Hey Everyone,

I spoke recently at the UT-Dallas chapter of Reasonable Faith (2/26/2015). Attached is a PDF of that talk. We may have video of it available in the near future.

Wkst.Moral Argument 2.Pulling at the Heart Strings.


Spokespeople for the current (Obama) administration recently suggested that the “root” cause for terrorism is lack of jobs. I want to address this claim head on.

But first I must issue a disclaimer. Apparently when people stand against that feckless naivete our words are recast as some sort of accusation that all Muslims are terrorists, or that the Crusades  and the Spanish Inquisition didn’t happen, or Christians all have halos and Muslims all have horns, etc. etc. I make no such claims and don’t believe these historical revisions. I pray the peaceable, non-violent, non-theocratic Muslims of the world have great success in redirecting Islam’s bloody history into peaceful future, forever distancing orthodox Islam from its medieval missteps.

I do not take President Obama, or the typical liberal commentator as an Islamic scholar, so when they interpret the actions of ISIS, or al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Hezbollah, or Boko Haram as a “perversion of Islam,” I ask for their authority behind that statement. I’d like to think they are right, but I’m leary since I don’t see the bona fides behind that blanket statement. Maybe one day, Islamic scholarship will undergo a widescale revision, forever distancing modern Islam from its unmistakably militant past. Maybe we will all one day hold hands, drink Coke, and sing Kumbaya. That would be nice. However, it is one thing to claim, baselessly, that Islam has no genetic ties to violence and that no significant minority of its members are violent, but it’s another beast entirely to prove that the life of Muhummad, the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, the practice of Sharia, the Theoractic mode of Islam, or the history of Islam and the Caliphate, leave no normative precedent for violence.

Nevertheless, in spite of that complex debate, one can be agnostic on that issue, maybe Islam is intrinsically violent, maybe it’s not. Maybe it defies the example of Muhammad maybe it dignifies his example. While the debate is about terrorism and poverty, unfortunately, the conversation tends to get commandeered by by non-theologians wanting to debate theology. I want to bypass that interesting offroad to explore a different road today.

The point at issue is whether jobs fix terrorism. The answer is simple. Nope, no, neh, nadda, nope-iddy nope, and No! There are at least three major reasons why terrorism does not spring from lack of jobs, or more specifically from poverty.

1. Terrorism is expensive.
Terrorism costs a lot of money. The poor can’t afford it, at least not when it comes to the large-scale sophisticated terrorist networks we have today. Let’s suppose that modern terrorism involved a whole bunch of poor participants. If there were a whole bunch of poor people serving in the modern fronts of global terrorism–which is predominantly Jihadism (roughly about 70% of the declared foreign terrorist organizations are self-proclaimed Islamic), we can be assured that those poor people were not the chief financiers behind the bombs, the guns, the rockets, the missiles, the training centers, the public relations/media, and the diplomatic sway that help make up modern terrorism. someone had to pay for those things, even if there were a whole crowd of hobos doing the shooting and the detonating.

It’s not particularly clear that poor people are the main ones pulling the triggers either. It’s illicit to assume that the terrorists themselves are economically impoverished. According to a Business Pundit Article, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the infamous underwear bomber, was a millionaire. Osama Bin Laden amassed about $300 million in personal wealth. Yasar Arafat had a net value of $1.5 billion (though, his value as a person wasn’t worth a dime). Al Qaeda affiliate Daewood Ibrahim, of India, aided the Bombay Bombings, and he is estimated as having $6-30 billion in net assets.

Faisal Shahzad, the culprit behind the attempted 2010 Times Square Bombing, was a naturalized American citizen, earned a degree from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, and became a financial analyst, having worked for two major companies. He had a wife and kids, all before getting bomb-training in Pakistan and then attempting to detonate a crowded city center. He was living the American dream before attempting to make it a nightmare.

On the lower economic end were the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Bombers, but even they were not impoverished. They had secondary education, they had work, they were involved in extra-curriculuars (wrestling and boxing), they had college options. They had family and friends. And they had homes. The more relevant causes seem to be their late devotion to Islam (around 2008 for both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan), Tamerlan’s history of violence, and their family ties to the conflicted Chechen-Russian region. Dzhokhar did amass $20,000 of college loan debt, but he also flunked seven classes, lost his scholarship, and was still about $7-9k under the average student loan debt in America. If student loan debt caused terrorism, we’d have a lot more to worry about than radicalized Muslims.

