historic creeds.

The trouble is where to draw the line for the evaluation. For example, I would consider myself somewhere in the Evangelical spectrum of theology. Should I evaluate sola Scriptura by the doctrinal division among Evangelicals? Yet even this is subject to important qualifications. Evangelicals are divided on many issues, but the number of contentious issues becomes increasingly smaller as you move from merely self-identified Evangelicals to those who actually believe the tenants of traditional Evangelicalism. As the devastating Barna Survey demonstrated, some self-professed Evangelicals have not even “accepted Christ as their savior.” Surely Protestants cannot be held accountable for non-Christians who merely claim to be Evangelicals because of social or historical expectations.

Perhaps the idea is that we should compare one organizationally united denomination with another organizationally united denomination. Now, to be frank, those are terms I’ll accept simply to prove a point. As a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I am fairly confident my fairly small, culturally homogeneous denomination is united in matters of doctrine far more than the billion or so Catholics in the world.

Of course, this entire exercise assumes the presence of doctrinal division at any level–personal or structural–should automatically rule out an entire movement as deficient enough to abandon. Not only would that standard invalidate virtually every New Testament church that Paul wrote to, that is not the standard by which God judges a church to be true or false.

Many denominations are rather united in their belief systems, but since when was internal consistency the standard by which we judged something true or not? That would make cults, especially the kind where you are punished for violating “orthodoxy,” some of the most virtuous expressions of faith in the world.

Aside from the muddled thinking, there are sociological reasons to dismiss this line of argument.

Ascribing to Protestantism the Difficulties of Modernity

The assertion that sola Scriptura is to blame for Christian division (organizational or doctrinal) fails to account for the many causes of division in the modern world. These include forces that negatively affect Catholicism.

A great deal of the persistent, modern organizational disunity can be blamed on the invention of the automobile and the modernist conceit that we are free to determine meaning for ourselves. (My claims here are confined mostly to the West. I can’t speak to trends in African Protestant Christianity, for example, although I would note that organizational division in China is almost entirely due to ruthless state persecution. It has nothing to do with the Chinese church’s rule of faith.) Unlike the rural past, violating church discipline is no longer a choice that imposes enormous social (and sometimes physical) costs. In previous centuries, you could not just switch churches when the minister’s sermons bored you or otherwise haunted your conscience as you violated choice commandments throughout the week. You would be lucky to have more than one church in your community, and skipping town in a traditionalist culture where people were not apt to trust foreigners or strangers would risk your entire livelihood and sense of self-worth.

But today it is a simple matter for a Christian offended by long sermons and ineffectual community leaders to get in his car and drive away with hardly a material consequence. (He can then drive to the next area church and complain about how awful his previous church was.) All of these movements in and out of churches can cause all sorts of doctrinal confusion, and this is exacerbated in the age of internet communications and the exceptional decline in trust for authority figures and institutions.

Multiculturalism, Language, and American Christianity

There are other causes of organizational and doctrinal division. One of them is simply that Christianity has exploded into many different cultures. A lot of the Catholic apologetic on division draws from a somewhat mythological or anachronistic view of Christianity that was fairly unrepresentative of most Christians in the ancient and medieval eras. Our written Christian documents come from educated, mostly European elites who spoke Latin and lived in a world where the power of the state worked hand in hand with the power of the church. It shouldn’t be surprising that there was demographic and ideological unity among those who represented the church, especially given the extent of illiteracy before the modern era–most of the people with dissenting views simply had no way of recording or disseminating their doctrinal beliefs. With increasing language and cultural barriers, increasing geographical distances between Christians, and the explosion of the absolute number of Christians living in the world, it is only natural that we’ve seen a significant increase in organizational disunity among Protestants (and all Christians).

There is also a distinctly American aspect to organizational division, which Catholics feel too. As sociologist Stephen Warner explains:

Nonetheless, in American popular imagination, the congregational ideal retains great sway. Because direct governmental financial support of religious institutions is ruled out by the separation of church and state, churches had to raise their own funds and arrange for the maintenance of their properties and programs. The resulting profusion of religious volunteerism in American civil society easily suggested to those millions of volunteers–bricklayers, cooks, quilters, Sunday school teachers, ushers, deacons, and tithers–that the church they support belongs to them. Pastors in all American denominations often find themselves in the position of reminding their lay councils that the church belongs to God.

