Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Cincinnati Bonobos' Answer to the Creation Museum: In the Image of God or Created from Animals?


                            Vergil, A Male Bonobo in the Cincinnati Zoo, Born January 24, 1994

                      Vim, a Male Bonobo in the Cincinnati Zoo, Born September 5, 1995

                            Zanga, a Female Bonobo in the Cincinnati Zoo, Born January 9, 1999

After touring the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky for two days, my wife and I spent a day at the Cincinnati Zoo.  I was particularly interested in seeing the bonobos.  The Cincinnati Zoo is one of the few zoos in the United States with bonobos.  They have about 12 individuals.  When I taught my course at Northern Illinois University on "Chimpanzee Politics," I used to take my students on a bus trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo, which has the largest group of bonobos in the U.S.--about 21 individuals.

I have written a series of posts on bonobos and how bonobos and chimpanzees are the primates most closely related to human beings, which suggests that the last common ancestor of these primates and human beings probably combined the traits that we see in bonobos and chimpanzees.  Certainly, at the Cincinnati Zoo, the signs posted around the bonobos clearly suggest that human beings evolved from some bonobo-like primate.  

Here, then, the Zoo is challenging the claim of the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter that there is no evolutionary connection between humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees.  As part of the "Starting Points" exhibits at the Creation Museum, bonobos are grouped with gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees as "great apes" (CMS, 35-36).  But while evolutionary scientists place the great apes in the same family with human beings--Hominidae--the Creation Museum insists that the great apes should be placed in their own family--Pongidae--so that there is a separation between the "Ape Kind" and "Human Kind."  This is required for their claim that God originally created these two "kinds" as separate, and endowed only the human kind with the moral dignity of being created in God's image.  To teach that the great apes and human beings belong to the same evolutionary lineage, they argue, would destroy the foundations of human morality by denying the moral uniqueness of human beings as the only animals aware of and subject to God's moral law.

But it's not clear that this teaching is grounded in the Bible.  First of all, the Bible never identifies human beings as belonging to the "human kind."  The word "kind" (Hebrew min) appears in Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Ezekial 30 times, but it is never applied to humans.  So, the Bible does not clearly separate the "Ape Kind" from the "Human Kind," as claimed by the Creation Museum.  Moreover, the Bible refers to "apes" only twice (1 Kings 10:22 and 2 Chr. 9:21), and the Bible does not identify the various species of apes.  Everything that the Creation Museum says about the great apes being in their own family has no Biblical basis.  This confirms my point that the Bible is not a science text about natural history.

But surely, Ham and the Creation Museum would say, the Bible does clearly teach that human beings are the only animals created in God's image, with a humanly unique moral awareness, and surely this must mean that God did not allow the human species to evolve from primates, which denies the Darwinian account of human evolution from animals.

But if we compare behaviors in bonobos and chimpanzees, we can see that they are more similar to humans than to each other (Brian Hare and Shinya Yamamoto, "Minding the Bonobo Mind," in Hare and Yamamoto, eds., Bonobos: Unique in Mind, Brain, and Behavior [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017], 1-13).  Chimpanzees share at least five traits with humans not manifest in bonobos:  extractive foraging, lethal aggression between groups, infanticide/male coercion of females, cooperative hunting, and male-male alliances.  Bonobos share at least five traits with humans not manifest in chimpanzees:  non-conceptive sexual behavior, mother's importance to adult offspring, high levels of adult play, sharing between strangers, and female gregariousness.

And yet we can also see that human beings are unique animals in at least three respects.  In The Descent of Man, Darwin noted that self-consciousness is uniquely human: "It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this term it is implied, that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth" (105).  Morality is also uniquely human: "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them.  We have no reason to suppose that any of the lower animals have this capacity. . . . man . . . alone can with certainty be ranked as a moral being" (135).  And language is uniquely human: "The habitual use of articulate language is . . . peculiar to man" (107).  Is the Bible pointing to these three uniquely human traits in saying that humans were created in God's image?

As I have argued previously, we can explain human evolution from primate ancestors through a growing expansion of the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of the primate brain.  Humans are unique intellectually and morally because of the 16 billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex.  That gives them mental capacities for self-conscious reflection, language, moral reasoning, and symbolic thinking generally, which includes the symbolic capacity for imagining supernatural realities and believing the Bible to be a supernatural revelation of God's creative history and His promise of human immortality with divine judgment in the afterlife.  The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are manifestations of that evolved symbolic capacity of the human mind.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

My Debate with Ken Ham: Darwinian Morality or Biblical Morality?

When I toured the Creation Museum, I was reminded of the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye at the Creation Museum in 2014, which was the subject of a post.  I was also reminded that I had once debated Ham in 2009--not in person but on the online website of Forbes magazine.  February 12, 2009, was the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.  An editor at Forbes invited a number of people to write essays for the occasion.  I wrote an essay entitled "We Are the Moral Animals," in which I argued that Darwin had explained the natural grounding of morality in evolved human nature.  Ham wrote an essay entitled "Darwinian Dangers," in which he argued, on the contrary, that Darwin had destroyed the grounding of morality in Christianity by denying the moral uniqueness of human beings as created in God's image.  This shows the true motivation for Ham and other creationist scientists.  Their primary concern is not the truth or falsity of the science but its moral consequences: we should accept Biblical science because it supports morality, and we should reject Darwinian science because it corrupts morality.

At the Creation Museum, Ham begins his attack on evolution's moral dangers in the "Starting Points" exhibit.  Are Human "Races" Equal? is the question for one display (CMS, 15).  For the "Naturalistic Evolutionist Worldview," the answer is: "While most evolutionists reject racism, their philosophy is inherently racist."  To support this, the display quotes Stephen Jay Gould saying that "biological arguments for racism" have been common.  The same quotation appears in Ham's essay.

For the "Biblical Creationist Worldview," the answer is: "All human beings are made in God's image and are descendants of Adam, so there is no basis for racism from a biblical perspective."

Although there have been "biological arguments for racism," they have never been properly rooted in Darwinian evolutionary science and evolutionary moral psychology.  As I have pointed out, Darwin was a vehement opponent of slavery who wrote The Descent of Man to show that all human beings were equally human as members of the human species.  Ham and the Creation Museum are silent about this.

They are also silent about the fact that wherever the Bible speaks about slavery, it endorses it.  The Ark Encounter does have one display with the question, Was the Bible Used to Promote Racism?  The answer is: "Sadly, some professing Christians have misused passages of the Bible to spread racist ideas, such as slavery based on a person's skin tone or the notion that 'interracial' marriage is sinful" (AE, 101).  "But what does the Bible really teach on these matters?"  They answer with four verses about all of us being created in God's image, all one race, and all loved by God.

But they cannot cite any Biblical passage that directly condemns slavery.  And they are silent about the many passages that endorse it.  As I have indicated, those who defended the Biblical basis of slavery (like Fred Ross) wrote meticulous studies of the Bible to show that it consistently supported slavery.  To the claim that God's creating men in His image makes all men equal, Ross responded by pointing out that the "image of God" teaching is compatible with a divinely ordained hierarchy among human beings.  

For example: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27).  Far from creating all men equal, Ross observed, God here created humanity as "male and female," so that they are not equal in body and mind.  God made the woman "out of the man" (Genesis 2:23); and He made "the man the image and glory of God, but the woman for the glory of the man.  For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man" (1 Corinthians 11:7-9); and he made the woman to be the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7).   Moreover, just as wives are to obey their husbands, and children to obey their parents, slaves are to obey their masters (Ephesians 5:22-24, 6:1-5).  Insofar as slaves are inferior in body and mind to their masters, the slaves are naturally better off being ruled by their masters.  

Ham and the Creation Museum make no attempt to refute this scriptural argument for slavery.  Instead, they have silently corrected the Bible by reading it through the lens of their natural moral sense, which Darwin explains as a product of human evolution.  Their knowledge that slavery is wrong comes from that natural moral sense not from their reading of the Bible.

They also silently correct the Bible's moral mistakes by refusing to even mention those many places where the Bible endorses immoral violence.  For example, in a display on "God's Promise to the Nations," they reproduce Rembrandt's painting of Abraham preparing to kill his son Isaac; but they do not explain that this murder of a child was commanded by God (Gen. 22).

Similarly, while they refer to the Israelites being commanded by God to fight against the Canaanites (CMS, 55), they are silent about God ordering a "curse of destruction," in which the Israelites would slaughter everyone, including women and children, but keep alive the young virgins so that the Israelite men could rape them (Deu. 20:10-18; Numbers 31:7-20).  Previously, I have written about how Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have condemned this religious violence in the Bible as immoral.  Ham and the Creation Museum do not do this, because in doing so, they would have to admit that the Bible's moral mistakes need to be corrected by our natural moral sense.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Bible Is Not a Book of Natural History: At the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter

 As I toured the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, and as I read the AiG guidebooks for these two creationist theme parks, I asked myself, Is this Young Earth creationist history of the Earth the clear teaching of the Bible?  Again and again the answer was No.


The first thing one notices outside the entrance to the Creation Museum is a large replica of a dinosaur.  As soon as one enters the Museum, you see the Dragon Legends exhibit, which teaches that the many dragon legends from around the world must be evidence that ancient people fought against dinosaurs, because the dragons look so much like dinosaurs.  In the Main Hall of the Museum, a large variety of dinosaur replicas are displayed.  This is supposed to teach visitors that "according to the Bible, man and dinosaur lived at the same time, and these marvelous creatures were originally created as vegetarians (Genesis 1:30)" (Journey Through the Creation Museaum [JCM], 15).  There are over 30 dinosaurs in the Creation Museum.  At the Ark Encounter, there are dinosaurs on the Ark to represent the 85 kinds of dinosaurs said to have been on the Ark (JCM, 71).

