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The Magician and the Cardsharp — by Karl Johnson

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This post, which could use some better writing, originally ran on 5 June 2009. But it’s a lot of fun.

The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America’s Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist by Karl Johnson

Dai Vernon, The Professor, was the greatest card magician of the 20th century, maybe of all time. David Verner—his name was botched by a Welsh reporter early on and the approximation stuck—was born in Ottawa in 1894 and used to joke that he wasted the first six years of his life before he came to magic.

Once he did, he was obsessed. Throughout his life he would be lost, sometimes for days on end, to a deck of cards as he worked on a “problem”. He would session with other magicians for endless hours, forgetting to eat or to go home.

Vernon understood the importance of psychology in magic. Johnson relates an incidence where Vernon told a New Orleans casino dealer to take a deck of cards Vernon had shuffled and start dealing them out, stopping wherever he liked. The dealer laid out 50 cards and stopped, only two cards left in his hand, a grin spreading across his face. Vernon asked him the card he was thinking of. “Six of clubs,” he said. Vernon told him to turn over the top card in his hand, which was, of course, the six of clubs. Another magician asked him how he did it. “I just knew the son of a bitch would deal out 50 cards.”

He would often begin card tricks with no goal in mind, no idea of where the trick would go, or even what method he would use. Johnson likened Vernon’s brand of magic to improvisational jazz, that music just getting its start the same time Vernon was practicing. This style allows luck to take part. While at military school, Vernon was heading to the showers when he noticed a card lying on the floor. He took it into the shower and fiddled with it. When he had finished, he came into the locker room where the commandant, who knew of Vernon’s fascination with magic, bellowed, “Let me see you produce a card now!” Vernon “answered by reaching down between his legs and apparently bringing out a soggy card. The commandant nearly fainted.”

Vernon did not perform for the public generally, and made his money selling scissor-cut portrait silhouettes. Apparently, he was pretty good. Even in the Depression, he was able to support his family and live well.

The Professor saved his best stuff for other magicians. Houdini claimed to be able to discover the secret of any trick after seeing it three times. Vernon showed Houdini his “Ambitious Card” over six times and it utterly fooled him. Houdini, who had an enormous ego and was not considered much of a close-up artist by his magical brethren, stomped out and refused to admit he had be stumped.

As good as Vernon was, he knew that the best card magicians were not magicians at all, but gamblers. Card mechanics, cheaters. All mechanics, and all magicians, know the bottom deal, wherein a card is seemingly, and fairly, dealt off the top but actually comes from the bottom of the deck, a place where wanted cards were stacked. There are dozens of variants of the bottom deal, and hundreds of methods to stack cards in certain spots in the deck. Further, all gamblers know this and so insist on a cut before the deal begins.

The cut spoils any stacking the cheat might have hoped for by removing the cards to a random spot in the middle of the deck. If somebody could figure out how to deal those cards from the middle, he’d be unbeatable. But how? Everybody who had tried it had failed. It was always obvious that the cards were coming from the center.

There were whispers that one man had done it. Vernon chased down these rumors—his travels are the book’s main plot—and found Allen Kennedy, a card mechanic in a town just south of the wide open Kansas City, home to the best cheats and every vice known to man. At the same time Vernon was passing through, so were Pretty Boy Floyd and Alvin Karpis (whom we met last week in Public Enemies).

Vernon eventually found his man and learned the center deal, and kept it a closely guarded secret for years. It’s well known now, but takes extraordinary skill and strength to pull off, so it’s not seen often.

The Professor eventually moved to Los Angeles where he became a permanent fixture of The Magic Castle, a hideout, club, and theater for nothing but magic. Everybody came and sat at the feet of the master, learning from him and being entertained by his stories and his magic right up until the end.

Vernon lived to 98. He also smoked (cigarettes until his 70s, then cigars) and drank daily. Which either means those activities are good for you, or he pulled off the best trick of his life.


Incidentally, one of the Professor’s students was mathematician Persi Diaconis (now at Stanford). Diaconis was the man who proved that you have to riffle shuffle a deck of cards at least seven times to thoroughly mix them. Shuffle them less than that, and the card’s order can be predicted to high degree. Persi (who was briefly my advisor when he was at Cornell; we shared an interest in showing how people fool themselves into thinking they have paranormal powers) developed a trick based on this, which is a story we’ll leave to another time.

Something Strange With New Book About Perversion Prone Priests by Frederic Martel

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The giggly James Martin-wing of the Church is swooning over the new book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy by Frederic Martel.

Weepy articles are everywhere about it, pitying the poor priests who aren’t allowed to licitly bugger each other and parishioners. Denying them this activity denies who they are! So much is expected from our press.

But there’s something odd about that book, first noticed by Fr John Rickert, who notified me by email.

Here’s the same book in Spanish: SODOMA: Poder y Escandalo en el Vaticano, which is, of course, scarcely like the English.

Here’s the French: Sodoma: Enquête Au Coeur Du Vatican.

And here, in plain simplicity, is Italian: Sodoma.

Quite a difference, no?

Wait. Don’t answer yet, because there’s more.

The book description differences are even more fascinating. Here is the first part of the English (prove to yourself that I’m not selectively quoting by doing the comparisons yourself).

A startling account of corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Vatican.

In the Closet of the Vatican exposes the rot at the heart of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church today. This brilliant piece of investigative writing is based on four years’ authoritative research, including extensive interviews with those in power.

The celibacy of priests, the condemnation of the use of contraceptives, countless cases of sexual abuse, the resignation of Benedict XVI, misogyny among the clergy, the dramatic fall in Europe of the number of vocations to the priesthood, the plotting against Pope Francis – all these issues are clouded in mystery and secrecy.

In the Closet of the Vatican is a book that reveals these secrets and penetrates this enigma. It derives from a system founded on a clerical culture of secrecy which starts in junior seminaries and continues right up to the Vatican itself. It is based on the double lives of priests and on extreme homophobia. The resulting schizophrenia in the Church is hard to fathom. But the more a prelate is homophobic, the more likely it is that he is himself gay.

The more the prelate is against murder, the more likely he’s a murderer!

That’s one of the most frequent, idiotic, sloppy, and just plain dumb arguments we hear. If you’re against it, you’re secretly for it. And if you’re for it, you’re for it. So everybody’s for it; thus, let’s drop the pretence and hand out free laxatives for all.

Let’s compare the English with the Italian (translated: I’ll leave you to do with the similar French and Spanish as homework).

The misogyny of the clergy, the end of priestly vocations, the culture of silence in cases of sexual abuse, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the war against Pope Francis: the same secret links all these dark areas of the Church. This secret has long been unspeakable, but today it finally has a name: Sodom. The biblical city of Sodom would have been destroyed by God because of the homosexuality of its inhabitants. Yet, the Vatican is home to one of the largest homosexual communities in the world. A huge network of relationships created around the intimate life of priests, capable of exploiting their deepest fragility and influencing the exercise of the power of the Church, not only in the corridors of the Roman curia.

