Does Your Vote Matter, Statistically? Yes, It Does.

Batman voting slap.pngLetter IIf you do a Google search, ask a friend, or simply exist on Facebook, you’ll find a whole host of voices telling you that – statistically – your individual vote doesn’t matter in the grander scheme.

For instance, this article asserts that your vote making a difference is statistically “very improbable, because for your vote to affect an election, the two candidates have to be within one vote of each other without you. If Trump earns 2,000,000 votes in a given state without your vote and Clinton earns 2,000,002, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you voted. The outcome wouldn’t change.”

Now, there are a few problems with this argument:

1) It assumes that yours is the only vote that doesn’t matter.

Yes, if everybody but you votes, and there is a 2 point margin, then your vote doesn’t matter. True. The issue is that this logic only works if we restrict it to only referring to one specific person. We can say “If everybody votes except Steve Rogers, and the totals are 200 to 202, then Steve’s vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway.”

But, and this is key, it only works if we restrict our field to just one specific person”Steve Rogers.” If we shift the field to refer to a different specific person, say, Barbara Gordon, then we can then say “If everybody votes except Barbara Gordon, and the totals are 200 to 202, then Barbara’s vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway.” BUT, in that case Steve’s vote does matter, because we’ve shifted our field to somebody else.

In order for the argument that Barbara’s vote doesn’t matter to work, Steve’s vote has to matter.

So the logic of this argument from statistics can’t be applied across the board. We can’t say “Regardless of who votes, Barbara’s vote doesn’t matter.” The whole argument rests on the fact that everybody else voted and all of their votes mattered. 

2) It commits equivocation.

 But why does it sound so convincing at a glance? Because of equivocation. Equivocation is a fallacy where one word is used that has multiple meanings without specifying which meaning is being used.

Thus, if we say that Captain Hook is a codfish, it does not then imply that Captain Hook can breath underwater. We have to make a logical distinction between the pejorative term and the literal animal.

In the instance of voting, the term being equivocated is ‘you’. “You” in the English language can be singular or plural, “you specifically” or “you all”/”ya’ll.” 

When we say “If Trump earns 2,000,000 votes in a given state without your vote and Clinton earns 2,000,002, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you voted” the ‘you’ in that sentence can be taken two ways. First, it can refer to ‘you’ in the general, collective sense: “All ya’ll who read this.” Second, it can refer to the specific you reading the article at this very moment: you-and-only-you Steve Rogers or you-and-only-you Barbara Gordon.

It is in this you-and-only-you sense that the argument from statistics works, when ‘you’ refers to one specific individual at a time.

The problem is that when we read it, we tend to confuse these senses in our minds. We say “well it’s clearly true when it refers to me, so it must be true for you too.” And it is true for them too, but only when it’s not true for you. It can only be true for one person at a time.

The logic only holds if our ‘you’ in the scenario is really just one individual person, you-in-particular-and-only-you; it falls apart if our ‘you’ is a corporate you, ie, everybody who might be voting.

3) It results in a literal contradiction in terms.

If we take out the equivocation, the result is a literal contradiction in terms. The argument amounts to saying “it doesn’t matter if any of you vote, because the rest of you will.”  But if the rest of you will then each of those has to matter for the argument to work, which contradicts the initial statement.captain-america-wants-you-to-vote

So yes, your vote does matter. The argument from statistics is a fallacy ridden load of hogwash, because the only way we could say your vote doesn’t matter is if we assume that every vote except yours matters.

Tell the statisticians to go back to logic class and try again.

Statistically, your vote matters. It has also been shown voter turnout also reflects how likely politicians are to work towards policies that enact the will of their constituents (we might address other arguments – such as those based on the setup of the electoral college – at another time).

Caveat: I do agree with the central thesis of the quoted article that you should vote your conscience, however, the reason that you should vote your conscience is not because your vote doesn’t matter anyway, but because it does.

It’s the same logic that these folks use try to use to say your vote doesn’t matter that others use to say that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. It’s the same equivocation. If you-and-only-you vote for a third party candidate, then of course they have no chance of winning. But that logic cannot be spread to the collective ‘you’; if the collective “ya’ll” vote for a third party candidate then they will necessarily win, because who you vote for does count.

This is what happens when our schools don’t have mandatory logic classes.

Don’t just trust me, trust Captain America. He wouldn’t tell you to vote if your vote didn’t matter.

FATQ: Is there any biblical justification for exploring space?

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Letter IIn recent news, Congress has passed a bill (S.3346) which is being hailed as “a solid commitment” towards the goal of having a manned mission to mars within the next 25 years. The bipartisan bill authorized a budget increase for NASA, taking their total budget up to “$19.5 billion.”

This raises the question in many minds: Is there any biblical justification in exploring space and more importantly, spending such large amounts of money to do so? It seems to be an important question, after-all, we don’t want to support something if it amounts to a violation of God’s law.

