June 2004 Archives

OK. 93 looks really funny in Roman numeral form. I just had to say that.

I've got a post in the most prestigious carnival of the blogosphere (or at least the most widely known), my post from last week on race and the death penalty. The Carnival of the Vanities is at quasi in rem this week. I haven't looked at the other entries, but since I'll probably get hits and maybe links off this, I should plug it myself to be fair.

There's been a lot more on Justices Thomas and Scalia voting together, which I blogged about before. Volokh has a list of which pairs of justices vote agree the most in their endorsement of opinions. Scalia and Thomas are seventh in the list. Six other pairs of justices are more likely to agree than those two are. Four of those six pairs are more likely to be considered liberal. Two are conservative-moderate pairs (Rehnquist with O'Connor and Rehnquist with Kennedy). The most likely to agree are Souter and Ginsburg, 12% more likely to agree than Thomas and Scalia.

As I was walking home from campus the other day, I had an amazing realization. For many years I've been wondering why men's bikes have a crossbar and women's don't. After all, men are more likely to want to avoid having something to land on if they slip forward off the seat. Why would women's bikes have the crossbar missing? Presumably men's bikes existed first, since that's things have typically gone. Someone must have deliberately made bikes without that, but how does being female lead to not having such a thing? I've had discussions about this quite a number of times, and no one has ever given me a satisfactory answer during these discussions.

Well, as I said, the reason has now occurred to me, and I think our contemporary situation keeps us from seeing what would have been obvious to anyone a couple generations ago. What I saw when walking home was a woman riding a bike, which I've seen before. What was different this time was that she was wearing a skirt. It wasn't just a skirt. It was a long skirt, and it went down to her ankles. Yet she had no trouble reaching the pedals. Nowadays women wouldn't ordinarily wear a skirt on a bike if they can help it, and if they do it probably wouldn't go down to their ankles. That's why it doesn't occur to most people today to think that a bike would be designed for someone wearing a skirt, but in those days women didn't wear pants very often if at all. They needed a bike that could allow them to have wear a skirt or a dress without interfering with functionality or modesty. It seems obvious once you think about it.

Welcome to the 24th Christian Carnival. We've got a full house this time around, twenty submissions. I haven't been counting every week, but this may be a record. It's at least one of the top few. With more entries, it's getting harder to say something about each entry, so sometimes I've just given the person's own description. Sometimes I felt compelled to alter it for clarity or to add a comment based on my own response to the post.

I've found myself disagreeing fairly strongly with some submissions, but I've tried to be a good host and say as little in those cases, though I have trouble putting a link on my own blog to something I disagree with without saying something. I have to say that every post here is a worthy submission, and I think there's something of value in each one, even the ones I've expressed disagreement with. Please don't take my disagreements as anything other than a difference of opinion on matters not absolutely central to the Christian gospel. Now on the the Carnival...

Right on Race

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There's a new blog on race from a conservative position, Right on Race. This one allows posts from anyone, though any post will wisely have to pass a moderator's test for inclusion. I've submitted my post on Justices Thomas and Scalia. Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the pointer.

New technology reveals much about fetal development, including certain behavior occurring much earlier than previously thought. See also Evangelical Outpost and La Shawn Barber
ht and thanks to Tim Challies for posting on this early enough for me to find it first.

Most of these posts consider the relevance of this issue to abortion. I don't think this will affect in any way the insistence of pro-choice philosophers to list a bunch of properties not yet true of a fetus and to define personhood by them, then saying that moral status only comes when you have those properties. Since the argument is circular, they can just change whatever properties they'll insist are required for personhood, and you'll still come out saying mentally handicapped people aren't persons. You'll just have to say that more of them are. Once you allow circular arguments, you allow people to get away with such moves.

Still, what some of these posts are suggesting is right. 'Murder' is a legal term, and the law as defined by judicial activism allows abortion, so I don't see how abortion can be murder at this point, but it is the killing of a living human being, biologically distinct from its mother even if it's biologically dependent on her (which I think is a moral reason to presume against abortion rather than for the right to abort). I don't see why defining personhood to exclude this kind of human being should lower our estimation of the horror of such a killing.

Will Baude at Crescat Sententia wonders why there's such a persistent myth that Clarence Thomas is a lapdog for Antonin Scalia and never expresses independent thought. Eugene Volokh has wondered about this before and also notices that these recent war on terror prisoner cases show about as strong a disagreement between the two as between any justices. Both wonder why this myth persists. Baude expresses his wonder at it even more strongly:

Usually, when a clearly-wrong belief persists like this one does, there is some sort of memetic explanation-- some reason that the belief is convenient, or that people who do not share it are unlikely to prosper, or some reason that the wrong belief has a particular advantage in replicating itself. But I can't think of any such explanation here.

Well, I can, and I would have thought it obvious.

GetReligion has a nice piece on a new Bible translation called Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures. Here's an example of what it does to I Cor 7:1-2. First, the King James Versionfor comparison:

"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."

Now the Good as New:

"Some of you think the best way to cope with sex is for men and women to keep right away from each other. That is more likely to lead to sexual offences. My advice is for everyone to have a regular partner."

Then if you really want to give in to the culture around us, you can go with the GetReligion satire version, based on the NIV with alterations:

Farcenheit 9/11

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Christopher Hitchens calls it Unfairenheit 9/11. Everyone else has been linking to Hitchens' review of Michael Moore's defecatory film. I didn't get around to reading it until now, and I don't really have anything to add, but I agree with everyone else linking to it that it deserves to be read. I knew Moore was a jerk and a nut, but I didn't realize how bad it was. Apparently he doesn't even have a consistent story about what's wrong with President Bush. Anything goes, as long as it's negative, even if it contradicts the last thing he said. It's bad enough that most of it contradicts fact, or at least leaves out enough facts to undermine most of what he says. Hitchens keeps saying Moore wants to have it three ways.

Uranium from Niger

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Mark Huband of The Financial Times reveals in two different stories that Niger really did have uranium deals with Iraq, and British claims to have had legitimate intelligence for that claim are vindicated. There was a good deal of intelligence on this, and the forged letters that were highly publicized were just the only ones people were talking about. As I said at the time, showing that one source for a piece of intelligence is faulty doesn't disprove the information. Other sources standing behind it may have been involved but classified. That seems to have been the case. For some people, the whole "Bush lied" campaign rests on this one item. Outside the Beltway and The Bellgravia Dispatch have more. Thanks to One Hand Clapping for posting the first I saw on this.

Crispus raises some thoughtful questions about stem-cell research. One issue (for another time) is whether it's wrong or ok to end the life of a human organism for the purpose of possibly helping other human organisms to avoid a debilitating disease. Crispus raises a different issue.

My question: if stem-cell research is the next big thing, then why isn't private industry all over it? The research and development dollars they plugged in would be more than made up by profits from medicinal cures. Could it be that it's too iffy an enterprise and they want a government guarantee?

I haven't thought about this aspect of the issue before. Is the lack of commercial interest a good sign of the low potential for research progress?

Meanwhile, in both the cagtegory of science news and the category of "What the Pork?", an Iranian woman has supposedly given birth to a frog after having picked up the embryo while swimming in a dirty pool. Thanks to Patriot Paradox for posting the link.

For my 450th entry, I'll post my last (so far anyway) of my series on things you really have no need to know about me (the main body of which was written over a month ago).

For you non-philosophers out there, an epistemic obligation is just an obligation related to what you should believe. Evangelical Oupost has been blogging about Pascal's Wager. I posted some comments there, but I wanted to expand on them here. I think Pascal's argument that we should seek to believe in God is a good one.

