Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Information and the Scale of Legitimate Authority

I spent some time working on a post in response to the parts of Kevin D. Williamson's new book that I don't like, but I think I will have to wait till my thoughts crystallize further. The book resonates well with this post, which I have been planning for a couple weeks now. In it, he says that he is unsure of what the term "legitimate" even means with respect to government, implying that there is no such thing as a legitimate authority, and launches a full frontal attack on the rule of law. Given his pattern of reasoning from non-Christian principles that's no surprise, even though he is a Catholic. But that part of his book formed a nice dovetail along the lines of what I've been thinking about lately, and it has to do with what conservatives believe about authority and what makes it legitimate or not.

For instance, American conservatives tend to be skeptical of government authority, yet within institutions like the church, the workplace and the family they often view authority more positively. Even on this blog I've engaged in polemics against government authority while at the same time fending off those Christians who believe in no government at all, or at least that Christians should not be involved in it. Those Christians are more along the lines of libertarian, or even anarchist, lines of thinking similar to Williamson's largely secular version. But it raises the question for an American conservative: Why do we believe that some kinds of authority are legitimate and others are not? Where is the line?

My interest in intelligent design theory led to an interest in information theory, so when I began reading libertarian authors like Williamson I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the libertarian critique of socialism is based on information, a subject I was prepared to digest. First I will explain some very basic concepts from information theory. Then I will explain the libertarian critique of socialism based on information. And finally, I will explain what exactly I mean by the Scale of Legitimate Authority and how it nicely fits the traditional American conservative understanding of authority in society.

Information Theory

I should warn you that I have no more than the most basic understanding of this topic, but that does include a starting definition of "information". In the mid-twentieth century an interesting guy named Claude Shannon laid the foundations of modern computer science by forming a counter-intuitive definition of information. Shannon was using sophisticated mathematics to make money at blackjack long before that was cool. He also worked in cryptography, that is secret codes, in Britain during World War II. His quantitative definition of information is called Shannon information. Shannon information is inversely proportional to the degree of uncertainty.

Suppose there are one thousand kinds of dogs, and one hundred of them are black. I say, "I have a black dog." Can we quantify the amount of information in that statement? The answer according to Shannon is "yes". The amount of information is, simply, 10.  (I am neglecting a discussion of bits and bytes and all that which is more rigorous. It is enough to know that virtually any calculation like this can be converted into bits of information in any arbitrary coding language, including the standard ones used in computers and DNA.) It takes a form similar to a probability. If there are one thousand possibilities and I have specified one hundred of them, then I have told you an amount of information quantified as one hundred out of one thousand, or 1/10. But suppose I told you I have a "Husky/German Shepherd/Retriever mix". The amount of information I have conveyed here is one out of one thousand, or 1/1,000. We know that the second example is more information than the first, but the second number is smaller numerically. So we take the reciprocal, which gives:

Black dog: 10
Husky/German Shepherd/Retriever: 1,000

Now the second example has a higher number corresponding to more information, which is what we want. But supposing there are ten thousand kinds of dogs instead of only one thousand. That gives:

Black dog: 100
Husky/German Shepherd/Retriever: 10,000

Even though I have the same informational statements, the actual quantity of information increased because the number of possibilities increased. (Data compression can be accomplished by changing the code so that the total number of possibilities is decreased and so you can convey the same information in a way that is quantitatively lower. This is what mp3 files and successive generations of coding techniques are doing to compress auditory information.) You can see how the amount of information increases with the number of possibilities as long as our specification remains the same. You can see why the method is counter-intuitive, because the quantity of information varies most dramatically according to what isn't there than according to what is. The number of total possibilities is just as important, if not more important, than the specific possibility that ends up being chosen.

Using this method, if we can count the number of possibilities and also reduce them to the number of actual occurrences, we can quantify information in a rigorous way. This is the basis of bits and the way the discipline of computer science handles information on your computer right now. It is also used by intelligent design theorists to make arguments about proteins, where the possibilities are very large and the occurrences are very small, corresponding to a very large amount of information. They further argue that information beyond a certain threshold cannot be generated randomly given the probabilistic resources available to the entire universe in the scientifically accepted age of the universe. I touched on this in my last post. Only agents can generate large amounts of information and that's because agents have the power to choose from among large numbers of possibilities. Physical law cannot produce large amounts of information, because physical law specifies outcomes that have a probability of one and only one, meaning there is only one possibility and therefore the maximum amount of information created by a single physical event is only one, and there are a finite number of possible events that have occurred since the beginning of time. Agency, or as I prefer, free will, has the unique ability to choose among real possibilities and thus create large amounts of information. I am doing it right now in typing this post.

The Libertarian Critique of Socialism

You probably don't think about it, but you are creating new information of this type whenever you buy a product. Mr. Williamson talks about the number of possible combinations in which one can buy milk. Every time a person buys a carton of milk, they are creating a large amount of information. They are picking one thing out of a large number of possibilities, which is the definition of information described above. The libertarian critique of socialism, advanced by economists like Ludwig von Mises, observes that all this economic information being generated by everyone in the world every day with every transaction is far too large for any single person or organization to grasp, and therefore no centralized, rational economic plan even has the capability of taking into account all that information being created in the marketplace. More simply, nobody knows. The market has far too much information in it for any one person or organization to actually know, and this prevents any sort of central economic planning from successfully organizing the market. People can with a lot of time, experience and accumulation of bits and pieces of information become familiar with small portions of it, enough to build a successful business or even a successful investment firm which deals with many businesses, but there is no possible way to deal with all of it at once in a single, centralized economic plan. Seventy-five percent of new businesses fail. Figuring out how to navigate the market is inherently difficult because of the large amount of information, but people can do it if they drastically simplify the problem. Without simplifying it, the problem is inherently intractable. Even if you could know all of the information at one instant it is constantly changing. Value is relative to local factors, inflation, wages, prices and a myriad of other things that nobody can know except the people involved in the actual transaction, and sometimes not even they. People change their buying habits or businesses and industries change the products they produce or even simply change the prices. Nobody knows. The Soviet Union was famous for its Five Year Plans for economic prosperity. As they each successively failed, they kept trying new ones. Look how that turned out.

