Nehemiah sermons

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I will post the introduction and preaching schedule for this section of the book when it is electronically available. Since this is the current series, I will post links for each sermon as they become available.

1. Nehemiah 1:1-2:8 "The remnant ... is in great trouble and shame." (Nathaniel Jackson) 4-27-14
2. Nehemiah 2:9-20 "Let us rise up and build." (Stefan Matzal) 5-4-14
3. Nehemiah 3 "Eliashib the high priest rose up ... and they built." (Jeremy Jackson) 5-11-14
4. Nehemiah 4 "Our God will fight for us." (Stefan Matzal) 5-18-14
5. Nehemiah 5 "Ought you not walk in the fear of our God?" (Nathaniel Jackson) 5-25-14
6. Nehemiah 6 "This work had been accomplished with the help of our God." (Jeremy Jackson) 6-1-14
7. Nehemiah 8 "The people understood the reading." (Stefan Matzal) 6-8-14
8. Nehemiah 9:1-37 "The Israelites ... confessed their sins." (Jeremy Jackson) 6-15-14
9. Nehemiah 9:38-10:39 "We will not neglect the house of our God." (Stefan Matzal) 6-22-14
10. Nehemiah 7; 11 "The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few." (Nathaniel Jackson) 6-29-14
11. Nehemiah 12:1-26 "These are the priests and the Levites." (Jeremy Jackson) 7-6-14
12. Nehemiah 12:27-13:3 "God had made them rejoice with great joy." (Stefan Matzal) 7-13-14
13. Nehemiah 13:4-31 "Why is the house of God forsaken?" (Nathaniel Jackson) 7-20-14

For more Trinity Fellowship sermons, see here.

These are my rankings of Doctor Who stories from the First Doctor period. I have categorized them into five categories, rather than finding a linear ranking order for each story. For links to the entire series, see here.

Cream of the Crop

10. The Dalek Invasion of Earth: One of the best First Doctor stories. It's the second appearance of the Daleks, and given the original naming conventions (where individual episodes were named, not overall serials, as became standard practice later in the show) you wouldn't have gotten the presence of the Daleks spoiled by the title until the end of the first episode. The TARDIS crew ends up in 22nd Century London, where the city has been devastated, with very few people in sight, all of them acting in a robotic manner. When they discover the first Dalek they come across, it's a bit of a shock, because they'd only met the Daleks on their home planet in their first appearance. Despite a ridiculous sci-fi premise for why the Daleks have invaded Earth, this story works incredibly well, which certainly isn't true of all the Terry Nation Dalek stories in this period. I don't think it's his best. That honor goes to The Daleks' Master Plan. But this is among the truly classic stories of the First Doctor period.

21. The Daleks' Master Plan: This is by far my favorite First Doctor story. A full dozen episodes (a baker's dozen, if you count the prologue episode Mission to the Unknown, which came two stories before but was really part of this story). Unfortunately, only three episodes survive, so you either have to listen to the soundtracks for the rest or watch the fan-created reconstructions based on the large number of set photos that exist and the existing soundtracks. But it's worth it. The stakes are higher than any previous Dalek story, and it has better good science fiction concepts than many of the other non-historical earlier episodes. We get to see a future Earth empire with a military that knows all about the Daleks and is trained to fight them, including two noteworthy characters, a brother and sister played by Nicholas Courtney, who later went on to play Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, one of my favorite companions over the entire run of the origianl series. Marsh also had earlier played Princess Joanna in The Crusade and much later returned to play Morgana in the Seventh Doctor story Battlefield, which was also the final appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the Doctor Who show. This was the only story featuring Sara Kingdom, unfortunately, but she's present for something like eight or nine episodes of it. Terry Nation wrote episodes 1-5 and 7. Unfortunately, the seventh was a Christmas episode that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, which is its only real low point. By that point in the story, we're reliving The Chase, where the Doctor, The Meddling Monk (from The Time Meddler), and the Daleks are running around through time, and it slows down a bit, but those parts are a little better than the middle episodes of The Chase in my view. But the first half of this story and the last two or three episodes are as enjoyable as the First Doctor gets, even with reconstructions of the episodes.

23. The Ark: This is one of the better "future of humans" stories of the First Doctor. The TARDIS appears on a human ship in the future, and there's another intelligent species serving humans as slaves, in effect, although from all appearances it's consensual, and the humans are unaware of the full intelligence of these beings. Halfway through, the TARDIS crew has resolved their original problem keeping them there, and they reappear in the same spot but much further in the future. Since this is a time when the Doctor had no control at all over where the TARDIS ends up, that seems remarkably odd. Then they discover that a revolution has occurred, and the other species has turned the tables on their human masters. Instead of being victims that we feel sorry for, they are now the villains. This was a nice nod to the common phenomenon in human history of the victims gaining control and becoming just as bad oppressors as those who had oppressed them. We also get to see an invisible (i.e. money-saving) but very powerful alien race that reminded me much of the sort of thing you might see on the original series of Star Trek, which was being made around the same time period as this episode. This episode didn't win me over to new companion Dodo. But it has some funny moments between her and the Doctor, where her slang expressions (that are entirely commonplace now, to a point where it shocked me that anyone wouldn't be used to it) give us a glimpse of the First Doctor's cantankerous nature in his complaints that she's not speaking English (which I should note is her first language and not his). And this is one of the few First Doctor stories that I'd gladly show to someone who wanted to see a good example of what the best of his period was like.

Very Enjoyable Stories

2. The Daleks (AKA The Mutants, not to be confused with a later Third Doctor story): This is the serial that gave the show its initial success. It drags a bit about 3/4 of the way through, but overall this is a great introduction to the Daleks. As with most of Terry Nation's Doctor Who stories, there are deeper themes to the story than just an action/adventure romp. In contrast to some of the emphasis of later Doctor Who stories (including some of Nation's own), here we see the Doctor encouraging pacifists to take up arms to destroy a menace that would otherwise end up destroying them. This is one of the best First Doctor stories.

17. The Time Meddler: In this story we get the introduction of our first Time Lord character (not that we have that name yet) besides the Doctor and Susan, and we even get to see his TARDIS, both inside and out. His chameleon circuit works, so we see a TARDIS properly disguised. The Meddling Monk returns as well in the Daleks' Master Plan, so he's also a recurring villain. A renegade Time Lord seeking to change history for some unclear profit motive (or perhaps for some higher good, but in any case the Doctor disapproves), the Meddling Monk has set himself up at a monastery, where he's pretending a whole group of monks are present by using future technology (including a phonograph with recordings of medieval-style chant) to give the appearance of a larger population of monks (as well as to make his stay more comfortable with appliances such as a toaster). The Doctor and his companions eventually figure out what's going on, and the Doctor manages to show some know-how when it comes to how a TARDIS works by sabotaging the Monk's TARDIS (which unfortunately never manages to help him get his TARDIS working properly again so he can actually control where it goes, not until the Time Lords help him later on during the Third Doctor period). This is the first time we see a historical setting with something non-historical worked in, a formula that the show eventually uses almost exclusively for stories taking place in the Earth's past, but we still have another season or so of purely historical episodes to go before that becomes standard. It's the first time also for the new lineup of the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven. It has some moments of lagging, as historical episodes tend to do, and it's the first historical episode with discussion of the real possibility of history-changing (see The Space Museum for the first instance of this, however, although this doesn't have the complete incoherence of that story). That is a disappointment from the perspective of metaphysics, but the unique elements of this story more than make up for it.

27. The War Machines: This is one of my favorite. If it weren't for the musical companions, it would be in the top category. The adventure starts with the Doctor and Dodo arriving in Dodo's own time period (roughly the time the episode aired). She's in the first episode and maybe part of the second. She never even appears to say goodbye to the Doctor. It introduced Ben and Polly, but Polly is brainwashed for most of the episode, so we don't get to see her in her right mind very much. And much of the episode Ben hasn't really connected with the Doctor. So it's not really the usual Doctor and his companion (or companions) sort of piece. That being said, this was a great introduction to what became a much more standard format for the Second Doctor period, where the Doctor (and in the other cases his companions) is in the time period when the show was being made, the mid-late 1960s, fighting off some menace threatening the time period of the viewers of the show. In this case, it's an artificial intelligence that, in a rare case, seems to have nothing to do with aliens, but you do get some rather rudimentary-looking robot threats (in keeping with the era they couldn't have them be too sci-fi looking). The Doctor uses logical paradoxes to undo the machine, as he does in several other stories (The Green Death, Death to the Daleks, and Shada come to mind). I do tend to like Ben and Polly, but we don't see a lot of Polly in this one. There's a nice scene at the end where the Doctor thinks he's all alone for the first time since the show began, but he ends up getting surprised with some unintended stowaways at the end, leading into the next season (and his final two stories).