Still further down the economic scale Colleen LaRose, a.k.a., Jihad Jane, was very impoverished having a troubled background with abuse, prostitution, divorce, joblessness, and vagrancy. She really was impoverished and really did contribute towards terrorism. But she was poor (economically and circumstantially) long before she became a terrorist. The deciding factor, where her troubled past took on a violent forecast, was when she met a (self-identified) Muslim man in Amsterdam who introduced her to radical ideology around 2008. Soon afterwards she began posting threatening and violent videos on Youtube and conspiring in terrorist plots. It was not poverty but a particular brand of Islamic or pseudo-Islamic ideology that more clearly led to her radicalization. To be fair, her poverty may be a relevant precondition for her particular path into terrorism–people tend to be more desperate and anxious when they are broke–but neither is poverty a very clear or relevant cause of her terrorism. The proverbial, “stolen bread” may feed a starving family, but terrorist plots pose no real promise for actually or apparently solving poverty. If poverty were the more relevant cause, then she had every reason to become a terrorist before converting to Islam.

Perhaps the most clear counterexamples to the jobs-terrorism theory is that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 bombing were affluent Saudis. Indeed Saudi Arabia is perhaps the heart of Islam, having the sacred Cities of Medina and Mecca, and the native home of Islam’s sacred language, Arabic, yet along with Kuwait and other deeply Islamic nations, it has historically been a prominent financier of terrorism. It seems, then that affluence not poverty is causing terrorism there. ISIS is now considered the wealthiest terrorist organization, bringing in over $2 billion yearly; while Hamas comes in second at about $1 billion yearly.

This argument here, however, is complex just as terrorist networks are complex. There are chains of command, and the more seasoned veterans and elders may have great wealth and status distancing themselves from the front lines so that they are not doing the kind of footsoldier work that would get them killed. I would not expect such characters to be the “grunts” blowing themselves up in a Jewish deli. It may be that a great number of the bombers themselves are relatively poor, resorting to terrorist activities for lack of other options. But let’s be clear; whether it is poor grunts, or wealthy generals, all of them are terrorists. And, there is no strict rule that only or even mostly poor people make up the terrorists rank and file.

Having established that there’s only a nominal/weak connection between poverty (as a cause) and terrorism, we can proceed to the next point.

2. Terrorism causes poverty.
There is a causal connection between terrorism and poverty, but it doesn’t work in the way the current administration seems to think. Do stopped cars cause red lights? No, it’s the other way around. Red lights make drivers stop their cars at intersections. Mistaking the cause for the effect is a causal fallacy (namely, the Post hoc ergo property hoc fallacy if you were wondering). Just because the two facts are found together doesn’t mean we can interpret causation any way we want. In this case, terrorism and poverty are found together, but terrorism clearly causes poverty whereas poverty does not clearly cause terrorism. Where terrorism is strong, those neighborhoods, communities, cities and even nations will tend to struggle economically in proportion to how deeply devoted they are to terrorism.

Economies thrive where there are free markets, strong trust relations, a good work ethic, socio-political stability, law and order, and innovative and plentiful production. Now imagine a place where all of those features are available in good supply. What happens if, say, 5% of the population somehow were to get enmeshed with terrorism? Every “successful” suicide-bomber is one less employee. But even before detonating himself, that suicide-bomber spends time studying that ideology, networking with like-minded terrorists, and training in bomb-making, or marksmanship, or shopping for weaponry. Those are man-hours not devoted towards generating a marketable product or service, or getting an education aimed at a respectable vocation. When he detonates himself, lets say, at a Jewish deli, that’s one less business offering their goods and services to the community. That detonated store-front is now an eye-sore on local businesses, hampering their sales. The lost sense of safety injuries the trust relations in that local economy to where people are less confident to go out to the market or shop for furniture. The sense of law and order is tarnished as the police now have more work to do, and perhaps, less sense of safety among the citizenry. Business loans and related lending are injured or suspended for a season because of instability in the local economy. The money that bomber spent on his pistols, rifles, vest and explosives are effectively “burnt benjamins,” that money is lost forever, useless shrapnel or, at best, evidence seized by the police. And of course, everything that was destroyed in the blast, every life lost, and every family that that shrank that day–those don’t exactly help the economy either. None of that fallout is “good for business” unless by “business” you mean the anti-economic outcomes of terrorism.