The objections that I think are most serious are that you can't just choose what to believe and that it would be wrong to believe for purely selfish reasons. Pascal deals with the first objection by saying he's not trying to argue people into belief, since that has to come on its own. (Try to believe that there's a blue elephant sitting right next to you right now, or that the car approaching you really fast isn't there, if you really think belief is voluntary. It isn't.) Still, we can do things that bring us to be able to accept something more or less easily. Pascal is just giving practical reasons to pursue the kinds of practices that will allow belief in God to come on its own. What I'm trying to do in this post is to suggest more of what's behind Pascal's suggestion and to respond to some objections. [Some of this is adapted from a class handout on religious knowledge and arguments against believing in God based on the lack of evidence.]

I posted that Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has given advice to Paramount about how to save the Star Trek universe. I have no idea what he said to them, but that together with all the time travel postings has got me thinking about what I think are the three biggest problems in the Star Trek universe. This has nothing to do with writing, character development, plots, acting, or anything someone evaluating a TV show or movie is likely to question. This is purely about the Star Trek universe itself, which will have serious continuity problems unless they can deal with these three issues.

The 24th Christian Carnival will be hosted right here this coming Wednesday.

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read and possibly pick up readers in the process or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

Which internet subculture do I belong to? [CLICK]
You are a Trekkie!
It's a geek, Jim! You probably have a starfleet uniform and a tricorder. Bonus points if you speak klingon. One day you will walk down the aisle with your buttertroll trekkie partner, humming to the Yoyager theme.
More Quizzes at Go-Quiz.com

Um, shouldn't that be 'trekker'?

Color Scheme

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I've been playing around with the color scheme, but I wasn't able to find anything I liked until Wink found a blog with colors that looked really good. I didn't have any distinction between followed and unfollowed links before, and I couldn't find another shade of yellow that looked right. The other colors I tried didn't look right with the background I had. It turned out I needed to darken the background a little to get other colors to look bright enough, but then I couldn't darken it all the way to black or the book and CD covers with black on the edges looked really amorphous. I also figured out how to get post titles into normal text (and not just capitals). Now I just need to figure out how to get my email address worked into my name under my posts with the proper spam protection.

Any thoughts on the new look?

For those who didn't follow the comments on my lengthy post on Christians and race relations, you should read this story for the background on this next item.

This is probably what most of the people at my in-laws' church think of me. Hey! It's what white Christian college students think of me and say to my face! I've spent enough time reading John Locke and Jonathan Edwards to know that 'enthusiasm' used to be a dirty word.

I need to put up a link somewhere to the Holy Observer, but I can't figure out where it would fit best. Any ideas?

I'm two days late getting to this, but the 23rd Christian Carnival is up at Randomness. My Divine Capitalization is there. No special recommendations from me this time for the following reasons:

1. Most people who read this blog who care about the Christian Carnival have already read it this week.
2. I didn't find any of the posts to be head and shoulders knees and toes above all the rest (sorry, I've got kids on the brain even after being physically separated from them for over 29 hours now).
3. The ones that I considered flagging all would have required lengthy comments, either to disagree with minor points that may not have been worth the time or to start what really deserves to be a lengthy dialogue that I really don't have the time for.
4. Dawn has already said something about every post. It isn't always what I'd say, but it's more than what most hosts do (which is simply to post the person's own description or to post a slightly modified version with pronouns and such things changed around).
5. If you haven't read this week's Christian Carnival at this point, you should get on over there and read it and not wade through what I have to say. Of course, this ridiculous list is serving as just as bad a distraction, so I'd better end it.

IreneQ raises some probing questions about the dangers of fasting, praying, and having intense worship experiences. Yes, you read right. These things can lead to idolatry if we enter into them for the purpose of trying to use them to get something out of God, acting as if your prayers will be more effective if you fast or if your relationship with God will be more fulfilling simply because you've engaged in certain practices like certain worship experiences.

That doesn't undermine fasting, praying, worshiping God, or worshiping God and having an emotional experience, in a group of privately. It does require examining your motives. Are you doing this to get something out of it, even something in your relationship with God, or are you doing it to worship God or to honor God's revelation that he wants us to treat him as a Father who gives to his children what their sanctified hearts long for and ask him for? If it's the former, it seems an awful lot like those Jesus warned against who think that they'll be heard because they use many words. Use of intense emotional experiences isn't any different. Such attempts are strikingly reminiscent of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel who thought tearing their clothes, shouting loudly, and making all the right rituals would get the attention of their god. Do we want to treat God that way?

In line with our discussions of time and time travel, the Gnu brings up a related issue using a fun fantasy role-playing kind of example for a philosophical puzzle about conditional predictive prophecy (i.e. predicting what someone will do and then telling him that A will have already happened if he ends up doing P but B will have already happened if he turns out to do Q). I think this case is interesting in terms of its view of time and of the relation of guaranteed prediction to time, but it also has some relevance to how to evaluate statements about what would be true if someone had chosen to do otherwise than what they actually did. Read the case first at Gnu's blog, then check out my OrangePhilosophy post for my reflections on this.

Goldfish Reads Greek

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Linguist Geoff Pullum finds another example of someone finding an animal that can learn through conditioning to form associations between words in human language and actions or things in the world and then acting as if the animal has understood human language. It's a perfectly fine experiment to see what the cognitive capacities of dogs are, but Pullum says this is like teaching a goldfish to associate a Greek letter with a certain action and then saying it understands Greek. It's not quite as bad as that, but it's really close.

Righteous Anger

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Jollyblogger has started a new series on relationships based on a a sermon series he's doing. The inaugural post is on conflict and has some good stuff.

His comments on the use of "righteous anger" as a fake justification are spot on. Almost no one ever has righteous anger, at least not unless mixed with selfish or prideful motivations. Usually people's claims to righteous anger aren't even close. As most people use the term, it describes anger that they feel justified in having, but it almost never involves concern for justice for others instead of concern for one's own wounded pride or feelings of being wronged (even if in some cases it's a feeling of being wronged because a loved one has been wronged).

Bill Poser at Language Log has defended the expression 'more perfect'. His reasoning is that we can speak of things being absolutely perfect, and therefore we already admit of degrees of perfection. So those who say that once something is perfect it can't be more or less so are ignoring the semantics of the word in its regular use. It also impugns the United States Constitution in its use of 'more perfect' to describe our hoped approach toward perfection as a country ("in order to form a more perfect Union"). Christians have a similar notion, expressed in Paul's descriptions of believers growing more and more like Christ, though I don't know if the Greek ever has an expression parallel to this one. The concept is clearly there, though, and that's all you need to show that there's no grammatical insanity or contradiction in such expressions.

This got me thinking about other constructions like this. Grammar police (as distinguished from legitimate grammarians who study grammar as a discipline wihtin linguistics) often fume at 'more pregnant', since one is either pregnant or not pregnant. How can a binary property with only two values admit of degrees? Once you think about it, it shouldn't be hard to consider how almost any supposedly binary term can admit of vagueness. Philosophers like 'flat', since it's got an absolute reading according to which nothing is flat but ideal geometric planes, but all sorts of things are more or less flat without being absolutely flat.

PCA Statement on Racism

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The Presbyterian Church of America, which for those who don't follow denominations is the most recent splinter group off the mainline Presbyterian Church USA (and the more conservative of the two) has issued a pastoral letter on racism. Thanks to TulipGirl for pointing it out.

It's fairly interesting for a number of reasons. It gives a biblical theology of race and race relations. It contains an apology for and expression of repentance from the racist past of Presbyterians, whom they see as their direct forbears.

