Thursday, October 4, 2007 35 Comments

How Dawkins got pwned (part 2)

After a brief period of vagrancy and reflection, mostly in a disconnected state, I got back the other day and actually hesitated for a couple of days to look at the thread on part 1 of this essay, which I had dispatched, with more than my usual rambling and carelessness, from Powell's in Portland. (Mrs. Moldbug and I got on the R1100R and took a motorcycle pilgrimage to Chris McCandless's bus, where we stayed up three nights in a row, just thinking, then did a bunch of acid and emptied our pistols maniacally into the woods. "Smoke dat moose!", we were chanting. "Git dem maggots! Smoke dat moose!")

Anyway. I didn't expect many comments on part 1. It's really only the first third of the essay, and it would be charitable to call it a first draft. (Fortunately the practice known, in what calls itself the real world, as "editing," is considered unethical on a blog - and rightly so.) So I was delighted to see the conversation that ensued. It strikes me as one of the best UR threads so far, and hopefully I don't need to repeat my appreciation for the quality of discussion here.

But I've decided not to respond to these comments individually, at least not yet. There are far too many of them and they are far too perspicacious. Many are answered in part 2, and more will be answered in part 3 (the last). After part 3 I will try and respond to any unanswered comments in a sort of vermiform appendix. For now, I'll confine myself to declaring that, at least here at UR, pwned alliterates with posse and rhymes with loaned.

The commenters on part 1 have certainly done an fine job of figuring out where I'm going with this. If I started with any suspense, it is gone. But please indulge me when I restate the argument in my own words - if only for clarity of further discussion.

My hypothesis is that Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist. Or as I prefer to put it, a nontheistic Christian. His "Einsteinian religion" is no more or less than the dominant present-day current of Christianity itself - "M.42," as faré so concisely put it.

If we accept this hypothesis, the conclusion that Professor Dawkins has been pwned strikes me as quite incontrovertible. He thinks he is attacking superstition on behalf of the armies of reason. In fact he is attacking M.41 on behalf of the armies of M.42. D'oh!

Of course, I'm sure Professor Dawkins is quite sincere in his beliefs. Hosts always are. However, he has devoted a remarkable level of ratiocinative attention to one phenotypically insignificant meme - the God delusion - in which M.42 conflicts with M.41. My view is that this behavior is best explained by memetic infection, ie, pwnage.

I share Professor Dawkins' preference for the derived M.42 meme, at least at this one spot on the chromosome. But I can't help observing that (a) M.42 and M.41 are both large and intricate memeplexes; (b) it strikes me as by no means obvious that when M.42 and M.41 are compared in toto, M.42 is more reasonable or less morbid than M.41; (c) M.42 (like M.41) includes many other memes which replicate via the same arational indoctrination paths as the God delusion; and (d) while some of the M.42 (and M.41) memes are quite reasonable, others strike me as inadequately examined at best, transparently preposterous at worst.

Ergo, pwning Professor Dawkins is quite adaptive for M.42. It focuses potential hosts on the question of whether M.42 is superior to M.41 on this particular point - as it clearly is. This distracts them from considering the more general and interesting question of whether or not M.42, considered by itself, is stark raving bonkers, and if so constructing a reasonable perspective which is reassembled from scratch and which can correct both M.42 and M.41.

I would love to see Professor Dawkins rotate his impressive intellectual artillery to this angle. But if I'm right that his neocortex has been devoured and replaced by a foam of M.42 cysts, I wouldn't exactly hold my breath. Megaloponera foetens to the white courtesy phone.

My interpretation makes sense if and only if the following claims are sensible:
  1. The concept of "nontheistic Christianity" is coherent.
  2. "Einsteinian religion" is best classified as a sect of nontheistic Christianity.
  3. This sect is the most successful version of Christianity today.
  4. It includes propositions which are inconsistent with reason.
  5. These propositions are associated with significant morbidity.
Before considering these claims, let's adjust our terms a little. Precise thinking requires clear, emotionally neutral, and aesthetically elegant terminology. While in general I buy the Dawkinsian model of "memetics," I think it falls short on all these counts.

Let's call a memeplex stable enough to propagate across generations a tradition. Not only is this an actual word in the actual English language, it also has the virtue of being ajudgmental. Surely anyone who is not a complete, foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic, of whatever persuasion, can admit that the world contains both good traditions and bad traditions.

An individual infected by such a memeplex is a host who subscribes to the tradition. If the subject and object must be reversed, the tradition directs the host. An institution which propagates some tradition is a repeater of that tradition. The name of a tradition is its label.

Specific features of traditions can be called themes. For example, the God theme is a trait of many traditions. The Trinity theme is a trait of many Christian traditions. Traditions can be taxonomically grouped and classified, along the lines of Professor Dawkins' biological analogy, and we can follow the analogy in calling a group of related traditions a clade.

Different versions of a single related theme are variants. A set of themes transmitted as a unit can be called a haplotheme (the analogy is to a haplotype). Any two themes which cannot simultaneously direct one individual conflict. We can also follow biology in referring to ancestral and derived variants, and borrow other terminology from cladistics. And the set of themes an individual subscribes to is that individual's kernel.

Like many simple bacteria, traditions have no reproductive barriers. They can exchange themes across clade lines, or introgress. Thus their taxonomy is strictly speaking not a tree, but a lattice, dag, bush, etc. As in biology, however, introgression is often insignificant at the 30,000-foot level, and we can usually get away with ignoring it.

If a theme makes a substantive claim about reality (Hume's "is"), we can call it mundane. If it makes a moral statement about right and wrong (Hume's "ought"), we can call it ethical. If it makes neither, we can call it metaphysical.

If a theme is not justified by reason, we can call it arational. Metaphysical themes are arational by definition. Mundane themes are arational if they depend on logical fallacies or violate Ockham's razor. No single ethical theme can be arational, but a set of ethical themes is arational if it ascribes mutually inconsistent ethical values to a single action. While any action can be either right or wrong, no action can be both right and wrong.

