Economics is in Deep Doo Doo

The Middle Ages overflowed with the numbers of dancing angels on the head of a pin … and our era is possessed by the idea of counting marginal optimization. In this light, however, the medieval discussion on how many angels could fit on the head of pin appears more realistic only because, as opposed to the secret terminology of theoretical economics, the head of a pin is real and the concept of an angel is accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, both ways of theorizing are not empirically measurable and outside of their own discourse they are nonsensical and inapplicable. They make sense only when locked in the given discourse–in their own world. (Sedlacek 2011, 315)

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Modern economics is sick. Economics has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences for understanding the economic world. Economists have converted the subject into a sort of social mathematics in which analytical rigor is everything and practical relevance is nothing [Blaug 1997:3]. (Lars Pålsson Syll 2016, On the use and misuse of theories in mainstream economics)

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Determinism, the idea that everything that happens must happen as it does and could not have happened any other way, and atomism, the idea that the world is made up of entities whose qualities are independent of their relations with other entities, are fundament [sic] components of classical mechanics. Atomism is also central to the concept of mind developed in John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published (1690) three years after Newton’s Principia. Locke’s general conception of the human mind became commonplace among 18th-century philosophers, so when Adam Smith came to write the foundational text for economics, The Wealth of Nations (1776), he had the example not only of Newton’s material atomism, but also of Locke’s extension of it to an altogether different area of inquiry. If atomism could form the basis of a theory of ideas, then why not apply it as well to a theory of human beings?

Of course Smith did not limit his vision of economic reality to what could be seen through the metaphysical lens of classical mechanics. But a century later the founders of Neoclassical economics did exactly that and even boasted that they were doing so. Their justification of course – and it was a plausible one at the time – was the enormous success that exclusive devotion to this approach had yielded in physics. In time, especially from the 1960s onwards, undivided allegiance to this determinist-atomistic narrative became, with few exceptions, a basic requirement for making a career in economics.

 

History, however, has shown that there was a great irony in economics’ decision to become zealously fixated on taking this particular approach toward economic reality. In the same decades that Neoclassical economics was being created, physics was moving rapidly away from its insistence upon the determinist-atomistic narrative and towards narrative pluralism. (Fullbrook 2016, 1) (….) But economics – except among a now widening fringe heavily supported by the young – remains locked in the same narrative dogmatism from which physics escaped a century and a half ago. Meanwhile economic evolution has continued. And as the gap between economic reality and the Neoclassical portrayal of it grows ever wider, Neoclassical voices become shriller and their arguments, when placed within the context of the realworld, ever more farcical. Understandably in self-defence, but shamelessly and ultimately at great cost to humanity, economics in its traditional centres moves ever further away from the ethos of science and becomes ever more ruthlessly devoted to scientism…. Scientism is always a farce, but in this case it is one leading humanity towards devastation. We, economists and non-economists, urgently need to understand this intellectual cult threatening us all. ~ Narrative Fixation in Economics (Fullbrook 2016, 1-2)

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For more than three decades, macroeconomics has gone backwards. The treatment of identification now is no more credible than in the early 1970s but escapes challenge because it is so much more opaque. Macroeconomic theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as “tight monetary policy can cause a recession.” Their models attribute fluctuations in aggregate variables to imaginary causal forces that are not influenced by the action that any person takes. A parallel with string theory from physics hints at a general failure mode of science that is triggered when respect for highly regarded leaders evolves into a deference to authority that displaces objective fact from its position as the ultimate determinant of scientific truth. (Romer 2016)

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There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. ~ Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, quoted in the New York Times, 26 November 2006.

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Economics is a social science…. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers and historians also analyse the phenomena considered by economists. The assumption that it is possible to separate out economic behaviour and objectives from other forms of human behaviour and objectives is an heroic simplification and, like all such simplifications, it is fundamentally false…. The apparatus of neoclassical economics builds on shaky foundations. It violates norms of human behaviour. It is inconsistent with how humans actually behave. It does not even allow us to understand fully such important economic phenomena as bubbles and financial crises. Therefore, we should confront the heterodox ideas and traditions represented in this book. The economics that humanity will need will surely display the vigour of the mongrel, not the neuroses of the pure-bred. It will build on a better understanding of what humans desire and how they behave. It will abandon the assumptions that the study of humanity is a lost branch of physics, humans are desiccated calculating machines, a separate sphere of economic behaviour exists and economic outcomes have nothing to do with power. Consider the obvious: the political and social institutions that economists mostly ignore also have economic purposes. They are part of the economic world, just as the economic world is part of them. ~ Rethinking Economics: An Introduction to Pluralist Economics (Taylor and Francis 2017, xiii).

