Doug Wilson's confession of faith

New Warhorn Media post by Brian Bailey and Joseph Bayly:

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I generally agree with the main points of the article, also with the conclusion. But in my opinion the “Facts” section is very poor, polemic and at the very least disputable. There are very smart people, epidemiologists, doctors, computer science people who are skeptics on many issues wrt COVID 19 (transmission, lethality, treatment) and to bring placative “objections” doesn’t facilitate a good exchange and will certainly not convince anyone. It sends the message “you’re just stupid and can’t read”

Only when you are able to acknowledge the basic facts that the models were right can we begin to reason about what we might well have done differently. If your commitment is to disregard the civil authorities and your convenient justification is based (unbiblically) on the magistrate being massively wrong, it is no surprise you are unwilling to be corrected on the facts.

Yes, you are right, for “masks” that’s correct. The exact same paragraph can be written for climate models. It depends on what the civil authorities will enact, how far reaching their decrees will be. And what if this “committment to disregard the civil authorities” isn’t the motivation, just honest criticality (discernment) ?

The Protestant church in Eastern Germany was very divided whether their socialist government is to be obeyed. They have lived through this for 40 years. Many made mistakes, on both sides. I would urge you to take into account their experiences and battles.

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AndreasM - an interesting point you make, could you give further examples which may be relevant in and to our context? Thanks.

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Yes.
For the non-obeying:

  • There was extensive smuggling of literature, clearly forbidden
  • Very often meetings had to be kept secret, the “Junge Gemeinde” was an illegal youth organisation and forbidden.
  • If you didn’t disavow your faith you had to leave high school, you could not study at the university. If you were not part of the youth org of the socialist party you didn’t have much chances to go to a university. (Angel Merkel was in this youth organisation btw responsible for “cultural activities”)
  • Some church people from the West publicly declared that the DDR government is so unrighteous that the christians shouldn’t regard it as God-ordained (yes, it happened back then!)
  • Pastor Oskar Brüsewitz burned himself to death in 1976 in protest. Labeled a psychopath by the government.

Obeying:

  • After the re-unification an official of the Protestant Church, Manfred Stolpe got elected to an office that equals more or less your state governor in one state. After some time it came to light that during the socalist rule he had very close contacts to the regime and might even have helped to get some of his brothers in Christ into prison. Huge debate after this about what was helping the Christians and what didn’t wrt relations with the government.
  • A very prominent, resisting pastor, Theo Lehmann, found out how one of his best friends in the church spied on him. There are many videos on YT with him talking about this time, they are in German though. For instance he tells how he was afraid every night to wake up to somebody standing next to his bed taking him to prison.
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Thanks for the helpful pushback, brother.

Not at all my goal. Rather, the “right” has been telling just as big of “whoppers” as the left in order to justify themselves. Not stupid and unable to read, but rather “lied to.” And the particular lies that I pointed out have been widely disseminated by the right, and the vast majority of Christians that I’ve interacted with have no idea that they are lies. It was time to set the record straight on some simple facts. Truth matters, and we cannot simply throw our hands up and say that everybody has their own facts. Theologicallly, Pastor Wilson’s arguments rest on false claims about the basic meanings of words, but it is just as important to note that he is basing his practical justifications on false claims as well. And I expect much more of Pastors Wilson and Sumpter in reading and verifying the facts than I do of the layman looking to them to help interpret the world around them—especially since they are depending on those incorrect facts to support their arguments.

No, not for masks, but for social distancing. Until very recently nobody has included masks in their models. The reason for this is that the data on masks is incredibly thin still. We are basically guessing on the basis of common sense and a little bit of data, some of which is conflicting. The nice thing is that, unlike social distancing or any of the proposed climate change mitigations, masks are not economically ruinous, so we don’t have to even bother arguing about whether it is worth the huge toll they will create in other areas. There are places where they are seriously problematic, like schools, but they are not ruinous, like medium to long-term shutdowns. (Basically, this is @bencarmack’s argument, now that I think about it.)

I really don’t think so.

The comparison between COVID-19 models and climate models is natural, but the difference between them is huge. [And here is another untruth that I didn’t mention yet, that is worth pointing out; It is most certainly not the “same people“ making the models or telling us what we should do, as some in Moscow and elsewhere have claimed.] Truth still exists, and science is still a wonderful, Godly pursuit, no matter how much it has become politicized and abused.

But the two sciences and their models are completely different. One of them is dealing with a timeframe of weeks and months, while the other one is dealing with a timeframe of decades and centuries. One of them we tested taking their advice, while the other one we have so far tested not taking their advice. One of them is modeling something quite limited, while the other is modeling the “climate,” which includes multiple orders of magnitude more inputs, outputs, unknowns and uncontrollables, not to mention black swan events (which is a given, due to the time-frames under consideration).