Then they describe racial distinctives, with awful punctuation because it's a list, so I'm taking some liberties with that without changing the words. First, they're "distinguishable categories; they are not irrelevant, but they are not defining categories that prohibit unity in the worship, fellowship and mission of the Body of Christ, and they are categories included in the distinctive and eternal celebration of God's work through the ages." This is an excellent summary of the biblical emphasis in ways that I don't think most people today would think to focus.


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Tim Challies raises some uncommon but uncommonly sane questions about raising hands in worship. As you might conclude from my comment, I don't agree with everything he seems to be suggesting, but these questions are worth thinking about. We usually don't think along these lines about this sort of thing.

Jollyblogger has a new post in his series on studying the Bible. I'd never gone back and read the early ones in this series. Good stuff.

The Limitless links to I seem to have lost where I found this, but here's a paper on a participatory model of the atonement. Since this is one of the things Wink has been working on, I figured I'd mention it.

A little while ago I read a review of Kenneth Kitchen's latest book on the reliability of the Old Testament. I had wanted to blog about it, so I was holding off, but I don't think I'm going to get around to it. It looks like an excellent book, though, so I really want to get it.

Ready for Parenthood

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She Who Will Be Obeyed! has a pretty accurate test for whether you're ready to be a parent.

Babylon Trek

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Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has written up his plan to save the Star Trek franchise. When I saw this on the mailing list of everything he posts to newsgroups, I was incredibly surprised. He never wanted to have anything to do with Star Trek. Apparently they asked him to take over Enterprise, and he refused but was willing to tell them how to improve their franchise with a plan for a new show. I'd love to see such a show, even if he wouldn't be willing to produce it himself. I consider Babylon 5 to be the best TV show ever, not just the best scifi show ever. His followup Crusade was canceled before it ever aired, and they only made 13 episodes, but what they produced together with the scripts released on the internet that were never filmed gave a sign that it would be equally good.

Hmm. Madonna's Esther's new fascination with Kabbalah has some striking similarities with certain segments of evangelicalism.

1. the form without the content (well, the mysticism is kept and exaggerated, but nothing else is)
2. "a superstitious attempt to manipulate the cosmos by a sort of divination with the sacred text"
3. violations of God's law despite some general approval of the things of God
4. money-making as a means to spread spirituality (or it is the other way around?)
5. merging a sense of piety with blasphemy

Incidentally, isn't it interesting that Madonna chose Esther out of all the biblical names she could have picked? One was a girl who was chosen out of obscurity to be queen, whose trust in God allowed her to have an impact on the Persian emperor for the good of God's people. The other is a self-glorifying celebrity who manifests a casual or hostile attitude toward anything really representing God but wanting all the spiritual benefits anyway, thus leading astray many in her influence.

This coming Wednesday is the next Christian Carnival, and will be hosted at Randomness.

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read, and possibly pick up readers in the process, or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

Email Dawn at dawn@dawnxianamoon.com

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

Cut off date is Tuesday by 9 PM EST

If you are reading this and are not a part of the Christian Carnival
mailing list please visit this link and join up:

*If you wish to host the Carnival in coming weeks email Nick at

Last week Gene Veith asked about whether unity comes in institutional membership or in sharing common belief. The Southern Baptist Convention just left the Baptist World Alliance due to the presence of groups within the Alliance with attitudes they consider sub-Christian.

I have really mixed feelings about this sort of thing. I can understand the desire to distance yourself from dangerous doctrine (or lack thereof) and, perhaps more importantly, gross moral laxity within the church. Yet persistent divisiveness in the church is the third member of the trinity of biblical reasons for excommunication, and it's not any less important than the doctrinal or moral issues. Any possibility of division, of separating ties between genuine believers, needs to be wary of that. There are genuine believers in the group they left. There can be unity without shared organizational membership, which is the point of Veith's rhetorical question. Yet do we want to say that this action doesn't send any bad messages? I'm not saying there isn't a good message sent, but there also seems to be a bad one, and that's to those who are genuine believers in Jesus Christ who are part of that group. To them it will mean that the Southern Baptists consider them apostate. I think this is one real danger of denominational splits or church splits.

From a Washington Times report:

Talking about education yesterday, Mr. Kerry also told the largely black crowd at the day care center that there are more blacks in prison than in college.

"That's unacceptable," he said. "But it's not their fault."

What's not their fault? Is it not the fault of each criminal that he or she is a criminal or committed a crime? Or is it not the fault of black criminals as a whole that there are more blacks in prison than in college? If it's the first, it's a good example of separatist morality that I've mentioned in a few posts in the last week. (I'm not convinced every reason for the second is an instance of dangerous separatist morality, according to which someone isn't held as morally responsible simply in virtue of being black, but I haven't had time to think carefully enough about it to give one that I don't find problematic. I suspect I wouldn't be comfortable with Kerry's reasons, but I'd need to see more.)

Whichever one he means, the statement is actually true but not for the reasons he thinks. It's true that black people aren't responsible for there being more black people in prison than in college, but that's because there aren't more black people in prison than in college! See Joanne Jacobs and James Taranto for more.

Divine Command Theory

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I've posted a summary of William Alston's recommendations to Divine Command Theorists at Prosblogion. Divine Command Theory explains moral obligations in terms of God's commands. Some charge the view with arbitrariness because God could then have commanded something different (e.g. torturing infants for the fun of it), and then it seems that would have been right. That makes morality seriously arbitrary. Some respond by saying God couldn't have commanded such things, because it's grounded in his good nature. The problem is that you can't define morality in terms of God's commands and then say that God commands it because God is independently good. Well, Alston has a way to say both without circularity or arbitrariness, and my post gives his account of how that can be.

When two or more...

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Christians often mention Jesus' statements that "when two or more are gathered in my name I'll be there" and "when two or three agree about anything I'll do it" in the context of believers gathering for prayer. Tim Challies has an excellent explanation of why this is ripping those verses from their context. I have to admit that this has been a pet peeve of mine for years, and that may not be entirely good, but you'd think that we'd be a little more careful with something we believe to be the very word of God.

I haven't seen as many all-out defense of the military operation in Iraq in a while, but here's one at the Fourth Rail that I think is very good, though incomplete, and I really would want to qualify it in a few places, but alas I don't have the time to do so carefully and thoughtfully. Thanks to the Blogging Caesar for linking to it.

World Magazine also has some links to those resisting the conclusion of the 9-11 Commission about connections between Saddam and al Qaeda. I haven't checked this out yet, but it's probably worth looking at. I've heard about much resistance to this conclusion, but I haven't had a chance to look at anything on this all day, so I have no thoughts to offer. From what I'd read so far, I thought it had already become crystal clear that some people high up in Saddam's government were close with people high up in bin Laden's organization but that the two head guys were officially opposed to each other. I'm not sure if even that connection is now being questioned or if the issue is just about bin Laden and Saddam themselves. If it's the latter, then it doesn't amount to much more than a bunch of misleading headlines. If it's the former, then I think they have their work cut out for them in terms of convincing people, because it's against what a lot of people have been saying.

Update: Josh Claybourn compares what the 9-11 Commission actually said with what the headlines have been reporting. Guess what? They don't disagree at all with what Vice President Cheney has been saying. Now it all makes a lot more sense. So why do the headlines misstate the Commission's conclusions so badly that it makes it sound as if there was no connection whatsoever? Probably for the same reason they've been doing that sort of thing all along.

