Saturday, March 14, 2020

Anti-vaxxers in a pandemic

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, there are still many vocal anti-vaccination activists in the midst of a pandemic. So I want to say a few things about anti-vaxxers:

1. I've interacted with several staunch anti-vaccination activists. I've even tried to repeatedly reason with them but to no avail.

2. Del Bigtree is a staunch anti-vaccination activist. In fact, he's one of the anti-vaxx movement's leading voices. However, Del Bigtree has zero medical background or expertise. He's basically a media personality.

3. For a corrective, I'd recommend people watch the first half (though the whole thing is informative) of this interview with Peter Hotez on Joe Rogan (and in my opinion Rogan was quite pushy with Hotez but Hotez weathered it well):

Hotez is a physician (MD) as well as a scientist (PhD). In fact, Hotez's own daughter has autism. See his book Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad. Hotez (who obviously loves his daughter) nevertheless argues for what the title of his book says.

No doubt many anti-vaxxers will dismiss Hotez out of hand (e.g. see some of the Amazon reviews of his book), but reasonable-minded people should at least give him a fair hearing. Hotez works with infectious tropical diseases in poor communities and developing vaccines for them. Specifically the most neglected diseases and vaccines (e.g. hookworm, schistosomiasis, Chagas disease).

By the way, since anti-vaxxers make a big deal out of people being compromised by money, these vaccines haven't generated any revenue for Hotez. In fact, these vaccines have virtually no potential to generate revenue, which, in fact, is why vaccine companies refuse to develop these vaccines.

And I'm not sure about Hotez's religious views (if any), so I could be wrong, but I think he might be Catholic.

4. Unfortunately many people today are "vaccine hesitant" precisely because of how large and powerful and influential the anti-vaccination movement has become. Anti-vaccination activists have multi-million dollar organizations as well as vocal lobbyists who lobby for anti-vaccination positions in Washington, DC and elsewhere. Anti-vaccination activists are extremely rich, powerful, and influential today. They're very effectively sowing seeds of doubt about vaccines today. It's become alarming. Such as with over 20 measles outbreaks across the US in the last 5 or 6 years. Anti-vaxxers like Bigtree endanger public health.

5. Finally, I have to wonder: If the coronavirus (COVID-19) turns out to be very contagious or infectious, and if it turns out to have a high fatality rate, and millions of Americans are dropping dead (let alone others around the world), but we are able to develop a successful vaccine for it, how many anti-vaccination activists will still be consistent and argue against vaccination?

Homeschooling During #COVID19

DSS forgeries

Because I have had a number of people contact me and have been seeing others ask similar questions: yes the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Museum of the Bible are fake. However, this has NO BEARING ON THE RELEVANT ISSUES CONCERNING THE TEXT OF THE BIBLE.
The manuscripts the Museum of the Bible possessed were very fragmentary in nature with little to no text on them to begin with. As far as I can figure out they contained no relevant textual variation from the Masoretic Text or comparative sections in other Dead Sea Scrolls. They were a minor contribution to the picture of the overall text compared to the nearly 100,000 authentic manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that reside at the Israel Museum.

Primary care

Here are a few reasons why I doubt the coronavirus in the US will be as bad as it has been in China (though, of course, that's not to suggest it'll be no problem):

1. Primary care. From what I understand, China has no primary care system. At least not any significant one with much presence. However, we have a very significant primary care system in the US. One of the best. The very best. As Trump might say.

Think of it this way. There's the general public and there's hospitals. In China, the general public goes directly to hospitals for their health care.

We're different because primary care stands in-between the general public and hospitals. In general, the public will seek to utilize primary care services (e.g. urgent care, primary care physicians) before they'll seek to head to the hospital.

As such, our primary care system is like a sieve. It stands in-between the general public and hospitals and catches all the cases that primary care physicians, PAs, nurses, and other health care providers working in primary care are able to handle.

2. Lead-time. Moreover, we've had weeks if not months of lead-time to prepare for the onslaught of the coronavirus, unlike China. It's like witnessing a storm system gathering off the coast; we can take shelter because it hasn't made landfall. Many if not most hospitals by now have done their level best to scale up care to meet the expected surge in patients (e.g. Stanford).

Of course, we'll see how it goes, it's still quite possible for hospitals to be overwhelmed, but at the very least I'm suggesting we're in a far better position than China. In fact, arguably better than most other nations in the world. We're better off than China since we weren't the first hit. We're better off than the Asian nations neighboring China, yet several of the democracies have responded very well to the coronavirus (e.g. South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan). We're better than developing nations that have limited health care resources as well as personnel. We're better off even than Europe which has had less time to prepare (e.g. Italy).

Perhaps the only other nations which have similarly good healthcare systems as well as lead-time like we've had are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

3. Population density. Transmission rates between asymptomatic people just walking around outside are estimated to be approximately 0.5%. By contrast, transmission rates between household contacts are estimated to be approximately 10.5%. Of course, it's common sense to know that we're at much higher risk from people we are in close contact with every day. These represent (almost) two extremes.

Now I bring this up in light of the fact that much of the US has a significantly lower population density than China. Pace places like Manhattan, we tend to be more spread out. We have more space. If I'm not mistaken, a majority of Americans live in the suburbs and small towns vs. the cities, which I presume would be the most population dense sectors of the US. And even Europeans tend to live more closely to one another than we do (e.g. "Why are European cities so dense?").