In other words, the problem is the (what is called) Lavender Mafia, whose members would not have been thought out of place by the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now there are also similarities in the editions. The Italian also has the line “the more a prelate is shown homophobic [omofobo] in public, the more likely he is homosexual in private.” French: “plus un prélat est homophobe en public, plus il est probable qu’il soit homosexuel en privé.” Just what omofobo is or means is always left in the minds of readers. To American readers it’s any hint of disapproval of sodomy. In Italy and France, I don’t know.

The American edition ends with this:

“Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life.” These are the words of Pope Francis himself and with them, the Pope has unlocked the Closet.

No one can claim to really understand the Catholic Church today until they have read this book. It reveals a truth that is extraordinary and disturbing.

The Pope has “unlocked the Closet”? Perhaps he has. Since his elevation, plenty of skeletons, ugly, twisted, and in various stages of decomposition, have come tumbling out of the Church.

The Italian finishes with this:

The gay issue of course does not explain everything, but it is a crucial key to understanding the Vatican and its position in our society. If we ignore this dimension related to homosexuality, we deprive ourselves of an essential element to decipher a large part of the events that have marked the history and politics of the last decades. “Behind stiffness there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life.” In saying these words, Pope Francis gave us a secret that this disconcerting investigation reveals for the first time.

Quite a difference, no?

I have not read the book itself, but I wonder if these same shadings appear in the English translation.

Despite What You Heard, The Death Penalty Is Legitimate. Feser and Bessette’s “By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment”

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Because, very oddly, there has been a changing of the catechism from the constant and ancient teaching (“the pope is distracting the world with fresh meat for the spirit of the age. He tinkers with words for applause…”), it is important to revisit this topic. See also Feser’s older very strong comments on the subject, and then read his newest even stronger words.

Sometime in the mid-1990s in Colombia, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos lured a 6-year-old boy into an isolated spot and sodomized and murdered him. There were bite marks and other evidence of “prolonged torture” found on the boy’s body. The boy’s head was discovered some distance from his torso; the boy’s penis was severed and stuffed into the corpse’s mouth. This act might have occurred while the boy still lived.

Cubillos, unaffectionately known as La Bestia (The Beast), confessed to the crime.

He also confessed to a second crime where he sodomized and tortured a young boy to death. And then a third. And a fourth. And fifth, sixth, seventh, …

Altogether, La Bestia admitted to sodomizing, maiming, torturing, and murdering 147 boys, but he admitted his memory was hazy, and some say the real total approaches 300.

Cubillos was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murdering (only) 138. Colombia’s constitution says “The right to life is inviolable. There will be no death penalty.” That same merciful attitude is responsible for the country forbidding lifetime imprisonments, too.

In 2006, the Superior Court of Bogotá reduced Cubillos’s sentence from 30 years to 22 because of a technicality. He is due to be released in 2021, though, if I understand correctly, with good behavior he can be out by 2018. La Bestia will be 61 in 2018.

Many Catholics would say that the mercy shown to Cubillos represents a true “pro-life” position, and that those who say Cubillo should be executed say so only because they themselves are “eager to kill” and are “bent on maximizing killing no matter what”.

The official stance of the Catholic Church, however, as reinforced by some 2,000 years of teaching, is that the death penalty can be, has been, and continues to be, a just punishment. In the case of Cubillos, it is surely his due. Scheduling his execution, offering him the sacraments, and then speedily carrying out the sentence is the best chance La Bestia has to save his soul. As it now appears (though only God knows), Cubillos is on a blood-greased slide to Hell.

I do not want to make light of this, but it is better than a good bet that unless Cubillos after his release is restrained by illness or circumstance or he is not killed or otherwise incapacitated by vigilantes, La Bestia will kill again. That blood, if God forbid it should flow, will be on the heads of those authorities who refused their Christian duty.

Why Capital Punishment?

Enter By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, a book so thorough and so relentless that it is difficult to imagine anybody reading it and coming away unconvinced by the lawfulness and usefulness of capital punishment.

Whether to hang any man is in each case a matter of prudential judgement, because the circumstances surrounding any crime always varies. Two Catholics can disagree whether Cubillos should be executed, but that execution might be a just punishment is a question long settled. Which makes you wonder why some, including members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), say things like “human life is sacred…[which] compels us as Catholics to oppose…the use of the death penalty.”

Capital punishment is a theorem of the natural law, a philosophy which the Church “strongly affirms” (and which is well examined in the book). “Moreover, since it arises from a natural inclination, the tendency to punish is a virtue, so long as it is motivated by justice, say, rather than hatred,” a position held by inter alia St Thomas Aquinas, who (as quoted by Feser and Bessette) says, “Vengeance is not essentially evil and unlawful”.

Punishment should fit the crime—the legal phrase is lex talionis—which flows from the principle of proportionality.

The restoration of what Aquinas calls “the equality of justice” by inflicting on the offender a harm proportionate to his offense is known as retribution, and it one of the three traditional purposes of punishment, the others being correction or rehabilitation of the offender and the deterrence of those tempted to commit the same crimes the offender has. Other purposes are incapacitation…and restitution.

To “deny proportionality is implicitly to deny desert, and thus implicitly to deny the legitimacy of punishment.” Cursed be he that withholdeth his sword from blood (Jer 40:10).

Aquinas says “the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprive of the power to sin no more.”

Steven Goldberg makes the latter point in his When Wish Replaces Thought and Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences, pointing out the non-negligible frequency of murderers (including of guards) that take place in prison, and of those committed by criminals released who otherwise might have been executed. This argument is usually ignored by those who offer lifetime imprisonment as an alternative for executions.

Feser and Bessette acknowledge this argument. In one harrowing section, they list the gruesome crimes committed by the forty-three murderers executed in 2012 in the USA. Many are recidivists.

Take Robert Brian Waterhouse. In 1980, he beat a woman severely with a “hard instrument”, raped her, “assaulted her rectum with a large object, and stuffed her bloody tampon down her throat” and then drowned her. This was after he was released from prison for the murder of a seventy-seven-year-old woman; he served only eight years before being paroled. While in prison for the “twenty-one years and tens months” awaiting his execution, he “committed sexual battery on a cellmate”.

Or how about William Gerald Mitchell? He was “on parole…for the stabbing murder of a woman” when he brutally raped and murdered another woman, by “[running] over his victim several times with his car”. You could go on and on. Our authors do.

And this brings up a pretty point. We have all heard the media report upcoming executions, giving full voice to anti-death-penalty activists who usually attend these events. These reports go something like this (my summary, but the quotes are genuine):

Critics of the death penalty gathered outside State Prison to protest the upcoming execution of Luis Cubillos. Longtime prof-life advocate Father Mercyme, a priest in the Catholic Church, pleaded with the governor that the death penalty is “a violation of the sanctity of human life”, and that the state “is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life”. Cubillos was accused of a 1995 murder.

The media never gives the details of the crimes committed, because this, they rightly suspect, would lead listeners to conclude the criminal is getting what he deserved. (This is the same argument against showing the results of abortion victims.) Righteous anger is fled from, and effeminacy embraced. John Crysostom: “He who is not angry, where he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong.”

Common pro and con arguments

The death penalty is racist and discriminatory. It is. Whites are disproportionately executed over blacks (this knowledge may cause some to support capital punishment). (Blacks commit violent crimes at rates about eight times higher than whites.) But, I hasten to add, those on death row earned their punishment.