3. Many Other Causes Show The “Jobless Terrorist” Thesis Is Too Simplistic and Off-The-Mark.
So the “Jobless terrorist” thesis is looking pretty weak that this point. This thesis can be effectively replaced by combining the material factors of political tyrrany, whether real or perceived, with political transitions plus socio-economic factors that make life hard or increase a sense of oppression; and then with that tinder in place add a spark in the form of fundamentalist ideology such as Wahabist Islam or pretty much any roots movement in Islam. Historically, some other non-muslim ideologies have been sparks such Irish nationalism, or Tamil patriotism, or Jewish zealotry, or old fashioned apocolyptic cult theology. But there is no mistaking the fact that today, Islam is the overwhelming front runner in this regard.

Alberto Albadie writing for the National Bureau for Economic Research argues that political instability, especially transitions between or into tyrranical regimes, is the relevant precursor for terrorism, meanwhile “the risk of terrorism is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once other country-specific characteristics are considered.” Now this thesis is interesting, and does a good job of accommodating the (allegedly) Islamic cases and non-Islamic cases of terrorism in south India or Ireland for example. Terrorism is bigger and older than Islam, so it would be too cursory to ignore the Tamil Tigers, the BCE Jewish Zealots, or the Irish Republican Army.

However, neither would it be especially precise and helpful in understanding the pressing global threats arising from self-proclaimed Muslims. Saudi Arabia hadn’t been under any drastic regime shift in 2000-2001, yet it was sponsoring, at that time, the largest single terrorist act on American soil (9/11). Even PBS admits an overwhelming, and telling, correlation between Islam and terrorism. Since at least the onset of the modern Jewish state in 1948 and recharged in 1967, islamic-themed terrorism has escalated commiserate with Israel’s proven ability to defend itself. Direct military conquest grew infeasible so the anti-semitic and anti-western angst common to much of Islam was pressed to find different objects of aggression besides Israel and it’s army. Civilians could be targeted. But typical muslims around the world aren’t especially violent, or conspiratorial, like we would expect from terrorists. However, the typical muslim is not literate in Arabic, not well conformed to the life and teachings of Muhammad, and–like with any mainline religion–not very devout. I would not expect the typical Muslim to follow Muhammad’s warring lifestyle any more than I’d expect the typical Christian to follow Jesus’ chaste lifestyle. How then can self-proclaimed Muslims begin targeting civilians for violence?

If this question baffles you, I contend that you do not know Islamic history, Scripture, or the life of Muhammad very well. Islam has always had, at least as a significant minority, a very bloody contingent. Muhammad was nothing less than a war lord. According to Muslims he was a prophet of God, justified in his religious, political, and military actions, but there is no getting around the fact that he had the blood of hundreds and thousands of people on his hands. And only some of those people were active military enemies. Some of them were wives and children of soldiers. And many of Muhammad’s followers committed terrorist-type acts, kidnapped women, killed children and so on, with Muhamad’s approval. Such infidels participated incidentally or complicitly evils of that enemy. Besides the example of Muhammad, the Quran and Hadith have some very brutal teachings typically in the later passages (in the Meccan period) which, by the principle of abrogation, are thought to be more authoritative than the earlier more peaceful teachings (of the Medinan period).

Across the history of Islam pretty much every border is a bloody border; lands adjunct to predominately Muslim territories have expansion-minded Muslims on that border trying to stoke unrest, and typically, before long, that area becomes a terrorist front. This is true of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Chechnya (bordering Russia), former Russian republics like Kazakhstan. Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Pakistan (formerly Northern India),  Afghanistan (bordering Pakistan and India), Nigeria and Sudan along with the rest of Central Africa (where Christian populations border the Islamic North), more recently in France, England and the Netherlands. And of course, there was a bloody trail along the militant spread of Islamic during the Caliphate and in its gradual growth since then. This genetic tie to violence is so strong, that it even extends to denominational differences between Shiite and Sunni Islam, for example in the violent fronts of Syria, Libya, Iraq and Iran.