4. Rule, Britannia! Finally, at least we're not doing this, as far as I know! On a serious note, I likewise hope it's not true.

Coronavirus vs. swine flu

I saw the above image on Facebook:

1. First off, those numbers are wrong. (Maybe it was created like a month ago or something.) Currently the US has 2,174 cases and 47 deaths according to Johns Hopkins. And we're only getting started.

2. By contrast, the H1N1 Swine flu statistics are across a year, i.e., from approximately Spring 2009 to Spring 2010. So it'd be more fair to compare both after approximately one year has elapsed with the coronavirus.

3. The second or blue group is referring to the 2009-2010 Swine flu pandemic. It's true there were 60.8 millions cases. However, there were less deaths, i.e. 12,469 deaths, according to the CDC. (Maybe the 22,469 deaths was a typo. If so, that just goes to show that the creator was likely careless or sloppy.)

4. I agree the state of panic wasn't nearly as high in the 2009 Swine flu pandemic as it is today with the coronavirus pandemic. Yet that's why I've been attempting (in my own small way) to keep people calm. It could be that this coronavirus isn't as bad as we fear it will be.

5. However, even if it is, I don't see how panic or mass hysteria help. As I've repeatedly said, my concern is how we react to the coronavirus could prove worse than the coronavirus itself. I'm more concerned about churches shutting down, city-wide lockdowns, our civil liberties badly affected, economic recessions, and so on.

6. And speaking of the H1N1 Swine flu, which is a strain of influenza, I recently wrote the following:

I wouldn't necessarily say a coronavirus such as COVID-19 is more dangerous than influenza. Influenza is no joke. Many infectious disease experts have long argued that influenza is the most threatening virus to humanity. That it has the most potential to cause a pandemic.

And indeed it has. I mean influenza might seem routine to people, but the truth is influenza has caused many of the most severe epidemics and pandemics in human history. Influenza has caused severe epidemics and pandemics in 1743, 1889, 1918 (the Spanish flu), 1957 (the Asian flu), 1968 (the Hong Kong flu), 1977 (the Russian flu), and 2009 (the Swine flu).

A quick Q&A on coronavirus

A noted Christian journalist whom I respect recently offered his answers to various people's questions about the coronavirus. I'm afraid I didn't think his answers were correct. So I'll quote his answers, then give my answers.

COVID-19 (short for novel coronavirus 2019) is a strain of coronavirus

Technically, SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of coronavirus, while COVID-19 is the disease it causes. It's like HIV/AIDS where HIV is the virus, while AIDS is the disease.

COVID-19 appears to be able to be transmitted through the air, while influenza virus cannot.

1. On the contrary, COVID-19 and influenza are transmitted "through the air" in that the most common mode of transmission for both is via direct droplet spread. Droplets from coughing and sneezing which hang in the air.

2. Both viruses (virii?) are also transmitted via fomites, i.e., inanimate objects like door handles and table surfaces.

This is why COVID-19 is able to spread more rapidly than influenza.

The primary reason COVID-19 is able to spread rapidly is not because of its mode of transmission, but because it's a novel virus to which humans have no innate immunity.

The key reason this virus is potentially more dangerous than the flu is because we have no protection against it.

1. I don't think comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu is comparing like to like. I think it'd be more accurate to compare COVID-19 to (say) the Spanish flu rather than the seasonal flu. I'll try to explain why in response to your next statement.

2. In any case, I wouldn't necessarily say a coronavirus such as COVID-19 is more dangerous than influenza. Influenza is no joke. Many infectious disease experts have long argued that influenza is the most threatening virus to humanity. That it has the most potential to cause a pandemic.

And indeed it has. I mean influenza might seem routine to people, but the truth is influenza has caused many of the most severe epidemics and pandemics in human history. Influenza has caused severe epidemics and pandemics in 1743, 1889, 1918 (the Spanish flu), 1957 (the Asian flu), 1968 (the Hong Kong flu), 1977 (the Russian flu), and 2009 (the Swine flu).

In general, influenza pandemics have had high mortality rates.

3. Of course, in recent years, coronaviruses have likewise been quite severe. SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012 were very bad. Both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses.

For all of us alive today, strains of the flu have existed our entire life. Almost everyone gets the flu at some stage of life and are therefore able to build up immunity. We also have vaccines created each year that protect people from new stains. Despite these immunities, we still have 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide from the flu each year.

1. That's a bit misleading. Influenza is dangerous because influenza has very high mutation rates and frequent genetic reassortments. That is, influenza can mutate on its own (antigenic drift), but it can also mutate when two different influenza viruses infect a human or an animal (e.g. pig) at the same time, they swap and rearrange genetic material, and create a new hybrid virus (antigenic shift).

Influenza's antigenic drift is often enough to fluster our immune systems, hence the need for annual flu shots aka flu vaccines. However, its antigenic shift can wreak havoc on our immune systems. That's how all the aforementioned influenza pandemics started.

2. Also, as you say, there are hundreds of thousands dying each year from the seasonal flu, which implies our immune systems can't always handle even relatively minor antigenic drift in influenza, let alone major antigenic shift in influenza.