29. The Tenth Planet: This is the introduction of the Cybermen and the last story for the First Doctor, so there's particular significance to it, but it doesn't work as well as I'd like. The Second Doctor Cybermen stories are much better. They look like they're wearing cloth outfits instead of metal. It's hard to hear what they're saying sometimes. The Doctor is showing his age, and several of his scenes had to be given to Ben or Polly. (Both Hartnell and the character are dying of old age at this point.) At the end, after defeating the Cybermen, he just collapses and dies, only to be regenerated into the Second Doctor. They don't explain the regenaration all that well, and the final episode is missing (although there are copies of the regeneration scene that have been released on DVD and online). Fortunately, this is one of the missing episodes that have now been animated. Still, this is a decent base-under-siege story, a template that becomes much more common with the Second Doctor, and as the introduction to the Cybermen and the final First Doctor story, it's certainly one to see.


Doctor Who Rankings

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Now that I've watched the entirety of the Doctor Who TV canon (at least what's available, along with the reconstructions with original sound alongside extensive set photos from the missing episodes), I've been wanting to put together some sort of ranking of all the episodes. It became clear pretty quickly that it would be impossible for me to put the episodes into some linear order of preference. There are far too many of them, and too many are such close calls that it would be insane to insist on making a list, and it would be unwieldy to have lots of multiple-way ties. There are such listings, such as the  io9 rankings, but it seems artificial to me to bring oneself to do such a thing.

One thing they did, though, is to my liking. They broke the stories down into Classics, Good Stories, Decent Stories, Below-Average Stories, and Disappointments. I'm comfortable putting the various stories into such groupings, even if I'm not inclined to have a numbered list of each story within each group, as they did. My categories will be: Cream of the Crop, Very Enjoyable Stories, Stories With a Lot Going For Them, Meh Stories, and Relative Disappointments. There are very few stories that I'd have a lower evaluation than that, so it didn't seem to justify an entire category.

Within each category, I'll put stories in air order (or in the case of the unaired Shada, the order it would have been aired in). I'll also preface each title with its story number (as opposed to episode number, since the original show nearly always had multiple episodes for each story). A few of the earliest stories had episode titles but no clear serial title for the overall story. In cases where there are multiple titles used, I will try to give both if I know about them.

I also feel kind of weird about mixing up episodes from very different periods. It's easier for me to weight them within each period. At least for the first few Doctors, I'll keep them separate, but I'll combine Doctors later on, since the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Doctors have much shorter tenures, one of them appearing only for one TV movie. But this post will look just at the First Doctor period, and subsequent posts will continue with further Doctors. I'll update this post as I go with links to the entire series.

1. First Doctor

Genesis and Camels

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Earlier this week the NYT published a critique of Genesis based on, of all things, the appearance of camels within its narratives, and I'm starting to see more and more discussion of this, virtually all of it simply repeating the claims of that article, without much at all in the way of careful reflection on the problems in the broader thesis that it puts forward, which I don't think the evidence actually supports.

This isn't actually a very new objection. Scholars have long objected that there isn't a lot of evidence of domesticated animals within the Canaanite region during that time. But there is evidence of domesticated animals in Egypt and Mesopotamia during the period Genesis describes, and the NYT article even mentions that, and it says they were more commonly used more by those nomadic peoples living in the more desert regions. The only thing new here is some carbon dating of the bones of camels, along with techniques for measuring properties of the bone, which can allow them to determine whether they were wild or domesticated and had to carry greater weight for much of the time.

I think there are several reasons to be very skeptical of the conclusions the NYT article draws. Here are a few:

1. Genesis doesn't report lots of camels being used during the time of the patriarchs, as the article claims. They are sometimes listed among the animals they owned, but usually it's in smaller numbers, and the only reports of their being used for riding are to cross the desert regions or when referring to nomadic peoples like the Midianites who lived within such regions.

2. Abraham and Lot had to cross that desert to get to Canaan, and the only animals they could have used would have been camels. The NYT article even says that no other animals would be able to make that journey so easily, and even their skepticism doesn't apply to that sort of trip. So if Abraham did come from a region where camels were used regularly at this time (as the article admits), and he had to use them to cross the desert (as the article admits), it stands to reason that he wouldn't have killed them all when he got there and would have had at least a small enough number remaining when he had to send his servant to find a wife for Isaac and so on, and we know they kept their own cultural identity and may have been hesitant to trade their camels because of their relatively small number and inability or procure more while there. They might  have increased in number during the time he was living in Canaan, as long as there were only a relatively small number of them in this period, belonging precisely to his family, but that doesn't mean we should think there would be evidence of the larger number of them that the NYT article seems to expect there would be if they had them.

3. Abraham is portrayed as being rich, and the existence of a small number of camels in the lists of animals he owned is presented in the book as evidence of his wealth. If they were common around him, the small number of camels would seem insignificant compared with the huge number of other animals he had. But even a smaller number is presented as evidence of his great wealth. So the portrayal of his camels in the book fits nicely with the claim that the locals didn't have them.

4. If his family only used them when traveling across the desert or on long journeys (as the narrative itself indicates) but just maintained them as domesticated by not pack animals or riding animals, then even the ones that they did have might not have appeared to be domesticated by the methods of measuring the bone density and such that these scientists have been using.

5. So I think at best the conclusion being put forward here goes way beyond the evidence. If someone were to conclude from the Genesis narrative that camels were being used throughout the Canaanite region the way the article assumes the book presents things, then it would create a problem. It's still an argument from silence, but it would be odd for there to be no preserved camels from this period if they were that commonly used. But the Genesis narrative doesn't present such a picture, and there's no reason to think the picture it does present is unlikely to have produced the (lack of) evidence this new research provides.


The imminent ban on 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs is going to impose a significant cost on our household. This is an interesting case of a somewhat bi-partisan attempt to save energy while imposing what they took to be only a small cost on most households. But it is a cost, and it's cost that poorer households will be more burdened by. So, like New York's recent bottle bill that adds 5 cents to the cost of a larger variety of bottles, people with lower income will be more burdened by it if they continue to buy products in those bottles, while more affluent households will not notice as much of an effect of the increased cost. Our household, however, will be much more burdened by this than most.

The alternatives to incandescent bulbs don't seem to me to be genuine alternatives for our household. LED bulbs really are the best you can get. LED flashlights fail when the flashlight itself fails. It's never the bulbs that are the problem, and the batteries should last a very long time unless you leave them on all the time or never turn it on (in which case the batteries will corrode). But LED bulbs for ordinary household lights are still very expensive. The prices I'm finding for them online are something like $10 per bulb. This might be fine if they last forever and will never need to be replaced, and the energy savings might also help make up for it, but that's for a household where you won't need to replace them except when they fail on their own. We have a child who actively seeks to smash light bulbs whenever people forget to turn the lights on when he's home or when we let our attention turn to deal with anything but him, allowing him to climb on something to reach them. I think we lose a light bulb or two every week, and we can't be spending $10 per bulb at that sort of replacement rate.

Compact fluorescents are not a viable alternative either, for two reasons. Fluorescent bulbs do last longer than incandescent bulbs if you simply measure how many hours they can be left on before breaking, but that's not how most people use them. For businesses that leave the lights on for long stretches of time, they make sense. But if you turn them on and off regularly, they break far, far sooner than incandescent bulbs. They often don't last more than a few months with the kind of use they get in our house. I've seen them last a day or two more than once. They might save energy if you're willing to eat the cost of constantly replacing them, but they're not cost-effective unless you keep them on all day. This is not easy if you have been conscientious enough to develop a muscle-memory habit of turning the lights off when you leave the room, and it's next to impossible if you have children who will turn lights on and off all the time. I have to remind myself constantly not to turn the lights off in my office at work and in the classrooms I teach in, because it will cost the college too much money to keep turning them off and on again and replacing the bulbs regularly. The bulbs in our office are constantly in need of replacement, because people often turn them off when they leave the room, either not knowing of this problem or not thinking about it when they leave. And those are adults. There's really no way to control for what small children or children with autism will do with lights, and we've got both.

Even worse is the health hazard given the amount of mercury inside compact fluorescent bulbs. It's not a huge amount of mercury in a given bulb. It's about the size of a period in standard-size type. But even that amount is not a good idea to have around small children, and the EPA's recommended precautions for cleaning them up are simply not possible in our household. When you add in an autistic child who goes out of his way to unscrew them and smash them on the floor, it's simply not viable to have them in any bulbs he can either reach or stand on something to reach, which means none except in lights with closed cases.