Thus a popular spirit of “de-facto congregationalism” pervades U.S. Protestant churches. A local congregation may choose a hymnal or Sunday school curriculum produced by an independent publishers over the one prescribed by their denomination. They may feel entitled to call clergy of their own liking, in defiance of, or skirting on the edge of, the rules set forth by the bishop, synod, or presbytery. They may divert their financial support away from the denomination toward a parachurch agency, toward a social movement organization, or toward some local need.

De-facto congregationalism has liberalizing and conservatizing effects. Over the past forty years, when liberal denominations decided it was time to ordain women, local congregations could take advantage of complicated call procedures to drag their feet on hiring women clergy. In the past twenty years, many liberal congregations tried, and some succeeded, in ordaining gays and lesbians to clergy or governing council status in defiance of denominational proscriptions. When some denominations changed those very proscriptions, other, more conservative congregations pulled out. Given the complex history of property deeds and the decentralization of America’s common law system, they may eventually succeed in taking their property with them. De-facto congregationalism appeals to both sides of current political divides.

Roman Catholics are not immune to these forces either:

Moreover, the spirit of de facto congregationalism is not confined to Protestant churches. It appeals to many American Catholics with respect to their parishes. Not that any parish as a body could easily leave the Church, but that the diocese’s plans to replace a beloved parish pastor, to merge parochial schools, or to close parishes often meet with stiff, sometimes successful, resistance from parishioners organized for the purpose. Moreover, the U.S. Catholic church is being partly reshaped by the appeal of the congregational notion that the local church is an assembly of like-minded believers rather than the faithful who live within diocesan-defined geographical boundaries. So “magnet parishes” that serve one or another constituency within the church–social justice, LGBT-friendly, family-friendly, high liturgical, ethnic–proliferate in U.S. metropolitan dioceses.

So far, this much should be clear. Although it has deep roots in the Puritan strain of American Protestantism, de facto congregationalism is neither confined to Protestant churches nor is it necessarily an expression of the normative ideals of all of them. It defies episcopal and presbyterian norms. Instead, de facto congregationalism is an expression of the religious side of American civic culture.

When Catholics blame 33,000 denominations on the Protestant idea of sola Scriptura, they paper over the rather incredible technological, sociological, and demographic shifts of the last several centuries. It is simply an exercise in historical ignorance to assume these forces are not to blame for much of the organizational and doctrinal disunity in modern, Western Christianity. Short of punishing heresy with death and becoming antidisestablishmentarian, how does a church avoid these effects in an era of religious freedom? If the expectation is that a truly faithful church will avoid splintering, since Jesus promised unity in his Church, then it is safe to say American Catholicism is not a truly faithful church either.

In fact, to see how absurd this argument is, let us just turn it around completely: we might as well say the millions of Christians leaving the Catholic denomination over the years is due to the failings of the Magisterium, and, therefore, we should no longer organize the Catholic Church under a council of bishops led by the Pope. In fact, people are leaving Roman Catholicism in droves because of its doctrinal stances, but that doesn’t tell us whether Roman Catholicism’s organizational structure or doctrinal beliefs are true or false.

I don’t find the 33,000 denominations argument very persuasive. Perhaps it can be salvaged, but it’s hard to see how it can overcome its methodological, exegetical, and sociological shortcomings. Maybe someone else is up to the task?

Miracles and the Ad Hoc Fallacy

According to one atheist, the ad hoc fallacy:

is normally used more narrowly to refer to some explanation which is exists for no other reason but to save a favored hypothesis.

Typically, you will see statements referred to as “ad hoc rationalizations” or “ad hoc explanations” when someone’s attempt to explain an event is effectively disputed or undermined and so the speaker reaches for some way to salvage what he can. The result is an “explanation” which is not very coherent, does not really “explain” anything at all, and which has no testable consequences – even though to someone already inclined to believe it, it certainly looks valid.

Here is a commonly cited example:

I was healed from cancer by God!
Really? Does that mean that God will heal all others with cancer?
Well… God works in mysterious ways.

The author uses this examples to identify three key characteristics of an ad hoc fallacy. I will respond to each below:

A key characteristic of ad hoc rationalizations is that the “explanation” offered is only expected to apply to the one instance in question. For whatever reason, it is not applied any other time or place and is not offered as a general principle. Note in the above that God’s “miraculous powers of healing” are not applied to all cancer sufferers, but only this one at this time and for reasons which are completely unknown.