Update 2: See Broken Masterpieces, Real Clear Politics, Andrew Sullivan for more. Such bad reporting should be seen as a scandal, but I don't expect any apologies. They probably won't even stop misreporting it. They didn't when it was pointed out that there were WMD found, just not any large stockpiles, and there were WMD programs in progress that would have been able to create enough WMD in a very short time serious enough damage that the premise of the Bush argument is true. The issue isn't whether there was a threat. It was whether that justifies an invasion. It's not Bush who's lying here.

Bug Me Not

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Don't you hate it when someone links to an article that they say is incredible, and you really want to read it, but it requires registration? I don't usually mind registering if it's a major site that I'll probably read again later (though there is the spam factor, but see below), but it takes time and effort to keep registering at sites. Well, someone's gone and devised a way to get you in without registering. At Bug Me Not, all you have to do is type in the URL of the main site, and it will give you a login name and password. Then you'll be able to read the registration-required material. Thanks to La Shawn Barber for the heads up.

If you ever have to give email but won't ever have to read what they might send you, give them a Mailinator address. Even if you have to read one message and respond to it, this will do. It deletes the mail after a couple hours, so you have to check it soon after they send something to you.

Philosophy Movies

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Jason Brennan, philosophy graduate student at the University of Arizona, has constructed a philosophy movie page. It's TV show episodes that I've mostly used (since you can watch them in a class period), so I don't have much to contribute to his project, but if you have any ideas send them his way. Credit goes to Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy for the discovery.

Christians and politics

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Jollyblogger has an excellent post on being Christian and being politically involved. It's an excellent trip through the various things the Bible says relevant to why it's good to be political involved and bad to identify some political party or nation with Christianity. This is about as balanced as you can get on this topic. I agree with all his main points. Unfortunately, I find myself disagreeing with him on quite a few of his minor and tangential points, and I can't resist picking nits by mentioning those (since I can't wholeheartedly recommend a post this glowingly if it has so many things I disagree with without also registering that disagreement).

Christian Carnival XXII

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The Christian Carnival is now fully up at Belief Seeking Understanding. Because this is the biggest one so far (20 entries), he wasn't able to get it all done at once, but the second post with the final nine entries now joins the first post with the first eleven entries.

I have to mention my post arguing biblically that any prioritizing of anything above God is idolatry and Sam's What Would Jesus Eat? I'll highlight two others, both from blogs I haven't spent much if any time on before.

Matt Hall's Restless Experientialists has some choice words for what I think is one of the biggest problems in the church of Jesus Christ in the United States today. Part of my appreciation of this post is that I've been on the receiving end of those who assume extroverted excitement at tangential things is crucial for Christian maturity while ignoring the long-term character of the fruit of the Spirit and reinterpreting the fruit of the Spirit as overt and temporal happiness.

Writing to Understand shows how easy it is to let misimpressions of someone color your every interaction with them.

I tutor Syracuse University football and basketball players, and a couple weeks ago some of them were looking at the death penalty in an ethics course. One of their readings looked at how race affects the death penalty, and the results were surprising. It turns out that the race of the victim does tend to affect whether someone receives the death penalty, whereas the race of the defendant (i.e. the killer) has much less, if any, effect. I think racism can easily explain this fact, though another possible explanation seems plausible to me after looking at the information more carefully, and what really turns out to be interesting is that any attempt to make up for this effect could easily be seen as racist itself!

Concocted Racism

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I'm at a loss. I thought I understood what the dominant liberal notion of racism was supposed to be. There's individual, attitudinal racism, where someone simply hates or wants to suppress people of other races. Then there's residual racism, where societal conditioning leaves us with negative attitudes toward people of other races or predominant cultural practices or preferences of other races. This can be so even if we recognize it and seek to overcome it. Finally, there's institutional racism, where societal practices ("the system") perpetuate a proportional disadvantage toward one race.

Well, a new kind of racism has appeared. It doesn't fit into any of those categories. Sam found this case mentioned at Tongue Tied. Somehow, saying that abortion is the #1 killer of African Americans (and showing a picture of a black baby) is racist. Not just that, but the picture of the baby is even the root of racism!

Faulty Logic: Straw Men

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or "Arguements up with which I will not put". The first in a series of posts where I explain why I do not accept certain kinds of arguements as valid.

Consider the following scenario:

Alice holds position A. Bob holds an opposing position, position B. Carol holds position C, which at first glance looks like position A. Bob attacks Alice using attack K, using as its central arguement Proof P. Proof P is a proof against position C.

This is the classic "straw man" setup.

Jeremy and I pretty much share our philosophy of time, the so-called "consistent" theory of time I think it is called. As much as I like this theory and hold it to be true, there is one Achilles' heel to it that I can see. Imagine the following scenario:

In 2002, Alice receives a present from Bob. The present is a watch or some other suitably complex object that must have been man-made. Alice goes back in time to 2001. She meets Bob at some point and gives him the watch.

Dilemma: who made the watch? Notice that the watch only exists from the years 2001-2002. That's spontaneous creation and destruction of matter (which might be OK on quantum scales with elemental particles, but is not so OK large, complex items).

With the "consistent theory" of time, there is no praticular reason why such a scenario could not arise. ("Branching theories" can sweep this kind of problem under the rug along with any other "inconsistencies" that go along with personal timelines trumping world timelines.) My only out seems to be that time travel (in the backwards direction) is not possible.

Any thoughts?

[Edited to swtich names around so that the example makes sense now. Kudos to Jonathan for catching the mistake.]

The Conservative Brotherhood is a group of right-thinking or right-leaning African American bloggers, or something like that anyway. These things admit of borderline cases in both criteria. I already had all these sites on my blogroll except one, which I've now added, but I figured it was worth drawing attention to this. I'm not quite sure why they didn't include Sam, since she was in on the initial discussions.

Update: She's been added.

This coming Wednesday is the next Christian Carnival, and will be hosted at Belief Seeking Understanding. If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read and possibly pick up readers in the process or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First, you post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then, do the following:

email Douglas at dbass@stthomas.edu

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the post

Cut off date Tuesday before 12 Midnight EST (which would really be Wednesday morning).

Many people consider it an article of faith that you should capitalize every word that could possibly be related to God. Those who don't think about it much will just capitalize the personal pronouns. Occasionally it extends to adjectives (e.g. "God is a Holy God.") Sometimes adverbs, nouns referring to divine attributes, or even verbs join in the fun. For a spoof on this, see this piece at The Holy Observer.

I don't even capitalize divine pronouns, and I have very specific reasons. It's not out of lack of reverence for God. My reasons are largely biblical ones. The Bible doesn't say not to capitalize these words (though it doesn't say we should do so either). It does fail to capitalize them itself, at least in the original manuscripts (except when it capitalizes every letter). Hebrew doesn't have a distinction between capitals and lowercase, and Aramaic uses the same alphabet (I think). Greek does have the distinction, but the New Testament manuscripts are either all caps or all lowercase.

This entry will spoil one of the major plot elements of the new Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban (and I assume the book too, though I haven't read it), so don't read any further if you don't want to ruin it. It might also ruin my favorite episode of Andromeda and one of the most interesting elements of Babylon 5, but you can avoid that by skipping the last part (when I address other movies and TV shows) if you just want to read what I have to say about Harry Potter and the philosophy of time involved.

Another Roundup

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I've got too many things to blog about again, so here we go.

Jonathan Ichikawa has a nice post at Fake Barn Country about obesity and determinism. I think I agree with everything he says. (It's also at his own blog, but there aren't any comments there yet. If you're interested in looking at all possible comments, it's worth checking both.)

