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The Miracle of Christmas

Looks like God is the world’s best physicist.

The most extraordinary letter received here in 2021 (or perhaps in the last five years) was a response to an email of mine on colleges’ appointing atheist chaplains. The letter (edited to protect the writer) went as follows:

The appointment of an atheist as a chaplain doesn’t seem to me to be, by itself, a calamity for civilization. Over here, we have a long and respectable tradition of Anglican atheism. My wife’s tutor at university was perfectly willing to admit to being an atheist, on the grounds that his own values coincided so closely with the church’s doctrine.

When I was in boarding school, I realized that I really didn’t believe some of what I was being told in confirmation class and wondered if I should proceed anyway. So I confided to my housemaster, who replied, “Of course, you must go ahead, my dear boy: the church needs your support.”

Then, to my astonishment, he revealed to me that he had never actually believed in God. However, he said, the church, alongside the monarchy, was the most important institution in the country.

Subsequently, he was elevated to a far more august position in the church, and attended chapel for many years in full processional vestment, at least eight times a week during term.

And do not forget the Non-Believing Bishops. I’m not sure how many there have been over the years, but there were at least three prominent ones: Richard Holloway (Edinburgh), David Jenkins (York), and Shelby Spong (Newark, New Jersey). If the church can put up with atheist bishops in its own hierarchy, an atheist chaplain in a university doesn’t look that threatening.

Surely what matters is not what these clerics believe (or don’t believe), but what they say and what they teach when doing their jobs.

If you’ve been wondering why Western civilization is collapsing, now you know. The bishops and who knows how many clerics have been lying for years.

And make no mistake: the bishops were lying. At the ceremony of the consecration of a bishop, the candidate is asked, “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach or maintain nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same?” He answers, “I am so persuaded and determined, by God’s grace.”

The letter writer may think the lyin’ bishops were doing their jobs teaching, and the tutors too. A better guess is that their pupils saw right through them.

One survey last year showed that by 2018, only 12 percent of the national population of Great Britain identified as belonging to the Church of England or its sister churches in Scotland and Wales. In addition, surveys show that as few as 1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds now identify as Anglicans. What else would you expect from a “respectable tradition of Anglican atheism”?

A few years ago, in Norwich, England, they built a 15-meter amusement slide in the middle of the cathedral; Rochester Cathedral, just outside London, installed a mini-golf course inside the building for a month; in 2016, Gloucester Cathedral transformed its 1,300-year-old building into a skate park for a skate festival; and Blackburn Cathedral has its own brand of gin — all done, of course, to attract people who probably saw right through the lyin’ bishops and tutors. To repeat: what else would you expect from a “respectable tradition of Anglican atheism”?

So, then, how do those respectable Anglicans think life on Earth began? How do they think we humans got here? On the back of a lyin’ bishop? And what was he standing on? Another lyin’ bishop? And that one? For them, is it lyin’ bishops all the way down?

Belief in God may be only a matter of faith today. But someday, and perhaps soon — maybe in only the next hundred years — the existence of God may be so obvious that only a moron, or an Anglican bishop, will be able to doubt it.

In 2009, this column reviewed Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Meyer’s essential premise was that there are times when we see something so improbable we say, “Somebody did that.” If you’re at a casino and the ball lands on 16 red 10 times in a row, you know someone’s cheating. You know that because for the ball to land on 16 red more than a (very) few times in a row is so improbable that “someone” (i.e., an intelligence, e.g., a crooked croupier) must be making it happen.

Meyer said we should bring that same skepticism to the idea that life developed by chance. Some people think that life on Earth had an eternity to develop. Not true. The Earth has only been cool enough for life to exist for a relatively few years (maybe four billion). Meyer says that in that relatively short time, all the necessary proteins needed to service a minimally complex cell would have to have developed. The odds of that having happened, he says, are about 1 in 1041,000  (that’s 10 with 41,000 zeros after it). So, yes, that could have happened “by chance,” but we should bring the same skepticism (actually, a whole lot more) to its having happened by chance that we would bring to the behavior of the monotonous roulette wheel.

And now there’s more. In his book Miracles, Eric Metaxas describes some other facts that, if they were just ever so slightly different, would mean that life on Earth couldn’t exist. Here are only three: If our planet were just a little larger, its gravitational force would be stronger, and it would pull all the methane and ammonia down to Earth, and life couldn’t exist. But if Earth were just a little smaller, water vapor, essential to life, would dissipate into the atmosphere, and life couldn’t exist.