The death penalty does not deter. Please, no statistical arguments. I have yet to see any statistical evidence, for or against, that was not wrong-headed. Of course the death penalty deters. Everybody knows increasing the severity of a punishment leads to greater abatement of a crime. Why would not moving to the ultimate penalty prove the strongest deterrence (Goldberg makes the same argument)? Our authors supply anecdotes—which are perfectly acceptable evidence—of men who would have killed except that they were worried about getting the chair. Even just one instance of this is sufficient empirical proof of deterrence; fancy models are not needed. The penalty would do a greater job of deterrence were it not common knowledge that even for the worst crimes, the legal systems lets men stretch their day of judgment out for decades or forever (as it were).

Why not life imprisonment? For one, if “mercy” demands the cessation of executions, why does not mercy also demand, as in Colombia, the cessation of life imprisonment, or the cessation of any punishment at all? For another, violent (even demonic) men in prison who would otherwise be executed commit crimes. And see the next point about rehabilitation. The subject of how often the innocent are wrongly executed is a tangle, made so on purpose by those who want to exaggerate this rate. The authors delve into this thicket and clarity does emerge.

What we do not know is whether any innocent person was executed during this period. From 1977 through 2014, thirty-four American states executed 1,386 convicted murderers and the federal government another 3. Were any o these 1,389 actually innocent of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death? Although there is no way to know this with certainty, it seems likely that at most 1 or 2 innocent persons—and very possibly none at all—have been executed since the Furman decision of 1972…

In Wish Goldberg (p. 29) says “even the opponent of the death penalty who emphasizes wrongful executions is willing to sacrifice thousands of lives each year for the social advantages of motor vehicles.” And he reminds us that if the death penalty deters it saves lives.

The death penalty does not rehabilitate. Does it not? As everybody quotes, a hanging wonderfully concentrates the mind. In a wonderful section, the authors tell the story of repentance of several of the murderers on death row. Repentance, I say, the most important thing in any man’s life. All of us stand in need of it (at times), but those guilty of the worst crimes stand in greatest need. Concentration of the mind encourages salvation.

The death penalty encourages vengeance. Does all punishment encourage vengeance? If not, why not? The authors give a nice history and derivation of vengeance, incidentally, contrasting its old and new uses, and its distinction between retribution. In another terrific section, the authors write of the family members of victims, of their satisfaction of the punishment of the criminals, and of their forgiveness, too. The feeling that a debt has been paid, not only by the family members, but of the criminals and members of society, is great. When that feeling is missing, there is often despair. And vigilantism. When people lose hope of the government doing its job, they often take vengeance into their own hands.

The Church

There is no decent argument that the Church does not authorize use of the death penalty. It is true authorities lately have emphasized “mercy”, but mercy does not obviate capital punishment. And don’t forget “forgiveness and mercy presuppose that the offender really does deserve the punishment we refrain from inflicting.” What follows here is only the barest, briefest sketch of the vast wealth of material in the book. Experts on this subject may be assured that Feser and Bessette have covered every facet with the same assiduity of a lawyer preparing a Supreme Court brief.

First is scripture. God, you will remember, has warned that the potential punishments awaiting unrepentant sinners is far worse than the early shuffling off of this mortal coil. The threat of punishment (as we saw above) deters. And God said, “He who kills a man shall be put to death…” (Deut 19:11). And far from repudiating this law, Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets…I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mt 5:17). “Then there is Romans 13:1–4, traditionally understood as a straightforward affirmation on the right of the state to execute criminals”.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church supported the death penalty. Among the others, “Saint Jerome…says that ‘to punish murderers, the sacrilegious, and poisoners is not the shedding of blood, but the duty of the laws.'” The First Vatican Council decreed that “it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture…against the unanimous consent of the fathers.” And

…even those among the Fathers who were largely or wholly opposed in practice to capital punishment—and who thus had every incentive to try to find in Scripture or Tradition a warrant for an absolute condemnation of the practice—affirmed that capital punishment in principle morally legitimate…It is inconceivable that they could have been mistaken about this matter of moral principle, given the authority of the Church has always attributed to them…

The Catechism agrees on the licit nature of capital punishment, “not only in order to ‘protect the innocent’ but also to ‘punish the guilty’ and ‘avenge…crime'” (ellipsis original). And so do the popes agree—including even Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis. Yes, even Pope Francis, about whom our duo says, “Given the obscurity and lack of precision in some of Pope Francis’ remarks…” which is all the quotation I believe this audience requires, except to add that Francis’s words are “plausibly read as having rhetorical rather than doctrinal import.” Whether plausible or not, that’s the way they have to be read to keep his thoughts in line with the constant teaching of the Church.

Now it’s true that the USCCB has waded into the debate implying that the “‘values of the Gospel’ are contrary to the use of the death penalty” (where have we heard that language before?), but these good men forgot to mention the possibility of Hell. Feser and Bessette show that “every element of the bishop’s case against the death penalty fails, including their scriptural interpretations, their moral and philosophical arguments, and their understanding of the practical effects of capital punishment.”

The End

The authors are correct when they say “we now find ourselves in the rather odd situation in which the majority of churchmen appear to be against the death penalty but Catholic teaching is not. This is a recipe for massive confusion among the faithful.” Worse, if we do not execute our worst criminals,

Society will lose sight, first of the idea of proportionality, then of the idea of desert, and finally of the idea of punishment itself. And when the idea of punishment goes, the very idea of justice will go with it, replaced by a therapeutic or technocratic model that treats human beings as cases to be managed and socially engineered than as morally responsible persons. Nothing less is at stake in the death-penalty debate.

And so let us remind ourselves, as do the authors in their last word, of Genesis 9:16, Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

Trading Places: Aleksandr Dugin’s Putin vs Putin — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

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I used to subscribed to The Jerusalem Post. Then I realized that I could get the real news a lot quicker by buying subscriptions to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. Those two publications represent the real heart of the Labor/Likud dichotomy that governs Israel, and much of the rest of the world. After all, there is a war going on within the heart of Israel. A war that has been going on since Masada in 73 AD, and then Simon Bar Kokhba in 132 AD. And all of it started with the golden calf of Aaron in the Sinai desert.

This war has been going on ever since. The war between Rabbi’s Hillel and Shammai. Between the liberal version of the Talmud versus the conservative (for want of a better word) edition of the Talmud. This is a war of words. A war of meanings. A war of technique. But at heart, they both agree, because the stated goal of both sides is Tikkun Olam, i.e. ‘the repairing of the world’.

Both sides have always agreed that the way to ‘repair’ the (Gentile) world is revolution (war). Therefore, the real issue between Hillel and Shammai has always been, what’s the proper dosage? War, or more war?

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything today. And especially as it relates to Emperor Donald. And especially to my claim, in my first post on 21 July 2016 that Donald would win. And that he would then deliver the keys of the Empire to Vladimir Putin, the Emperor-in-waiting.

We know Donald won, of course. But is he actually trying to deliver the Empire to our ‘enemy’? And what does this have to do with Hillel and Shammai? Everything, Komrade.