Supposing, as the progressives do, that you want to turn a nation's economy into a wealth generating machine whose purpose is to redistribute wealth from rich to poor and equalize everyone economically. Conservatives have always argued that is immoral because it destroys property rights, but supposing we accept that this would be the moral and right thing to do. Libertarians say, convincingly, that no such thing is possible. Nobody has the capacity to even grasp the amount of information that would be required to formulate the question, much less an answer. But, you might say, we may not be able to do it perfectly, but shouldn't we at least try? Maybe we can come close, learn from mistakes, correct them, and get closer over time? The libertarian critique emphatically says no, you can't, because the amount of economic information increases and changes rapidly over time. Yes you may increase your knowledge, but the amount of information in existence also increases. On top of that, what you knew yesterday may no longer be true tomorrow. Furthermore, this information is based on factors that differ from locality to locality. Imposing a one-size fits all model will necessarily disregard differences between localities such that each locality will have information and preferences that cannot be accounted for in the centralized plan because of the need to compromise. A single plan cannot cater to all differences between local interests and remain a single plan.

The Scale of Legitimate Authority

It makes sense then to understand legitimate authority as a function of information. If the authority cannot know, its authority is not legitimate. If it can know, its authority is legitimate. People in and out of authority use this argument all the time already. The problem is our current understanding of what an authority can actually know. The scientific age has a terrible side effect: the hubris of the expert. We think because we can make iPods that means we know the absolute value of an iPod in 2013 inflation-adjusted U.S. dollars. This absolute value exists somewhere in the Platonic ideal, from whence we can grab it through the wonders of the scientific method...or something. Having bestowed upon our society this value, we can then say with absolute certainty that everyone can have an iPod of the same exact absolute value, so why shouldn't they? Because iPods do not have an absolute value. There are no absolute economic values. All economic value is relative. Insofar as economic values exist, they are determined by each and every individual each and every day with each and every transaction. Even I don't know if I will buy a Papa John's pizza tomorrow. Maybe the Texas Rangers will score seven runs and the price will be cut in half. Or maybe not. Either way, I don't know if I will make that choice or not, therefore I have no idea what the economic value of a pizza will be for me tomorrow. Therefore the only legitimate authority over economic value are the people directly involved in the transaction at the time it occurs.

Moral values, on the other hand, are absolute, universal and determined by God, and this is where American conservatives and libertarians differ. Libertarians might believe that moral values are absolute, or not, but they do not believe we can know those values. Philosophy aside, they are moral relativists when it comes to society. To quote from Williamson's new book:

 "St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote that 'the law is written on our hearts' -- but a lot of good it does us there! When organizing community life, relying upon that which exists only in our heads and our hearts is futile."

I was actually pretty shocked to read this. It turned out to be Williamson's only Biblical reference in the entire book. I was even more perplexed when later in the book he puts his finger squarely on the reason why the "law written on our hearts" becomes not only useful to society but essential:

"There is a great deal of discretion built into every level of the system, from the police on the scene to the prosecutor considering charges to the judge hearing the case...But discretion in law enforcement is hardly an insurmountable problem. In fact, it is not necessarily a problem; a system with no discretion at all probably would prove inhumane. But that discretion interacts with an inconvenient fact that rarely enters into democratic discourse: The law itself is a mishmash of incompatible rules and contradictory precedents. The proposition at the heart of our idea of the rule of law - that there is a correct answer to any given legal question, independent of the politics and preferences of the people empowered to make legal decisions - is a myth. In our political imagination, a legal dispute is akin to a logic problem: There are premises and rules, and from them we can deduct conclusions. In truth, the structure of legal reasoning is less like classical logic and more like scriptural debate. Because the law contains contradictory rules and precedents, a valid chain of legal reasoning can be created to accommodate almost any desired outcome in any given case."

Williamson means this as an attack on the usefulness of the rule of law, but it is also the reason why the law written on our hearts, and for that matter the scriptural debate he trashes, is essential to the just operation of society. In those areas in which authorities have discretion, over which no human law can be written as a guide, they ought to be consulting God, the ultimate authority and possessor of all wisdom, knowledge and power. I don't know if Williamson stopped his survey of Romans in chapter two, but my version says this in chapter twelve: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." The goal of a Christian, and Paul believes it to be an achievable goal, is to know God's will. Furthermore, only a Christian can achieve this goal:

"However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ."
~1 Cor. 2:9-15

Paul, far from disagreeing with Williamson about the limitations on the rule of law, expounds upon them mercilessly:

"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
~Col. 2:20-23

But does that mean we should do away with the Law? Certainly not. Neither Jesus nor Paul takes that position, despite Paul's skewering of the efficacy of law alone and Jesus' poking holes in the Pharisees' legal constructs. Jesus says not a single stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law, and Paul says that without the Law there would be no sin, and thus no need for Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us. The Law exists because God exists, and humans fail to measure up to his standards. But no one can become righteous according to the Law through the Law alone. He must know God, the Lawgiver, who writes His Law on our hearts.

But perhaps I need to bring the discussion back into focus and save the rule of law for later. Right now it is enough to say that economic values are relative but moral values are absolute. Christians possess a knowledge of morals through the dual divine revelation of Scripture and the Holy Spirit that is superior to non-Christians, and thus are endowed with a superior moral authority. The Scale of Legitimate Authority does not nor is it intended to address error. Legitimate authorities can make mistakes without losing their legitimacy. Likewise, good authorities can be illegitimate. To argue that an authority which makes a mistake loses its authority is just as invalid as arguing that Christianity is wrong because Christians sin. It is about legitimacy, not right and wrong. It is about the conditions under which authority is properly exercised. Moral values that are the same for everybody can in principle be known, and therefore central moral authority is legitimate for the same reason that central economic authority is not: information.

