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Written by Jesse Phillips

July 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Casey Anthony and the Court System

Quick Thoughts

By Joey Phillips

Sorry to bump Jake, but we’ll repost his article before part 2. All the comments on Facebook made me want to share a couple brief thoughts on Casey Anthony. Josh is going to be doing a guest post on the trial and results of the Casey Anthony case. His is going to be much more informed than what I am about to say, since he watched the trial from beginning to end, knows folks involved in the case, and has spoken with numerous lawyers and experts regarding the case. But in the meantime I have a couple thoughts.

“If you win this case, justice will prevail, and if you lose justice will also prevail.”

Lucien Wilbanks told this to Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill in the 1996 movie based on a Grisham novel of the same name. Great movie, even better book. It sort of sums up my feelings about the Casey Anthony case. People seem to be falling into two camps. On one side, you have the folks that think the jury was right. There was no proof beyond reasonable doubt, so they were right to acquit. They believe justice was served, because the system worked. Innocent till proven guilty etc. On the other side, you have the folks that are horrified at the verdict, think it was clear that Casey killed her daughter and that the jury is letting her get away with murder. This group thinks that justice was thwarted. I am somewhere in the middle.

First of all, let me just say…I think there was plenty of evidence to convict her of murder. I don’t think any doubt that she was responsible for her daughter’s death is reasonable. Deliberate neglect is enough to establish murder, and the lies to the police, proof she drove with her in the trunk of her car, lack of reporting her missing or call to 911 in the drowning story are enough to prove deliberate neglect regardless of cause of death (drowning, chloroform…it doesn’t matter), and regardless of why she chose to lie. A parent who is proven to lie about the whereabouts of her missing child, drive around with her dead body in her car, not attempt to find her missing or dead child is guilty of deliberately neglecting the child. That is willful murder. A parent who does not attempt to revive her child when she drowns, call 911 or anything…and then lies to cover it up, hides the body and sends the police on a wild goose chase while partying is likewise guilty of deliberate neglect and therefore at least manslaughter, if not murder.

So that’s my perspective, and I think the jury got stuck on the fact that cause of death could not be proven. Cause of death is crucial, but not absolutely necessary to achieve the burden of beyond reasonable doubt.

Having said that, I believe that our system is set up in such a way that jury’s, not experts, decide these matters. And I think that is a good thing. I think the system worked, because 12 people unanimously decided that there was not enough evidence to convict for murder. Regardless of my disagreement with them, the system is a good one and one murderer walking free doesn’t change that.

Written by Jake Phillips

July 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Fight to End American Slavery (Part 1)

By Jake Phillips

With the recent Michelle Bachmann statement that the founding fathers “fought tirelessly” to abolish slavery[1], there has been considerable debate in the political world (but more importantly, on this blog) over whether she was correct, first of all, and how important of a gaffe it was, if indeed it was not true.

First, an evaluation of whether it was true.  She defended herself by pointing to the record of John Quincy Adams.  Adams was indeed a great proponent of abolishing slavery, especially later in life.  Of course, he died over 15 years before slavery was eventually abolished, but nevertheless, it could be rhetorically argued that he “fought tirelessly” to end slavery, although I think, even in his case, this statement would be somewhat misleading and, at the very least, need qualifications.  Adams, after all, is remembered far more for his skill as a diplomat than as an abolitionist.[2]  Regardless, John Quincy Adams was not a founding father.  The founding fathers are those that signed the Deceleration of Independence, framed the Constitution, or contributed in a major way in the Revolutionary War (or, in some limited cases, major players in the pre-Revolutionary era.)[3]  Being a significant political player in early American doesn’t make you a founding father.  Otherwise, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson would all be founding fathers.  So would Daniel Webster.  So would any number of people.  So Bachmann’s defense of her statement, to me, was at least as ridiculous as her original assertion.