Fortunately, the law doesn't ban incandescents altogether, just ones that are below a certain energy efficiency. The market provided a solution in the first phase of the ban. The light bulb industry managed to produce some 100-watt and 75-watt bulbs that met the standards that the first phase imposed, and we've been buying those bulbs (and will have to buy exclusively those bulbs until the industry produces similarly more-efficient 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs). We're not actually going to see incandescent bulbs disappear. We'll just see more expensive ones. This is an expense we'll have to absorb without seeing as much benefit as most households would get from it, since our the bulbs will have a shorter life than in most households. But it seems to me to be the best alternative for us.

Isaiah 1-12 sermons (2013)

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The introduction and preaching schedule for this section of the book is here.

1. Isaiah 1:1-9 They have despised the holy one of Israel (Jeremy Jackson) 9-1-13
2. Isaiah 1:10-20 Come now, let us reason together (Stefan Matzal) 9-8-13
3. Isaiah 1:21-2:4 Let us go up to the mountain of the LORD (John Hartung) 9-15-13
4. Isaiah 2:5-22 The LORD alone will be exalted in the day (Jeremy Jackson) 9-22-13
5. Isaiah 3:1-4:1 Their deeds are against the LORD (Nathaniel Jackson) 9-29-13
6. Isaiah 4:2-6 The branch of the LORD shall be beautiful (Stefan Matzal) 10-6-13
7. Isaiah 5:1-7 My beloved had a vineyard (Jeremy Jackson) 10-13-13
8. Isaiah 5:8-30 The LORD of hosts is exalted in justice (Stefan Matzal) 10-20-13
9. Isaiah 6 Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts (Jeremy Jackson) 11-3-13
10. Isaiah 7:1-8:10 It will not stand, for God is with us (Stefan Matzal) 11-10-13
11. Isaiah 8:11-9:7 The people ... in darkness have seen a great light (Nathaniel Jackson) 11-17-13
12. Isaiah 9:8-10:4 His hand is stretched out still (Stefan Matzal) 11-24-13
13. Isaiah 10:5-34 Be not afraid of the Assyrians (Jeremy Jackson) 12-1-13
14. Isaiah 11 A shoot from the stump of Jesse (Nathaniel Jackson) 12-8-13
15. Isaiah 12 Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel (Carlos Benedict) 12-15-13

Al Gurley also preached on Isaiah 9:1-7 in 1980. See the topical sermons here.
This entire section of Isaiah was previously covered in sermons in 1983.
Stefan Matzal preached a sermon on Isaiah 9 in 2009. See the topical sermons here.

For more sermons, see here.

Ethics and Disgust

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Thabiti Anyabwile has come under a lot of criticism from many quarters for his recent post on the gag reflex and Christian opposition to same-sex sexual acts, increasingly called "homosex" of late. [I'm still getting used to that word, because it still feels like an adjective to me (one without its proper ending), but it's a useful word compared with writing out something like "engaging in same-sex sexual activity, so I will use it.]

He has just posted a followup responding to some of the criticisms as well.

As I see it, there are several issues going on here, and I don't think all the participants in the conversation are keeping them straight. There are a number of ways his argument is being misrepresented (and then made fun of in pretty vile ways as a result), but there are also some genuine philosophical difficulties with some of the things he's saying, and I'm not entirely sure I agree with some of the key points. Even so, I think some of the things for which he's being unfairly made fun of by a lot of the opposition seemto me to be largely correct and even relatively obvious, things I'm not sure many people will really want to rid themselves of in their ethical theorizing if they were to think their views through more carefully. So maybe they should refrain from making fun of them, if I'm right about that. I want to work my way to that gradually, however, with a bit of a review of some of the key philosophical moves that have been made about the connection between morality and emotion.

1. Ethics and Emotion

I'm not interested first in the application to homosex, although I will say a few things about that later on. I'm primarily interested in the general strategy of ethical reasoning that involves paying heed to emotions like disgust. A good friend of mine complained on Twitter about the arguments found in the original post, arguing that if we allow disgust to guide our ethical judgments it would mean racists' disgust for racial interaction could generate moral principles against interracial marriage (or more particularly against interracial sex). If disgust shows us anything at all about genuine moral principles, the argument goes, then we have to follow our disgust whatever it leads us to loathe. And people can loathe all sorts of things, in ways that don't at all track genuine moral principles. So we shouldn't rely on our disgust to show us anything about morality.

I think this argument is a mistake. The fact that disgust can be directed against things that are not wrong does not show us that disgust isn't ever a guide to morality. All it shows us is that disgust can be fallible. It can sometimes be directed against things that are not morally wrong. But the same is true of emotionless reason. Emotionless reason presumably led Immanuel Kant to say that lying is always wrong. However, it also has presumably led other philosophers to say that lying, while usually wrong, is sometimes the morally right thing to do. If emotionless reason can generate both principles, then obviously it's fallible. But that doesn't mean it never helps us end up with correct moral principles. It just means it's fallible. It sometimes gets things wrong. We can't trust it 100%. But only a radical skeptic (or someone who grants the radical skeptic far too much, as Rene Descartes did) would claim that a source of information is worthless just because it's not 100% reliable. So I don't think we can rule out a connection between emotion and morality so quickly.

As it happens, recent work in feminist ethics has drawn a lot of attention to attempts to separate emotion from ethical reasoning that have led to a bias against ways of moral reasoning that have tended to be more paradigmatic of women than of men. This bias has had the effect of marginalizing women's ethical reasoning, to the detriment of our overall ethical reasoning. Alison Jaggar has argued that much of the history of ethical theory, which happens to have been done mostly by men, has either treated emotion as something completely isolated from ethical reasoning (as Kant did; emotion cannot be trusted, and the only way to get ethical understanding is to reason in a way that doesn't involve emotion) or as the foundation of all our ethics but a foundation that has no basis in any ethical truth (as David Hume did; there is no ethical truth, because ethics is pure emotion and not reasoned).

Thankfully, Jaggar is wrong about the history of philosophy. Sometimes it's because she misinterprets particular philosophers, such as her reading of the Stoics as being opposed to all emotion, which she can be forgiven for, because, well, they do actually say that. But philosophers are often bad reporters of their own views, and it turns out it's not feelings that the Stoics think we should rid ourselves of. It's bad reasoning, which is how they define emotion. There are plenty of feelings, according to the Stoics, that are perfectly fine to have as long as they're compatible with reasoning well. Certainly the Stoics emphasize reason and say they oppose emotion, but what they oppose isn't what we normally call emotion. The Stoic view on emotion is perfectly compatible with taking what most of us call emotions to be very important for ethics. In fact, having the right feelings, ones compatible with reason, is even crucial for the Stoics. They just won't call those feelings emotions.

Jaggar also seems to me to underemphasize the ways that historical philosophers even put a good deal of effort into organizing their ethical theories around emotions. Plato considered it extremely important for the best possible life that your emotions be engaged in appreciating goodness itself on an emotional level. Aristotle explained some of the most important virtues as simply having the tendency to respond to your circumstances with the right level of emotional response. Augustine's entire account of virtue makes it emotional: virtue is having well-ordered love, whereby you love the best things the most and the less-good things less fully. I myself think all three of them were largely right in these things. Ethics is very much tied up with emotion, and attempts to separate ethics from emotion the way Hume and Kant did are, to my thinking, disastrous.

But several questions remain. It's one thing to say that ethics involves having the right emotions. It's another to say that our emotions are, even sometimes, a good guide to the right ethical principles. We certainly can't just read our ethics off whatever emotions we happen to have. There are plenty of times when my emotional response isn't proportional to an offense that's committed, and I either overreact or underestimate a wrong that's taken place. Or I might not be properly placed to experience the good in something and not be as able to rejoice as I should at some good. There are lots of cases where our emotional judgments are a little off, and there are enough cases, such as with the racist example above, where they are drastically off. Indeed, a Christian who believes in the doctrine of the fall should be the first to recognize that, and that was even crucial for Augustine's ethical theory. Our emotions are often not directed in ways that remotely match up with what's truly good.

2. Ethics, Disgust, and Moral Reasoning

But that doesn't mean there's no role for disgust to play in helping us to see certain ethical truths. Jaggar's feminist treatment of this subject is a good example. She argues that women, having been oppressed for the entirety of recorded history by being told that their emotions are wrong when those emotions contradict how they're being treated, are nevertheless right to pay heed to those emotions, because those emotions are genuine clues to the reality that our socially-constructed narrative is otherwise blinding us to. A member of an oppressed group might have absorbed the narrative that they, as unintelligent slaves, have no rights and need the help of those who are guiding society along to make their decisions for them, but their emotions tell them that the views they've officially adopted on the level of conscious reason are somehow wrong. This can be so for any oppressed or marginalized group, not just women, but she picks out women as a group because women have been told (and less so in outright words in recent years but still conditioned by society in this direction) that they are emotional rather than reasoning beings, that their emotions are less trustworthy than the reasoning that's been identified as paradigmatic of men. I don't agree with everything Jaggar says along these lines, but there's quite a lot of it that strikes me as right about the history of how women are viewed and about some of the elements of how we (men and women today) are still conditioned to view each other and ourselves.