Now the ties between Islam and violence are complex and they are rarely strictly religious, but neither are they secular either. While there can be political ideologies, and socio-cultural convictions swirled into that causal mix, it is outright head-in-the-sand denial to pretend that Islam, actual historic orthodox Islam, has no normative ties to terrorism. I know this is a bold claim, and I remind you that I’m not saying that all or even most Muslims are terrorists. I’m comfortable with anywhere between 0.1% to 10% estimates where a relatively small portion of Muslims actively or passively support terrorism. But I am not comfortable with the willful disregard of the plain fact that the vast majority of terrorists who are self-proclaimed Muslims are acting on the precedent or teaching of Muhammad, adhering to conservative readings of the Quran and Hadith, following the five pillars, devoting their efforts to Allah, with no later prophet or scripture in mind as they shout “Allahu akbar!” as they target infidels in violent attacks.

Put another way, when Muslims become devout and return to the strict life and teachings of Muhammad–a roots movement–they become more violent. Meanwhile, if Christians were to do the same, becoming more faithful as Christians by following the life and teachings of Jesus they would become more peaceable. The only blood on Jesus’ hands was his own.

The same holds true for other religions. Whether Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism, the B’ahai World Faith, Shinto, Taoism, or what have you–none of these have the kind of pressing terrorist ties that Islam does. All of them have their “skeletons in the closet” but none of them can be so neatly and swiftly associated with the bulk of world terrorism like Islam can. Whatever the complex theological and practical debates may exist over the nature of “true” Islam, we cannot safely say that all terrorist acts by self-proclaimed Muslims are theologically abberant, since a cursory survey suggests they might just as well be denominational differences; that is, these people are fundamentalists not radicals; they are not extremists but extremely Muslim.

In conclusion, joblessness and terrorism relate not as cause to effect, but the other way around. Terrorism impoverishes people; bombs and guns cannot be eaten no matter how much one’s family is starving. Explosions and gunfire destabilize societies. And the millions of dollars that could have been building houses and feeding families in the Gaza strip, for example, fail as charitable goods when funneled, instead, into miles of concrete tunnels to smuggle rockets into firing range of Israel. With all the socio-economic factors that can help empower terrorism, the most clear and common causal spark in those settings seems to be fundamentalist Islam.

Intelligent Design is often characterized as a “science stopper.” The logic is something like this: “Why keep investigating nature, parsing out smaller and smaller parts and ever deepening causal accounts of nature’s wonders when we can instead just say ‘God did it’ and move on to other matters? In this way, Intelligent Design halts the progress of science with its hasty appeal to an irreducible cause named God.”

To be sure, there have probably been many scientists and pseudo-scientists who take this easy route, letting a theological commitment bypass the hard work of natural science. For those people, I say, shame on you. But lets not rush to judgment either. It’s not clear at all that intelligent design is intrinsically tied to this habit of being a “science stopper.” Quite the opposite is true.

Perhaps I can illustrate. Which is more interesting, studying the random lines of water running down a window in the rain? Or studying the meaningful lines of writing from a loved one in a letter? The first can, perhaps, submit to all sorts of scientific measurements and naturalistic description. And I’m sure there are people who make a living trying to formulate predictive models about how water trickles down on vertical glass surfaces. That’s not a total waste of time, but lets be honest. The love letter is far more interesting to us. Knowing that there is a designing cause, and in this case a personal cause, behind this discovery makes it that much more interesting and worthy of study. There are people who study different sounds in nature, but there are probably a whole lot more people studying the intelligently designed sounds of music; where notes are rendered on purpose, with artistic interests in mind, perhaps even to tell a story and signify things besides the music itself. The impulse to understand, question, discover and study is not hampered by the design inference, it is strengthened. When nature’s ways belie meaning, design, and purpose, they become more interesting, not less; we are all the more curious, more intrigued, more hungry to know the how and why behind it all.