The Scale of Legitimate Authority holds in a wide variety of contexts. At one extreme there is God. All-knowing, all-powerful, Almighty God is the exemplar legitimate authority. He knows everything and therefore has legitimate authority over everything. Much of His authority is delegated, but this extreme end of the scale holds. Moving down the scale is the individual human being. As it is written, "who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them?" Aside from God, the highest authority over an individual is himself. This is not exactly negotiable, as every person must decide his own actions, including whether to submit to other authorities. Moving further down the scale, in smaller groups less information is knowable by a leader as compared to knowledge of himself, but there is still a good amount of knowable information, and therefore a high level of authority is legitimate. The exemplar here is the family unit. The parents, or dare I say it, the father, is in principle capable of knowing a great deal of the information about his family, legitimizing a level of authority higher than even the strictest dictator. The father can tell his children when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear. He can discipline them, even through corporal punishment, for even minor infractions if he feels the need. He has the authority to force them to do all manner of things against their will. This has always been considered legitimate. I daresay even libertarians would find it hard to disagree, especially if they've ever had children. Traveling even farther down the scale to larger organizations like churches, businesses, and up to municipal and state governments, the central authority loses legitimacy the larger the organization gets. The only way to have larger organizations that work is to decentralize authority in proportion to the size of the group. Why? Again, information. The larger the group, the more information is required to run it, and the less a central authority is capable of knowing it. At the bottom of the scale we find the United States government and other national governments, the largest organizations in the world with authority over the most number of people. Their authority is the least legitimate, the most to be questioned and the most to be limited if it is to be successful.

The Scale holds even in determining what types of authority a particular organization or person should have and what types it should not have. For instance, a national government has a great deal of knowledge about the intentions of other national governments. Their interests are similar, even if opposed, and leaders can and often do talk frequently with one another such that they can know a great deal about one another's intentions. Therefore we grant national governments a great deal of discretion in relations with foreign powers and over running their own organization, far greater discretion than we grant them over the affairs of their own citizens. The similarities between the interests, organization and resources of a government and those of a private individual, business or organization are as different as night and day. Government authority in such areas should rightly be viewed with extreme skepticism and even outright hostility. Central moral authority is in principle legitimate, but central economic authority should be virtually nonexistent. The protection of property rights is a moral question; what to do with that property is an economic one. Thus the government has a role in protecting property rights equally, fairly and universally, but virtually no role in telling its citizens what to do with their property, much less taking unreasonable amounts to do with as it pleases, for it cannot even in principle know how best to use that property in the interests of its rightful owners, who may not even themselves know until the proper time arrives.

The primary purpose of government is not to do good, or to manage the economy, or even to busy itself passing a myriad of laws. The government's primary purpose is to punish the wrongdoer. In order to fulfill its proper role and function as a legitimate moral authority, it must at a minimum be able to discern between right and wrong. As right and wrong cannot be written down exhaustively in a set of rules, the best hope for a government to be Just in its primary mission is for those with the greatest knowledge of right and wrong to run it, exercising the discretion inherent in the system. Thus it is not scientists, not engineers, not accountants, not economists, not even lawyers who are best suited to running the government. It is Christians. Christians alone have the Holy Spirit and a direct connection to the Good, the True and the Just Himself, though by some miracle perhaps non-Christians can at least interpret the Scriptures correctly. It is God who determines right and wrong, not us, and not a set of written rules and procedures. The success or failure of a government depends upon the degree to which it aligns itself with His will. We cannot contain God within a set of rules, but God can contain us within Himself. When He speaks, we listen, or we fail.

Now that's whack.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Some Math for Kevin D. Williamson

I just read this article by my favorite columnist Kevin D. Williamson. The article is primarily about economics, but Mr. Williamson makes an analogy between capitalism and biological evolution that intrigued me. My objective here is not to criticize him for making a bad analogy. As analogies go it's not that bad, and any analogy taken too far will eventually disintegrate. I rather wish to make an important point about the theory of biological evolution that I believe someone of Mr. Williamson's intellectual caliber has the ability to grasp as well as the political leanings to take seriously. I think the analogy he uses is useful for explaining the point, and I hope he will hear me out.

Mr. Williamson uses the pencil as his example of something which no individual person knows how to make but gets made anyway through a complicated network of cooperating entities because each of these cooperating entities knows how to do one particular thing. I'll make this as simple as possible for purposes of discussion. Let's say one factory can make the eraser, one can make the wooden piece with the graphite in it, and a third factory can make the metal connector. Then a fourth factory knows how to assemble all three pieces into a finished pencil. The point Mr. Williamson makes about this bears repeating. Because no single person or even single organization possesses all the knowledge, expertise and resources to make a pencil from scratch, it would be a major mistake to put one person or organization in charge of the process. The pencil gets made because several different organizations know how to do one part of the process and cooperate with each other to do it. There is no hierarchy or authority over this process. It's just capitalism in action. There is an important point to be made here about how knowledge justifies authority and ignorance doesn't, but that will be in a forthcoming post.

Mr. Williamson then compares this process to biological evolution, presumably because biological evolution also has no central authority guiding everything to a desired result. He explains that like evolution, the market automatically weeds out products that people don't want. The analogy to biological evolution is twofold. The Darwinian model posits random variation and natural selection as working together to produce all of biology from a common ancestor. In this analogy, the random variation would be produced by the factories and the selection provided by the market, or consumers, the end result being a market full of products that are valuable to people and tend to get better over time as bad products are weeded out. Williamson uses this to argue that "Failure works", meaning that producers are basically engaged in a trial and error process that weeds out the bad leaving only the good behind. The producers produce variation and the consumers select what they want and what they don't want from that variation. That is all well and good, but what if the producers actually made things randomly with no objective in mind? What if there really were no intelligence trying to connect the products to the needs and wants of consumers? This is the situation with biological evolution, and we can think about it in terms of Mr. Williamson's analogy.

Suppose we have one hundred factories in the world, each of them responsible for producing random objects the size of a pencil eraser. What is the likelihood that one of these factories will produce a pencil eraser? Let's assume the available resources are one thousand compounds and further stipulate that within this group of compounds exist the ones that could produce a pencil eraser. Let's say that a pencil eraser requires five different compounds and the factories always make parts that are a mix of five compounds. Let's say these factories switch to a new random part once a year and that they have ten years to get it right. A functional eraser can be created by one thousand different combinations of compounds. What is the probability these factories will randomly produce a workable eraser in the time allotted?