So what is it with dinosaurs?  This seems strange given that the Bible says nothing about dinosaurs!  According to Genesis 1:30, "to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."  AiG wants us to believe that "every beast of the earth" must include dinosaurs.  But it was not until 1842 that Richard Owen coined the word "dinosaur."  And although people had previously identified dinosaur fossils as "dragon bones," it has been only in the past 200 years that these fossils have been studied scientifically.

AiG quotes from Job 39--41 as describing Behemoth and Leviathan as giant animals that could have been dinosaurs (Creation Museum Signs [CMS], 6-7).  But this seems unlikely since Leviathan is identified as fire-breathing and as having multiple heads (Psalms 74:14).  At the "Dino Den" exhibit, AiG describes many genuses and species of dinosaurs, but all of this comes from modern science, and none of this is found in the Bible (CMS, 192-99).

AiG cannot deny the fossil evidence for the existence of dinosaurs, but it must deny the evidence that all non-avian dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, long before human beings emerged, because this would contradict what the Young Earth creationists say about the 6,000-year history of the earth and the creation of both the "beasts of the earth" and Adam on the sixth day of creation.  They have to argue that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, until the dinosaurs went extinct sometime after Noah's Flood (CMS, 13).  They do this without being able to cite any clear references to dinosaurs in the Bible.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit saw no need to convey any divinely revealed teaching about the natural history of dinosaurs.  


The "Starting Points" exhibit at the Creation Museum states the fundamental claim underlying both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter:  creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence in the natural world, but they reach different conclusions from that evidence because they start with two different worldviews--the naturalistic evolutionist worldview and the biblical creationist worldview.  The evolutionist assumes that everything in the world emerged through a natural process of evolution, and then he interprets the evidence as supporting that conclusion.  The creationist assumes that the Bible is a divinely revealed teaching that tells the truth about God's creation of the world according to the literal history of creation in Genesis, and then he interprets the evidence as supporting that conclusion (CMS, 12-18).

According to AiG, there is no way to scientifically prove which worldview is true because of the distinction between observational science and historical science.  "Observational science deals with testing and verifying ideas in the present.  Chemistry experiments in a laboratory and the ongoing study of a medicine's effectiveness in treating a particular disease are examples of observational science.  Historical science involves the interpretation of evidence from the past that now exists in the present.  A paleontologist's narrative of a fossilized creature's habits and an astronomer's explanation of a star's formation are examples of historical science" (CMS, 20).  The "interpretation of evidence from the past" in historical science depends on one's choice of a worldview, which cannot be tested or verified through observational science.

Anyone who carefully studies the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter will see that they implicitly admit that the distinction between the two worldviews is a false dichotomy, because it falsely assumes that there is one and only one naturalistic evolutionist worldview and one and only one Biblical creationist worldview, and that there is no evolutionary creationist worldview.

Some of the exhibits recognize that "many Christians" have rejected Young Earth creationism in favor of Old Earth creationism or Theistic Evolution as more compatible with the Bible (CMS, 80, 83-84).  Ken Ham has even said that "most of the church" denies Young Earth creationism (Six Days, 29).  Now, of course, Ham and AiG say that these Christians are mistaken in their interpretation of the Bible.  But that's just the point: the Bible is open to different interpretations in the dispute over creation and evolution; and therefore, there are different Biblical creationist worldviews, and some of them support evolutionary science.


One of the most fundamental disagreements among Biblical creationists has been in the interpretation of created "kinds."  When the King James Bible speaks of God creating living creatures "after their kind" (Genesis 1:21), "kind" is an English translation of the Hebrew word min.  In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible--the Septuagint--min was translated by the Greek species, corresponding to the English word species.  This led most Biblical creationists, up to the middle of the 19th century, to assume that the Bible was teaching that God had specially created every species eternally fixed in its form so that it could not change, which denied that there could be any evolutionary development of species.  

But then, in 1859, with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, it appeared that Darwin had shown how his theory of natural selection could explain the natural evolution of species from ancestral species, and thus refuted the Biblical creationist doctrine of the created fixity of species.  Some creationists responded by suggesting that the Hebrew word min was "imprecise," and that it could be understood not as species but as equivalent to some higher level of taxonomic category--perhaps "family."  As I have previously indicated, creationist biologist Frank Marsh in 1941 coined the word baramin (combining the Hebrew words bara [create] and min [kind]) to denote "created kind."  One could then argue that what God created in Genesis 1 were "kinds" rather than "species," and that there can be evolutionary speciation within a kind, but there cannot be any evolutionary change of one kind into a new kind.  So, for example, the creationist can concede that Darwin correctly saw that the various species of finches in the Galapagos Islands had evolved by natural selection to be uniquely adapted to the Galapagos, but that all of these species were within the general "kind" of finches as created by God.

At the Creation Museaum and the Ark Encounter, the "baraminology" of Marsh is identified as the "updated view" of Biblical creationism as opposed to the "outdated view" of fixity of species (CMS, 19, 31, 33, 35, 95, 134-40; AE, 14-26).  But notice that they cannot cite any Biblical text that clearly endorses the "updated view" as correct.  Here, again, the Bible is not concerned with providing a precise science of natural history.

One reason that AiG has adopted the "updated view" of created kinds is that it helps them to answer the question, How could Noah fit all the animals on the Ark?  God told Noah: "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth" (Genesis 7:2-3).  The meaning of "clean" versus "unclean" animals is unclear, but "clean" could refer to those animals considered appropriate for animal sacrifice.  In any case, if every "kind" means every "species," the number of animals from every species would be too great to fit on the Ark.  But if "kind" means "family," that drastically reduces the number of animals that had to be on the Ark.

Moreover, AiG assumes that most fish and invertebrates and most non-animals (such as plants and bacteria) could survive the Flood, and therefore they did not have to be taken onto the Ark.  AiG estimates that there are about 34,000 species of known, land-dependent vertebrates in the world today.  But among these land-dependent vertebrate species, there are fewer than 1,400 known living and extinct kinds (that is, families).  This allows AiG to estimate that Noah had to have fewer than 6,744 individual animals on the Ark.  Once these animals left the Ark, speciation by natural selection within kinds could create all the living and extinct species that we know today (AE, 28-33).  The Ark Encounter is designed to show how as many as 6,744 animals and 8 human beings (Noah and his extended family) could survive on the Ark for almost a year.

The human intelligence required to think through all of this is impressive.  Young Earth creationists are very clever people.  But notice that most of this is purely human speculation that has no clear support in the Bible.  AiG quietly admits this in a couple of the Ark Encounter exhibits that refer to their "Ark-Tistic License" or "Artistic Interpretation" in working through the details where the Bible says nothing.  (It is worth noting that these exhibits are not included in the Ark Signs guidebook.)


Another example of "artistic interpretation" in both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter is that they assume that the Earth is a spherical planet revolving on its axis while orbiting the Sun in a solar system with other planets orbiting the Sun (CMS, 120, 144-45; AE, 58-64, 119).  The Bible never teaches this. 

They say that the Bible "includes passages that imply a round earth" (AE, 119).  But they do not cite those passages.  In fact, while the Hebrew word for Earth in the Old Testament (eres) appears about 2,500 times, and the Greek word for Earth in the New Testament (ge) appears 250 times, never in these 2,750 instances is the Earth ever identified as spherical.

On the contrary, from the beginning of the Bible, the Earth is said to be a flat disk in a three-tiered cosmos, with the Sun, the Moon, and stars moving around the Earth, but with no planets and no moons other than the Earth's moon (Genesis 1:1-10).  Like the cosmology of ancient Near Eastern cultures, the cosmology of the Bible has the Earth in the middle, the heavens above, and the underworld beneath the Earth.  The Earth in the middle was a disk-shaped land mass surrounded by a sea.  The Sun, the Moon, and the stars were embedded on the surface of a "dome" or "firmament" that turned around the Earth; so that the Sun, Moon, and stars would rise above the Earth in the morning and sink below the Earth at night (Genesis 1:16-17).  Paul refers to this three-tiered cosmos when he said that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).  Remarkably, this verse is quoted at the Creation Museum, but without recognizing that it points to a three-tiered cosmos (CMS, 79).

Indeed, some creationists insist that a truly Biblical creationist worldview must be geocentric, and therefore must reject the heliocentric astronomy of Copernicus and Galileo as contrary to the Bible.  Gerardus Bouw, who has a Ph.D. in astronomy from Case Western Reserve University, is one of the leading creationist geocentrists.  Danny Faulkner, a creationist astronomer at AiG, has tried to refute Bouw's arguments for Biblical geocentrism.  But Bouw has responded by pointing out that Faulkner ignores those Biblical passages that clearly indicate that the Earth is at the center of the cosmos--the same passages quoted by the Catholic Inquisition in condemning Galileo for advancing a Copernican astronomy that denied the truth of the Bible.

In Joshua 10:13, God ordered the Sun and the Moon to stand still for a full day: "And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. . . . So the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."  Surely, the literal meaning of this verse is that the Sun moves around the Earth.  As Bouw pointed out to Faulkner, God could have said "And the Earth stopped turning so that the Sun appeared to stand still," but He didn't.  If we're going to say that the language of Joshua 10:13 is meant to be interpreted as figurative and not as literal truth, then why shouldn't we interpret the creation story in Genesis as figurative imagery that is not literal history?

In apologizing for the Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have admitted that Galileo was right to say that the Bible is not a scientific book of natural history because it teaches us "how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."  And adopting that Galilean principle of Biblical hermeneutics has allowed the Popes to accept a theistic evolution that sees no conflict between the Bible and evolutionary science.  

