Proofs of Prophesy

It seems that primitive peoples had a god for practically every natural phenomenon. Even the culturally and academically advanced Greeks and Romans had a literal pantheon of gods to explain everything from the daily rising of the sun to the changes of the seasons. (To be sure, there were certainly ancient philosophers who did not believe in the literal existence of the Olympians. But one of the charges against Socrates was refusal to recognize the official gods of the city, so they still took that stuff seriously.) It may well be that the eventual predominance of monotheism in the western world was in part due to advances in natural philosophy.

As we humans came to understand the world better, fewer and fewer gods were needed to explain all of the individual aspects of our reality. The more we learn about the nature of our universe, the less we need myths to explain the world around us. Inevitably, some people take this line of thought to its logical limit: as human understanding increases, we find that there is no need for any theistic explanations at all.

A counter argument that has been advanced is that our growing understanding of the world is itself proof of God’s assistance. The eighth century theologian Abu Hatim al-Razi asserts that all of the great thinkers throughout time were actually prophets. Divine inspiration, he argues, is the only way to explain the genius that created Euclid’s geometry or Ptolemy’s astronomy. Knowing his own intellectual powers, he cannot believe that such tremendously insightful works can be the work of unaided humans. There is some serious appeal to that argument; I don’t see how I could ever produce something as great as Ptolemy’s Almagest.

Still, we are constantly learning more and coming to greater and greater understandings. Consequently, all great geniuses in natural philosophy are doomed to be overtaken. In the face of non-Euclidean geometry and modern astronomy, Euclid and Ptolemy look like poor prophets indeed. What good are is the prophets Newton or Darwin if their systems are sure to be found defective down the line? Can it really be divine inspiration if it invariably comes up short of later human understanding?

The final rejoinder must be that prophets never tell the whole truth or explain everything clearly. Each generation must have its own sages and prophets to build upon the divine revelations of their predecessors.  So who can say that Lobachevsky or Stephen Hawking are not also divinely inspired?

  

Beer of the Week: Odyssey Imperial IPA – Throughout Homer’s Odyssey, storms, shipwrecks, deaths, and other events are attributed to the wills of the gods. So a beer called Odyssey seems like a good choice for this post. This Imperial IPA from Sly Fox Brewing Company is delicious. The lighting in this photo is a bit off; the beer is actually more amber in color. It has a nice thick head that leaves plenty of lacing on the glass. Odyssey is quite bold, with strong, flavorful hops that totally dominate the flavor. And the hops has to be strong to cover the 8.4% alcohol. Anybody who drinks enough of this beer is surely in for an adventure.

Reading for the Week: The Madman by Friedrich Nietzsche – The famous quote “God is dead” comes from this reading. This parable(?) from The Gay Science hints at the problems of a post-religious society. The atheists in the story do not understand the ramifications of the death of God, hence the messenger of God’s death is called “the madman.”

Question for the week: Is there anything compelling about Abu Hatim al-Razi argument that all of our geniuses are divinely inspired? Or is he just moving the goalposts?


Necessarily Evil?

Government is by its very nature violent. Consider what happens if you do not obey government dictates, even if your disobedience is non-violent itself: a man with a gun will come to your house. Consider the so-called “no knock raid“: if you are suspected of disobeying the government, they may simply break in to your house in the night and kill anybody who, startled and terrified, puts up any resistance to these unidentified, armed intruders.

But the same is true of all government action, not just law enforcement. Does the government run a school? Well you had better pay your school taxes or a man with a gun will come to your door. Your children had better attend or a man with a gun will come to your door.  As Ludwig von Mises observed, “Whatever a government does it is ultimately supported by the actions of armed constables.”

Max Weber wrote that the state is the organization that holds a monopoly on legitimate use of force. But this begs the question. The force is only “legitimate” because it is being exercised by the state. It would be more accurate to say that the state is the organization that has a monopoly on violence.

But for all its violence, it appears that government is necessary. Thomas Paine wrote that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Mises went further: “it is not an evil, but a means, the only means available to make peaceful human coexistence possible.” Without government (consolidated force), there can be no freedom because each individual is at the mercy of any stronger individual who comes along. “If we take into account the fact that, as human nature is, there can neither be civilization nor peace without the functioning of the government apparatus of violent action, we may call government the most beneficial human institution. ”

Even so, the government does not deal in freedom; it deals in violence. “It is the opposite of liberty. It is beating, imprisoning, hanging.” Only by strictly limiting and circumscribing the sphere in which the government is allowed to operate can freedom exist. A government that touches every facet of life is one that controls every facet of life. This is because government, regardless of intentions, can only touch violently.

Slyfox 113 Photo credit dad

Sly Fox Route 113 IPA – The name of this beer has two origins. The first and most obvious is Pennsylvania Route 113 (a highway built and maintained with funds collected from the local population with the threat of force,) which passes by the Sly Fox Brewhouse. But the beer is also named for its level of bitterness, measuring 113 International Bitterness Units. I rather enjoy this local, amber colored beer. There is a hint of caramel in the aroma and the full malt body of the beer is backed nicely by peppery hops.

Reading for the Week: Liberty and Property by Ludwig von Mises – In this section of a lecture delivered at Princeton University, Mises defends free markets as the only source of prosperity and freedom. A government that controls the markets is one that does not allow any freedom and can never advance society. After all, “there is no record of an industrial innovation contrived and put into practice by bureaucrats.”

Question for the week: Mises’ personal motto (seen in part on the above beer glass) was “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito”, which means something like “Do not give in to evil, but proceed boldly against it.” In this week’s reading Mises says that government is not an evil at all, but he also says that government is nothing but “beating, imprisoning, hanging.” So if beating, imprisoning, and hanging are not evil, what is?