Add to that the fact that this virus is about 7-10 times more lethal than the average strain of influenza. That's COVID-19.

1. We don't know for a "fact" that COVID-19 is "7-10 times more lethal" than the seasonal flu. Sure, it might end up to be 7-10x more lethal, but we don't know that right now, inasmuch as we're still in the midst of a pandemic, so the case fatality rate is dynamic. And the case fatality rate likewise depends in part on how many people we test, and as we know the US has only tested a fraction of its population.

2. By the way, if Johns Hopkins is correct, then the case fatality rate for the coronavirus will be 0.6% at worst. It could even be lower. If it's 0.6%, while the seasonal flu is around 0.1%, then COVID-19 would be 6x times more lethal than the seasonal flu (if not less). Of course, I realize this is debatable, but Johns Hopkins as a medical institution is well-respected, so at the very least their figure shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Likewise South Korea's case fatality rate seems to be around 0.6%. And South Korea has done extensive testing (unlike us), which makes it more likely to be reliable.

How are physicians preparing for coronavirus?

The above is an hour long video with Stanford University Dept. of Medicine physicians discussing how they're preparing for the coronavirus. What Stanford is doing seems similar to how physicians at other academic medical centers are preparing for the coronavirus too (e.g. UCLA, USC).

However, I presume many people would find it boring to watch the whole thing. To be honest, I haven't watched it either, but I plan to watch it soon.

So, instead of watching the video, people might find the following easier to digest: Dr. Joy Wu offers her take-home points:

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Blitz spirit

Dr. Rohin Francis offers six (seven) reasons to be optimistic about coronavirus in the video below. Or at least reasons why we don't need to panic. Francis is a British cardiologist currently doing a PhD at University College London. He's secular, skews liberal, and uses a bit of bad language. However, this a generally good and informative video, though there's advice from which I'd dissent (e.g. I'd take exception to the degree of social isolation he seems to be suggesting). It counsels calm amidst the coronavirus storm, which is what I've been trying to do in my posts too. Not to mention I appreciate his dry sense of humor. Worth watching if you have 15 minutes to spare.

Suspending conjugal relations

The next step is for mayors, governors, and heads-of-state to suspend conjugal relations–as well as banning married couples from even sharing the same bed. After all, your spouse might be infected but asymptomatic. Social distancing is our only hope! 

What the Early Church Can Teach Us About the Coronavirus

Mostly good article:

He hints at suspending church services at the end. I demur.

Harmonizing historical accounts

1. Many people are suspicious of Gospel harmonization. They think that's special pleading. In our own time, Bart Ehrman has done a lot to foster and fuel that suspicion. 

Speaking for myself, I've never been strongly motivated to harmonized the Gospels, in part because I'm content to take each one as is, and in part because I think there are inherent limitations on our ability to reconstruct the original sequence from selective sources. And so I have a degree of skepticism about the project. Mind you, that's not an all-or-nothing proposition. But I realize there's some value in the exercise, as far as that can be taken, within reason, to defend the inerrancy and historicity of the Gospels. 

2. Let's draw some comparisons. There are folks for whom there's something inherently suspect about trying to combine the four Gospels. But suppose, as I mental exercise, we consider this in reverse. 

Some biographies are overviews of a person's life, but others are quite detailed. Let's pick somebody at random: say, Frank Sinatra. In principle, you could take a major biography of Sinatra, and split it into two. Because Sinatra did so many concerts at so many different times and places, made movies, had multiple affairs, and so on, that material could be subdivided and redistributed into two different documents, yet they'd still give a fairly representative, chronological overview of his life. 

And a reader couldn't necessarily tell from reading just one of these accounts, that anything was missing. One more concert, one less concert. One more affair, one less affair. It somewhat arbitrary how much is included. The general flow of his life could be preserved even if you split the original biography into two smaller biographies. Moreover, a reader might well be unable to tell that these both come from the same source. 

3. Apropos (2), imagine trying to recombine the two partial biographies. I doubt anyone could put them back together in a way that matched the exact sequence of the original biography. And yet they did fall into place in the original. The biographer arranged the material so that one episode happens before another while another episode happens after another. That continues from start to finish. 

In the original, all these episodes did fit together in a particular editorial sequence. So there's nothing artificial or suspect in  principle about harmonization. If you begin with two or more separate documents, it may create the impression that they don't look like they go together, but as my example illustrates, that impression would be the same even if the two biographies derive from a single unified source. So the impression would be mistaken. 

4. Let's take a different comparison. To my knowledge, there are three firsthand sources for the life of John Ruskin: his correspondence, his diaries, and his autobiography (Praeterita). 

You could get a pretty thorough and chronological overview of his life by reading any one of these. But, of course, they're quite different from each other. The letters and diaries were written at the time of the incidents they record, and they were written over the course of a lifetime. Moreover, they are fairly random. By contrast, his autobiography is highly selective, written at toward the end of his life, within the span of a few months. 

Biographers try to weave all this material (plus much additional material) into a coherent narrative. But suppose we didn't know that these three sources come from the same hand? Imagine the fun redaction critics would have explaining the differences. 