So if Jaggar is right, then there are at least some contexts in which emotions will be even a better guide to truth than the more emotionless reasoning that can easily be simply the reflex of our socially-conditioned environment, our lip service to the biases of our day. Now emotions can do that, too, as evidenced by racist disgust at interracial sex, for example. But all Jaggar is claiming is that sometimes emotions can be a better guide to moral truth than whatever process underlies what we're conditioned to call emotionless reason. And that seems to me to be absolutely right.

Even more, I think there are cases where we can show that our emotion adds something to moral reasoning that you simply cannot get from the emotionless reasoning. A friend of mine who works in aesthetics once gave a case that seems to me to indicate this pretty nicely. Suppose you're eating a kidney and a little bit disgusted at it. This is not moral disgust at all. You just ended up in a situation where you're expected to eat something that you don't like the taste of, and you find it a bit disgusting. But after you've been eating it for a few minutes, you discover that it's a human kidney. Suddenly your level of disgust goes way up. That's not from the taste of it, which didn't change, or from any emotionless reason, because emotionless reason has no emotion and thus by itself wouldn't increase your disgust. Rather, your level of disgust increases because of some moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that upon rational examination would easily stand up. Eating humans is morally worse than eating a kidney from some other animal. It should disgust us, and it does. We should feel greater disgust at eating humans, if we're morally healthy. That doesn't mean that it follows that eating humans is always wrong. It's compatible with this disgust that eating humans who died independently of our actions in a case of survival is morally allowable. Yet it does seem that there's a moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that very few people would question, and it's hard to argue that the disgust isn't a sign of that moral truth. The disgust signifies that truth. Its continuation from generation to generation helps maintain our resistance to cannibalism, and we should be glad for that.

(I should note that this example is a lot like C.S. Lewis' example of finding out that you're eating a deer that was a talking deer in The Silver Chair. The difference, there, however, is that those eating the deer didn't have disgust at all until they found out it was a talking deer. Here there's already disgust at eating the kidney, but it takes on a whole new level of disgust when you learn that it's a human kidney.)


I recently rewatched the 1975 Doctor Who episode "Genesis of the Daleks" by Terry Nation. Some online discussions I looked at about "Genesis of the Daleks" made some interesting, and to my mind obviously false, claims about how it fits (or doesn't) into the overall canonical fictional world of Doctor Who.

One claim in particular claim that caught my interest was the accusation that Terry Nation contradicted some of his earlier Doctor Who episodes about the Daleks in giving the origin of the Daleks in this serial. One discussion pointed out that Nation had made an effort not to contradict his first serial "The Daleks" from 1963, where he establishes the Daleks as creations of a race called the Dals in their war against the Thals. The supposed contradiction comes with "Genesis of the Daleks" when Nation actually shows us this war between the Thals and the race that created the Daleks, and the creator race is not called the Dals but is called The Kaleds.

Here's my problem. This is not a contradiction. A contradiction takes the form 'P and not-P". There is nothing of that form here. What you do have is:

1. The race who created the Daleks at the time of the Daleks' creation called themselves the Kaleds.
2. The Thals also called them the Kaleds at that time.
3. At a much later time, probably many centuries later, after an apocalyptic destruction of all civilization and a loss of a good deal of accurate information about the details of that earlier time, someone speaks of the race that created the Daleks as the Dals.

I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing how any of that makes for an inconsistency. If we were sure the person telling us they were called the Dals was speaking the truth, that would even be difficult to get a contradiction, because it's possible they came to be called the Dals at some time after "Genesis of the Daleks" or that they were called that at some earlier time, and that name came to be the more common one to use again after the apocalypse. But we can't even be sure the Thal telling us this has the right information. Maybe it's just that the wrong name was preserved. There are quite a number of things that could explain how 1-3 might all be true. Terry Nation simply did not contradict his earlier Dalek stories. What he did is use a different name without explaining why different names were used at those two different times, but it's not a contradiction.

I think there's a certain personality type that just likes to find contradictions in everything. A lot of fan criticism of science fiction and fantasy stories exhibits similar problems to the one I've been discussing here. I could point out lots of other examples. That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate criticisms to level against authors. I've criticized J.K. Rowling in print about her concept of changing the past in the third Harry Potter novel, although I did so after pointing out some rather implausible ways of making the story work to avoid the problem I raised. The implausibility there would involve reliable narrators who would know better telling untruths, however, which is more of a stretch than someone centuries after an apocalyptic event getting a name of an extinct civilization wrong or the possibility that the group was actually called by two different names.

How you evaluate such attempts to make canonical worlds coherent in part does depend on how plausible the explanation might be to avoid the contradiction. It's nice for fictional worlds to be coherent. Sometimes that's impossible. Sometimes it involves an implausibility but is possible. And sometimes it's not all that implausible if you just think a little harder to see how things might fit together, when at first they seem not to.

It's hard not to think of critics who like to find contradictions in the Bible when I look at these stories. There are some genuine difficulties in fitting together some parts of the Bible. I've never seen one that guarantees a contradiction, especially when you take into account that inerrantists don't take the current manuscripts to be inerrant but allow for errors in transcription from manuscript to manuscript. But I have seen places where it's not easy to come up with one highly plausible explanation that shows for sure why the apparent contradiction is not a real one. In most of them, there have been several explanations, where not one stands out as the most plausible, and even most of them involve something somewhat unlikely but possible. There's none I know of where I would judge all the explanations as so implausible as to require rational evaluators to think it has to involve two contradictory statements that can't be resolved. But I'm coming from an epistemological standpoint where I think the prior plausibility is relatively high. I consider myself to be in a position where I think I have good reasons for taking the Bible as it presents itself, as God's word, and it follows from that that it's more likely that there is a solution even if I don't know what it is than that there isn't. So I'm going to take the less-plausible-sounding accounts as less certain, but I'm going to be more likely to think that one of them is probably true.

That's one difference with fictional worlds. I don't believe there even are Daleks or Time Lords, never mind that the entire Doctor Who canon is consistent. (I think it certainly isn't coherent when it comes to fundamental questions of time travel, for example.) But someone who thinks God is real and is basically the way God is presented in the Bible is going to place a higher prior probability on there being some resolution to a proposed contradiction than someone who has no prior trust in those documents. And I would argue that someone doing this is right to do so if the prior probability is based on a good epistemic state to begin with. And that makes accepting truth in texts that are hard to fit together much easier to do (and not in a way that undermines rationality, assuming the prior probability itself has a rational grounding.

That assumption of prior probability, of course, is one of the fundamental disputes to begin with, but you can't just assume at the outset that someone who is more willing to trust a set of scriptures is wrong in doing so, and pointing to potential contradictions isn't necessarily going to turn the tide of the conversation unless you first undermine the prior probability. Supposed but not actual contradictions, even if they are difficult to put together, are therefore very weak evidence against the coherence of a worldview when the person who holds that worldview is more sure of it than they are of the irresolvability of the supposed contradiction. That makes for people coming from very different standpoints evaluating the supposed contradictions very differently, and from within their world view each seems to themselves to be right in how they do that. That's something that I think not enough people on either side of such debates can see.

In Thabiti Anyabwile's response to the George Zimmerman verdict yesterday, he made some comments about his ongoing position on the unreality of race, which I've tried to engage with him on before. I'm not surprised he wasn't interested in continuing that conversation on that post, but he did chime in to appreciate the conversation that arose between me and another commenter there. It's very different to engage with this issue on a popular level, as compared with the more technical philosophical engagement with this issue that I've spent much of the last decade of my life working on. It's also different to engage with particularly Christian arguments, which obviously don't arise very often among critical philosophers of race. I thought some of what I wrote in the conversation might be worth preserving here, so here are some excerpts. If you want to read the entire conversation, you can see my initial comment here and then the beginning of the conversation with another commenter here. Perhaps this can give a taste of my forthcoming book on this topic to those who have been asking about it (which I'm trying to finish revising this summer, with the hope of a publication date by the end of the year if I succeed).

Here are the excerpts I wanted to preserve, first from my initial comment:

I'm not sure you're being fair to those who insist that races are real entities. Most academics who hold that view nowadays do not think races are natural kinds, and thus no scripture that deals with what's fundamentally true about human interconnectedness and the restoration thereof in the new covenant community has anything to do with that kind of claim of racial realities. I agree with all your reasons for rejecting races, but I just don't think that conclusion follows.

The main view that anyone actually holds among philosophers about this that recognizes real races is that races are social kinds, created by human practices and given reality thereby, the same way that money, universities, and the category of political libertarians are entities created by social practices. The difference with races is that they (1) have been generated in part by evil practices, which should require us to reconceive how we think of them and move our society to reconfigure the categories, but it doesn't mean they don't exist and (2) there is a moral significance to those categories on a level that generates obligations, both in interpersonal relations between individuals where such obligations might not exist or not exist as strongly between two people of the same race, and on a larger scale where the sorts of things people refer to as racial justice would come in.