Having said that, we are not justified in spreading lies and disinformation about either one. As a faithful elder and scientist said to me a few years ago: something is happening up in Alaska. Denying the simple, confirmable facts is not a recipe for truth and light in either area of study. We can argue about the causes, and what, if anything we should do about those facts, and what costs are worth it or not, but not if we are unwilling to deal with facts in the first place.

But let me get to the most important difference between the two: nobody is trying to convince Christians that civil disobedience is morally required in the areas where the government has acted on climate change, because climate science is wrong.

Great question. But all evidence points to the contrary, because they constantly bring these claims up as the justification for disregarding, and they refuse to engage in any discussion about them, instead simply declaring them over and over again, without any supporting evidence whatsoever. It is not honest criticality or discernment to say that the models were "“wildly—cosmically off base” when we can simply go and look at the models and see that they were perfectly accurate in the paths we took. No amount of massaging the facts or bare assertion to the contrary can do away with those simple facts.

This does not prove that the course the government(s) took were good and right, obviously. It simply proves that one of the primary justifications that Pastor Wilson is using is not a fact but an unexamined, false presupposition. And all the evidence is that he is unwilling to even look at that presupposition.

I look forward to learning from that context, but the people of God have been living through this for thousands of years, really. And the Westminster Standards are really quite good in laying out how Christians should approach the issue.

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An excerpt from Wilson’s post today:

What should one do if one’s own church requires masking in order to attend (everyone, 3 years and up)? I’ve just returned with my 6-year-old (the others were sick) 2 weeks ago, and it bothers me so much. I really think our leadership is trying their best to do what’s right, but even the government in Houston, Tx doesn’t require masking in church.

Lindsey

Doug responds:

Lindsey, if the church is otherwise healthy, and the leaders are otherwise good men, I would try to work with them. This does not mean masking up in worship, but doing things like asking them for their blessing for you to worship at home, including the Lord’s Supper. Ask them to be specific on their end game–when will this state of affairs be over, and what will be the criteria they will use? All very respectful, and so on. But if this is the last straw, the most recent in a series of compromises that disturb you, then begin looking for another church home.

These are fascinating, but I guess I don’t really see any question as to whether the particular “obeying” examples you gave were justified. They’re obviously improper, aren’t they?

I’m sure mistakes were made on both sides, but overall it doesn’t seem like the situation is an apropos comparison to what we are facing today. Again, I think the principles laid out in the Westminster Standards are very good and biblical, and we ought to be starting from there, and applying particular things learned in similar situations.

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I’m grateful for this post, because it gives me a well earned opportunity to eat crow. I was a scoffer at the White House’s 100,000-240,000 deaths figure back several months back. And I was dead wrong. I’m an engineer and I’m innumerate. I’m sure it bodes well for my future career.

The White House did, if memory serves, later back down from their bold prediction. But it turns out they were right the first time.

If I have time, I may write more, but wanted to make sure to log an apology and retraction first.

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Dear Pastor Wilson,

In today’s post, you state the following:

"We also believe that many of the churches across the nation that are imposing this requirement on their people are doing so because of their general feckless approach to everything. But we don’t believe that about Warhorn, and we don’t believe it about some of the churches in our own communion that have taken this same approach. We make a clear distinction between the two.

We have made this very point while encouraging individuals who have been banned from worship unless they have a mask. If your leaders have been otherwise faithful — clear on LGBTQ issues, not woke at all, faithful in their exposition of Scripture, etc. — do everything you can to work with them as dutiful members."

Yesterday, in your comment to Lindsey, you said the following:

“Lindsey, if the church is otherwise healthy, and the leaders are otherwise good men, I would try to work with them. This does not mean masking up in worship…”

So… are the members of a church where masks are mandated during worship supposed to submit to their elders in the question of wearing masks or not?

It seems to me that your answer is “no.” Which makes me think that the title of the Warhorn post is right: this is a confessional issue for you.

As the Warhorn article points out, you’ve consistently said that wearing a mask is statist idolatry. That’s what I was accused of today. Yet you don’t use the word “idolatry” once in this post, as if the question of whether or not mask mandates are statist idolatry is irrelevant to the question.

If a mask mandate is statist idolatry, then we are in serious error to require masks at our worship service. Not the kind of error that you can simply carve out an exception for.

But, if not, then parishioner at church x above should be exhorted to submit to his elders. Right?

Posted here: https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/warhorn-moscow-and-binding-consciences.html#comment-231461

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Pastor Wilson’s response:

Lucas, by “work with,” I meant coming up with respectful counter-proposals that might address everyone’s concerns. E.g. “May we come fifteen minutes early and sit in the back of the balcony?” If they cannot come up with a solution, then it time to recognize that it is a choice between submitting and asking to be transferred.