If a tradition causes its hosts to make miscalculations that compromise their personal goals, it exhibits Misesian morbidity. If it causes its hosts to act in ways that compromise their genes' reproductive interests, it exhibits Darwinian morbidity. If subscribing to the tradition is individually advantageous or neutral (defectors are rewarded, or at least unpunished) but collectively harmful, the tradition is parasitic. If subscribing is individually disadvantageous but collectively beneficial, the tradition is altruistic. If it is both individually and collectively benign, it is symbiotic. If it is both individually and collectively harmful, it is malignant. Each of these labels can be applied to either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity. A theme that is arational, but does not exhibit either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity, is trivially morbid.

Thus, one might translate the part of Professor Dawkins' argument I agree with as the claim that the God theme is arational, because the variant in which "God" interacts with earthly affairs is mundane and fallacious (being unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable), and the variant in which "God" does not interact with earthly affairs is metaphysical. At least in the latter form, I see the God theme as trivially morbid. Professor Dawkins disagrees - he associates various Misesian and Darwinian morbidities, parasitic and malignant, with various historical variants of the God theme. I see this as the result of confusing theme and haplotheme.

My counterargument is that Professor Dawkins' "Einsteinian religion" is the most successful modern-day tradition in the Christian clade, that it includes many arational themes, and that this tradition, evaluated as a whole, exhibits Misesian parasitic morbidity and Darwinian malignant morbidity. Therefore I believe it needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. I am relatively unconcerned about other Christian traditions, as I consider them of negligible present-day political power and therefore negligible collective morbidity - though, of course, this situation could always change.

Fortified by this doxology, let's get back to demonstrating pwnage.

Our first essential claim is that the concept of nontheistic Christianity is not, as most readers would probably assume at first glance, self-contradictory or meaningless.

This is very easy to see. In the biological analogy, nontheistic Christianity is a phrase in the same class as flightless bird or bipedal tetrapod. The adjective in this phrase is morphological, the noun is taxonomic. There is no contradiction at all.

Professor Dawkins is hoist by his own petard here. Since the biological analogy is his own invention, he cannot possibly object to the application of the modern cladistic method. If we classify traditions according to a single morphological feature, the God theme, we might as well classify both birds and bats as "flying, warm-blooded animals." Perhaps this was good enough for Aristotle, but it's certainly not good enough for Professor Dawkins.

We can watch Eliezer Yudkowsky, who for all his faults is certainly an intelligent young man, falling into this trap here. He implicitly classifies a wide variety of historical traditions as either theistic or nontheistic, just as a naive taxonomist might classify animals as flying or non-flying, bipedal or quadrupedal, etc. In Yudkowsky's defense, this confusion - which is inherent in the usual modern usage of the word religion - is so common as to be conventional. But that doesn't make it cogent. Overcome that bias, Eliezer! You can do it!

In my opinion, the only sensible way to classify traditions - as with species - is by ancestral structure. While the existence of introgression and the absence of reproductive isolation makes it technically impossible to construct a precise cladogram of human traditional history, we can certainly produce sensible approximations. Note that perhaps an even better analogy is to languages and linguistic history, in which cladistic classification is commonplace.

So: Professor Dawkins is an atheist. But - as his writing makes plain - atheism is not the only theme in his personal kernel. Professor Dawkins believes in many other things. He labels the tradition to which he subscribes as Einsteinian religion. Since no one else has used this label, he is entitled to define Einsteinian religion - perhaps we can just call it Einsteinism - as whatever he wants. And he has.

My observation is that Einsteinism exhibits many synapomorphies with Christianity. For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community. These might be labeled as the themes of Rawlsianism, pacifism, fraternism and communalism.

Following the first two links above will take you to UR discussions of these themes, in which I outline their evolutionary history in the Christian clade and make a case for their morbidity. I have not yet discussed fraternism and communalism, but I'll say a little about them later. If nothing else, they are certainly very easy to find in the Bible.

If Professor Dawkins was not a Christian atheist, but rather a Confucian or Buddhist atheist, or even an Islamic atheist (some clades of Sufism come daringly close to this rara avis), we would not expect to see these obvious synapomorphies with Christianity. Instead, we would expect to see synapomorphies with Confucianism, Buddhism or Islam, and we would have to construct a historical explanation of how these faiths made it to Cambridge. Fortunately we are spared this onerous task.

Nontheistic Christianity, therefore, can describe any tradition in the Christian clade in which the ancestral God theme has been replaced by the derived theme of atheism or agnosticism.

This is no more surprising than the replacement of the ancestral Trinitarian theme, which was part of all significant Christian traditions for a thousand years, with the derived Unitarian theme. Every variant of Christianity, by definition, considers itself orthodox. And as such it must question the legitimacy of any other Christian tradition which contains conflicting themes. To a good Trinitarian circa 1807, a Unitarian was simply not a Christian. Today, while most Christian traditions still officially conform to Trinitarianism, few spend a huge amount of time worrying about the Holy Ghost. If more examples are needed, denying the divinity of Jesus is another obvious intermediate form between Christian theism and Christian atheism.

We can also ignore the fact that Professor Dawkins does not classify Einsteinism as a form of Christianity, and nor do any non-Einsteinian Christian traditions. Clearly, accepting a tradition's classification of itself, or of its competitors, is foolish in the extreme. These minor thematic features are best explained adaptively.

For example, it would be maladaptive for Einsteinism to self-classify as Christian. One of the most adaptive features of M.42 is that nontheistic or secular Christianity can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor and competitor, M.41 or theistic Christianity. Considering as this set includes the most influential repeater network in the world, the US educational system, it's hard to see what could justify abandoning such a replicative advantage.

It would also be maladaptive for theistic Christianity to classify nontheistic Christianity as Christian. M.41 deploys the unchristian nature of its enemy, the dreaded "secular humanism," as a rallying point for its dwindling band of followers. If Einsteinian religion was Christian, M.41 would have to define its (increasingly ineffective) counterattack not as a defense of faith, but as a mere theological spat. Once this may have had some resonance, but in a world where God Himself is under fire, it's hard to excite anyone over such sectarian minutiae.

