Category: social issues

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Discerning right from wrong.

What is the foundation of your moral principles?

If you consider that a simple question, you’ve never really thought about it much.

The gut reaction of most Protestants would be “Scripture” – certainly a fitting place to begin – but when one drills down into the details things get complicated rather quickly. For decades, theological liberals have dismissed Biblical teaching on sexuality because they dismiss the Bible. In more recent years, a newer contingent rejects traditional Christian teaching on sexuality arguing that the Bible never taught it in the first place.

One purpose of apologetics is to defend Christian teaching before a skeptical, hostile world that cares nothing about what the Bible does or does not say. But discipleship begins at home, and by all measures the Western Church is failing. Sex has a great deal to do with it. On one hand, unmarried adults who are sexually active are far less likely to attend services. On the other, many young people raised in the church experience a crisis of faith when, on embracing the secular narrative, they come to see Christianity as not merely anachronistic but immoral.

“It’s not science that’s secularizing Americans — it’s sex.” Mark Regnerus

The Washington Post, September 5, 2017

A comprehensive sexual apologetic must begin with the church family. Let us begin by considering two traditional objections against Biblical teaching on sexuality.

Objection 1: “What about the Old Testament prohibition against _____[fill in the blank]?”

Many Christians, perhaps most, view Biblical Law as one might understand the US and State criminal codes: an exhaustive attempt to define and categorize every important wrong one can commit against others or the state. Yet if we assume that is the case, we immediately run into problems. Where was the law prior to Moses? What was the law outside of ancient Israel? Why were there no prohibitions against slavery or polygamy? And what about all the weird ones? These questions may seem quite challenging, but the answer is simpler than you think. For that we should begin with how the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas explained the matter.

Aquinas divided Law into four categories. The first, Eternal law, reflects the mind and desire of God concerning the behavior of humankind and the universe. The universe, of course, obeys. Humanity, not so much. Eternal law is what all believers should aspire to obey but is beyond our apprehension.

The second, Natural law, is the will of God imprinted upon the minds of all people in all places in all times. It is manifested in a universal God-consciousness, the universality of conscience, and the general consistency of moral principles across most human civilizations. As history attests, Natural Law can easily be resisted, suppressed, or ignored.

The third, Divine Law, can also be called the Revealed law and we will refer to it as such. The Revealed law, as found in the Old Testament, expresses Eternal Law (the mind of God) and codifies Natural Law, but with some major caveats. Importantly, Mosaic Law included much that was clearly of ceremonial or civil intent pertaining to the worship and governance of ancient Israel. Those elements did not overlap with Natural Law, and merely expressed Eternal Law as it applied to the nation of Israel.

The fourth category of Aquinas, Human Law, would consist of ordinances created by human agents. Theologically, we predict that it would reflect the existence of Natural Law, which in fact it does.

If one imagines the Mosaic Law as a comprehensive code, it had significant shortcomings. The Old Testament never specifically proscribed prostitution* or slavery – but every time they are mentioned, it is in a disparaging way. Is that not sufficient to know they are wrong? The Old Testament never explicitly proscribed premarital sexual intercourse. If it happened, the law simply demanded that the man must pay the bride-price and marry her (Exodus 22:16). Mosaic Law never proscribed polygamy. Adultery was a one-way street: if a married woman slept with another man, it was adultery. If a married man slept with another women, it was permitted if she were not married or betrothed to another, though he would still have to marry her. [By New Testament times, after polygamy ended, the definition of adultery became more symmetric and inclusive]. These examples demonstrate that the Mosaic Law was never intended to be comprehensive; not that such things were acceptable because they were not prohibited.

Christians are privileged to receive clarification on the Law through the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. When Jesus spoke of the Law, He judged the Pharisees not for their lack of conformity to the Mosaic Law, but to Eternal Law. Hence, on the one hand He could judge them for being too literal in its interpretation (their rules on the Sabbath or divorce), and on the other for thinking mere outward compliance was good enough (declaring lust as equivalent to adultery). At the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15, the Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, ruled that Gentile converts were not subject to the Mosaic Law, but:

“Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

Acts 15:20

Without an understanding of Natural Law, this appears to make no sense. Other than refraining from sexual immorality [funny how that keeps popping up] and three dietary restrictions [probably to maintain peace between Jews and Gentile converts], the entire Law was just abolished? Of course not. While Christians were no longer under the Mosaic Law, they remained bound by Eternal Law and Natural Law. Lest there be any uncertainty concerning those obligations, the New Testament reaffirms and elaborates on the demands of Eternal Law through the commandments of Jesus and the instruction of the apostles (establishing a new Revealed Law for future generations). Many believe that the Ten Commandments remained in effect. This approach, however, is not without its problems. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Jesus Film would be in flagrant violation of the Second Commandment, and any sort of recreation on Sunday violates the Fourth (questions 109 and 119).