If the Earth rotated just a little more slowly, the days would be too hot and the nights too cold for life to exist. But if it rotated just a little faster, the rotation would produce winds sufficiently high to make life impossible.

And a sine qua non for life on Earth is Jupiter, our solar system’s vacuum cleaner. Because Jupiter is so huge (318 times the mass of Earth), most of the comets flying around our solar system get diverted from crashing into Earth by Jupiter’s gravitational pull.

There are, according to Metaxas, hundreds of these variables essential to human life. What are the odds that they all — every single one — are just the way they are by chance?

Zero! That we exist is, in a word, a miracle.

But there’s more. Metaxas says the fine-tuning required for life to exist is nothing compared to what is needed for the universe to exist. He writes that astrophysicists now know that the “values of the four fundamental forces — gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ nuclear forces — were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang…. Alter one value, and the universe could not exist.” The odds, he continues, are a bit like “tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.” Forget about the roulette wheel.

St. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word … ” “Logos” is the Greek word for “word,” but it also means “reason” or “order.”

So, in the beginning was the ordering of, for example (as Metaxas says), the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force, which, if it had been off by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion), would have prevented stars from ever forming at all.

So, yes: in the beginning was the Word.

And then, 2,021 years ago, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Merry Christmas.

Published:

December 24, 2021
The American Spectator

Updating Antitrust for a Free People

Can it change with the times — and save the country from corporate, anti-constitutional vandals?

The past has its charms, but it’s still the past. Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal (and no doubt thousands of others) seems mesmerized by an antitrust theory developed in the 1960s. In case you haven’t been paying attention, a lot has changed since then.

In a recent column, Kessler decried a return of the “Big is bad” theory of antitrust. That theory, he says, was developed by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1916–39) “who disliked big business, especially railroads.” The Brandeis understanding of antitrust was superseded by Judge Bork’s thinking, compellingly set forth in his brilliant book The Antitrust Paradox. That book was published in 1978, but the first draft was finished in 1969.

In the 1980s, Bork’s theory became the policy of the Reagan administration’s antitrust enforcers. But even 1980 is now a long time ago, closer to the age of radio, even crystal radios, than to the internet age we live in today, and it is surely a mistake to trap the thinking of as brilliant a man as Bork in the amber of his time.

A major change in the country now as compared to 1969, 1978, or 1980 is the raging culture war, which Bork commented on in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, published in 1996. Hostilities have escalated dramatically since then, and most of big-corporate America is not only not on the side Bork would be on but is using its market power to hasten the country’s arrival at Gomorrah. Slouching, Hell; now it’s sprinting towards Gomorrah.

Would Bork stick to the position he first staked out in 1969? That seems unlikely.

Antitrust is part of the real world. It’s not a laboratory experiment. What is the purpose of law? What is the purpose of public policy? What is the purpose of antitrust? That debate is the one “conservatives” in this country are now embroiled in.

There are the libertarians who seem unconcerned about the blatant attacks on our liberties as long as that attack is perpetrated by private companies (even if those companies achieved their dominance through government regulations that disadvantaged their competitors).

That is not the position of traditional, cultural conservatives. They value societal, and constitutional, arrangements as much as they value economic efficiency. They know there’s a culture war going on, and they know they’re losing it.

One reason they’re losing is that corporate America is against them. Four of the biggest information companies in the country (Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook) put their hands on the scales of democracy in 2020 to swing the election to Joe Biden. (Please note: that is different from saying the election was stolen, and that comment is different from saying it was not stolen.) The Hunter Biden laptop scandal was buried by almost every major news outlet in the country. Pfizer’s CEO delayed the announcement of the efficacy of his company’s vaccine until after the election. And most of big-corporate America (Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck, among others) is currently engaged in promoting anti-American woke ideas like critical race theory and the 1619 Project.

As an economic theory, big may not necessarily be bad. But what happens if big always, or often, or even only sometimes, turns out to be bad? Bad for what?

That’s the question.

Which is “better”: a system that lets big corporations do whatever they want — even if those actions are designed to undermine our democratic institutions, suppress dissent, and marginalize those who hold differing values, including traditional American ones like individual responsibility and the “racist” presumption that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Or is it better to have a system that safeguards our democratic institutions — even from powerful private interests — and promotes traditional American values, or at least protects those that hold them from reprisal?