The probability calculation would have to include all the probabilistic resources available divided by the total number of possible combinations. The total number of possible combinations is easy to calculate:

1000^5 or 10^15 (for simplicity's sake I assume that the same compound can be used any number of times in the part)

Out of the one quadrillion possibilities, one thousand will produce a workable eraser, so the total probability of getting a workable eraser is:

10^3 / 10^15 = 1/10^12 or one in a trillion

The probabilistic resources available are the number of factories multiplied by the rate multiplied by the time:

100 factories * 1 random products per year per factory * 10 years = 10^3 or one thousand total different products

To get the probability the factories will hit on the right combination to make a workable eraser, simply multiply the probabilistic resources and the probability of finding a workable eraser:

10^3 * 1/10^12 = 1/10^9

For comparison, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 175 million. Rounded to the nearest power of ten that would be 1/10^8. So the odds of these factories getting a workable eraser is about ten times less likely than the single ticket you buy tonight winning the Powerball jackpot. Obviously we wouldn't call anyone crazy for believing that will probably not happen. But what if there were more factories, or more time for them to get to their goal? Let's use a million factories instead of a hundred, and give them a thousand years as well. And what if each factory switched products ten times a year instead of only once? What then?

10^6 factories * 10 random products per year per factory * 10^3 years = 10^10 total different products

10^10 * 1/10^12 = 1/100

Now the odds are only one in a hundred. Still not good, but perhaps one could be forgiven for believing such a thing could happen. Perhaps a million factories making ten different random products a year for one thousand years could beat the odds and produce a workable eraser. Better would be ten million factories making one hundred different random products a year for a thousand years, because then the probability of hitting the right combination somewhere along the line is one. But the important point is that the probability of a product being made randomly depends on both the probability of the event itself and the probabilistic resources available to the producers.  Another important thing to note is that all this must occur before the marketplace can do its work. This random search must succeed before the consumers in the market can select for the eraser, because if no eraser exists than the marketplace is simply continuously rejecting a long line of equally useless products. Selection cannot act in favor of a positive innovation until the innovation actually exists in the marketplace. Then there is the further question of how the eraser once it is selected gets paired with the other parts of the pencil and, even more difficult, how all the parts get randomly assembled in the right way. 

Of course we all know that there is a great deal of intelligent guidance involved in the making of a pencil. Just because no individual person knows the whole process does not obligate us to believe that nobody knows anything and the whole process is random and unguided, like evolution. There is also plenty of central organizational authority in the small organizations which produce various pieces of the pencil. Though no single company does the whole thing, each single company does do part of the job and within each company there are bosses to organize the labor as well as engineers to design not only the parts themselves to the specifications from both their customers and vendors, but also design the process which makes the parts. The market does indeed favor cooperation between smaller units, but organizational authority is required within even small units, and a great deal of intelligent design is involved in every part of the process, within the units or between them. Decentralization of knowledge, skills and decision-making does not eliminate the need for knowledge, skills and decision-making. Just because a large number of independent intelligent people have a hand in the process doesn't mean the process is not intelligently guided. In fact Williamson makes the case that because more people with more brainpower are involved the process is more intelligent than a socialist style centralized process, not less intelligent. At any rate we cannot get off believing that decentralization is equivalent to randomness and the process lacks intelligent guidance. Biological evolution, however, is claimed to be a random process lacking intelligent guidance and guided instead by natural selection, but it has the same type of probabilistic limits as our fictional random economy. It must also succeed in a completely random and unguided search before natural selection can act. The only thing natural selection can do is take a mutation randomly produced in a single individual and spread it through the entire population of its species. So the mutation must come first and it must come randomly. Natural selection cannot help there. All that's left is the math.

Applying all of this to biological evolution is much less fanciful than the pencil analogy. Calculating the total number of possible amino acid combinations for a given length of protein is straightforward and does not require as many limiting assumptions. In nature there is a natural limit of twenty amino acids. Yes, there a few more that show up in extremely rare cases, but 99% of the time nature is working with twenty. The length of proteins varies from the shortest known functional protein at twenty amino acids long and the longest known at well over 30,000 amino acids, but a typical functional protein is about three hundred amino acids long. The number of possible amino acid combinations is literally more than astronomical:

20^300 or about 10^390

For comparison, the number of atoms in the observable universe is estimated to be around 10^80. The number of seconds that have passed since the big bang 13.77 billion years ago is about 10^18. But what about the probabilistic resources? How many chances does evolution have to win the jackpot?

You can read about Bill Dembski's Universal Probability Bound here. (Dembski, by the way, appears to be a fan of Friedrich Hayek.) I prefer to use a more practical probability bound based on the total number of cells in all of history multiplied by the mutation rate of E. coli, a common prokaryotic cell with a relatively high mutation rate, though not the highest, a distinction belonging to HIV which is not a cell but a virus.

Total number of cells produced per year: 10^30
Total number of years: 10^10
Mutation rate of E. coli:  1*10^-3 per genome per generation

Multiply these all up and you get 10^37 mutations. But hey, let's give evolution the benefit of the doubt and say the mutation rate is one per every new cell, about the mutation rate of HIV. That means we get a nice round number of 10^40. This is the number Michael Behe uses in The Edge of Evolution, a must-read for anyone interested in this topic. The reference for the 10^30 number is a peer-reviewed paper and is given by Behe in the book. I'm lazy and don't want to look it up. Go buy the book yourself or use PubMed. Let's also use a shorter amino acid chain, about half the length of the average protein, of a hundred and fifty residues. I use this number because of Douglas Axe's research on a protein of that length. Again, I don't feel like looking up the references, but they are all peer reviewed published articles in scientific journals and are referenced in Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell. In Axe's case his papers were published in the 90s before he "came out" as an intelligent design theorist, otherwise he probably would have been blacklisted and the papers never published or redacted. (Behe survived at Lehigh University only because he had tenure before he "came out". Dembski wasn't so lucky and was expelled from, of all places, Baylor University.)

