May 2007 Archives

In a discussion on the Trinity, Trent Dougherty at Prosblogion rasies the question of whether President Bush is his own president. There's a sense in which Bush is the president of those who voted for him, i.e. they (at least at one point) identified with him as the person they wanted to be president. There's a broader sense in which he's the president of every U.S. citizen, i.e. he's the president who governs over them. That's the sense Trent has in mind. In that sense he is Ralph Nader's president as much as he is James Dobson's.

But is he his own president? Trent thinks yes, and I agree. Mike and Dale in the comments say no, and they offer two reasons. First, he can't pardon himself, which means he doesn't have that particular authority over himself. Second, he's not under his own authority, because as the top executive he's not under anyone's authority. I've adapted what follows from my comment on that post.

I think it's helpful to compare the president's authority with authority in other branches of government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi obviously has limited authority, She needs on her side either (1) the president, at least 50% of the House, and at least 51 senators (and in the event of a filibuster at least 60 senators) or (2) at least 67 senators and 2/3 of the House. It's fairly easy to see how her authority is fairly limited. But is she her own speaker? She speaks for the House. She leads a body of which she is a member. In the UK system of government, there's a similar position held by someone who isn't a member of the body in question, but she actually is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She votes for the speaker along with the other members, and if she sets up rules she then has to abide by them or go through the normal process of changing them. So I'd say that we should consider her to be her own speaker.

The Supreme Court doesn't have to treat its precedents as binding in the same way that lower courts have to (but all of the justices except Thomas treat precedent as having some relevance for any case before them, differing only in terms of the degree of importance they place on precedent). Still, if Justice Breyer as a private citizen breaks a law that the Supreme Court declared binding he has broken the law. He is in this sense a member of the final judicial panel that is over him. In many cases directly bearing on him, he might recuse himself from the decision-making process, but lots of cases will come up that could have a future effect on him as a private citizen (including a famous decision not too long ago that would have changed the outcome of a presidential election had things gone his way). In that sense he is one of the Supreme Court justices whose authority does count in some ways as being over him as a private citizen.

The only difference with the executive branch is that the president is one person. If he issues an executive order about a certain practice, he does have the authority to remove the order or replace it with a contrary one. However, while the order is in place it is binding on him. He is thus under the president's authority, although he is also the president who can change dictates issued by that authority.

It's not on the genetic issues with nature favoring interracial reproduction, but Sam's been reflecting on other aspects of interracial relationships.

Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy is disturbed by the rhetoric of the following statement by President Bush yesterday morning:

Those determined to find fault with this [immigration] bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like. If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it, you can use it to frighten people.
The complaint seems to be that the president is treating those who disagree with him on this bill don't want to do what's right for America. I think the complaint relies on an ambiguity in the expression. Absent any context, principles of charity, or assumptions about what someone might mean, you can take the expression in either of the following two ways:

A. This bill is right for America, and if you want to kill it then you don't want to do this thing that's right for America.
B. This bill is right for America, and anyone who wants to kill it must agree that it's right for America and therefore must have a desire to harm America or at least to resist anything that's right for America.

Now I acknowledge that someone could use the language the president used to mean the second thing. However, I find it extremely unlikely that that's what he meant. In context, he was discussing a particular bill and arguing that the bill itself is right for America. The very fact that he was arguing with those who disagree with him on the particular bill, and that he was making an appeal to doing it because it's right for America, means he does think those who disagree with him on the bill want to do what's right for America. So taking him as if he thinks the opposite is at odds with the context of his speech. He wasn't speaking to a closed-room, partisan audience in order to smear his political opponents. He was trying to persuade people who disagree with him.

It therefore makes much more sense to interpret the president as fitting within his rhetorical situation rather than opposing it. It's always best to take someone in the most charitable way possible given all your information, and it's more charitable in terms of intellectual coherence to take him as saying A. It's also more charitable in moral terms, since it would be immoral to intend B by the sentence he uttered.

But there's no reason to think he did, and intending A is perfectly fine. So I'm at a loss to understand why there's supposed to be any problem with what he said (aside from whether it actually is best for America, but that's something he's in the process of trying to argue for, and mentioning that he thinks it's best for America is perfectly legitimate in that context).

Update: Even Peggy Noonan has joined the insanity. I'd never have predicted her to be the sort who would read this president's words in as uncharitable a light as possible. She sometimes disagrees with him, but she's not usually willing to engage in this kind of libel.

Welcome to the 174th Christian Carnival. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of the carnival is to offer to our readers a broad range of Christian thought. For past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

A number of submissions this week did not qualify. I had to reject three posts that didn't seem to me to be even remotely coming out of a Christian worldview even in the somewhat broad sense of 'Christian' that that Christian Carnival allows. Another submission wasn't really from a blog, and it had been posted in February. The Christian Carnival's purpose is to highlight the best blog posts of the past week. When I host, I will sometimes extend a little grace to include a post that's just barely outside the qualifying period, as I did this week with three posts (but note to those who might try this in the future: no host is obligated to do this). But an essay that's not on a blog that was posted almost four months ago doesn't really fit the purpose of this carnival.
I may have left out posts inadvertently that aren't in any of the above categories, so if your submitted post isn't here please let me know. It's possible that I didn't reject it but just missed it somehow. I've listed the posts in the order I received them.