This is confused. Even if we accept the tedious formulation of this argument (why assume one is healed requires all are healed), I don’t see a reason to suggest this explanation must apply only to this one instance. The idea that divine providence is mysterious could apply to a great many miraculous healings.

This reply also seems to treat God’s healing activities as a uniform power or principle, rather than as an act of agency. But why expect that these miraculous powers should apply to all cancer sufferers?

Another key characteristic of an ad hoc rationalization is that it contradicts some other basic assumption – and often an assumption which is was either explicit or implicit in the original explanation itself. That is why, usually, an ad hoc statement is only applied in one instance and then quickly forgotten. Because of this, ad hoc explanations are often cited as an example of the fallacy of Special Pleading. In the above, the idea that not everyone will be healed by God contradicts the common belief that God loves everyone equally.

1) The term equally is hopelessly ambiguous. Is this supposed to imply that everyone should be treated in exactly the same way by God? I am going to assume otherwise, since this dissolves into absurdity almost immediately: does God love unequally when he creates one person taller than another?

2) Does it mean that if one good thing happens to one person, it should happen to everyone? For example, if one person gets a certain amount of money, everyone should get that amount of money too? That would be a set of miracles that treat everyone to the same good, yet clearly the cumulative effect would be merely to and devalue currency. And people value or use money differently than others. So I don’t imagine it’s that.

3) Or is equally only to do with the reduction of suffering (of certain kinds?) when someone asks for relief? For example, if a notorious, unrepentant serial killer–who is likely to kill again–is dying of cancer, should God heal him because a virtuous, selfless relief worker was healed of cancer last week?

4) While I am having trouble even salvaging this argument, at this point it’s trivial to note that no standard conception of Christian doctrine asserts any of these ideas. And Scripture is filled with examples of God treating various members of his people, whom he loves, differently. For example, compare Jesus’ fascinating treatment of Mary and Martha in John 11 (which the text identifies as an expression of Jesus’ “love”) as they dealt with the death of Lazarus.

5) I am also unclear what is meant by loves. Is the idea of love here that everyone should be happy, that serious suffering is contradictory the idea of a God who loves equally? That may work for definitions of Christianity languishing in Moral Therapeutic Deism, but it does not have any currency with theological frameworks that: (a) allow for suffering to produce more good (including personal joy and pleasure) than would have existed without it; and, (b) define love (agape) according to its New Testament use.


A third characteristic is the fact that the “explanation” has no testable consequences. What could possibly be done to test to see if God is working in “mysterious ways” or not? How could we tell when it is happening and when it is not? How could we differentiate between a system where God has acted in a “mysterious way” and one where the results are due to chance or some other cause?

These are questions in lieu of an argument. What does the author mean by testable? Does he mean replication in a lab? Eyewitness testimony from doctors? Divine revelation via dream or vision?

Let’s consider a recent miraculous healing account:

Over a year ago, a freak accident left me with 40% hearing loss in my left ear. After a wrong diagnosis, I was referred to Dr. David Haynes at@vanderbiltu, who correctly diagnosed me. I was the 2nd patient he had ever seen with this condition (the malleus bone broke, and surgery was too risky to attempt in this case). The bottom line is, there was no solution medically. It was a permanent issue I just had to learn to live with. He even consulted a colleague at the Mayo clinic bc it was such a crazy case. They agreed-nothing could be done.

I prayed for a miracle with Audrey, and I didn’t get it. I haven’t prayed for one since bc my heart was so wounded. A few months ago, the Lord prompted me to do exactly that, and today I cried in a hospital room as he stared at me, dumbfounded by the fact that my hearing has miraculously returned to a normal level. He looked in my left ear and said, “Wait-which side was the bad one?” I will never forget his face when he asked “What have you done in the last few months so I can explain this to my colleagues?” I replied, “I prayed.” Maybe you needed to be reminded (as I did) that we serve a God who is still in the miracle business…

What is ad hoc about attributing this healing to God? I’m not a doctor, but from what I understand, this is a highly unlikely natural coincidence.

I would assume the objection in this case is that it could still possibly be due to chance. But what makes that ad hoc under the definitions above? Does what counts as ad hoc have more to do with assumed metaphysical presuppositions than strict rules of logic?

