Ken Ham is right. In his reading of Genesis, the earth is 6000 years old, humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, and the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are literally and historically true. As Ham declares, “when you take away the foundation of the absolute authority of the word of God, then anything goes. . . . In other words: Who draws the line?”
Who draws the line, indeed. There are essentially two ways to decide, sit down in a room with your fellow humans and hash it out, or reference some set of rules which tell you what to do. Ken Ham chooses the latter, in a logically consistent manner. At the Creation Museum, Georgia Purdom illuminates the danger of scrutiny of the Bible, that it leads to a skepticism which threatens faith and the faithful. Better to adhere to eternal verities than engage with one’s fellows about the matter.
Antonin Scalia is known as a proponent of originalism. As he described it:
“The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.”
In Scala’s world, while judges may have to site down in a room with their fellow judges and hash out what it means, in the end the text decides, not the judges. (With Scalia, though, there is deference to the democratic process, where citizens sit down with each other and by activism and suffrage, determine the course of their government.) If considering the Constitution a ‘living document’ means sitting around with one’s fellow judges to hash it out, Scalia’s view instead is one of adherence to a rule.
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Donald Luskin weighs in on how rules-based policy at the Federal Reserve will improve its management of the economy. He chastises Janet Yellen and her “make-it-up-as-you-go” approach as having been ineffective in dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession and as having failed to achieve the central bank’s inflation target. Luskin cites 19th century Swedish economist Knut Wicksell and his imagined ‘natural interest rate’, an interest rate that the economy would settle at if there were no central banks setting it. Determining this rate requires nothing more than observing the rate of inflation. (Luskin notes that Yellen’s observations on the ‘neutral rate’ mirrors this thinking, but uses mechanisms to determine it which are too complex.)
Milton Friedman similarly argues for the Federal Reserve to manage itself more via rules than human decision making. He notes that the Great Depression was made far worse by the actions which members of the Fed took, and suggests that giving much power to individuals or institutions is dangerous. The rule he proposes to limit the ability of members of the Fed from causing too much damage is to make their decisions contingent on money supply. Friedman recognizes that humans make mistakes, and giving too much power to a small group of them generates great risks. He prefers creating institutions which force adherence to rules, instead.
Arthur Herman writes a fascinating account in The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization. In it he traces the ebbing and flowing of the influence of Plato, then Aristotle, throughout the history of western thought. If I can way over simplify, for Plato, behind the curtain lives the real world, and our job is to discover it and adhere to it. For Aristotle, the facts on the ground are all we have, and we need to engage with them. It seems that Ham and Purdom would have us cleave to the Bible behind the curtain, Scalia to the Constitution there, and Luskin and Friedman to the economic orthodoxy behind the curtain.