5. A final comparison: many critics assume that if something important happened to an individual, it would be mentioned in an accurate biography or autobiography. Yet sometimes things are omitted because they are important, but not something the individual wishes to be remembered for.

For instance, Ruskin was an influential sponsor of the Pre-Raphaelites. Yet you'd never know that from reading his autobiography. There's just a passing reference to Dante Rossetti. 

The reason is that Ruskin was too inhibited to consummate his marriage, so his wife left him for Millais, a leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The whole affair was profoundly humiliating for Ruskin, so his solution was to severely minimize any reference to anyone and anything connected to the Pre-Raphaelites.  That's extremely arbitrary, but Ruskin would rather disassociate himself from the Pre-Raphaelites in toto than to discuss his friendships with, and artistic opinions of, the Pre-Raphaelites. He just felt too wounded and vulnerable to revisit that, even though most of it had nothing to do with his acutely embarrassing marital woes.

6. My point is that we need to have realistic expectations about the prospects for Gospel harmonization. On the one hand, there's nothing underhanded about the practice. On the other hand, we should recognize our limitations. Inability to reconstruct the original sequence carries no presumption that our separate accounts are materially discrepant.  

Epidemics and atheism

Atheists have different attitudes to death. At least, what they say for public consumption. In reality, I assume most of them fear death. 

One attitude is the Epicurean pose, in the classic quip attributed to Mark Twain: 

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” 

On this view, death isn't good or bad. 

Some atheists take a more brazen position, contending that death is a positive good. As Jeff Lowder put it:

“Death is what gives life meaning. The fact that life can be lost is what makes life meaningful.”

How many atheists who express these sentiments believe we must take drastic measures to contain and counteract the coronavirus? How many are panicking at the prospect that it will spiral out of control? 

On the Epicurean view, death is a matter of indifference, while on Jeff's view, you might suppose the coronavirus is something to celebrate. 

Epidemics and pandemics test the bravado of atheist rhetoric in the face of death. It ceases to be a safe abstraction and becomes an imminent reality. 

In fairness, epidemics and pandemics and also test the bravado of Christians who sing about heaven but are spooked by a terminal prognosis. It's an opportunity for atheists to reconsider their atheism and Christians to take their faith more seriously. 

The Death of Ivan Ilych

One of the supreme works of Christian fiction:

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Calm in the midst of coronavirus

I've already posted about how bad the coronavirus pandemic could become. But that's not necessarily a foregone conclusion at this point. We're not fated to die. There's still hope.

In response to the panicked:

1. A coronavirus vaccine is likely. Promising news so far. But it could be a year or more away.

2. Doctors have good treatment options in the interim until a vaccine is developed. For example, the world-renowned Dr. W. Ian Lipkin recently came back from China and after self-quarantining recommends the following (i.e. using antibodies from patients who have recovered from coronavirus, also known as passive immunity; presumably risks like allergic reaction and TRALI have been considered):

3. If we can get our act together, and mitigate the spread of the virus, then we could avert the worst predictions. We could possibly even do better than the best-case predictions. For example, Dr. Scott Gottlieb just retweeted this:

Likewise, Gottlieb just tweeted the following about South Korea:

4. This is heartening to hear:

5. God is sovereign, God is wise, and God loves his people. If death followed by eternal life in the world to come is the worst that could happen to a Christian, then things can't ever bottom out for the Christian.

Things worse than death

Accepting Death

...[T]here is a cultural factor at work in the Western world that must be squarely faced. Death has become the last taboo. I can write about sex and breasts, discuss homosexuality in public, and debate the ethics of abortion, but I must not mention death in civilized company.

Corpses are whisked off to the undertakers' where family members will not see them until they have been "prepared." Even the bereaved themselves find candor difficult. Many is the grieving family that refuses to talk out its grief, even within the family—with incalculable loss of comfort and perspective. Meanwhile, incredible advances in medical science have convinced us we have the right to live.

The Puritans published sermons and books on how to die well; they cherished collected "last words" of Christians who had already gone to be with the Lord. But we find it exceedingly difficult to look death squarely in the face and talk about it.

Consider the following poem, written by Thomas Nashe (1567–1601), an Elizabethan author of no great repute who penned these lines, possibly his best, when he along with hundreds of thousands of others contracted the plague and lay on their deathbed:

Suspending church services

Two related stories:

The ECUSA should have closed shop long ago and returned property to faithful Anglican congregations. 

Suspending mass because of a pandemic shows prudence, not faithlessness. Charity demands we not unwittingly infect others and God gave us intellects to discover how to stop diseases. As the Bible says, "There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians" (Sir. 38:13).

Would you agree sick people shouldn't go to mass? If so, then what do we with people who are sick without symptoms and don't know they are infecting and possibly causing grave harm to others?

i) Not what the Bible says, but OT apocrypha. Medical care during the time of Sirach wasn't notably successful. Usually did more harm then good. 

ii) I don't take the position that weekly church attendance is absolutely obligatory. This post is more about the motivation to justify church closures during an epidemic. 

iii) Life isn't risk-free. Christianity isn't risk-free. In India and the Muslim world, Christians take their life in their hands by going to church. 

iv) There is, of course, an important moral distinction between a necessary risk and a gratuitous risk. But due to the corporate nature of Christian, there's the additional principle of shared risk, shared suffering, and shared reward.

v) Refusing to attend church during an epidemic, or suspending church during an epidemic, betrays a lack of faith. I don't mean you should count on God to protect you from infection, even fatal infection. Rather, you should have the faith to attend church during an epidemic, not because it's risk-free, but because, even if you did contract a fatal inflection, you died because you were acting faithfully. That's good way to die. There's no better way to die. You were acting faithfully by continuing to fellowship with God's people, share in corporate worship and prayer. 

vi) That said, I'm fascinated by the assumption that it's safer to be outside church than insider church. Among other things, the church is a house of prayer. Isn't that the right kind of place to go during an epidemic? And to join with others there in prayer. 

