why economists are more reliable than doctors on health issues

Russ Roberts and Emily Oster explain exactly why Economists should be the more trusted individuals for health decisions. Roberts also explains why doctors are particularly ill-suited to make health related recommendations. The reason is that doctors generally do not understand statistics and trade-offs. The entire EconTalk is statistics gold.

Russ: Let’s move away. One last thing about pregnancy in your book which fascinates me. I read an article when I was doing my background reading for this interview that–it was an angry screed; you may have seen it–suggesting that your book was awful because you are unqualified. You are the wrong kind of doctor; you are a Ph.D. in economics. You don’t know anything about medicine. And it’s irresponsible for you to go around making health recommendations. And people should ignore your book. What’s your response to that?

Guest: Um, yeah, I’m surprised you just found one like that.

Russ: Well, I stopped looking after that, Emily. I thought one was plenty.

Guest: One is enough. I think that if you read the book, it’s very clear this is a book about data. And this is a book about looking at data and evaluating causality and thinking about what’s a good study, what’s not a good study. That is exactly what my training is in. I’m a health economist; I have a lot of training in statistics. I think all the time about what’s causal, what’s not causal. And so I think in many ways my training is better than a doctor’s training for evaluating these kind of questions. The book is not going to deliver your baby for you, and so I think there’s no question that this is the kind of thing that women will read in conjunction with also going to their doctor. I assume. And so I think it really is complementary. But I also think there’s a very clear reason why someone who has a lot of training in statistics would be the person who writes it, a book which is all about data. So I think that’s the–I think if people actually read the book they will see very clearly why someone with my training will come at it in this angle.

Russ: I would–not only do I believe that your training is particularly well suited to the questions that you deal with, so I second your defense. But I would also say that doctors are particularly ill-suited for these kind of issues. They don’t typically–I think it’s changing, but they don’t typically get trained in data analysis. They are certainly not trained in statistics or decision-making. They don’t have a very good appreciation of uncertainty. And they are prone to say things, as a friend of mine heard when he was a motorcycle rider. He broke his leg and the doctor put his leg in a cast and then said, I hope you learned your lesson. And my friend said, Yeah, well as soon as I get off my cast I’m going to ride my bike again. And the doctor was mystified. The doctor couldn’t understand the idea that there might be a tradeoff. That life is dangerous; some things are dangerous. Sometimes it’s worth it even though it’s dangerous–this idea that economists have, that there is a continuum of risk, rather than safe-unsafe. And if you look at the pregnancy books and the guides and the other things you are reacting to, it’s that people of course want to know: Is it safe? And the answer is: No; and it’s not unsafe. It’s complicated. And people don’t like that. And doctors aren’t trained to think other than that.

Guest: Yeah. And some of what I get, like I get on the radio with doctors, you get: I just really care about the health of the baby. Yeah, well I really care about the health of the baby, too!

Russ: No kidding.

Guest: But I think we should also be making decisions which are correct. We shouldn’t just not be doing things because we enjoy them. We should understand. And by the way: Do you ever allow your patients to take a non-essential car trip? Because that is very dangerous.

Posted in Econ 101, Economics, Statistics | Leave a comment

bad statistics – car seat safety

car helmet while drivingNews reporters are notoriously bad at basic comprehension of statistics. When it comes to child safety in cars, there is no exception.

From CBSnews:

For children, the back remains the safest place to ride. Children 12 and younger account for 56 percent of passengers who sit in the back of vehicles, but only 24 percent of crash fatalities, according to a recent study by the IIHS and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that reviewed U.S. accidents between 2007 and 2012.

CBS news claims that “For children, the back remains the safest place to ride.” The best way to show this would be some sort of comparison between children killed or injured in the back seat versus the front seat. Even that might be further controlled for driving habits of the parents (maybe more reckless parents allow their children to ride in the front more), age of the child (maybe parents who let their children ride in front do so long after they are out of 5 point harnesses) and safety measures taken for the child (maybe parents who let their children ride in front also tend to be less rigid on safety belts).