On issues like this one, idolatry lurks in the motives and intentions, and so I would be wary of saying that “Murphy is an idolater.” I can’t see his heart. But when idolatry appears in such situations, it would be in the mandating, not in the masking.

Posted here: https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/warhorn-moscow-and-binding-consciences.html#comment-231480

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With respect, I think your detailed appeal to the “facts on the ground” actually weakens all your other points.

If the issue, at root, has to do with authority and submission – whether we’re talking about the church “institution” (as headed by the elders) submitting to the civil magistrate, or the parishioner submitting to the elders – then isn’t your personal evaluation of the COVID data completely moot?

I mean, Mama don’t care if Junior has reservations about the sugar content of his applesauce. When Mama tells him to eat it, he’s going to eat it. Maybe I am looking at it too simply, but isn’t that ultimately where the discussion of authority has to end? It ends with the person in authority having the moral right to demand obedience to their instructions, regardless of whether or not the subordinate agrees with him, doesn’t it?

If your argument is that we should obey elders and civil magistrates by virtue of the fact that they possess authority, then I guess I don’t see why you even bother bringing your analysis of the COVID data into the discussion. Is it to say that if the data were different, you’d be defying the civil magistrates? If so, you seem to be contradicting yourself. Or did you only bring this data up specifically as it relates to interacting with Pastor Wilson?

Still chewing on all of this. Thanks.

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Thanks for this. Our public health experts may end up being wrong about masks. But as of now they’re not so wrong that they should be blown off, especially if local rulers are calling for a mask mandate for indoor gatherings.

I get the impression that Moscow, ID is a unique situation. It seems like the officiousness of the officials is WAY out of proportion with the current status of COVID locally. I suspect that’s coloring all of their commentary.

Happily we’ve been able to meet outside all summer. So we’ve just been distancing w/o requiring masks. But the weather won’t hold out forever. As we’re finalizing our indoor plans I know the group that’s going to whine the most are my bros who love DW et al.

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Engaging the virus problem without engaging the data is a needle you can’t thread.

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@jtbayly

Brother, got to say I don’t think the ‘facts’ section in this article is good. Wish I had more time to comment over the past few months, but a few points. Aside from needlessly stating the opposition in a way that frames them as idiots:

Objection 1: “But they count everybody who dies as a Covid death!”

…they only counted 65% of the unexpected deaths as Covid deaths.

By leaving it at this it might give the impression that covid deaths have been undercounted. But, as I’m sure you know, the reason for the non-covid unexpected deaths is that around one third (or more) of excess deaths are caused in various indirect ways by the lockdown itself rather than Covid (e.g. people with chest pains not going to hospital etc.). In the UK we have similar proportions of excess ‘non-covid deaths’ and until very recently, our criteria counted everyone who was ever diagnosed with Covid, who subsequently died (even if they had recovered from Covid) as a Covid death. Thus making it impossible, statistically, to ever recover from Covid. This national embarrassment was only recently corrected, revising our Covid death toll down by around 10%.

Then, even more importantly, there is still good reason to believe that co-morbidity is not adequately factored in. By looking at annual ‘excess deaths’ rather than ‘covid deaths’ it becomes apparent that many who died of Covid would soon have died anyway from other illnesses they already had. That’s why annual excess deaths are not particularly exceptional. This is crucial context that is missing from your analysis.

Objection 2: “But that other study said our ER’s would be overwhelmed and 1.2 million Americans would be dead even if we took extreme action immediately!”

No they didn’t. That’s a lie debunked back in March. Neil Ferguson’s Imperial study accurately predicted that, if we shut down, the peak would occur a few weeks later without overwhelming the country’s critical care capacity. It also accurately predicted the second spike of cases being much larger after we decreased our mitigation efforts.

In the UK, and as far as I can tell also in the US, there has not been a second spike of deaths even larger. ‘Cases’ are largely irrelevant unless you divide by number of tests (testing levels increased after lockdowns) and unless they issue in deaths. I’m afraid I must retract my implied support for Ferguson’s modelling that we previously discussed here. Aside from the fact that the range of deaths he gave was so wide as to be almost impossible to be wrong (20,000 to 500,000 for the UK) I think his model has proved to be wrong it 2 key respects. I will have to go read it again to confirm, but if I remember correctly:

  1. The paper argued that the only way to avoid run-away high death tolls was ‘supression’ (i.e. hard lockdown) and that ‘mitigation’ (soft lockdown) would still result in unacceptable deathtoll and overwhelming of hospitals. Well, Sweden have disproved this as they did not follow either. Listen to Ferguson being questioned on this point.
  2. His paper implies that the only solution avoiding these mega deathtolls is a vaccine, and thus that if you re-open without one, deaths will jtake-off again. Here we don’t need even need to turn to Sweden, as most countries re-opening has not caused this, despite no vaccine.