Is your church just a building with religious furniture, or is God present where his people are present? Does public worship confer no blessing? Is it more dangerous to be in church during an outbreak than to absent yourself? Only go back when the coast is clear? What do we expect to find when we go to church–in ordinary times? Does church make any appreciable difference? 

vii) Where did some professing Christians ever get the idea that we're supposed to shun the sick? Think of those mission trips sponsored for church teens. They go off to some exotic location for a week or two to do mission. What if one of them develops the symptoms of a highly contagious, life-threatening illness. Should his roommates abandon him to fend for himself? Or should at least one of team risk his own life to stay behind and nurse him back to health? 

viii) To some extent I think we've developed a mentality where we contract out the dangerous or distasteful jobs to "professionals". A number of doctors and nurses are at an age where they are more susceptible the infection. Some of them aren't even Christian. Should we expect more courage from them than from Christians? 

Many modern-day Americans have never seen anyone die. In the past, that was commonplace. 

By the same token, visitation ministry can be a valid alternative. But once again, that doesn't mean we should act like we pay the clergy to do take on the hazardous activities. That's not a proper view of Christian vocation generally. 

ix) In fairness, Trent raises a valid question. Sure, if you have the flu, it would be more considerate to stay home. Likewise, Typhoid Mary shouldn't attend church. Indeed, she should be quarantined.

Yet this isn't about individual discretion, but a blanket ban. Moreover, he extends that to folks who may be sick but asymptomatic. Their illness hasn't manifested itself at that stage of the incubation process. 

But consider what an extreme and paranoid principle that is. I shouldn't attend church if I might be sick but asymptomatic, and I should avoid church because other parishioners might be sick but asymptotic. Well, who's left? That could apply to everyone?

x) In fairness, he's talking about an epidemic, where there's a greater presumption of asymptotic people with a contagious, life-threatening disease. Yet there's a paradoxical sense in which it's more important to go to church the worse things are. Where Christians can pray with each other and not simply for each other. 

What about hosting church services especially for the sick and dying. Those who are still able to come on their own or be brought? Pray over them. Sing together. Read Scripture together. That would be risky for the clergy, but so what? That goes with the territory. That would be risky those who brought them, but so what? Religion is ultimately about death and the world to come. 

Suppose we had a recurrence of the Black Plague, only this was a new, incurable strain. Suppose 80% of the population succumbs. Should they die in overcrowded hospitals or die in church? Would it not be better for plague victims to take refuge in church? What better place to spend their final hours of life? What better place to die? 

xi) There's an opportunity here for a Christian witness. The real or perceived threat of the pandemic has shaken up lots of folks who don't normally think about death. Thanks to modern medicine, we in the west haven't been exposed to pandemics for decades. That makes it a lot easier for folks to be worldly and suppress existential questions about the meaning of life, death, and the afterlife. Evangelical churches should take advantage of the crisis, and swim against the tide.

Coronavirus: good news and bad news

Here are two useful articles on the coronavirus:

  1. "9 charts that explain the coronavirus pandemic"
  2. "Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now"

Bad news

So bad news first:

  1. Epidemiologists are predicting a best-case scenario for the coronavirus would be around 0.5% fatality rate, while a worst-case scenario would be around a 3%-5% fatality rate. (I'm no epidemiologist, but from reading what they say it sounds to me that case fatality rates are based on those who develop symptoms.)

    For comparison, the seasonal flu fatality rate is 0.1%, while the Spanish flu fatality rate was 3%-5%.

    Now, in a population of 330 million people, a 0.5% fatality rate is 1.65 million deaths, while a 5% fatality rate would be 16.5 million deaths.

    In short, if the epidemiologists are to be believed: even on a best-case scenario, we're still looking at 1.65 million dead.

    (Of course, all this is based on certain mathematical or statistical assumptions, which could be debatable.)

  2. Many physicians, virologists, and other experts believe this strain of the coronavirus could be a permanent fixture in life (e.g. here). Like the seasonal flu. But obviously worse.

Daniel's flat earth

The Shape of the Earth

Disregarding the dome, the essential flatness of the earth's surface is required by verses like Daniel 4:10-11. In Daniel, the king “saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth's farthest bounds.” If the earth were flat, a sufficiently tall tree would be visible to “the earth's farthest bounds,” but this is impossible on a spherical earth. 

That's a fallacious inference for two reasons:

i) Human distance acuity is limited. 

ii) It fails to consider how the prooftext is introduced: 

I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me (Dan 4:5).

But dreamscapes are notoriously surreal. Because dreams are imaginary, they aren't bound by what's physically realistic or possible. 

