Originalism and the rule of law

8459580668_6b116eeb71_zDuring his confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice, liberal senators interrogated Neil Gorsuch about his judicial philosophy of “originalism.”

Because the founders used “he” to refer to the president, does this mean you don’t believe that a woman can serve in that office?

Because the authors of the 14th Amendment didn’t think about women or gays when they drew up the equal rights protection, does that mean you don’t think it applies to women or gays?

Judge Gorsuch replied that such questions show a misunderstanding of what “originalism” means.  That approach does not look for meaning in subjective interpretations of readers, whether of the time it was written or today.  Rather, it looks for meaning in what the law says.

To discern that, you have to research what the words meant to the lawmakers who passed the law; that is, their original intent.  But to interpret (or throw out) a law based on speculation about the personal beliefs of the authors–as opposed to what they said–is more like what liberal interpreters do when they interpret the laws according to their own personal beliefs.  Thus, “originalism” refers to the original language, not historical origins.

That is, originalists believe that the meaning of language and thus the law is objective, not subjective.  The 14th Amendment  guarantees the equal protection of the laws to all Americans, so that would include categories of Americans that the authors didn’t think of at the time.

The rule of law, notes an editorial on the subject (quoted and excerpted after the jump), depends on the law having an objective meaning.

This debate reminds me of different approaches to the Bible.  Do we interpret it according to what we want it to mean?  That’s basically the approach of liberal theology.  Or do we believe in what it says? [Read more…]

To infinity and beyond

Mathematician Eugenia Cheng has written a popular, amusing, and fascinating book on the concept of infinity.

Beyond Infinity:  An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics takes up its paradoxes, mathematical conundrums, and important uses.

For example, one mathematical axiom is that:

infinity X infinity = infinity.

But if you work out this equation by dividing both sides by infinity, you get:

infinity = 1

Since that can’t be, infinity must not be a number, exactly.  But what is it?

Read an excerpt from her book, taken from Science Friday. [Read more…]

The infinite number of universes

Multiverse_-_level_IIAstrophysicist Ethan Siegel has written an article explaining how the infinite number of parallel universes, as hypothesized by quantum theorists, could actually be real.

After explaining the quantum theory behind the idea, Siegel gives three possibilities of how infinite universes could be a reality.  If it is, he says, “everything that was ever possible happened somewhere.”

“Somewhere, the Nazis won World War II; somewhere, Hillary Clinton is president; somewhere, humans have driven themselves to extinction; somewhere, we’ve achieved world peace.”

And somewhere, there was a God who designed and created a particular universe.  Maybe this is that universe!

I am astonished at how these scientists can bandy about “infinity” as they do, positing an infinite number of infinities, since each quantum reaction–and how many of those are there?–creates a new universe.  And yet I’m sure that they would not allow for a single infinite God who holds together all contingent events.

“But there is no evidence for a God!” they will say.  But there is certainly no evidence for infinite universes, nor is such evidence even theoretically possible, since we can only observe our own universe.  This theory is a deductive philosophical construction based on mathematical projections.  But it’s hard to see how it is qualitatively superior than philosophical metaphysics or theological speculation.

[Read more…]

Why science is sexist and racist

Researchers_in_laboratoryJoy Pullman at the Federalist writes about a doctoral dissertation that maintains that science is inherently sexist and racist.  In the study of STEM syllabi, the education graduate student draws this conclusion:

Initial exploration of the STEM syllabi in this study did not reveal overt references to gender, such as through the use of gendered pronouns. However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women. . . .

Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use make [sic] the correct decision.

[Read more…]

Why conservatives need Edmund Burke 

Edmund_Burke_by_James_NorthcoteIn another in our series of my-former-students-who-are-making-me-proud-by-their-writing, Gracy Olmstead explains why today’s conservatives need to pay attention to Sir Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism.

Burke, in criticizing the French Revolution, showed why social reform must “conserve” what is good in the society.  Rather than raze the society to the ground and start over from ground zero.   Interestingly, Burke supported the American Revolution, which–compared to what the Jacobins did–was actually conservative in its respect for God, insistence on English common law, and retention of traditional morality.

Some of today’s conservative activists are more like right wing Jacobins, opposing everything that represents the “establishment,” than Burkean conservatives, who, by definition, want to “conserve” something.

But my application isn’t to today’s political controversies.  I have been studying the Reformation lately.  The Lutherans really were advocating, in C. P. Krauth’s terms, a “conservative Reformation.”  The medieval church was in bad need of reform, but the Lutherans “conserved” what was good in it:  sacramental spirituality; the liturgy; the creeds; church art; the Christian intellectual tradition.  Later Protestants rejected everything that could remotely be considered “Catholic,” trying instead, in a succession of ways, to start the church all over from scratch.

Thus, in Burkean terms,  we had both a conservative Reformation and a Jacobin Reformation. [Read more…]

And now the conservative Generation Z

9091132233_9f8928fbbd_zForget Millennials.  A new generation is coming of age:  Generation-Z.

It’s being heralded as the most conservative generation since 1945.

One reason, according to Charlie Peters, a member of that generation in Great Britain, is their love of freedom.  Not long ago, that impulse led young people to embrace the causes of the Left.  But now the Left is associated with suppressing freedom.

Now that Generation-Zs are entering the university, they are chafing against the Leftist establishment’s rejection of free speech.  These young people, Peters observes, grew up on the internet and social media where people can hold any position and say whatever they want.  So when they come to the university with its speech codes and taboo ideas, they don’t like it.  So they are becoming conservatives. [Read more…]