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Friday, December 24, 2004

The True "Spirit" of Christmas

Recently my lovely wife was leaving a local retail establishment. On her way to her vehicle she had one of those trying little moments that reveals what kind of a person we are. Right after the incident she called me, slightly shaken. Some of the first few words out of her mouth were “you’re not going to like this,” “parking lot,” and “minivan.” My mind immediately envisioned a large dent somewhere on the body of our relatively new “child taxi.” Thankfully, that was not the case.

As Michelle was walking toward the van, a group of four young twenty-somethings, unaware of her presence, preceded her by about 10 yards down the parking aisle. This gaggle of young folks consisted of only one male. As he slinked passed our parking space, he glanced over at our vehicle and proceeded to spit upon it. My wife was startled and then just plain-old mad. Many things ran through her mind, but thankfully, none of them jump-started her tongue.

As our phone conversation progressed and I became aware of the offense, thoughts ran through my mind as well. My tongue, however, did begin to wag a little, especially after Michelle revealed that the most likely target of the lad’s spittle was not simply our van, but the political sticker that adorned the rear window. Now, I’m not going to reveal whose name was on the sticker, because that doesn’t really matter. (Those of you who have happened to read some of my previous columns could probably make a good guess.)

My words consisted mostly of the acts of vengeance that I could enact upon the young “loogie launcher.” I boldly stated that I wished I had been with her, and proceeded to describe what I would have done. I imagined myself asking the fellow to wipe off his saliva, and if he refused, picking him up and using him as a squeegee.

After several minutes of discussion my “Spirit overcame my flesh” and I concluded that the things that I were describing were not what Jesus would do. Michelle also revealed that after she was a few minutes removed from the scene she decided that the best thing she could do at that time was pray for the young man.

Later that evening over dinner with our two young boys (ages 2½ years and 9 months) we talked about the matter in more detail. My thoughts went not only to the words of Christ, but also to what kind of example I need to be setting for my boys. What if they had been on the scene? Do I want to exemplify the kind of man who lets such trivial things go—in other words, “turns the other cheek”? Or do I want to model the “sometimes you’ve got to fight to be a man” man? After all, if I can’t turn away from such a thing as that, from what can I turn away?

Michelle pointed out that as Jesus went to the cross, He Himself was spat upon, and, of course, much worse. His example was to forgive and to pray for those tormenting him.

I believe this incident is all the more significant given that we are only days away from Christmas. One of the many clich├ęs tossed around this time of year is “Spirit of Christmas.” Folks interpret this to mean many things, but I believe that it is the “Spirit” I spoke of earlier: the “Holy Spirit” that lives inside all those who believe in Christ.

This Spirit is active not only during Christmas but all year round. Every day, as we face whatever life throws at us (or spits at us), the Spirit of Christ can be there to guide us down that “narrow path of righteousness.”

When Christians truly celebrate Christmas, we’re celebrating not only a birthday but the beginning of a sequence of events that changed the world forever. Jesus was born, He lived, He died, He arose, He sent His Spirit to us, and now He is preparing a place for all of those who believe in Him. Just as sure as all of the other events took place, we who celebrate Christmas look forward to His return and we will celebrate for all of eternity.

Have a truly merry Christmas.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Friday, December 3, 2004

Bust the Filibustering

Now that the current election cycle has come and gone, what are the talk shows going to talk about? What are Rush, Hannity, Al Franken, and Michael Moore going to do with their time? What are editors going to editorialize about? I believe one of the more interesting things to watch politically for the next several months will be the battle over the federal judiciary that will take place in the U.S. Senate.

There has been much talk lately concerning the process of approving federal judges. The president nominates judges at the federal level, and the senate must approve them (by a simple majority). As has been frequently noted in the media recently, democrats in the senate have been filibustering some of the nominees, not allowing them to come up for a vote. Republicans, with a slight majority in the senate, have had the necessary votes for approval, so the democrats see this as their only method to keep certain judges off the bench.

Republicans have been unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster, so they have been at the mercy of the democrats when it has come to particular judicial nominees. However, the dynamics of the recent election may bring an end to this filibustering.

I don’t think the fact that Bush won the election, with a majority of the popular vote, is the most significant factor in sending a message to democrats in the senate. I think it helps, but I think the fact that republicans gained four seats in the senate, and defeated Tom Daschele (the minority leader and chief architect of their policy of blocking judicial nominees) in the process sends the most powerful message to democrats. That message is: democratic senators from largely conservative states, as Daschele was, may not want to find themselves labeled as Daschele was—a liberal and an obstructionist.