It's sometimes said that the word 'jihad' in Arabic derives from a word for striving and thus doesn't mean war or holy war. Mark Liberman points out that the English word 'war' is also derived from a root that has nothing to do with war, although in this case it is confusion rather than striving. It's easy to see how either might eventually end up meaning war. (It's a little more difficult to see how the etymological root of 'war' eventually became the German word for sausage.) But both words do actually mean war.

Now, as Mark acknowledges, this doesn't stop people from using either word metaphorically to refer to something else. Muslims do use the word 'jihad' to refer to an inner, spiritual quest that involves struggling to be a good Muslim, but in fact the English word 'war' can also be used in such a metaphorical way, as can several other words that literally mean violent conflict. Some words have even more commonly come to mean nonviolent moral missions (e.g. 'crusade') and hardly ever mean war.

I have no problem if a Muslim wants to use the word 'jihad' in this way. I'd be much happier if all Muslims did no more than go through inner struggles in their personal jihad. I do have a problem if someone wants to pretend that the word never means "holy war" or especially the historically revisionist line that Muslims never meant it as war. I do have a problem if someone tries to act as if this nonviolent use of the word is standard in a way that nonviolent uses of the word 'war' are not. But even aside from the parallels between the two words, I think it's worth resisting the etymological fallacy that takes a word to mean something simply because it was derived from an archaic root that means that. The classic counterexample of 'butterfly' in English comes to mind. It doesn't have much to do with butter or flies.

500,000th Visitor

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Someone in the Czech Republic just clicked on a link from here, to arrive at my review of Psalms commentaries. This turns out to be the 500,000th visit according to sitemeter's method of calculation.

Undercover Black Man has a nice post outlining the genetic advantages to race-mixing, something I've always thought should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about genetics. You don't even need to know about genetics. Just look at the hereditary problems in close-knit and inbred populations. The post details quite a few of those. It's a nice, inconvenient fact for those who think race-mixing is unnatural. Even aside from the difficulty such views face in identifying exactly which populations are the races that can't be mixed, it does seem as if nature prefers combinations of genes that are less closely-related than combinations that are too closely-related.

I do think, however, that it's worth acknowledging that some effects of combining the DNA of very distantly related people could be more harmful. If a trait requires gene coordination from both parents, and the coordination requires more closely-related DNA, then such a crossbreeding could lead to a loss of those kinds of traits, even if it's more likely to preserve traits one of the populations has lost (because those traits are usually simpler).

So it's not purely a matter of race-mixing being healthier and monoracial reproduction being less healthy. There are benefits and disadvantages either way. But the most common opposition to race-mixing in the U.S. context is the racist idea that white genes shouldn't be polluted with black genes, and blacks and whites in the U.S. at this point are much more closely related than most other interracial pairings, largely due to race-mixing in the past (ironically caused mostly by white slaveowners raping or seducing their slaves). Given that, I would expect these negative effects to be significantly reduced in black-white pairings than would have been true in the time of slavery.

So I do think the conclusion is correct. If anything, interracial relationships are at least in one respect more natural than same-race pairings.


The 174th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday right here at Parableman. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:


My Son the Webslinger

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We went shopping with Sam's parents and sisters last weekend. Everyone ended up with some loot, but Ethan's new Spiderman mask and gloves seem to be a real hit. The day we finally got around to opening the package he even wore them to bed. We'll just have to watch out that he doesn't suddenly start wearing a black costume.

I haven't seen him wearing them since, but Sophia insisted that I put them on one night when we were waiting for Ethan to put his pajamas on so we could do our nightly reading time. She then proceeded to tell me that I was scary, giggling the whole time.

Abortion Doctors

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I've read a number of criticisms of Justice Kennedy's decision in Carhart v. Stenberg, which upheld the federal partial-birth abortion ban. One theme I've seen several times is the claim that Kennedy's use of the term 'abortion doctors' is somehow pejorative and inappropriate. In fact, this meme seems to have initiated with Justice Ginsburg's dissent. See here for Justice Ginsburg's words in making this criticism.

When I first read about this, it seemed an unfair and illegitimate complaint, but I didn't really spend much time thinking about it or looking at the use of the term 'abortion doctor'. I decided to look around a little when I saw this post by Stuart Buck, which points out that one person now making this complaint had only two years earlier used the same expression in an entirely positive context. I did a Google search for "abortion doctor" OR "abortion doctors". Here are some of the results.