Low or high fatality rate?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Which medical experts do I follow?

Here are some individuals I follow as well as resources I use for staying up to speed with the coronavirus (i.e. SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19). Of course, that's not to suggest I always agree with them. I hope it's helpful to people.

Coronavirus doesn't care about your feelings

As Ben Shapiro is wont to say: facts don't care about your feelings. So here are some facts. Granted, even the "facts" in this case could be debated to a certain degree. Regardless it's a starting point for reasonable discussion.

Social distancing

Churches are among the premiere locations of social interaction. And yet, I've heard little about mitigation strategies to deal with #coronavirus. How should the virus change the way we greet, gather, celebrate communion? Figure this out now, not later.

A good place to start is by social distancing ourselves from "progressive Christians" like Randal Rauser. 


One "solution" to the exponential spread of the coronavirus is mandated lockdowns, citywide or even countrywide. That's feasible, at least temporarily, for folks who can work at home. Indeed, some folks always work at home. The computer/Internet age makes that increasingly appealing and feasible.

There are, however, many employers/employees in retail/service industries who must be on site to do their job. Should they be furloughed? If they can't work, they can't pay their bills. Can't pay the rent or mortgage or utilities or insurance or wireless carrier or the car or afford to shop for food and medicine, &c.

So it's a question of which groups are going to suffer the most as a result of countermeasures to address the coronavirus. Some will suffer more than others, and some groups will suffer as a result of the policies who were not suffering before the policies were implemented. It creates a new problem to "solve" another problem. So one question is which groups should be made to suffer. What are the necessary tradeoffs? Who should be hurt in the effort to help others? 


As I understand it, the justification for citywide, statewide, or national lockdowns is to avoid exponential infection rates through curtailing physical contact in large social gatherings. A kind of preemptive quarantine measure. 

I'm no expert, but doesn't effective quarantine require identification and separation of the infected from the uninfected? 

By contrast, lockdowns are indiscriminate. They force families to say at home. Yet families are notoriously contagious. If one family member is infected, other family members are likely to become infected. So aren't lockdowns creating millions of family-size petri dishes where infected and uninfected are exposed to each other? Doesn't that cause the infection to spread exponentially, only it's temporarily hidden behind closed doors? But maybe I'm missing something. 

Sense of scale

I'm no expert, but when I see some people comparing the coronavirus to the Spanish influenza, a sense of proportion has been lost. Here's one way I think about it:

i) Total world population: 7.7 billion

ii) National population totals (10s-100s of millions or more)

iii) Fractional subtotal of those infected

iv) Fractional sub-subtotal of infected who naturally recover

v) Fractional sub-subtotal of those requiring hospitalization

It's a serious problem when hospitals are overwhelmed, but in terms of the relative scale of the body count, aren't some doomsdayers losing a sense of proportion? That's not to make light of the body count, but in terms of historical comparisons and realistic projections...

Who's the biggest threat to homosexuals?

1. In the modern era there's a paradoxical relationship between Christians and homosexuals. On the one hand, many homosexuals feel threatened by biblical norms regarding homosexuality, as well as the political influence of Christians.

2. Ironically, homosexuals are safer in a society that's culturally and numerically dominated by Christians than a secular regime. An exception would be theonomists, who believe homosexual behavior ought to be a capital offense. I've discussed that here:

3. However, it's my impression that most evangelicals take a fairly live-and-let-live attitude towards homosexuals. Mind you, I think homosexuals should be banned from positions of authority (e.g. occupations like public school teachers, Boy Scout leaders, mayors, governors, judges, attorneys general, military officers).

The reason homosexuals are safer in a Christian culture (theonomy excepted) is because Christians believe in basic human rights, grounded in moral realism. There's a general floor for how all humans should be treated. 

4. By contrast, atheism is dangerous to everyone because it has no moral direction. The protected classes can change on a dime. It's driven by academic fads and power politics. Some groups have more rights than others, and the pecking order shifts arbitrarily and unpredictably. Blacks have been demoted in relation to homosexuals while feminists have been demoted in relation to trans. Your group can be a protected class one year, only to be a targeted class the next year.

5. Another factor is that straight Christians don't want anything from homosexuals, whereas one homosexual may view another homosexual the way vampires view humans: that's food! Because homosexuals want something from each other, that carries the risk of exploitation, rape, and domestic violence. 

Sorting out presuppositionalism

The silly contest between Josh Rasmussen and SyeTenB demonstrates, once again, the need to do some sorting:

Regarding the YouTube interview:

There are at least three different things flying under the banner of "presuppositionalism"

1. There's the position of SyeTenB. He's a hack with a rabid internet following among a clique of pop Calvinist groupies.

2. That's not to be confused with academic versions of presuppositionalism. For instance:

Greg Welty, “The Conceptualist Argument,” in Colin Ruloff (ed.), Contemporary Arguments in Natural Theology (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming).

3. From another angle is the presuppositionalism of Vern Poythress. For instance:

4. There are roughly two competing schools of thought that call themselves presuppositionalists:

i) One derives from Cornelius Van Til. Second-generation Van Tilians include John Frame, the late Greg Bahnsen, and Vern Poythress. We might classify James Anderson as a third-generation Van Tilian. 