But the news article does not claim any such comparison. Instead, the story compares back seat children to back seat adults! This methodology actually provides zero information about the relative safety to children between the various seats. What this does tell the audience is that children sitting in the backseat are less likely to be injured than adults sitting in the backseat. The same might very well be true about front seats. It could easily be the case that children sitting in the front seat are safer than adults sitting in the front seat. We don’t know, but if the reasons that children are safer in the back seat hold true for the front, it is a probable assumption to make.

By the statistics that this article presents, the only possible implication for the adult reader is to grow younger if they want to be safer in the back seat. This is something that is impossible; it is useless information. The article would have been better without these factoids.

In any case, there are plenty of good reasons that might account for the discrepancy in injuries between adults and youth. Youth tend to have 5 point harnesses. People often drive slower and less recklessly if they are driving around their own children. Parents with children often do not drive on long trips in unfamiliar territory. People with children tend to drive bigger vehicles. People with a lot of children tend to live in more rural areas. The list goes on. All else being equal, the natural assumption should be that in the same accident that children are more likely to be hurt due to their more fragile bodies. The fact that the statistics do not represent this tells the reader that children and adults do not have the same car accidents. Again, all useless information to adults. The implication would be “take less trips and drive more carefully” (in other words, common sense).

But the article shows no familiarity with how statistics work or how they are interpreted. Instead it takes a vague claim (how much more unsafe is the front from the back seat?) and supports that claim with totally irrelevant statistics. The result is fear mongering towards parents who let their children ride in the front seats (something perfectly legal in many states). Perhaps one day a reporter might be able to quantify exactly how much more likely a child is to get injured over the long run sitting in the front seat rather than the back. I won’t hold my breath.

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can God be wearied?

power fist

Isa 40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary [yaw-gah]. His understanding is unsearchable.



Isaiah 40 is commonly used as a prooftext by those engaged in negative theology. The phrase “[God] neither faints nor is weary” is taken from its context to advocate some sort of immutability concept. God’s repentance is undermined because repentance often involves some sort of mental anguish. If God does not weary then, it is argued, God cannot show mental anguish. Isaiah 40:28 is often used in response to Jeremiah 15:6:

Jer 15:6 You have forsaken Me,” says the LORD, “You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary [law-aw] of relenting!

Although the Hebrew word for “weary” differs, the ideas are equivalent. In Jeremiah 15:6, God has spared Israel too many times. The idea is that God is frustrated because He keeps showing mercy yet the Israelites do not internalize the mercy. Instead, they continue in rebellion. God gives up and resorts to punishment.

Now, this reading is antithetical to both Augustinian and Calvinistic theology. If God foresaw the wickedness, the continual rejections of God’s mercy, then God would not be frustrated and repent in showing mercy. One would only become frustrated if they had some sort of expectation that their actions would lead to results, yet those results never materialized. If God knew the future, this entire verse would not make sense, so the Classical theologian has to find out a way to neuter this verse. They do so my playing a “verse trumping” game.

Isaiah 40:28 is quoted to trump Jeremiah 15:6. The argument is that both verses cannot be true and thus one has to be interpreted in light of the other. It is assumed that Isaiah 40:28 is absolute and Jeremiah 15:6 needs to be subservient. Verse trumping is an illegitimate method of reading the Bible because it is arbitrary, it rejects the text, and it ignores normal reading comprehension standards. Normal reading comprehension would suggest the reverse of this conclusion. Usually the more encompassing statement is a generality and a specific example is an exemption.

The most straightforward method of dealing this with contradiction (and atheists list this as a contradiction) it to use normal reading comprehension and to understand each statement in light of the respective contexts.

God is Almighty; therefor God has a lot of power. No power act is going to tire God. God is not going to have to recharge His power. In the context of Isaiah 40:28, God is said to extend this resistance to fatigue onto those who serve Him.