Why shouldn't the creationists at AiG follow the example of the Catholic Church and give up Young Earth creationism in favor of theistic evolution?

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Failure of Biblical Revelation in the Creation/Evolution Debate

Last week, I spent two days touring the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.  These are two Christian creationist theme parks designed and managed by Answers in Genesis (AiG), which promotes the young-earth creationism of Ken Ham, who argues that Genesis 1-11 clearly teaches that the universe was created in 4004 BC over six twenty-four-hour days, and that there was a Global Flood in 2348 BC that is responsible for most of the geological record that we see today.

This denies the modern evolutionary teaching that the universe is billions of years old.  This also denies three other Christian views of creation.  The old-earth creationists interpret Genesis as allowing for the universe to be billions of years old, so that God's creative miracles occurred over a long period of time.  The evolutionary creationists interpret Genesis as allowing for God having originally created the laws of nature billions of years ago, so that God's creative plan could then unfold from the beginning through the natural process of evolution as understood by evolutionary science.  Finally, the Christian proponents of intelligent-design theory argue that a purely natural science can prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer without any appeal to the Biblical story of creation, although identifying this Intelligent Designer as the God of the Bible is a matter of personal faith rather than scientific demonstration.

That the Bible provides no clear teaching about the history of creation on which Christians can agree suggests to me the failure of Biblical Revelation to resolve this disagreement among Christians in the creation/evolution debate.  So, when I visited the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, I studied the exhibits to see if they could change my mind by revealing the Bible's clear teaching of young-earth creationism.  I had already studied the four AiG books that present most of the exhibits:  Journey Through the Creation Museum (2018), Creation Museum Signs (2021), Journey Through the Ark Encounter (2017), and Ark Signs That Teach a Flood of Answers (2017).

Ham's rhetorical arguments conveyed through these exhibits--and also through his writings--did not persuade me that he has found the Bible's clear teaching of creation history.  This confirmed my original thought that the disagreement about creation and evolution among Christians shows the failure of Biblical Revelation to resolve this issue.

I know of two serious efforts of Christian creationists to find a Biblical settlement of their disagreements.  I will begin by showing how they failed.  Then, I will show how Ham also has failed to do this in these two creationist theme parks.

If I am right about this, then one explanation for it would be that the Bible is not a Divine Revelation of God's truth at all.  But another explanation would be that the purpose of Biblical Revelation is to reveal the truths necessary for salvation, about which most Christians can agree, and that deciding whether Genesis 1-11 is literal history or figurative storytelling is unnecessary for salvation, and therefore Christians can disagree about that while agreeing about their salvation.

There is another problem with the Revelation of what is required for salvation, however.  The Hebrew Bible is accepted as God's Revelation by four major religions:  Judaism, Islam, Catholic Christianity, and Protestant Christianity.  Obviously, they don't agree about what this Revelation teaches about salvation, which again suggests the failure of Revelation.  


Six years ago, I wrote a post on a book edited by J. B. Stump--Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan, 2017).  Four positions in the creation/evolution debate were represented by four leading proponents: Young Earth Creationism (Ken Ham), Old Earth Creationism (Hugh Ross), Evolutionary Creation (Deborah Haarsma), and Intelligent Design (Stephen Meyer).  This was the first time that these four people had engaged one another directly.  Each of the four wrote a chapter, followed by responses from the other three, and then a rejoinder by the chapter's author.

In John 17, in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus prayed to God that all believers would be as one, that they would come to complete unity, "so that the world may believe that you have sent me."  It seems that Christians give witness to the truth of Revelation by showing their agreement about that Revelation.  In Stump's Introduction to Four Views, he said that a primary purpose of this book was to pursue unity in what Revelation teaches about origins (16).  But in his Conclusion to the book, he lamented that this had not been achieved: "I doubt that readers will come away from this book with the feeling that we are any closer to the goal of Christian unity on the topic of origins" (232).

There are three possible explanations for this.  Either there has been no Revelation (through the Bible or through nature) of God's teaching about origins. Or there has been such a Revelation, but it's so obscure that it conveys no clear message. Or the Revelation does convey a clear message, but human beings have a stubborn bias that blinds them to that clear message.  Hugh Ross says that "since most humans will choose autonomy over submission to God," most humans will refuse to see the clear evidence of God's creative activity in nature (166).  But this atheistic bias cannot explain why faithful Christians--like the four authors in this book--would refuse to recognize the clear teaching of Revelation.  

So, we are left with the first two explanations for why these Christians cannot come to agreement about origins: either there has been no Revelation about origins, or the Revelation is not clear enough to be understood.  All four of the authors believe that God has sent the Holy Spirit "to guide us persistently to truth" (71, 76, 107), but here the Holy Spirit has failed to guide them to agreement about the revealed teaching concerning origins.   

Notice also that these four people are all evangelical Protestants, which is a minority of Christians.  Around the world, the majority of Christians are Catholic.  And the Catholic Church denies the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible--that the Bible is so clear and easily understood by anyone who reads it that each Christian should be his or her own priest, with no need for an ecclesiastical priesthood to teach them what the Bible really means.  The Catholics believe that the Bible is a divine Revelation, but they also believe that the Bible is so obscure that they need the divine Revelation of the Bible's correct interpretation through the Holy Spirit working through the Church's tradition of priestly interpretation.

For example, as I have indicated in some past posts, the Catholic Church originally condemned Galileo's heliocentrism as contrary to the Bible's geocentrism; but later the Church apologized for its mistake and endorsed Galileo's biblical hermeneutics--rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible when this contradicts what natural science has discovered about the natural world.  By this same principle, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have endorsed theistic evolution--that God exercises His creative design through the natural process of evolution--but with the understanding that the creation of the human immortal soul requires an "ontological leap"--God's miraculous intervention into nature to create the spiritual soul in His image.  

In response to this, I have argued that no miracle is required here if we see the emergence of the human soul in the human brain that is unique in having 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex, which includes 1.3 billion neurons in the prefrontal cortex.  This gives human brains the capacity for symbolic thinking about imagined realities such as the supernatural creation of human beings in God's image.


The debate over whether evolutionary science is compatible with Biblical creation is one of many "culture war" conflicts that divide Christians and sometimes even drive their churches and schools into angry disputes between "us" and "them."  The Colossian Forum is an evangelical Christian organization designed to teach Christians how to think about and resolve these disagreements in a way that heals their divisions and brings them together into a loving Christian community.  The Colossian Forum directs its attention mostly to four kinds of disruptive disputes among Christians: "Faith and Politics," "Sexuality," "Origins," and "Women and Men."  The Biblical verse that captures the thought behind the organization is Colossians 1:17--"all things hold together in Christ."  According to the Colossian Forum, if Christians honestly discuss their disagreements, look to the Bible for instruction, and pray for Christ's help, Christ will bring them together in Christian unity through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Bible's teachings.

To show how this could happen in the creation/evolution debate over origins, the Colossian Forum invited Todd Wood (an evolutionary biochemist who is a young-earth creationist) and Darrel Falk (a geneticist who is an evolutionary creationist who believes God created life on earth through an evolutionary process as understood by evolutionary science) to come together for a series of meetings over a few years.  Their discussions were then published in a book--The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue About Creation and Evolution (2019).

I have written some posts about Wood, who is best known as a "baraminologist" who studies the "baramins" ("created kinds") that were created by God in the six days of creation, from which all species have evolved by natural selection.  Falk is a founder of BioLogos, an organization that promotes Christian evolutionism.  I have written some posts on BioLogos and its evolutionary creationism (or theistic evolution).

Wood and Falk actually agree about a lot.  They are both devout Christians.  And they agree that there is plenty of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, including the evidence for the evolution of humans from animals over millions of years.  

As opposed to Falk, however, Wood denies that all of this evidence makes evolution true, because Wood's Christian faith includes a belief in the creation story in Genesis 1-11 as literal history that began 6,000 years ago, which means that the evolutionary story of how all life evolved "from molecules to man" over billions of years must be false, despite the fact that there is so much evidence supporting it.  But since the Bible gives us few details about how the natural world has developed, Wood admits, we must use science to understand those details.  And that is what Wood tries to do in developing a creation science that should work better than evolutionary science.  Wood concedes that young earth creationists are mistaken in denying the evidence for evolution, and that much of what creation scientists have done so far is not real science.  But Wood has devoted his life to trying to develop a creation science based on testable hypotheses that will be true science (The Fool and the Heretic [FH], 29, 62-63, 105-106, 112-13, 151-56).

Wood's disagreement with Falk is not so much about evolutionary science as it is about the Bible.  They agree that the science of evolution is well-supported by the evidence.  But they disagree about what this means for our interpretation of the Bible's creation story in Genesis.  For Falk, this means that we must read Genesis 1-11 as a poetic story that conveys a theological teaching rather than as a literal history of the natural world, because this will accommodate the truth of evolutionary science as compatible with the Bible.  But for Wood, his faith in the Bible as literal truth means that he must read Genesis as literal history, and therefore if evolutionary science contradicts this literal history, there must be something wrong with the science, and it should be possible to develop a creation science that confirms the natural history of the Bible.

Another way to explain this is that while Falk accepts Galileo's hermeneutics for interpreting the Bible, Wood rejects it (see Wood, The Quest: Exploring Creation's Hardest Problems [2018], 45-52).  As I have indicated previously, Galileo suggested that apparent conflicts between Biblical religion and natural science could be resolved by understanding that if the clear findings of natural science contradict the literal meaning of the Bible, then we must assume that the literal interpretation of the Bible is mistaken, because what the Bible says about the natural world has often been accommodated to the understanding of the audience.  So, for example, if the Bible speaks of the Sun moving around the Earth, that's because in ordinary human experience, we easily speak of the Sun rising and setting, as if it is moving around the Earth, but that is not literally true.  If the Bible had attempted to explain Copernican heliocentric astronomy, that would have been incomprehensible to the Bible's original audience.  After all, the Bible is not a science textbook but a divinely inspired theological teaching about salvation.  In Galileo's clever aphorism, "the intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven and not how heaven goes."