Therefore, I conclude that claim 1 is satisfied: nontheistic Christianity is a sensible concept.

As for claim 2, I've already described some of the links between Einsteinism and Christianity. Let's sharpen this claim, however, by proposing a hypothetical chain of events that outlines the exact historical connection.

My belief is that Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvinist atheist. In other words, he can be also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.

This cladistic taxonomy traces Professor Dawkins' intellectual ancestry back about 400 years, to the era of the English Civil War. Except of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins' kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Frankly, these dudes were freaks. Maniacal fanatics. Any mainstream English thinker of the 17th, 18th or 19th century, informed that this tradition (or its modern descendant) is now the planet's dominant Christian denomination, would regard this as a sign of imminent apocalypse. If you're sure they're wrong, you're more sure than me.

Fortunately, Cromwell himself was comparatively moderate. The extreme ultra-Puritan sects never got a solid lock on power under the Protectorate. Even more fortunately, Cromwell got old and died, and Cromwellism died with him. Lawful government was restored to Great Britain, as was the Church of England, and Dissenters became a marginal fringe again. And frankly, a damned good riddance it was.

However, you can't keep a good parasite down. A community of Puritans fled to America and founded the theocratic colonies of New England. After its military victories in the American Rebellion and the War of Secession, American Puritanism was well on the way to world domination. Its victories in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War confirmed its global hegemony. All legitimate mainstream thought on Earth today is descended from the American Puritans, and through them the English Dissenters.

Of course, the tradition evolved over time. Its theology took significant steps toward modern secularism in the form of Unitarianism, which deleted the Trinity and other points of Calvinist doctrine, and especially under Transcendentalism, which elided the nasty idea of hell and declared that God loves everyone. Many of Professor Dawkins' reveries about Einsteinian pantheistic natural grandeur are reminiscent of Emerson, who was trained as a Unitarian minister. During and after the War of Secession, New England Christianity established a cozy relationship with the Federal government, which it has continued to the present day, under labels such as liberalism and progressivism.

Two new histories of this process, though they are written by "conservatives" and thus become hopelessly confused after World War II, are David Gelernter's Americanism and George McKenna's The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. (I've only just started the latter, but so far I find it far superior, and I say this though I love Gelernter to death.) The same phenomenon was ably defined by Murray Rothbard as postmillennial pietism. For a snapshot of this terrifying militarist theocracy in action around WWI, try Richard Gamble's The War for Righteousness. (Most people probably don't know that the original noun which adjoined the adjective progressive was "Christianity.") For an especially unusual M.41-flavored look at American Puritanism replicating in its favorite niche - government schools - check out R.J. Rushdoony's Messianic Character of American Education. And for a primary-source view of this tradition at the last point in history at which it had the humility to classify itself as mere religion, rather than absolute righteousness and truth, see one of my favorite examples, this Time Magazine article from 1942 - written in the lifetime, as they used to say, of those now living. Professor Dawkins would certainly qualify as a "super-protestant" by its definition.

Of course, Professor Dawkins is not American, but English. Sharing a language and culture, however, American Puritanism (and the broader clade of American mainline Protestantism) and the English Dissenters evolved largely as a single community. For example, in the War of Secession, Britain's Anglican aristocracy tended to support the Confederates, and its Evangelical churchmen the Union. As American Puritanism won military victories and grew in political power, its British counterparts advanced as well. Everyone loves a strong horse.

After World War II, American influence ensured that the entire country was more or less surrendered to the Labour Party - the political organ of the Nonconformist tradition. The result is well described in Peter Hitchens' uber-reactionary, but quite cogent, Abolition of Britain, or somewhat more apolitically in Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom. New Labour is more or less a Cromwellian restoration, and one can only hope that its long-awaited comeuppance will be enlivened by the hanging of a corpse or two.

Professor Dawkins himself was raised as a high-church Anglican, an animal now essentially extinct on Planet Three. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is so low-church, it's surprising he can preach anywhere but an underground parking garage. If he were any lower-church, he'd be in either Hell or China. And as of late, the so-called Tories have undergone the same degrading humiliation. In the UK, any significant resistance to "super-protestantism" is now a footnote of history. The country's descent into sheer ecstatic barbarism, as long foretold by critics of the Nonconformist ascendancy, is now at hand.

(It's worth noting that before 1945, anti-Americanism in Europe was essentially a right-wing tradition, primarily opposed to Yankee millennialist democratism. As I have written, postwar anti-Americanism is an entirely different animal, which might be more accurately described as "ultra-Americanism." It is a consequence of the projection of American power, specifically of the New Deal, which represented the culminating triumph of the American progressive tradition, into a conquered Europe. These days, Europe has almost the same relationship to the US as the US, in the days when it was the refuge of Dissenter mania, bore to the UK.)

Moving briefly to the Continent, we encounter the strange phenomenon of the so-called "Enlightenment." Of course, everyone is enlightened by their own lights, so this word tells us nothing. In my view, the "Enlightenment" and the similarly self-congratulatory "Reformation" are best understood as a continuum. But the former is notable because it may constitute the basal synapomorphy of nontheistic Christianity. Briefly, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a niche in France where it was more adaptive to be an unbeliever than a Protestant. The result was the rise of the philosophes, and eventually the terrifying Rousseauvian cult of Reason, which should have been enough to make everyone swear off atheism forever.

Surprisingly, it wasn't. And there is no better demonstration of the ties between the English Dissenters and the French Jacobins, and thus of the connection between Puritanism and atheism, than figures such as Rev. Richard Price, whose pro-Jacobin sermon, Discourse on the Love of our Country, was so memorably ass-raped by Burke in his Reflections.

If we compare Rev. Price's sentiments with those of the Rev. Harvey Cox, a modern exponent of secular theology - see this essay, written exactly two centuries after the Discourse - the family resemblance is unmistakable. I can't think of a single point on which either of these reverends could raise their voice to the other. Puritanism and secularism are simply the same thing. The existence of such modern sects as Unitarian Universalism demonstrates that there are zero thematic conflicts between the two. In UUism, the God theme is reduced to such irrelevance that congregants in the same church can simply agree to disagree on it. But you certainly won't find them disagreeing on the proposition that, say, all men are brothers.