So what about her original assertion? Can it be said that the “founding fathers fought tirelessly to abolish slavery”? Clearly, the easy answer is no, they did not.  They certainly did not as a group.  Grouping them into one, whole “founding fathers” unit, and then claiming that as a group they fought tirelessly to abolish slavery, is absolutely ridiculous.  Whatever individual ones of them did and believed personally is irrelevent.  As a “founding fathers” group, they decided that a black person was 3/5ths of a person.[4]  They institutionalized slavery.  They allowed for the slave trade to exist for 20 more years.  As a group, not only did they not fight to abolish slavery, they supported it (in a existential way) and institutionalized it.  The argument that they, as a group, worked tirelessly to abolish slavery has never before been argued, historiographically.  Or at least, as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been argued.  The most rosy view of the founding fathers, and perhaps the correct one, is that they didn’t think that they could feasibly end it without wrecking the American economy, and so they hoped that it would die a slow and natural, organic death.[5]  Never before, to my knowledge, has it been said that they “fought tirelessly” to abolish slavery.  I cannot fathom why Michelle Bachmann would make that particular argument.

In saying “founding fathers”, could Michelle Bachmann have meant particular founding fathers? Well for one thing, if there’s one thing liberals and conservatives agree on, it’s that Michelle Bachmann is a good rhetorician.  If that’s what she had wanted to communicate, she could have.  But let’s pretend for a second that it is what she wanted to communicate.  It’s still a somewhat ridiculous argument to make.  Keep in mind, she’s not saying that they (and remember, by “they” we are assuming that Bachmann meant particular, nameless founding fathers that fit her description) didn’t like slavery.  She didn’t say that they wanted to abolish slavery (most of them did.)[6]  The fact of the matter is, they institutionalized slavery despite the fact that, as a group, it can be argued that they wanted it to end.  They had any number of reasons to not abolish slavery (namely, forming a union of states, which would have probably been impossible if they had federally disallowed slavery.)[7]  Whatever the reasons, it is the opposite of the truth to say that they “fought tirelessly to abolish slavery.”  They did not.  They fought tirelessly to overthrow a government and form their own, a government that included slavery in its founding document.  There is absolutely no way to intellectually argue that, in doing so, they were fighting tirelessly to end slavery.

So, then, is this an important gaffe, or just a reflection of bad history? Well it is hardly a reflection of bad history.  Bad history teaches you that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant[8], but it doesn’t teach you that he dissolved the US.  In other words, bad history gives you false impressions, but it doesn’t teach you the opposite of what is true (or, it does so very rarely.)  I think the gaffe ranks somewhere around Moderately Important.  Unlike the “John Wayne” gaffe, which simply reflected a lack of knowledge of her hometown and a willingness to Google facts for her speeches, I think this gaffe actually means something beyond the actual statement.  I think it is yet another example of how Tea Party Conservatives idolize the past in an effort to acquire their goals.  Bachmann is creating a Utopia that her ideals and ideas will lead us back to.  If that Utopia never existed, and doesn’t exist, then her ideals and ideas can’t lead us to that place.  After all, that place doesn’t exist.  To create that Utopia, the founding fathers must be irreproachable.  Their main blight, historically, is the issue of slavery.  Instead of dealing with it and learning from it, and seeing the parallels between racism then and classism now, or any number of important historical lessons, it’s easier to just pretend that, actually, the founding fathers don’t even have that blight of slavery on their record! No, as a matter of fact, they worked tirelessly to end slavery! They were practically an army of Wilberforce’s!! LONG LIVE THE FOUNDING FATHERS!!! Recreating the past is not unique to Michelle Bachmann.  She hardly invented the art of revising history.  However, it’s a poor way to attempt to become the President of the nation whose history she is so unapologetically twisting.

[2] This entire paragraph was influenced John Quincy Adams by Robert Remini.  Only read the latter section of the book, the first section has been historiographically skewered.

[3] This point probably doesn’t need to be argued.  Someone can extend the meaning to include whoever they want (as Bachmann would claim she was doing) but “founding fathers” is a term that has an understood meaning.

[4] I understand that this was not because they had to point out that blacks were less than a person, but was about population.  Duly noted.  No need to point that out in the comments section.

[5] The merits of this argument aren’t rock solid, but, like I said, it’s the rosiest argument.  I’m not here to defend or denounce it, just to point out the fact that the argument exists. See for a pretty good and fair summary of that argument.