Wood agrees that when the Bible speaks of the Sun moving around the Earth, this should not be interpreted as literally true, because we don't want to see the Bible as denying the scientific truth of Copernican heliocentric astronomy.  But Wood denies the Galilean principle that we should always read the Bible so that it accommodates whatever natural science seems to teach.  Particularly, when it comes to the creation story in Genesis, we must believe it to be literal history; and if this Biblical history contradicts the teaching of natural science, then the science must be mistaken, and we must look for a creation science that conforms to the Biblical teaching.

Galileo and Wood are attempting to resolve the debate between Reason and Revelation by synthesizing the two.  As with any such attempt at synthesis, they both fail because they cannot give equal authority to Reason and Revelation.  Galileo gives higher authority to Reason.  Wood gives higher authority to Revelation.

Falk accepts the Galilean principle in saying that we must not interpret Genesis literally if that literal meaning conflicts with modern evolutionary science.  We can see that the Genesis creation story is very similar to other creation myths in the ancient near east, and therefore the Genesis story was accommodated to the understanding of ancient people.  Like Galileo, Falk subordinates Revelation to Reason.  (I have written previously about Darwin's place in the Reason/Revelation debate.)

For Wood, this is a dangerous teaching that harms the church (FH, 30, 32, 35, 106, 174).  If Christians are taught that Genesis 1-11 is not literally true but only a poetic story similar to other creation myths, then won't they wonder whether other stories in the Bible--like the story of Jesus being resurrected from the dead--are only poetic stories?  If they can't believe the miracles in Genesis are true, then how can they believe the miracles in the New Testament are true?  Won't this tempt Christians to abandon their faith in the truth of the Bible?

And yet Falk thinks it is Wood who is harming the church.  To claim that Genesis is literal history--that everything was created in six days 6,000 years ago and that the Global Flood created the geological record of today--makes the Bible sound ridiculously contrary to all modern science.  And won't that drive people away from the church because of the perceived absurdity of the Bible?

Rob Barrett of the Colossian Forum has admitted that the attempt to resolve the dispute between Wood and Falk and bring them to Christian unity failed:

"We are stuck in a messy place.  I once asked our two scientists if they saw each other as friends or enemies.  I was confident, after all of our time together, that they would agree that they were friends.  Todd disappointed me when he answered, 'Not just enemies.  Mortal enemies.'  I looked pleadingly to gentle Darrel for the correction Todd needed.  He failed me too: 'Yes, Todd's right.'" (FH, 163-64)

Barrett reported:

"In one meeting, Todd expressed his frustration at the deadlock.  He had come to know that Darrel is a Christian, but then he said that this 'makes it a thousand times more awkward, because I wonder why the God who convicts me for my position isn't convicting him.  I don't know how to answer that question.  So it leaves me uneasy.'  Darrel answered, 'Like you, I puzzle a little bit: Why doesn't God sort things out for you and reveal truth to you in the way it seems he reveals it to me?'" (FH, 189-90)

Well, yes, that's the point, I would say:  The Holy Spirit has failed to convey the teaching of Biblical Revelation to Christians like Wood and Falk, even though they have made the most faithful effort to open themselves to that Revelation.

Or should we consider the possibility that while people like Wood and Falk have failed to accept the clear meaning of Biblical Revelation about origins in Genesis, Ken Ham has succeeded in uncovering the true meaning of Genesis?

Remarkably, even though Ham and Wood both identify themselves as young-earth creationists, Ham has criticized Wood for teaching "young-earth evolution," because Wood has conceded too much to evolutionary science by saying: "There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it."

Whether Ham presents the correct reading of the Biblical Revelation about origins at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter will be the question for my next post. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Trump, Eastman, and 17 Other Co-Conspirators Are Indicted in Georgia

                    The First Mug Shots from Fulton County, Including Trump and Eastman

Fani Willis, District Attorney for Fulton County Georgia, has filed her criminal indictment of Donald Trump, John Eastman, and 17 other co-conspirators for a conspiracy to illegally overturn the outcome of the Presidential election of November 3, 2020.  As compared with the other three indictments of Trump, this is the most sprawling and complicated indictment so far.  There are 19 people indicted and 30 unindicted co-conspirators.  There are 41 counts in the indictment.  And under the first count--violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act--there are 161 Acts of Racketeering Activity.  If convicted under the RICO Act, the defendants could be sentenced to 5-20 years in prison.

The general accusation is summarized in the Introduction:  "Defendant Donald Trump lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020.  One of the states he lost was Georgia.  Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined in a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.  That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states."

So, while the Indictment concentrates on Georgia, it sketches a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome in seven states--including Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  The most important claim centers on December 14, 2020.  On that day, the presidential electors certified by the state officers in those states met in the state capitals to cast their votes for Biden because Biden had been certified as the popular vote winner in those states.  The Trump conspirators had tried to persuade public officials in those states that the election had been fraudulent, and that Trump was the true winner.  When that failed, because they could not present any evidence of vote fraud, they turned to a scheme for having the Trump electors in those states meet on December 14 and certify themselves as the true presidential electors.  They were to send their forged documents of certification to the National Archives and to Vice-President Pence, so that on January 6, 2021, he could accept those Trump electors as the true electors for those seven states.

The Indictment shows how that was done in Georgia.  Three of the people indicted were fraudulent Georgia electors for Trump--David Shafer, Shawn Still, and Cathleen Latham.  This Indictment does not indicate whether this scheme was carried out in the other six states.  But the Indictment from Jack Smith filed two weeks ago indicates that the fraudulent electors in all seven states did meet on December 14 and sign their fraudulent documents certifying themselves as the true electors (in Shaw's Indictment, see paras. 53, 66-69).

As I indicated in my previous post on the Shaw Indictment, I am particularly interested in Eastman's role in all this, because he provided the intellectual rationale for overturning the election.  In Shaw's Indictment, Eastman is an unindicted co-conspirator.  Now, in this Georgia Indictment, Eastman has been indicted.

As I said in my other post, Eastman has a right of freedom of speech in arguing that the presidential election of 2020 was fraudulent, and that there are constitutional ways to overturn that fraudulent election and identify Trump as the true winner.  But there are only two legal means for doing this.  He could have persuaded public officials in the seven contested states or in the U.S. Congress that there was massive evidence of vote fraud.  He failed to do that.  Or he could have persuaded the courts (state and federal) that there was clear evidence for vote fraud.  He also failed to do that.  He failed in both cases because he didn't have the evidence.

Having failed in these two legal means for correcting the supposedly fraudulent vote outcomes in those seven states, he turned to the illegal scheme for having the Trump electors in those states fraudulently certify themselves as the true electors, even though state officials had already legally certified the Biden electors as the true electors.

Eastman is the Director of Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence.  He and the Claremont Institute need to explain how his illegal activity in attempting to overturn the presidential election conforms to the rule of law and American constitutional governance.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

The Failure of Revelation at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter

                                              The Garden of Eden in Petersburg, Kentucky

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is an organization founded by Ken Ham in 1993 to promote "young-Earth creationism" as the best interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis, particularly the first eleven chapters.  Young-Earth creationists read the Bible as teaching that God created the universe in 4004 BC over six twenty-four-hour days.  Therefore, the universe is only a little more than 6,000 years old; and those scientists who believe it is billions of years old are mistaken.  Those scientists who believe that all forms of life, including human beings, were created by a natural evolutionary process are also wrong.

AiG also teaches that the biblical stories about the global Flood and Noah's Ark are literally true.  The Flood occurred in 2348 BC.  All human beings today are descendants of the eight members of Noah's family who survived the Flood on the Ark.  And all the land animals today are descendants of those land animals that Noah took onto the Ark.

Ken Ham began his creationist ministry in Australia.  And while there, he was disturbed when he visited natural history museums that taught the evolutionary story of human origins; and he thought to himself that someday he should build a Creation Museum to teach biblical creationism as the alternative to evolution.  When he moved to the United States, he located his organization in northern Kentucky, a few miles from Cincinnati, because he thought that was so centrally located in America that it would be a good spot for his Creation Museum to attract visitors.

In 2007, Ham's dream was fulfilled as AiG's Creation Museum was opened in Petersburg, Kentucky.  Then, in 2016, AiG opened a new theme park--the Ark Encounter--in Williamstown, Kentucky, where Noah's Ark has been reconstructed according to God's specifications.  It's 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high--the largest free-standing timber-frame structure in the world, with 3.1 million board feet of lumber!

                                                                            Noah's Art

Beginning in 2007, I have written a series of posts on Ham's defense of young-Earth creationism in his debates not only with evolutionists (like Bill Nye) but also with other Christian creationists who disagree with him--old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross), theistic evolutionists (like Deborah Haarsma), and intelligent-design theorists (like Stephen Meyer).  For me, what is most remarkable here is how Revelation has failed to resolve this creation/evolution debate.  These Christian creationists all agree that God has revealed his truth by sending the Holy Spirit to inspire the writing of the Bible and to guide Christians to a correct reading of the Bible.  But the fact that they cannot agree on how God wants us to settle the creation/evolution debate shows that either there has been no Revelation of the truth about this issue, or there has been a Revelation, but it is too obscure to be correctly understood.