Our religion seems as if it should play a role in our decision on whether or not to support space travel. It has been observed by many social commentators that Christians seem to have less interest in space exploration than the general population. In 2014 there was a study addressing this very issue entitled “Separation of Church and Space: Religious Influences on Support for Space Exploration Policy.”

The study found that religion did indeed play a part in people’s view of space travel. Naturally, those who believed that the return of Christ was imminent saw little value in such long term endeavors (a standard position for premillennialists). Others are worried that a major impetus for such ventures is the discovery of alien life in hopes of proving evolution. Ken Ham was criticized a few years ago for seemingly being opposed to space exploration on these grounds (along with an assertion that aliens [if they exist] would go to hell (Ken denied that he ever said this, but he did)). Ken doesn’t seem to actually be against space travel, but his criticism does raise a valid point that the motivations for space travel should influence our view of it.

Oh to be a child at space-camp again, oblivious to such considerations!

At the outset, however, we have to point out that there is a problem with the question, which we can counter with another question:

Is there any biblical justification for needing a biblical justification for exploring space?

That is, the original question assumes that something not having a ‘biblical justification’ means that it shouldn’t be done, and so first we have to answer the questions: What counts as Biblical justification? And more importantly, does the Bible tell us that all of our actions need to have a justification from somewhere in itself? 

So what counts as a biblical justification? Is our answer that the bible has to explicitly endorse something  – as we do with the regulative principle of worship? Afterall as Van Til famously stated “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.” So if the Bible speaks of everything, what does the Bible say about space exploration? Not much at all, unfortunately.wendell_berry1

If we’re wanting a direct justification from the Bible on the question of space travel we’re out of luck. Then again, if we’re under the impression that we need an explicit justification for anything and everything we do in our lives then we’d best follow Wendell Berry’s advice and go agrarian (Wendell Berry is full of much wisdom, even if he probably doesn’t support space travel).

Perhaps a better approach to the question of what counts as a biblical justification is asking what principles we can infer from Scripture that can guide our decision-making. Van Til went on to say “We do not mean that [the Bible] speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from…”

So perhaps the question is one of implication. Along those lines the only thing we can really mine from Scripture is that The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” While it would be wildly anachronistic to claim Psalm 19 is referencing space travel, the fact that the heavens declare the glory of God could theoretically provide some basis for exploration – afterall , the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, so perhaps exploring the realm that declares that glory would be an inherently good thing.

Maybe we can infer from this that space exploration can serve as an act of worship, that “God would allow and approve of humans developing space-travel as a means of studying the earth, moon, and other celestial bodies from a large-scale perspective,” or that “our motivation to study the creation is that we understand that the world is not the result of random chance, but that God purposefully designed it.” Along these lines we might ask ourselves how space travel differs from ocean or jungle exploration, or microbiology or atomic research?

But then the critic can retort, can we not understand that without space exploration? Can we not glorify God in this way without spending all this money? Many Christians believe we are spending too much on our space programs, and I’ve had discussions with others who say that we should be using the money for other more humanitarian needs.

At this point the debate becomes more historical or pragmatic rather than theological or exegetical. There is arguably no dichotomy between exploration for discovering the glories of God’s universe along with the practical benefits/scientific advances made along the way on the one hand, and causes like world hunger and education on the other.

This is because economics is not a zero sum game. The money spent on NASA is not money robbed from feeding people or providing clean water. Those $19.5 billion aren’t sent into space. The money spent on building a rocket is money that is poured back into the economy. It goes to the people who make the glass for the shuttle windows, it goes to all the different places where the raw materials for building a space shuttle come from, it goes to the farmers and food manufacturers who produce and process the food the astronauts eat, it goes to pay the employees and contractors at NASA, who use their paychecks by buying normal things just like the rest of us. The money is not sent into space, it is funneled back into the economy.*

explorationThe distinction between space (or terrestrial or microscopic) exploration and solving world problems is a false dichotomy. Exploration, even for its own sake, often results in both scientific discoveries and the development of technologies that make lives better around the world; we tend to make great progress towards our humanitarian goals in the midst of pursuing our scientific ones. The work at NASA has led to developments in an entire array of areas, to include water and air purification, trash compactors, freeze-dry technology, fire resistant materials, solar energy, pollution control and measuring devices, sewage treatment technologies, breast cancer detectors, ultrasounds scanners, microlasers, radiation detectors, improved aircraft engines, doppler radar, wireless communications, and others.

Many of these are problems that we would have not been trying to solve were they not needed to make space exploration more feasible. Society as a whole has benefited greatly, if indirectly, from the advances made in the course of exploring the final frontier, going where no man has gone before.

But we still haven’t addressed the basic question, the presupposition on which this entire discussion rests: Is there any biblical justification for needing a biblical justification for exploring space?