1. a directory of abortion providers
2. someone's explanation "Why I Am An Abortion Doctor"
3. a 1998 CNN news story about the murder of an abortion doctor
4. a 2003 AP news story about the execution of someone who killed an abortion doctor
5. the entry for the book associated with #2
6. a 1997 pro-choice website seeking to organize the pro-choice movement against a murder charge an abortion doctor was facing
7. a 2003 Fox News story about the same events of #4 above
8. a 2007 Los Angeles Times piece on an aspiring abortion doctor still in medical school, which I have to note is (a) very positive about her and (b) significantly after the Kennedy opinion
9. another article about the 2003 case, this time hosted at a site about dangeous cults that places this killer in a larger category of anti-abortion extremists
10. an abortion provider directory at, which as far as I can tell has removed whatever reference it had that placed it in the listings for this Google search

Exit Strategy

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Scrappleface offers a plan for Moktada Al-Sadr to undermine the basis of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Stop giving the infidels an excuse to be there by no longer doing the things they keep using as a justification for the occupation. So stop killing people, blowing things up, and refusing to participate in the democratic order. Channel all that energy into positive venues like cleaning up litter and doing good deeds for your neighbor. Maybe all the money used to buy weapons could help rebuilding all the damage the insurgency has caused.

I received a message from Adobe this morning, with the following note at the bottom:

Unsubscribe: This email was sent by, or on behalf of, Adobe Systems Incorporated (Adobe). You've received this email from Adobe because you've expressed an interest in Adobe Photoshop Album and have given Adobe permission to communicate with you via email. If you prefer not to receive email from Adobe in the future, please click here and Adobe will remove you from its list. Please include this entire message in your reply. Alternatively, you may call the following toll-free number: (800) 833-6687, or mail your unsubscribe request to Adobe at the following address:

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I think this is the first time I've been given a snail mail address to unsubscribe from an email list. I obviously have an internet connection, or I wouldn't have received the email. Why should I need some further method to carry out my unsubscribe request?

For several years, the students in a local campus ministry had me give seminars at their fall retreat. I think I ended up giving four or five different ones over as many years. Since I don't have a lot of time to post much this week, I thought I'd post my notes for one of these seminars. I've been wanting to put those notes online for a while now anyway. This was a talk on how to deal with the tension between the unity and diversity among Christians, designed primarily for an audience of Christian college students. The seminar was on October 19, 2002, about a year before I started a blog. I have left everything as it is in my notes, except one typo fix and one brief note toward the end about a section that appears to me missing (but probably never existed).

Four issues about unity and diversity will haunt us as we look through this:

A. Differences in belief in practice
B. Differences in ability or gifting
C. Differences of race, ethnicity, or other cultural issues
D. Different campus groups or local churches

What does unity look like when people disagree about the Bible’s teachings and how we should live? How does it work with different strengths and weaknesses? How can we seek unity across social barriers or cultural walls? What do we do on campus with different Christian groups, and what about local churches?

The first thing is to look to God’s word. We can see some things in the process and come back to anything else after looking at some passages. I have some thoughts on these below, but we might leave some things for a discussion time.

From time to time Ethan comes home with some form letter sent from his school. Usually they don't pertain to him. One came home yesterday "reminding" parents of the dress code now that it's warm weather again. Since kindergarten kids never got this information in the first place, it's not really a reminder for us but is simply new information.

One of the items regards the length of skirts and shorts. I find it completely unfathomable:

Skirts and shorts must abide by "fingertip rule" -- shorts and/or skirts should be as long as the tip of your middle finger.
I'm at a loss to understand what that might mean that's remotely in the area of appropriate dress or short length. As far as I can tell, any plausible sense of what "as long as the tip of your middle finger" might mean is still going to be not much more than a few centimeters. They can't seriously mean it's ok to wear a skirt or pair of shorts that's only a few centimeters long. It would basically be a waistband, not a skirt or shorts. So what can they possibly mean?
The 173rd Christian Carnival is at Pseudo-Polymath. There looks like lots of good stuff there.
For the record, I don't agree with Mark's summary of my Dobson post. It's not just that abortion isn't the only issue to care about. I'm not even primarily saying that. My main point is that even if you focus just on the abortion issue you might have a moral obligation to vote for someone who isn't as good as you'd like in order to prevent someone from getting elected who is even worse.
My second cousin Danny Pierce has put together some of his reasons for being a premillenialist. I'm an amillenialist, but I'm open to a premillenialism like the kind he advocates.


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I've been teaching a Maymester course on Human Nature since last Monday. It's basically an entire semester in two weeks, with a four-hour class every day, five days a week. I've been able to recycle some material I've taught before, probably a little over half of it. Most of that was last week, which was nice because my grades for the spring semester were due at noon on Friday, an hour before my class. I was asked a week ahead of time, right in the middle of heavy grading season, and things haven't slowed down since then. Given that most of what's still to come the rest of this week is stuff I've never taught before, I expect probably to have even less time than I've had. Maybe it will lead to some interesting posts when I do have more time, though, because it's a lot of material that I haven't engaged with carefully before.