Anyway a few years ago I realized you could do a simple experiment, at least by today's standards, to estimate the number of functional proteins within the search space for a given protein length. Shortly thereafter I read Meyer's book and found out it had already been done by Axe, as well as some others. This is the sort of research I would have been doing had I not become discouraged with the government monopoly on scientific research preventing anyone with politically incorrect points of view from getting government funding and competing on a level playing field, but I digress...or not. I would love to hear Mr. Williamson's views on the government monopoly on scientific research and if he believes that only scientific research which conforms to political guidelines like separation of church and state be subsidized. In his article he argues that politics gets in the way of a working free market. What about the marketplace of ideas? Does anyone really believe that young earth creationists would not get funded in a working free market when upwards of forty percent of the American people are young earth creationists? I got into politics because it has thrust itself into my own life in a very personal way, but also because I believe as Mr. Williamson does that politics, not science, not evidence, not reason, is the only thing preventing certain points of view from competing on a level playing field in the marketplace of ideas.

To make a long story short, the number Axe calculated from his experimental results was 1/10^74.

Total number of possible amino acid sequences of 150 residues: 20^150 or about 10^195
Probability of finding another functional protein within that space starting with a functional protein as a template: 1/10^74
Probabilistic resources available in all of life's history: 10^40
Probability of finding a novel functional protein of 150 residues via a random search: 10^40*1/10^74 = 1/10^34

That is worse than the odds of you winning the Powerball jackpot four times in a row, and that's just one short enzyme. Enzymes work alone. Most proteins work in precisely engineered complexes of six or more that must also be assembled correctly. Mr. Williamson likes math. I wonder if he likes those odds? 

Now that's whack.

UPDATE: I just trotted over to UD for the first time in awhile and noticed a new post bearing directly on my topic here. The post is about a paper published by an ID biochemist in Croatia showing mathematically how the distribution of protein families does not show the same type of complexity as self-organizing complexity networks like those found in a free market.

UPDATE: The paper has several of the references I referred to in its bibliography. If you read it (this section is also pasted into the post) you'll see Axe's numbers are 10^-53 to 10^-77. I'm not sure where the range comes from, but if I remember right the 10^-77 number is the number for beta lactamase only. Axe calculated 10^-74 for all proteins of 150 residues. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Visions of Christian Victory

Jewish defeat was prophesied in the Book of Daniel, but it was not determined. In the Bible, God's pattern in dealing with people He knows will reject Him is always the same: pursue them wholeheartedly as if the outcome is in doubt because to us it is in doubt. The prophet Jeremiah is a good example. In Jeremiah's case God even told him at the beginning that his message would be rejected, but told him to give it anyway. The theme repeats itself in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and is one major reason why I am not an open theist, but that's a discussion for another time. Both Jesus Christ and Paul, and presumably all early Christians, cared deeply about the Jewish people, preached Christ to them and hoped they would be saved. Though the Jewish culture at large rejected Jesus, the efforts to evangelize the Jews were not totally in vain and a large number of Jews became Christians. There was a large Christian church in Jerusalem headed by James the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just. One of the great dramas of the New Testament was the argument over how Christians were to understand Jewish law, and James apparently played the central role for the side advocating adherence to the law. Traditionally it was this James, not either of the apostles named James, who wrote the book of James in the Bible. The early Jewish Christians saw no contradiction between following Jewish law the way they had been taught all their lives and being Christians. Indeed in Acts James uses that tradition as part of his argument. But the ever ambitious Paul wanted to see the entire Jewish culture accept Christ as God's son, and that never happened. Paul despairs of his own people and begins preaching to the Gentiles and sees no use in asking them to adhere to Jewish law and tradition, for it means nothing to them. But in the early church, the church in Jerusalem held great power and influence. In Jewish culture familial ties were greatly important, and this is probably why James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the Jerusalem church instead of one of the twelve apostles appointed by Christ. It is safe to say that the views and status of the Jerusalem church were a hindrance to the spreading of the gospel to other cultures. This conflict within the early church was solved not by arguments, not by anyone changing their mind, but by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, predicted first by Daniel and then by Jesus Christ.

We moderns like to emphasize reason and argument, and there is no shortage of that in the Bible, but when the rubber meets the road the Bible does not depend on argument but authority. Paul began every letter by claiming his own apostleship. The gospels say that the Jewish people were drawn to Jesus' teaching because he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law. When arguing with the Pharisees produced no result, Jesus claimed authority and sometimes demonstrated it, as in Matthew 9:2-8. Other times the Pharisees asked him to prove his authority, as if he hadn't already, and he refuses to play their game, giving parables like the one at the end of Luke 16 about how even someone rising from the dead would not be enough to convince those who were not convinced by the Law and the Prophets. Another interesting one is the parable of the tenants, at the end of which Jesus threatens the Pharisees with destruction from God if they do not recognize Him as the Son and heir: "What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others." In effect, Jesus told them, "My dad can beat up your dad." Paul, significantly, argues that Christians are joint heirs with Christ. The typical evangelical understanding of this passage is touchy-feely: God is our Father and that gives us all such a warm fuzzy! Understood in the larger context of Scripture however, being joint heirs with Christ means anybody who messes with us ends up destroyed by our Father, who art in heaven. Jesus famously predicted the destruction of the Jewish temple, claiming he would raise it again in three days. As was his habit, he uses a play on words to confuse his enemies and reveal the truth of what he is saying only after it actually occurs. The "temple" in the New Testament is not a building, but God's earthly dwelling place. Jesus predicts the old temple will be destroyed and replaced by a new temple, the body of Christ, in which all Christians partake. Paul uses the temple argument often, warning those who destroy Christians, preaching against sin, and exhortations to fellowship and unity. To ensure the victory of God's chosen temple, God destroyed the physical shell of the old one.With that destruction, Christians are now God's earthly dwelling place with all the authority and power that function implies and from which the early Christians did not shrink.

