Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Broader look at Anscombe

Who certainly was far more that just The Woman Who Stood Up to C. S. Lewis.

Six paths to Moksha

According to Hinduism.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some material on Christian-Islamic relations

Repeal the Second Amendment

Here's an idea that is likely to run up against some, well, fierce opposition.

If Descartes had only known

This explains the difference between being awake and dreaming. But I suppose it is not sufficient to reassure us if we think we're brains in vats.

Ht: Rosa Ortiz.

Hasker on the value of free will

I am reposting the content of this passage, which I have posted before, but am leaving out the discussion in the comments, which reflected some of the more acrimonious phases of the controversy with Calvinists I engaged in several months back.

The value of free will does not end there. All sorts of relationships acquire special value because they involve love, trust, and affection are freely bestowed. The love potions that appear in many fairy stories (and the Harry Potter series) can become a trap; the one who has used the potion finds that he wants to be loved for his own sake and not because of the potion, yet fears the loss of the beloved’s affection if the potion is no longer used. For that matter, individuals without free will would not, in the true sense, be human beings at all, at least this is the case as seems highly plausible, the capacity for free choice is an essential characteristic of human beings as such. If so, then to say that free will should not exist is to say that we humans should not exist. It may be possible to say that, and perhaps even mean it, but the cost of doing so is very high. William

Star Trek and the Problem of Evil

A redated post.

Consider a Star Trek I once saw. There was a man, who in the show was named Flint, who was born several thousand years BC, whose body was able to regenerate whenever it was damaged, granting him an virtually endless life. What that meant was that, over and over again, he saw his companions and wives die. He ended up on a planet in outer space where he decided to build the perfect companion, an android named Rayna. Rayna could converse with him on any subject imaginable, could be physically affectionate, but there was one problem. Its "love" for Flint was fully and completely determined by Flint's programming, and therefore was deficient as love. So Flint brought the Enterprise and Captain Kirk to the planet so that he could be a rival for Rayna's affections. (Fans of Star Trek will recognize Captain Kirk as the Intergalactic Bill Clinton). Anyway, since Rayna was an android, Rayna couldn't choose freely, and so fell over and became deactivated.

If God is love, then isn't there something deficient about love that is fully and completely determined by the one who recevies the love? If this is the case, then there is a good reason why a loving God might choose to give us incompatiblist freedom, even if this freedom results in sin and perhaps even eternal separation from God for some persons. In order for the choice to love to be meaningful, the choice not to love must also be given.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving and the Buddha

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thought it appropriate to remind all of the teachings of the Buddha: Suffering is caused by craving, but if you stop craving, you stop suffering.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Choice and Prostitution

A pro-choice slogan is "A woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body." If we follow this line of thought, does that mean we should legalize prostitution? The prostitute Governor Spitzer visited did what she pleased with her own body, she made money. Lots of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alan Cook responds to my book

Though not a detailed response, it is some interesting exploration from someone who is neither a supporter nor hostile.

A problem for Young Earth Creationists

Some passages of Scripture, at least taken in accordance with their traditional/literal meanings, seem to be flatly contradicted by what we know in science. For example, if you add up the genealogies in Genesis, you get an age of the earth that is maybe 6000 years. The traditional figure is 4004 BC, calculated by Archbishop Ussher in the 17th Century. That conflicts with Darwin's theory of evolution, which is still questioned today. But it also conflicts with ordinary astronomy, according to which we can see stars in the heavens millions of light years away. Now a light year is the distance light travels in a year, so the only way light from a star can get here if the star is a million light years away is for it that light to travel for a million years. But if the "heavens and the earth" came into being 6000 years ago, we've got a problem.

The basic pro-life argument

Here is what I think is the essential pro-life argument.
1. Either we are persons, having the right to life from conception, or we acquire the right to life somewhere between conception and birth, or at birth.
2. If we acquire the right to life between conception and birth, the criteria by which we become persons is arbitrary. We end up picking a point where personhood commences without an adequate reason for placing the point there.
3. But the right to life is not to be decided arbitrarily. The beginning of personhood must occur at a principled, not an arbitrary point.
4.The only principled point at which personhood can begin is conception.
5. Therefore, humans in the fetal stage have a right to life from the moment of conception.
6. The right to life has priority over other rights, both our own and those of others.
7. Therefore, we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights (such as the right to privacy, or the right to do as one pleases with one's own body).
8. If we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights, then abortion, except in those cases where the mother's life is in danger, should be outlawed.
9. Therefore, abortion should be outlawed in all such cases.