The ultimate problem here arises from the fundamental mistake in Protestant Christianity--the founding principle of the perspicuity or clarity of the Bible.  According to this doctrine, every individual Christian can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide him or her to the correct interpretation of the Bible--at least what is necessary for salvation.  Against this, the Catholic Church argues that the Bible is too obscure to be reliably interpreted by every Christian; and therefore, the Church must exercise its magisterium--its teaching function--by enforcing its tradition of biblical interpretation that is passed on to the lay Christians by the priests.  The Holy Spirit guided the writing of the Bible, but it also guided the Church's tradition of biblical interpretation.  If Christians are free to interpret the Bible as they wish, they will fall into endless disputes that will cause endless schisms within the Church, which is exactly what happens with the Protestants, who are divided into thousands of doctrinal factions.  A good defense of this Catholic position is Casey Chalk's The Obscurity of Scripture: Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity (Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2023).

I am thinking more about this now because next week I will be going to both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.  I am studying some of the writing at the AiG website and five guidebooks from AiG: Journey Through the Creation Museum (2018), Creation Museum Signs (2021), Journey Through the Ark Encounter (2017), Ark Signs--That Teach a Flood of Answers (2017), and The Building of the Ark Encounter: By Faith the Ark Was Built (2016).  All are published by Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas.

I am also reading a critical study of the Creation Museum as an exercise in rhetorical persuasion--Susan and William Trollinger's Righting America at the Creation Museum (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).  They see the same problem that I have seen--that the failure of Christian creationists to agree on their reading of Genesis denies their Protestant claim about the perspicuity of the Bible.

For example, as I indicated in a previous post, Georgia Purdom, a scientist at AiG, says that she sees the world through God's truth--as conveyed by the "clear biblical teachings about the past"--as opposed to seeing the world through unreliable human opinions.  When Michael Shermer questioned her about this and suggested that the Bible is open to many different interpretations, Purdom responded by insisting that the young-Earth creationists don't interpret the Bible at all, because they accept the "clear biblical teachings" without imposing any human interpretation. 

But then in some of her writing coauthored with Todd Wood, Purdom has said that before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, most Christian creationists believed that God had specially created every species of plants and animals, because when Genesis says that God created every "kind" of life, they interpreted this to mean "species."  Once Darwin had refuted this by showing that species had emerged by natural selection rather than by special creation, creationists were forced to look for another interpretation of the word "kind" (min in Hebrew).  They decided that "kind" must correspond to some level of taxonomy higher than species--perhaps "family."  So, for instance, creationists can now accept the evidence that the various species of finches found only in the Galapagos Islands evolved by natural selection as adaptations to the Galapagos; but then the creationists will say that all of these species evolved out of the "kind" or family of finches that God created at the beginning and put onto Noah's ark.  So the Bible's language of "kind" was obscure, and creationists like Purdom had to change their interpretation of that word in the light of Darwin's science of evolution.

The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter don't just display the text of Genesis One declaring that God created every "kind" of plant and animal.  Alongside the biblical texts, there are signs that explain that a "kind" is not a species but a higher taxonomic category.  Thus does AiG try to persuade the museumgoers to accept AiG's interpretation of the biblical text, even as they deny what they are doing by claiming that they are just presenting "clear biblical teachings" without imposing any interpretation.

I will have more to say about this.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

The Claremont Institute's John Eastman in Jack Smith's New Indictment of Trump: A Criminal Conspiracy to Overturn the Rule of Law

Yesterday, Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a new indictment of Donald Trump charging him with a criminal conspiracy against the United States: "The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government by which those results are collected, counted, and certified" (par. 7).

Smith identifies, but does not name or charge, six "co-conspirators."  He might be giving them a chance to cooperate before he charges them.

Although he does not name them, it is easy to identify them (par. 8).  Co-Conspirator 1 is Rudolph Giuliani.  Co-Conspirator 2 is John Eastman.  These two are clearly the main leaders of the conspiracy.  These are the two people that Trump selected to speak at his "Save America Rally" on January 6, 2021, which provoked the mob attack on the Capitol.

Co-Conspirator 3 is Sidney Powell.  Number 4 is Jeffrey Clark.  Number 5 is Kenneth Chesebro.  I am not sure about Number 6, who is identified as "a political consultant who helped implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding."

I am most interested in the role of Eastman because he was the one who provided the fraudulent constitutional theory to justify Trump's attempt to overturn the election.  Eastman is the Director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which claims to promote a return to the principles of the American constitutional founding.  Eastman's work for Trump's conspiracy was thus part of the Claremont Institute's efforts to provide intellectual support for Trump.  I have written about that in a series of posts.

Count One of the indictment is "conspiracy to defraud the United States," for which the punishment is up to 5 years in prison.  After reading this indictment, Eastman's lawyers should advise him to take a plea deal with Smith in exchange for testifying against Trump.  If he doesn't do that, he's a fool.

Smith has to show that Trump and his co-conspirators "deliberately disregarded the truth" about whether the election was fraudulent, and that they "made knowingly false claims" (par. 11). In other words, he was not delusional.  To prove this, Smith shows that every time that Trump made some charge of fraudulent voting, his most trusted advisors and Republican party leaders told him there was no evidence for this; but Trump would then keep repeating the charge.  Smith also notes that all of the lawsuits filed by Trump in the state and federal courts alleging vote fraud were rejected by the courts, thus "providing the Defendant real-time notice that his allegations were meritless" (par. 11).  I have written about these court cases--here and here.  In many cases, the judges in these cases had been appointed by Trump himself.  Here we see the vindication of the rule of law in exposing the falsehood in Trump's charges.

Smith also cites evidence that Trump admitted to his own advisors that some of the charges brought by Sidney Powell were unsupported and even "crazy" (par. 20).  Smith also quotes Giuliani as saying: "We don't have the evidence, but we have lots of theories" (par. 16).  Smith also notes that Eastman admitted that some of the charges were "inaccurate" (par. 30).

Giuliani and Eastman put pressure on Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers to use the Republican majority of the state legislature to decertify the state's legitimate electors.  Bowers said that he had not found any evidence of fraudulent voting in Arizona.  When he asked them for such evidence, they admitted they had none, but they still insisted that he should overturn the election.

On December 4, Bowers issued a public statement that included this passage:

"No election is perfect, and if there were evidence of illegal votes or an improper count, then Arizona law provides a process to contest the election: a lawsuit under state law.  But the law does not authorize the Legislature to reverse the results of an election."

"As a conservative Republican, I don't like the results of the presidential election.  I voted for President Trump and worked hard to reelect him.  But I cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election."

"I and my fellow legislators swore an oath to support the U.S. Constitution and the constitution and laws of the state of Arizona.  It would violate that oath, the basic principles of republican government, and the rule of law if we attempted to nullify the people's vote based on unsupported theories of fraud.  Under the laws that we wrote and voted upon, Arizona voters choose who wins, and our system requires that their choice be respected" (par. 17).

This ended Bowers' political career.  He was censured by the Arizona Republican Party for not overturning the election and refusing to violate his oath of office.  He then lost a primary election for the State Senate.

It is strange that Eastman and the Claremont Institute, who profess to support the U.S. Constitution and rule of law, have refused to recognize the moral courage of Bowers and others who refused to violate their oaths to support the principles of republican government.

It is also strange that Eastman was willing to invent a constitutional theory that could be used to overturn the election even though he knew that his theory was so preposterous that no court would support it.  Consider these two paragraphs from the indictment:

"94.  Also on January 4, when Co-Conspirator 2 [Eastman] acknowledged to the Defendant's Senior Adviser that no court would support his proposal, the Senior Adviser told Co-Conspirator 2, 'You're going to cause riots in the streets.'  Co-Conspirator 2 responded that there had previously been points in the nation's history where violence was necessary to protect the republic.  After that conversation, the Senior Advisor notified the Defendant that Co-Conspirator 2 had conceded that his plan was 'not going to work.'"

"95.  On the morning of January 5, at the Defendant's direction, the Vice President's Chief of Staff and the Vice President's Counsel met again with Co-Conspirator 2.  Co-Conspirator 2 now advocated that the Vice President do what the Defendant had said he preferred the day before: unilaterally reject electors from the targeted states.  During this meeting, Co-Conspirator 2 privately acknowledged to the Vice President's Counsel that he hoped to prevent judicial review of his proposal because he understood that it would be unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court.  The Vice President's Counsel expressed to Co-Conspirator 2 that following through with the proposal would result in a 'disastrous situation' where the election might 'have to be decided in the streets.'"

The next day--January 6--Eastman spoke to the crowd outside the White House purporting to give them a legal theory to justify overturning the election.  Trump followed him by endorsing this and identifying Eastman as "the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country" (par. 104).

The crowd then began marching to the Capitol building, and when they heard that the Vice President had refused to overturn the election, they began chanting "Hang Mike Pence."


Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Michael Young and the Debate Over Meritocracy: Does I.Q. + Effort = Merit?

In the last three decades of the twentieth century, there was an intense debate over meritocracy.  This was provoked first by Richard Herrnstein in September of 1971 with his article on "I.Q." in the Atlantic Monthly and in 1973 with his book I.Q. in the Meritocracy.  The debate was renewed in 1994, with the publication of Herrnstein and Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve.  Herrnstein and Murray warned that with progress towards the egalitarian ideal of equal opportunity--so that every child would have an equal chance for success in life--this would be progress toward a hereditary meritocracy of a cognitive elite.  Once the environmental influences such as education become similar for everyone, they matter less than inherited characteristics--particularly, inherited intelligence.  I.Q. is largely inherited, and it is a powerful predictor of success in cognitively challenging occupations in a post-industrial society that require high I.Q.  So when there is a lot of social mobility with movement up and down the social hierarchy, the smartest people will tend to move up into the upper classes, and the dullest people will move down into the lower classes; and society will be ruled by a cognitive elite.  