Once Mosaic Judaism died with the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was replaced in the hearts of the remaining (that is, un-repentant) Jews with the disputations of the remaining Rabbi’s. These disputes (friendly or otherwise) between the Rabbis (exemplified by Rabbis Hillel and Shammai) were later codified into what we know as the Talmud. The Old Testament was replaced by the Oral Tradition. OT, replaced by OT. Here’s the beginning of the semantic twists that have befuddled the world unto today. The world where the Talmud corrects the Torah. Funny thing, that’s exactly what the Koran purports to do as well. But that’s another story.

These Talmudic disputations are played out before our very eyes still today, on the opposing op-ed pages of the NY Times (Hillel) and the Wall Street Journal (Shammai). Each side claims it will ‘repair the world’. Each side says “If only I ruled the world things would be better”. And this logic always leads to war. This dialectic clash is at the heart of the Talmud. The heart of every Empire.

Both sides, Neo-Con and Still-Left, agree on the root of the problem: Russia. And both sides are pushing for a war to eradicate ‘the problem’. The problem of Russia.

Let’s make a few basic assumptions and see if they can lead us to somewhere besides where we are today. And where we have been for a few thousand years. I’m not just speaking to the West. I’m speaking to the East as well. Both sides have been locked into their respective Imperial paradigms for at least a thousand years, and far more so in the West. The question now is this: must there be a war?

Can we agree that there is an actual Evil Empire? Let’s make assumption (as I have done in my book) that at this time in history there are actually two evil empires. This would not be unusual. Any quick review of history will show that there have been plenty of instances where there have been two (or more) empires at a given time. Rome and Parthia, for example.

If empires are made up of formerly independent kingdoms, then ’empire’ is another word for subjugation. Thus, according to my thinking, any empire is in this sense evil, as it is a negation of the freedom of subjected nations. Subjection to the rule of the Emperor, who has no particular care for the rights of his subject nations. Nations are legitimate entities. Empires are not. But that’s not to say God can’t use them for His purposes. Which, by the way, generally involves chastising errant nations. Like Israel. Like us?

Next, in spite of the MSM, let us assume another seemingly startling possibility, that the people of one empire are not necessarily hostile to the people of another empire. I’m referring to the little people, not their rulers and their apparatchiks. Do little-guy American really want to kill little-guy Russians? Do little-guy Russians really want to kill all Americans? No, but can they be led to do this? Yes, unfortunately, they can.

How does this unfortunate situation occur? Well, let’s make a further assumption, that there can be good men on each side who have been blinded to the difference between Man and God. In the West, let’s take Pat Buchanan as an example of a good man who faithfully served Emperor Nixon (although in all fairness, Pat has awakened to the duality of evil). Everything Pat said in the past about the Western Empire’s nemesis (Russia) was veritably true. His problem was that (until recently) he never looked into the proverbial mirror.

Let’s assume Buchanan has an Eastern counterpart. Let’s call him Aleksandr Dugin. And let’s attribute the same accomplishments (and failings) to him. He is, after all, the apparently close advisor to Vladimir Putin, the Eastern Emperor. Dugin is a man who has unfailingly pointed out, in his many books and articles, the hypocrisy of Western Emperors. Again, like Buchannan, almost all that Dugin says about the Western Empire is also very true. But he too is averse to mirrors.

Here is a funny thing about these two advisors to the opposed Emperors: they both embrace the true faith. Neither of them will shrink from the words ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic’. At least, as long as we don’t capitalize all four of these words. Alexander won’t go for that yet. But three out of four ain’t bad, eh? So far, at least.

Having said that, I think it behooves us to look more closely at Aleksandr Dugin. Because he has not had his epiphany yet. I’m not sure he will. Nevertheless, he is right in many ways as he tells the story as seen through Eastern eyes.

What is this story that Mr. Dugin recounts to Vlad? Never mind that the basic core of the story is true. And never mind that Vlad listens only because it satisfies his desire. His desire for Russia to rule all the world. Regardless of whether you believe Vlad sees himself as Tsar or Commissar, the result would be the same. Hegemony, writ large. Yes, this is the same desire any Western Emperor has. But I’m not yet convinced Donald really wants to be an Emperor. Plenty of his henchmen do. Likewise his political opponents.

The primary tale Dugin recounts is one that was first sung by a Westerner, Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of Geopolitics. The man who saw that all of Imperial history has been the struggle of the Sea People versus the Land People. Coastland versus Continent. Mackinder saw that the struggle between the two would be waged in the intermediate ‘Rimlands’ that separate the two. Think of Germany as it tried to fight both Empires in WWII.

Dugin, to his credit, understands this theory, and applies it to the historical perspective that he serves up to Vlad, in his attempts to get Vlad to act decisively in response to Western pressure. My only question here is this: is Vlad the freshman, or is Dugin? It will become clearer in time. In my mind, Vlad is no puppet of Dugin. Maybe somebody else’s puppet, but not Dugin’s. Vlad’s no saint either. Not yet, at least.

If you accept these thoughts of equally-evil Empires, served by equally devout good men who don’t realize they have been blinded by the evil of their opponents, you will have no friends left. But you will have an ecumenical gathering of enemies. And isn’t that what today is all about, Komrade—ecumenism? For a good example, look at how the mainstream Republican and Democratic operatives have all, in unison, denounced Donald for his refusal to call Russia ‘our enemy’.

Let’s look a little closer at Dugin, and his portrait of Vlad in his book Putin vs Putin. Focus on Dugin’s portrayal of Vlad as a man who is (or has been) indecisive. Yes, you read that correctly: indecisive. I know it’s a ridiculous assertion from a Western perspective. But bear with Dugin as he makes his uniquely Russian case.

Look back at Mackinder’s epiphany about the Land and the Sea, and the peoples thereon. Where else does this comparison occur in history quite a bit farther back in time? Well, pilgrim, who are the original Land people? And who are the original Sea people? Look no further than your Bible. For all of the ancient Fathers have taught that the Jews were the people of dry land, while the inchoate (Red) sea was representative of the Gentiles. The continent, versus the incontinent. The restrained versus the libertines. In the mind of all little Russians, who would Israel be today?

In this we see something interesting. Something that coincides with Dugin’s claim that Orthodox Russia has “been chosen by Divine Providence for a special mission. I do not draw a clear distinction between Orthodox messianism and the spirit of the Russian people; they are two sides of the same coin” (p. 61). Simply put, Russians like Dugin see Russia as the New Israel. Just as Buchannan used to see America as the new Israel.

Is Dugin unique to Russia? After all, he claims on the same page that “I am personally a strictly observant Orthodox Christian and wish you to be the same”. Earlier in the book he claims that Vlad was rumored to be (like himself) an Old Believer. That is, one whose beliefs are congruent with the times before Peter the Great. Who was, by their reckoning, the Anti-Christ. At least, as far as Russia was concerned. I contend that Dugin is correct: most (little) Russians see Putin as a man sent from God, to fulfill the Russian messianic role of saving all mankind.

What does Dugin say that ‘indecisive’ Putin must do in order to save Russia from the West? He says that Putin must quit dallying with social liberalism (from a marketplace perspective). And that he must fully embrace ‘traditionalism’ in both the values he espouses as well as the markets he rules.