The context of Jeremiah 15:6 is about mental fatigue. God is weary because God is trying to get a response from Israel. God continually has shown mercy, but that has just resulting in Israel further rejecting God. So God gives up. Mercy does not work, so God will finally just punish. The idea is similar to Isaiah 5:

Isa 5:4 What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?
Isa 5:5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
Isa 5:6 I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”

In Isaiah 5, God is frustrated. He has exhausted His ideas on how to reach Israel. God asks Israel, in a rhetorical way, to give Him ideas as to what else He could have tried. The implied response is silence. God tried His best, expected results, and was left in disappointment. As in Jeremiah 15:6, God responds by just giving-in to unmitigated punishment. God’s mental frustration is apparent.

In Isaiah 43, just three chapters after “[God] neither faints nor is weary”, Isaiah explains that God does get weary. Again, the context is mental frustration and not power fatigue. In this illustration, God contrasts Him wearying the people and the people wearying Him:

Isa 43:23 You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings, Nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings, Nor wearied [law-aw] you with incense.
Isa 43:24 You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, Nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices; But you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied [yaw-gah] Me with your iniquities.
Isa 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.

God is saying here that He has not wearied the people with burdensome tasks and contrasts. In contrast, the people sin without penance. As such, they weary God. God’s response is one of utter frustration. God chooses not to judge Israel, not for anything that they do, but because God just wants to be done with the entire ordeal. God’s offer is to give Israel forgiveness, allow the sin to go unpunished, contingent on Israel turning to Him. The other alternative is punishment, in which God promises not to show mercy as He has in the past. The mental fatigue is evident.

“God becoming weary” is another case which shows the danger of divorcing short phrases from the context. God does not tired through power acts, but God can get tired of human sin, rebellion, and even unanswered mercy.

Elsewhere in the Bible

Elsewhere, God is said to not fatigue. Again, the context is about God’s power acts. God asks Ahaz to request a sign that He might do it to prove to Ahaz that God’s prophecy is real. Ahaz responds by saying that he will not test God. God seems to be angry about this and says:

Isa 7:13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary [law-aw] my God also?

The affront to God appears to be the extent of God’s power. Perhaps Ahaz’ rejection of a sign was routed in his belief that God was incapable. Or perhaps God is angry that Ahaz is not taking the prophecy seriously. God rhetorically responds by saying that He does not fatigue. No matter how great the sign, God says that He could perform it.

Elsewhere, God is fatigued mentally. In Isaiah 1:14, God is weary of people who undergo symbolic ritual in a perfunctory way with no strong intent behind their actions. God says that He has endured this for too long. The meaningless ritual has wearied Him:

Isa 1:14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary [torach] of bearing them.

In Jeremiah 6:11, Jeremiah is pronouncing judgment on Israel. Either God is saying He is weary of holding back His wrath, or Jeremiah is saying he is weary of being filled with the knowledge of God’s wrath and needs to pour it out. The first seems like a more reasonable stance.

Jer 6:11 Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD. I am weary [law-aw] of holding it in. “I will pour it out on the children outside, And on the assembly of young men together; For even the husband shall be taken with the wife, The aged with him who is full of days.

Posted in Bible, God, Immutablility, Omniscience, Open Theism, Theology | Leave a comment

unnatural narratives of omniscience

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Gen 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

In the Genesis narrative, the basic story is that the world becomes wicked and then God destroys the world. Missing from this simple description is a lot of normally used phrases to describe what happened, especially the exact wording found in Genesis. This is because the majority of Christianity rejects this view for a nuanced other view.

Biblical Open Theists affirm the text of Genesis. God is watching the world as it grows wicked. God then observes that the wickedness of man was great. God regrets making mankind. God is enveloped in sorrow and wishes He never made mankind. He sends a flood to destroy all that was created.