When we understand the various forms of Law, it makes complete sense to declare that “love is the fulfillment of the law” – without the ludicrous inference that love is the only law.

Christian moral principles are based upon the Eternal Law of God as understood through Natural Law and explicitly affirmed by Jesus and the Apostles. The Mosaic Law is not relevant to this discussion, and the Christian apologist should not rely on it in evidence. While this may seem controversial, it is consistent with the historic teaching of most major Christian traditions. We are not “throwing out” the Old Testament, as some might charge. Old Testament wisdom and historical narrative, as well as prophecy and Psalms, remain an integral part of Christian theology and experience. The crucial moral elements of Mosaic Law are subsumed under Natural Law and the Revealed Law of the New Testament.

Objection 2: “On matters of sex, the New Testament writers were merely accommodating the cultural biases of first century Palestine.”

This argument sounds plausible enough except for the word “accommodating”. That word reverses the flow of information in a fundamental way. It implies, without evidence, that moral teaching was not delivered to the “masses”, but derived from them. According to this narrative, God really would have liked to liberate those early Christians from their sexual hang-ups, but they were just too primitive and barbaric.

Of course, that is all complete nonsense. The early Christians (and Jews) were hardly different from those in the West today – a devoutly religious minority surrounded by a licentious, pagan majority. Christian sexual teaching was certainly in conformity with Jewish tradition, and Jesus and the Apostles all assumed a common acceptance of these principles. But in the broader society, Christian teaching was decidedly countercultural.

In the broader society, Christian teaching was decidedly countercultural .

Now, there are legitimate instances in which certain New Testament instructions – I hesitate to call them commands – are socially constructed. A traditional example of this would be Paul’s extended riff on head coverings in I Corinthians 11:1-16. This has been almost universally understood as a specific application of a much more general principle: when gathering in worship, men and women should attire themselves in a manner appropriate to their sex as understood in their own culture. As explained by R. C. Sproul, “Principles are those commands of God that apply to all people at all times in every culture….Customs are local applications of those principles.”

Many such minor matters come up in the writings of Paul, who was busily occupied with teaching early Christians how to behave and get along. We can infer their moral significance by the degree to which they are, or are not, framed in moral terms. In Matthew, Jesus warned “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:19-20). In Romans 1:28-32, Paul describes the reprobate as “filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.” Nowhere will one find Paul’s instructions regarding the conduct of worship or church governance couched in such language. They are altogether in a different category. All commands of the Law are instructions, but not all instructions are commands of the law. Hopefully, the passages we have considered here help to illumine the distinction.

In our next post, we will look at two more contemporary objections raised to Christian sexual morality. Is it all based on a mistranslation of New Testament Greek? Has Christian sexual morality been refuted by modern science??

Stay tuned. And subscribe now (upper right) if you would like to receive the next post in your inbox!

*Leviticus 19:29 says “do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute” – but it didn’t prohibit her from entering voluntarily.

For a concise, easily accessible introduction to Natural Law from a Protestant perspective, see: David Haines & Andrew A Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (The Davenant Trust, 2017).

Weathering Climate Change, by Dr. Hugh Ross

You all know how this game is played. A well known author comes out with book on a controversial, divisive, politically charged subject. For some, the only thing they want to know is whether it takes their side. Hopefully, many more harbor a genuine desire to understand the issue better. Climate debate has been polarized for quite some time. It is a complicated subject that involves scientific observations, attempts to model future climate, and costly public policy. Hugh Ross’s “Weathering Climate Change” is not a battle manual for political partisans. For everyone else, it’s a gem.

What qualifies Dr. Ross to speak on this topic? He is not, after all, a climatologist. An obvious question warrants an obvious answer. For billions of years, our climate has mostly been driven by the environment of space in which our planet spins – something astrophysicist Ross is particularly well-qualified to evaluate.

The book is broken into roughly three sections. The first four chapters survey the present state of public and scientific opinion on the matter of earth’s climate and how it might be affected by global carbon emissions. Ross shares recent polling data showing how concern over the issue varies markedly from nation to nation, and within nations according to political loyalties. No surprises there.

Ross detachedly summarizes the projections of most climatologists involved in this arena.