Now we know all about the values Vlad touts. Pro-family, anti-gay. Pro-nationality, anti-cosmopolitan. Pro-local, anti-global. Pro-communitarianism, anti-individualistic. (No, I didn’t mean to write ‘pro-communism’. Vlad and Dugin both see communism as an aberrant Western form of individualism imported by Western revolutionaries. Starting with Peter the Great and ending with the Bolsheviks.)

Dugin sees Vlad as someone who has, indecisively, tried to straddle the fence, allowing the Church to flourish again (by promoting the values stated above), while still allowing a modicum of decadence and corruption in the marketplace. Clearly, to Dugin, these are antithetical positions. Dugin wants to see Vlad stop that silliness. And to stop it now.

Dugin understands that Vlad has been forced to straddle this fence because it is impossible to eradicate corruption and venality overnight. He says Vlad has decided to attack outside (Western) sources of corruption first, and then clamp down on internal sources later. Yet Dugin keeps harping that Vlad must do this sooner rather than later, or risk losing the people’s support. For the little people, after all, support all that Vlad has done. From Chechnya to Crimea to Ukraine. Why do they support him? Because he’s Making Russia Great Again! Sound familiar?

How does Dugin propose that Vlad should accomplish this task of unifying his message and his policies? Dugin, of course, is the apostle of ‘Eurasianism’. He says Vlad has embarked on the task of eradicating the uni-polar world he inherited from Yeltsin by creating a multi-polar world that frees Russia (and everyone else) from the globalist grip of Liberalism. In other words, from the grip of the Western Empire. And the way to do this is by turning Russia (again) towards the East. To China. To India. To Iran. To Turkey. To anything east of Jerusalem. That is what his Eurasian Union proposal is all about. He intends to establish marketplace power in markets that the West cannot dominate. In return, Russia will offer its partners preferred access to Russian energy and mineral wealth, and just as importantly, to her arms. Her loving arms.

Just as importantly, Vlad sees the advantage of making these same offers to the ‘Rimlands’ of Central Europe. A good example is the NordStream-2 gas pipeline that will increase Germany’s addiction to Russian gas. The price of the gas goes down as European resentment of Donald’s demands go up. The eventual goal is to establish one Eurasian power, from Lisbon to Vladivostok. While Russia is singing the song of ‘multi-polarity’ today, it is easy to see how this song might have a new refrain added as things progress. But forget that for the moment. Ask yourself this: if Vlad wants the headache of running the Eastern Hemisphere, why not let him?

Here’s how Dugin puts it: “Putin’s nuclear Russia is a great island…it is perfectly suitable for waging external revolutionary struggle. It is a wonderful base for training people who need to promote eschatological revolutionary activities on a global scale” (p280). Do you see the problem, Komrade? See those two words? Revolutionary and eschatological? We’re talking something much bigger than Communist grandiosity here, my friend. We are talking about the End Times, in the eyes of the Russians. Equally frightening is the apocalyptic vision of the Neo-Cons, (Hillel and Shammai both) in the now-atheistic West.

We’re approaching the showdown of the Empires. There’s only one way out of this looming confrontation. It takes two to tango, no? So if the existence of two antithetical Empires leads inexorably to an armed clash, the logical (and merciful) answer is simple. Subtract one Empire. Before they clash, that is.

Is this what Donald is seeing? Is this why he is willing to tell Europe Adios, amigos? Why he’s willing to refuse to risk nuclear war for new NATO members like Montenegro? Why he’s willing to tell Angland to choose between European sterility and American fecundity? Why he’s willing, even eager, to tell all of those who have ridden the American gravy-train for free for 75 years to start paying up or to get off at the next stop? And why he wants to defuse the artificially generated animosity between the peoples of Russia and America? Is this what he senses?

Let’s agree that indeed this is what Donald sees and desires. What then is the cost of subtracting one Empire from this equation of confrontation? What price must be paid? We know, based on the messianic writings of almost every Russian of note, from Monk Nestor over a thousand years ago, to Aleksandr Dugin today, that Russia truly sees herself in a messianic role as the savior of mankind. They will not yield in this vision. It is we who must withdraw if we are to avoid the clash that will most certainly involve the possibility (if not probability) of a nuclear confrontation.

Let us confront the true cost of Empire: pride. We must shed ourselves of this grandiose vision of American Exceptionality that has led us to the subjugation of all that is not Eurasian. The current Western attempt to subdue Eurasia, that is Russia, represents the last step in our downward march towards destruction. Are we really willing to make that move?

What then is the alternative? How do we lay down this Imperial burden without laying down our lives? It’s simple, my friend. Let us simply be a nation. Let us be strong, but not be an Empire. A nation fortified, a nation satisfied, a nation gratified. Fortified with the strength we currently possess. Gratified with the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us, in spite of our past hubristic pride. And satisfied with the astounding resources He has already given us. What more do we really need?

Chapter 1 Excerpt from Uncertainty: The Soul of Probability, Modeling & Statistics

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Necessary & Conditional Truth

Given “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” the proposition “x>z” is true (I am assuming logical knowledge here, which I don’t discuss until Chapter 2). But it would be false in general to claim, “It is true that ‘x>z‘.” After all, it might be that “x = 17 and z = 32“; if so, “x>z” is false. Or it might be that “x = 17 and z = 17“, then again “x>z” is false. Or maybe “x = a boatload and z = a humongous amount”, then “x>z” is undefined or unknown unless there is tacit and complete knowledge of precisely how much is a boatload and how much is a humongous amount (which is doubtful). We cannot dismiss this last example, because a great portion of human discussions of uncertainty are pitched in this way.

Included in the premise “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” are not just the raw information of the proposition about numbers, but the tacit knowledge we have of the symbol >, of what “natural numbers” are, and even what “and” and “are” mean. This is so for any argument which we wish to make. Language, in whatever form, must be used. There must therefore be an understanding of and about definitions, language and grammar, in any argument if any progress is to be made. These understandings may be more or less obvious depending on the argument. It is well to point out that many fallacies (and the best jokes) are founded on equivocation, which is the intentional or not misunderstanding double- or multiple-meanings of words or phrases. This must be kept in mind because we often talk about how the mathematical symbols of our formulae translate to real objects, how they matter to real-life decisions. A caution not heard frequently enough: just because a statement is mathematically true does not mean that the statement has any bearing on reality. Later we talk about how the deadly sin of reification occurs when this warning is ignored.

We have an idea what it means to say of a proposition that it is true or false. This needs to be firmed up considerably. Take the proposition “a proposition cannot be both true and false simultaneously”. This proposition, as I said above, is true. That means, to our state of mind, there exists evidence which allows us to conclude this proposition is true. This evidence is in the form of thought, which is to say, other propositions, all of which include our understanding of the words and English grammar, and of phrases like “we cannot believe its contrary.” There are also present tacit (not formal) rules of logic about how we must treat and manipulate propositions. Each of these conditioning propositions or premises can in turn be true or false (i.e. known to be true or false) conditional on still other propositions, or on inductions drawn upon sense impressions and intellections. That is, we eventually must reach a point at which a proposition in front of us just is true. There is no other evidence for this kind of truth other than intellection. Observations and sense impressions will give partial support to most propositions, but they are never enough by themselves except for the direct impressions. I explore this later in the Chapter on Induction.