Trivial truth, disagreement, and religious tolerance

It is trivially true that if two statements contradict, whether in religion or elsewhere, one statement is true and one is false.

What we do about that disagreement can be far from trivial. What people do about that disagreement is another matter. In America, we disagree about politics. What we do about it is that we hold elections for President every four years and make orderly transitions from one administration to another. In other countries they do it differently. They kill one another to get control of the government. It's not the disagreement, it's what we do about the disagreement, that matters.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Wikipedia has an entry on murder

But no good instructions on how to do it and get away with it, in case you were wondering.

A Christian critique of the Qu'ran

Arrogant, or boring?

With respect to religion as with all other things, I believe that what I believe is true, and that in believing it I am correct. Indeed, I think my beliefs are absolutely true. Those who disagree with me, I consider to be wrong about what I disagree with them about.

Do I sound like an self-righteous, arrogant, dogmatic SOB? Actually, I'm just stating something that's trivially and boringly true.

But if it makes you feel better, I should add that disagreeing with me will not necessarily result in your everlasting damnation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Rawlsian anti-abortion argument

Here's a thought experiment. Put yourself behind a veil of ignorance. You don't know whether you will be put into a world in which abortion is prohibited, or not. You could pick a pro-life world, in which case you risk turning out to be the disadvantaged mother. You could pick a pro-choice world, in which case you could end up being the aborted fetus. Which do you pick?

I suppose if you think fetuses aren't persons, then there are no fetal positions in the original position, so this doesn't work on that assumption.

Yep, here's Medved opposing Lieberman on this issue

Does this represent Judaism?

If so, the Jewish tradition lines up on the pro-choice side.

Should students discuss the strengths and weaknesses of evolution?

Charles Garner of Baylor university says that's perfectly OK.

Barbara Ehrenreich on Abortion

"The one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks."

Despite my unwillingness to accept what I think would be the disastrous consequences of continued Republican rule and vote solely on abortion considerations, this attitude indicates a profound moral mental block.

Swinburne on "siphoning off"

This is an extremely important argument, and explains to a large extent how I reply to people who say that the progress of science is evidently going to push in favor of materialism with respect to the philosophy of mind. It's my claim that modern science is grounded, in a important sense, in dualism. That is, science at the time of Galileo was able to treat the physical world as a machine because it could dump all the qualitative stuff into the mind. But if the mind is supposed to be physical, how did that work back then?

No one replied when I put this up before, so I am putting it up again, though we did get some debate on in on Dangerous Idea 2.

From Richard Swinburne’s The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) p. 191.

There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, or sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanic—for molecules are particles’ the entities and properties are not of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter. All reduction from one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i. e. the ‘secondary qualities” of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all. It siphoned them off to the world of the mental. But then, but when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this. If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter. In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind with the world of physics.

Richard Swinburne's articles page

One of the best-known Christian philosophers of religion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Witherington on Calvinists

I'll post this link without comment.

Mere Christ-psychosis

Some Jack-hammering.

Hinduism and Reality

Is the world of ordinary experience, of living from one moment to the next, going up and going down, illusory? If we saw things the way they really were, would we say that the world of our experience is the real world, or is some other reality real.

One school of Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, says the is one reality, and it is the spritual reality of Brahman. It is one. The idea that I am a distinct person from you is an illusion. If I go to prison tomorrow, it's not real. If I win the lottery tomorrow, it's not real. Brahman, the true God whom we cannot even define with our words, that's what's real.

Can abortion laws prosecute only the abortion provider?

According to this article, they can do this only by making outrageously sexist assumptions.

If abortion is murder, does it make sense to let one of the murderers get off scot-free while punishing the other?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why we aren't brains in vats

Putnam argued that words derive their meanings from cause-and-effect relations to the world around us. And our use of words relies on the assumption that normal causal relations exist between out mental states and objects. If we are really vat-brains and such causal relations do not obtain, then in the sentence "we are brains in vats" the words don't really mean anything. Hence the sentence "we are brains in vats" can never be true.