The picture they paint is bleak. In addition to food scarcity, floods, and droughts, global warming will likely give rise to disease epidemics and destructive swarms of pests and parasites. Marine and aquatic environments will experience toxic algae blooms, acidification, and deprivation of dissolved oxygen, with consequent drops in fish stocks. (p44)

However, Ross is mindful of the political partisanship and grandstanding attached to this issue. Things don’t have to be this way, Ross hopes. It hinges on whether we’re more interested in addressing the problem than defeating our political opponents:

Do win-win solutions exist? If they exist, can they be implemented quickly enough to avert disastrous consequences and avoid unintended ones? I’m convinced the answer to both questions may well be yes. However, they require interdisciplinary collaboration and international cooperation, and these require a dose of humility and civility that seem increasingly short in supply. (p 50)

The next and most comprehensive section guides the reader into the fascinating realm of paleoclimatology. Here, we are particularly concerned with the conditions and events that led to a series of ice ages and the remarkably stable climate of our current interglacial period. In these chapters, Ross leads us on an adventure back in time. Only then can we fully appreciate the moment in which we live.

Beginning 2.5 million years ago, the earth entered a period of advancing and retreating glaciation known collectively as the ice ages. Since that time, the higher latitudes and elevations have been under ice far more often than not. This strange new era in Earth’s climate history began with an extraordinary cosmic event, the crash of a giant asteroid off the tip of South American known as the Eltanin impact.

Since then, the earth has passed through a series of ice ages, coming and going according to a complex choreography of earth’s orbital eccentricity, the precession of its axis, and the oscillations in the axial tilt collectively known as the Milankovitch cycles. Earth’s orbit, in turn, is precisely modulated by gravitational effects from the larger outer planets, particularly Jupiter.

Now you might think ice ages would be hard on human civilization, and you’d be right – if we were in the middle of one! Yet, somehow civilization arose and prospered at the most perfect time possible. Since the end of the last glaciation, we have enjoyed a level of unprecedented climate stability unseen in earlier millennia. Thanks to those ancient ice ages, earth’s soil has been greatly enriched along with an abundant supply of fresh water both above and below the ground. These have enabled us to feed a world population of over seven billion.

This section is rich in detail on the wondrous “coincidences” that have led to our unique period of almost-perfect climate, far too many to summarize here. One of the most fascinating is the very recently discovered Hiawatha impact event in Greenland. This came at just the right point in our climate timeline to stabilize and prolong our current interglacial period, or today there might already be a mile of ice where Toronto now sits.

Most people assume that the greatest long term threat is runaway heating from greenhouse gases. Not so, contends Dr. Ross. Granted, the climate isn’t going to stay like this forever. However, while most scientists and writers focus on the short-term effects of global warming, Dr. Ross takes the long term perspective. Ice ages come and go and come back again. Now, you might think global warming would be great if it delays the next ice age. However, the past record shows that every new glaciation event was preceded by a rise in atmospheric CO2. While the science is still preliminary, there is a growing body of evidence that human-caused CO2 release could actually accelerate the next ice age, possibly on timespans of less than a few hundred years. The tundras of North America and northern Eurasia are cold but extremely arid. Melting of the north polar ice cap should result in increased precipitation in those northern latitudes, leading to a progressive accumulation of snow and ice. By the time the cycle begins, it may be far too late to slow or stop. Much of the evidence for this hypothesis has only been published in the last 2 years.

In Chapter 20, Dr. Ross describes many of the proposals being floated for mitigation of the CO2 induced greenhouse effect, along with their pros and cons. He objectively evaluates many proposed strategies in the categories of geoengineering, resource management, technology, and power production, without shutting down the world economy in the process. Any number of them show great promise. Ross expresses a hope, which I wholly share, that people of good will can lay down their partisan swords and work together to preserve and protect the amazing world God has given us.

This is a delightful and fascinating tour through earth’s recent climate history. Believers will be filled with awe at the marvelous handiwork of the Creator, with each new year of scientific discovery unfolding still greater wonders. Unbelievers and skeptics may at least appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in these times and might be challenged to consider just how many coincidences can one tolerate before one begins to suspect the deck is stacked. Whether or not we agree on matters of faith, we can still work together to protect this glorious planet we all call home.

Part 1: What have we learned?

For several weeks now, the Spaniel and I have been poring over charts, analyzing the data, and perusing commentary from multiple reliable sources (and occasional not-so-reliable ones) in order to provide you, our esteemed fan base, with trustworthy evidence-based guidance for what the future brings. Discretion is often the better part of valor, and those who strike first usually miss. We thought about issuing our predictions weeks ago. We were wise not to.