This is why I've been doing a bit more linking and a bit less actual discussion for the last ten days or so, and I have no reason to think that will change before Friday at 5pm, when I'm done with the intensive part of the course. I'll have some grading to do after that, because I think it's unconscionable to expect students to do a whole semester's work in two weeks when they're probably not able to put in even enough time to do all the readings carefully, never mind write about them intelligently.

I do have one series of posts planned once I have a little more time. Max Goss, who runs the politically conservative philosophy blog Right Reason, has asked me to do a guest series at that blog, and I'm going to be writing a series on Augustine, evangelicalism, and the role a Christian (and specifically Christian views) can play in politics. I'll probably post some other things there, but at least the Augustine stuff will be cross-posted here.

Other than that, I'd like to get back to my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series once I have a little more time, and I'd like to write some commentary review posts this summer. I still wanted to put some thoughts together on the Republican candidates after the debates, but that's not complete enough yet to do in the amount of time I've got at the moment. There are several posts on various blogs that I had wanted to respond to, and some of those may just slip into nowhere or get a very late response. I do want to use the majority of my time in June to work on my dissertation, however, and I'm teaching a more reasonable but still intensive summer course from July 9 to August 9, so don't expect a major, substantive post every day even during June, and things may get busy again for me not too far into July.

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The 173rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Pseudo-Polymath. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

What if Thomas Jefferson had treated Ben Franklin the way some Republicans are treating Mitt Romney? Evangelicals for Mitt have gotten hold of a letter from that alternative reality.

Craig Blomberg reviews the new Pillar New Testament Commentary on II Peter and Jude, by Peter Davids. I just got my copy and haven't had time to look at it much, but I'm looking forward to spending a little time in it when we study II Peter in our congregation in August and September.

From what Blomberg says, there's a lot to look forward to. I tend to agree with the few criticisms he offers. I don't know why you would need to think of Jude seeing a writing as canonical for him to quote it, and I'm certainly with Blomberg on the eternal security point. But I don't expect that sort of thing to be the norm.

I should note that, while Blomberg says at the bottom of his review that Davids gets his asterisk for "top pick among detailed but not overly technical commentaries on the English text of these two little epistles", a quick glance at the page he's referring to shows that it doesn't occupy that position alone. Thomas Schreiner's NAC on both epistles to Peter and Jude is still asterisked. I've spent some time in Schreiner's commentary, mostly on I Peter, and it's absolutely excellent. His work on the other two epistles will no doubt be equally good.

Suppose we're convinced that a certain issue is more important than any other, and it's on the level of urgent moral necessity to do whatever we can to make progress on that issue and that issue, even if it sets us back quite a ways on other issues. I don't think that's true of the issue of abortion. Having pro-life leaders on the national level isn't better than having pro-choice leaders if the pro-life leaders are going to do things that are even worse than the status quo on abortion. I wouldn't vote for someone who thinks abortion is wrong if the person also thinks we ought to put the majority of the population in machines for eight hours a day that cause intense pain and shorten their lives conserably, merely to make the lives of a few elite people comfortable. While I think abortion is evil and unjust, I'd rather make little progress or even move backward on that score if it's a choice between that and moving into a society that's so bad that the abortion status quo pales in comparison. Those who tolerate grave evil are still better than those who would deliberately perpatuate a greater evil.

But even if we consider a certain issue to be so all-defining that we think we should care very little about anything else, I think we have a moral obligation to prefer someone who is closer to us on that issue than someone else who is further from us on the issue, even if we think both of them hold immoral views and are too tolerant of evil. This may well end up being the case with the 2008 presidential race for pro-lifers if it turns out that the two frontrunners get their respective party nominations. Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice. So is Hillary Clinton. According to the pro-life view, both of them are willing to tolerate serious evil, and that is immoral. However, even given the false premise that abortion is the only morally relevant issue, it simply doesn't follow that pro-life voters ought to stay home or vote for a third party if those two candidates receive their party nominations.

Even if abortion is the only issue under consideration, Hillary Clinton is far worse from a pro-life perspective than Rudy Giuliani is. When he was mayor of a very liberal city, he did virtually nothing to increase women's rights to have abortions, and the abortion rate went down. Some of that may have been just part of a national trend going on at the same time, but it doesn't seem as if he cared enough about the issue to promote abortion rights, never mind to expand them. Rather, he seems to have been expressing a pro-choice view mainly because he's not too motivated by pro-life concerns and not because he holds Hillary Clinton's view that the right to abortion is so inviolable that we should never restrict it under any circumstances.

He seems open to letting states decide, as is his general view on many issues. He worked in the Reagan Justice Department, which suggest some kind of judicial conservatism, and he has gone on record supporting judicial nominees like Roberts and Alito, as opposed to those like Kennedy, O'Connor, or other Republican appointees who have safeguarded Roe v. Wade. Even if the pro-life voter can't trust how faithful he'd be to that, he obviously isn't so dedicated to the pro-choice view that he'll let it affect anything else he does as if it's one of the most important rights one might poseess, which is exactly what Hillary Clinton would do.