The republican gains still give them only 55 senate seats—not enough to overcome a filibuster. The measures they take to combat the filibustering will be very fascinating to watch.

President Bush won 31 states in his successful reelection bid. These states represent 62 senate seats. In addition, there are nine current republican senators from states the president lost. That means, of the 55 republican senators, 46 are from states he won. Therefore, there are 16 senators that are democratic but are from states that Bush won. Five of these won in this past election, so that leaves 11 as targets to pressure to stop the filibustering.

Five of these 11 will be up for reelection in 2006, so they will be the ones really feeling the heat. They are: Nelson (FL), Conrad (ND), Nelson (NE), Bingaman (NM), and Byrd (WV). Not all of these represent states won soundly by Bush, but the senators from Nebraska and North Dakota will probably especially take note of what happened to Senator Daschele. The remaining six, up for reelection in 2008, are from AK, IA, LA, MT, SD, and WV. So, most of these 11 are from states that went solidly for Bush. It would appear that the president might find it a little easier to get the 60 votes it seems he now needs to get his judges approved.

However, there are other factors to examine. Some of the nine republican senators that are from states Bush lost are not solidly behind his agenda. Republican Lincoln Chafee (RI) reportedly didn’t even vote for George W. Bush. In protest of some of the current Bush’s policies, he said he would cast his vote for George Bush I. Nevertheless, when it came to judicial nominees these nine always backed the president.

Also, it may not be easy to sway voters in certain states based solely on how their senator voted in the judicial nomination process. What they’ve done for their state will weigh heavily. However, the defeat of Daschele almost assuredly emboldens republicans when it comes to their efforts to defeat democrats in solidly red states.

There is still another option open to republicans. If they are unable to sway enough democrats to their side they can invoke what has been called the “nuclear” option. Under this procedure, the senate's presiding officer, Vice President Cheney, would find that a supermajority to end filibusters is unconstitutional for judicial nominees. Democrats would certainly challenge this ruling. But it takes only a simple majority—or 51 votes from the senate GOP's new 55-vote majority—to sustain a ruling of the chair. This is a rarely used maneuver and has explosive potential, hence the “nuclear” tag.

Whatever method the republicans use to push through Bush’s judicial nominees, the political intrigue should be high. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Friday, October 22, 2004

Abolish the Electoral College?

Frustrated with the outcome of the last presidential election, especially since Al Gore won the popular vote, some in our country have cast a wary eye at the method by which we choose our president. Murmurings against the electoral college began even before George W. Bush was sworn in and they have picked up recently as we approach the 2004 election. Significant members of Congress have even suggested abolishing the electoral college. Like-minded editorialists and media elites have joined in the fray.

Upon being elected to the Senate, Hillary Clinton promised to introduce in the Senate a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college. The movement was supported by other like-minded Senators from both parties: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senators John Warner and Arlen Spector. There was also support in the House of Representatives, from Republicans Ray Lahood and Jim Leach and Democrats Robert Wise, Dick Gephardt, Rick Boucher, Virgil Goode, and Robert Underwood. Most of those calling for a change offer no real alternatives other than allowing the popular vote to determine the winner.

Within the last few weeks editorialists from The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also called for the abolition of the electoral college. The New York Times called it “a ridiculous setup, which thwarts the will of the majority.” They added, “There should be a bipartisan movement for direct election of the president.”

What were our Founders thinking and why shouldn’t we have a direct election of the President? According to historian David Barton, “During the Constitutional Convention, three proposals were originally discussed by the framers on how the president could be elected. Interestingly, those three proposals were rejected.” The first proposal called for Congress to elect the president, the second proposal allowed for the state legislators to do so, and the third proposal was to have the president chosen by national popular vote (direct election).

According to Barton, the national popular vote method was rejected “not because the framers distrusted the people but rather because the larger populous States would have much greater influence than the smaller States and therefore the interests of those smaller States could be disregarded or trampled. Additionally, a nationwide election would encourage regionalism since the more populous areas of the country could form coalitions to elect president after president from their own region. With such regional preferentialism, lasting national unity would be nearly impossible.”