[6] An excellent paper by historian Michael Spalding sums up that argument.

[7] Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787.  Wood shows that without slavery, the US never could have existed as we know it.

[8] My Uncle John was influenced by Bad History.

Written by Jake Phillips

July 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

The Biggest Problem: Red Herrings and the Problem of Evil

By Joey Phillips


This is going to be a decently long post. I would encourage you to skip it unless you have time to read the whole thing. If you skip it, I will understand. The reason I am writing this is two-fold.

  1. Whenever Christians in a public forum offer a biblical perspective on any given issue (political, social, cultural or otherwise) the most common response from those in disagreement is not a counterargument. The most common response is “How do believe that when the Bible also says _________? “ What most often fills that blank is some reference to severe laws for the Israelites, or God ordering the Israelites to wipe out other nations etc. This article, albeit indirectly, will address that issue. For the purposes of this blog, it will allow us to not have to rehash a response every time somebody throws a red herring about the horrors of the Bible into a discussion.
  2. Despite what I just said, my topic for today is the most intellectually compelling argument against Christianity, in my opinion, and as such, I wanted to throw out some thoughts to see what you guys think about how we should answer perhaps the most common objection to our worldview.

If I asked you what the biggest problem a Christian faces in defending the faith from a philosophical perspective, what would you say? Is the existence of God a difficult question? For many, yes, but philosophically there have been great answers to that question for a long time now.  Answers that atheists have never adequately addressed. (Yes I know Dawkins and the others would have a heart attack if he/they read this, but it really is true. If there is nothing eternal, there is no logical explanation as to why anything would exist. There has to be an eternal uncaused cause.  An eternal Being by definition is self-sufficient. Once you establish the existence of a self-sufficient, eternal Being, the atheists and agnostics have already lost.) Is big, bad, evolution a big problem for Christianity? Even if you buy into the whole of evolutionary theory, it isn’t a big obstacle to Christianity as long as the historicity of Adam is maintained. (See how easily I dismissed thousands of years of debate over the existence of God?)There are other big issues, of course, but I would argue the most challenging argument against Christianity is the Problem of Evil.[1] It is the most frequently used argument against Christianity, and when stated well, a response is difficult to find.

Stated in its basic form, the Problem of Evil is this: If God is omnipotent (all powerful) and benevolent (all good) then why does evil exist? Either God must not be all powerful (so he created and was unable to stop evil from occurring, but fights on the good side) or he is not all good. This argument is the root of most attacks on Christianity and the Bible, in my experience. Unbelievers know that if they can demonstrate the inconsistency of believing, in the midst of an evil world, that God is all powerful and all good, then the God of the Bible is unbelievable. That gives them an excuse for their unbelief. So whether the argument comes in the form of ‘How can you believe in a God that orders the killing of people…or a God that sends people to hell?’ or ‘I can’t believe in a God that would allow me to get cancer’, the underlying assumption is that an all-powerful and good God would not allow bad things to ever happen.  

That is a quick and dirty, basic, formulation of the problem. I want to get into it a bit more in depth than that. In most arguments, quick and dirty is the extent of the objection, and so an answer may need to be in kind. But the actual philosophical issue is as deep as it gets, because it gets at our understanding of the nature of God, ourselves, and reality. So I want to present a more thorough description of the problem. Fyodor Dostoyevsky presents the problem in an utterly thorough and searing way. The passage below is long, but powerful and I think it provides the necessary weight to this particular issue.

“But I’ve still better things about children. I’ve collected a great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother, ‘most worthy and respectable people, of good education and breeding.’ You see, I must repeat again, it is a peculiar characteristic of many people, this love of torturing children, and children only. To all other types of humanity these torturers behave mildly and benevolently, like cultivated and humane Europeans; but they are very fond of tormenting children, even fond of children themselves in that sense. It’s just their defenselessness that tempts the tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal, that sets his vile blood on fire. In every man, of course, a demon lies hidden — the demon of rage, the demon of lustful heat at the screams of the tortured victim, the demon of lawlessness let off the chain, the demon of diseases that follow on vice, gout, kidney disease, and so on.

“This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty — shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God’! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones! I am making you suffer, Alyosha, you are not yourself. I’ll leave off if you like.”