In mid-March, there was cause for optimism that COVID was “no worse than the flu”. Well, that rather depends on which flu one has in mind. The 1918 Spanish flu was devastating. Indeed, le Spaniel et moi were hopeful that COVID would follow a more benign course, comparable to a severe seasonal flu. One early indicator would be Italy. Annual flu deaths in Italy run about 8,000. By March 26, the total COVID deaths in Italy crossed that threshold and continued to rise. They are now slowly approaching 30,000. Could Italy be near the peak? Four times 8,000 would be 32,000. Interestingly, one writer inferred from an early German antibody screen that the fatality rate would be about four times deadlier than the seasonal flu.

COVID also differs from the flu in two key respects. First, it is much more contagious. It is transmitted more easily between persons, leading to a much more rapid spread. This was reflected in the speedy dissemination through nations and around the globe, with exponential growth rates in both infections and fatalities. The second difference has been the degree to which COVID can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers.

One of the more curious aspects to this pandemic we have learned is the surprising frequency of asymptomatic infections. This is a double-edged sword. On the one side, it means the disease is not as lethal as raw numbers might suggest. On the other side, it means that containment is much more difficult.

After several months of study, we are closing in on answers to some of the most critical questions.

What is the real mortality rate?

Many casual observers have focused on the case fatality rate (CFR) a simple – and simplistic – ratio of recorded deaths to recorded cases. This results in a wide range of estimates, from 0.09% (Singapore) to 15.7% (Belgium). This number is wildly misleading for a host of reasons, but especially because most recorded cases and even more deaths were among the elderly. In Singapore, almost all of the cases have been among young migrant workers living in dormitories, among whom the fatality rate is exceedingly low. One thing that we knew early on was that the fatality rate was highly age-dependent, from nearly zero among those under 20 to 15% or higher among the most elderly:

It is important to emphasize that the CFR’s in the chart above are considering only diagnosed, symptomatic infections, who were more likely to be severely ill or hospitalized. Much more relevant is the infection fatality rate (IFR). This is the actual chance of someone dying from infection with the virus. This number allows us to predict the risk for an individual who is infected, but also can predict the impact on a large population. Even among diagnosed cases, the IFR varies wildly with age and is extremely low among those younger than 40. However, to get an accurate IFR, we need to know how many have actually been infected, so…

How many have been infected?

Officially, there are now over 3.6 million cases worldwide (May 4) and over 1.2 million in the US alone. This number is almost certainly low due to limited test availability, false negative test results, and – especially – the very high rate of asymptomatic infections.

We knew from the outset that many infections were asymptomatic. This is important for several reasons. First, the disease is not as lethal on a percentage basis if there is a significantly large cohort that gets infected without falling ill. Second, the disease is extremely difficult to contain if it can be transmitted by apparently healthy people. Third, it raises the tantalizing prospect that so-called “herd immunity” could some sooner than many expect. “Herd immunity” is a poor choice of words, since we cannot yet prove that recovering from the disease actually confers immunity. Nonetheless, every epidemic eventually burns out or we’d have gone extinct eons ago.

The first clues of asymptomatic infection came from studies in China and the cruise ship Diamond Princess, resulting in estimates of 25-50%. That would mean for every 100 known infections, there were 33 to 100 unknown ones.

Later studies using a variety of methods pointed to even higher rates. In late March, a multinational team of researchers applied mathematical modeling to internet usage to trace the spread of COVID in China. Its spread could only be explained if 86% of the early cases were “undocumented” – meaning, unsuspected and undiagnosed. The best explanation would be that that were minimally or asymptomatic. If true, there might be 7 asymptomatic infections for every symptomatic one.

This was mirrored by a second study in early April that used a completely different approach. In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, some New York obstetricians reported on the testing of 215 consecutive inpatients tested for coronavirus. Thirty-three tested positive; only four (12%) were symptomatic. Asymptomatics outnumbered symptomatics again, by seven to one.

By late April, several sites were reporting initial results of random antibody testing that could indicate how many had been infected. While there have been legitimate concerns about both the accuracy of the tests and the methodology of the studies, they again point to many asymptomatic infections. On the day the results were released (April 23), Governor Cuomo surmised that as many as 2.7 million New Yorkers had already been infected. That was over 10 times the number of confirmed cases on that date – and antibodies are a lagging indicator. It takes up to two weeks for the antibodies to become detectable. The actual ratio of asymptomatic to symptomatic could be even higher.

Take the age-adjusted case fatality rates from the prior illustration and apply them to the US population. If no cases were asymptomatic and everyone fell obviously ill – an impossible 100% – we would expect an overall IFR of 1.15% and a staggering 3.8 million deaths. But if seven out of eight are asymptomatic, the IFR drops to 0.14% causing 474,000 deaths, still assuming 100% get infected. A more realistic assumption would be an infection rate of around 60%, bringing the total mortality down to about 284,000. That’s with no effective treatment and no public precautions. We’re now a quarter of the way there nationally. The state-wide death rate in NY is closing in on 0.14%. It could end up exceeding that but appears quite unlikely to go much higher.