Objection 3: “But they were totally wrong about what would have happened if we took another course of action. There’s no way 2 million people would have died if we had just gone on with life as normal.”

That’s simply an opinion, and it is unverifiable.

Obviously that can be turned right round to say the same of those who claim ‘See, the lockdown worked!’. However, in addition to what I said above, we do have significant ‘live experiments’ to look to, namely what has been going on in countries that did not do Imperial-type lockdowns, like Sweden, yet clearly did not experience the magnitude of deaths expected. The original Imperial predictions were only for UK and US, so you need to scale the numbers on the Swedish population, as was done a couple of months ago by someone here:

Still, ask yourself this: Who do you trust more—the men paid to be experts in infectious diseases who accurately predicted what would happen in the course of action we took, or the men who can’t even admit that’s what happened, instead crowing about the models being wildly wrong?

But which experts? There are credible experts on both sides. And science is fraught with bias in politicised areas. One thing that has irked me somewhat in various Warhorn avenues is the pouring of scorn on men who try to assess the evidence themselves, rather than leaving our fate in the hands of the scientists, as Lord Sumption very well remarked. It is true we must be conscious of our abilities and training, but in this piece, are you guys not arrogating to yourself what is condemned in others? Despite being armchair experts yourselves, you have taken it upon yourselves to make an authoritative interpretation and pronouncement on the ‘FACTS’. I don’t begrudge you that, but please at least allow others the same liberty. And are you too not also in principle already going against the ‘experts’ by having (pre-emptively) chosen civil disobedience in your churches on the question of masks (for leaders) and singing (for all)?

Objection 4: “But it really is just like a severe flu season.”

No. It’s not… If we have any integrity, it is impossible to downplay this as a severe flu season.

Are we talking flu or flu/pneumonia here? In many European countries the numbers have actually corresponded to a mild flu season or less. Even in the UK, who I think have one of the (if not the) worst mortality stats in Europe, worse than the US, you only have to go back to 1999 to find the winter flu season giving more deaths:



When you ask the more relevant question, which is excess deaths rather than covid deaths, you get a truer picture of the scale of the situation. From the limited data I’ve seen from the US, a similar picture emerges as the UK. To respond that it was only because of the lockdown begs the question.

Objection 5: “But it wasn’t worth the economic cost, and people die from economic trouble, and they changed their tune on masks, and they are oppressing me.”

Only when you are able to acknowledge the basic facts that the models were right can we begin to reason about what we might well have done differently.

This stacks the debate in a way that must be rejected as it obscures the larger more important picture. The question of the response being wildly disproportionate to the malady should be front and centre. The burden of proof must be on those who wish to set fire to a valuable building (people’s livelihoods) to show that such measures are indeed needful. Don’t touch the match until you first show it to be so.

I offer these counter’s in the spirit of good debate. I wish I had more time to proof-read and sharpen the arguments, and know that some of my points could be made to be more directly applicable to yours. I know I focus a bit on the UK whereas you’re talking the US, but I think a lot of this is transferable, as our death toll is one of the worst.


For many months I’ve found this place one of the best to go to for a critical view on the covid situation:

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Sure. But the problem being examined on the table right now is not ultimately a virus problem. It’s an authority problem. As in, who has the authority to do this and that when people’s thoughts on the virus problem and what to do about it are in conflict.

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Not so sure brother. I’ve heard a number of people comment they will not go to the cinema now that masks are required, and will just do their shopping online. Could accelerate the death of the high street. Commentators have been making this point.

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I have a very simple model that shows that it will be almost impossible for the US to emerge from this with fewer deaths from Covid as a percentage of US population than was suffered in the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, even if authorities are over counting Covid deaths by 10%. I think it’s likely that we will pass the 1957 Asian Flu also, but that’s not a done deal yet. I believe that would make Covid worse than any flu season in living memory. (We are still a LONG way off from 1918 Spanish Flu, thank God.)

As for “excess deaths,” I’m not sure how to count that. We have taken such drastic action on Covid that I don’t know how to compare this year to last year. Certainly every year is different, but this year has been unprecedented in my lifetime, and I’m no longer an old man. Would large percentages of the population staying home tend to increase excess deaths or decrease them? I don’t know what to hypothesize, there are good arguments on all sides.

In general, I agree that the facts section of the OP has some problems. I think the intent is “Moscow’s argument fails on its own merits,” but as we can see from many of the posts here, it’s possible to have lots of perspectives on the data and the tradeoffs, which I think tends to weaken the overall argument.

From my standpoint, it’s a question of authority. If the civil authorities have the authority to mandate masks, then Jesus’s followers should absolutely respect them by wearing those masks. (We should perhaps even respect them in this if they don’t have the authority. But if they do, it’s not even a question.) My income tax is a lot more skin off my nose than my mask, and I’m specifically commanded to pay that, so I do.

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