The danger is that this will create a rigid separation between the classes.  Moreover, the separation here really is based on class and not race, because even American whites are separating into a white cognitive elite and a white underclass of people without college degrees.  To avoid having these classes set apart from and against one another, Herrnstein and Murray argued, we must organize a society in which the classes can live together harmoniously, in which everyone can find values places for themselves, and thus pursue their happiness, because "most people by far have enough intelligence for getting on with the business of life" (Bell Curve, 536).  (I have written previously about Murray's argument.)

Over the past fifteen years, this debate over meritocracy has been renewed.  Meritocracy has been attacked both from the Left (people such John Rawls and Michael Sandel) and the Right (people such as Charles Murray and Patrick Deneen).  Populist political leaders like Donald Trump have led a revolt against the college-educated meritocratic elites.  Trump declared: "I love the poorly educated -- I am your voice."  (Oddly, though, Trump also brags about his high I.Q.)  Recently, Adrian Wooldridge has published the first comprehensive history of meritocracy (from Plato to the present) and a defense of it against the critics--The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2021).


I find it remarkable that every feature of this ongoing intellectual and political debate was predicted 65 years ago by Michael Young when he invented the word meritocracy in 1958 in his book The Rise of the Meritocracy (reprinted by Transaction Publishers in 1994 and by Routledge in 2017).  Young was a sociologist who was a prominent thinker and activist in the British Labour Party. His idea in his book was that in a meritocratic society, people get ahead in life based on their individual merit, and merit is defined by intelligence and exertion in developing one's talents.  Young reduced it to a formula: I.Q. + effort = merit.  

Young's book was an odd combination of history and science fiction.  He acted as the narrator pretending to write as a sociologist in the year 2034 in Great Britain.  Young as narrator was a proponent of meritocracy who began with the history of meritocracy in England from the 1870s to the late 1950s.  He then narrated the fictional history of that meritocracy from the 1960s to 2033 and 2034 when the Populist Movement led a violent revolt of the lower classes against the meritocracy, and Young himself was killed by the populist rebels in May of 2034.

The Early History of the Meritocracy.  Young began his story with two great reform movements in the 1870s in Britain.  First, there was a new system for the universal primary education of children between the ages of 5 and 12 in England and Wales.  Second, there was a growing movement toward civil service reform, so that entry and advancement in the civil service would be based on competitive standards of merit rather than patronage.  The most prominent argument for these reforms was that they were necessary if Great Britain was to compete economically and militarily with other nations that were educating their people and recruiting the most talented for administrative and military service.  

The First World War stimulated the better use of human talent.  The U.S. Army put millions of recruits through intelligence tests, so that those of superior intelligence could be assigned to the jobs requiring intellectual talent.  In the Second World War, the British Army made similar use of psychological testing for assigning the most talented people to the most cognitively challenging jobs.  The world was moving to a meritocracy of intelligence.

Throughout most of human history, people were put into high positions of status and power based on their inherited family connections (dynasticism and nepotism), patronage, or bribery.  Monarchs were chosen by being born into a ruling dynastic family.  Nobles were identified by their birth in high-ranking families, or by being granted titles of nobility by monarchs.  High positions could also be gained by noble or monarchic patronage or purchased by the wealthy.  Therefore, social hierarchy was based on an aristocracy of birth or a plutocracy of wealth.  All of this would have to be overturned to achieve a true meritocracy of talent.

The meritocratic reforms that began in the 1870s were not sufficient to achieve this, however.  But Young saw a new wave of reforms, particularly in education, that began in Britain with the Education Act of 1944.  Although this law was supported by Conservatives, it was the product of British Fabian socialist thinking in the Labour Party, which condemned the evils of inherited aristocratic privileges in education, property, and jobs, and which argued for equality understood as equality of opportunity for those in the lower classes who were talented to rise to positions of high status and power.  The first step was for the most intelligent children in the lower classes to have access, beyond the primary schools, to the best education in secondary schools, and higher education in the best universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge.  The talented few with the best education should then have the opportunity to enter the highest ranks of political, economic, administrative, and social power.

Before 1944, most working-class children dropped out of school by the time they were 12 years old, because their families did not have the resources to send them to secondary schools.  The Education Act of 1944 set up a Tripartite System of state-funded secondary education that had three types of schools--grammar schools that taught a highly academic curriculum for developing the kind of abstract thinking required for a university education, secondary technical schools to train children for careers as scientists, engineers, and technicians, and secondary modern schools to teach practical skills necessary for unskilled jobs and home management.  The allocation of students between these three types of schools was determined by a test during the final year of primary school at age 11.  This "11-plus" examination was a series of tests of mathematical ability, general reasoning, and essay-writing.  It was understood to be essentially an I.Q. test.  The original intention of this system was to foster social mobility by identifying the most intellectually talented children and giving them an education that would develop their talents.  Talented children from lower class families would rise, and less talented children from upper class families would fall.

Although it was intended that all three types of schools would be equally esteemed, it did not work out that way.  Few technical schools were opened because of a lack of money and qualified teachers.  This created a two-level system in which the grammar schools were for the academically talented, and the secondary schools were for all the other children.  The 11-plus examination was regarded as a test of success or failure:  the successful students scored high enough to go to grammar schools, while the failing students who scored low went to secondary modern schools.  About 25% of children went to a grammar school, and they were the ones most likely to win admission to the best universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.  About 70% went to secondary modern schools, and they had little chance of going to a university.  (Similar systems of state-run selective schools were adopted in other European countries, such as France, Germany, and Sweden.)

Young saw this system as supported by the "practical socialists" who identified equality with equality of opportunity leading to advancement for merit.  He saw them as debating the "left-wing socialists" who interpreted equality as equality of outcome, so that all children, regardless of their differences in talent, should attend the same schools and receive the same education: they argued for eliminating the 11-plus exam and abolishing the grammar schools, and replacing them with "comprehensive schools" in which all students would be lumped together.  Young rejected this as ignoring "the fact of genetic inequality" and a sacrificing of the few to the many (30, 36).  Ultimately, in his story, the left-wing socialists lost this debate in the 1960s and 1970s; and the grammar schools were preserved.

Actually, here is one place where Young's predictions failed.  The socialists in the Labour Party attacking the grammar schools succeeded:  under the new Labour government of 1974, the 1976 Education Act established comprehensive schools for all children and forbade the selection of students by ability.  This abolition of the grammar schools benefitted private schools, because rich parents could take their children out of the state system and send them to expensive private secondary schools that would prepare them for admission to Oxford and Cambridge.

But according to Young's history, modern education and social mobility in Great Britain throughout the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century was guided by I.Q. testing as a guide to the allocation of students in the schools and the assignment of the most talented graduates to the most cognitively challenging jobs.  While the left-wing socialists criticized the intelligence tests as biased against lower-class children, the practical socialists insisted that they were less biased than all other means for selecting students for the best schools and the best jobs.  

Every person was entitled at any age to apply every five years for a new intelligence test.  If their score changed, they could have their National Intelligence Card destroyed, and a new card substituted (66).

Intelligence testing was extended from children to adults.  And gradually, in all the most important occupations, promotion by the principle of seniority yielded to the principle of merit as measured by intelligence, so that exceptionally talented young people could advance beyond older people in their profession who were less talented.  There was no longer any unfair discrimination based on age (75-84).

Because of this social mobility up and down based on intelligence, smart children who were the offspring of lower-class parents joined the upper class, while stupid children who were the offspring of upper-class parents joined the lower class.

Young saw this as the fulfillment of "the ideal of Plato" in The Republic, because everyone was assigned to a higher or lower class position based on their natural intellectual talent.  The talented offspring of parents in the Silver or Bronze classes could be raised to the Gold class, and the less talented offspring of parents in the Gold class could be dropped down to the Silver or Bronze classes (52, 93).

And yet, like Plato, Young saw how difficult it was to do this when it denied the natural propensity of parents to a nepotistic bias in helping their children to gain and hold high positions even when the children did not deserve this.  Even in a meritocracy where those in the upper class have earned their rank by their individual merit, upper-class parents will try to pass on their high status to their children.  Young described this as a moral conflict between the principle of kinship and the principle of merit.  Plato solved this problem by abolishing the family for those in his ruling guardian class.  Young did not foresee that this would be attempted in his meritocratic society.

Now, to the extent that people with natural talent pass on their genetic advantages to their children, their children will have some of the natural talent that merits high status.  But since children share only 50% of their genes with each parent, and because of the scrambling of genes from the two parents, children will differ from their parents, and some highly talented parents will have dull children, just as some dull parents will have highly talented children.  That's why a true meritocracy can never be a rigidly inherited class system because it will require social mobility up and down in each generation.

The Decline of the Lower Classes.  Looking back from the perspective of 2034, Young said that the twentieth century in England was the "golden age of equality," because "inequality of opportunity fostered the myth of human equality," and "myth we know it to be; not so our ancestors" (93-96).  Before the achievement of meritocracy through true equality of opportunity at the end of the century, no class was uniform in its intelligence or talents.  The lower classes had as many intelligent and talented members as the upper classes.  People in the upper classes could not confidently declare that they all deserved to be in the superior class, because they could see many lower-class people who were equal or superior to them in intelligence and talents.  People in the lower classes did not have to feel degraded by their low social status, because they could always say to themselves that if they had had a fair chance to compete, they could have shown that they were as good as anyone else and perhaps even better.  A workman could say to himself: "Here I am, a workman.  Why am I a workman?  Am I fit for nothing else?  Of course not. Had I had a proper chance I would have shown the world. A doctor? A brewer? A minister? I could have done anything. I never had the chance. And so I am a worker.  But don't think that at bottom I am any worse than anyone else. I'm better" (96).  Consequently, everyone could believe that in principle all human beings are naturally equal or created equal in the eyes of God.