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A society where we allow the inequality of incomes and wealth to increase without bounds, sooner or later implodes. A society that promotes unfettered selfishness as the one and only virtue, erodes the cement that keeps us together, and in the end we are only left with people in the ice cold water of egoism and greed. (Lars Pålsson Syll 2016, On the use and misuse of theories in mainstream economics.)

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Since the late nineteenth century, economics has based its efforts on the general equilibrium theory of Léon Walras and others. This dominant paradigm, however, has two fundamental flaws: First, within the theoretical models that characterize it, it has never been possible to prove that an equilibrium (which rarely exists in real economic systems) would be attained. Second, it utilizes Homo economicus, a fictitious being, who bears little resemblance to real humans, to define preferences, behavior, and abilities. Because these assumptions deviate so drastically from reality, there is doubt as to whether incremental changes can ever render it effective. Indeed, it has become increasingly clear that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand cannot be resurrected without an important change of perspective. ~ David S. Wilson and Alan Kirman, Complexity and Evolution: Toward a New Synthesis for Economics.

 

The purely economic man is indeed close to being a social moron. Economic theory has been much preoccupied with this rational fool. ~ Amartya Sen, Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, in Rational Fools.

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It [mainstream economics] values mathematical models based on if-pigs-could-fly assumptions more than it values empirical research; so it pays little attention to real economies, having little to say about money and debt, for example! Predictably, the dismal science failed to predict the crisis. When the UK’s Queen Elizabeth asked why no one saw the crisis coming, the economists’ embarrassment was palpable. (Andrew Sayer, Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, 2015, 23)

 

Many of our problems come from the nature of the economic system itself. If business people behave in the purely selfish and self-serving way that economic theory assumes, our free-market system tends to spawn manipulation and deception…. The economic system is filled with trickery and everyone needs to know about it.”~ Akerlof & Shiller, Phishing for Phools.

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Many of the quotes above are from economists, experts in their field, some Nobel Prize-winning economists. One thing is clear; the Great Recession shook the very foundations of economics to its core. Only the blind leading the blind can pretend today that something isn’t amiss within the field of economics. The quotations above only represent a small sampling of the discontent rising to the surface within the field of economics today. There is actually a revolt underway in the younger generation of economic graduate students who lived through the Great Recession and the near melt down of the world’s economy yet witnessed their teachers being confounded by the Queen’s question (see Labini below). And if we value our children’s and our grandchildren’s economic future we can no longer afford to simply leave economics to the experts—the Econocracy—for as these young graduate students tell us, we do so at our own peril. Amartya Sen in his essay Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory takes us on an intellectual journey back in time to the thoughts and reflections of one of the founders of the field of economics:

In his Mathematical Psychics, published in 1881, Edgeworth asserted that ‘the first principle of Economics is that every agent is actuated only by self-interest’. This view has been a persistent one in economic models, and the nature of economic theory seems to have been much influenced by this basic premise…. I should mention that Edgeworth himself was quite aware that this so-called first principle of Economics was not a particularly realistic one. Indeed, he felt that ‘the concrete nineteenth century man is for the most part an impure egoist, a mixed utilitarian’. This raises the interesting question as to why Edgeworth spent so much of his time and talent in developing a line of inquiry the first principle of which he believed to be false. The issue is not why abstractions should be employed in pursuing economic questions—the nature of the inquiry makes this inevitable—but why would one choose an assumption which he himself believed not merely inaccurate in detail but fundamentally mistaken? (Sen 1982, 84-85)

Modern economics as it is taught in our universities today elevates self-interest as the foundation principle of present day profit motived economic striving. This exclusive “greed is good” ideology (justified with social mathematics) is doomed unless the profit motive can be augmented with service motive. Economics has become blinded by mathematical hubris. Its models no longer predict or have anything to do with empirical reality or what is happening in the real economy. It’s summed up in the Queen’s question:

Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008 and started the great recession. By chance, Queen Elizabeth visited the London School of Economics to inaugurate a new building in November 2008, and here she asked her famous question: “why did no one see the economic crisis coming?” Of course the neoclassical economists of the London School of Economics not only did not foresee the crisis, but they had been advocating the very neoliberal policies that led to it. (Donald Giles, Foreword) We are faced with an economic crisis that has brought the world economy to its knees…. First and foremost, however, this is a cultural crisis on a global scale. The grand utopias that dominated our recent and immediate past seem to have vanished. Equality, brotherhood, freedom seem to be words that today have nothing to do with our reality, where inequalities have never been so great, freedom is being reduced gradually in favor of security and solidarity is overwhelmed by arrogance and indifference. Furthermore, because of insurmountable inequalities, the possibility of a change for the better of any individual’s situation is currently in a regressive stage in many countries, and also what has regressed is the role of higher education as the driving force of social mobility. Science can provide crucial tools that could be instrumental both in comprehending the problems of our time and in outlining perspectives that might constitute a solid and viable alternative to the rampant jungle law — a misconstrued Social Darwinism — that is currently very widespread. (Labini 2016, xiii-xiv)

When MBA students are taught that “greed is good” and that any regulation of the market is bad we turn out business men and women that allow bad actors to proliferate Phishing for Phools schemes in virtually every market. For example, consider the online employment platforms, so-called “professional networking” sites, are one of worst actors in this domain. Their primary tactic uses asymmetric information in a manipulative manner to disadvantage the job seeker (who is usually not the paying customer, unless they upgrade to a premium account) and to give their paying customers, whom we will see below some of whom are bad actors, an informational advantage over job seekers. When major players provide global social media platforms that allow phishing in employment related transactions and communications they are effectively assisting in the creation of a dual economy built upon the exploitation of asymmetric information aimed at extracting wealth out of the pockets of family wage earners and thereby further driving economic inequality. Peter Temin in his article The American Dual Economy: Race, Globalization and the Politics of Exclusion writes,

The United States economy has come apart, with the rich getting richer and workers’ incomes not advancing at all. ~ Institute for New Economic Thinking

He further writes regarding the vanishing middle class,

Growing inequality is threatening the American middle class, and the middle class is vanishing before our eyes…. The middle class was critical to the success of the United States in the twentieth century…. If America is to remain strong in the twenty-first century, something has to be done…. [T]he rich of the twenty-first century are trying to kill the goose that laid all those golden eggs in the twentieth century. The question is how can we alter the bad trajectory we are on. ~ Peter Temin 2017, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Professor of Economics Emeritus at MIT.

Not all business models within the market are created equally; over time models change and new ones emerge, some not so benign, hence it is wise to disarticulate supply chains a little more critically to truly understand their nature and socio-economic impacts. An important economic work that shows how this might be done is Nobel Prize-winning economists George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller’s Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. Akerlof and Shiller provide numerous case examples of how the market place harms us as well as helps us. They show that as long as there are profits to be made some bad actors will systematically exploit our psychological and informational weaknesses through manipulation and deception. They reveal how the pie-in-the-sky oversimplification of critical assumptions about market equilibrium are utterly divorced from reality using case studies that show how economic models build manipulation and deception into the system unless we take steps to expose and fight them.

Using techniques more akin to behavioral economics than neoclassical economics they prove that when neoclassical economics pretends that such economic pathologies of manipulation and deception are rare and mere “externalities” it is ignoring reality: the ability of free markets to engender phishing for phools of many different varieties is not an externality, but rather is inherent in the workings of competitive markets. And the same profit motive that gives us a healthy benign economy if everyone is fully rational – another critical assumption itself proven false by behavioral economics as everyone does not behave rationally; and more importantly one that neglects the moral, ethical, and spiritual motivations that are important in the market place – is the same profit motive that gives us the economic pathologies of phishing for phools. (Akerlof et. al. 2015 166; see also Mind Over Money)

[F]ree markets do not just deliver this cornucopia that people want. They also create an economic [dis]equilibrium that is highly suitable for economic enterprises that manipulate or distort our judgment, using business practices that are analogous to biological cancers that make their home in the normal equilibrium of the human body. (Akerlof and Shiller 2015, x)

When using biology as metaphor homeostasis is a far better metaphor and closer to individual and social reality. A stable society depends upon a stable middle class for this is the backbone of any society or civilization and the source of genius yet unborn and to come. Perhaps it is time to augment the profit motive with the service motive?

It is time to tell the naked truth and clean up the dirty secrets and rigged markets (including political dirty money).