It is incorrect to pit the natural against the supernatural. While the cause (or causes) of a healing can be ambiguous, even if we can identify a (proximate) physical cause, that doesn’t mean there is no (ultimate) nonmaterial cause. That just assumes metaphysical naturalism from the get go. Miracles are not simply a subtraction story, existing in shadows yet to be dispersed by scientific explanation. Miracles can be acts of what we might otherwise call extremely improbable coincidence.

So I am suspicious that testable here means anything other than replication in a lab. But why limit explanations to laboratory results? This omits a range of possible explanations.

Continuing with the ad hoc explanation:

The fact of the matter is, we can’t – the “explanation” offered above provides us with nothing to test, something which is a direct consequence of having failed to provide a better understanding of the circumstances at hand. That, of course, is what an explanation is supposed to do, and why an ad hoc explanation is a defective explanation.

Thus, most ad hoc rationalizations do not really “explain” anything at all. The claim that “God works in mysterious ways” does not tell us how or why this person was healed, much less how or why others will not be healed. A genuine explanation makes events more understandable, but if anything the above rationalization makes the situation less understandable and less coherent.

In high school I had a friend who received an anonymous check each year that covered her tuition. Without the money, she would not have been able to attend. Why did this benefactor choose my friend over another? There were plenty of other needy students, including students who wanted to attend but couldn’t because their parents were too poor.

The motives of the person were mysterious. In fact, they remain mysterious to this day. Yet the check was there, every year, without fail. Does the fact that we can’t explain this behavior mean any explanation involving agency is ad hoc? Or doesn’t count as a “genuine” explanation? I don’t see how that follows.

The Modern Pharisee

Where does the moral satisfaction of political progressives come from? I can understand religious hubris–after all, the Pharisees thought themselves particularly righteous and thus entitled to divine favor from the Lord of the universe. Pride is a natural disposition for the religious. (And perhaps that is one reason God lets his people experience so much cultural shame, to keep the Church with a sense of humility.)

But the justification for progressive self-satisfaction eludes me. There’s no divine mandate, as it were, driving their philosophical or moral commitments. In fact, some are open about the ultimate meaninglessness of the universe and the complete subjectivity of all moral values. So why are they so quick to condescend and insult those who differ with them?

Is it the disproportionate wealth or “success” of many progressives that give them their outsized sense of worth? Writing a critically celebrated science fiction novel or graduating from Yale law school can certainly inflate one’s sense of self-worth. Yet there are poor and relatively obscure progressives who look down their noses at everyone else too.

Is it better explained by those old superstitions so many now reflexivly dismiss? Demonic influence would be deliciously ironic. But however plausible, the mystery remains.

No matter. The smug hostility lasts only a short while. Even the arrogant must suffer the ravages of time, for divine judgment is inexorable.

Sanders at Liberty

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders, a far-left candidate for the Democratic nomination, gave a speech at the conservative Liberty University. (For a transcript, see here.) I don’t usually care what a politician says in a speech, since most political speeches are devoid of reasoning and consist of emoting and appealing to ambiguous terminology (like “justice,” “hope,” “freedom,” and, “opportunity”) without any meaningful policy proposals.

But Sanders’ speech was interesting from both a political and religious perspective. Like Rand Paul’s speeches at Howard and Berkeley, you can sometimes learn a great deal about a speaker when he has to argue in front of an ideologically alien (or hostile) audience. In this case, it was interesting to see how Sanders sought to reason with a religiously and politically conservative audience.

(Not surprisingly, the students were cordial, if not enthusiastic. While I have read Liberty students are required to attend such speeches, there was none of the usual protesting, demonstrations, sit-ins or “safe spaces” that appear on liberal campuses when conservatives are invited to speak. For example, I can’t really imagine my alma mater inviting Rick Santorum or Ryan Anderson to speak about the politics of marriage without some sort of major protest.)

As for Sanders’ speech, let me quote several paragraphs:

Let me take a moment, or a few moments, to tell you what motivates me in the work that I do as a public servant, as a senator from the state of Vermont. And let me tell you that it goes without saying, I am far, far from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam and Buddhism, and other religions.

And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12, and it states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the war and the prophets.” That is the golden rule. Do unto others, what you would have them do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated.

Let me be frank, as I said a moment ago. I understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that, but let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.

Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Justice treating others the way we want to be treated, treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity.