And here’s a question for the assorted libertarians and “economic conservatives” whose exclusive focus is maximizing economic efficiency: how long do you think those efficiencies will be maximized once our individual liberties are extinguished? How’s that working out for people in China?

Kessler devoted his column to the concept of consumer harm, by which he means only the economic harm caused to consumers by bad (and illegal) corporate practices. But even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that consumer prices have any real probative value in an economy awash in subsidies and skewed by regulation (does anyone really think the price of solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars; primary, secondary, and post-secondary education; double bypass operations; or pretty much any prescription drug sold in the U.S. — to name just a few consumer items — is determined by market forces?), we still have to ask: is economics all we care about? Did we fight a revolution to save five cents on undershirts?

What about suppressing the news? What about changing the election laws in ways that make cheating easier? What about firing people who voted for Donald Trump or attended the rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6? The mega-companies listed above employ more than a million people, which means they have the power to silence a million people and suppress the views and activities of millions of others. The New York Times ran an article three years ago headlined, “How Banks Could Control Gun Sales if Washington Won’t.” Did the Times reject the headline “How Banks Can Repeal the Second Amendment if the Supreme Court Won’t”?

James Damore, a Harvard graduate and software engineer at Google, was fired for writing in a memo that there were differences between men and women. If there had been four other, if smaller, competing Googles, he might not have been let go.

JPMorgan Chase supports Planned Parenthood. If you worked at JP, would you dare say Planned Parenthood is involved in killing babies? When they fired you, could you get a comparable job at a comparable bank? Name one. How many comparable banks are there?

Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has introduced an antitrust bill that would, inter alia, ban all mergers and acquisitions by companies with a market capitalization exceeding $100 billion. That’s one way to deal with the antitrust problem, but of course it doesn’t address the cultural and constitutional threat big business presents.

On June 11, House Democrats and Republicans introduced bills intended to check the power of Silicon Valley mega-corporations. But the bills seek to outlaw only certain economic activities of the companies (e.g., giving their own products and services preference over rivals) and don’t address the broader, and central, issue: too much power by mega-corporations over citizens’ lives.

Are there other ways to deal with excessive corporate power? Perhaps. The attorney general of Ohio, Dave Yost, has filed a suit against Google, claiming that Google should be regulated as a public utility due to its “discriminatory and anti-competitive” practices. Yost is not seeking monetary damages but instead asks that Google be declared a “common carrier” that could be regulated by a body such as the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products — that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said in a prepared statement. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cell phone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.” Fair enough.

But while using existing concepts and laws may be faster and easier than enacting new antitrust legislation, it won’t solve the problem. Many Americans might believe their constitutional liberties would be more secure if we were to move back toward a more Jeffersonian concept of size (updated for the 21st century), not small perhaps, but at least smaller than gargantuan — and small enough not to be able to dictate what we think and how we live our lives.

In many, and perhaps most, antitrust cases, we can stick with Bork’s analysis because the firms involved won’t have the power wielded by the mega-corporations (however we eventually decide to define them). They’re the problem, and they should be “urged” to stick to their business or be broken up into smaller companies.

Would that be popular? When Americans were asked recently by the Gallup organization how they felt about the size and influence of major corporations, 73 percent said somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. That looks like a majority — you can already hear the mega-corporations demanding a recount.

Would Americans pay a price at the store if, as Bork’s book tells us, the mega-corporations were broken up and the smaller companies were marginally less efficient? Yes. But they also pay a price for having a military, and a highway department, and a municipal water inspector, and national cemeteries. Why not pay a price for keeping mega-corporations from fixing elections? And banning books? And firing people who think men and women are different? And trashing the anti-cheating protections of election laws?

If you think the maintenance of democracy and constitutional government is free, you may want to take a visit to a national cemetery (there are 155 of them) or one of the thousands of war memorials across our country — and you’d best hurry, before they’re all torn down or desecrated by woke mobs spurred on and financed by our leading corporate and other “private sector” interests.

The past is gone. Times change. Americans shouldn’t be, and probably are not, afraid to change with them. It turns out, big can be bad after all. It’s time to update antitrust.

Note: For further discussion of this issue by this author, see the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Published:

June 28, 2021
The American Spectator