(to be continued)

An Unfinished Synthesis

Arguments do not always wear their true purpose on their face, nor are courts required to take them at face value. Laws against miscegenation paraded in a religious and moral dress, but the Supreme Court ultimately held that they were nothing but a device to shore up “White Supremacy.” (Nussbaum 2008: 343-344)

As a language its [mathematics] ‘words’ are open to abuse just as the word ‘marriage’ was for nefarious purposes applied to mutual commitments between persons of the same sex which were perfectly adequately and unambiguously distinguished as civil partnerships. (Dave Taylor, 2/14/2018, RWER Blog)

There is nothing nefarious about same-sex marriage and equal protection under the law. To imply that someone is wicked or criminal simply because they are biologically born homosexual (or transsexual, etc.) and desire to exercise the same civil liberties as heterosexual couples reveals the homophobic animus of the speaker.

Today, large segments of the Christian Right openly practice a politics based upon disgust. Depicting the sexual practices of lesbians and, especially, of gay men as vile and revolting, they suggest that such practices contaminate and defile society, producing decay and degeneration…. The politics of disgust is profoundly at odds with the abstract idea of a society based on the equality of all citizens, in which all have a right to the equal protection of the laws. It says that the mere fact that you happen to make me want to vomit is reason enough for me to treat you as a social pariah, denying you some of your most basic entitlements as a citizen. (Nussbaum 2010, xiv)

A common spurious argument1 made by those who oppose same-sex marriage is that this would change “the accepted meaning of the word ‘marriage’ (Dave Taylor, 2/17/2018, RWER Blog),” which reveals more about their own ignorance of the Judeo-Christian tradition than anything about the historical meaning of marriage:

The Judeo-Christian tradition that supposedly undergirds … [such] beliefs does not support the idea of marriage as a changeless institution created by God in the beginning. The Old Testament patriarch Jacob had four wives. King David’s eight wives are named in the Bible, though he had many more. The book of I Kings describes the amorous King Solomon, who “loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites.” He took seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. To be sure, these various marital structures were never same-sex, but only in that limited sense do they seem continuous with marriage as understood in the twenty-first century. In contemporary Western culture women are no longer property to be hoarded by kings or jealous tribal chiefs. Fathers do not barter their daughters to advance family fortunes. And nobody has hundreds of wives. Strangely, that historical context and the dramatic changes to marriage that Americans had adopted seemed lost on [the ignorant and uninformed], which continued to argue that gay marriage amounted to the first radical change in the history of the institution. (Randall and Giberson 2001: 134-135)

Both science and religion are evolving. What both developing science and religion need is more searching and fearless self-criticism; a greater awareness of their incompleteness in evolutionary status. The teachers of both science and religion are often altogether too self-confident and dogmatic. Science and religion can only be self-critical of their facts. The moment departure is made from the stage of facts, reason abdicates or else rapidly degenerates into a consort of false logic. While the religion of authority and dogma may present a feeling of settled security and certainty, neither the Father or Jesus requires as the price of entering the kingdom of heaven that we should force ourselves to subscribe to a belief in things which are spiritually repugnant, unholy, and untruthful. It is fundamentally inconsistent with the Golden Rule to practice, endorse, or otherwise support homophobia in all its forms. It is not required of us that our own sense of mercy, justice, and truth should be outraged by submission to an outworn system of religious beliefs, dogmas, and ceremonies. The religion of the spirit — living experiential truth, beauty, and goodness — leaves us forever free to follow the truth wherever the leadings of the spirit may take us. And who can judge—perhaps this spirit may have something to impart to the younger generation which other generations have refused to hear?

Tis a dangerous thing to ingage the authority of Scripture in disputes about the Natural World, in opposition to Reason, lest Time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be false which we had made Scripture to assert. (Thomas Burnet, Archaelogiae Philosophicae, 1692)

Christianity (including a few other faith traditions) have struggled to come to terms with the fact of evolution and the modern findings of science regarding sexuality. Conservative Christians claim homosexuality is unnatural while science reveals homosexuality is a natural occurrence in nature (Rice 2013, Ridley 2003, Ruse 1994).  There is nothing at all scientific about homophobic rhetoric. It is religious bigotry grounded in ignorance which is either unware or refuses to honestly face the fact and truth that sexuality in nature is a biological phenomenon — and that includes sexual attraction. Each passing year scientists learn more about human sexuality and one of the findings of science is that sexual orientation is both grounded in biology and is not simply binary; rather it exists on a spectrum. One of the most salient findings emerging from the study of human sexuality is just how early children become aware of their gender orientation, which is not to be confused with their physical sex assigned at birth. Untold pain and suffering has been inflicted upon human beings because of religious bigotry and dogma. Both science and enlightened religious scholars today know this, and are speaking out. There is a Gender Revolution going on and the younger generation just won’t settle for anything less and that is good news indeed.