To be fair, the design inference does risk introducing an irreducible causal nexus–the designer. And much of modern science hinges in reductivism, wherein everything is assumed to be reducible to other “smaller” things. It may be totally outside the ability of science to give any sort of exact description of this “designer.” That may be the job of philosophers or theologians. However, it’s not as if Intelligent Design has halted science here though. Every account of anything ever given eventually arrives at some irreducible point, where we cannot yet find any substrata beneath it, or our technology fails us, or our comprehension fails us. Plus, intelligent design can also shift the reductive analysis to telos, thus sustaining that scientific curiosity. In other words, intelligent design allows that features in nature manifest design, or what is variously called purpose, intention, or telos. This last term is where we get the notion of teleology (nature is thought to operate as directed towards goals). Reductive scientist assumes no such things exist–and they typically do this since modern scientists have widely rejected teleology (at least) since Darwin.

But intelligent design theorists allow that such things may exist. Nature may have latent purposes built into it, such as a shark sensing temperature changes for the purpose of detecting prey or people protecting orphans because they should care others. For intelligent design theorists, they need not squelch their curiosity when apparent purposes seem to be at work; they need not redirect their energies, against their intellectual integrity, to explain away what seems readily evident. They can instead scientifically explain what is within their ability to explain, and press ever upward and ever onward in greater explanations precisely because the potential for teleology in nature is boundlessly intriguing.

Natural science might be doable without much appeal to design. But it can be far richer and far more interesting when the possibility of design is allowed in, at least where no satisfactory naturalistic explanation can be found. Personal explanations have always been and will always be an intriguing possibility inspiring and driving people towards clearer and better accounts of nature facts.

Greetings one and All,

Pantego Christian Academy in Arlington TX is hosting its annual apologetics conference


* Friday, March 20th * 8am-12:15pm * Cost is $5 suggested donation for student guests or $10 for adult guests. Pantego student/facult/staff are free. * There will be breakout sessions and panel discussions with a host of apologists and professionals and featuring keynote speakers J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity.

And Steve Lee, contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible
Steve Lee

*****Stay Tuned for Schedule, Breakout Topics and More!*****

* https://www.pantego.com/https://www.facebook.com/pantego *

Regarding theories about the origin of the universe or the origin of species, there appears to be “design” all over the place. How do we account for this design? Broadly speaking, we can double-down on evolutionary naturalism affirming no “designing” cause whatsoever, or we can admit that some things seem to be best explained as “designed” (i.e., there is a designing intelligence which caused them).

It is the more conservative thesis to extrapolate from known designing causes (human intelligence–of which we are deeply familiar) to an unknown designing cause (non-human intelligence–of which we are not as familiar) rather than to ditch it all and assume that our intelligence can’t ever identify something analogous to itself. That’s not just skeptical, that’s cynical, not to mention it would make the whole field of “artificial intelligence” moot, and it would render the “problem of other minds” unsolvable. Both of these examples would be kinds of intelligence that are denied because they are only analogous to our own intelligence (your intelligence can’t be identical to mine, since yours is happening in a different place than mine, and you know somethingz I don’t, and vice versa). Computer “intelligence” would be even more different from our intelligence so we really couldn’t admit that kind of intelligence.

Now I might be going out on a limb here but I suspect that most evolutionary naturalists think that other minds (besides their own) exist, and that it’s at least conceptually possible to have artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, they risk prohibiting these options if they deny the “design inference” and it’s implications.

The football fan-favorite Texas Christian University is coming under fire because of their smashing success in the last few games. Apparently, you can have too much of a good thing. College Football has no place for bullying and winning big means bullying. The College Football Playoffs commissioner commented saying, that “TCU has been trouncing opponents. And that’s bad for business and harmful to the self-esteem of opposing players. College football is about fairness and equity, but when teams like TCU are smashing opponents, it looks like some teams are clearly better than others. That’s damaging to team revenues and, more than that, it crushes the spirit of those college athletes who may never recover from that kind of defeat.”