Now I'm sure many are wondering what this has to do with Revelation and Biblical prophecy. Well...perhaps I have rambled a bit, but I want to show the theme of authority and power in Scripture that we as evangelicals, or rather Protestants, have too often minimized. Authority and power are important themes in Daniel and Revelation. The destruction of the temple and the sacking of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 ensured the superiority of the new religion and cut if off from the old before it could be contaminated. It settled the argument between James and Paul, as well as fulfilling the prophecy of destruction against a culture which had been given the temporary status of God's earthly dwelling place and kingdom on earth, a culture which refused to accept God's Son and heir when He came to claim his inheritance. Now the inheritance would be given to others, just as He said. Where reason and argument failed, God utilized His authority and power, as was His right.

I want to begin in Revelation with chapter eleven, though at first glance it appears to have little connection to the first two posts focusing mainly on Daniel. But I was reading this chapter when I realized a possible meaning for the famous "time, times and half a time" language in Daniel, as well as the multiple occurrences of three and a half periods of time, several of which occur in this passage. Recall that the central theme of the book of Daniel is the prophecy about the four kingdoms who will dominate the earth for a time, but during the fourth kingdom God will reestablish his kingdom on earth forever. Well, why couldn't we interpret this period of time as three and a half periods? There was Babylon, which conquered and subjugated Israel and sent the holy people into exile. This is the "time" in which Daniel lived. After Babylon came the Medo-Persian and Greek Empires, the two "times". And then the fourth kingdom, Rome, during which Christ came to earth and reestablished God's kingdom and his temple in the body of Christ. This is the "half a time" because Christ's coming occurred during the Roman Empire and not after it fell. I realized this possibility in Revelations 11 because there are so many occurrences of the "three and a half" theme that it must be symbolically referring to different periods of time when different entities are given authority to do various things. Let's go through Revelations 11 and see how we could apply this interpretation.

At the beginning of the chapter we are given a description of the temple and told that the "nations" will have control over it and the holy city for a period of forty-two months. Let's assume this is the original "time, times and a half a time" from Daniel, the period of the four kingdoms' domination over the holy people, at this time the Jews, and Jerusalem. (For the mathematically challenged, forty-two months is three and a half years.) After this time, so in our timeline this means sometime in the life of Christ, God grants authority to two witnesses. The obvious question arises: Who are they and what are they witness to? I believe the next few verses are John's way of identifying the two mysterious witnesses. I have read this passage many times, and I know the Bible like the back of my hand, but it was only after I began looking at Revelation from a preterist perspective that I saw immediately how John alluded to the identity of the two witnesses in verse six: "These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire." The two witnesses are Moses and Elijah! Moses, who turned the water of the Nile into blood and brought many other plagues on Egypt, and Elijah, the prophet who kept rain from falling in Israel during the reign of the idol worshipper Ahab. Moses and Elijah were the two most powerful prophets in Jewish history because they challenged earthly authorities and won with clear demonstrations of God's power. They, more than any other figures, signify God's authority over kingdoms. What are they witness to? They are witness to Jesus Christ the Son of God during the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, a symbolic gesture legitimizing Him and transferring their authority to Him. In Revelation 11, they are given a period of time, represented as three and a half years but significantly written as 1,260 days instead of forty-two months to differentiate it from the period of authority for the nations. We can view this period of time as either Jesus' ministry, which was about three years, or his life, which was close to three and a half decades. During this time, Jesus is the representation of God's earthly kingdom and authority, and He could not be defeated during that time, though not for lack of trying. Then these two witnesses are killed, are dead for three and a half days, then raised to life and ascend into heaven, pretty closely mirroring the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. John here uses three and a half days as the time Jesus was dead, instead of the normal three days, to emphasize it as another period during which authority has been transferred to the beast, Rome, for a short time. Then they ascend to heaven, after which John relates the message of the seventh angel (v. 15): "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord. And so we have a period of three and a half where authority is transferred from the Jews to the statue from Daniel 2 and the four beasts from Daniel 7 beginning with the Babylonian exile and ending with the coming of Christ, then a period of three and a half when authority is transferred to Christ represented by Moses and Elijah, then a period of three and a half when authority is given back to the beast and Christ is killed and lies dead. Finally, authority is once again taken from the beast and given back to Christ forever and he ascends into heaven.

But this is not the end of the narrative. In Revelation 12:3 we see the first description of the beast directly tying it to the fourth beast from Daniel 7: "Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems." Chapter 11 ends with the declaration of Christ's reign in power forever, so why does the beast rise again? Well let's look at history and the "time, times and half a time" and compare it to the narrative moving forward in Revelation.The dragon with seven heads and ten horns, which we have already identified as Rome, apparently has something of a disagreement with a woman about to give birth to a male child. In fact, this dragon wants to destroy the child as soon as its born. Recall that King Herod, the Roman appointed king of Judea, wiped out all the newborns in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the newborn king of the Jews that the eastern wise men told him about. King Herod would then be the dragon, and the symbolism of the seven heads with ten horns a way to identify him with Rome. Thus the narrative starts with Christ's birth, but in verse five it says the child was caught up to heaven, and so it quickly moved right to the end, to Christ's ascension. That's because the rest of this chapter is about events shortly after Christ's death. In verse six we see another instance of the "time, times and half a time" when the woman, after her child is caught up to heaven, is protected from the dragon for 1,260 days. Here I believe the woman is a reference to the Jews, and the 1,260 days is the roughly three and a half decades between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. But the narrative in chapter twelve continues during this period with a great war between God's angels and the devil, with the angels winning and the establishment of the Christian church, Pentecost and the spread of the gospel. Then in verse 13 the dragon tries to persecute the woman, that is the Jews, but fails because the woman is protected for a "time, times and half a time", the same period spoken of in verse 6. The dragon is now enraged and goes off to make war against the woman's children. Chapter 13 begins ominously: "And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore". Relative to Israel, the Roman armies always came from the Mediterranean Sea. The dragon here is frustrated for three and a half decades, but is always a threat from the sea that cannot be ignored.

Now we have a beast coming up out of the sea to replace the dragon, and this beast also has seven heads and ten horns, and John here makes a point to even more strongly identify this beast with the fourth beast in Daniel 7 by describing it as an amalgamation of the first three. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! This beast is given all the authority of the dragon, has a mortal wound which has healed, and appears unbeatable in battle. After the "time, times and half a time" where the woman was protected from the dragon, the beast is given authority for "forty-two months" the same period of authority given the four kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome before Christ. This beast wages war on the holy people and wins.