In mathematics, logic, and philosophy popular kinds of propositions which are known to be true because induction tells us so are called axioms. Axioms are indubitable—when considered. Arguments for an axiom’s truth are made like this: given these specific instances, thus this general principle or axiom. I do not claim, and it is not true, that everybody knows every axiom. The arguments for axioms must first be considered before they are believed. A good example is the principal of non-contradiction, a proposition which we cannot know is false (though, given we are human, we can always claim it is false). As said, for every argument we need an understanding of its words and grammar, and, for non-contradiction specifically, maybe the plain observation of a necessarily finite number of instance of propositions that are only true or only false, observations which are consonant with the axiom, but which are none of them the full proof of the proposition: there comes a point at which we just believe and, indeed, cannot do other than know the truth. Another example is one of Peano’s axioms. For every natural number, if x = y then y = x. We check this through specific examples, and then move via induction to the knowledge that it is true for every number, even those we have not and, given our finiteness, cannot consider. Axioms are known to be true based on the evidence and faith that our intellects are correctly guiding us.

This leads to the concept of the truly true, really true, just-plain true, universally, absolutely, or the necessarily true. These are propositions, like those in mathematics, that are known to be true given a valid and sound chain of argument which leads back to indubitable axioms. It is not possible to doubt axioms or necessary truths, unless there be a misunderstanding of the words or terms or chain of proof or argument involved (and this is, of course, possible, as any teacher will affirm). Necessary truths are true even if you don’t want them to be, even if they provoke discomfort, which (again of course) they sometimes do. Peter Kreeft said: “As Aristotle showed, [all] ‘backward doubt’ terminates in two places: psychologically indubitable immediate sense experience and logically indubitable first principles such as ‘X is not non-X’ in theoretical thinking and ‘Good is to be done and evil to be avoided’ in practical thinking”.

A man in the street might look at the scratchings of a mathematical truth and doubt the theorem, but this is only because he doesn’t comprehend what all those strange symbols mean. He may even say that he “knows” the theorem is false—think of the brave soul who claims to have squared the circle. It must be stressed that this man’s error arises from his not comprehending the whole of the argument. Which of the premises of the theorem he is rejecting, and this includes tacit premises of logic and other mathematical results, is not known to us (unless the man makes this clear). The point is that if it were made plain to him what every step in the argument was, he must consent. If he does not, he has not comprehended at least one thing or he has rejected at least one premise, or perhaps substituted his own unaware. This is no small point, and the failure to appreciate it has given rise to the mistaken subjective theory of probability. Understanding the whole of an argument is a requirement to our admitting a necessary truth (our understanding is obviously not required of the necessary truth itself!).

From this it follows that when a mathematician or physicist says something akin to, “We now know Flippenberger’s theorem is true”, his “we” does not, it most certainly does not, encompass all of humanity; it applies only to those who can and have followed the line of reason which appears in the proof. That another mathematician or physicist (or man in the street) who hears this statement, but whose specialty is not Flippenbergerology, conditional on trusting the first mathematician’s word, also believes Flippenberger’s theorem is true, is not making (to himself) the same argument as the theory’s proponent. He instead makes a conditional truth statement: to him, Flippenberger’s theorem is conditionally true, given the premise of accepting the word of the first mathematician or physicist. Of course, necessary truths are also conditional as I have just described, so the phrase “conditional truth” is imperfect, but I have not been able to discover one better to my satisfaction. Local or relative truth have their merits, but their use could encourage relativists to believe they have a point, which they do not.

Besides mathematical propositions, there are plenty other of necessary truths that we know. “I exist” is popular, and only claimed to be doubted by the insane or (paradoxically) by attention seekers. “God exists” is another: those who doubt it are like circle-squarers who have misunderstood or have not (yet) comprehended the arguments which lead to this proposition. “There are true propositions” always delights and which also has its doubters who claim it is true that it is false. In Chapter 2 we meet more.

There are an infinite number and an enormous variety of conditional truths that we do and can know. I don’t mean to say that there are not an infinite number of necessary truths, because I have no idea, though I believe it; I mean only that conditional truths form a vaster class of truths in everyday and scientific discourse. We met one conditional truth above in “x>z“. Another is, given “All Martians wear hats and George is a Martian” then it is conditionally true that “George wears a hat.” The difference in how we express this “truth is conditional” is plain enough in cases like hat-wearing Martians. Nobody would say, in a general setting, “It’s true that Martians wear hats.” Or if he did, nobody would believe him. This disbelief would be deduced conditional on the observationally true proposition, “There are no Martians”.

We sometimes hear people claim conditional truths are necessary truths, especially in moral or political contexts. A man might say, “College professors are intolerant of dissent” and believe he is stating a necessary truth. Yet this cannot be a necessary truth, because no sound valid chain of argument anchored to axioms can support it. But it may be an extrapolation from “All the many college professors I have observed have been intolerant of dissent”, in which case the proposition is still not a necessary truth, because (as we’ll see) observational statements like this are fallible. Hint: The man’s audience, if it be typical, might not believe the “All” in the argument means all, but only “many”. But that substitution does not make the proposition “Many college professors are intolerant of dissent” necessarily true, either.

Another interesting possibility is in the proposition “Some college professors are intolerant of dissent,” where some is defined as at least one and potentially all. Now if a man hears that and recalls, “I have met X, who is a college professor, and she was intolerant of dissent”, then conditional on that evidence the proposition of interest is conditionally true. Why isn’t it necessarily true? Understand first that the proposition is true for you, too, dear reader, if we take as evidence “I have met X, etc.” Just as “George wears a hat” was conditionally true on the other explicit evidence. It may be that you yourself have not met X, nor any other intolerant-of-dissent professor, but that means nothing for the epistemological status of these two propositions. But it now becomes obvious why the proposition of interest is not necessarily true: because the supporting evidence “I have met X, etc.” cannot be held up as necessarily true itself: there is no chain of sound argument leading to indubitable axioms which guarantees it is a logically necessity that college professors must be intolerant of dissent. (Even if it sometimes seems that way.)

We only have to be careful because when people speak or write of truths they are usually not careful to tell us whether they have in mind a necessary or only a conditional truth. Much grief is caused because of this.

One point which may not be obvious. A necessary truth is just true. It is not true because we have a proof of it’s truth. Any necessary truth is true because of something, but it makes no sense to ask why this is so for any necessary truth. Why is the principle of non-contradiction true? What is it that makes it true? Answer: we do not know. It is just is true. How do we know it is true? Via a proof, by strings of deductions from accepted premises and using induction, the same way we know if any proposition is true. We must ever keep separate the epistemological from the ontological. There is a constant danger of mistaking the two. Logic and probability are epistemological, and only sometimes speak or aim at the ontological. Probability is always a state of the mind and not a state of the universe.

Atheists Will Have No Excuse

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There is a class of the argument of God’s existence that depend entirely on your thoughts. The one that interests us is Joseph de Maistre’s “no excuse” argument. It is less well known than Saint Anselm’s “ontological argument”, which is worth a few moments puzzling over.