What has been the disease trajectory in the US and other countries?

The European states that were hit earliest and hardest showed a rapid rise in cases that peaked in a few weeks but then steadily declined. This was most notable in Spain, Netherlands, and Italy, where the nationwide death rates reached around 500 per million. France and Belgium followed similar trajectories shortly afterwards.

Because of this, most expected the US to follow a similar path. We appeared to hit a peak of 34,517 cases on April 4 and that record stood for 20 days, with slowly declining numbers. However, daily deaths hit a new high of 2683 on April 21 and on April 24 new cases rebounded with a new daily record of 38,598:

Why did the US not behave like Europe? Perhaps because the United States is more like 50 individual countries, with profound local disparities. When cases in the US were rising rapidly, most of those were concentrated in the regions around New York City, Detroit, and New Orleans. These regions actually did follow the expected trajectory. However, as cases began to fall in these areas, they began to rise in others. As a result, total US cases and deaths have remained virtually flat for three weeks.

A second compelling fact to consider is that the death rates in Europe only began to show marked declines after per capita mortality hit a certain level. The per capita mortality in the US remains less than 1/3 that of Belgium, less than ½ that of Spain, Italy, and the UK, and almost ½ that of France. Yet on a local level, the statewide mortality of New York (0.13%) is higher than any European state. After hitting such a high level, the daily death rate in New York City has been dropping even faster:

There has been surprisingly little correlation between public containment strategies and the local course of the epidemic. In Illinois – among the first to issue a stay-at-home decree (March 21) – cases are increasing at an increasing rate.

In Florida, one of the last (April 3) to issue a state-wide decree, new cases have trended downward for a month:

Most cities and states never saw the surge in patients that had been expected. While personal protective equipment has been in short supply – truly a serious problem – there was never a ventilator shortage. The one metropolitan area that saw huge volumes of patients over a very short period of time – New York City – never came close to exhausting the reserve capacity that had been mobilized.


In summary, we have learned that COVID is highly infectious, and moderately lethal with an infection fatality rate that may be about four times worse than the common flu, or a little higher. All signs point to a very high rate of asymptomatic infections. The upside to that is that it remains much less deadly than predicted initially. The downside is that makes it much more difficult to track and contain.

In our next installment, what does all this signify for the future and what’s the endgame? Some of the nation’s most experienced analysts are beginning to reach a consensus on this. Stay tuned, sign up for our notifications (top right) and we’ll take a look in the coming weeks. In the meantime, go take your dog for another walk.

(Part 1 of a three-part series.)

Less than four weeks ago I was looking forward to a week in Colorado for some late-season skiing and to check up on our summer home, about to be vacated by six Latin American ski-season guests. [Lacking a Real-ID, the Spaniel wasn’t going to be able to make this trip]. Within a few days, the COVID really hit the fan. On March 16, I flew from Atlanta to Vail on a Boeing 757 with three passengers on board. The service was amazing.

Suddenly, our nation was in panic, its people hunkered down, the economy in free fall. The ski resorts closed for the season, public assemblies were banned, meetings were cancelled, restaurants restricted to take-out service – all soon followed by state-wide “stay-at-home” orders. (Bizarrely, as of this writing eight US states have decreed that marijuana dispensaries are an “essential business” and have permitted them to stay open. Because, you know, this is a perfect time to be dropping our inhibitions).

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Cynics commonly remark that financial experts have predicted thirty of the last three recessions. One might also say thirty of the last three pandemics have been similarly predicted. There is an observable tendency to overpredict disaster that is deeply rooted in human personality and yet not exactly irrational. People are risk-averse and instinctively choose minimizing loss over maximizing gain across a variety of situations. When an unknown number of lives are at stake, it is perfectly reasonable to err on the side of caution. Medical people in particular possess a mindset oriented toward doing “whatever it takes” to save a life (within the realm of possibility). That is probably what you hope for when your number comes up.

In rapid succession we went from a mysterious new virus showing up in Wuhan in December, to a deadly epidemic in China in January, to global spread in February, to economic shutdown in March. The only data we had were the numbers from China, coupled with a concern that, if allowed to proceed unchecked, hundreds of millions might die.