At this point I want to explain what I think the seven heads and ten horns are referencing and identify this beast. Recall that we are in the time between Christ's ascension and the destruction of the temple in AD 70, but that this new beast has been given authority and will make war on the saints and win. John was writing from Roman prison, and presumably if he had written explicitly about the Roman Empire it would have been censored. I believe this is partly why so much of Revelation is written in code designed to be understood by those familiar with Jewish prophecy and the history of the early church and its struggles with Rome. Let me begin with a difficulty in identifying this beast with the fourth beast in Daniel 7.

In Daniel 7, the important figure seems to be the eleventh horn on the beast, one which rises after the ten and uproots three before it. In Revelation 13, the narrative is primarily about the beast itself having ten horns, although the latter part of the chapter speaks of a second beast with two horns. So which is it that's important, the first ten horns, or the tenth horn itself or the eleventh? Preterism provides a compelling answer. Julius Caesar was the first Roman emperor and all subsequent emperors through Nero, the sixth, were in his family line. Nero died in AD 68 and sparked a succession struggle some call the "Year of the Four Emperors" in AD 69. Three emperors rose and fell in that year within a matter of months, but it was the fourth, Vespasian, who managed to hold power for ten years as Rome's tenth emperor. When I was researching all of this, the significance of the strange beast with seven heads and ten horns immediately struck me. Revelation 17 explains a dual symbolism for the seven heads. In addition to being seven kings, the seven heads are also seven hills. Rome was famously built on seven hills, as was Jerusalem. But shortly after it says the ten horns are ten kings. So which is it? Ten kings or seven kings? The preterist response is both! The seven heads are the first six emperors plus Vespasian, because the three who rose and fell in such a short time are to be viewed as less important and don't count as a head. They also were part of no family dynasty, whereas the first six were all in one family and Vespasian started the Flavian dynasty. But those three ill-fated emperors are important enough to get a horn, and therefore there are ten horns but only seven heads. But that still leaves the question of the tenth versus the eleventh horn.

Vespasian is an interesting historical figure whom I had never heard about until I researched all this, but he was a Roman general who got his start in Britian, where he received a very serious wound in battle but survived. After this he became the Roman governor in Egypt. In AD 66 he was tasked to suppress the Jewish revolt in the Roman province of Judaea. During this military campaign, Nero died and the Year of the Four Emperors commenced. Vespasian obviously saw an opportunity and used his allies in Egypt and Syria to campaign for emperor himself. In fact, Vespasian personally began the siege of Jerusalem but had to leave to pursue the crown. He left his firstborn son, Titus, in charge of the siege. Titus finished the siege in what historians still believe to be the bloodiest single day event in all of history. Sources say over one million Jews were killed. More people were killed in one day in one place than any other time in history. That level of bloodshed was not to be matched until the World War I battle of Verdun where the casualties were spread out over a period of months. Even the fire bombing of Dresden and the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II did not exceed half that number. By any definition, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was an apocalypse. The siege began under Vespasian, who became the tenth emperior, and ended under his son Titus, who became the eleventh emperor. We also know that historically Titus was essentially a co-emperor during his father's reign and played a major role in his father's ascension to the crown. This explains the discrepancy between Daniel and Revelation in regards to the eleventh horn and the first beast with only ten. As far as the prophecy is concerned, there really wasn't much of a distinction between Vespasian and Titus, co-emperors who rose to power after three short-lived emperors and who both prosecuted the war of annihilation against the Jews.

There was of course a reason for such unprecedented destruction. Interestingly, Vespasian was the patron of the famous Jewish historian Josephus, and Josephus argued in his writings that Vespasian was the prophesied Jewish messiah. Vespasian apparently took this seriously. Vespasian very well knew about the Christian sect and that there was a serious competitor for the Jewish messiah in Jesus Christ. As a result he not only persecuted Christians but succeeded in virtually destroying the ancient Jewish culture in order to suppress the troublesome Jewish people forever and prevent any future claimants. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 began the Diaspora, a migration of Jews away from the promised land to other nations, an event which had a major impact on world history even unto the present day. Vespasian may not be on our radar today, but do you think a man with great earthly power who claimed to be the Jewish messiah and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple was on God's radar, not to mention early Christians? I suspect so, to put it mildly.

Continuing in Revelation 13 there is even more compelling evidence for the preterist interpretation. Starting in verse 11 we see a second beast with two horns who made people worship the first beast. Turns out, Vespasian had two sons who became emperor after him. After Vespasian's death in AD 79, Titus reigned from AD79 to 81, and then his younger brother Domitian reigned from AD 81 to 96. Together these three emperors reigned for about twenty-seven years and are known as the Flavian dynasty. Vespasian is the first Roman emperor to be directly succeeded by his son, and he was succeeded by not one but two sons, the second beast with two horns. Titus only reigned a short time but his reign was eventful. The famous volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius occurred, as well as another great fire in Rome. Titus also oversaw the completion of the most famous Roman architectural landmark, the Colosseum. Domitian was known for micromanaging the Roman economy, primarily by tinkering with the minting of Roman coins. Most Roman coins from this era depict some sort of deity, be it a regular god or deified emperors. Domition also built the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, deifying his father and brother, while requiring others to refer to himself as a god and preventing anyone from writing negative things about him. If Revelation was written around AD 90, then it was written during Domitian's reign, reason enough for John to use allegory and symbolism when referring to him and his dynasty.