Tiger! Tiger! has a great post on arguments for atheism. The author is an atheist but is acknowleding the insufficiency of the best arguments for atheism. I think I agree with every word up to a certain point. At the end, there's an appeal to a hermeneutic of suspicion as a final method of arguing for atheism, but I wonder if again this is at best at argument for agnosticism, since of course you can apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to the atheistic framework as well (and the atheistic explanations of evidence and experiences pointing to theism) by explaining the atheistic worldview in terms of Romans 1 and the fall of humanity.

Saddam's doctor gives some inside dirt. (via The Limitless)

Stuart Buck puts Brian Leiter in his place with a careful examination of a new poll that shows the overall increasing mistrust of the media from both political parties. Leiter was trying to use it to show that Republicans are stupid for not trusting C-SPAN and that Republicans are simply mad at the press for questioning Bush and no longer groveling to him (as if they ever did). Stuart points out that the poll shows that Democrats are growing distrustful of all the media sources, that the Wall Street Journal is the biggest drop in trustworthiness according to Republicans, that Democrats and Republicans trust both Fox News at nearly statistically equivalent rates to each other, and Democrats are distrusting enough of C-SPAN that they fall prey to his charge of stupidity if Republicans do (not that the charge applies anyway if you understand what they are distrusting, on which see his argument).

Eugene Volokh, as far as I can tell, is a standard pro-choice libertarian, but he's willing to acknowledge that, even though both sides of the abortion debate are guilty of euphemistic and dysphemistic language, the mainstream media really do show a bias toward the euphemisms and dysphemisms of the pro-choice side of the debate.

Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping notices how Bush's order in 'women and men' sends a strong signal to Muslim practices that marginalize women. It's little things like this that show that Bush really isn't like a lot of Republicans of the past (or at least of the era since the 60s when Republicans were the civil rights party). The Bush Administration consciously thinks about things like this.

Joanne Jacobs connects talking to kids (including to babies), grades/test scores, class, and the racial achievement gap. I don't think everything she says follows from the data, but it's fascinating stuff. My comment there is sufficient to show where I disagree.

Jollyblogger has an excellent post on metaphor and whether Harry Potter can be morally redeeming for a Christian who believes the occult is evil. It's one of the best defenses of popular fiction with elements hyper-fundamentalists would reject that I've seen in a long time, using the examples of Hosea's marriage to a practicing prostitute and Isaiah's walking around "naked" (both commands from God) for an interesting point. He didn't say what I thought was the most obvious thing to say, which is that magic in Harry Potter isn't what's condemned in the Bible, since it's a natural ability of the characters in that fictional world rather than a supernatural ability not of one's own but sought out through practices involving demonic beings.

My list of favorite posts is getting fairly long, and I've decided to remove some of the earlier ones. I still want to have a link to them, so I'm linking to them in this post, and then I'll put this post in the list of favorite posts. That way the list will be shorter, but I'll be able to find them fairly easily without having to search the whole site.

New low for racist left looks at a poster making fun of National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice that I believe to be racist. I explain why in the post, and somehow some slack-jawed yokels found the post, completely ignored my reasoning and everything about me that a quick look around my site would reveal, and proceeded to call me a racist. It was probably the most commented-on entry in the history of my blog, and the comments are quite characteristic of the average response to the kind of point I was making, which is simply to ignore it and change the subject, to charge me with things I never said and don't believe, and to take everything I said in the most uncharitable way possible.

Pacifism links to my fairly comprehensive teaching notes on arguments for and against pacifism, including both philosophical and biblical arguments.

Personhood and Abortion summarizes some of my views on abortion, in response to some statements by Senator Sam Brownback (R, KS). Careful-thinking people realize that personhood is the central issue in the debate (not life or humanity), but personhood by itself itself doesn't decide the issue one way or the other, giving pro-life and pro-choice reasons for thinking that. I offer two considerations that should also come into play, one having to do with violence and the other from the fact that we view very early miscarriages as unfortunate but not as bad as losing a child at a later developmental stage.

Update: I've removed some of the posts originally in this entry and put them into a topical one on apologetics, because they belong there. This one's a little haphazard themewise.

Update 2: I've moved more into Christian Ethics Posts. This post is getting smaller and smaller.

I'm not talking about the political view. I'm talking metaphysics here. For those more familiar with theology than philosophy, I'm talking about the view Arminians assume about free will. I just finished a post at OrangePhilosophy about the basic problem, but I'd like to expand it a little bit here mostly because a lot of people who read this blog aren't as familiar with the basic background readers of OrangePhilosophy will normally have.

The libertarian view can be expressed in two non-equivalent ways (and some people hold one and not the other, in which case I don't know if I would call them libertarians).

1. Your action is free only if you could have done otherwise than you actually did. It has to be genuinely possible for you to have done otherwise. If determinism is true, then (on most views) this condition fails.
2. Your action is free if it's caused by you and not by prior events. This condition by definition rules out freedom if determinism is true.

The first principle is called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). Harry Frankfurt famously argued against this principle (I think successfully) but still thinks you can meet condition 2 without having alternative possibilities, so he considers himself a libertarian. He just only adopts the second condition. There are compatibilists who accept 1 and give a complex account of possibility to explain how we can be predetermined and still possibly do otherwise. So not everyone who accepts 1 accepts 2, and not everyone who accepts 2 accepts 1. Still, I think 2 is essential for libertarianism, whether 1 accompanies it or not. Therefore, I'm going to argue against 2, which is commonly called the concept of agent causation.


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In modern times, biblical passages about idolatry get applied to any circumstance in which someone puts something as higher than God. It occurred to me not long ago that I'd never seen anyone argue for applying idolatry passages this way in our current setting. People simply say that this is what idolatry is now that we don't have literal idols that we think of as representing deities. The assumption seems to be that what's wrong with idolatry is also wrong with putting something as a higher priority than God, but is that enough reason for calling it idolatry? One might give a philosophical argument for saying they amount to the same thing, but I hadn't seen a biblical statement to this effect, and I'd never seen anyone even making the philosophical connection clear. I've now discovered at least two passages that make this line of reasoning seem thoroughly biblical instead of marginally so, as it had seemed to me in the past.

Maybe someone ought to come up with a term for this sort of thing. I'm now the number one hit on Google for Reagan's Remains (excuse the Google bomb, but the current top search link is the main page, and it's worth increasing the status of the actual entry, which has now moved down a bit). I doubt anyone will get much of what they're looking for here, though.

Somehow just the comments page on my Review of Bible Translations is coming up at the number one hit for a search on those terms. The post itself isn't listed. Hmm.

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

A fine, amiable and dreamy young man, skilled in horsemanship and archery, you were also from a long line of dribbling madmen. King at 12 and quickly married to your sweetheart, Bavarian Princess Isabeau, you enjoyed many happy months together before either of you could speak anything of the other's language. However, after illness you became a tad unstable. When a raving lunatic ran up to your entourage spouting an incoherent prophecy of doom, you were unsettled enough to slaughter four of your best men when a page dropped a lance. Your hair and nails fell out. At a royal masquerade, you and your courtiers dressed as wild men, ending in tragedy when four of them accidentally caught fire and burned to death. You were saved by the timely intervention of the Duchess of Berry's underskirts.

This brought on another bout of sickness, which surgeons countered by drilling holes in your skull. The following months saw you suffer an exorcism, beg your friends to kill you, go into hyperactive fits of gaiety, run through your rooms to the point of exhaustion, hide from imaginary assassins, claim your name was Georges, deny that you were King and fail to recognise your family. You smashed furniture and wet yourself at regular intervals. Passing briefly into erratic genius, you believed yourself to be made of glass and demanded iron rods in your attire to prevent you breaking.