The 172nd Christian Carnival is up at Crossroads.

What would you describe as the typical Disney family model? Jae Ran Kim points out how frequently the main character of Disney movies has either an absent or dead parent (or two absent or dead parents), among other unusual anomalies that should be surprising for a line of children's entertainment. I think the only one in her pretty long list to have both parents raise her ends up a cross-dresser.

This isn't necessarily a criticism. This particular story device often simply makes for a good story. But doesn't it seem excessive for Disney to be so overwhelmingly like this? Or is this more common in children's stories in general than we notice? Since we generally don't notice it with Disney, maybe that's so. But why don't we notice it, if we don't?

A little while ago, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy wrote a brief but interesting review of the new Tolkien novel The Children of Hurin. One statement stood out to me as especially interesting:

The story also emphasizes Tolkien's view (perhaps influenced by his experiences in World War I) that waging war against evil often requires time and patience, avoiding both premature defeatism and premature large-scale offensives.

I don't know whether this is accurate to Tolkien's intent, but I thought the ensuing discussion in the comments was very helpful in terms of why he takes Tolkien this way. But what's perhaps more interesting to me is that this seems like a perfectly normal use of the word 'evil', one that assumes nothing in particular about the metaphysical or moral content of the term. Speaking of fighting against evil in this sense does not involve any assumption about some force of evil in the world, never mind about whether such a thing is as powerful as any good force.

It amazes me how many philosophers I know think that using 'evil' as a noun in this way somehow reveals a hidden Manicheanism or dualism in one's view of good and evil (i.e. the view that good and evil are equally powerful forces). Sometimes the claim is put that President Bush is "ontologizing evil" by using the word 'evil' as a noun in this way, which is philosophical shorthand for the same point. A friend of mine called me up last week for other reasons, but the conversation degenerated to a series of his gripes against some of the views I've argued for on this blog that he'd been holding in for a couple years and had to get out before he leaves town (at least that's what it seemed to me he was doing), and at one point he just couldn't fathom how I could possibly think President Bush is not a dualist of this sort given how often he uses the word 'evil' as a noun in this way.

This kind of abstract language isn't all that uncommon. Are people ontologizing cancer as if it's some all-powerful force in the universe when they say that we're forming a crusade against breast cancer? Are Mothers Against Drunk Driving treating drunk driving as some evil force on the level of divinity if they speak as if they're waging a war against drunk driving? Are politicians ontologizing corruption as some spiritual force as powerful as God whenever they speak of fighting corruption? I don't see how it's any different when it comes to fighting terrorism, fighting terror, or fighting evil. It's a credit to the Volokh Conspiracy readers that no one repeated that meme in the comments.

The 172nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Crossroads. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:


[cross-posted at Prosblogion] Elliot Sober has a new paper, "Intelligent Design Theory and the Supernatural: The 'God or Extra-Terrestrials' Reply", in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy (January 2007). I received my copy today, and I was amazed that this paper could get past the reviewers of a top philosophy of religion journal without serious modification, even from such an important philosopher of science as Sober.

Sober makes the following argument. Defenders of intelligent design often point out that ID arguments are not religion, and one support for this (a relatively less important one, in my view) is that the conclusion of ID arguments is silent on what the designer is like other than that the designer is intelligent and must have worked purposes into nature somehow. Sober's paper is a response to that argument, and his response is extremely strange. He argues that supernatural assumptions are implicit in the ID argument, and thus the ID defender is committed to a conclusion that there is some supernatural being.

Suppose that's all true. I'm not invested very seriously in whether that part of his argument is correct, since I happen to believe there is a supernatural being. I don't even care whether ID defenders are committed to the existence of a supernatural being, since I know no one who accepts ID who doesn't also accept a supernatural being. So I'll assume for the sake of argument that Sober is correct, and ID arguments do involve a commitment to the existence of some supernatural being. My question is how this helps Sober. His point in the paper is to show that ID arguments involve a religious conclusion. The only way he should be able to conclude that is if he thinks being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is somehow itself religious. Yet it isn't.

Lots of people think moral evaluation commits you to the existence of a supernatural being. They don't necessarily think that calling an action wrong is a religious practice. So it doesn't seem that being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is the same as practicing a religion. What's worse is that plenty of people accept theistic arguments on philosophical grounds without being religious practitioners. I personally know several people myself who do exactly that. Their theism is merely a philosophical view. It is not religious in any sense. It doesn't even affect their life. They are areligious. So how can implicitly being committed to the existence of a supernatural being amount to religion when even being explicitly committed to theism doesn't count as religion?

The 171st Christian Carnival is at Light Along the Journey.

Al Sharpton has once again gotten himself into trouble, but I think this time those who are critical of him have gotten him way wrong. His actual words:

As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation.