Anselm’s argument runs like this:

  1. You have some idea, even as an atheist, about who God is;
  2. God is “a being than which none greater can be imagined”; that is, it is impossible to think of a being greater than God;
  3. Beings that exist in reality are greater than those that exist only in the mind, because existing itself is a good;
  4. But we cannot think of a greater being than God;
  5. Therefore, God exist.

Everybody agrees with the first step in the argument. And there seems to be no real controversy in the second and third steps. It’s step four that makes us think some sleight-of-hand has been pulled.

It’s true existence is a good, and it seems to be true we can’t think of any being greater than God. So we can’t think of a being who actually exists greater than God. So it must be this being about whom none greater can exist must himself exist. Right?

Many think not. The argument seems to conjure God’s existence out of our thoughts, or even hopes. It’s hard to escape the notion that a circularity or flaw is buried somewhere, but it’s tough to finger.

But not impossible. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that since we cannot know the full nature of God, it is thus not possible for us to absolutely think of “a being than which none greater can be imagined”. This necessarily limited understanding of God is the reason Anselm’s argument fails to be completely convincing.

We can’t know all about the nature of God—we are, after all, limited creatures. But we can know some of God’s nature. What does that imply? De Maistre said it led to another argument of God’s existence.

Joseph de Maistre was a Catholic reactionary chased from France after Napoleon came to power. And not because he was a friend to the French Revolution. Nor was he keen on the then-fresh scientific materialism of Francis Bacon, which de Maistre perceived would lead to rampant atheism.

Bacon didn’t think much of Anslem. Bacon thought it “absurd” the claim that “men have found by reason the existence of a being of which they cannot form any idea.” (All quotes are from de Maistre’s An Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon in the chapter “Of God and Intelligence”.)

De Maistre countered “To maintain that we have no idea of God because we cannot have a perfect idea, and that it is absolutely the same thing not to know what he is, or if he is, is not only blasphemy against God himself, it is also a blasphemy against good sense.”

That’s step one of de Maistre’s proof. Step two is the truism “we can affirm nothing of what does not exist.” To affirm is greater than to state. Thus we can affirm facts about horses, but we can only make statements about unicorns. There is no way to affirm anything about unicorns, because they do not exist.

Now the man who says “I have no idea of God, contradicts himself without knowing it; for it is precisely as if he said that he has an idea of which he has no idea.” And “The very fool who says God is not affirms that he has an idea of him, for no mind can deny an unknown existence.” To deny God is to deny something.

De Maistre needs only one more step. “How could man receive a new truth if did not carry within him an interior truth, an innate rule by which he judges the other?” Any teaching, human or divine, is a revelation—a revealing. We must have inbuilt a (even if flawed) sense of which arguments work and which not. To deny that is to affirm it. This sense must be of divine origin. De Maistre of course does not say, but this sense could not be biological in origin and simultaneously trustworthy: you could never know if your genes were lying to you.

In a word, the goal of revelation is only to lead the human mind to read in itself what the divine hand has traced there; and revelation would be worthless if reason, after the divine teaching, was not rendered capable of demonstrating to itself the revealed truths, just as mathematical teaching, or any other human teaching, is only recognized as true and legitimate when reason, examining the theorems on the eternal rule hidden in the depths of its essence, says to the human revelation, YOU ARE RIGHT, that is to say, you are reason.


God speaks to all men by the idea of himself that he has placed in us by this idea that would be impossible if it did not come from him, he says to us: IT IS I! Those who are called atheists reply: How could this be you, since you do not exist?

De Maistre concludes: This is why they will be inexcusable. This of course echoes St Paul: For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

This bumps against St Thomas’s other rebuttal of Anselm: “No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident; as the Philosopher (Metaph. iv, lect. vi) states concerning the first principles of demonstration. But the opposite of the proposition ‘God is’ can be mentally admitted: ‘The fool said in his heart, There is no God’ (Psalm 53:2). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident.”

That we cannot know God does not exist, given we can have some idea of God, is self-evident, says de Maistre. A fool can always reject a truth, out of mere stubbornness or petulence if nothing else.

Even so, it’s hard to escape the notion that de Maistre—besides his excellent point about partial knowledge—assumed what he sought to prove, here in the step where he asserted our reason must be God-given. This is surely true, but there might be a way to bring in CS Lewis’s famous argument against biological confirmations of reason to support de Maistre at his weak point.

Book Sneak Peek: Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy

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All, here is a segment, a tease, a mere fragment, of an upcoming book of popular fallacies from the chapter Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy. The Imposing Your Belief Fallacy occurs when somebody says, “You should not impose your beliefs”, which, of course, is an attempt to impose the speaker’s beliefs, and so the command is self-contradictory.

A pertinent example. In the early fall of 2017, Senator Diane Feinstein, a secular Jew (which needs mentioning because of the role religion and group identity plays), in her official role of senatorial inquisitor was questioning Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor from Notre Dame, who was nominated for a federal appellate court judgeship. Feinstein is in favor of would-be mothers having the “right” to kill the lives that live inside them, ensconced (in the United States anyway) in the law decided in Roe v. Wade. Barrett is a Catholic who professes belief in that religion’s stance on abortion, which is that such killing is always immoral, akin to murder, and thus the height of selfishness.

Feinstein was concerned Barrett would draw upon her religious beliefs in making future rulings about abortion. Feinstein said,

You are controversial. Let’s start with that. You’re controversial because many of us who have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems, and {\it Roe} entered into that, obviously. You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail.”

She also said, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” We grant that Feinstein had no choice but to live her life as a woman. Incidentally, to prove Americans still have a sense of humor, Feinstein’s “dogma lives loudly” quip instantly became of catchphrase among traditionalist Catholics. Almost before she was done speaking, t-shirts with the slogan were available.

Now there are all sorts of legal quibbles about Feinstein’s method of questioning that are of no concern to us; for instance, whether it is legal or “Constitutional” to ask the question Feinstein did. The point here is that Feinstein implicitly invoked the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy. She did not want Barrett’s values to be used in deciding legal questions pertinent to abortion, but she did want her (Feinstein’s) values to be used. Feinstein was anxious to continue to impose her beliefs on the nation.

Feinstein’s tactic of highlighting Barrett’s religious beliefs fails because there is no point in which a religious person’s life is not touched by her religious beliefs, no matter how weak that touch. Of course Barrett’s views on abortion, informed as they are by Catholic dogma, will be used by her in deciding abortion litigation and on matters regarding human life. One can imagine purely bureaucratic or technical rulings associated with abortion which are, at best, faintly religious; for instance, deciding what date hearings will be scheduled on an abortion matter and so forth. But it is just as obvious Feinstein’s religious views arising from her secular background inform her own votes on these matters. Somebody has to win these debates and decide the law of the land; therefore, somebody’s views will be imposed.

It does not matter that Barrett ran from Feinstein’s accusatory fallacy and hid behind the law saying she would “follow unflinchingly all Supreme Court precedent.” That is, it would not matter except if she meant by that that she would readily abandon her Catholic beliefs in the face of precedent, or that she meant she didn’t really hold her religious views strongly. All that matters is Feinstein believed Barrett’s faith was genuine, and thus Feinstein’s line of argument was fallacious.