There is much more to be said about Revelation, but I'll stop here. I want to talk a bit about how this has changed my view of the Bible and of Christianity after Christ. Growing up, I accepted as I believe most American evangelicals do that all this talk of Christ's victory in the Bible was purely spiritual. Christ is victorious over sin and death and the accuser of the saints has been defeated, but this has little or no implication for questions of authority and power on earth. I believed that basically anything could happen on earth, that God's action in the world was restricted to helping individual Christians in an existential battle with sin and spreading the gospel to unbelievers. Believers could rest secure in life after death, but life before death was a crap shoot. Again like many evangelicals I viewed Daniel, Revelation and other prophecies in this vein as either incomprehensible or referring to the end of the world in the future. I still think the last few chapters of Revelation refer to the final judgment and the end of the world, starting probably with chapter 19 or 20, which makes me a partial preterist, but the most definitive Scriptures about the end of the world are actually elsewhere, such as 2 Peter 3. In the year or two that I have begun viewing Daniel and Revelation through the preterist lens there are some pretty inescapable conclusions about our current role in the world as Christians when put into the wider context of Scripture. If this is in fact the view held by the authors of the New Testament, it explains quite a bit about New Testament teaching that my standard evangelical view does not.

We are living in a time of Christian supremacy in the world. Had I read that statement five years ago, or even three, I probably would have recoiled, but I can no longer get past passages like Daniel 7. For if I still believed this chapter was about the end of the world, I could easily assimilate verse 27:

"Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’"

I could believe that this verse is talking about heaven, not earth, and there is no particular meaning in it for us today. But how am I to take this verse if it refers not only to the time after Christ, but also to a transfer of power, authority and dominion from a succession of earthly empires to "the people of the saints of the Highest One"? Am I really to understand that this transfer of authority, the end of the time, times and half a time, really refers to two different kinds of authority, one earthly and the other spiritual? That this transfer of authority and power was of one kind before and its transfer changed its nature, leaving the old kind of power in the same hands as before and the new kind of power strangely ineffectual in the very sphere within which it supposedly received authority? There is no sense in a transfer if nothing is being transferred. There is no reason to compare the authority of the four beasts to the authority of Christ and his people if there is no comparison. What am I to make of Revelation 5:9-10:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Or Revelation 11:15:

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”

Christians, purchased by Christ's blood, will reign upon the earth? The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ? This seems to reinforce the interpretation of Daniel 7 as a clear succession from the four beasts to Christ's earthly kingdom, which will last forever. What to make of all of Paul's talk of Christians as joint heirs with Christ, or that the saints will judge the world? I can no longer sit in church to be patted on the head and told that none of this has much significance outside the walls of the church. I cannot sit behind those walls of our cities of refuge throwing stones over them and sitting in judgment of the world without lifting a finger to help. Christians have been given authority as adopted sons of God. It is part of our birthright as Christians and heirs to the promise not only to Abraham, but God's original intent for mankind as authorities over creation. It is not our prerogative to reject it unless we also reject our birthright, as Esau did. It has been given to us by God, not of our own effort or power, and that is our situation whether we like it or not. I am forced to conclude that Christians have been given authority and power on earth, not just in our future spiritual heaven. To reject it comes dangerously close to rejecting part of the significance of Christ's victory as envisioned by prophets of God both before and after Him, for God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power.

And it's not as if we don't have two thousand years of history since Christ to test this theory, over a thousand years of which are often ignored by Protestants who would rather blind themselves to the authority and power wielded by the the body of Christ during the time of the Catholic Church, which despite its often exaggerated faults was the institution representative of the body of Christ for over a millenia. I have heard Christians call the victory of the Church over the Roman Empire the worst thing that ever happened to the Church, but under this view it was not only prophesied but encouraged by both Old and New Testament authors. We have seen the transfer of earthly power from old Christendom in Europe to the United States coincide with the rejection of Christianity in Europe, and the erosion of U.S. power coincide with a similar trend within its people. Of course there are other powers in the world, but even the Garden of Eden was not without its serpent, though the serpent has no power unless humanity accepts his lies and deception.

We can even explain some of this. I accept of course the traditional Christian understanding of the constant struggle against sin, but life as a Christian with the Holy Spirit and a genuine connection to the One True God must be a great advantage in the battle. Perhaps so much of an advantage that a people defined by Christianity have a collective advantage in right living over those who do not, producing a stronger society. The freedom that we value here in the United States only comes as a result of our ability to act rightly between only ourselves and God, for if we lose that ability a government is justified in using its God-given authority to punish the wrongdoer. That freedom produced by Godly living coincides with economic freedom, proven to produce wealth and prosperity. Thus a rejection of God leads to a rejection of righteous living, a loss of freedom and a loss of wealth and finally a loss of power. All this could be true without God ever lifting a finger to direct the course of nations, merely granting or withdrawing His holy influence in the lives of saints or former saints, for God works in the world primarily through His Holy Spirit indwelling in the body of Christ, His temple.

In summation I want to emphasize what I am not saying for fear of being misinterpreted. This is not the health and wealth doctrine. I am talking about a large, general effect on whole societies and nations, not a personal and individual guarantee of wealth, either as a reward or as an end. No single individual is guaranteed, either by Scripture or this view, wealth and prosperity in this life through righteous living. It is also not a call for theocracy. There have been many types of governments in the world since Christ, the most effective being a government by the people. It is the people who have been given this authority according to Daniel 7:27 and the rest of it, not a church hierarchy. All Christians have inherited this birthright, and we will lose it if and when we lose our Christianity, not before. It is a consequence of being a Christian society, not something we can achieve or lose through other means. Our style of government cannot affect our birthright, but I believe it is significant that a model based on self-government by the people has been the most successful so far. The model of self-government adheres most closely to the real structure of authority on earth as understood in this view, authority which belongs to "the people of the saints of the Highest One". Other types of governments may have been less effective, but Christian people have always had this power, whether held back by inferior models of government or not. Even God acquiesced to the power of the people when they asked for a king after warning them of the consequences of doing so. We would be wise to heed His warning and model our government in a way that makes sense if all of this is true. In doing so we accept that a government can only be as good or bad as the character of the people. What I see today in this particular state, the United States, is a government which is significantly worse than the character and faith of her people. If I am wrong then nothing I nor anyone can do will change what is to come. Neither myself nor anyone has power against God. But I do not believe that America is a nation defined by its faithless people. We are a country who still reveres and follows God, despite our mistakes, and that gives us power and authority in the world which we must take seriously and wield responsibly with all humility under God.

Now that's whack.