My book was translated into Korean

And I just got my author's copies.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How far does pro-choice go?

I'm redating this post, which I did over a year ago.

One of the difficulties pro-life advocates have with the pro-choice position is the idea that once the right to life is denied inside the womb, there is no nonarbitrary reason for not denying it outside of the womb. Birth, after all, is going from inside to outside, and a law that makes being born the criteria for a right to life is like passing a law that there are certain buildings in which a person may freely be killed, but outside those buildings it's murder.

Peter Singer is one of those who has pushed the pro-choice argument outside the womb. He defends infanticide in cases where babies are disabled.

Of course, Christianity did not face the abortion issue in its early years, since only modern medicine has made abortion safe. However, early Christians (and early Muslims like Muhammad) opposed the exposure of children after they were born. Typically, of course, it was the female babies that got exposed in the ancient Roman world. So much for gender equality back then.

Is there a good way to defend abortion but not infanticide? Or is it only our sentimental attachment to born babies that keeps "choice" from extending outside the womb?

Good news for Thomists

The Summa Theologiae is now online. I'm sure my late friend Joe Sheffer is jumping for joy.

Kant, Reason, and Morality

If Kant is right, it is illogical to be immoral. But suppose you are very good at benefitting yourselves in ways that are immoral. You are a high-up in a crime family, for example, enjoying a life of luxury financed by murder, drugs and prostitution. If you started being moral, you would have to confess your crimes and spend the rest of your life in prison, maybe even face execution, since you have ordered numerous hits on your enemies. According to Kant, the rational thing to do is the right thing to do, which is to go straight and face the law. But, many of us would think that it is an illogical thing to do.

Is Kant right that it is irrational to be unethical?

The Brain in the Vat has a Stanford Encyclopedia page

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why does Manson get parole hearings?

I'm not a fan of the death penalty, but this is one of the better arguments for it. I wish we knew how to swallow the key with people like Manson.

A tale of two Muslim students

In 1994 I taught a summer ethics course, and at it a student came to class every day in a burka. The full head scarf. She was from Jordan and was a very knowledgeable Muslim. I didn't think anything about it at the time; that was what I expected of Muslims.

Later on in 1994, another Muslim student came to class from Iran. She had no head scarf. I asked her about it, and told her about the previous Muslim. She said "Muhammad commanded us to cover ourselves so as not to call attention to ourselves. Now if I were to go around in a burka, what would that do? Call attention to me. So for the reason Muhammad told us to weara burka, I don't wear one.

This reflects two different ways of applying the same passage of the Qu'ran. But not just the Qu'ran. What do Christians do about "Women should not speak in church" out of I Corinthians?

Christianity: A Religion of Violence?

The Secular Outpost complains about the Conservapedia's Entry on Atheism

Don't act so surprised.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What is an ideologue?

An ideologue is someone who looks at everything through the "glasses" of their favored viewpoint, and refuses to allow any merit in the perspective of someone who sees things from an opposing perspective. In debate or discussion an ideologue will invariably make no concessions whatsoever to the other side. Nothing that someone on the other side says has any legitimacy whatsoever.

People who disagree with me are more likely to be ideologues than people who agree with me.

Charges of contradition in moral discourse

A contradiction is this.

"The cat is on the mat."
"The cat is not on the mat."

Once you know which cat and which mat, one's got to be true and one's got to be false.

In the case of abortion,

1) All abortions where the life of the mother is not in jeopardy are morally wrong.

is contradicted by

2) Some abortions where the life of the mother is not in jeopardy are not morally wrong.

But all you need for 2 is at least one. If 2 is true, then some, indeed most abortions where the mother's life is not in jeopardy can be morally wrong. Just not all.

It's important to realize what a real contradiction is, and what it is not.

In ethics we sometimes accuse people of contradicting themselves when they really aren't. There is nothing about being pro-life, for example, that logically entails that you ought also to be against the death penalty. In one case you have fetuses who are not guilty of anything, in the other case, you have guilty capital criminals. On the other hand, there's nothing about pro-choice that guarantees that you should support the death penalty. In one case you have fetuses who are not given the legal rights of persons (whether they should be or not is a different issue) and on the other hand you have capital criminals who, whatever they have done, are considered to be persons by the law.