The framers, then, referred the issue of the selection of a president to a “Committee of Eleven” for further investigation. The electoral college was the result of this investigation.

Barton adds that, “The electoral college synthesized two important philosophies established in the Constitution: (1) the maintenance of a republican, as opposed to a democratic, form of government and (2) the balancing of power between the smaller and the larger States and between the various diverse regions of the nation.”

The Legislative branch of our government, with its House and Senate, also reflects this balance desired by our Founders. Representation in the House is proportional to a state’s population, but representation in the Senate is the same for all states no matter their population. Consequently, Alaska, the third least populous state, has only a single vote in the House, where California, the most populous state, has 53. Therefore Alaska, a very important state in our union (with all of its natural resources), has almost no power in the House to affect legislation. However, it has equal power in the Senate and there must be significant agreement or compromise for legislation to become law.

Using the electoral college system to determine the head of the Executive branch of our government maintains the same kind of balance reflected in the Legislative branch.

The will of the people is taken into account, but the will of the states is also.

People frustrated with the outcome of the last presidential election point only to the majority of the vote, which Gore won by ½ of 1%. They ignore the fact that Bush won 30 states (60%), to Gore’s 20; or that Bush won 2436 counties (78%) compared to 676 for Gore; and by my count, Bush won 225 congressional districts (51.7%) to Gore’s 210. So, while a very slight majority of the people chose Gore, a much more significant majority of states and regions chose Bush. The result, therefore, was a slight electoral victory for Bush.

John Taylor (an officer during the American Revolution and a U. S. Senator under Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) put it this way:

“Two principles sustain our Constitution: one a majority of the people, the other a majority of the States; the first was necessary to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the people; the last, to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the States. But both are founded in the principle of majority; and the effort of the Constitution is to preserve this principle in relation both to the people and the States, so that neither species of sovereignty or independence should be able to destroy the other.” 

I agree.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Clarifying the Stem Cell Debate

Since the death of President Reagan, President Bush has come under fresh attacks for his policy on embryonic stem-cell research. Notice I said embryonic stem-cell research. What you hear out of much of the media is that President Bush is against “stem-cell research.” They fail to mention that he is not against stem-cell research in general, only against research that destroys embryos. They also fail to mention that all the policy does, which was laid down by Bush almost three years ago, is ban the use of taxpayer dollars for research that destroys human embryos. Privately funded organizations are still free to do this type of research, and many are. The AP reported earlier this year that Harvard University plans to launch a multimillion-dollar center to grow and study human embryonic stem cells.

Many who are criticizing the President on this issue are basically accusing him of blindly following his “right wing” constituency and ignoring what “science” is telling us concerning stem cells. The President’s critics would have us believe that the debate over embryonic stem cells is all but over in the scientific community, and his policy is keeping us from the cure for everything from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s diseases. This is far from the truth.

A New England Journal of Medicine report published in March of this year states that embryonic stem cells often cause tumors in animal studies, and therefore using them in humans is highly problematic. Dr. Carlo Croce, MD, Director of the Kimmel Cancer Institute and Kimmel Cancer Center at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, found that animal experiments show that serious cancer frequently develops when the animals received manipulated embryonic stem cells. Dr. John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University has recently stated that embryonic stem cells are “surprisingly genetically unstable in mice and perhaps in humans as well.” Maureen L. Condic, an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, states that “there are profound immunological issues associated with putting cells derived from one human being into the body of another. The same compromises and complications associated with organ transplant hold true for embryonic stem cells.”

The President’s critics are suspiciously silent about the alternatives to embryonic stem-cell research. Umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells are one such alternative. They are genetically younger than cloned embryonic stem cells, can be easily obtained, and are risk free. There are no ethical issues about their use because umbilical stem cells are a natural component of the blood in the afterbirth and would otherwise be regarded as part of the medical waste of childbirth. Also, in the last few years, tremendous progress has been made in the field of adult stem-cell research.

Hardly a serious biologists in the world would argue that life—whether human, dog, cat, or pig—does not begin at conception. Every living human being begins the same way: a sperm fertilizes an egg. The moment after conception, this one-celled, forty-six-chromosomed human being possesses everything it needs to grow into an adult human. A report from Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 1981 reads: "Physicians, biologists and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being--a being is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings."