In 1405 you stopped bathing, shaving or changing your clothes. This went on until several men were hired to blacken their faces, hide, jump out and shout "boo!", upon which you resumed basic hygiene. Despite this, your wife continued sleeping with you until 1407, when she hired a young beauty, Odette de Champdivers, to take her place. Isabeau then consoled herself, as it were, with your brother. Her lovers followed thick and fast while you became a pawn of your court, until you had her latest beau strangled and drowned.

A severe fever was fended off with oranges and pomegranates in vast quantities, but you succumbed again in 1422 and died. Your disease was most likely hereditary. Unfortunately, you had anywhere up to eleven children, who variously went on to develop capriciousness, great cruelty, insecurity, paranoia, revulsion towards food and, in one case, a phobia of bridges.

The second time I found this, it was at Jollyblogger. I took this test a couple months ago and got someone entirely different (the self-declared emperor of the United States). Somehow I lost it before I could post the results.

The 21st Christian Carnival is over at ChristWeb. I'm not highlighting any particular posts this week except to mention that my own post on the biblical way to misrepresent your opponents is part of it.

Proverbs 26:4-5 (ESV):

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

I blogged about one aspect of this tension not long ago. Sometimes it really isn't a good idea to answer the fool according to his folly. It's not good to be like the fool. That's why when Paul starts to drip with sarcasm as II Corinthians goes on, and he keeps addressing the foolish arguments of the triumphalists on their own terms, he keeps saying that he's speaking like a fool. Yet sometimes it's best to address the fool according to his folly, as Paul very much does in II Corinthians. Sometimes the point can be made another way, but making it on the terms of the fool provides the emotional and rhetorical strategy necessary for the fool to see the point.

Joe Carter takes the second road in addressing the issues Bush's war for oil, and he does it well. This argument was never based on anything more than a suspicion on the part of those determined for Bush to be evil, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the suspicion on which it's based is pretty far from Bush's real motivations. Whatever you say about just cause (on which I happen to think a good defense can be made), the charges that Bush fails on right intention don't seem very likely. I wasn't as confident of that at the beginning, but I was willing to trust the president. That trust has been vindicated.

I guess I've been discovered by the Mormon blogging community, and some three sites have linked to me. Mormon Metaphysics is a philosophy and theology site. Clark, who runs it, has already been interacting here in the comments a bit. Dave's Mormon Inquiry and Northern Lights (which seem to be run by the same person, but I'm not sure) deal with theology, Mormon apologetics, religion in the news, and other more general stuff. Of course, my Mormon friend who is a philosophy professor at Southern Virginia University told me that Mormon theology is an oxymoron and that there's a book called Mormon Doctrine that isn't any such thing. I'll let the bloggers on these sites take it up with him.

I have two items to highlight at Northern Lights. First is an excellent exploration of what would have happened if there had been a constitutional clause prohibiting the government from passing any laws respecting the establishment of a free press. The result is an excellent parody of the constitutional revisionists who haven't figured out that 'respecting' was merely a synonym of 'regarding', with the intent to protect religion from laws restricting it.

Second is a hilarious suggestion for solving the pledge problem without removing any words at all: "One nation, under God, or not, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Even stalwart believers in God can say this truly, for two reasons. The first reason is that adding a disjunct to any true sentence will keep a true sentence. For example, 'George W. Bush is the president' is true, as is 'George W. Bush is the president or the moon is made of green cheese.' The second reason is that one might really find it completely non-misleading to describe this nation as both under God and not under God. Insofar as we're under God's sovereign watch, we're under God. Insofar as this nation has rejected God, we're not under God. OK, enough ruining a good punchline by defending it.

I suppose this is a good opportunity to mention for those still reading what my link policy is, since one of these sites included a hope for a link from me.

Reagan's Remains

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[Disclaimer: I hope people don't find this post irreverent or anything. I hold President Reagan in the highest regard. He was easily among my six favorite presidents, and he defined the presidency for me in my formative years (ages 5-13). If you don't know me well, just be aware that I'm happy to discuss something I care about an awful lot with cold detachment and dispassion, and I'm doing that here. This is about the issues and not the man, and I don't seek to dishonor his memory in my wondering about language use regarding corpses and what they become. We all die, and we all talk about what's left over afterward. This is just the occasion of my wondering about that.]

I heard someone on the radio this morning talking about carting Reagan's remains around various places. That sounded strange to my ears. I'm used to hearing people talk about where someone's remains are buried, but that brings to my mind the idea of someone who has been dead long enough for the body to have decayed significantly. Thus the remains really are only what remains of what was originally buried. To use 'remains' of a corpse of someone who died a few days ago doesn't seem to me to be correct usage. You would call this his body. Only after it's decayed a bit should that become inappropriate, with the need to call what's left his remains. Or am I missing something? Is this a regional dialect difference?

The email address in my Christian Carnival plug for this week was wrong. I've corrected it now. If you already sent in an entry, please do so again. Stephen probably didn't get it.

Liberals for Nukes

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Liberal bloggers are lining up to advocate a turn to nuclear power. Matthew Yglesias describes the prevailing liberal opposition to nuclear power as irrational and gives an additional motivation -- a market for uranium to keep developing nations from the temptation to sell to terrorists or rogue nations. Mark Kleiman summarizes most of the reasons nuclear power is better than anything else we know about (something even the French have figured out) and proposes a solution to the waste problem. Even Brad DeLong chimes in his agreement, not that he adds anything. Thanks to Stuart Buck for the links to DeLong and Kleiman and for reminding us that coal mining is the most dangerous job in the U.S.

Nicene Theology has a much better summary of the basics of text criticism than I could have hoped to do properly. So those who have looked at these KJV discussions with Textus Receptus, Majority Text, Septuagint, and all that and want a basic primer on what these terms all refer to and what the basic issues are. In the process, Darren gives a better account of why it's best to use the whole of the textual tradition divine providence has given us than to stick with one textual tradition, as the KJV-only group insists on doing.

I'm John Rhys-Davies

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Gimli Gloin's son

If I were a character in The Lord of the Rings, I would be Gimli, Dwarf, handy with an axe when orcs are about.

In the movie, I am played by John Rhys-Davies.

Who would you be?
Zovakware Lord of the Rings Test with Perseus Web Survey Software



If I were a character in The Return of the King, I would be Treebeard, an Ent and one of the last of the shepherds of trees.

In the movie, I am played by Joyn Rhys-Davies.

Who would you be?
The Return of the King Test with Perseus Web Survey Software

The only things I can think of that these two have in common are:

1. They both have beards.
2. They're both ents, except for Gimli.
3. They're both played by John Rhys-Davies, the one cast member who has his political head on straight (at least out of the ones talking about politics).

I found one of these at Jollyblogger, and the other was listed at it.


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I was planning to write something really cool for my 400th entry, but I wasn't planning to get around to it today, and Wink has forced my hand by posting his excellent comment-generating entries (which also conveniently allowed me to forbear from posting anything at all yesterday without a gap in days on the blog), so we're now at post 400. Still, circumstances conspired to generate something even better for entry 400.

Prosblogion, the philosophy of religion blog that I've been talking about, is now up and moving along at full pace. The name comes from Anselm's famous Proslogion, in which he presents the ontological argument for the existence of God. We have two faculty members and three graduate students from various locations involved so far, and Matthew Mullins (as administrator of the site) has some feelers out to some other philosophers of religion to see if they're interested. The level of discussion is already higher than I'd hoped to see within the first few weeks. Our two resident faculty have intitiated with a few great posts on the possibility of more than one perfect being and on the topic of God's sovereignty and human freedom, and I've just posted a sort of solution to the vexing problem facing Leibniz about how he can have contingency and freedom in God while still endorsing the Principle of Sufficient Reason.