“Nevermind. I want to suffer too,” muttered Alyosha.

“One picture, only one more, because it’s so curious, so characteristic, and I have only just read it in some collection of Russian antiquities. I’ve forgotten the name. I must look it up. It was in the darkest days of serfdom at the beginning of the century, and long live the Liberator of the People! There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men — somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then — who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys — all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favourite hound. ‘Why is my favourite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken — taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry…. ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs…. ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!… I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well — what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!

“To be shot,” murmured Alyosha, lifting his eyes to Ivan with a pale, twisted smile.

“Bravo!” cried Ivan delighted. “If even you say so… You’re a pretty monk! So there is a little devil sitting in your heart, Alyosha Karamazov!”

“What I said was absurd, but-“

“That’s just the point, that ‘but’!” cried Ivan. “Let me tell you, novice, that the absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities, and perhaps nothing would have come to pass in it without them. We know what we know!”

“What do you know?”

“I understand nothing,” Ivan went on, as though in delirium. “I don’t want to understand anything now. I want to stick to the fact. I made up my mind long ago not to understand. If I try to understand anything, I shall be false to the fact, and I have determined to stick to the fact.”

“Why are you trying me?” Alyosha cried, with sudden distress. “Will you say what you mean at last?”

“Of course, I will; that’s what I’ve been leading up to. You are dear to me, I don’t want to let you go, and I won’t give you up to your Zossima.”

Ivan for a minute was silent, his face became all at once very sad.

“Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its centre, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on purpose. I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so there is no need to pity them. With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level — but that’s only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can’t consent to live by it! What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it? — I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven’t suffered simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else. I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

“That’s rebellion,” murmered Alyosha, looking down.

“Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”

“No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.[2]

When I was a freshman in college taking my first philosophy course, this passage from The Brothers Karamazov was our reading assignment one day in class. The assignment was to read that passage, and then write a two paragraph response to this question: If you were a Christian, how would you respond to Ivan’s last question? I remember sitting there for 10 minutes, not having a clue how I could respond. First of all, I had never read or heard the problem of evil presented so powerfully, and the weight of what was being said was hitting me. Secondly, I couldn’t see a way around Alyosha’s response, but I knew it was the ‘wrong’ answer for a Christian. So I sat and didn’t write anything for awhile.

How would you respond? How do you answer someone who has been through, or is going through, incredible suffering and is asking why a good God would allow this? What do you feel if, like John Piper had to do, you walk up to a man sitting in the street looking at the tarp-covered body of his daughter who just slipped by him and into a street and was instantly killed, and he is just sitting there, staring blankly saying “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to.”[3] Obviously you feel brokenhearted for him, but how do explain this reality in light of what we believe about God?

One of the more popular responses to the problem of evil among theists, is to turn the question back on those asking, and ask them how they even justify having a category for ‘evil’ apart a moral code established by the character of God. So the acknowledgement of evil becomes a problem for the atheist, not the believer. This is tricky of us, but of course it doesn’t actually address the problem.

The most popular response is the introduction of free will, and the scaling back of God’s sovereignty, which gives us the opportunity to say “God gave us the choice of whether there would be evil, and we chose evil. He created the potential for evil when he created being with free will, and that decision was best because otherwise we would have been robots. So he is not responsible for evil, he is simply responsible for giving us free will, and we bring the evil on ourselves.” I think this answer introduces an aspect of the correct answer (our responsibility in all this) but I think it fails on a couple levels. 1) Part of omnipotence is omniscience, so God knew what we were going to choose, knew the evil that was going to result, and created us anyway. So evil and suffering have always been in the plan of God. Ivan understood this, and his question to Alyosha reflects that. Unless omnipotence and omniscience are removed from the equation, introducing free will is only part of the answer. 2) In our efforts to defend God against the charge that He directly created evil, we need to be careful we don’t make him into a God of our own choosing. What I mean is, denying God’s omniscience or omnipotence is incompatible with Scripture, and while it would be convenient to say that God elected to curtail his own sovereignty in order to give us “genuine” freedom (which, again, is noble in its attempt to defend God), it simply isn’t an idea found in Scripture and creates all sorts of problems. Not the least of which would be that freedom of the type that releases us from the sovereign control of God’s plan would be simply trading in God’s sovereignty for the slavery to our own sin and the random chance of circumstances. If your perspective is that God’s sovereignty interferes with our freedom, then God would have to remove Himself from our lives for us to be truly free. This isn’t a path we want to go down.