On the Principle of Charity

This is a discussion of the principle of charity. How many of you have ever heard of it?

Nietzsche banned from professor's door

Now that's unimaginative. If they wanted to do something about that sign, they should have required that the teacher also post a sign signed by God saying "Nietzsche is dead." Equal time, you know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Giving Pro-Lifers What They Say They Want

This is the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the priviledges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."


It seems to me that the Supreme Court has to decide whether the fetus has an overriding right to life or not. If it does, then it has to protect that right from coast to coast. If the fetus doesn't have that right, then the mother has rights that have to be protected. What would be a logical absurdity would be to say that a fetus has a right to life in Texas but not in California.

About that Chinese Room

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wikipedia on Jihad

Does al-Qaeda have the right Islamic concept of Jihad?

Emerging Church Bashing

Thinking Christian reviews a book bashing the Emerging Church.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

If this site is correct, the answer has to be no. See also this.

Accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior

Does the Bible ever use the phrase "accept Christ as your Lord and Savior?" Looks like the answer to that one is no. And yet the ease with which we use such terminology identifies us as a real Christian or not a real Christian in the eyes of some believers.

A strange funeral tradition

HT: Sharon Gray.

Mike: You haven't had any Zoroastrians looking for services at your place, have you?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Why do we value life?

Suppose we were to encounter a race of people very much like our own, except that they did not have the attitude toward murder, or rather homicide, that we have. If they wanted someone to die they killed them, and it was legal so long as a proper compensation was paid to the victim's family. They even had commandments from their
god, only there were just nine and "Thou shalt not kill" was left out. How would we make a case for the value of life to them.

I once had an officemate who thought that the so-called value of life was just that: so-called. The real values were pleasure and pain, and being alive or not simply didn't count. "When death is, we are not, when we are, death is not." Another friend said "Based on your philosophy, I could kill you right now and it would be OK." He answered "Only if you could do it painlessly."

How would you defend the value of life to these people?

Here's a blog from a student from my old seminary

Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. I can't believe it's been 30 years since I graduated from there.

Did Christians read the doctrine of original sin into the Hebrew Bible?

This piece, by atheist Austin Cline, suggests that this is so. Is he correct?

The Eastern Orthodox do not seem to have the sort of doctrine of original sin that is prevalent in the West, coming down from Augustine.

Another Al, another year, another recount

Where have we seen something like this before. Despite a very different climate, Minnesota is the new Florida.

I'm going to be a terrific senator! And I'm gonna help people! Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people elected me! - Al Franken.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wikipedia on Sin

This Wikipedia entry should help you become and expert on this subject.

Sin and Stupidity

A Jewish perspective.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Are Republicans real conservatives?

Spread the wealth around?

Is the graduated income tax (first proposed by Adam Smith) socialism? If you really think that "spreading the wealth around" is always and everywhere a bad thing, then shouldn't there be a flat tax?

And what about the $700 billion bailout? How can Republicans attack socialism if they participated in the bailout? Spread the wealth around? Isn't that what the Bush administration initiated, and McCain voted for?

From each according to his abilities, so long as you are in the middle class. To each according to his needs, if you are a big enough corporation.

When it comes to actual governance, the "conservatism" of Barry Goldwater is gone. What you get is corporate prostitution. Republicans follow conservative principles when it serves the interests of "the haves and the have mores." They trash those principles when it becomes convenient for the big companies.

I realize that my tone is a little cynical here. Perhaps someone can explain what the Republican Party today has to do with real conservatism.

And please don't tell me that at least this fake conservatism is better than liberalism. I just want to know what real conservative principles are, and how well you think the Republican party of George W. Bush reflects those principles.

The Book of Hezekiah

It's sometimes just as important to know what isn't in the Bible as what is in the Bible.

How would you write an anti-abortion statute?

I have some questions about how anti-abortion laws are supposed to go. First, can you get away with exempting the mother from criminal punishment. Albert Fall, in the Teapot Dome scandal, got convicted for taking a bribe that the person who gave the bribe, Doheny, was acquitted for giving. The 2006 South Dakota statute, referenced in this post, seems guilty of this sort of absurdity.