Of course I've discussed this phenomenon before on UR. The label I prefer for the modern version of the Puritan tradition - Professor Dawkins' Einsteinism - is Universalism. I hope I'm not boring people by continually harping on the subject, but I'd like to take a few paragraphs to once again justify this terminology.

One criticism of "Universalism" is that this label is not used by any present-day Christian denomination to identify itself. I regard this as a virtue, not a vice. First, one of the main themes of Universalism is that it does not self-classify as a Christian sect. Second, one notes that most Christian sects in the past have wound up attached to labels which were originally composed by their enemies. This stands to reason. After all, if these traditions are parasitic, one can expect them to be a little bit deceptive.

Another criticism of the label "Universalism" is that the word is derived from - and easily confused with - the simple English word universalism. Earlier, I tested some artificial labels which did not have this limitation, but after a while they struck me as dorky. (However, they mean the same thing and you can use them if you like - if you don't mind sounding dorky.) Suffice it to say that although Methodists are indeed often methodical, the Jurassic strata are indeed exposed in the Jura, etc, etc, the fact that most Universalists can indeed be described as universalist does not render these labels in any way, shape, or form equivalent or synonymous.

As a term of technical theology, universalism also has a specific, although now much-disused, meaning: the belief that everyone is saved, and no one will go to Hell. Fortunately, Universalists in my sense of the word are certainly universalists in this sense - ie, they don't believe in Hell, and they do believe that every human is essentially good. Michael S. wrote very eloquently about this correspondence here.

Of course, if what you really mean is universalist in either English sense above, rather than Universalist as in a believer in Universalism the post-Puritan tradition, I can't ask you to mean something else. But here at UR the former is a confusing term, and if you feel the need to use it, please at least consider searching for a synonym. Above all, if you mean Universalism with a capital U, please say Universalism with a capital U. You can deploy inverted commas, as in "Universalism," if you have any residual skepticism.

How do we relate Einsteinism to Universalism? One easy approach is to look at Einstein himself. Einstein was an assimilated, non-observant Jew with a Reform background, Reform Judaism being essentially a Jewish version of Protestantism. (In Israel, Reform is not really considered Jewish at all.) A good summary of Einstein's beliefs is here. Note his affection for Quakerism, the Cromwellian uber-Puritan sect par excellence. I have no qualms at all about describing Einstein as a Universalist.

It's also amusing to read Einstein's 1939 time-capsule message to 6939, whose entire text is:
Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything.

Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.
Note the confession of faith in economic central planning, a common Progressive Era belief. I feel quite confident that the residents of 6959, whomever they may be, will read that one with a feeling of proud and justified superiority. If not quite in the way Einstein intended.

If you are a Universalist (I was certainly raised as a Universalist, so I sympathize), and you are having trouble believing in the existence of this tradition, its Christian heritage, or its involvement with the American political system, please allow me to recommend some books. Try George Packer's Blood of the Liberals, Anthony Lukas's Common Ground, Richard Ellis's Dark Side of the Left, Arthur Lipow's Authoritarian Socialism in America, Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, and Gordon Wood's Radicalism of the American Revolution. What all these works have in common is that they were written by orthodox Universalists, not "conservatives," and as such they will not set off the massively hypertrophied M.41 alarm that comes with your M.42 infection. The result will be a rather weird and eclectic picture of American Universalist history, with many gigantic lacunae, but it ought to at least get you started.

Let me step back and take one last look at this entire phenomenon. Again, I am arguing that the Enlightenment is not orthogonal to the Reformation, that secularism is best considered as a form of Protestantism. Moreover - though this is a separate discussion - the modern battle between "left" and "right" displays clear continuity with the Protestant-Catholic conflict. As an extremely rough approximation, when we factor out the God theme, what we see is that leftism is Protestantism and rightism is Catholicism.

One of the reasons this generalization is so rough - it's easy to find counterexamples, such as modern Northern Ireland, in which Catholics are clearly "left" and Protestants are "right" - is that Catholicism and Protestantism are themselves extremely vague terms. Ultramontanism and liberation theology are both nominally Catholic, although I would certainly describe the latter as a Protestantizing "low-church" intrusion. Jansenism is another historical example of Protestantized Catholicism, which competed with the philosophes for the niche left open by the expulsion of the Huguenots. And the adaptive radiation of the Protestant clade needs no comment. Homoplasies and introgressions are legion in this gigantic bag of worms.

One way to produce a better generalization is to see this same conflict as not a competition between two clades, but between two adaptive niches. We can describe these niches very abstractly as pietist and liturgist. Pietist traditions in Christianity are abstract, ascetic, monastic, philosophical, and democratic. Liturgist traditions are ritualist, charismatic, materialistic, doctrinal, and hierarchical. Strains of Christianity going back well before the Reformation can be described as occupying the pietist or liturgist niche, often shifting between them.

With this adaptive taxonomy, atheism, secularism, laicism, etc, appear as extreme variants of pietism. The urge to tear down all ritual, to worship Reason and Man rather than Church and God, to whitewash the frescoes and melt down the candlesticks, is everpresent in pietism. Professor Dawkins' entire shtick is perfectly consistent with the pietist niche. No wonder it's so successful.

Whereas the "fundamentalist" American born-again Christians, whom Professor Dawkins so loathes and so longs to outlaw - as if they weren't already quite thoroughly expelled from the official educational system, not to mention utterly eradicated in Europe - have developed a faith that, though its cladistic origins are thoroughly Protestant, is clearly settling in to the liturgist niche.

Indeed, Professor Dawkins seems to feel exactly the same way about these awful people (I prefer to call them salvationists, because their core belief is in salvation through faith) that his Dissenter forebears felt about those scheming Papists. For literally centuries, fear of the Romish menace animated Protestant faithful on both sides of the pond. The fact that any serious possibility of an Anglo-Catholic restoration ended in 1746 was hardly a check on this rich, ever-flowing wellspring of demagogic paranoia.