When asked whether TCU’s victories are good sportsmanship, in the spirit of competition, the commissioner added, “When TCU wallops opponents like Texas Tech, Iowa State, or Ole Miss that is ‘bully’ behavior. It is clearly ‘unfair’ to weaker teams. We want teams in the playoffs who are roughly equal, so there can be good close games with established teams that have a huge fan base and generate lots of revenue. TCU offers none of that.” The commissioner added, “There is no place in the playoffs for bullies. We cannot have teams that are clearly better than the rest compete for the trophy because that would make the games lopsided, it would push out established teams with a wide fan base and lots of revenue, and it would let smaller schools think they have the same right to compete as bigger more profitable teams. We can’t have that.”

When asked about Florida’s state’s meme-worthy meltdown to the tune of 5 turnovers and a 39 point differential, the commissioner could only say, “Well, it’s Florida State. Plus, Florida State won games without ‘rubbing it in.’ They deserve to be in the playoffs because they managed to win without embarrassing other teams. They weren’t bullies like TCU. They won close games. They didn’t melt down until their biggest game. And by that time, all the tickets were sold. They can meltdown all the want as long as it doesn’t hurt profits. TCU however, they won big games and won by big margins. That’s bully behavior and that violates the spirit of fairness we try to uphold in college sports.”

May the best team win? Well, maybe next year.

To understand the contemporary feminism one has to be steeped in marxist theory. In short, a great deal of feminism is not about women at all. On the left and right tracks of modern politics women’s interests are boxcars for socialist and or communist cargo. More conspiratorial theories might try to tie feminism to crony capitalists profiting from the “abortion complex.” I make no such claims here, knowing that capitalism is abused by the left and right even if “abortion rights” is an uniquely left-wing platform. Meanwhile, it’s one of the plainest features of the history of feminism that marxists have largely commandeered feminism, being about half of the first wave of feminism (late 19th-early 20th cent.), growing into the majority by the 2nd wave of feminism (mid-20th cent-1980’s), and becoming the establishment norm by the 3rd wave of feminism (1980’s-current). I welcome your dispute here. But I challenge you to do a deep search into the history of feminism, especially those movements described by the “1st, 2nd, and 3rd wave” terminology (see here).

Fortunately, there is no controlled market on ideas. Ideas like freedom, gender, family, justice, motherhood, equality, and dignity enjoy a free market where competing interpretations of these can be bandied about and compete against each other. The free market of ideas is perhaps even more sacred and central to conservatism than the free market economy. In that free market of ideas there is a real and growing presence of conservative feminism. Strictly speaking, any “pro-women” positioning is feminist. There is no intrinsic tie to “women’s interests” and “leftist politics.” If you support or oppose abortion you can be a kind of feminist. You can be a feminist if you believe in employer provided contraception or if you don’t think your boss should have any stake in your bedroom behavior. If you believe “women’s interests” are predominately matters of contraception and abortion, or if you believe that women’s interests include national and state debt, job markets, and tax rates–you can still be a feminist. If you oppose traditional family or support it, you can be a feminist. If you think women shouldn’t own guns and somehow should be just as safe as otherwise or you think women should be empowered to protect themselves by wider gun-ownership–you can be a feminist either way.

But let’s be clear. I’m not arguing here that both ends of the political spectrum are valid, nor that marxist feminists are ultimately right, okay, or otherwise excused for the sake of “good intentions.” I’m affirming tolerance in the classic sense, not the modern sense. That is,  we all have the right to be wrong in our speech, our ideas, and our writing and that includes facing the consequences of the ideas we espouse. I have a great deal of faith in free markets, when they are genuinely free, to vet out bad ideas and that includes dangerous, debilitating and dumb ideas that sometimes swirl into the subject of feminism.

If you think women should have justice and a real and meaningful sense of equality and dignity before the eyes of the law, but you aren’t convinced that that marxist strands of feminist have the right idea, let me recommend to you some conservative forms of feminism.








Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conservative_feminisms

Some Conservative Feminist Books and Articles:
Phyllis Schlafly Who Killed The American Family? (2014)
Kate Pavlich Assault and Flattery (2014)
Christina Hoff Summers Freedom Feminism (2013)
Susan Venker and Phyllis Schlafly The Flipside of Feminism (2011)
Ronnie Schreiber Righting Feminism (2008)
Kate O’Beirne Women who Make the World Worse (2005)
Christina Hoff Summers Who Stole Feminism? (1994)