So I think that the free will argument hits on part of the answer, but it’s typical formulation creates more problems and ultimately isn’t compatible with the God of the Bible. Another way of answering Ivan would be to dismiss the idea of evil as a positive reality at all, and say that evil is simply deprivation of good. Like darkness is simply an absence of light, so evil is absence of the good. In order for God to create anything, it would have to be other than himself, and the separateness from Him would necessarily create a deprivation of His complete goodness. So evil is not a problem for Christianity, it is a logical necessity based on the character of God and the nature of reality. Despite the appeal of this type of argument on paper, it is hard to translate in real life. Is the lord who set his dogs on the serf boy simply experiencing the natural lack that comes with his separation from the good, which is God? Or is he willfully exercising a positively evil will that counts his own amusement and petty, prideful vengeance as more important than the life of a small boy? The beauty of Dostoyevsky is his refusal to let us off the hook with an answer that doesn’t address the horror of sin. Evil isn’t (only) the deprivation of good. It is the corruption, and the willful destruction of good.

Another argument that uses the idea that evil is a logical necessity would be the Best Possible World argument. I won’t embarrass myself with much of a discussion of this argument in case Joe Anderson happens to read this. The basic idea is that because of the fact that God is all powerful and benevolent we know that he has created the best of all possible worlds, and so any sin or ‘evil’ contributes to this best possible world. This sort of thinking is exactly what Ivan was getting at with his question at the end of the passage I cited. “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last” Imagine, in other words, you are creating a reality that ultimately is greatest thing imaginable. Because no one argues it’s best right now…no one tries to justify the problem of evil by saying “Evil, what is that? You are making up a problem that doesn’t exist.”[4] Always we are pointing to the bigger picture. The tapestry being woven by God whose beauty is dependent on the different colors of its threads; sorrow and joy, fall and redemption, sin and forgiveness, wrath and mercy, heaven and hell. All working towards a glorious conclusion where God’s ways are revealed and harmony is achieved. But Ivan’s question nags. Is it worth it? Is Alyosha simply wrong? How do we reconcile what the Bible says about God’s character, with His choice for the foundation of His glory to be built on a world full of suffering?

This is what I wrestled through that day in class. I scrambled for a reasonable Christian answer and was coming up empty. A minute or so before the class was going to end and I had to turn in a two paragraph answer, I thought about the most basic Christian answer to everything. Jesus. I immediately began writing. It wasn’t well written, and it wasn’t two paragraphs. I didn’t have time and I’m not that good a writer. But I remember what I said.

I could never answer Ivan’s question, because I am not God and cannot see the whole picture. However, I know that the God who chose to create a world in which evil and suffering exists is also the God that sent his own Son to take the worst of that evil on himself, to be tortured himself, to be ravaged himself, so we don’t have to experience the full effects of our sin and we can trust God for what we don’t understand.[5]                        

At home that night I didn’t sleep. It is the only night I can ever remember staying up all night in bed (not working or studying) and not sleeping. I knew my answer was partially right. I was just struggling to believe it. The problem of evil is the most difficult problem for Christianity because it is unanswerable. Only God knows and understands why evil is necessary. We know parts of the answer. We know that we can trust him because he is sovereign and he demonstrated His commitment to the destruction of evil at the expense of His own Son. We know we can’t approach the question as victims because we choose evil ourselves, and He never has. We know that God did not spare His own Son from the effects of evil, and so accusations of injustice are foolish.  

So although we can’t answer the question fully, we can answer it confidently. The funny thing about that class assignment was that the passage ended right before Dostoyevsky gave an answer. Very tricky of the Professor. Here is the part directly after our previous passage ended.

“And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?”

“No, I can’t admit it. Brother,” said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes, “you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!’