Now here is my point. Some of you may agree with me, and some of you may not, but in my view, it would be hard for anyone in this room today to make the case that the United States of America, our great country, a country which all of us love, it would be hard to make the case that we are a just society, or anything resembling a just society today.

In the United States of America today, there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We live, and I hope all of you know this, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

You know, that is the truth. We are living in a time — and I warn all of you if you would, put this in the context of the Bible, not me, in the context of the Bible — we are living in a time where a handful of people have wealth beyond comprehension. And I’m talking about tens of billions of dollars, enough to support their families for thousands of years. With huge yachts, and jet planes and tens of billions. More money than they would ever know what to do with.

But at that very same moment, there are millions of people in our country, let alone the rest of the world, who are struggling to feed their families. They are struggling to put a roof over their heads, and some of them are sleeping out on the streets. They are struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when they are sick.

Now, when we talk about morality, and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.

There is no justice, and I want you to hear this clearly, when the top one-tenth of 1 percent — not 1 percent, the top one-tenth of 1 percent — today in America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And in your hearts, you will have to determine the morality of that, and the justice of that.

In my view, there is no justice, when here, in Virginia and Vermont and all over this country, millions of people are working long hours for abysmally low wages of $7.25 an hour, of $8 an hour, of $9 an hour, working hard, but unable to bring in enough money to adequately feed their kids.

Unsurprisingly, Sanders is concerned about material prosperity. After all, that is what the left is about these days. There is no room in the progressive agenda for any of the transcendent concerns that have traditionally occupied the human race–virtue, character, and religion.

That said, there are places in this country–some I have seen first-hand–where there is a great deal of poverty. I do not mean the kind of poverty where someone is upset they cannot afford a larger television or a luxury car, but the sort that grinds at dignity and hope with a thousand afflictions both systemic and personal. Travelling farther to reach a decent grocery store, spending more on security, the aesthetic degradation of streets and shops, the constant sense of fear from inadequately policed streets, the reeking of trash and sewage, the roaches and rodents, the squealing of poorly maintained vehicles–real poverty assaults both the soul and the senses.

The statistical evidence bears this out. While sometimes these figures are exaggerated, there is no question that the broader picture is one of the rich becoming richer and everyone else staying mostly the same, including millions who struggle every day to make ends meet.

Sanders and the Justice of God

So Sanders is correct to identify a set of significant injustices. But that is only part of the issue. It is one matter to state that some problem exists. It is another entirely to say it is a problem greater than all others (as Sanders’ broader platform would suggest) and that proposed (in this case, progressive) solutions are the best available.

But I couldn’t find anything in Sanders’ speech that comes close to an attempt to reason in favor of his policy proposals. Like many politicians, Sanders seems to state a set of facts and lets underlying, unspoken assumptions do the rest of the work:

Now you have got to think about it. You have to think about it and you have to feel it in your guts. Are you content? Do you think it’s moral when 20 percent of the children in this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40 percent of African American children are living in poverty?

These rhetorical questions are designed to evoke certain answers. Of course it is unacceptable that there are children living in poverty.

But what then? I may agree with a progressive that something is really evil, but if we have different ideas as to what counts as just, we will likely go about solving that problem in different ways. This is because, to turn a well-known phrase, no policy solution is an island. Every policy proposal will use our limited resources in ways that restrict and constrain how we can deal with other political difficulties. Since progressives tend to have a myopic view of justice, their policy proposals have unintended (usually negative) effects on many areas that are of concern to conservatives, especially religious ones.

As for Sanders’ textual appeals:

It is careless to assume the American concept of justice just so happens to align with the Biblical one. (The concept of justice is a rather thick one, and historically very diverse. See Tamler Sommers’ overview in Relative Justice [Princeton University Press, 2012]. Many concepts of justice are mutually exclusive.) As it turns out, Sanders may cite Matthew and Amos in making his (Rawlsian?) case for economic justice, but his appeal elides the substantive differences between the Scriptural description of justice and Sanders’ decidedly secular vision of a rightly ordered political universe. Just what are those differences?

(A) In the Old Testament, the concept of justice has a specifically delineated meaning given in the Pentateuch that is further refined in subsequent historical practice. As Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright describes it:

For Israel, then, justice was no abstract concept or philosophical definition. Justice was essentially theological. It was rooted in the character of the LORD, their God; it flowed from his actions in history; it was demanded by his covenant relationship with Israel; it would ultimately be established on the earth only by his sovereign power (Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 256).