However, he's been exposed to some other influences, like Plantinga and modal metaphysics.

Theistic conceptual realism belongs to a family of transcendental arguments. It's interesting how that's evolved. Kant's argument is more epistemological, in part because he doesn't have a robust theology to ground it. Kant might even be a closet atheist. And he's skeptical regarding our knowledge of the external world. So he can't say much of anything to back it up in terms of bedrock ontology. 

Although Van Til's version is partly epistemological, he tries to ground it in the metaphysics of Reformed theism.

Greg Welty and James Anderson have done a lot to embed the epistemological side of the argument in modal metaphysics. I think it's a transcendental argument with an epistemological side, but they've done more to model and detail the necessary metaphysical conditions that make it possible. 

ii) The other derives from the late Gordon Clark. Clark as an anti-empiricist. 

Clark's followers make second-order knowledge necessary for first-order knowledge. You don't know anything unless you know how you know it. They make the justification of knowledge a necessary ingredient in knowledge itself. Here are two examples:

It's important to keep these two schools of thought separate, even though they both use the same designation. When you're accused of not understanding presuppositionalism, part of the problem is that there are competing schools of thought as well as different exponents with varying views.

I don't think Josh is under any obligation to understand SyeTenB's positionbecause  there's not much there there. 

COVID-19’s biggest threat is to the health of our economy

Why trust the Gospel of John?

From Facebook:

What is [the historicity of John] predicated on?

The eyewitness testimony of the narrator (i.e. apostle John).

Same goes for UFOs and bigfoot?

From what I've seen, the footage of bigfoot is just a man in a monkey suit. UFOs are a much more complex subject.

I'm just talking about written testimony of those phenomena. Nothing like video.

Is your point to dismiss eyewitness testimony out of hand? That leads to extreme and irrational skepticism, including your own firsthand experiences.

I prefer to externalize my knowledge claims, I know my own senses are not always reliable.

You don't have to verify anything about the author's testimony? You take it all of faith?

To begin with, there's archeological corroboration for the Forth Gospel (as well as the Synoptics). Peter Williams has a dandy little book on that: Can We Trust the Gospels?

Moreover, there's lots of incidental internal evidence for the Fourth Gospel. It has the hallmarks of oral history, with lots of unnecessary details and digressions. 

Furthermore, there's the argument from undesigned coincidences. 

Finally, there's lots of evidence for modern miracles, which dovetail with the supernaturalism of the Fourth Gospel.

Well, let's say hypothetically John can be boiled down to 1,000 historical claims. What percent of John's historical claims have been verified? It would be cool to have a resource that goes verse by verse, giving the external verification if it exists.

That's not a reasonable method of verification. It's not case-by-case verification but whether there's good evidence that the source is reliable. We don't have to revert to amnesia every time we have evidence for a particular claim, starting from scratch with each individual claim, when dealing with the same source of information.

How do you establish good evidence on the reliability of a source except by examining some mystery number of truth claims that source makes? I'm asking about that very criteria that would grant a piece of text handed to me the 'good evidence' label.

There's no magic percentage. One basic principle is that if a source is accurate when we happen to have available evidence which corroborates it, then it's likely to be accurate in cases where corroborative evidence hasn't survived. 

But in addition, there are different kinds of internal evidence and a variety of individual touches that indicate firsthand recollection. So it's not reducible to a single formula. I'm mentioning general criteria, not just the Fourth Gospel.

Why not wait and see?

I basically take a wait-n-see attitude towards it. That's mainly because I'm not a policymaker, so what I think makes no difference, anyway. I have no control over what businesses or gov't officials do about it.

In addition, I see some folks making doomsday predictions about how it will be worse than the 1918 Spanish influenza, but we don't know that, so what's the point of assuming the worst? What happens is independent of our assumptions. Assuming the worst won't make it worse–or better. It will be whatever it will be. Why the felt need to make assumptions about the future instead of discovering what will happen? That's the only real way to find out. If it turns out to be as bad as the Spanish influenza, how did that assumption, even if borne out by subsequent events, make it easier to cope with? How does assuming the worst improve the situation? Your assumptions don't change the outcome? It just makes you more miserable in the lead up. And what if you're wrong? Then you got all worked up in advance over something that wasn't nearly as bad as you feared.

Of course, the objection to a wait-n-see attitude is that if we take drastic precautionary measures, maybe we can avert catastrophe. And I'm certainly not suggesting passivity. I'm not suggesting a do-nothing attitude.

There are two competing risk factors. Two kinds of damage to be considered and counterbalanced. There's the harm of the virus itself. But there's also the harm to the economic infrastructure if we overreact. The economic damage could be far more harmful than the virus itself if we overcompensate.There's the harm of the virus itself. But there's also the harm to the economic infrastructure if we overreact. The economic damage could be far more harmful than the virus itself if we overcompensate. 

A sacramental faith

Thanks to Steve for passing along this Ligonier update from a pastor in Milan, Italy.

It'd be good if Christians could pray for them.

At the same time, I wanted to note a contrast in a word-based faith vs. a sacrament-based faith:

Reformed Protestant and evangelical churches can hold worship services online. We can join in and listen to live streamed sermons preached over the internet. Sure, it's not as ideal as meeting in person and worshiping together, but it's not necessarily fatal to faith.