Second, if the grounds for objecting to abortion is that it is murder, and there really is no moral difference between killing a fetus and killing a born infant, then shouldn't these acts be prosecuted under the statute against murder, which means that whatever mandatory sentences are in place have to apply. (No community service, in other words).

How were abortion laws written prior to Roe. Can abortion be regarded as a separate crime from murder if it is murder?

Now these are questions. Please treat them as such. There may be good answers to them.

I am quite sure that anti-abortion laws would result in an enforcement nightmare. This bothers the utilitarian in me. But the deontologist answer is, of course, that if something ought to be outlawed, difficulties in enforcing the law should not be a reason to keep it legal.

Judith Thomson' defense of abortion

I'm redating this post, since it keeps coming up.

Judith Thomson's famous argument that if the fetus is a person, its right to life might be overruled by the rights of the pregnant woman.

An anti-slavery site

Lincoln didn't abolish slavery.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Equal Protection and Abortion

McConnell: One can make a pretty convincing argument, however, that fetuses are persons. They are alive; their species is Homo sapiens. They are not simply an appendage of the mother; they have a separate and unique chromosomal structure. Surely, before beings with all the biological characteristics of humans are stripped of their rights as "persons" under the law, we are entitled to an explanation of why they fall short. For the court to say it cannot "resolve the difficult question of when life begins" is not an explanation.

Here's my claim. If this argument goes through, then you have a Federal case against abortion based on the Equal Protection clause. What is wrong with this claim?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why judicial activism is a red herring in the abortion debate

I still have trouble seeing why pro-lifers want abortion to be a state matter. In the case of gay marriage, social conservatives want an amendment preventing state judges or state legislatures from allowing it. Why not go for that with respect to abortion?

I have trouble seeing Roe as an unjustified instance of judicial activism. The court had to adjudicate between the rights of the pregnant mother and the rights of the fetus. If you think that, since it was the fetuses right to life that was at stake as opposed to the mother's right to privacy, if you think that all fetuses possess this right from the moment of conception, if you believe that the right to life takes precedence over all quality-of-life considerations including the right of privacy, then the only logical thing to fight for is the application of the equal protection clause of the Constitution to life in the womb. Why wimp out and hand it back to the states? Frank??

Of course, the right to life from conception has to be provable. The Roe argument is that that right is in doubt, and hence a right that is in doubt should not take precedence over a right that is not in doubt. I think Roe is right, unless you can establish the right to life beyond reasonable doubt. But if you're pro-life, that's your position, right?

If I am right, judicial activism is a red herring in the abortion controversy. Everyone likes judicial activism when it gets the results we want. We hate it when it gets the wrong results. The SCOTUS had to act, one way or the other. The only question is whether the Court made the right call or not.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Anti-Materialist philosophy now considered part of the creationist threat

The dualists are coming, the dualists are coming.

Abortion, Roe, and legislating from the bench

It seems to me that the case against abortion has been hitched to the conservative objection to "judicial activism." The hope for overturning Roe has been connected to the claim that had the SCOTUS refrained from "legislating from the bench," the ruling would have been avoided and state laws would have stood.

But if pro-lifers are right in supposing that fetuses are person from conception and we can know that, then the conclusion should not be to remand the issue to the states. The correct conclusion would be to press a case on behalf of fetal life based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, striking down all permissive abortion laws. That might be legislating from the bench, but wouldn't that be the correct for the court to make, on pro-life assumptions?

Quick question

Why is it that the same people who want abortion settled by the states want gay marriage settled by the federal government, through a constitutional amendment?

Abortion and constitutional law

In debating the abortion issue, people sometimes conflate the moral question of abortion with the legal question as to whether abortion laws are constitutionally justified. The following four positions are compossible.

1) Abortion is always morally wrong, (except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger) but as a matter of constitutional law, Roe was correctly adjudicated.

2) Abortion is not always morally wrong, and Roe was correctly adjudicated.

3) Abortion is morally wrong, and Roe was not correctly adjudicated.

4) Abortion is not always wrong, but Roe was not correctly adjudicated.