And I think this is different from ethnicity or culture. Ethnicity is partly a sub-category of race. It involves smaller sub-groups of the racial groups. There are white people, and then there are varieties of white people -- English, Swedish, etc. And someone's race can often be apparent when ethnicity is not, and something socially holds together all the white ethnic groups as white in how our society treats people who get assigned that category. Also, ethnicity and race are assigned differently. Race is more often assigned by society based on appearance, although ancestry plays a role. But ethnicity is much less about appearance and much more about ancestry and cultural heritage. And culture is entirely different. There are plenty of people who almost anyone would consider racially black but ethnically white or (more controversially) the reverse.

I would say that there's something Barack Obama has in common with Chris Rock, and it isn't culture or ethnicity. They likely don't have any recent common ancestry (and if they did it would be on Obama's mother's side), and Obama's cultural background is largely from his white mother and his Indonesian step-father (until he deliberately adopted black culture in Chicago, but that's not his culture of origin). But the mere fact of how they are perceived by most Americans as being in the same race puts them in the same socially-assigned category as each other, even if there's nothing more fundamental than social facts that could ground such judgments. But there's nothing more fundamental in our nature to ground our assignment to categories like college students, Baptists, Democrats, or government employees. Yet we have no problem recognizing those groups, even though we don't recognize those-with-attached-earlobes or those-who-can-curl-their-tongues, even though those are categories related to biology, precisely because those categories are not socially important for any reason. If government policy, patterns of discrimination, or stereotyped attitudes corresponded to such arbitrary categories, then there would be a similar social reality to such categories as there is with race.

You can hold all that while rejecting the idea that racial categories get at some fundamental lines in nature and while insisting that all human beings in Christ are one in Christ without there being divisions along racial lines. You can hold all that while insisting that Christians should not form our fundamental identities in racial categories but in Christ. But we have to keep in mind that Paul's insistence that there is no Jew or Greek doesn't stop him from treating Jew and Greek differently in how he evangelizes them. We can recognize the reality of a social phenomenon and accept the categories made salient by that social phenomenon without denying any of what lies behind your resistance to races.

And here is some of the conversation that followed with another commenter, who had put forward the view that there are no races but there is racism:

The introduction and preaching schedule for this set of teachings includes four topical sermons from the end of June through early July and then the final four epistles that complete Trinity Fellowship's coverage of the entire New Testament. The topical sermons in this set can be found here. This post is for sermons on the four epistles.

1. Philemon 1-16 More than a slave ... a beloved brother (Nathaniel Jackson) 7-21-13
2. Philemon 17-25 Refresh my heart in Christ (Jeremy Jackson) 7-28-13
3. Jude 1-19 Contend for the faith (Stefan Matzal) 8-4-13
4. Jude 20-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you (Stefan Matzal) 8-11-13
5. 2 John This is love ... his commandments (Will Trautman) 8-18-13
6. 3 John Do not imitate evil ... but good (Nathaniel Jackson) 8-25-13

Stefan's blog posts related to these sermons:

1. Background Information on the Epistle of Jude 7-30-13
2. Thoughts on Psalm 121 (also touches on Jude) 8-6-13

For more sermons, see here.

Laurie Shrage is a well-respected philosopher who writes a lot about feminist issues. She wrote a piece for the NYT this week that seems to me to undermine one of the key feminist contentions found in many discussions of abortion. One of the major feminist arguments for abortion is that it gives to women something that men have always had because of biology. Men have been able to have as much sex as they want while taking no responsibility for any children they thereby produce, because women have to face the consequences by bearing the children, and men can simply leave. If we let men avoid the consequence of fatherhood, we should let women have as much consensual sex as they want and not have to be mothers if that happens to result.

What Shrage points out is that this is simply not so. In the United States, any man who tries to do what men in this argument are assumed to do will find it very difficult to avoid legal responsibility for the children he sires. Men don't have any way to avoid being legally responsible for their children the way women do, since they can't force someone to have an abortion. Assume that a couple engage in sex where each is equally responsible for the fact that they had sex and for any steps they took not to conceive. That may not always be so, but assume it is. If they do conceive, she can have an abortion, with or without his consent. What can he do to avoid fatherly responsibility? Pretty much nothing. And if she impregnates herself by obtaining a sperm sample from him against his will and then lies and says they had sex, he is still going to assume legal responsibility if she insists on pursuing that.

None of this requires denying that there are asymmetries in relations between men and women. It simply points out that n this respect women actually have easily available ways to avoid legal responsibility than men do. When you factor in adoption, I think the same thing occurs. She can choose to give birth and seek adoption. He can't. And there might be those who argue that this is right. Because of how women have been and still are treated differentially in ways that harm women, women should have more rights in this area.

But if Shrage is right that this differential is something we should not want for our society, I don't think it follows that we should give men an out the way we give women an out, which is what I think she's assuming. It might simply be that we should be more cautious at how easily we allow people not to take responsibility for their actions. Maybe we should assume more responsibility on both sides. Her argument strikes me as assuming a kind of absolute voluntarism about acquiring responsibilities. We can't be assumed to take on a responsibility unless we choose to. Our child support laws show that, as a society, we don't think that. And one can just as easily argue that we should rethink our abortion laws in light of that as you can seek to revise our child support laws to make them more fair. The absolute right to abortion assumed by many on the pro-choice side of the abortion dispute relies on Shrage's premise that we can't acquire responsibilities merely because of the situation we find ourselves in. And it seems to me that in many areas of life we do assume we can involuntarily assume responsibilities, such as

(a) when a child playing stickball accidentally breaks a window
(b) when a witness to a crime accrues the responsibility to report it and to testify in court because of it
(c) when someone who sees an assault take place and is in a position to do something about it takes on a moral responsibility to do what they can, taking into account that their right to their own safety might weaken that responsibility but surely wouldn't remove it altogether
(d) when someone leaves a child on my front porch, and I have some obligation to make sure it receives the care it needs
(e) [added a few hours after initial posting] when someone ends up with a child with severe disabilities that require the kind of care that few parents would have thought they were consenting to when choosing to become parents
(f) [also added a few hours after initial posting] when someone chooses to have a child in the usual case, not knowing remotely the kind of work and commitment is required in raising a child to adulthood, at least not with their first child

The absolute voluntarist view about acquiring responsibilities seems obviously wrong once you think about other kinds of cases. So why should we assume we should make men less responsible for the kids they conceive engaging in activity that they know can produce children? And why should the absolute right to abortion rest on such a premise when we don't hold to that premise any other time? There are other arguments for a right to abortion, but this seems to me to be one of the more common ones that I find among those familiar with the philosophical literature, going back to Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous 1971 paper. I think this is one of that paper's most important assumptions, and it amazes me that so many people accept the arguments of that paper without grappling with this highly controversial assumption.

 
 











The 452nd Christian Carnival, covering Christian blog posts for the month of May, is at The Chic of Domesticity. It includes my Zadok post.

Doctor Who and Race

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Apparently a new book is out (or perhaps is about to come out), analyzing Doctor Who and race, and it has angered someone at the BBC enough that they've come out with a response to the charge that the show is "thunderously racist". The article gives no further information about the book, but a quick Google search turns up this site that seems to be intended to promote the book. This seems to be the call for papers, giving a sense of what the publisher or editor wanted the articles to be like before any of them were written.

I have two thoughts. One is that the pushback from the scifi blogs and from the BBC, pointing out ways Doctor Who is racially forward, seem to me to be generally accurate. Consider the contemporary show especially. Martha Jones was by far the most intelligent of all the recent companions, and she's black. She was a medical student, even, and she eventually became a doctor. The other recent companions have mostly been working-class women with much less education. They dealt with the inter-racial relationship of Mickey and Rose as if that were perfectly normal. There have been plenty of guest starts, and those of non-white races have not seemed to me to be remotely racially stereotypical in most cases.

There might be racially insensitive moments of the original series, reflecting those times (meaning that it's not any more racially-insensitive than anything else in those days). The show started in the 1960s, after all. There were several early serials where the reality of the available actors in the UK at the time required that they use white actors to play Aztecs or the soldiers of Genghis Khan. If you did something like that now, you'd better do it right.

Some say the SNL portrayal of President Obama by a white actor was much more successful at this than most instances of blackface. It remains to be seen whether Johnny Depp will get away with his Tonto in the Lone Ranger later this year. But in the 1960s, when the actors you had available were all or mostly white, you had to make do with what you have, and the issue is mainly not who's playing the characters but whether they act in a way that furthers harmful stereotypes. In my judgment, most such instances on Doctor Who do not, at least where I am in the series now, which is 1971, with a smattering of episodes throughout the later Doctors and then the new series through the early sixth season.