The Kulturkampf in Germany and the Dreyfus affair in France (note that just because the anti-Dreyfusards were wrong about Dreyfus, doesn't mean they were wrong about everything) are other, more recent outbreaks of the liturgist-pietist war - which Professor Dawkins seems so eager to resurrect. Essentially, Professor Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have planted the seed of a political movement which might well be described as neo-anticlericalism. I'd like to think that if they took a closer look at the past fruits of this particular vegetable, they might think twice and decide to backpedal with a quick dose of Roundup.

I believe that at this point I have adequately demonstrated claim 2. If you are not convinced, I really have no idea what I could say to convince you further.

As for claim 3 - the claim that Universalism is the most successful Christian tradition today - this strikes me as simply obvious.

Some confusion may be afforded by the definition of success, by which I mean of course Darwinian, that is, reproductive success. The fact that the most influential repeaters of the Western world, the universities, state schools and the official press, are by any standards Universalist organs, is quite sufficient to demonstrate claim 3. It's also worth nothing that Universalism is far, far more fashionable - that is, simply cooler - than any of its competitors. To find social situations in which it's a faux pas to express Universalist sentiments, you have to dig very deep on the fashion scale, certainly well into Wal-Mart or yobbo territory (in the US and Britain respectively). The converse is not exactly the case.

Explaining that George W. Bush, who is at least nominally a salvationist (though the veneer is pretty thin and pretty transparent, I have to say), is president of the most powerful country on Earth, is not going to convince me that your anti-salvationist fears are justified. First, you might want to take a look at the actual power of the US President, and the achievements of a far more dedicated, powerful and popular salvationist - Ronald Reagan - in rolling back Universalism or promoting salvationism. Does the word "nada" mean anything to you?

Second, the reason the US has a president who is at least nominally salvationist is simply that the number of diehard salvationists and the number of fanatical Universalists in the US is roughly equal. Considering the fact that the latter control essentially all institutions by which traditions are installed in the young - not to mention the fact that Universalists are importing new voters like it was going out of style - we can expect the balance of power to shift toward Universalism. Which is pretty much what it's been doing for about the last 150 years.

Where, for instance, is Anita Bryant today? What mainstream Republican even dares to oppose "affirmative action"? Where are even the pro-lifers, for God's sake? You couldn't get 5% of the vote in the US now for the bedrock shibboleths of the 1970s' salvationist reaction.

I am certainly not a salvationist. Au contraire - I am a hardcore, deep-fried atheist. And my connection with Middle-American culture is not much stronger than that of Pauline Kael, who famously didn't know anyone who voted for Nixon. I would certainly not enjoy living in an America which was dominated by salvationists, if we define dominance as the sort of power Universalism enjoys today.

But this possibility strikes me as remote to the point of absurdity. And quite frankly, I refuse to let myself be led around by the nose by kneejerk reactions of fear and hate. Selah. If you are not convinced on claim 3, again, there is little more I can say. Perhaps you should try washing your eyes out with a little soapy water.

This is already way too long, and it's 5 in the morning. I will discuss claims 4 and 5 in part 3, due out next Thursday. I will also try to integrate parts 1 and 2, whose connection seems to have grown a little loose. Again, please feel free to post any comments you have below, but be warned that I will continue my pattern of shameful commentary procrastination until part 3 is out and the essay is complete. However, I have not yet written part 3, and the comments will surely help me do so - as the comments on part 1 helped with part 2. A maze of twisty little numbers, all alike...

(Update: I corrected an embarrassing error in the above. Of course, the anti-Dreyfusards were wrong about Dreyfus, not right. Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out.)

35 Comments:

Anonymous Matthew said...

Very cogent post.

However, you seem to be pointing out that Dawkins is pwned in a way that assumes that there are people somewhere who are not pwned by some sort of memetic tradition or another.

October 4, 2007 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I agree that it's quite useful to see secular humanism as a derivative of Christianity (and surely Judaism, adds the Jewish atheist!) It pretty much admits this itself. Where you start to lose me though is when you start throwing in pretty much every value that is taken for granted by the institutions of power as part of the same memeplex/tradition. Perhaps the penchant for affirmative action is related to -- even dependent on -- secular humanism, but surely it's not an intrinsic part of it. One can easily picture affirmative action ending within the next decade or two without the slightest effect on secular humanism.

For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community.

You say this as if the only way he could hold such beliefs is because he is infected, but all of them could be derived from basic game theory and/or our innate instincts. In general, I think you ignore at your own peril those instincts which are innate -- love, fairness, etc. are in large part genetic. It's those genetic hooks (and others) that religion/traditions/memeplexes latch onto. In other words, do humanists believe in the brotherhood of men because they are humanists, or are they humanists because humanism happens to agree with the idea they already feel?

October 4, 2007 at 8:28 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Your own link refutes some of your claims: "Asked by a literary magazine in 1906 to name the books and authors that had most deeply influenced them, Karl Marx was nowhere to be seen. Instead, after the Bible, Labour MPs cited John Ruskin, Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle as their inspirations. These radical apostles of aestheticism, industriousness and common humanity were hardly the stuff of socialist revolution."
All three of them appear on the wrong (i.e not the evangelical/dissenter like you claim) side in the "Dismal Science" account I linked to.

I don't see where Eliezer discusses whether traditions are "theistic" or not. For example, he has not tried to claim that Buddhism is atheistic. I don't see where he has said anything indicating he is a Universalist rather than an acceptable UR-style atheist either.

October 4, 2007 at 8:45 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community

I think that the fourth item, the Reification of Community, is a weak link in your Universalist tetrad.

Community is pretty much formed along ethnic and kinship lines, following the same genetic hooks that JA mentions above.

Universalism, like Communism and other more and less extreme left wing ideologies, is profoundly anti-community. This is seen in Soviet examples of breaking up and transplanting entire villages; or through trust-destroying institutions like the Stasi (and its modern-day American equivalent you addressed on your blog). School busing of the '70s and immirgation today are other familiar community-wreckers.