The Number Games

Just how many could die from COVID? Everything depended on the numbers, particularly the mortality rate. Would COVID be just another flu-type pandemic, with an average mortality rate of 0.1% and an estimated 650,000 annual deaths worldwide? We don’t shut down the global economy for the flu. The initial numbers for COVID looked much worse. As recently as February 24, Chinese health officials and the WHO were estimating a mortality rate of 3-4%. By early March, terrifying reports from Italy described an exponential rise in cases, overwhelmed hospital systems, and overflowing morgues. This didn’t look anything like flu, which fells an estimated 8,000 Italians each year over a period of many months. It was probably the situation in Italy more than any other factor that galvanized America into action.

On March 16, the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team predicted that without active suppression, the US should expect deaths approaching 2.2 million or more. To avoid a similar fate, we had to “flatten the curve”. It might never keep you from catching it, but at least when you did there might be room in the hospital.

Just one day later, internationally renowned researcher John Ioannidis of Stanford says “hold on, there.” Is this a once-in-a-century pandemic? Or a “once-in-a-century fiasco”? Ioannidis was concerned that – based on current data – the mortality rate might be much lower, on par with a bad flu outbreak. While death rates among the elderly were quite high, death rates among the young were very low. Ioannidis suspected the overall fatality rate might lie between 0.05 and 1.0%. At the upper range, it would still be ten times deadlier than the flu. He speculated that the death toll could even be as low as 10,000. Drastic measures might be truly necessary, but we needed better data to know for sure.

Needless to say, there’s quite a difference between 10,000 – fewer than a typical flu season – and 2.2 million. Well, that was three weeks ago. Most developed countries instituted strict social distancing and business closures. New COVID cases in Italy peaked on March 21 and have been declining since. Deaths in Italy peaked 6 days later – March 27 – and have since dropped by almost half. Spain followed a similar trajectory about one week later.

On March 29 Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted, on a somewhat more positive note, that US deaths could be limited to the range of 100,000 to 200,000 if restrictive policies were successfully implemented. At that time, the total US death count remained below 3,000. He was using projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

In subsequent weeks, both deaths and total cases have fallen at the low end of projections. The total US death count was revised downward to 82,000 on April 5, then 60,000 (real-time projection on April 7). COVID remains primarily a threat to the elderly. Worldwide, 95% of deaths are in persons over 60 years of age. More than half are over 80. In New York, 83% of deaths have been in persons over 60, and 37% were over 80.

So what is the case fatality rate?

The case-fatality rate (CFR) is a simple ratio of deaths divided by the number of people who catch it. We have a pretty good grasp of the deaths. Some may go uncounted while others may be falsely counted, but we have to go with what we’ve got. The real problem is knowing the denominator – how many people have or have had the disease. It is universally acknowledged that many have been infected with the virus and have little or even no symptoms. We call those “subclinical infections”, and this is a known phenomenon for many infectious diseases. One of the most famous cases concerned the notorious “Typhoid Mary”, a cook and asymptomatic typhoid carrier who moved from household to household in the early 20th century infecting every family in her wake. There have been many reports of COVID transmission by asymptomatic carriers.

Untold others may have mild symptoms but either didn’t seek testing or couldn’t get it. The estimated proportions of undiagnosed cases have ranged from as low as 25% to as high as 94% worldwide. Meaning, for every 100 who get sick, there might be as few as 33 or as many as 1,600 who have been infected but are not reflected in the data. Anything approaching the high end of that range would mean a CFR far below 1.0%.

On March 30, a team of researchers publishing in Lancet calculated a CFR of 0.66% – near the middle of the range suggested by Ioannidis. (While the US total death count has already exceeded his lowest estimate of 10,000, that was assuming only 1% of the US population got infected, with a CFR of 0.3%. We may already be well past 1% of the population).

In any case, it is well-established that the case fatality rate is very high in the most elderly, but also extremely low in individuals under 40.

Where are we now?

Looking back three weeks at the wildly divergent projections of IHME and Ioannidis, we’ve seen a convergence of estimates and are probably at or very close to peak infection. The daily new cases in the US topped 34,000 on April 4 and have fluctuated within a narrow range since April 2. US deaths are currently just below 2,000 per day and the IHME projects we are at or near a peak.

The US health care system has not experienced the disastrous overload experienced in Italy. Many hospitals in New York City were swamped, but we were able to scale up very quickly. This revealed one pitfall behind some of the sunnier forecasts – even if the death rate were low, it could still be disastrous if the illness spread very quickly and everyone fell ill at once. And COVID certainly spreads quickly. By one recent analysis, it may be five times more infectious – and spread that much more quickly – than the common flu.