As for the claim that primitive cultures are portrayed as savages, all you need to do is look to the second serial, The Daleks, where the Thals, who had gone primitive after centuries of post-apocalyptic avoidance of technology, were anything but savage. It was The Doctor who convinced them to overcome their pacifism and fight back against the Daleks. There was even the serial called The Savages, where the idea that they were savages was held by the dominant technological society in that world but turned out to be false, and at the end they have to learn to live together in harmony. And those examples were both in the 60s.

The reality is that a long-running show like Doctor Who will eventually display the prejudices of its times, but it has many, many moments of breaking away from those, and it often has done so in creative and helpful ways, using alien races as analogies for human racial relations or for colonial or slave relations. It's perfectly legitimate to point out ways Doctor Who has assumed cultural superiority of certain groups and such, assuming it has done so in the particular cases. It's fine to point out ways the show has represented stereotypes when it has done so. But it does not do to make blanket statements based on a few individual cases about the show as a whole, especially if the current show is implicated in problems with past representations. And if you talk about Doctor Who now, it doesn't make any sense just to point to examples from decades ago.

So that's my first thought. The reaction of Doctor Who fans and the BBC to the charge of racism seems to me to be largely correct. The show doesn't seem to deserve the label "thunderously racist". The criticism seems to me to be ill-informed.

But that brings me to my second thought, which is that the knee-jerk reaction doesn't strike me as very informed either. Take a look at the call for papers, and then go to the site promoting this new book to see what the various articles in the book are actually doing. Here is a list of the main points for each chapter


Seven years ago I wrote a post explaining why I think a common theory among biblical scholars is both against our best evidence and unnecessary in order to explain a few puzzling features of the texts we have. The puzzling features are as follows:

When Aaron dies in the Torah, it says his son Eleazar takes over the high priestly position, and then Eleazar's son Phinehas inherits that role when Eleazar dies. Yet the line of Eleazar does not seem to maintain that position by the time of Samuel. Eli seems to be occupying a high priestly role, and he's descended from Eleazar's brother Ithamar. Yet the biblical texts do report of the line of Eleazar being preserved, notably in a man named Zadok, whom David seems to elevate to a high priestly role of seemingly equal authority with a continuing high priestly descendant of Ithamar. It's only when that man betrays David that we seem to have a return to one high priest.

The common scholarly theory takes the texts to be unreliable reports of events. There's no direct evidence that Zadok was anything other than a Levite descended from Aaron through Eleazar. There's no direct evidence that the Eleazar line was invented wholesale in the Torah in order to retcon Zadok as a more legitimate priest than Ithamar's by-then-disgraced servants who had sided with the coup against David. But the suspicion because of the puzzling facts of the previous paragraph has somehow become unquestioned and even is presented as obvious by a lot of biblical scholars, when there are several other explanations of why the text reports what it does, none of them less likely to my mind than the suspicious explanation. I give two in that post seven years ago, and a third occurred to me this morning.

One possibility from the previous post is that the descendants of Eleazar had forsaken their responsibilities during the time of the Judges, which is entirely fitting with how Israel is described during that time, and the descendants of Ithamar were left to run the operation of the tabernacle and early pre-Solomonic temple structures (like the one we see in the early chapters of I Samuel).

The other possibility from the earlier post is just a decentralization of worship, not really being faithful to the tabernacle set up in the Torah (which would also fit with what the book of Judges tells us of that period). In this second case, Phinehas' descendants might still have been operating as priests, and indeed may even have considered themselves high priests, but other priests were operating in other locations, contrary to Torah specifications, and in each location someone was functioning like a high priest for that location.

The third explanation that occurred to me this morning is that there was a pattern for selecting the high priest that didn't consistently follow our expected rules of succession. Perhaps Phinehas' selection of high priest to succeed Eleazar has wrongly suggested to us that it would always continue as father to eldest living son. But perhaps instead the rule was eldest living male descendant of Aaron. If Ithamar died before Eleazar, then Phinehas might well have been the oldest male descendant at that time, as the eldest son of the eldest son of Aaron who had children (the oldest two seem to have died without children, or else their entire lines were disqualified for their fathers' sins). But the next high priest might have been a younger brother of Phinehas or an uncle or cousin from the Ithamar line. And this might not have had to have been a rule adopted at the outset. It could even have been a modification implemented later on, whether legitimately or not. The Torah doesn't ever specify, from what I can remember, how the high priest would be chosen. It might have been by Urim and Thummim or something, in which case the high priest could even be the youngest priest of age.

I think any of these explanations could be true, and all of them seem more likely to me than the possibility that the texts were all fabricated in order to explain a non-Aaronic family becoming pretenders to the Aaronic line. In a culture with such a high emphasis on geneaology, especially as evidenced in the narratives of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles to establish credentials beyond a shadow of doubt before someone could serve as a priest or Levite, I find it incredibly unlikely that someone could craft such a massive conspiracy that would rewrite all these texts that would have been so known and loved by the faithful Israelites who returned from exile. There's such an emphasis in those books on the careful study of the Torah that the conspiracy theory has to be far less likely by any reasonable weighing of the alternatives than any of the three possibilities that I've proposed.

There are a few other facts that might help us sort through the options. I'll look at just one, because it's sometimes used as an argument against the kinds of reconstruction I'm putting forward here. The texts from Samuel and Kings never refer to any of these priests as high priest. The conspiracy theory takes that to signal that the Samuel and Kings texts were earlier, and the language of high priest wasn't developed until much later and inserted into the Torah along with the concocted genealogies and stories that either invent Eleazar altogether or fabricate his genealogical connection with Zadok. But there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why this would be that completely fits with the texts we have without the massive reinterpretation required by the conspiracy theory. Taking the texts at face value, we have a scenario where there's a high-priestly position set up, and at least on the first two explanations, something goes wrong with that scenario. Someone is functioning as high priest who, ideally, shouldn't be.

1. On the scenario of the fallen line of Eleazar, the rightful high priest isn't even functioning as a priest. So the person who takes on that role, knowing that he's not really the high priest, refuses to call himself high priest. Then that becomes the habit, and when David restores the Eleazar line with Zadok he maintains two leading priests until Zadok takes over fully by himself, and even then we have the habit of simply referring to him as the priest (as opposed to a priest).

2. On the decentralization hypothesis, the leading priests in each location might have been hesitant to call themselves the high priest, and it became habit to refer to even the rightful high priest as the priest, because there wasn't a lot to distinguish him from the other chief priests in other locations.

3. On the alternate method of deciding the high priest, there may actually have been a continuing high priest, who was called high priest all along, but the rightful high priest may have been faithful to Saul and not David. David, perhaps too loyal to the man who had been functioning as priest under him, was willing to bring Zadok on as a parallel leading priest in order to comply with some of the Torah regulations, but did not make him (or at least did not call him) high priest until he was the sole leading priest.

I don't think we have enough information to sort through which of these three might be more likely with respect to each other, but they all seem more likely to me than the conspiracy theory that many scholars seem to have adopted as the only obvious reconstruction of historical events. And the mere possibility of three coherent reconstructions that could easily be imagined to have happened should give us pause at any attempt to reconstruct the historical scenario in a way that actually conflicts with the only evidence we have about these events.

I was glancing through the new issue of Themelios to see which articles to save to read later, and I noticed a review of a new book on time and timelessness that included a nice summary of a common confusion in many online conversations I've had about the B-theory of time, which is often (and in this review) called the tenseless theory of time:

What is often misunderstood is that the tenseless theory of time is, in fact, a theory on time and change. Holland, like most others, treats the tenseless theory of time as if it were about timelessness. The idea seems to be that a tenseless theory of time gives us a world where all moments are equally, wholly, simultaneously, and timelessly present to God. But the tenseless theory of time does not give us this. All it gives us is a theory about what is true at certain times without any reference to tense. An example of a tenseless truth is <Wipf & Stock publish Richard Holland's book on February 20, 2012 at 8:00am>Granted, this proposition does not change its truth-value like <Wipf & Stock will publish Holland's book tomorrow> does. But the tenseless proposition still gives us a proposition about what is true at a particular time. Even if the tenseless theory did entail a particular ontology of time whereby the past, present, and future all exist, it would not give us a state of affairs where all moments of time are simultaneously present to God. This is because all moments of time are not simultaneous together, even on a tenseless theory of time.

The reviewer goes on to explain how this problem occurred in the book being reviewed.