Christianity, in its many historical manifestations and theological adaptations has, like the people who that believe in it, a long history of both propagating social injustice and fostering social injustice. (Moon 2004, 1)

Religious intolerance comes in many forms and all too often is inculcated by the church at an early age. Fortunately, for many thoughtful religionists love trumps dogma yielding the true fruits of the spirit (Weeden 2008). When a religious tradition promotes sectarianism and dogmatism more than it promotes a loving and compassionate world enlightened religionists are concluding it is better to have a living religion that bears the fruits of the spirit without a church than a church without a living religion devoid of the fruits of the spirit (Leaves 2008). Jesus did not hesitate to appropriate the better half of a Scripture while he repudiated the lesser portion. His great exhortation, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he took from the Scripture which reads: “You shall not take vengeance against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus appropriated the positive portion of this Scripture while rejecting the negative (Rogers 2009).

There are Constitutional reasons for questioning homophobic rhetoric as well:

Insofar as “separation of church and state” is a good idea, it is good because of the way it supports equal respect, preventing the public realm establishing a religious doctrine that denigrates or marginalizes some group of citizens…. Our [legal and juridical] tradition has sought to put religion in a place apart from government, in some ways and with some limits, not because we think that it has no importance for the conduct of our lives or the choices we make as citizens, but for a very different reason. Insofar as it is a good, defensible value, the separation of church and state is, fundamentally about equality, about the idea that no religion will be setup as the religion of our nation, an act that immediately makes outsiders unequal. Hence separation is also about protecting religionminority religion, whose liberties and equalities are always under pressure from the zeal of majorities. (Nussbaum 2008, 11-12)

Separate but equal is a sham argument masking a deeper animus. Fear, ignorance, and disgust are not good reasons to enact public policy that discriminates against minorities (Nussbaum 2008, 334-336).

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[1]. Historical context counts. It is easy to read our own misconceptions into the past based upon our own prejudices and preconceptions before we actually look at the historical evidence, which we will get to shortly.

Biblical scholars have grown increasingly aware of the importance of looking at texts not only in their historical or literary or social contexts but also in their cultural contexts. “Culture” includes those values, ways of relating and ways of looking at the world that its members share and that provide the framework for all communication. The readers of the New Testament shared certain values, such as honor, and codes of forming and maintaining relationships, such as patronage and kinship, and ways of ordering the world, expressed frequently in terms of purity. If we are to hear the texts correctly, we must apply ourselves to understand the culture out of which and to which they spoke…. This enterprise prevents potential misreading of the texts…. Without taking some care to recover the culture of the first-century Greco-Roman writers and addressees, we will simply read the texts from the perspective of our cultural norms and codes. Negatively, then, this task is essential as a check against or impositions of our own cultural, theological and social contexts onto the text. We should be concerned that we do not import into the text what is not there (and take those impositions as the word of God!). (deSilva 2000: 17)

Levirate Marriage:

In days before there were national welfare systems providing financial assistance, the tradition was that if a man died, his brother would assume responsibility for his widow and orphans by taking them into his own household (Dave Taylor, 2/18/2018, RWER Blog).

What such a silly assumption leaves out is that women were chattel and were legally dealt with by Hittite and Hebrew culture under the property laws. The Hebrews shared/inherited their levirate marriage laws from the Hittites, just as they borrowed Psalms from the Egyptians.

Women were first the property of their father, then their husband, and sons. The Jewish Study Bible describes levirate marriage customs in detail. The primary text follows:

When brothers dwell together and one of them dies and leaves no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married to a stranger, outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall unite with her: he shall take her as his wife and perform the levir’s duty. The first son that she bears shall be accounted to the dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out in Israel. (Berlin et. al. 2004, Dt.25:5-6, 422-23)

The basis of the law was to protect the clans tribal property inheritance. If the widow married outside the clan they were denied land and property rights as the new husband took over legal rights over the women and all property of her deceased husband including her. Hence, incest was give a special case (levir’s duty) to keep the property safe as is made perfectly clear in the critical comments (n.5-10)