Those for federally funded embryonic stem cell research also imply that those who believe that life begins at conception are in the vast minority. Current polls show nothing of the sort. According to a recent Harris poll, 47% of Americans believe life begins at conception. In a recent Fox News poll 55% believe the same, and a recent Newsweek poll shows that 58% consider a fertilized egg the beginning of human life. Even President Bush’s opponent in the fall, Senator Kerry, recently stated that he believes that life begins at conception.

Scientists are constantly making new medical advances in this generation. Advances in medicine and technology often involve “leaps into the unknown.” However, this should not occur at any price. To put a person on Mars, would we force the unwilling to risk their lives? In developing a new vaccine, would we test it on someone, say a child, who could not determine whether he or she wanted to assume the risks? Embryonic stem-cell research presents the same type of dilemma, and the answer should be the same: the end does not justify the means.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Removing "Evolution" From Georgia's Curriculum

Let me say this right from the start: removing the word “evolution” from Georgia’s science curriculum was not going to accomplish much for those on the creation side of the evolution debate. Simply to remove the word without real change in the curriculum is no accomplishment. In other words, if Darwinian evolution is taught under the phrase “biological changes over time,” nothing has really changed. I’m a bit (a very little bit) surprised at all of the outrage expressed by those on the evolution side of the debate. It doesn’t seem like they would have lost any real ground. I have a BS in physics and graduate degrees in mathematics education. I teach secondary mathematics. If Secretary Cox wanted me to teach the Pythagorean theorem under some other name, I would chuckle and go about my business pretty much as usual. The value of the theorem is not in its name or title.

Secretary Cox is somewhat correct in insinuating that there are problems with the word “evolution.” One problem is that it is not a mere “buzzword,” but, as Michael Matthews recently pointed out, it has taken on two meanings: (1) “biological changes over time,” (the phrase Cox prefers) a process which scientists on all sides of the debate have always accepted, and (2) the process of creatures changing into completely new creatures over millions of years. It’s the second meaning that people like me reject, whatever name or phrase is attached to it.

Molecules-to-man evolution should not be taught as fact in any academic setting. I say this not only out of my Christian convictions, but also as someone who has read, studied, and listened to lectures, and concluded that the scientific evidence simply does not support it. I’m by no means the only educated person who has come to such a conclusion. In fact, there are thousands of more highly educated scientists in this country alone who reject molecules-to-man evolution. It is their books I’ve read and their lectures to which I’ve listened. I know of scientists in almost every conceivable field who reject this type of evolution: biologists, chemists, geneticists, physicists, engineers (of all types), mathematicians, geologists, astronomers, computer scientists, archaeologists, paleontologists, dentists, medical doctors, and so on. I know engineers, chemists, medical doctors, dentists, and mathematicians personally who reject Darwinian evolution.

All that most creationists want is a fair presentation of the facts. The evidence for what has happened in the past is the same for all of us. What is different is the framework through which the evidence is interpreted. For example, the billions of dead things lying in the earth, better known as the fossil record, can be seen as evidence supporting evolution or evidence supporting the biblical account of history. Evolutionists believe in hundreds of millions of years of death and destruction. They have several theories explaining the many mass extinctions that have supposedly occurred in our planet’s history (such as a giant asteroid striking the earth). Most biblical creationists would explain much of the fossil record by the global Flood (recorded in the book of Genesis).

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati similarly explains that, “Creationists and evolutionists interpret the geological layers differently…Evolutionists interpret the sequence of layers as a sequence of ages with different types of creatures; creationists interpret them as a sequence of burial by a global Flood and its after-effects.” In fact, the creationists’ model better explains the lack of “transitional” creatures (creatures that are in the transition of changing from one kind to another) in the fossil record, and why there are many creatures found in the fossil record (supposedly hundreds of millions of years old) that are still present today. Discussions of these things will rarely, if ever, take place in a public school classroom.

If nothing else, I wish that those on the other side of this debate, especially those in the media, would stop portraying creationists as uneducated, backward thinking, ignorant hillbillies. One of the more ironic things in this debate is that most of the articles and editorials written about it are by journalists who know little or nothing about the facts. I believe they have taken a stance with the evolutionists because it seems that the majority of scientists believe in molecules-to-man evolution. Little real research is done, and those who can present a sound argument against this type of evolution are largely ignored.

Please, let those on all sides of this issue stop with the shrill and mean-spirited rhetoric and let us get on with meaningful, fair, and productive debate. We all, especially our children, deserve better than what we are getting.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com