There are two other problems I've encountered with people arguing against the tenseless theory of time, involving confusions of a different sort. I think the most common is the pretense that the tenseless theory of time amounts to the view that nothing changes, that all objects at each time are always at those times, that there is no succession of moments, and so on. The B-theory, static view of time, or tenseless view of time says nothing of sort. All it says is that time consists of moments in a succession of before, after, and simultaneity and that none of those relationships are reducible to tensed propositions. Rather, tensed propositions are grounded in the relations before, after, and simultaneous. There is no objective present, past, or future. Those terms are relative to what moment in time you're speaking of (or speaking at). But there's never any denial of change, of ordering in time, or of anything like that. And adding a timeless God to the picture doesn't change any of that. It's still true for God that the moments in time happen in an order and that the things in time change. It's just that God's own experience of those moments in time isn't temporally ordered (but that doesn't mean God is unaware of the order of the events in time, as a number of my students have wrongly taken the idea of atemporality to imply).

The other problem I see regularly is confusing this theory of time with a completely different theory about persistence of objects through time, namely the four-dimensionalist or temporal parts view. The latter view is a theory about how an object persists through time, whether it is by enduring through time, being wholly present at each moment it exists at or being spread out across time as a four-dimensional object with parts at times. In fact, most people who hold to the tenseless theory (or B-theory) of time are not four-dimensionalists. But many people who try to argue for an alternative theory of time, in my experience, want to start with arguments against four-dimensionalism, which is a view about an entirely separate issue.

Update: I should say that there's a fourth, which is where the review starts, which is to distinguish between ontologies of time (i.e. whether only the present exists, the present and the past, or the past, present, and future) and theories about how tensed and tenseless propositions relate. Philosophers have been tying these issues together, and it's only very recently that metaphysicians have begun to tease them apart. Several top philosophers of time still don't understand that these are separate issues. The above issues involve distinctions that most philosophers get right but that undergraduates in my classes or people discussing philosophy or theology online, outside the academic context of formal training in philosophy, often get wrong. I blame people less for the fourth error, since top metaphysicians still don't see that distinction.

Ezra sermons

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The introductory and preaching schedule for this unit of teaching is here.

1. Ezra 1 "The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia." (Jeremy Jackson) 4-14-13
2. Ezra 2 "These were the people who came up out of captivity." (Stefan Matzal) 4-21-13
3. Ezra 3 "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." (John Hartung) 4-28-13
4. Ezra 4 "The work on the house of God ... stopped." (Nathaniel Jackson) 5-5-13
5. Ezra 5:1-6:14a "The eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews." (Stefan Matzal) 5-12-13
6. Ezra 6:14b-22 "The LORD ... turned the heart of the king." (Stefan Matzal) 5-19-13
7. Ezra 7 "To study the law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach." (Jeremy Jackson) 5-26-13
8. Ezra 8 "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him." (Stefan Matzal) 6-2-13
9. Ezra 9 "We are before you in our guilt." (Nathaniel Jackson) 6-9-13
10. Ezra 10 "Make confession to the LORD ... and do his will." (Jeremy Jackson) 6-16-13

Blog posts to go with this sermon series:

1. Past, Present, and Future Restoration 4-13-13
2. graphic for 4-21-13 sermon 4-28-13
3: Ezra 4-6 (post 1): Bookends 5-4-13
4. Ezra 4-6 (post 2): Parallel Panels 5-7-13
5. Ezra 4-6 (post 3): Mirrored Words 5-10-13
6. Ezra 4-6 (post 4): Covenant Relationship 5-14-13
7. Ezra 4-6 (post 5): Persecution 5-17-13
8. Ezra 4-6 (post 6): The Character of God 5-19-13
9. Ezra 4-6 (post 7): Seeking God 5-22-13
10. From the Cutting Room Floor: Ezra 8 6-5-13

Other Ezra sermons from Trinity Fellowship:

In 2010, Jeremy Jackson preached a topical sermon partly based on Ezra 7:1-10. See here.
In 1991, Jeremy Jackson preached a topical sermon on Ezra 8:21-23. See here.

For more sermons, see here.

Tokenism

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I've been thinking about the concept of tokenism and why we find it problematic, given that virtually everyone who complains about tokenism thinks there is some good in having representation by those who are underrepresented in a particular sphere. What makes the difference between the cases where we find it unproblematic to try to get people more represented and those where we consider it tokenism? A few considerations come to mind:

The most obvious cases of tokenism are when someone just wants to appear forward-thinking and progressive by selecting people of an underrepresented group without really being concerned at all about the underlying ethical issues. If a college's admissions literature and website are littered with pictures of non-white students when such students are only 1% of the college's population, we might cry foul and wonder why they think they can pretend the school is more diverse than it is just to make themselves look good.

We should be careful here, of course. An institution might not be doing this just to look good. They might be thinking that portraying the student body in such an inaccurate manner will help attract students in those very groups, and they might have good motivations for wanting such a change. But it still seems wrong in such a case, even though it's not merely to generate a false view of the school to garner a better reputation. The dishonesty in the portrayal seems like a kind of tokenism. We might select people out of underrepresented groups to make it look like our institution is better than it is, or we might do so for purer motives, namely to try to make it better than it is, but either way the dishonesty of portraying it that way seems to fall under our concept of tokenism.

So is it basically a kind of dishonesty that makes something a case of tokenism? I don't think it's as simply as that. Consider a TV show that has their one token black in a mainly white cast. That black character might display all the stereotypes of black characters, in which case it might be criticized for stereotyping. On the other hand, it might display no such stereotypes, in which case it might be accused of sanitizing the character to make them more white-friendly. You might then think the critics are unfair. You can't win, no matter what you do? Actually, I don't think that's the problem. I think the no-win situation is set up because you don't have enough black characters both (a) on TV in general and (b) on the show in question. Even having two black characters, one of each type, is better than having one token black who fits either mold. The solution seems to me to be to have a diversity of black characters, some of whom display some stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters, some of whom display fewer stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters. What saves the day for a show that might be accused of tokenism is to have a variety of real characters showing a diversity of real-life traits from real people. Portray them so that the audience cares about them. Portray real inner conflict, hard choices, and so on. Make your characters of color as interesting and developed as all the other characters, and have enough of them across the variety of TV shows that we create, and you're a lot less susceptible to be accused of tokenism.

What does that suggest about what tokenism is? It's not just plain honesty, because there's plenty of room in there for trying to have as many characters as you can that don't fit well with the actual percentages of which black people have which traits. You don't need to have your black characters have children out of wedlock at exactly the rate that happens among black people in real life. You don't need to have them like hip-hop at the same percentages. You don't need to have them attending college or being incarcerated at the same rates. You need some level of honesty there to the point where you're not ignoring realities in society too much, but you can steer stereotypes by having lots of counter-stereotypical characters, and of course a lot of what you can do will be affected by what kind of show it is. Game of Thrones won't have anyone listening to hip-hop or being incarcerated in American prisons. The core problem seems to be, rather, that tokenism doesn't care about the people or characters enough to do much more than trot them out for the appearance. A character on a superhero show who is a token black might be stereotypical or might not be, but we won't care about the character very much, because the person isn't fleshed out very much. Tokens in college promotional literature are there for the appearance, and in a sense so are the undeveloped characters who are there just to have representation.

Now how does this relate to the use of tokenism-language in the context of affirmative action? Some conservative critics of affirmative action see it as harmful to those it's intended to help, partly because it isn't concerned with their success in college but just wants to have diversity as an element of its student body. It isn't concerned with finding students who will be as prepared to succeed, because it's more interested in showing off its diverse composition. In that sense, it would be like the case of admissions literature. But this isn't the only way to conceive of affirmative action. Even with the diversity rationale, one can be engaged with affirmative action policies in order to promote diversity, where there's a further goal for that diversity, and that can be to promote further racial justice for the sake of those who would be benefited by their being such racial policies. That motivation strikes me as not tokenist, even though the actions would seem to have roughly the same outcome with either motivation. So tokenism is not just about consequences. It's about why you engage in the actions you engage in to begin with.

I can imagine a student group at a college, maybe a religious or political group, that wants to seek more diversity. They might undertake efforts to promote their group among groups that are not well represented in their group at present. They might change their methods or approach to be more culturally acceptable to such groups. They might change their focus to include things people in those groups would care about. Is this tokenism? It seems to me that the answer depends on why they're doing it. If they want the people they're targeting merely because they want it to be true that their group is more diverse, I think it is tokenism. If they want them to be present because they think they themselves will be enriched by the experience, and the newcomers will benefit as well, then it seems to me not to be tokenism.

The same goes for inclusion in an academic conference or in high governmental positions. If a president seriously would like cabinet or judicial nominees to come from underrepresented groups, as both the last two presidents have (at least at times) shown concern for, then the crucial question is why. Is it to make the party or the administration look good, or is it out of a genuine concern for having diversity in that sphere of government? If I tried to put a conference together, and someone pointed out that none of the invited speakers were women, I might try to remedy that. Am I remedying it because I committed a faux pas and am embarrassed, or am I doing it because I think we all benefit by having more women presenting at philosophy conferences and because I think we have a systematic implicit bias against thinking first of women when thinking of the movers and shakers in a discipline like philosophy? The former might be tokenism. The latter seems not to be. But the actions are exactly the same.