The next time you encounter someone who is struggling with the problem of evil, whether they are bitterly attacking your beliefs in a blog forum[6], or brokenheartedly questioning goodness of God at the hospital while a loved one dies…you may not have all the answers…but you have the only one that you, or anyone you ever meet will ever need. His name is Jesus.




[1] Obviously this whole section would need to be expanded if I was seriously trying to establish in this post why I think the problem of evil is the biggest problem. I would need to show how prevalent the argument has been historically (it’s all over the place). I would need to more thoroughly show why the existence of God is not a big problem philosophically. I would need to actually defend my statement that evolution isn’t really a big problem etc, etc. Suffice it to say I think I could defend this position if I needed to. Let me know if I need to.

[4] Well…idiots do that. We are talking about reasonable folks.

[5] My professor gave me back my sheet of paper the next class with a comment that it was the best Christian response he had ever gotten. I was very proud. Of course, I decided to major in Philosophy after that class…and never got that sort of compliment again.  

[6] Here is the tie-in to the comment I made at the beginning of the article. Though usually irrelevant to the actual topic at hand, the reason people throw out comments attacking the character of the Christian God so often is because they think that Christians don’t realize that the Bible portrays God as being extremely severe at times. And he is. The part that escapes them is that the Bible never shies away from that fact, because sin always deserves a severe and thoroughly wrathful response from God. The surprising thing shouldn’t be that God occasionally exercised judgment against rebellious people. The surprising thing should be that he, with great patience, endured the insolence of man and stood by His plan of redemption.  

Written by Jake Phillips

July 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

The Roots of Hip-Hop, Volume 1: Where Did Hip-Hop Come From?

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(Note from Jake: This is the first post by James Henry in a series that he’s doing on the roots of hip-hop.  Hip-hop is a fascinating art form, and has an even more fascinating origin.  I for one am extremely excited to learn about it.)




By James Henry Tschannen


 The roots of hip-hop are as deep as they are diverse. The oldest root is the ancient African tradition of “toasting” or colorful boasting and storytelling. The game of the dozens was created by African slaves, who would insult each other in an attempt to prove who was mentally tougher and immune to verbal abuse; an essential skill for a slave. More recent influences include radio DJs, blues singers, Jamaican dance hall culture, and Afro-Caribbean music and dance. However, the youth party culture that became the most vital and vibrant art form of the last decades of the 20th century could not have existed without the diversity and decay of New York City in the 1970s. Hip-hop was born in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and East New York. It was created by people utterly abandoned and written off by society. The story of the South Bronx in the 70s is one of spectacularly ambitious government programs that benefited some at the expense of others. It is the story of technocratic hubris and disastrous utopianism. It is the story of a city literally killing itself for the American Dream of a manicured lawn and a white picket fence. But most of all, it is the story of people who created something beautiful in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

                                                           —                                                                                    —

 The years after World War II were some of the most optimistic for Americans. Our industrial might and righteous valor had saved the Allies and the free world from annihilation by the forces of evil and we emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. We did not experience the horrors of bombing campaigns. Unlike Europe, Japan, and China, World War II built our industrial infrastructure rather than destroying it. The war and the massive amounts of government spending that went along with it brought us out of the Great Depression and into one of the greatest periods of economic growth and upward social mobility that this country has ever seen.

Ironically, the engine that drove this surge in high-paying manufacturing jobs and middle class growth in places like the Southeast and the Midwest also caused the greatest period of urban decay in recent memory. I am speaking, of course, about America’s love affair (perhaps fatal obsession is a better description) with the automobile. When conservatives and libertarians rail against the “government takeover” of the auto industry they are missing the larger point that the auto industry as we know it never could have existed without government assistance. For cars to be cost effective and desirable for a mass market, roads had to exist to make driving practical. The cost of these roads was not born by the drivers, or the auto manufacturers, it was born by everyone as the government, federal and local, built and maintained roads connecting nearly every city and town in the country. We tend to think of roads as something everyone uses, a public good that benefits all Americans equally. This, however, was not the case at all in the early days of automobiles and it still is not the case for some people today. Poor people, especially in urban areas, are less likely to own a car and therefore benefit less from road construction than they would from investment in public transit. This was even more true years ago, when many of our roads were being built and only the wealthy could afford to drive cars.