But by the beginning of the twenty-first century, this was no longer the case.  Through equality of opportunity, those with high cognitive ability in the lower classes had risen into the higher classes, and those with low cognitive ability in the higher classes had fallen into the lower classes.  This opened a wider gulf between the classes than had ever existed previously.  Now, those in the ruling class knew that they deserved to be in the superior class; and those in the lower classes knew that they deserved to be in a lower class.  

For the first time in human history, people in an inferior class must recognize that they have inferior status not because they have been denied opportunity but because they are inferior.  The danger is that those in the lower classes, who are the great majority of society, will be so deprived of self-respect that they will be thrown into a "helpless despair" that cripples them and makes them miserable (97-98, 114).

To avoid this demoralization of the lower classes, Young reported, the British meritocracy had found five ways to relieve the psychic depression of the lower classes.  First, the secondary modern schools taught not only the elementary mental skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic necessary for using simple tools, but also a cult of esteeming physical prowess as superior to abstract mental achievement--the Mythos of Muscularity.  This included an appreciation of competitive sports, handicrafts, craftmanship, and manual work.  Even without the high cognitive abilities of the upper classes, those in the lower classes could respect themselves for their artful physical achievements.

Secondly, there was a system of adult education centers where low-I.Q. people in the lower classes could continue their education as adults with the hope of raising their I.Q. scores, which would allow them to join the upper classes.  This rarely occurred but it held out hope for advancement for those who had been consigned to the lower classes in their childhood.

Thirdly, even when people in the lower classes had abandoned hope for themselves, parents could be consoled by the thought that their children or grandchildren could show the high I.Q. that would allow them to rise into the upper classes.

Fourthly, the very stupidity that causes people to be assigned to the lower classes makes most of them so humble that they have no ambition to rise and thus do not feel discontented with their lowly status.

Finally, those in the lower classes could be assigned jobs requiring manual labor or personal service and as domestic servants that did not require high cognitive ability, and so they were free from the frustration of being in jobs that were beyond their capacities.

Some socialists complained about the "indignity" of treating the lower classes in this way, because it denied the equal moral dignity of all human beings.  Young responded by saying that these socialists had not understood the moral implications of what the meritocracy had achieved.  "What is the purpose of abolishing inequalities in nurture," he observed, "except to reveal and make more pronounced the inescapable inequalities of Nature?" (105)  "Socialists did not see that . . . equality of opportunity meant equality of opportunity to be unequal" (119).

The socialists did not see that the victory of the working class in opening the gates of opportunity to their most talented children was a defeat for their class and for the Labour Party that had led them (130).  Previously, the leaders of the Labour Party had been some of the most talented children of working-class parents who had had no opportunity to rise into the upper classes.  But once the talented working-class children had joined the upper classes, there was no longer a pool of talented working-class children from which leaders could be recruited.  By 1960, hardly any of the Labour Party's leaders had ever been manual workers.

The new upper-class leaders of the Labour Party recognized the complaint of the poor that the rich had more money than they really needed, and that more money should be redistributed to the poor.  Eventually, there was a compromise truce that satisfied the poor while allowing the distribution of rewards to become far more unequal.  The Equalization of Income Act of 2005 stipulated that every employee would receive an equal salary, but the differences between grades of jobs would be recognized by having the employer pay for varying expenses that could be justified by efficiency.  So, for example, employers might pay for secretaries, domestic servants, and luxurious holiday travel for elite professional employees, with the justification that such employees need the special conditions that sustain their intellectual productivity.  The poor are satisfied by the complete equality of all incomes, and the elite are satisfied by the inequality of benefits from employers.

The populist revolt against meritocracy.  Despite the apparent success of the meritocracy in winning acceptance by all classes, Young reported that there was enough discontent to support a left-wing Populist Movement in challenging the meritocracy as unjust.  The most prominent leaders of the Populists were women, particularly upper-class women who graduated from the women's colleges at Cambridge (Newnham and Somerville) who refused to take the professional jobs for which they had been educated, and instead they chose working-class jobs.

The primary idea of the Populists was the need for a "classless society" with "plural values," so that manual work would be as valuable as mental, and the arts and manual skills should be as important as science and technology.  This would promote a new meaning for human equality of opportunity that would allow human diversity to express itself, and every man would be respected for whatever was good in his life.  "Every man is a genius at something, even every woman, they say:  it is the function of society to discover and honour it, whether it is genius at making pots, growing daisies, ringing bells, caring for babies, or even (to show their tolerance) genius at inventing radio telescopes" (158).

In 2009, a local Populist group issued the "Chelsea Manifesto" that declared:

"The classless society would be one which both possessed and acted upon plural values.  Were we to evaluate people, not only according to their intelligence and their education, their occupation, and their power, but according to their kindliness and their courage, their imagination and sensitivity, their sympathy and generosity, there could be no classes.  Who would be able to say that the scientist was superior to the porter with admirable qualities as a father, the civil servant with unusual skill at gaining prizes superior to the lorry-driver with unusual skill at growing roses?  The classless society would also be the tolerant society, in which individual differences were actively encouraged as well as passively tolerated, in which full meaning was at last given to the dignity of man.  Every human being would then have equal opportunity, not to rise up in the world in the light of any mathematical measure, but to develop his own special capacities for leading a rich life" (159).

What finally provoked the Populists into violent protests in 2033 and 2034 was the argument of the right wing of the Conservative Party for a new "hereditary principle."  By 1990, all adults with I.Q.s of more than 125 belonged to the meritocracy, and they were marrying other people with high I.Q.s; and consequently, through assortative mating, they were passing on their inherited intelligence to their children.  Thus, the elite was becoming hereditary by joining the principles of heredity and merit.  The right-wing conservatives argued that there should be public approval for this new hereditary meritocracy.

This tendency to hereditary meritocracy was strengthened by having high I.Q. couples adopt high I.Q. orphans.  It became easier to do this as scientists learned how to identify the I.Q. in young children and even newborns.  Some scientists could even predict the I.Q. of a foetus in the womb based on a study of the I.Q.s of the foetus's ancestors.  Moreover, genetic engineering was making it easier to control the mutations in the unborn to raise the level of I.Q.

Against this, Young wrote, the Populists made some concrete demands:  "the banning of adoptions; the preservation of primary schools and adult education centres; more allowance for age and experience in industrial promotion; giving the technicians a share in increasing productivity; and, most revolutionary and perhaps most meaningful, even a trifle nostalgic, to a historian, the raising of the school-leaving age to eighteen, and the creation of 'common secondary schools for all'" (177-78).  

Young thought this last "most revolutionary" demand was a hundred years too late.  "If the hopes of some earlier dissidents had been realized and the brilliant children from the lower classes remained there, to teach, to inspire, and to organize the masses, then I should have had a different story to tell" (180).  But since the lower classes no longer have any talented leaders of their own, and since the leaders of the Populist Movement were only an odd collection of a few people from the upper classes, Young predicted that the Populist protest at Peterloo in May of 2034 could not be a serious threat to the meritocracy.

But as the book ends here, there is a footnote: "Since the author of this essay was himself killed at Peterloo, the publishers regret they were not able to submit to him the proofs of his manuscript, for the corrections he might have wished to make before publication.  The text, even this last section, has been left exactly as he wrote it.  The failings of sociology are as illuminating as its successes."

Remarkably, then, it seems that Young's prediction of a populist revolt against meritocracy has been fulfilled, although it came at least 20 years earlier than he predicted.


In the "Introduction to the Transaction Edition" (1994), Young complained that most of the people who had referred to his book without ever reading it--"the most influential books are always those that are not read"--mistakenly assumed that he was arguing for the meritocracy that he described, because they did not see that the book is satirical in that it makes fun of the Michael Young who narrates the book.  Actually, he explained, the book was "intended to present two sides of the case--the case against as well as the case for meritocracy"; and the decision for one side or the other was left to the reader (xv).  In fact, as I have already indicated, all of the arguments in the debate over meritocracy in the past 50 years can be found in Young's book.

In 2001, a year before his death, Young wrote an article for The Guardian entitled "Down with Meritocracy," in which he criticized Tony Blair for praising meritocracy and attributing this to Young's book.  "The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded)," he observed; and he went on to write a good brief summary of the argument:

"It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit.  It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others."

"Ability of a conventional kind, which used to be distributed between the classes more or less at random, has become much more highly concentrated by the engine of education."

"A social revolution has been accomplished by harnessing schools and universities to the task of sieving people according to education's narrow band of values."

"With an amazing battery of certificates and degrees at its disposal, education has put its seal of approval on a minority, and its seal of disapproval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are relegated to the bottom streams at the age of seven or before."

"The new class has the means at hand, and largely under its control, by which it reproduces itself."

"The more controversial prediction and the warning followed from the historical analysis.  I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been.  If branded at school, they are more vulnerable for later unemployment."

"They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves."

"It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none.  No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that."

What I see here and in his book is that Young is criticizing one kind of meritocracy and at least implicitly recommending another kind of meritocracy.  He is attacking the closed and monistic meritocracy that he saw emerging in the modern world, particularly in Great Britain and the United States.  But instead of arguing for the abolition of meritocracy, he is suggesting that what we need is an open and pluralistic meritocracy.

A meritocracy is open when there is no restriction on social mobility up and down the hierarchy, so that the most talented children of lower-class parents are free to rise into the upper ranks of status, wealth, and power, and the less talented children of upper-class parents are allowed to fall into the lower ranks.  A meritocracy is closed when upper-class parents, who may have originally earned their high rank, can secure that high rank for their children even when they are less talented, by giving their children privileges that are denied to the talented children in the lower ranks.