Classical Augustinian Christianity claims that God foreknows everything that will ever happen in the future. Their narrative of the event must be modified to reflect this view:

5: The LORD reached the point of time that He knew would be the time in which He would pass judgment on Earth for wickedness, for every intention of man’s thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6: And the Lord experienced a continually growing level sadness as man became more wicked, until it reached a level of grieving in His heart.
7:So the Lord said, “I have planned to destroy man at this point, for I am saddened by this specific level of wickedness.”

The Augustinian narrative would have to be as such: From time eternal God knew that the world would become as wicked as it did become. God waits(?) for this moment before acting. God had eternally planned to send a flood to rectify this event He knew would occur. God does not actually regret making mankind. Regret implies that given the same opportunity, one would not have taken the same action, and because God knew forever what would happen. Any sorrow God feels is the type of sorrow felt by someone watching a sorrowful movie they have already seen.

This is very unnatural to the text of Genesis. The narrative was not written in such a way to allow omniscience a place in the text. The author makes no apologies or qualifications. The author makes no hints at the enteral nature of the events. The Augustinian reading is just at odds with the text. The pattern is repeated throughout the Bible:

Jon 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Jon 3:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
Jon 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jon 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.
Jon 3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Jon 3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Jon 3:6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jon 3:7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,
Jon 3:8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jon 3:9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Jon 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

The Open Theist reads the Nineveh narrative on face value. God sees that Nineveh has become exceedingly wicked. God then responds by sending a prophet. God tells this prophet that He will destroy the city in 40 days. This is the message preached. The people “believe God” and wonder if God would repent if they do. The people, in desperation, repent. God sees their acts and then God repents of the disaster that “He said He would do to them, and He did not do it.”

The Augustinian narrative must be modified:

God had always known Nineveh would be evil. God waited(?) until Nineveh gained a certain level of evil and then sent a prophet. God tells his prophet to preach that the city will be destroyed in 40 days, knowing full well the people will hear the message and repent. God watches the people repent and then carries out His enteral plan of not destroying Nineveh.

Again, this is very unnatural to the text. The entire narrative does not hint that Nineveh’s end fate was pre-recorded in history. God is not shown as knowing the end fate of Nineveh before it occurred. God does not even explicitly hint that things could turn out differently for Nineveh. God is depicted as responding to actions after they occur.

The author shows zero familiarity with omniscience in his writing of the narrative. Again, there are no apologies or theological asides. There are no qualifying statements minimizing the phrasing of the text. The Augustinian reading is again at odds with the text.

When reading any Biblical narrative or listening to any sermon, it is easy to see the basic theology of God that is being advocated. And the Bible, really, is advocating of a specific a picture of God. The Bible writers were presenting God to their readers in contrast with the false gods that Israel might choose. They are not presenting a false picture, but a picture that Israel must accept to be worshipers of Yahweh. Often, modern preachers will qualify their own statements (“Of course, God knew from time eternal what would happen”, “Of course, God does not experience time like we do”) when they say something that might indicate the opposite of what they believe. These qualifiers are all but absent from the Biblical text. It is unreasonable to believe the writers wished their audience to maintain a Negative Theological perspective of God. The Biblical text was not written from the Augustinian perspective.

The writers of the Bible were not predisposed to thinking of God in terms of Negative Theology. To the extent that modern theologians champion attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, infiniteness, incomprehensibility (and the like), the that same extent they are rejecting Biblical theology.

Posted in Bible, Calvinism, Open Theism, Theology | Leave a comment

skeptics understand the failed prophecy of tyre

Sometimes the Skeptics are more honest than the Christians. Farrell Till explains, thoroughly, why the prophecy against Tyre cannot just be discounted as a prophecy about Alexander the Great based on a fleeting reference to “many nations”:

That brings us to the matter of the “many nations” that Ezekiel said would be involved in the destruction of Tyre. The literary organization of the prophecy (quoted above) seems rather simple. It began with an introductory statement of what Yahweh intended to do to Tyre. He said that he would (1) cause “many nations” to come against it, (2) destroy its walls, (3) break down its towers, (4) scrape the dust from it and make it like a bare rock, and (5) slay its “daughter villages” in the field. After describing in general terms what he was going to do to Tyre, Yahweh then proceeded to state the specifics of how this would be done: “For thus says the Lord GOD: I will bring against Tyre from the north King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon….” It seems rather clear, then, that Yahweh was saying that Nebuchadnezzar would be the instrument that he would use to destroy Tyre as promised in the introductory statement, so he proceeded to state the specifics of what Nebuchadnezzar would do to Tyre. He would put Tyre’s daughter-towns in the country [the mainland villages] to the sword, he would set up a siege wall, he would cast up a ramp, etc., etc., etc. The prophecy listed a dozen specific military actions that “he” would direct against Tyre, and the only reasonable antecedent of the pronoun he is Nebuchadnezzar.

So if Ezekiel was declaring that Nebuchadnezzar would be the instrument that Yahweh would use to destroy Tyre, why did he say that “many nations” would be sent against it? A reasonable explanation of the prophet’s reference to “many-nations” can be found in the ethnic compositions of early empires. Empires like Babylonia formed from the conquest and annexation of surrounding tribes and nations, so when an area was assimilated into an adjoining kingdom, the soldiers of the conquered nations served the greater empire. The Assyrian empire, for example, crumbled when the combined forces of the Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians plundered Assur in 614 B. C. and Nineveh in 612. When Haran fell to these allied forces in 610 and then Carchemish in 605, most of the Assyrian territory was annexed by Babylon. In such cases, defeated armies swore allegiance to their conquerers, so the armies of a king like Nebuchadnezzar were actually armies of “many nations.”

Literally, then, when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus or Alexander attacked a city or territory, it wasn’t just the aggression of a single nation but of many nations. This reality of ancient warfare was reflected in a familiar scenario in the Old Testament in which biblical prophets and writers depicted battles against common enemies as the gathering of “many nations.” In 2 Chronicles 20:1-4, this allegedly happened when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah.

When inerrantists today look at Ezekiel’s prophecy through the glasses of historical records, they can clearly see that it was not fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar, and so they must look for some way to explain away the failure. Ezekiel’s reference to “many nations” is a straw that some inerrantists like Brad Bromling have grabbed to try to salvage the prophecy, and so they have tried to make the prophecy mean that a series of attacks by many different nations spread out over 1900 years would result in the eventual destruction but that Ezekiel never meant that the total desolation of Tyre would be caused by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the literary organization of the prophetic passage (which I analyzed above) and the facts just noted about the multi-national composition of ancient armies like Nebuchadnezzar’s make this “explanation” questionable to say the least. It is more likely that Ezekiel meant that “many nations” under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar would bring about the total destruction of Tyre.

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misquoted verses – vengeance is mine

RORSCHACHOften Christians repeat the cliché “vengeance is mine saith the Lord” in order to prove some sort of political or social point. The statement is used to oppose the death penalty, to oppose personal retribution, to oppose any negative repercussions towards those who do evil. But these interpretations appear to be stretching the text too thin.

The statement is derived from Romans 12:19. In Romans 12:19, much like the cliché, Paul is making the concerted point that his listeners should not take vengeance but allow God to work God’s vengeance:

Rom 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Paul, in his characteristic style, is taking Old Testament phrases and twisting them to apply them to a new context. This is a really important point: the Old Testament text absolutely does not make the point that Paul is making. Instead, the exact opposite is the idea. Nowhere in the Old Testament context is God asking people to voluntarily step back and allow God to take justice. Instead, the idea is that the people have failed to take justice so God is being forced to take justice.

The Old Testament quote comes from Deuteronomy:

Deu 32:35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’

The context of this quote is that Israel has abandoned God. God had raised Israel to be blessed, and they repaid God with evil. So God responds:

Deu 32:21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation…
Deu 32:25 Outdoors the sword shall bereave, and indoors terror, for young man and woman alike, the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.
Deu 32:26 I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces; I will wipe them from human memory,”
Deu 32:27 had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries should misunderstand, lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant, it was not the LORD who did all this.”‘

Notice the absence of any ideas that the righteous should just defer to God. The punishment is a national punishment due to Israel’s inaction (and presumably some number of righteous would also fall in this national punishment).