Fortunately, the worst predictions were unrealized. Much yet depends on what the next week or two bring us. No one is quite sure how or when the economy can resume. Only now has it been possible to undertake antibody testing, which may ultimately give a more accurate picture of the total scope of infection and reveal who may be immune and thus able to safely circulate in public. [The Spaniel wishes to remind you that you can’t catch COVID from your dog, but cats are bad news]. 

In the next post, we’ll look at some important lessons to be learned, and how Christians should – and should not – respond to crisis.


Whatever happened to the Boy Scouts of America?

On Tuesday, February 18, 2020 a once-great American institution filed for bankruptcy; a casualty, according to some, of western cultural wars. In “A Badge of Disgrace”, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council blames their demise entirely on policy changes of the last seven years.. It was, he declared, “an unhappy ending we all warned was coming.” Except nobody could have, really. Because the seeds of demise were planted decades earlier.

Growing up

Scouting was one of the formative influences in my youth. I didn’t exactly jump in with both feet; there was certainly some parental “guidance” at work. I was a geek long before it became both fashionable – and lucrative! I would far rather stay indoors building a shortwave radio or reading good sci-fi than catch and clean a fish or crawl through mud. (Fires were always fun, though. Still are.) But with the maturity of age, I came to appreciate what Scouting gave me. Scouting pushed me out of my comfort zone – exactly the sort of “snowflake prevention” we need more of today.

Grammar school and junior high were not a happy time. After two weeks of first grade I was promoted directly to second, leaving me much younger than peers and much smaller. The bullying began in earnest around grade 5 and continued until the eighth grade, when a perceptive and merciful science teacher rescued me from that outer ring of hell known as junior high PE (aka “Lord of the Flies Redux”) and got me transferred to choir. My attitudes, grades, and personal safety rebounded promptly, but I preferred being alone. I could have become permanently isolated, but Scouts kept me engaged. In Scouts, I genuinely enjoyed time with peers closer to my age and we were well supervised. Bullying was rare, and never long tolerated.

Through Scouting I grew to love and respect the majesty of God’s Creation, even – somehow – in central Texas. En route to Eagle Scout, I naturally pursued merit badges in the things I loved – electronics, computers, space exploration – but the required badges brought me proficiency in valuable skills I would not ordinarily have sought –swimming, lifesaving, cooking, citizenship, physical fitness.

After I became a dad, I introduced my first son to Scouting. He grew to appreciate it, and like his father ultimately attained the rank of Eagle. He grew into a highly self-sufficient and responsible adult with great love and respect for the wilderness. My second son came several years later, and we started him in Cub Scouts where he rose to Webelo. During the final two years I served as Cubmaster for his Pack. However, by that time changes were afoot.

In the crossfire of the culture wars

Pressure had been building upon the Boy Scouts to conform to society’s shifting standards. In 2013 the Boy Scouts announced they would accept homosexual youth as members, driving an instant wedge between the Scouts and the many Christian churches that sponsored troops. Personally, I regarded the administrators’ decision as cowardly but of little practical significance. Having been a boy, having raised boys, and having been around many more, it was obvious that for normal, healthy eight to eleven-year-olds sexuality was the remotest thing from their minds. As for the scant few who might be struggling with such issues, perhaps they needed Scouting most of all. Keeping the door open for them seemed to be the compassionate thing to do. But in the aftermath of that decision, the church that sponsored our Pack began pressuring me to find another chartering organization. They wanted a divorce. I stalled them until my tenure ended, figuring it was their problem, not mine.

The next domino fell with the BSA’s 2016 decision to accept homosexual adults in leadership. This was much more problematic. For the preceding two decades the Boy Scouts had been besieged by lawsuits claiming sexual abuse of charges by their leaders, paying out millions in compensation. Essentially all were same-sex assaults, and most victims were pubescent or post-pubescent. It is a matter of heated dispute whether same-sex attracted males are more likely to seek unwilling underage partners, but that assumption is unnecessary. Even if the inclination is exactly equal to heterosexuals, logic would favor prudence. The sex drive is intense in all young men. It would be foolish and naïve to put teenage girls under the unsupervised care of a 22-year-old heterosexual man. How could putting young gay men in charge of teenage boys be any less imprudent? (Years ago, the Girl Scouts began accepting young males as leaders. The consequences were predictable, of course).

The final coup came in October 2017 when the Boy Scouts announced the end of 108 years of gender exclusivity. The Boy Scouts would now just be Scouts. The details were complicated. Troops wouldn’t be technically coed, and it would be a great opportunity for the young ladies, but it would no longer be the Boy Scouts. Perhaps it was a desperate effort to reverse the membership decline. If so, it failed.