So, for example, parents who as children were admitted to Harvard University based on their cognitive ability and academic achievements might then help their children be admitted to Harvard as "legacy" applicants who are the children of Harvard alumni or as applicants on the "dean's list" because the parents are a big donors to the university.  A closed meritocracy allows this.  An open meritocracy forbids it.

A meritocracy is monistic when merit is measured by only one standard of value.  A meritocracy is pluralistic when merit is measured by many standards of value.

So, for example, we have a monistic meritocracy when the only standard of merit is abstract cognitive ability of the sort that can be measured by an I.Q. test.  We would have a pluralistic meritocracy if we saw merit in many different moral and intellectual virtues and talents.

Even if the critics of meritocracy have rightly identified some defects in the monistic and closed meritocracy as we know it today, they have not made the case for abolishing meritocracy, because they have not shown that any alternative social order would be better than meritocracy.  And they have not considered how a defective meritocracy could be corrected by a more open meritocracy and a wiser pluralistic meritocracy, as proposed by Adrian Wooldridge.


For hundreds of years, modern societies have shown a conflict between two opposing principles--the principle of selection by family inheritance and the principle of individual merit.  Throughout most of human history, one's position in society was largely determined by one's parents, because children tended to inherit the status of their parents.  Upper-class parents produced upper-class children, while lower-class parents produced lower-class children.  The argument for meritocracy is that this is unfair, and that children should be free to achieve whatever position in society they can earn by their individual merit, regardless of the status of their parents.

The most common criticism of meritocracy is that this argument for meritocracy is hypocritical, because in a meritocracy, upper-class parents will always find ways to give special advantages to their children.  After all, nepotism is a natural human tendency.  If one were truly serious about meritocracy and equality of opportunity, one would have to abolish the family and rear children communally so that parents would not be allowed to favor their children over others.  Plato in The Republic understood that.

An obvious example of nepotistic bias in a seemingly meritocratic society is provided by America's elite universities.  Admission to those schools is supposed to be based purely on individual merit, so that only those children with the highest cognitive ability are admitted.  But as we have seen in the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, the admission process for the elite universities is biased in favor of the children of very wealthy families.  Recently, a study of admissions at the 12 most elite universities--the eight Ivy League schools, as well as Stanford, the University of Chicago, MIT, and Duke--shows that these schools actually promote a kind of affirmative action for rich kids.  The children of the richest 1 percent, with parents earning more than $611,000 a year, are 34 percent more likely to be admitted than the average applicant with the same test scores.  And those from the top 0.1 percent are more than twice as likely to be admitted.

The primary reason for this is that all of these schools--except for MIT--give a preference for "legacies"--the children of alumni--and those alumni tend to be wealthy.  Among applicants with the same test scores, the children of alumni from families in the top 0.1 percent of wealth are seven times more likely to be admitted.  The reason schools do this is that wealthy alumni are more likely to make big donations to the schools if they think their children will be preferentially admitted.

A few weeks ago, three Boston-area groups filed a request that the U.S. Department of Education review this practice of legacy admissions at Harvard.  The leader of one of the groups complained: "Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations. Your family's last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit and should have no bearing on the college admissions process."

Defenders of meritocracy like Wooldridge would say that this is an example not of the failure of meritocracy but of the need for more meritocracy.  What Wooldridge calls "more meritocracy" is what I would describe as moving to a more open meritocracy (The Aristocracy of Talent, 376-87).  The first step to making the elite universities an open meritocracy would be to eliminate all of the admission standards that favor rich white students--legacy admissions and favorable treatment for the children of faculty, for athletes, and for those on the dean's "special interest" list (the children of big donors).

The next step would be to identify talented children in the population at large who have not had the advantages conferred by being reared in upper-class families.  We need to revive the emphasis on IQ testing and tests like the SAT that are close to IQ tests.  There is no better way to test for raw cognitive ability.  

It is often said that the children of the affluent can have their scores on these tests raised by having their parents pay for coaching in test-taking.  But studies have shown that the improvement in scores from coaching is small.  And most of the improvement can be gained by lower-class children if they practice taking the test, which can be done without much expense.

We also need to revive those highly selective elite high schools that once existed in many of America's big cities for educating the most talented but underprivileged children: for example, the Boston Latin School, San Francisco's Lowell High School, and many schools in New York City (such as Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science).  The graduates of these schools were better prepared to win admission to the most elite universities.  But most of these schools have had their admission standards lowered so that they are no longer selective, and so they no longer serve to cultivate the most talented students.

In England, the state-funded grammar schools for students who scored highest on the 11-plus examinations prepared their students for entrance into Oxford and Cambridge.  In 1959, the graduates of expensive private schools (like Eton, Winchester, and Harrow) filled 55 percent of the places in Oxbridge.  In 1967, this had declined to 38 percent because of the increase in grammar school graduates winning admission.  But with the abolition of the grammar-school system, graduates of the expensive private schools are today seven times more likely to win admission to Oxford and Cambridge.

But even if we were to open up the educational meritocracy of the elite universities to the most talented children from the lower classes, we would still face another problem--the narrowing down of merit by defining it as cognitive ability as measured by IQ tests, so that meritocracy means nothing more than the rule of the cognitive elite.  Why shouldn't we recognize that there are many standards of merit that should be esteemed besides cognitive ability?

For that, we need a wiser meritocracy.


What Wooldridge calls "a wiser meritocracy" is what I would describe as moving to a more pluralistic meritocracy (The Aristocracy of Talent, 387-96).  The cognitive ability for abstract and analytical reasoning is certainly a human good.  But all of the moral and intellectual virtues are also human goods.  And those who display those virtues should be esteemed.  A pluralistic meritocracy would respect and reward the merit in all of those virtues.  Michael Young pointed to this when he described the vision of a social order that saw the human dignity in "plural values," so that every human being might have the equal opportunity to develop his or her special capacities for leading a good life.

A good argument for a more pluralistic meritocracy has been made recently by David Goodhart in his book Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect (Free Press, 2020).  To use his vivid terminology, in recent years, we have given too much prestige and reward to Head (cognitive work) and not enough to Hand (manual work) and Heart (care work).  People who excel in manual work or caregiving should derive as much self-esteem and public honor from that as people who excel in knowledge work.  

There should be a meritocracy in each of these three spheres of work, which would reflect the diversity of human excellences.  This is what Herrnstein and Murray had in mind when they said there should be a "place for everyone":  everyone should be able to find an honored place for themselves by developing whatever moral or intellectual talents they might have.

There is a lot we could do to promote this.  For example, we could revive the system of vocational schools and industrial colleges for the working class that once existed in America and Great Britain.  To some extent, this still exists.  Much of what the community colleges in America do is vocational training.  We could also revive the "shop classes" in high school that were once common.

We could also promote the growing cultural movement among young people who have decided that they do not need or want a college degree to be successful, and that even many of those with high cognitive ability would be happier taking jobs in the manual trades and caregiving professions that require little or no college education.  In many cases, the salaries for such jobs are higher than for the jobs taken by college graduates.

Even within the academic world of cognitive work in the colleges and universities, we should see not just one linear meritocracy with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton at the top, but multiple meritocracies differentiated into different kinds of intellectual endeavor.  

I think about my life.  My parents grew up in a lower-class farming community in Southern Illinois.  They dropped out of high school after my father knocked up my mother, and they were forced to get married.  No one in my extended family had ever attended college.  But I was a bookish kid who wanted to go to college.  

My SAT scores were high enough to win admission to the University of Dallas.  I wanted to go to UD because of their reputation for their liberal education and "Great Books" style of teaching.  My GRE scores were high enough to get admitted to the University of Chicago.  Chicago attracted me because of their strength in political philosophy in the Political Science Department, and because I hoped to teach in Chicago's Basic Program in the Liberal Arts for Adults, which had been established by Mortimer Adler as a Great Books program.  Although the University of Chicago is considered one of the 12 elite universities in the U.S., it is usually ranked below places like Harvard and Yale.  But I preferred Chicago because it had a stronger reputation as standing for liberal education rather than professional training.

After teaching in the Basic Program for four years, I taught at Rosary College (now Dominican University), Idaho State University, and Northern Illinois University.  At NIU, I taught predominantly political philosophy and biopolitical theory (part of the "Politics and the Life Sciences" program at NIU).  I taught both undergraduates and graduate students.  Almost all of my courses were taught as small seminar discussions organized around reading classic texts.  Most of my graduate students secured tenure-track teaching positions in higher education.

I tell this story because it illustrates the diverse meritocracy in American higher education.  I often think that if I and my students had been born anywhere else in the world at any prior time in human history, almost all of us would have become illiterate peasants.  But because of the American educational meritocracy that emerged after World War Two, we were given the opportunity to exercise our cognitive abilities in pondering some of the deepest philosophic and scientific questions about human life and the nature of the universe.

We were not in the academic hierarchy with Harvard and Yale at the top.  But we were in a separate academic hierarchy that includes hundreds of liberal arts colleges and universities.  Most of the people in higher education are in those schools.  The students enrolled in the 12 elite private universities comprise less than 1 percent of the students in higher education.  

Suzanne Keller once compared American higher education to a deck of cards with different suites and each suite having an ace.  Harvard and Yale belong to one suite.  But there are other suites that include state universities, Catholic colleges for Catholics, Evangelical colleges for Evangelicals, Great Books Colleges (like St. Johns College) for great bookies, and so on.  And all of them are open to those applicants who can show they have the intellectual talent for academic work.

That's what an open and pluralistic meritocracy in higher education looks like, and there is a place for everyone to satisfy their natural desire for intellectual understanding.  

I will be forever grateful that I was one of those people lucky enough to enjoy a life in such a meritocracy of the mind.