Postwar confidence, automobilism, and new ideas about urban planning formed a perfect storm in New York City. Robert Moses was the man behind most of the major public works projects undertaken by New York City in the middle of the 20th century. A bold visionary and skilled bureaucrat, Moses’s reshaped the city in dramatic ways. One of his most notorious projects, and the one most important for the development of hip-hop is the Cross-Bronx Expressway. This massive highway enabled people with cars to travel quickly between Manhattan and the suburbs, but it also cut a huge swath of destruction through what were mostly lower-middle class Irish and Jewish neighborhoods in the Bronx. The construction itself displaced 60,000 people, and the disruption caused by dividing neighborhoods in two caused nearly anyone who could to flee the South Bronx, most of them following the expressway to suburbs, far from the city center. In effect, the city was destroying block after block of thriving neighborhoods just to make it easier for people to live outside of the city limits and avoid city taxes.

The next major step in creating the South Bronx of the 1970s was the creation of massive low-income housing projects. Using eminent domain, the city condemned many Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Manhattan as “slums” and sold the land to developers, which fueled a boom in commercial construction. As a replacement for neighborhoods that had contained stores, apartments, and factories the city created housing projects in the “tower in a park” model put forward by the modernist architect Le Corbusier. These massive buildings contained well over 1000 units and while the idea sounded good in theory, these structures were isolating to the residents. Coming from mixed-use neighborhoods where living spaces were often literally on top of workplaces, residents had trouble finding work, and these buildings soon became overrun with criminal activity.

 This brings us to the next major factor in the decline of the South Bronx; the loss of blue collar jobs in New York City. In the 1950s most of the shipping traffic into New York Harbor moved to ports in New Jersey taking with it thousands of blue collar jobs with it. As the US poured money into manufacturing plants in the South and West during WWII, New York’s days as a manufacturing powerhouse came to an end. Factories in the city couldn’t compete with other factories, and as transportation of goods over land became cheaper (due largely to the new federal interstate system) factories in what had once been only farmland gained the advantage. By the 70s the South Bronx alone lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs. The official youth unemployment rate rose to 60%. The average income in the South Bronx was only half of what it was elsewhere in the city. As the borough deteriorated, the area’s Irish, Italian, and Jewish residents fled to smaller towns and suburbs, but racist realtors and housing associations kept Blacks and Puerto Ricans out.

In 1970 Democratic New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a memo to Richard Nixon citing data by the Rand Corporation about fires in the South Bronx and complaining about the rise of political radicals like the Black Panthers. He wrote “The time may have come when the issue of race would benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’” Nixon agreed, and “benign neglect” became a rallying cry for those wanting to reduce social services to poor inner cities. After 1968 the city removed seven fire companies from the Bronx even as fires increased.

 Compounding these problems was the destruction created by the South Bronx’s own property owners. With so many residents unemployed or low income landlords found that it was more profitable to have their buildings burnt down and collect the insurance payout than collecting rent. These property owners allowed their buildings to slip into disrepair, sometimes even cutting off power and water to force residents to move out before paying local thugs to start the fires. As the 70s progressed, building fires reached epidemic levels. Between 1973 and 1977 30,000 fires were set in the Bronx alone. An average of four square blocks were lost to fire every week. During the mid 70s, the height of the fires, New York City laid off thousands of firefighters and fire marshals because of the city’s budget crisis.

 The people living in these ghettos, though facing appalling living conditions and few opportunities, pulled together to create something unique and beautiful. In the face of burned buildings, piles of concrete rubble, and the impersonal grey of city housing projects and subways, young people created a very diverse, complex, and highly developed style of visual art. Graffiti, for many people, was a way to take control of their environment, and a way of making their voice heard by a society that had written them off. Through the party culture of rhyming, djing, and b-boying (or break dancing) individuals expressed their joy in life and their belief in their own worth and ability. All of this was in the face of a city and a society that considered them the least useful and least valued members of the population.