Why decline and bankruptcy?

Organizations that endeavor to be ‘inclusive’ somehow always end up excluding many more.

Could the decline and bankruptcy have been prevented? Only by going back several decades. From its peak in the early 1970’s, membership in Scouting has plunged by over half. Much, if not most, of this could be attributed to more general social and cultural changes and increased competition from other activities. The more recent drop, however, might have been slowed or reversed. Membership had been falling for decades but the decline accelerated significantly after the 2013 policy changes. In kowtowing to contemporary sexual mores, the national leadership thumbed its collective nose at the ethics of its major American chartering organizations: Protestant, Catholic, and Mormon churches. (As so often happens, organizations that endeavor to be “inclusive” somehow always end up excluding many more). The most acute hemorrhage occurred at the end of December, 2019 when the Mormon Church (400,000 Scouts, approximately 20% of the remaining membership) terminated its chartering arrangements. Many departing Churches switched to alternative scouting programs like Trail Life but the disadvantages are considerable. Options like summer camp require a critical mass of participants and considerable capital investment. The substitutes usually lack these advantages, nor are all of them specifically for boys. Furthermore, fragmentation by denomination results in more in-group isolation in an era of intense polarization. There is a positive social good achieved by bringing people from differing backgrounds into a common community.

Sexual predators exist and always have. They will always find their prey and they know where to look.

As far as the bankruptcy is concerned, it seems that die was cast decades ago. The so-called sexual revolution of the 1960’s resulted in profound changes in American sexual behavior. Traditional sexual boundaries were increasingly mocked, and by most available measures there was an increase in promiscuity of all types. A monster was unleashed. Sexual predators exist and always have. They will always find their prey and they know where to look. The Boy Scouts became a prime target in an era when background checks were hard to get, legal reporting requirements had not been widely adopted, and a national database of sex offenders would have been inconceivable. Beginning in the late 1960’s there was a notable increase in abuse that persisted into the late 1980’s. It has since declined for a multitude of reasons, but increased vigilance on the part of the Boy Scouts played a crucial role.

The BSA was now at the mercy of the American tort system, which knows no mercy. Once the litigation dreadnought has locked on a target, few institutions can survive the onslaught.

Data compiled by the LA Times and others indicate that charges against Scout leaders rose rapidly in the late 1980’s, peaking around 1990 when expulsions from leadership also peaked. The alleged abuses would have been still earlier, when no one was sounding alarms for the demise of Scouting. The BSA was now at the mercy of the American tort system, which knows no mercy. Once the litigation dreadnought has locked on a target, few institutions can survive the onslaught.

In retrospect, the Scouts probably handled the situation as well as anyone of that era, and almost certainly better than the Catholic Church. Thousands of perpetrators were exposed and permanently banned. A national blacklist was maintained to prevent them from reapplying elsewhere. Sure, there were cases where the Scouts reacted too slowly or cautiously, but that is inescapable in any organization. Predators do not come with labels and are eerily gifted at concealing their nature and intent. Humans by nature are biased toward trusting one another. This is essential to the functioning of society. Trust no one and the system collapses. Trust everyone and you will sometimes be fooled. Maintaining that balance is tricky. A perfect balance is impossible.

Our boys are the losers

The appropriate response from conservatives and Christians should be one of mourning, not “I told you so.” America is failing its young men tragically. While radical mobs with their torches and pitchforks agitate for revolution against the “patriarchy”, reports from the ground indicate it’s been vanquished for some time and is clinging to life support. Compared to women, men are:

  • Less likely to take honors classes, go to college, graduate from college, or earn a graduate degree
  • 2.4 times more likely to be homeless
  • 4.5 times more likely to commit suicide
  • 7.7 times more likely to be in jail
  • 13 times more likely to die on the job
  • And the list goes on

America’s young men are hurting. The causes are well-known. For a multitude of reasons, historic numbers of children are growing up without a father. The disastrous social consequences are irrefutable, and boys suffer disproportionately. Now, more than ever before, boys and young men need long term steady relationships with responsible mature male figures – exactly what the Boy Scouts could, and did, provide. No, it’s not the only solution. Sports provides that outlet for many, but sports aren’t for everyone, and never offered the broad training in life skills. Of all civil institutions, America’s churches offer the best hope for filling this void.

We should all pray for the success of offshoot organizations and revival of the Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting alternatives:

Trail Life, USA: Protestant

Columbian Squires: Catholic

Children and Youth: LDS

For more complete lists, visit:

Non-aligned Scouting and Scout-like organisations (Wikipedia)

Scout-like and Scouting Alternative Organizations (Troop 97, Colorado)