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I am bewildered by the fairly common practice of American Evangelical parents of circumcising their sons. Given that most American Evangelicals are not Jewish, why is this practice so widespread? The book of Galatians makes it abundantly clear that this is not necessary for salvation. In theory, circumcision by Gentiles should only be done in an effort to convert to Judaism, but that hardly seems to be the motivation here.

If you are a Covenantal (i.e. you think that the Church has inherited the promises of Israel), then I might see how you might think that circumcision is a good thing except for the fact that Covenantals believe that the rite of baptism has replaced the rite of circumcision. And thus I remain bewildered by those who practice both infant baptism and circumcision.

Anyone care to enlighten me?


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(Note: I have not had much exposure to the KJV-only camp, and as such am not terribly familiar with their arguments. I am assuming that most of the KJV-only camp falls into Darren's second classification: The KJV is the only valid English translation. (The first classification I have no problem with, but doesn't seem to fit the name KJV-only, as it seems to more accurately be KJV-preferred, or KJV-lover. The third classification is pretty radical and I can't imagine that it has a huge following.) In particular, I am assuming that KJV-only advocates believe that the KJV is the best possible English translation, and that KJV-Oers believe that the original Greek and Hebrew is superior to everything, including the KJV.)

In the discussion about KJV-onlyism, Mac makes the argument that God would not let any portion of His Word go unpreserved for any serious length of time. Here is what he has to say on the topic

They're basically saying that segments of the word of God have gone AWOL for CENTURIES, before it finally turned up again in recent discoveries. Are they prepared to accept that that God failed to preserve parts of his word for lengthy periods of time before it somehow turned up again in modern times?
This particular argument bothers me quite a bit. Rebecca and Jeremy see it as an a priori commitment to one particular notion of how God will preserve His Word and I am inclined to agree. But what really bothers me is not that there is an a priori commitment to a principle, but that the KJV-only camp applies this a priori principle selectively.

This coming Wednesday is the next Christian Carnival, and will be hosted at ChristWeb. If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read, and possibly pick up readers in the process, or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

Read on to find out more!

Update: I've fixed the email address. The one Nick originally had in here was wrong. If you sent in an entry, please do so again. Chances are pretty good that Stephen didn't get it.

Theistic Explanations

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Stuart Buck has an excellent post on appealing to God as an explanation, showing what's wrong with most complaints about such appeals. The argument he's responding to goes as follows.

1. We're trying to explain fact F.
2. Theists appeal to God to explain F.
3. God is a further mystery.
4. Therefore, we still haven't explained F.

or alternatively:

1. We're trying to explain fact F.
2. Theists appeal to God to explain F.
3. We haven't argued for the existence of God.
4. Therefore, we still haven't explained F.

Each argument makes a mistake, but the second one is fallacious in a fairly obvious way, and I don't think that was made clear in Stuart's post. (It just happens that one of Stuart's commenters expressed exactly the second argument as a response to Stuart, which strikes me as simply stupid, not just ignoring his point but making an even dumber mistake than the first argument.)

speak and spell
You're a Speak & Spell!! You nerd, you. Just because you were disguised as a toy doesn't mean you weren't educational, you sneaky b*st*rd.

What childhood toy from the 80s are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I was hoping for a Transformer, but this is at least accurate.

via Rebecca Writes

I've been wondering about a common rhetorical trick that really offends the opposing party in a debate. Often in arguments, we present unfair portraits of others' views, unfair because they wouldn't themselves describe it that way. But if it's an accurate description of their view or the results of it, and they just don't acknowledge that their view has that consequence, why not describe them as holding that view? The charitable opponent will recognize that they just don't see the consequence and therefore won't believe it. I once thought it was always worth describing things the way people would describe their own views. It's only fair to ascribe to them only the views they themselves hold and not the views that others wrongly take them to hold. I'm now beginning to think that it's not so simple as that.

I just said that I'd continue my discussion of Ochuk in my next post, but as I was writing that next post I decided that it would be better to post this first. I posted this at OrangePhilosophy already, but I figured I'd do a version that explains the philosophical terms more carefully for most of the readers of this blog who aren't as schooled in philosophy as most of the readers of OrangePhilosophy are.

The Rough Woodsman presents a battle between Senator Rick Santorum and Senator Barbara Boxer over partial birth abortion. What struck me as hilarious in this exchange was that it's a classic example of a sorites series from one party with the usual resistance to engage in the discussion from the other.

A sorites series is an argument regarding some vague term, making one step at a time from a reasonable claim to a nonsensical one while only changing the terms a little bit each time. I could put on grain of sand on a table and ask if it's a heap. I could keep adding a grain, asking if it's a heap each time. For a little while, you'd be pretty reluctant to say it's a heap. After many of sand, you would want to say it's a heap, but it's not as if one grain of sand makes the difference. You can do the same thing with baldness and numbers of hairs, with redness and wavelengths of light, or with tallness and centimeters of height. I won't get into the deep philosophical problems raised by vagueness. I just wanted to make the observation that, generally speaking, people will start refusing to answer once you reach the unclear segment of the series. Senator Boxer quite humorously exemplifies this tendency.

Ochuk has a very interesting post about Planned Parenthood. After acknowledging that yelling at people who have already made up their minds what they're going to do when standing outside Planned Parenthood isn't going to accomplish much, he raises the question (or rather brings it up after someone else raised it) whether Christians would be better working inside the organization and helping reform it. Then he extends the question more generally to whether a Christian should work for a company that exploits people or serves to promote social injustice in some other way.

Lara Jakes Jordan of the Associated Press has targeted the Bush Campaign's use of churches to organize support, saying that it should cause those churches to lose their tax-exempt status. The idea is to have someone from each church that tends to be more conservative to serve as an organizer for that congregation. This person will garner support within that group. The problem, according to Jordan, is that a tax-exempt status requires a non-profit organization to remain independent of any political candidates. No campaigning for or against any candidate is allowed by such an organization. The Bush Campaign coordinator for the state in question replied that this is a way to organize individuals, and the use of churches is simply a way of finding the people who will more likely support the president. No campaigning need go on in the church building, and none need be endorsed by the church.

Regardless of whether that answer is sufficient, other questions come to my mind. This reminds me of the targeting of pro-life groups for similar reasons while ignoring the environmentalist advocacy groups, pro-abortion (not pro-choice, since they rely on abortions to pay their salaries) groups like Planned Parenthood, and other not-for-profit groups with liberal political axes to grind.

There's no law against campaigns targeting churches. The law is against churches remaining not-for-profit if they endorse a candidate. I can't therefore legally fault all the Democratic candidates who wouldn't darken the door of a church (or at least one that believes anything) most of the year but then have to put in some time keeping black people in line by speaking in black churches in communities they'd never normally set foot in and have never bothered to try to understand. It's pandering and condescending (in the negative sense), and it led fellow Democrat Mickey Kaus to call John Kerry the Pandescenderer. It's morally obnoxious to engage in such insulting behavior, but there's nothing illegal about it, at least for the candidate. It can be construed as a church supporting a political candidate, though. Given that most of these candidates couldn't exegete a biblical passage to save their life, what qualification do they have to be giving a sermon except as a candidate for public office giving a political lecture at the invitation of the church?