Because Feinstein’s argument was fallacious, Feinstein bullied Barrett, or tried to. A practice which, I hasten to add, is well accepted in politics. If Barrett estimates she will once in office be unable to blunt these barbs, she ought to consider remaining in the Ivory Tower. Feinstein’s bullying revealed the majority position of the ruling elite (a view which may not be the majority belief of the entire populace). Feinstein argued from a position of strength, taking her own views on abortion as granted and accepted by right-thinking people. So natural are these beliefs to her that she did not see that she imposes her own beliefs. Her failure to recognize minority viewpoints is why the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy exists.

The Why & Frequency Of Miracles: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part IV

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Read Part I, II, III.


That miracles have supernatural origins is true by definition (see below, in PROBABILITY). Miracles, like all events, must have causes, and cause has motive as part of its aspect, as we have already seen. God must have wanted to perform the miracle, else, of course, He would not have done it.

Shapiro, however, says “God’s intentions, desires, habits, and so on are simply not available to us. Whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative—guesses, really.” Both statements are (at least sometimes) false. If Jesus were God, as he claimed, then his intentions, desires, and habits were known and available. Deciding whether the miracle that a man can be God is a separate question. God’s, or Jesus’s, or even the Holy Spirit’s motives are not always plain, of course, but when a man begs Jesus to be made well, and Jesus heals the man miraculously, the motivation is clear.

If Shapiro is not an empiricist, he plays one in the book. Divining God’s attributes and nature, in our limited and fractured way, is the topic of theology and metaphysics (did you see the bad joke?). It can be done, and has. (See this series.) So Shapiro is wrong because he insists on measurement even when it cannot be had. He asks, “But how do we verify assumptions about God’s characteristics and ‘personality’?” How do we verify there are an infinity of numbers? Answer: we do not and cannot verify it. But we all believe it. An empiricist cannot believe it, however, because he cannot verify it. No math for Shapiro, then, nor logic. Also, that we cannot measure God’s attributes, though we can deduce some, is not a refutation that all our deductions are wrong. Instead, empiricism is a fallacy.

Shapiro’s main conclusion is that since, he says, we cannot discern God’s motives, then we “have no justification for believing” in miracles. “[B]ecause,” he says about one instance, “verification of either assumption [about motives] is impossible—we can’t simply ask Oprah to sit down with a divine entity for an interview about it goals and methods—we’re not justified in believing either of them.” And from this supposed lack of knowledge of motive he concludes “inference to supernatural causes is never justified.” That is the gist of the entire book.

Shapiro fails to see that motive can be guessed about some miraculous claims: that motivation is part of the inference to an explanation, when it accounts for the assumed metaphysics and theology. Shapiro assumes his own, but fails to see they are his own. He also did not acknowledge that we cannot always know motives even in mundane events, such as the example which opened this review (ball on table placed by Alice, Bob, or Charlie). Alice could walk in the room and say “I did it”, but Shapiro would have to reject her claim because he did not learn why she did it. With God, we sometimes do know the motive: He tells us. And sometimes we do not. In any case, that we do not does not mean what happened did not happen (if something indeed happened).

That Shapiro has fallen into these errors is because he attempts to divorce his metaphysics, about which he is mainly wrong, from his epistemology, which he misuses.


Shapiro thinks an event’s improbability is what, in part, makes it a miracle: “the more unlikely the occurrence, the more reason to believe that something supernatural is taking place,” and “miracles should be extremely improbable.” His two criteria for miraculous are:

1. Extremely improbable: a miracle should be unlike anything we have seen before. It should be contrary to everything we know about how the world works.

2. Supernatural: a miracle can’t have a natural explanation. It must be the product of supernatural and typically divine agency.

The second criterion is not controversial. The first is incorrect. The problem is, no miracle has a probability: no event does either. Nothing has a probability, not even the roll of a die. That means improbability cannot be used to judge the veracity of a miracle, or of anything.

Probability is only defined with respect to assumed evidence. Miracles, then, are more or less probable depending on the evidence for or against them that it accepted or assumed. It is the same for any event.

It is however easy to see why Shapiro (or anybody) would say why walking on water is improbable. It is because he gathers evidence of his experience and discovers, in relation to that, such events do not often happen, or have never happened (to his knowledge), and that he cannot think of a cause. Gathered, that evidence makes the event improbable. But, at least to to the one doing the act, who knows the cause (in all its aspects), the probability is certain.

Think about a non miracle, like being struck by lightning. Nobody “has” a probability of being struck by lightning. A golfer standing on hillock in a thunderstorm is under different circumstances than an office drone seated as his desk in a skyscraper. Their circumstances differ in ways we know to be related to the causes of lightning, hence their probabilities differ. Indeed, the golfer and drone may be the same man at different times. Probability solely depends on the evidence believed or assumed. If the evidence changes, the probability changes.

Shapiro finally attempts to turn improbability into a reason not to believe miracles, by referencing the base rate fallacy. This is a real fallacy and old saw (regular readers will well recognize it), introduced in every elementary probability book when Bayes’s theorem arrives. How worried should an asymptomatic women, aged 40-60, with no family history of breast cancer, be when the mammogram comes back positive, considering the mammogram is right (say) 99.9% of the time? Not that worried, as it turns out, because conditional on the information assumed the base rate of cancer is small. A positive mammogram adds to the evidence and increases the probability of cancer only a little. The fallacy comes in supposing the probability of cancer is close to the accuracy of the test.

This is applied to claims of miracles by first assuming miracles are rare, and then assuming claims of miracles are imperfect to some degree in the same way medical tests are. Going only by the “base rate” of miracles, the probability of a miracle is small. Add to the evidence a good but possibly imperfect report, and the probability of the miracle does rise, but it still remains small overall. “The absolutely crucial point is that when we are faced with testimony about something very improbable, such as an alien abduction, we have to ask ourselves one question: What is more likely—that the event really happened, as the witness reports, or that some other explanation for the testimony is true?”

This is a fine question which, as Shapiro says, should and must be asked. Notice it relates to cause, both of the purported event but also of the motivation of the reporter. Not everybody who relates a miracle properly interpreted what they saw, and not everybody tells the full truth. It therefore makes sense to examine every claim critically. And it even makes sense, as in the case of alien abductions, to ignore the claim, given the base information that heretofore all such events critically examined have proved false, or were very likely false (given the evidence accumulated in the investigation). This is because, given all past events like this were false or probably false, we judge the probability high that the newest claim will also be false or likely false.

But this does not work for miracles, for three reasons. One, not all claims of miracles have been proven false or likely false; some have been proved true or likely true. Thus, it is worth investigating substantial new claims, and worth ignoring insubstantial ones (like faces in burnt toast; notice how decision is wrapped up in this). Two, since miracles do not have probabilities, they do not have base rates. Their probability only makes sense with respect to assumed evidence. We can assume their near impossibility, making them immune to any report à la Hume, but this becomes a circular argument (a well known criticism). Three, if we were to rule out any report of unlikely events, nobody who (say) claimed (say) to win the lottery could ever be believed (lottery probabilities specify the precise evidence with which to calculate their probabilities).

Shaprio is finally wrong again, because rarity does not define miracles. Every day in tens of thousands of churches, the miracle of transforming nature of bread in the Body of Christ occurs. Another miracle is the universe being held in existence from moment to moment. Rarity doesn’t enter into it.