Universalists like to use the word "Community" but in fact they fear real communities to the marrow of their bones. What makes Universalists smile is a vision of atomized individuals, where no man resembles his neighbor but in their orgasmic TV-commercial smiles, with no brow furrowed by troubling thoughts and no heart quickened by ancestral voices, celebrating I’m not sure what.

October 4, 2007 at 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

PA,

Good point about communities. I am personally fond of the term meta-community to describe what the Universalists mean by community. Its not a real community of the type you describe or that nearly all of us are part of, but a community beyond real communities, just as metaphysics describes a world beyond the real world.

October 4, 2007 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

When the nobles encroached on the power of the kings(or visa versa), the kings would speak passionately of their divine right. When the encroaching involved priests the kings would say "render unto Caesar..." with equal sincerity. While I greatly enjoy your analysis, what have you proved other than people will use whatever ideology is convienent to justify their own desire to re-order the lives of others? The liturgist/pietist split seems to be saying little more than that all political disputes boil down to someone defending the status quo, and someone seeking to overturn it. This is true but seems obvious and does not seem terribly useful. What does tearing down Dawkins get us other than another example of how successful UU is as a meme? Also, if we can trace liturgist/pietist strands through the history of ideas, how is UU different (other than being more successful) from other pietist thought? In the end, what seperates neocameralism from being just another varient (and one that will almost certainly prove less infectious) of pietism?

October 4, 2007 at 12:24 PM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

I don't like this cladistic classification of ideas. Cladism works fairly well for classification of species, but only because there is such a thing as the "tree of life", and it actually is a "tree" in the network topology sense. Each node (species) has one unique parent. Human family trees are of course not "trees" in this sense, they're directed acyclic graphs where each node has exactly two parents, getting equal genetic influence from each, but it's imagineable there could be a sensible classification scheme based on ancestry.

But ideas are fundamentally different. An idea can have any number of parent ideas with degrees of influence which can vary continuously. The "tree" isn't a tree, it isn't even a web, it's a soup. Incidentally, this is also a reason not to use the misleading "meme" metaphor.

If I may put on my atheist hat for a moment, the problem with revealed religion is the essence of revealed religion: that there exists something like a set of sacred texts which are considered to be the unquestioned and unquestionable Word of God. The fact that an idea is scriptural in origin (or at least only became popular because of its inclusion in scripture) isn't necessarily a strike against it, but it cannot be sufficient to shield the idea from criticism.

This isn't some trivial point. I'm no bigger a fan of "Universalism" than you are, but ideas must stand and fall on their own merits, they can neither be confirmed nor refuted by pointing out where they came from.

October 4, 2007 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Booklegger said...

I think part of the problem is that Religion is not a true clade like mammals but a paraphylitic group like reptiles.

While we might technically regard birds as a type of dinosaur, and therefore a type of reptile, such a claim has very little meaning in the face of the radically different nature of birds & lizards.

Permit me a comparison of syllogisms:

You say Einsteinism:Christianity::Whales:Mammals and therefore we can say: meet the new boss same as the old boss.

I'd say
Einsteinism:Christianity::Birds:Reptilia
and therefore we might say: that a major change could be in the offing.

Theism is an anchor that strengthened the prior faiths, and Universalism will lack that anchor. That few people question Universalism's propositions right now says nothing about how much review those claims will get in the future.

Besides, I am more certain of my atheism precisely because of Dawkins (and Hitchens, and Spong, et alia). Yet I can in no way be said to be a Universalist.

[Primarily I regard the notion of the futility of violence as hippie bullshit. I am a firm believer in the proposition that violence is built into our human natures and society should only attempt to mitigate the damage of violence, and never attempt to prevent violence a priori.]

But while Dawkins has failed to propagate the faith/memeplex/what-the-blue-fuck-ever you want to call it/idea of Einsteinism in me, he has succeded in propagating non-theism.

Ask him which he thinks is more important. If ye call that getting pwned, I'd say you're doing it wrong

October 4, 2007 at 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Eliezer Yudkowsky said...

"Ideas must stand and fall on their own merits, they can neither be confirmed nor refuted by pointing out where they came from."

Word to that. It seems to me that I am accused of making a literary misjudgment - of classifying all religions as belonging to the same literary style. Well, they don't. But it is not literary style that I am trying to criticize in the first place. You can readily see this, because I often use the same literary style myself, secure in the knowledge that it's not a literary style that's the problem.

Religious people may never understand, because they don't want to understand, that all-important distinction of "supported by evidence" vs. "not supported by evidence". But surely you can do better, old fogey.

October 4, 2007 at 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see a rather serious omission in your history of what you call Universalism, and I would call simply liberalism or progressivism.

This was, in fact, the dominant school of thought in the XIX century. The whole German Idealist school belong to it, including hegelians. Similarly Marxists (although the were the Church Militant).

It was, as you rightly mentioned, invented or popularized by French XVIII century rationalists, philosophes and Encyclopedists - who were generally Deists, not Atheists. You don't mention Masons - who professed that doctrine rather unequivocally, together with belief in a nondenominational Architect of the World.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry

The important part they played in the beginning of USA is known well enough.

There is a lot of books which describe progressivism. Mannheim's "Ideology and Utopia" is fairly good. He is a progressivist himself, of course. His history begins, if I remember right, with German Anabaptist and Thomas Munster.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabaptist

But the important think is that progressivism, contrary to your belief, is a dying faith. If you call it M.42, the modern ruling faith should be called M.43. It's prophets are French postmodernists, Kojeve and Heidegger. This is what is usually taught at universities.

The differences are fairly important. M.43 is in some aspect M.42 cubed, and in others - its clear opposition. If M.42 thinks Reason and Science the highest good, M.43 calls it oppression, domination and a rape of natural resources.

Baduin

October 4, 2007 at 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. It was Thomas Müntzer who led rebellion in the city of Münster.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnster
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_M%C3%BCntzer

Baduin

October 4, 2007 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

JA - One can easily picture affirmative action ending within the next decade or two without the slightest effect on secular humanism.

Oh, I don't think so. There are only 2 ways affirmative action could end within a couple decades: (1) Group differences in achievement (i.e. standardized test scores) disappear or (2) group differences in outcome are considered perfectly acceptable and ineluctable by society at large.