By contrast, Catholic worship is different. Of course, Catholics can do all these things too. However, these aren't as central to their worship or liturgy; at best, the sermon might be on par with the sacrament. Rather Catholic worship centers on the eucharist. The transubstantiated blood and the body of Christ. Catholicism is a sacramental faith.

However, if there's no priest to consecrate the holy sacrament, nor a physical place to receive the holy sacrament, then how can Catholics partake of the eucharist? Can priests go door to door consecrating and administering the body and blood of Christ for lay Catholics? If Catholics can't receive the eucharist, then wouldn't that affect their faith? No wonder so many Catholics were up in arms when they heard that mass was suspended across Italy!

A danger of panicking over the coronavirus

It's striking how much of our super advanced and highly technical society including economy is based on simple trust. I guess that's why economists talk about fiduciary relationships.

However, if that trust is eroded enough, or even dissipates, then I presume our economy and society could potentially come crashing down like a house of cards.

That's one reason why my posts about the coronavirus or COVID-19 have focused on quelling fears and stemming panic. At least as much as a nobody like me can do.

Otherwise, if people become driven by panic, they might take drastic actions. Such as pulling out all their money from their 401k and selling all their stocks. Or yelling at and fighting one another over toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Or looting and rioting. Or worse.

If enough people take these sorts of drastic actions, then it could collapse our economy, gov't, society as a whole.

In this respect, doomsday prophets who have been shouting from the rooftops that the end is near could end up predicting a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Of course, none of this is to say things won't become catastrophic. However, I think there are at least two possible catastrophic scenarios: a catastrophe from the virus itself and a catastrophe from how we react to the virus. As I've maintained, the former could be possible; it's the latter that I'd like to avoid. The simultaneous occurrence of both would be terrible. (And I think Steve has pointed out much the same or similar.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Christian witness during the coronavirus

White Syeclone alert

James White
Let's give Sye some love!

Adherent Apologetics
 · Mar 8
The 2020 Christian Apologist March Madness Tournament! Round of 128! Josh Rasmussen vs Sye Ten Bruggencate (@SyeTenB)
Show this poll

I'm curious: has James White always been a member of SyeTenB's booster club, or is that another consequence of White hitching his caboose to Durbin's steam engine? 

It's unfortunate that White is plugging him. SyeTenB is such a hack. He brings presuppositionalism into disrepute. It deflects attention away from the best exponents–like James Anderson, Greg Welty, and Vern Poythress. Thanks to SyeTenB, his enablers and groupies, presuppositionalism now suffers from poisonous default association with an empty suit. 

Mortal sin

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God[a] will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that (1 Jn 5:16).

One of the puzzling things is how a Christian is supposed to know the difference between the two kinds of sins. The clue may be the occasion of John's letter. He may be alluding to the individuals who broke fellowship with the churches he pastored in Asia Minor. Heretical schismatics who refused to submit to his apostolic teaching. In context, that may be the mortal sin. 

Of course, some of them might have a change of heart. But perhaps John's point is that sometimes you may just have to give up on some individuals, not because their situation is necessarily hopeless, but there are other people and situations to pray about, so that, as a matter of priorities, it's okay to stop praying for some people and move on to other people and situations that call for prayer. And not in general, but the particular kind of obdurate sin that occasioned his letter. You've prayed for them repeatedly to no effect, and you don't have an open-ended commitment. You're not obligated to keep praying for them.

Even so, he doesn't forbid it. There are some people, like lost or straying family members, whom we never give up on as long as they, we live, or the prayer request is granted. 

Some coronavirus articles

I've posted some excerpts from recent articles on the coronavirus below. I think the articles are generally consistent what I've been saying in my posts on Triablogue.

If you only read one article, I'd recommend the interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb. If you read two, the interview with epidemiologist Adam Kucharski is good.

I see at least 4 main groups of experts on the coronavirus pandemic: physicians, epidemiolgists, scientists, public health officials. To simplify, physicians (MD, DO) are knowledgeable about the coronavirus' effects on the human body. Epidemiologists (PhD) are the statisticians and mathematicians who look at the numbers (e.g. case fatality rates). The most relevant scientists (PhD) with the coronavirus would likely be virologists. Public health officials (MPH) help coordinate the response. Of course, there's some overlap in expertise between all these groups. And some people are experts in multiple categories (e.g. MD/PhD, MD/MPH).

Harmonizing the Resurrection accounts

Last year, Lydia McGrew did an interview with the White Horse Inn on harmonizing the resurrection accounts:

I'm going to quote some excerpts:

00:02:54 Lydia McGrew: I tend to think it [John's Gospel] was written later, on the basis of my interpretation of the patristic evidence, but I think for all that it includes, it could have been written before the fall of Jerusalem. That is to say, the internal evidence is consistent with an earlier date and was certainly written by someone highly familiar with Jerusalem before the fall. I also think that all this specificity that you're talking about there completely destroys any claim that John is of a partially non-historical or holy non-historical genre. So, there's sometimes genre claims you will hear about the Gospel of John. What genre is it? Craig Evans, in particular, has made these statements and I disagree with that. I think John gives clear indications, over and over again, of his historical genre.