Written by Jake Phillips

July 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm

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On Democracy and Endorsements

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By Alex Couch
My decicion on who I should endorsement for president is a hard one for a few reasons. First, I do not believe in popular elections for president. The constitution does not say anything about popular elections for presidents and despite widespread misunderstanding, democratic elections are not how we currently choose presidents even today. (Please see article II section I of the constitution.)  The constitution only mentions that Electors vote for President; it mentions nothing about popular vote.  It leaves it up to the states to decide how Electors are chosen, but nowhere is their an indication that Electors would be tied to specific candidates, as they are today. 
 For the record, I have a small amount of distrust and a disdain for democracy.  I think all governments should have a small powerful aspect of democracy in it and in America, we have the House of Representatives. The role of the House was to represent the people. Because of the obsession and misunderstanding of democracy, America has democratized everything.  (As a sidenote, I blame America’s obsession with democracy on Andrew Jackson.  Although I have a certain amount of respect for Jackson’s policies and character, I can never forgive him for this.)  Both the president and the Senate are not supposed to represent the people. Democracy is not always most conducive for accomplishing tasks. Furthermore, I believe that many of the problems in Washington stem from over democratization. I plan to go into this more in the future, but for the sake of this post, I do not believe that mine or anyone else’s endorsement should matter for president to anyone besides those chosen by the states to elect our president.  However, overtime the popular vote in each state has become to mean something. So for now I will play the game until that day when the mistake of popular elections for president are eradicated. 
I understand that this view is historically ultra-conservative. On this and some other views, I am a pretty conservative guy. On other issues, I am pretty liberal. This is the second reason why choosing a candidate is tough. No candidate represents my beliefs. All of the candidates are populists. So I am forced to choose the cleanest dirty shirt.
The third and final reason that makes my decision so hard is that I am a practical realist. I do no want to waste my vote or endorsement.
I am going to list the things that are important in choosing my candidate and then list who best supports each aspect. Then I will look at my list and decide who I will endorse. Before I begin, let me first make 3 quick side notes. First, while I write this post, I have not yet decided who I am choosing. I am using this exercise to help in my decision. Secondly, I am going to choose only among those who have declared they are running.  Thirdly, I cannot support someone who has the same spirit as a serial killer.
The Important Issues
Fiscal Policy
Gay Marriage
Health Care
One these particular issues, I support Huntsman’s position.
Electability and Fundraising – Romney
Integrity and Honesty – Paul
Gut Instinct – Cain
Most Political Experience – Huntsman
For now, (only because Jake forcing to make a decision) and based on that list, I am endorsing Huntsman. However, among the four candidates I mentioned, I am willing to vote for any of them.

Written by Jake Phillips

June 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

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The anti-Fight Club: An Endorsement of the Establishment

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By Joey Phillips

 I am endorsing Mitt Romney.

I will now go light myself on fire.[1] I will keep this brief, so I don’t have time to talk myself out of it. Here is why I am endorsing Mitt Romney.

  1. He’s the best politician in the republican field. He’s smart and well spoken and knows how to run a campaign. He is going to end up raising the most money and probably win the nomination. Might as well start getting used to the idea of voting for him now.
  2. He has the best chance to beat Obama. We could argue whether being moderate will help or hurt him in the general election, but either way I think for the reasons listed above he has a shot at beating Obama, which I am not convinced any of the other candidates have.
  3. I mostly like him on economics.

I am not excited about this endorsement for a number of reasons, the main one being that Romney isn’t really conservative in a lot of ways. Dionne (writer for the Washington Post, and liberal) says that Romney’s best asset is his ideological flexibility. Great. “Vote for me, I’ll change my core beliefs anytime!” On healthcare he is eerily similar to Obama. I wish we could elect him as the economics President and Herman Cain for everything else. On abortion you can either say (a) he doesn’t have a belief so he just adopts whatever position is politically expedient at the time or (b) he is very confused. Neither answer is comforting.  In fact, nothing about Romney makes me comfortable voting for him. I am trying to justify it because I am resigned to him winning the nomination. Is this the worst endorsement ever? Yes.

Forget it, I endorse Tim Pawlenty.  

[1] Bill Simmons™

Written by Jake Phillips

June 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

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