If (1), then secular humanism will have been vindicated most spectacularly and overwhelmingly. It would be as if - and this is no exagerration, a scientific consensus were to be established that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the discarded burial shroud of the Risen Christ. That would be huge.

If (2), then the very fundamental precepts of secular humanism - the innate equality of all people in every way, will have been repudiated by not just the people but the ruling institutions. Differences in outcomes among groups will have become expected results of fundamental differences in average abilities among these groups. That's because aa is an inevitable result of anti-discrimination laws within a humanist context. Differences in outcomes could only result from systemic discrimination if basic equality is the reigning dogma.

So the eradication of affirmative action within 20 years would be very bad news indeed for secular humanism - unless you believe in miracles.

October 4, 2007 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"flightless bird or bipedal tetrapod. The adjective in this phrase is morphological, the noun is taxonomic"

In 'flightless bird', do you really regard the adjective as morphological, and the noun as purely taxonomic? Or were you simply referring to 'bipedal tetrapod' and 'nontheistic Christian'? There is a slight confusion here, because a bird does not have 'flying' in its definition, in the way that 'tetrapod' does have 'four legs'.

October 5, 2007 at 3:19 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

Good point about communities. I am personally fond of the term meta-community to describe what the Universalists mean by community. Its not a real community of the type you describe or that nearly all of us are part of, but a community beyond real communities, just as metaphysics describes a world beyond the real world.

Good point; but isn't that basically covered by Universal Brotherhood of Man?

October 5, 2007 at 5:43 AM  
Blogger Piltdown said...

"But the important think is that progressivism, contrary to your belief, is a dying faith. If you call it M.42, the modern ruling faith should be called M.43. It's prophets are French postmodernists, Kojeve and Heidegger. This is what is usually taught at universities."

Give that man a coconut!

Mencius's failure to take this into account may also explain his radiacal misappraisal of Rowan Williams, who is by no means a pietist. See for example the Druid's action to discipline US Episopalianism w.r.t gay bishops. Like Milbank and the rest of the Radical Orthodoxy crowd, Williams is far more M43 than M42.

October 5, 2007 at 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

PA,

Yes it is. I would say that the belief in a meta-community is the defining characteristic and the others are subsidiary. But our host is on a roll and I see no reason to make an issue out of it.

I liked the idea that the belief in a meta-community actually has the unintended consequence of destroying real communities, by the way. I hadn't considered that, but you're right.

October 5, 2007 at 6:58 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Eliezer writes of "that all-important distinction of 'supported by evidence' vs. 'not supported by evidence'."

He needs to go back to Kant, where he will find the little diagram that divides knowledge into two columns, viz. à priori and à posteriori, and two rows, viz. analytic and synthetic.

The à posteriori synthetic is the only category in which knowledge can be said to be "supported by evidence," i.e., by systematic observation of nature or by controlled experiment. This is the realm of natural science.

Mathematics and logic belong in the category à priori analytic. Here, knowledge is not supported by evidence but by proof, which refers back ultimately to non-provable axioms or postulates. Mathematics and logic are disciplines of pure ratiocination and do not require evidence. Would Eliezer accordingly dismiss them? I expect not.

The à posteriori analytic is a null category. This leaves the à priori synthetic, the class into which Kant places not only metaphysics and religion, but all ethical and æsthetic reasoning. None of these are supported by "evidence" of the sort Eliezer would like.

More than fifty years ago, A.J. Ayer asserted that all propositions of this class were logically meaningless (whether founded in religious belief or not). Eliezer seems to be following in his footsteps. If Ayer is to be taken seriously, putting questions of revealed religion to one side for the moment, it is meaningless to say that murder is wrong, that there is any valid reason to prefer the sculpture of Michelangelo over an unhewn block of stone, or the Jupiter symphony over the noise of a boiler factory. The only way one can formulate any sort of ethical or æsthetic judgment that is "supported by evidence" is psephological and experiential, i.e., murder is wrong because most people think so, and if you murder someone, experience suggests that your neighbors are likely to do something extremely unpleasant to you such as throw you in prison or execute you.

I am hard put to believe that reasoning in this manner is an advance for human society. I further suggest that if A.J. Ayer himself were mugged in the street, beaten and robbed, that he would feel wronged in a way that he would find difficult to dismiss as logically meaningless.

People who make such claims as that ethical propositions are meaningless tend to live in environs, like Oxbridge colleges, where even though most of their present inhabitants are neither gentlemen nor Christian, several centuries of Christianity and gentlemanliness exert a profound influence from beyond the grave. Those inhabitants unconsciously conduct themselves in some rough accord with the former standard, despite their derision for it.

All this suggests to me that while the scientific method is a means of acquiring knowledge - and an excellent one - it is not the only one.

October 5, 2007 at 1:49 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Eliezer discussed the evidence behind his mathematical beliefs here. I am an emotivist, which means I do not believe normative statements have any truth value. Eliezer and I discussed that here and I'm not really sure how we disagree, but he claims we do. In one of his more recent posts he discusses the apparrent cruelty or "badness" of God as reason for abandoning a religion.

I agree on the difference between M43 and M42. I have often harped on Mencius' failure to distinguish establishment liberalism from the far left/progressivism or the Old Left from the New Left.

October 5, 2007 at 2:42 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

I have often harped on Mencius' failure to distinguish establishment liberalism from the far left/progressivism or the Old Left from the New Left.

I'm very interested. Can you describe those differences?

October 5, 2007 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

A minor detail on post-Trinitarianism (from the perspective of a proud adherent of M41): it isn't the Holy Ghost that's fallen into disinterest of late. The undifferentiated, unpersoned Universal Spirit is far more important in both folk belief and academic theology than the dubious-because-anthropomorphic (and presumed sexist) Father or Son. Not that it matters to the historical argument exactly how Unitarianism collapsed the Trinity, but details count.

October 5, 2007 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger drank said...

MM, I think that it's hard to object to your core point. Dawkins says that he is arguing against religion, but in fact seems to be a fanatical devotee of a non-theistic religion, whether you call it Einsteinianism or Universalism. Agreed.