I think a good lens for answering this question is provided by Kevin DeYoung in his book Just Do Something. The book is about discovering God’s will for our lives, and Kevin breaks down the God’s will into two different biblical categories. The first is God’s will of decree, that is, everything he ordains to happen in his sovereignty. The second is God’s will of desire, that is, his moral will for our lives – love God and love our neighbor.

A third category that we like to make up on our own is what we might call God’s will of direction.  It is this will we refer to when we ask where we should live and work, who we should marry, whether we should use Xbox or PlayStation, Android or iPhone. As DeYoung states: “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.”mars1.png

The thing that the Bible is concerned with us following is God’s will of desire, his moral will, as expressed in his Law. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not we should become a farmer or a businessman, it doesn’t tell us whether we should go to university or go to tech school, and it doesn’t tell us whether we should go to the moon or to mars.

The Bible does speak of everything, but it speaks of everything in terms of providing a worldview through which to look at everything and a basic morality through which to approach everything.

It doesn’t tell us whether or not to go to space, but it tells God created the heavens and that they declare his glory. It doesn’t tell us whether or not to go to space, but it tells us to not to commit theft or murder in the process. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do, but merely how to conduct ourselves morally in the midst of our endeavors.

The Bible does not ask us to seek a justification for everything we do within, but it does tell to do whatever we do for the glory of God, it tells us to love our neighbor in the midst of whatever path we choose.

So let us continue to explore all of God’s creation, throughout all the earth and all the heavens, and resting assured that when the time comes God will “send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

 

 


*One caveat in this discussion is that much of the money spent on NASA is money that is created/printed for that purpose alone, money that in turn increase the national deficit and results in inflation (something true of most all large-scale government projects). The discussion resulting from factoring in these elements, however, is not directly relevant to the topic at hand. The topic at hand is not whether the government should fund such projects or whether NASA is the best means for carrying out these goals; that would be a purely political/economic discussion (and while we could discuss whether Christians should support that sort of taxation, that is not our topic here). The topic at hand is simply whether the goal of space exploration is justifiable in the first place.

 

 

Starbucks Releases New Red Cup – Social Media Floods With People Not Being Offended; or, “Scientists Discover First Case of Causeless Effect in Media?”

 

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BREAKING NEWS: Starbucks announced new design of traditional Christmas cups, social media everywhere flooded with people proudly announcing they were not offended by the change.

If you’ve found yourself on Facebook, Twitter, or the internet today, you’ve likely noticed a dramatic influx of people randomly claiming that they’re not offended by the new Starbucks cup design and that you shouldn’t be either. You may find this puzzling because search as you might, you can’t actually find anybody who was ever offended by the move.

Where did this surge come from? “Maybe,” you think, “we’ve actually reached the point where we’re so used to being offended that our first reaction to any new development in the world is rejoice in the fact that it didn’t offend us.”

It’s as if you’ve woken up in a rather lame episode of the Twilight Zone where everyone around you is claiming that Christians are declaring this move a “war on Christmas,” and yet said Christians are nowhere to be found. Did the rapture come? Did all of these Christians foam at the removal of a reindeer decal as a war on Christmas, and then suddenly disappear, leaving the liberal left to attack the mere memory of them? Perhaps they foamed themselves out of existence; an apt end for those who would criticize mermaid goddess of venti non-fat extra-dry cappuccinos.

But still the question remains, who are all these people reacting against? The media has been reporting on the newest hashtag trend of #merrychristmasstarbucks, a supposed passive-aggressive and counter-intuitive rebellion by said Christians against their coffee overlords. And yet you find that if you actually browse this hashtag that the only people using it are either other media sites reporting about how it’s trending or users self-righteously tweeting about how they aren’t amongst the offended.

So who is Offended-Patient-Zero? Is there one, or have we progressed so far along the road of political correctness that we’ve actually developed the power to become offended at people getting offended before those people even knew they were supposed to be offended? Scientists* are asking whether this might be the first case of a causeless effect in humans.

josh-feuersteinSaid scientists may have reached their conclusions preemptively, however. Slightly more digging reveals that this entire fiasco actually seems to have been triggered by King of Queens star Kevin James lookalike Joshua Feuerstein (pictured right), who challenged Christians everywhere to rebel against the new cup by buying it. Propaganda networks nationwide – knowing that a ‘war on Christmas’ story always brings high amounts of traffic – ran with idea and constructed a story about Christians everywhere taking offence at the new design.

The scientists were dismayed at these latest findings, and were forced to conclude that the entire controversy was invented by the media to generate traffic for their outlets and to rally support for the coffee giant. Thus instead of being a groundbreaking – or even slightly interesting – discovery in the quantum realm of causeless effects, the researchers were forced to add this story to the ever growing pile of media fabrications.

The researchers have now turned their attention to studying the means by which the media is able to mold reality through the use of myth and will continue reporting in on their progress.

*I attended Space Camp as a child and won my 6th Grade Science Fair.