Evangelicals for Mitt has the video. EFM is playing this as anti-Mormonism. This post and commenters at Race 4 2008 seem to take it the same way. Sharpton denies that he meant that Mormons don't believe in God. I believe him. After all, look closely at what he said. He said people who really believe in God will vote against Mitt Romney. That means the people who don't really believe in God are not Mormons but people who would vote for Mitt Romney. In other words, Republicans and conservatives, particularly social conservatives, do not really believe in God. It has nothing to do with Mormons. It has everything to do with those who disagree with him politically. If you don't agree with his political views, you must not believe in God. It's that simple.

This isn't new to Sharpton. He's said it before about supporters of President Bush. So of course he can say that it wasn't meant as a statement about Mormons. It wasn't. It was a slam against all Christians who happen to be politically conservative. This kind of irresponsible statement would be grounds for excommunication in the first-century church. From Sharpton's perspective, he must think it's a good thing that we've strayed so far from biblical teaching about the consequences of this kind of divisiveness. Of course it would be better for him if he were held accountable, because then he'd have a greater chance of seeing how serious his insult to Christ really is.

Disclaimer: There are conservatives who do the same thing. I'd say the same about them. There clearly are people who claim to be Christians who demonstrate by their actions or words that their Christianity is extremely thin and doesn't amount to much of what I know as Christianity. I think John Kerry's identification with Christianity is largely cultural because of his Catholic upbringing. I suspect the same is true of Newt Gingrich on the Republican side. My point isn't about never being able to wonder whether someone's faith is genuine. It's about making sweeping claims about people's political affiliation as proof that they don't genuinely believe in God, which is nonsense.

This post continues my thoughts on the first Democratic presidential debate. Part I is here. Here are several further thoughts about particular candidates or other aspects of the debate, and then I'll move to a few issues I care about and how this debate contributed to our understanding of these candidates on those issues.

Hillary Clinton seems to me to consider her vote to invade Iraq to have been misguided, but she insists that she made the decision based on what seemed right to her at the time. I'm not convinced she's fully changed her mind on whether it's good for us to be in Iraq. Both Clintons have all along disagreed with how Bush has handled things, but enough of what she's said has been enough in agreement with what I think that I can't believe the difference now for her is the difference on the ground in Iraq but rather a different political environment that requires her to say something she doesn't fully agree with. I just don't see her turnaround on that issue as stemming from any real argument. Those on the left who don't trust her are, to my mind, justified in their skepticism. Yet at the same time I hear what she's saying she'd do (and her actions in the Senate are very clearly demonstrating her willingness to do them), and I really don't want that to happen. So even if she doesn't really believe in what she's doing, it seems that she's very willing to do it. In that sense I think she will satisfy those who don't trust her, even if they don't trust her motives. If she has a secret view that we ought to remain in Iraq, it doesn't do anyone any good or bad, since she doesn't seem to want to act on it.

It gives me little confidence to see a presidential candidate unwilling to abide by the rules of the debate. Several candidates kept talking after time was up. Some were instructed to give one name or to say "pass" on a Supreme Court justice. Three got a chance to respond out of eight, because the first three spent so long explaining their answer that time ran out. The same happened when they were told simply to give the names of three countries that are our greatest allies. When that didn't work, a few were asked about our greatest enemies, and no one was content just to give names. I would say that Richardson, Obama, and Biden might have been the worst offenders on this score, although Gravel was much more immature in a number of ways, including his insistence on turning every question into a way to criticize his opponents on being too soft on Bush on Iraq. Brian Williams even made a sarcastic jab at him once when he turned a question on the environment into Iraq. I have to say that things were slightly better in the Republican debate the next week, at least in part because Chris Matthews was trying to learn from how things had gone the previous week and at least in part because several candidates saw how the Democratic candidates were behaving and didn't want to look that bad. So maybe there's hope for future debates.

In his interview with Joe Scarborough after the debate, Dennis Kucinich shows that he knows the difference between being inconsistent in your views and being a hypocrite. He refuses to call Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hypocrites, even though they are in favor of ending the war but have voted to continue funding it, which he sees as an inconsistency. He wants to show them that they are inconsistent, not call them hypocrites, which would a moral charge and not just the intellectual charge that inconsistency is. He went up several notches in my view at that point, even though he wasn't able to explain the difference in the short amount of time Scarborough gave him. It was clear to me that he understood it. He's still second-to-worst in my evaluation of the Democratic presidential candidates, but I was impressed by his recognition of that distinction, which most politicians and political commentators (including most political bloggers) are completely tone-deaf to.

I want to conclude with an overview of what I think of the candidates on a few issues I care a lot about.

I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts together from the April 26 Democratic debate and the May 3 Republican primary. I've been typing up a lot of notes, however, and I've decided to post them now before the Democratic debate is a full two weeks gone. It's not as carefully organized as I'd wanted, and it's a bit long, so I'm dividing it into two posts. I'll save the Republican debate for a separate post or two later in the week.