God’s response is not “divine punishment”. Instead, God is utilizing human agents. Enemy armies invade and kill the rebellious Israelites. God wants those enemies (and Israel) to know that this was God’s judgment. God uses human agents.

Elsewhere, God is appalled because He cannot find any human agents to execute judgment:

Isa 59:14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
Isa 59:15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

The context of Isaiah 59 is Israel is again in rebellion from God. No one in the land is executing proper punishments. This makes God “displeased” and God is forced to take matters into His own hands. God wants people to take vengeance, let no one does.

In Isaiah 63, God is wet with the blood of His enemies and wonders why He has to go it alone:

Isa 63:3 “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes.
Isa 63:4 For the day of vengeance is in My heart, And the year of My redeemed has come.
Isa 63:5 I looked, but there was no one to help, And I wondered That there was no one to uphold; Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; And My own fury, it sustained Me.
Isa 63:6 I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, Made them drunk in My fury, And brought down their strength to the earth.”

God “looked” for someone to assist Him. God could not find anyone to “uphold” justice. God then resorts to taking matters into His own hand. The specific response is a very bloody slaughter.

This “God seeking human justice, only to be disgusted and then taking the initiative” is a pretty common theme in the Bible:

Eze 22:29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
Eze 22:30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.
Eze 22:31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

In Ezekiel, the events are the same. God sees wickedness. God looks for a judge. But God finds no man and is forced to take matters into His own hands. The imagery here is that a wall has been breached (a section of the wall has fallen and opened a hole to enemy troops). What would happen in ancient warfare is that each side would rush to the wall. The champion would “bridge the gap” and ensure no enemy warriors were able to penetrate the gap in the wall. This is an extremely violent image. Because there was no one willing to stand up, God again is forced to act. God specifically mentions that He would not have to act if only mankind would have.

In Jeremiah, the theme is the same:

Jer 4:27 For thus says the LORD: “The whole land shall be desolate; Yet I will not make a full end.

Jer 4:31 “For I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor, The anguish as of her who brings forth her first child, The voice of the daughter of Zion bewailing herself; She spreads her hands, saying, ‘Woe is me now, for my soul is weary Because of murderers!’
Jer 5:1 “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places If you can find a man, If there is anyone who executes judgment, Who seeks the truth, And I will pardon her.

Jer 5:6 Therefore a lion from the forest shall slay them, A wolf of the deserts shall destroy them; A leopard will watch over their cities. Everyone who goes out from there shall be torn in pieces, Because their transgressions are many; Their backslidings have increased.

In Jeremiah 5, the problem is “murder” (other sins are also listed later) and God seeks anyone who executes “judgment”. God is described as a lion, wolf, or leopard that consumes the wicked (possibly a figurative statement meaning God will use enemy nations to destroy Israel).

In all these passages, God is not wanting individuals to take a back seat role. God actually desires someone to right the wrongs, punish the wicked, give justice to injustice.

So why does Paul use this to tell his listeners not to take vengeance?

The answer is that Paul (like Mary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, James, and John) was expecting God to return to Earth with an army of angels and destroy the wicked. Jesus gives a good illustration of this idea:

Mat 13:37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.
Mat 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
Mat 13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Mat 13:40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
Mat 13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
Mat 13:42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mat 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Paul adamantly believes this. Paul believes that God is soon returning to Earth with an army of angels to kill the wicked and save the righteous. As preparation for this, Paul goes so far as to tell people not to marry in 1 Corinthians:

1Co 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

1Co 7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,
1Co 7:30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess,
1Co 7:31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.