(But what of Sanders’ appeal to Jesus? I start with the Old Testament because that is what informs the New. Jesus’ concept of justice was based in the Old Testament. Biblical justice is not a word into which we can import our modern sensibilities about what is right or wrong, no matter how popular or appealing the sentiment might be.)

(B) While justice was intimately tied to material outcomes–God expected that there were to be no poor in Israel (Deuteronomy 15:4) and provided laws and mechanisms to reduce and eliminate poverty–it was never divorced from spiritual concerns. And there was a third aspect that is often completely ignored in our political dialogue–what we might call a social one. Right government action, which serves as the primary vehicle of progressive justice, does little to cultivate community virtue, let alone a righteous standing with God. If anything, some (but not all) government programs absent these two other factors can create structures of dependency and polarized, resentful constituencies that contribute to the moral decay of the political and social order.

(C) Furthermore, the Biblical vision of governmental justice is alien to the left’s. Sanders might cite Amos, but there is no question Amos would be against the very idea of government sanctioned gay marriage; it would have been anathema to his sense of justice, to what constituted a rightly ordered (extended) family structure as based on the precepts of the Pentateuch, which promoted monogamous marriage and frowned upon (to put it mildly) homosexual relationships. In fact, rightly ordered families would have been integral to the promotion of civic, community, and personal justice, the absence of which would have (and eventually did, in the judgment and exile) prevented economic flourishing. Amos’ vision of justice has more in common with Kim Davis than Bernie Sanders.

(D) Sanders’ view of justice also neglects the Old Testament’s complex view of poverty, which seems to always be downstream of a failure of justice. Whereas Sanders seems to think the cure for most poverty is redistribution, the Bible identifies at least four causes of poverty: (1) poor personal choices, due either to character flaws or naïvety (a major theme in Proverbs); (2) systemic evil (especially by cruel, corrupt or unlawful monarchs, pagan or Jewish); (3) natural disasters (famine, pestilence, or even raiding bands or tribes); and, (4) spiritual (demonic) affliction (as occurs in Job). Even discounting #3, which has been largely mitigated by modern technology, and #4, which is scoffed at by moderns, Sanders doesn’t seem to acknowledge the personal side of poverty. It is simply a fact that some people are impoverished because of habitually awful personal choices. The Biblical vision of justice addresses all of these aspects, whereas, so far as I can tell, Sanders’ addresses only one half of one. And if one’s sense of justice is warped, so will his solutions to perceived injustices, let alone the full range of actual ones.

(E) As for abortion, Sanders does not understand that the Biblical sense of justice was grounded in the Abrahamic promises of a fruitful people out of whom would come the promised savior. To have children was not a choice grounded in personal fulfillment–people today treat child-rearing only a little better than pet selection–but an act that was helping forward the very salvation of the world. Every devout Jewish woman would have longed to be the mother of the savior of the world. The idea of potentially aborting that child would have been morally abhorrent.

It is not enough to ensure that our neighbors have a certain material standard. The good civic life depends on the character of those enforcing bureaucracies and laws and the virtuous behavior of our neighbors. This idea of virtuous behavior is further defined and shaped by the moral expectations of God’s law as delivered in the Pentateuch, none of which has any place in the progressive sense of justice.

While I applaud Sanders’ willingness to dialogue with ideological opposites, I did not find his case all that appealing.

Deception and Creation

I’ve never really found the anti-creationist objection that mature creation, if true, signals a sort of divine deception, therefore (because God is honest, etc.), it must be false. I mean, so much of the universe is deceptive by that measure. Just look up at the night sky: you think you’re looking at individual stars, but most stars you see are actually made up of a binary (or trinary, etc.) system:


Is God deceiving us by hiding (as it were) this fact from us, by making each star appear to be a single object, but in reality two (or more)?

Or consider another example: how this desk in front of me looks quite solid, but is really made up of mostly “empty” space. Most of the many billions of people who have ever lived have had no grasp of particle physics, and nothing about any solid object suggests it might be made up of countless trillions of particles. This sort of deception is common throughout the universe and seems to hold on any of the common views of creation.

If mature creation is deceptive because it is designed to appear one way but is in reality really another way, so too is the evolutionary account of the world. It’s not an objection that selects for one view or the other.