The frontrunners on the Democratic side are Senator Hillary Clinton (NY), Senator Barack Obama (IL), and former Senator John Edwards (NC). I consider the second tier to be Senator Joe Biden (DE), Governor Bill Richardson (NM), and Senator Chris Dodd (CT). I would place former Senator Mike Gravel (AK) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) in a third tier.

Since I am not a Democrat, and I disagree so strongly with all the candidates in the debate on a number of key issues that came up, I don't think it's fair for me to present views on who won or who did best from a Democratic point of view. What I will offer are some views on who I think would be the least disastrous of a crew of eight candidates whose presidencies would all be a turn in entirely the wrong direction on many counts. I also have some thoughts on particular issues and specific stateements of individual candidates.

Overall, Hillary Clinton had the most to lose in the debate, and I don't think she lost much. She has been the frontrunner, and she still seems to be the first choice in most polling. Obama is very close in many polls, though, and he has even overtaken her in some. It's more difficult for a woman in a debate, since lower voices tend to carry better and sound more commanding to most people. She managed to convey authority without coming across in a way that many people would (for reasons not entirely good) take as sounding shrill and bossy. It's particularly difficult with someone with as commanding a presence and voice as Obama, and she passed that test.

What surprised me especially is that I came away thinking of her as one of the less-disastrous candidates in terms of policy. I think I'd prefer Biden in several ways, and I didn't get enough sense of some of Dodd's views to know where he stands with respect to her, but I think she'd beat out any of the other candidates on the criterion of policy alone. I do have serious reservations about putting another Clinton in the White House at this point, given that it would mean the Bush and Clinton families would then dominate the American presidency for a sum total of at least 16 and perhaps 20 straight years. That kind of dynastic hold of two (albeit competing) families is not a good thing. I'm so concerned about this that I'd put Dodd above her in my preferences even without knowing where he stands with respect to her on some key issues. After them come Richardson, Obama, Edwards, Kucinich, and Gravel.

Spiderman 3

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We saw Spiderman 3 today. It was easly the best of the trilogy, and it gave the impression that Sam Raimi had been hanging on to some of what he did in this from the very beginning. I came away thinking the moral message was the sort of thing a Christian would write to try to motivate some of the less common and less popular elements of Christian ethics. As far as I know, Raimi isn't a Christian, but the influence of Christianity on our culture, as waning as it is in general, is felt very clearly in this film. See Rick Mansfield's excellent review for more.

Update: Sam has further thoughts in a very different direction (with some spoilers).

John Piper recently preached a sermon on the high calling of singleness. Someone wrote to him afterward, asking why anyone should get married if singleness is such a high calling. His response is balanced, careful, and full of wisdom. [hat tip: Justin Taylor]

The 171st Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Light Along the Journey. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

There is always the stray race story, but lately it seems as if there have been far more than usual.

NPR had a story called "The Multiracial Identity" that I still haven't had a chance to listen to, and I'm not sure if I'll have any thoughts on it when I do, but I thought I'd link to Sam's post on it for now.

Someone is offering evidence for racial bias among NBA refs (NYT registration or Bugmenot required). They found much higher calls for black players when there are more white refs and somewhat higher for white players when there are more black refs. I'll hold my judgment until the study can be subjected to peer review. I haven't had a chance to look at it, but the first thing I'd want to rule out is whether black players are more likely to foul more often than white players. This gap, if it turns out to be real, might be partially explained by black refs going too easy on black players as much as it could be white refs being too hard on black players, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's some unconscious bias from residual racism also or instead.

There's also Lee Epstein's post at Balkinization, which says that panels of judges are more likely to be swayed toward a black plaintiff suing for discrimination if there's a black judge on the panel (and the same is true of women with women judges on the panel). As I commented there, the question is whether the presence of a woman or black makes other judges more likely to see discrimination that is present or whether it makes them more likely to find discrimination that isn't present. I suppose it's possible that both are true. I can't see how the study itself shows that having more women and minority judges improves things, though. You need to have a prior judgment about whether the finding of discrimination in the particular cases is the correct judgment if you're going to see this as good, bad, or neutral (or mixed). I'm not sure you can get an independent judgment on that.

Then there's this weird story, which says that interracial couples spend more time and resources with/on their kids than monoracial couples, except if the father is black and the mother white, and then it's less than monoracial couples. I have no idea what might explain any of that.

Finally, everyone's been making a big deal about a new study that shows that black students at elite colleges and universities are overwhelmingly more likely to be non-citizens, immigrants, or children of immigrants than descendants of slaves in the U.S. Why is this surprising? If you'd asked me ahead of time which one I would have expected to occupy more slots in the top schools, I would have without hesitation said the immigrants and children of immigrants. This isn't just from experience at an Ivy League institution (whose black community did seem to me to be over-represented by immigrants and children of immigrants in terms of percentages) but because scholars have long known this. Black conservatives and other opponents of affirmative action (or those who seek affirmative action reform) have been using this fact for quite a while as a piece of evidence in their argument against affirmative action policies as they currently stand. Many people, both in major news media and in race-specific specialty blogs, are reporting this study as major and surprising news. I think this raises some very interesting issues that I won't get into at the moment, but I'll say one thing. That people are surprised by this confirms my suspicion that most people don't have much of a clue what the arguments against affirmative action really are. If you knew them then you'd probably be aware of this fact. Maybe I'll have to get back to my affirmative action series to do my part to remedy that.