This is a first attempt to think through this carefully. A number of questions remain in my mind. Are there any examples of what seems like tokenism that doesn't fit the kind of thing I'm saying here? Are there any examples that don't seem like tokenism that do have some of the characteristics I've been trying to identify tokenism with? It may well be that there's more complexity to what we typically call tokenism, and it might be that I'll need to figure out what to do when there are disagreements over what counts as tokenism. There's also the possible complication of whether tokenism is always wrong. Are there cases that we would call tokenism where we wouldn't find it morally problematic, or is it a term like 'racism' or 'murder' where we'd only use the term if we thought there was something problematic going on?

Mark 1-4 sermons (2013)

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Latest Christian Carnival

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I haven't submitted to the Christian Carnival in a long time. For those who don't know, the Christian Carnival is a monthly self-selected compilation of Christian bloggers' best posts of the previous month. I did manage to get something in to the December edition at à la mode de les Muses. There's a special Christmas section this month, but it has the usual wide range of topics from a variety of Christian blogs.

Narrowly-Defined Religion

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Here's an interesting analysis by D.A. Carson of three recent cases of what he calls the intolerence of tolerance that happened after his book on the subject came out: the Chick fil-A ban issue, a case of a liberal seminary trying to discipline a very respected faculty member for including a theologically-traditional book on homosexuality in the curriculum, and the HHS contraception mandate.

I'm not sure I have anything interesting to say about the first two cases he discusses that hasn't already been said ad nauseam. But he says something very interesting about the third case he discusses, the HHS mandate.
If Carson is right in his analysis of the HSS mandate, the government is willing to allow a lot of exceptions to the HHS mandate that have nothing to do with religious opposition to contraception or drugs with unintended abortifacient effects. But they won't allow a religious exception to this mandate on either of those two grounds. And they're arguing not that there should be no freedom of religion as an exception to government mandates nor that the drugs in question do not have an abortifacient effect (as some do argue). Instead, they argue that we should take taking 'religion' narrowly to include things like public gatherings for worship but not to include things like views on ethics.

What strikes me as extremely interesting about that is that would raise some serious questions about a lot of fairly common practices of excluding religion or seeking to exclude religion from the public sphere. If religion has to do with corporate gatherings of worship but not individual beliefs, then a lone science teacher who wants to include some discussion of philosophical arguments about design in a science classroom is not engaging in religion. I would have thought that patently obvious, but courts seem not to agree. The interesting question here is whether the Obama Administration's view of religion with respect to the HHS mandate can be made consistent with that practice of excluding long-standing philosophical discussions from science classrooms on the ground that such philosophical discussions are religion. They are not, on any sane analysis. They are philosophy. But that should be so much clearer if other philosophical views such as ethical views are not religion. Metaphysics surely is not either. If it is, I'd like to see the argument why one and not the other should count as religion or why we should have different standards for what counts as religion in the two cases.

Another place religion is often excluded is in the contention among many on the left that it's immoral for voters to decide who they should vote for or which policies to prefer if their reasons are based on their religious views (or politicians to decide which policies to support based on their own or their constituents' views). The same inconsistency would apply if the government's position on HHS is correct. If someone opposes abortion for purely religious reasons (which I think is true of some but certainly not all and probably not most pro-lifers), then it's not religion according to this approach, and those who resist anyone's attempt to vote pro-life on such grounds as thoroughly immoral cannot do so consistently with claiming that Wheaton College's resistance to the HHS mandate is not religion. This isn't even two different branches of philosophy, as the above example of metaphysics and ethics is. Here we have two examples of not just ethical views but of the very same ethical view, so there's no arguing that one case is religion and the other not. We'd have to argue that different standards for what counts as religion should apply in the two different cases, and I have no idea how that argument would go.

So assuming Carson is right on how the government is pursuing these cases (and I admit to not looking into them as carefully as he has), those who want to do either of the things I've pointed to have a real problem on their hands if they also want to defend the enforcement of the HHS mandate in these cases in the way the government seems to be doing it. I'm not sure how a consistent approach to all these questions can end up agreeing with the Obama Administration on this case that these ethical beliefs are not religion while still opposing the two things I've identified as religion.

Hell and Possible Worlds

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Henry Imler retweeted a post today giving a defense of hell from the Arminian point of view. Randal Rauser argues that Calvinism means God isn't all-good, because in Calvinism there's no possibility of the reprobate (i.e. those predestined to hell) avoiding hell.

This strikes me as extremely odd reasoning. The idea is that Arminianism is better than Calvinism because of what happens in non-existent possible worlds, rather than having anything to say about the justice of hell in the actual world. Arminians believe that all the people going to hell have non-existent counterparts in non-existent possible worlds who didn't go to hell. Calvinists believe there are no possible worlds where those people avoid hell. So on one view you have non-existent people in non-existent worlds going to hell, and in the other view you have the same non-existent people in some (but not all) non-existent worlds not going to hell. I guess somehow the non-existent people in some of the worlds that don't exist not going to hell makes the view better than if the non-existent people were in hell in those non-existent worlds. I'm not getting it. Wouldn't be better just to argue for the justice of hell in the actual world?

That's even ignoring my huge quibble with how compatibilism is often framed as not allowing alternative possibilities. I'm perfectly fine with talking about contra-causal possibilities. If my free actions are fully explainable in terms of things in this world, I can still speak of possible worlds where things go differently because of different causes, and it's not as if it wouldn't have been me if the explanations for what I do had been different and I did different things. So why couldn't a Calvinist believe someone actually reprobate could have been elect and someone actually elect could have been reprobate? I would expect most Calvinists to say exactly that, in fact.

I also have problems with the use of James Rachels. Rachels thinks the following two cases are morally equivalent:

1. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, and killing the person.
2. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, finding them dying a preventable death, and standing their grinning watching them die.

I'm not sure how that distinction is relevant, because this is being compared to:

3.The hyper-Calvinist view where God actually delights in the person's eternal suffering itself and wants no good for them
4. The Calvinist view where God doesn't delight in the death of the wicked but has reasons for allowing the natural consequences of their wickedness to take their course in not regenerating them and letting them be wicked for eternity around other wicked people and not around God and his moderating influence. (This is not the only conception of hell, but I think it's the best one, and it has a pretty prominent proponent in Augustine.) Their own choices lead to their destruction, even if it's also true that those choices were part of God's plan. And God has motives for allowing it (just as God does on the Arminian model; you need open theism to avoid this, but open theism hardly solves the problem of evil).


Notice that 3 and 4 have contrary motivations, where 1 and 2 do not.

Police Reports and Race

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Police reports need to be descriptive. I think they try to include as much information as they can, and when they release information to the public they try to include as much as they have in order to aid anyone helping out the investigation. But when you have a report here or there of a robbery, and the only information the witnesses bother to give to the police of any consequence is that the robber was black, I have to wonder if it does more harm than good to include it in news reports.

Syracuse University regularly sends out notifications to the entire university community whenever a robbery or assault has taken place in my neighborhood. I don't get these anymore, but I used to get them several times a week. The reports usually described the suspect. They usually said something vague about the person's height, occasionally mentioned a not-very-distinctive aspect of the person's dress (e.g. wearing a hoodie, wearing a baseball cap). They almost always gave the person's race, which was usually black. They almost never described what the person actually looked like in any more helpful way. Often it was less than that, just the race and maybe an indication that the person was tall or something that's true of lots of people.

Knowing that some black dude robbed a house nearby recently doesn't do a whole lot more than knowing someone robbed a house nearby recently, in terms of safety and awareness, and it can foster racial stereotypes and lead people who have all the good will in the world racially speaking to suspect black people in their neighborhood dressed a certain way, which is unfortunate. Implicit bias has been demonstrated to occur in people who have zero racial prejudice in any explicit and knowing way, and all it takes to have it is merely knowing that there is a stereotype. It affects non-verbal behavior even among well-meaning people. It can lead to unconscious effects in how someone is evaluated.

I can understand how a description of a thief or assailant who is known to be currently roaming a neighborhood looking for victims can help people aid the police in finding the person, but it has to be actually descriptive to make a lot of difference. If it isn't, but it does include the person's race, we might wonder if we're doing more harm than good in notifying thousands of people the next day that the previous night it was a black guy who robbed someone's house two roads down. I wouldn't suggest leaving it out of police reports, but notifications sent out to a huge community that don't actually help in finding the person but include the person's race entirely on the ground that it might help someone find the person seem to me to be a waste of time while contributing toward some of the more hidden aspects of racial bias.

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