Tru Dawgma

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From The Holy Observer, Tru Dawgma, theological hip-hop. Of course, Tourniquet really did do something like this. They're a Christian prog metal/thrash group who frequently use technical medical jargon as metaphors for theological and moral issues. See Psycho Surgery and Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance. Then there's also the theologically rich Harlot Widow and the Virgin Bride complete with a heavily distorted power chord wedding march with guitars tuned down a step and a half. You need a pretty good education just to figure out what they're talking about. I'm not sure even that will help a lot with Tru Dawgma, though. Check out the lyrics.

Weekend Roundup II

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Here's some more stuff I've been catching up on from the weekend away:

The universe has been expanding faster than the speed of light (via Volokh).

Poliblogger links to a story about three washed-up action hero actors playing three washed-up action hero actors who open up a private investigtor firm. The actors? William Shatner, Robert Wagner, and Lee Majors. I'd watch that.

King of Fools points out that John Kerry is now advocating unilateral engagement with North Korea. He's also got a good post on lust and objectification that picks up on themes I blogged about recently.

Bill Hobbs gives a mini-roundup of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda (link from One Hand Clapping).

Rebecca Writes gives some helpful reflections on the moral implications of Philippians 2:1-8, including just what it is about Jesus' giving of himself that Paul is telling the Philippians to imitate. This post got a mention on Blogs4God.

The Big 20 is here. I was originally supposed to host this one, but it's fitting for Patriot Paradox to have it as the founder, especially now that he's got his real blog back. My post about Arminian misunderstandings of Calvinist thought is in it. Also check out Jollyblogger's post on how to engage in Christlike argumentation.

Mark Liberman at Language Log debunks the "Bush mangles 'Abu Graib' pronunciation" story. His overall rating for Bush is a solid B. His overall rating for the Reuters transcriptions of Bush's pronunciation is a weak C-. (In a later post, Geoff Pullum seems to give Bush even more credit.) Liberman thinks Bush should have done better as often as he's had to hear and say it, but the fact that everyone around him is probably getting it wrong gives me reason to hesitate endorsing his conclusion. By the way, the proper transcription in English should be something like 'Ghurayb'. Given that, I'm not even sure I've heard one person pronouncing it right.

At Volokh, a black RI politician pushes for the removal of terms that remind black people for slavery. Volokh's further recommendations are precious, and his analysis of the psychology behind this seems right to me.

Then, in another case of what Volokh calls "the infantilization of the very group that one is trying to defend", we find a lawyer defending a black father who killed his son, not just because he couldn't help it but because the effects of slavery caused him to do it. I don't think this is much different from what John McWhorter calls separatist morality.

Someone with too much time came up with a county-by-county map of dialect differences for referring to soda (though I still think 'coke' fails to refer to anything that isn't at least cola, regardless of how many people use it with that intent). A breakdown of percentage of people shows what the other map doesn't, that 'soda' is the majority term.

It quite amazes me how many people don't know that 'pop' refers to what's basically a piece of candy on a stick that you put in your mouth and suck on. But then many of these are the same people who don't know what a bubbler is, instead referring to it by the word for statues in parks that spit water out of their mouths. 'Drinking fountain', however, is acceptable but too long for casual use. It would be like using 'carbonated beverage' for soda.

Other studies of dialect differences are here, including maps and a page for each state including what percentage of people answered which way. Thanks to Language Log for the links.

Rebecca Writes gives some thoughts on the KJV-only position. Much of what she says isn't directed toward the more moderate position like Mac's (which I've discussed here), but some of what she says might apply to his position. On the textual issue, which is one place Mac agrees with the KJV-only position, she expresses one thing that I didn't think I made clear enough:

They have already made up their minds about the way they think God ought to have preserved his word, and it would be difficult for them to keep trusting in a God who may have done things differently than the way they think would be the best way.

I think that's exactly what's going on in many cases. There's an a priori commitment to a principle about what counts as God preserving his word, and that principle by definition rules out the richer textual tradition that I've argued will help us to capture better what the original text said. Yet nowhere in scripture is such a principle stated.

What Color is Your Brain?

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I would have thought my brain was gray, but there is interesting information here. There's something right about this and something distressingly wrong. It's the same sort of thing that often causes more simplistic personality tests to put me in the wrong category because my interests are more similar to those with a personality almost opposite mine, but I approach those interests very differently. So I'll use this opportunity to write a little bit about personality tests and why they often fail to describe me well.

Weekend Roundup I

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While I was in New York City for the weekend I was able to do a little writing for posting when I went online with an incredibly slow connection, but I couldn't do much that involved looking around at other blogs and blogging about them, so it's time for another roundup.

Stuart Buck has a helpful post about cable companies and bundling packages. A number of conservatives and libertarians have been arguing that cable companies should charge by the channel, and then people would only pay for what they watch. As much as I'd like not to have to pay for ESPN or any other sports channel, since those will never be watched in my household unless my dad or Sam's dad is around, this sort of proposal doesn't make much sense once you learn a little more about how cable companies work.

Stuart also has a good quote from philosopher C. Stephen Layman that I think shows two things. First, a lot more arguments beg the question than most philosophers will admit. Second, begging the question isn't always all that bad. Many good arguments are question-begging. See my comment on Stuart's post for a little more on why I think this, if you can't see the reasons from Layman's quote.

At Digitus, Finger & Co. we have a striking diversity of feminist responses to Abu Ghraib.

I've got eight windows open now full of other things to read more carefully before deciding if they deserve linkage, but I'm too exhausted now to do more. We've been up late every night, partly from kids not sleeping due to the unfamiliar location, and I have to tutor football players at 8am, so I need sleep. To be continued...

Mark Heller

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I can't bear to link to Brian Leiter's blog. He just shows such contempt for so many things I hold dear, and he refuses to allow comments. Still, I can link to Mark Steen's Orangephilosophy post that links to his announcement that Mark Heller will be coming to Syracuse. This is the most exciting news I've had in a long time. After the three professors who had restored Syracuse to its former glory as one of the best places in the world to study metaphysics (and I mean like top five) all got snatched up by Rutgers, now tied for number 1 in the U.S. for philosophy, partly because of them, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I came here partly because of the presence of one of them, and the arrival of the other two seemed to confirm to me that this was the right choice. Then they all left, and others left with them.

They've been replaced by good people, most of them not in metaphysics. The one senior hire in metaphysics is someone whose interests are close to mine, and he's extremely nice and has offered to help me out more than once, but he's been overbooked recently as the only senior metaphysician at a department stocked with metaphysics grad students who came to work with the three who left and are now in dissertation work. So I like him, but it's not as easy for him to oversee as many people as have been assigned to him. Also, his philosophical sensibilities and personality are so far removed from my own that I don't know how easy it would be to work primarily under his guidance. Well, from what I know about Mark Heller, he's almost the perfect advisor for me, so I'm pretty excited. Now I just need to come up with a dissertation that he could oversee.

Mark spent the first part of his career working on exactly the issues I'm interested in. His book argues that physical objects are quantities of stuff extended through time and not just at a time, and his more recent metaphysics work deals with anti-realism about ontology. His current epistemology work is more like metaphysics, since it's about contextualist theories of knowledge, which I think should be relevant to the work on race I'm doing right now. So both my current projects (if you count the stalled one that I'd like to be my dissertation) are related to things he's a specialist in.

Update: Nick has extended the deadline to 9am tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

Patriot Paradox is back online after having to move to a temporary location for a week or so. Tomorrow he's hosting the Big 20 for the Christian Carnival.

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read, and possibly pick up readers in the process, or highlight your favorite post from the past week. There's still time left, and since he may extend has extended some grace if you plead with him and tell him you get your information about the Carnival from me and say that I was away all weekend and just got back to read my email about where the Carnival is located. Actually, just send him the information he asks for. He probably doesn't want to read all that.

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:



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