From an actual church sign: "Hurting people loved here"

I count at least six disambiguations given in the post and the comments, most of them not good.

The 170th Christian Carnival is up at Brain Cramps for God.
John includes quite a few of the new things that at least five people have been helping set up to rejuvenate the carnival. I've lost track already of who has done what. We now have a forum hosted by Nick Queen, a new submissions email address (which I include in my plugs for new carnivals), and a new announcements list at Googlegroups. What John doesn't have there (although perhaps he'll add it when he finds out about it) is the newly established BlogCarnival entry for the Christian Carnival, which means we can once again submit posts there instead of by email. The hosting schedule will be available there as well as in the new forum.
Thanks to all who have helped set these things up. It was nice to see so many people step in when the need arose, including those who have submitted posts and those who have volunteered to host, a couple even at the last minute. It was a good instance of different people contributing to something according to their own ability, knowledge, skill, and motivation, and thus it's an instance of what Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 12.
Update: I forgot to mention the Christian Carnival blogroll, which is older but has continued to be updated during the transition. It's a nice way to have the recent carnivals appear in your blogroll automatically. 

For those who are interested, here is the list of upcoming hosts for the Christian Carnival:

May 2 Brain Cramps for God
May 9 Light Along the Journey
May 16 Crossroads
May 23 Pseudo-Polymath
May 30 Parableman
June 6 The Bible Archive
June 13 Nick Queen
June 20 The Evangelical Ecologist
June 27 Chasing the Wind

Volunteers are now invited to host in July and beyond. Let me know if you're interested.

Ann and Bob's cooperation is jointly necessary for doing something that both are morally obligated to do. Ann and Bob can't agree on how they should go about doing that thing. Ann refuses to do it Bob's way, and Bob refuses to do it Ann's way. In both cases they believe they are morally required not to do it the other's way. So Ann sets out to do it her way, and Bob refuses to cooperate, because he believes her way is immoral. Ann then complains that Bob is refusing to fulfill his moral obligation. Bob complains that Ann is refusing to fulfill hers. The obligation does not get fulfilled.

Can Ann claim that Bob (and Bob alone) is refusing to carry out that responsibility? Can Bob say the same of Ann? My impression from the case as I just explained it is that neither is any more or less responsible than the other for not completing the obligation. Both are equally to blame, and both are somewhat to blame. But consider a slightly altered example. Ann and Bob can fulfill their moral obligation by cooperating, but it would mean Ann does not do something that she also thinks is morally required. Bob wouldn't be sacrificing any moral obligation he believes he has to fulfill the one, but he thinks he'd be doing something wrong to cooperate in the other.

In this case, Ann refuses to do it, because she thinks she ought to do both, and if Bob won't let her do both then she'll do neither. In this second case, then, Ann is morally to blame for not doing the obligation that both agree they have, and Bob is not to blame for not fulfilling that obligation. The fact that Ann thinks there's a further obligation that Bob doesn't think he has does not give her the moral freedom to abandon the one obligation she can fulfill, since it's better to fulfill one moral obligation that you can fulfill even if there's no way the other person will let you do what's necessary to meet the other obligation that you think you have.

Now consider the Congressional leadership and President Bush on the issue of funding of troops in Iraq. Both parties agree that they have an obligation to fund the troops in Iraq right now. The Congressional leadership thinks they have a further obligation to get the troops out of there very soon with an explicit deadline. Bush disagrees. He in fact thinks he has an obligation not to allow that. He thinks they have no such obligation. Now they fashion a method of doing both at once, but he considers that meeting one obligation (temporarily) while violating another. If they followed his recommendation, they would be meeting one obligation while not meeting what they consider to be another one.

J.K. Rowling regularly speaks against this sort of thing. It's one thing to photshop women as a matter of course to increase their bust size and thin their waist. Not that it's not immoral with adult women, but it seems to me to be a completely different matter to do it with someone who is underage (just turned 17, probably 16 when she took the picture) who is portraying someone even more underage (15 at the beginning of the movie, 16 at the end).

Several of the commenters have already made this point, but I'll make it again here. If whoever was responsible for this perverse act doesn't think Emma Watson is attractive enough to teenagagers as she is, then our culture's standards of beauty have become even more warped than I had thought (and I've long thought them to be pretty twisted). We already tell girls in too many ways that they're not good enough unless they look like Emma Watson. Now it turns out even Emma Watson isn't even good enough as she is.

Update: More here. I've also now linked above to Rowling's own rant against this sort of thing.

Update 2: Warner Brothers claims that they didn't authorize this. They've asked IMAX to remove it from their site. 



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