One major problem with both part 1 & part 2 is the treatment of these beliefs as "traditions" or "memes". Supernatural religion is on Steven Pinker's list of human universals - every known human society has it in some form or another. This strongly suggests that this is not just case of picking M.42 v. M.41; this year's fashion or last's. Rather, we're always going to have such memes (or possibly we're genetically succeptible to such memes), and it is imperative that we distinguish more dangerous from less dangerous versions. There is no option to get rid of them altogether.

Whatever Universalisms flaws - I agree with you on many of them! - it is unquestionably less dangerous than the two major 20th century competitors that it destroyed. Moreover M.42 is probably also less virulent than the mid-century M.41 that did the destroying. And both are a heck of a lot more pleasant than whatever strain was loose in the days of the Lord Protector or the Spanish Inquisition. So perhaps we should cut Dawkins some slack here - his Einsteinian Religion is closer to the vaccine than the virus.

A second quibble is that I think your taxonomy is mistaken when you say that (first) the Christian Right is M.41, and (later) that they are the intellectual descendants of Catholicism. The Wiki article on Evangelicalism has a reasonable history, and it's clear that they split off long before 1942's "Super Protestantism". And let's just say the burden is on you to locate the points of overlap between the doctrine of your typical Mega Church and the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics.

October 5, 2007 at 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between Old Left and New Postmodern Left? A few examples - the first worshipped science, the second despises science and technology. This is the difference between "Communism=Electrification+soviets" and Extinctionism of Ted Turner.

Or the treatment of Darwinism itself. At present Darwinism is treated as an old batty uncle. Dawkins can speak all he want about atheism, of course. But when you try to apply Darwinism to humans there begin cries of "Anathema, anathema" and the witch hunts get going. See the whole affair with race and IQ.

The old left, to the contrary, was solidly Social Darwinian and supported Eugenics, sterilisation etc.

Similarly crime; both old and new left are against "justice" that is the idea that punishment should equal crime. But the old left wanted not shorter, but longer punishments. The habitual criminals should be kept in prison for indeterminate time, until deemed rehabilitated - at best, forever.

In general, the Old Left was optimistic and thought Western Civilisation the best thing - except a a few necessary "improvements" to be introduced by the caste of the "best and brightest". The New Left thinks the Western Civilisation to be the abomination of the desolation to be destroyed as quickly as possible.

Baduin

October 6, 2007 at 6:40 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

In general, the Old Left was optimistic and thought Western Civilisation the best thing - except a a few necessary "improvements" to be introduced by the caste of the "best and brightest". The New Left thinks the Western Civilisation to be the abomination of the desolation to be destroyed as quickly as possible.

I wonder if the Old Left and New Left are an adaptation of one into the other, or two different animals.

It seems that the Old Left was had fewer internal conflicts -- being unsentimental and pro-science is a strength. Of course, they took two fatal blows: first, when the English proletariat failed to join the revolution and instead eagerly went to fight their fellow proletarians in WWI; and secondly, when the Soviet economic model unraveled in 1989.

The New Left has its own internal inconsistences -- I look forward to Mencius addressing this in Dawkins Part 3. The New Left has somewhat learned from the Old Left's mistakes: what some see as its sentimentalism can also be an agility of sorts (sensitivity training is less provocative than the re-education camp)

There is even a reversal of sorts: first it was Capitalism bad / Proletariat good; but now it's the opposite.

October 6, 2007 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

It seems that the Old Left was had fewer internal conflicts -- being unsentimental and pro-science is a strength.
Tell it to Leon Trotsky (and Trofim Lysenko).

I wonder if the Old Left and New Left are an adaptation of one into the other, or two different animals.

They are pretty different actually. The Old Left has its roots in 19th century philosophy and 20th century industrialization and mass movements. The New Left ideologically hearkens back to the Diggers and Ranters MM mentioned, and its economic roots are in postwar affluence and the start of the postindustrial era.

The New Left has its own internal inconsistences
There is today hardly anything that can be called the "New Left", certainly nothing that is a coherent enough movement that it can be criticized for inconsistency.

October 6, 2007 at 9:51 AM  
Anonymous b said...

while we're pointing out small errors of fact -- i was startled to see mencius' claim that the 'anti-dreyfusards' were right. surely he means the dreyfusards, unless he has some new evidence of that poor man's guilt....

October 6, 2007 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger American Monarchist said...

Thought you might be interested to know this:

As in many other countries, public education in the United States began at the instigation of churches. For a long time, schooling was openly religious. In the 1820s, in New York and in other states, legislators became concerned that many students were receiving the wrong type of education. It was not that children were going uneducated - in 1821, about 93 percent of New York's school age youths were already attending private schools. As expressed in legislative debates, the fear was that students educated in private Catholic schools would learn the wrong values and end up becoming criminals. If Protestant schools could be made less expensive through government subsidies, the legislators reasoned, some Catholics would transfer their children there, thus saving them from a life of crime.

The subsidies began as a kind of voucher system in which approved Protestant schools received a per pupil payment. However, this had an unintended consequence: the subsidized Protestant schools started competing against each other to attract Catholic students. To compete, they began teaching more of what Catholic parents and students wanted - reading, writing, and math - and less of what they didn't want - Protestant religious training. Advocates of the subsidies found that the subsidized schools were no longer providing the religious training that justified the funding program in the first place.

In response, subsidies were limited to the approved Protestant school nearest to a student's home. This reduced the incentive for the schools to compete against each other, and thus to limit their Protestant religious instruction. As government programs tend to do, over time the subsidy scheme grew until it began eliciting complaints that the subsidized schools were getting most of their money from the government while being protected from competition. With the Free Schools Act of 1867, the state simply took over the subsidized schools, which then became public institutions. This is the surprising, true origin of America's public school system.


-John R. Lott Jr., Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't, p. 190-191

Also, something one of L.M. Montgomery's characters once said: "The Universalists believe that everybody will be saved, but we Presbyterians hope for something better."

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March 18, 2009 at 10:00 AM  

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