Levirate marriage. Biblical, Near Eastern, and Roman inheritance law assigned special responsibilities to the “husband’s brother” (vv. 5-7), for which Hebrew had a special term, “yavam” (cf. Latin “levir”). Should a man die, leaving his widow childless, his brother was expected to marry the widow, thereby continuing the deceased’s line (see variations of his law in Gen. 38.8; Ruth 4.5-6). 5: Stranger most likely refers to someone outside the larger clan. The widow’s marriage outside the clan would diminish the landholding of the clan and add it to her husband’s, affecting the original equitable division of land among the tribes (Josh. chs 13-21). Her husband’s brother shall unite with her: This requirement conflicts with the prohibition against incest with the sister-in-law (Lev. 18.16; 20.21). Possibly, as in the Hittite Laws, levirate marriage provided an exception to the normal prohibition of such relations; alternatively, the Holiness Collection’s incest laws, which seem to be later, are intended to prohibit the practice altogether. 6: The first son alone here counts to the brother; cf. Gen. 38.8; Ruth 4.5-6. The intent is to mitigate the injustice created by the institution of levirate marriage: The brother who complied with its requirements would effectively disinherit himself. 11-12: This law, like the preceding one, deals with threats to reproduction. (Berlin et. al. 2004, 25:5-6, 422-23)

Such ancient case law has more to do with honor and maintaining a man’s name and inheritance within the clan than any sentimental national welfare system:

Since a man’s name, according to ancient thought, was the bearer of his person, a father lived on in his son (Gen.48.15-16). As in the case of Tamar (Gen. ch. 38), the wife had the obligation to see that the duty of a husband’s brother (or levir) was performed. (Berlin et. al. 2004, n.5-10)

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The duty of levirate marriage (from the Latin levir, “brother-in-law”) was adopted not only to preserve the family name, but to keep the property intact (compare Num.27.1-11 n.). (Sandmel 1972, 208 (25:5-10))

Consider the irony that if they were so tender and caring with their women (property) why then did they so brutally (think honor killing) waste them in the next verse:

When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have no pity. (Dt.25.11) (Berlin et. al. 2004, 246-247)

Let us not forget, the levir could reject with minor shame, while the women had no choice in the matter. The man could shirk his duty while the women did so subject to pain of death (honor killing) for shaming the family. Evolutionary religion is sentimental, not logical. Formerly man protected woman because she was his chattel, and she obeyed for the same reason. Now, woman is no longer regarded as property, and modernity has brought increasing personal choice for love to the core of the relationship.

The foolishness of viewing levirate marriage code through the sentimental lens of modernity stands in sober contrast with the marital guilt test of trial by ordeal recorded in the Torah. If a man suspected his wife of being untrue to him, he took her to the priest and stated his suspicions, after which the priest would prepare a concoction consisting of holy water and sweepings from the temple floor. After due ceremony, including threatening curses, the accused wife was made to drink the nasty potion. If she was guilty, “the water that causes the curse shall enter into her and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thighs shall rot, and the woman shall be accursed among her people.” If, by any chance, any woman could quaff this filthy draught and not show symptoms of physical illness, she was acquitted of the charges made by her jealous husband (Num.5.11-31):

The ordeal, or more correctly, the trial of the suspected adulteress, is a means of allaying or confirming the fears of a husband that his wife was unfaithful. Marital infidelity by the women is a grave offense because it threatens the purity of the lineage. Adultery is defined as involving sexual contact between a married woman and a man other than her husband, and is a capital crime (Lev.20.10). (Since Israel was a polygynous society, sexual contact between a married man and unmarried women was not considered adultery, although it was not encouraged.) When conclusive evidence is lacking, judgment and subsequent punishment is left in the hands of the divine. Water ordeals of varying types are attested from the ancient Near East. In Babylonian Laws Hammurabi, §132, (18th century BCE), one method of determining the guilt or innocence of a suspected adulteress is the river ordeal, in which the women is thrown into the water and her fate is left to the river god. (Berlin et. al. 2004, 294-295)

These atrocious methods of crime detection were practiced by almost all the evolving tribes at one time or another. It is not to be wondered that the Hebrews and other semi-civilized tribes practiced such primitive techniques of justice administration three thousand years ago, but it is most amazing that thinking men would subsequently retain such a relic of barbarism within the pages of a collection of sacred writings. Reflective thinking should make it clear that no divine being ever gave mortal man such unfair instructions regarding the detection and adjudication of suspected marital unfaithfulness.