This is the context of Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine”. Paul is not saying that all Christians always and forever should never ever take vengeance (and that those who did in the Old Testament were wrong). Instead, Paul is saying “Hey look, God is coming back soon so we just have to wait. God will be the one to right the wrongs.” Paul is placating the Zealots, who want to kill their oppressors (which might, in turn, cause general Roman retribution). Paul is avoiding a violent and direct confrontation with their Roman overlords.

Rom 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

This launches directly into Romans 13, the often misused passage on government. In Romans 13, Paul states not to resist the authorities (Paul is most probably talking about government). Then Paul says to pay taxes to this government. Paul is keeping the peace between Romans and Zealots, not advocating new and crazy criminal policy.

In the modern world, 2000 years removed from the context of Paul’s teaching, it is very dangerous to try to take Romans 12:19 as some sort of absolute. Should Christians just allow others to steal from them without retribution? After all, calling the cops and pressing charges is “vengeance”. Should Christians sit by and allow murderers to roam? No, when God says “vengeance is mine”, often it is because He is disgusted that mankind has not done justice.

Posted in Bible, Misquoted Verses, Morality, Open Theism, Theology | Leave a comment

professional photographer 2 minutes of hate

April 15 is known as Tax Day in America. Within the professional photography community it is a day of rage. In 1984 terms, it is their Two Minutes of Hate. Up to a third of photography business profits might be consumed due to taxes. One would be prone to believe the rage would be against the government for excessive taxes, but the rage actually takes the form of hating those who avoid taxes (not illegal) or dodge taxes (illegal).

Complaints, sarcasm and mocking abound:

Bitter Photogapher 1
Bitter Photogapher 2

Other days, this hate is directed against those who take cheap pictures, or have friends take their pictures, or who buy their own cameras. See this blog post, where a bitter photographer vents using ridiculous calculations (while ignoring inconvenient benefits of buying a camera you can keep forever). In his world, everyone should work 100 hours to pay him to work a day or two ($25 per hour is the average US wage and $2500 is apparently his wedding price). And what does this $2500 get a new bride? Usually not full copyright release or sometimes not even digital prints, but the photographer usually keeps both of those to safeguard for himself (and never use except to sue the bride). Photographers tend to hate people editing their own pictures of themselves or not giving the photographer the proper homage.

Why do these photographers hate all sorts of people wielding cameras who are not “professionals” (and I admit I am painting with a broad brush)?

It comes down to competition. Photographers are not above using unionist tactics: threats, force, and the strong arm of the government. Photographers hate the digital revolution which has placed professional grade equipment into the hands of amateurs. They now have to compete with “free” quality photos by people trained for “free” on YouTube. As such, it is harder for them to command $1000 for a couple of pictures sold on mediums that are marked up a thousand percent. One unpardonable sin is any photographer that releases pictures in RAW and/or without copyright.

Those who cannot be reached by the strong arm of the state are belittled. Professional photographers mock photos that people did not pay hundreds of dollars to procure. Sure, some self-labeled photographers are subjectively terrible, but my experience is that consumers tend to love their terrible photos. I have seen them on walls and office desks and in wallets. I smile and nod, “Color popping. Oh, very nice.” The really funny thing is that for all the smugness of the photographer community that they are bested by cheap amateurish images. And this is not even mentioning that many amateurs take high quality photos.

When the general public sees professional photographers advocating licensing or government certification, consumers should fight back. The professionals wish to use the government to force competition from the field. The professionals wish to stop people from having abundant and cheap personal photos. It is an impoverishing mentality. Consumers should hail the digital revolution as liberation from the tyranny of smug elite core of photographers. Consumers should hail the plummeting prices and cheap alternatives. If professionals believe they are worth their prices, let them prove it in the free market.

On a side note: For newbie amateur photographers, I suggest the Canon 6D ($1,399), which rates better than the more expensive Canon 5D Mark ii. When this is coupled with the 50mm 1.4f ($350), the images are spectacular.


From the comments section on one of the links:

bitter photographer 3

Posted in Econ 101, Economics, Goverment, Incentives Matter, Price Controls, prices, Standard of Living | Leave a comment