August 2007 Archives

An off-topic discussion developed in the comments of this post, about how to think about the Incarnation if God is atemporal. It's led to a post of its own on that topic that I've posted at Prosblogion.

Reply to Anyabwile

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Thabiti Anyabwile has responded to my critique of his discussion of race. In several places, I think he has misunderstood my view or gone beyond my argument to attribute to me a view that I do not hold and that does not follow from what I said. In some places I think we just disagree about something fairly fundamental. I'll address each of his points in order

1. The issue of the image of God is largely irrelevant to the main issues. I just thought some of the way Thabiti was speaking had implications that I didn't think he would welcome. That seems to be a correct assessment. He doesn't welcome the suggestion that God has a body, but he wants to say that some of what the image of God constitutes is manifested in our bodily reality (both male and female). I don't have any problem with the idea that God worked into us certain capacities to carry out the mission of representing him, and some of those capacities have to do with our physical being. I do in fact think that's the case. I'm skeptical whether those capacities constitute being made in the image of God, however. I certainly would agree, however, that there are no people who are more in the image of God than others, as if white people represent God more fully. But I don't think you need to see the image of God as partially reflected in our bodies to say that. So I think this issue is largely a distraction from the issues we really do disagree about.

2. Thabiti clarifies that he presents his argument against the reality of races as a way of getting to the sections of his article that I agree with, not as a way to respond to the wider literature on race. I though I already knew that, so I'm not sure how this is a corrective to my understanding. He also says that once you accept race, you cannot get out of that trap. He doesn't want to enter it to begin with. I disagree. It depends on what you take race to be. I can acknowledge the existence of what I think race to be without falling into the trap of admitting to the reality of what he thinks race is supposed to be, because what I think race is isn't the same thing as what he thinks race is supposed to be. But that issue comes out in his subsequent points, so I'll look at the details further there.

3. I never claimed that races are like refrigerators in every sense. I simply claimed that the principles that something doesn't exist just because it isn't talked about in the Bible is false. It's no argument against something's existence just because it isn't in the Bible. I did give other examples of social categories that are more analogous to race, e.g. political conservatives or university students. Nothing biological determines whether you are a university student. Social practices determine that. But the category exists nonetheless. Since races are socially-determined categories, they are more like that. The difference is that people are classified according to characteristics at least some of which are biological, and that is not true of all socially-constructed categories.

There is a big difference between races and leprechauns. Leprechauns are people with some very strange properties, and no one actually has the properties of leprechauns. But they are concrete individuals. There just aren't any of them. Races aren't concrete individuals. They are categories based on classification schemes. Even if the criteria used for determining who is in what category are biologically arbitrary, there does exist a set of classification practices, and the people who are members of the races do exist. The criteria that are used rely on realities, and those realities include some biological differences (even if they are somewhat arbitrarily chosen in terms of the biology). Those realities include real social and historical facts, including severe mistreatment of entire populations of people. Those realities include somewhat reliably-identifiable properties that people do in fact use to categorize people.

Justin Taylor sent me an email asking me to comment on Many Ethnicities, One Race by Thabiti Anyabwile, author of the forthcoming The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Accomodation. This article is a Christian argument for an increasingly-common view today that races are not real, following by a biblical theology lying behind a call to end segregated congregations.

When I saw the links to a bunch of pieces on race on Justin's blog, I looked at a number of them and got a sense of what they were about, but I didn't pursue most of them (with John Piper's as a key exception). This was one I didn't look at in much detail, largely because what I initially saw seemed to me to be pretty far from what I think is the correct way to look at these issues. I must say (now that I've read the whole thing) that the second half of his piece was much more in line with my own thinking, but his initial arguments are very much not. Since Justin asked for my thoughts, here they are, and perhaps they will be helpful to others besides Justin. I'm not going to repeat the arguments in the article but will assume you have read it.

One worry I have is that I see no biblical warrant for taking the image of God to be anything more than being given a mission to represent God (which is what an image does for a god in the ancient near east). It is thus the same as being given the mandate to steward creation as God's representative on earth. Anyabwile rests a lot on his more expansive view of what the image of God is. all the while complaining that people's views of race go way beyond what the Bible actually says about race.

I'm a bit disturbed at the idea that our bodies could have something to do with being in the image of God to begin with. The only reason God has a body is because he incarnated himself in his second person as a human being. But that is in time after the creation of Adam, who is nonetheless made in the image of God. Even if being in the image of God is more substantive than the view I hold, it cannot have anything to do with having a body, since God does not have a body in any sense other than in the second person's incarnation, which is to reflect what human beings are like and not the other way around (although the new creation does reflect what Christ is like, but that's another step removed).

I think his general argument form is fallacious. It basically notes that the modern notion of race isn't in the Bible and thereby dismisses it. But the modern notion of a mailman isn't in the Bible. The modern notion of a refrigerator isn't either, nor is the modern notion of a university or the modern notion of a conservative. But all those things exist.

Another problem I have is that he keeps speaking of "races rooted in biological difference". Most race theorists who accept the existence of races do not think that races are a necessary implication of biological facts. They think social and historical factors have produced racial categories that rely on biological features in terms of how we classify people, but the root is in social and historical factors, not in biology. The fact that they are not rooted in biology doesn't mean they're nonexistent any more than the fact that categories like "conservative" or "university student" aren't rooted in biology doesn't make them unreal.

The 52nd Philosophers' Carnival is up at Philosophy, et cetera. It looks as if Richard was more selective than most hosts have been recently, so the quality of posts should be must higher on the whole than it sometimes is.

Race and Humor

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I was going to link to this a while ago, but I never got around to it. Someone who goes by the online name "tstorm" has put together an excellent short documentrary on race and humor, which you can find at Racialicious. It's been broken up nicely into small components in case you don't have a lot of time at once to watch it. It explores what factors go into evaluating whether a particular instance of racial humor is morally acceptable or offensive. I don't agree with everything he says in evaluating the instances in popular culture that he picks out, and a philosopher might want a more systematic treatment of some of the theoretical issues about what constitutes racism, whether causing offense is automatically immoral, and so on, but I think it's largely an excellent effort that's worth watching and thinking about. He says a lot of things that you might not have thought of, and he's done a good job of sorting through a wide range of issues that come to bear on this question. It's the sort of thing I'd show my students in class or assign for them to watch on their own.
The 187th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Imago Dei. 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:

A little while ago I had lots of things to say about the judicial nominee battle going on in the Senate and the claims by some of the Democratic senators, most prominently Senator Schumer, about the process of confirming the newest two Supreme Court justices. I didn't have the time to type up any of my thoughts, and it feels a bit late now. However, one thing I did want to say something about is the interesting reversal of roles that we see when the Senate shifts leadership and each party complains about the tactics of the other side. See Jan Crawford Greenburg's post here for some nice examples.

You might classify the views on such matters in terms of two pure positions. One is the view Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) has been consistent in holding (although his application of it leaves much to be desired, in my view). According to him, there is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting nominees to violate the current norm among judicial nominees not to comment on potential future cases or on issues one expects might come before the court one will be seated on. In the Roberts and Alito hearings, he pressed for details on whether they believe certain rights are established in the Constitution, whether they would be willing to overturn certain precedents, whether they thought particular cases were wrongly decided, and so on. They refused in many of these cases to go beyond the standard they both believed to have been presented by now-Justice Ginsburg's nomination process a decade-and-change earlier. Their reasoning is that commenting on what may be central to forthcoming cases will threaten their perception as unbiased judges, since those whose cases will be heard will think the justices' minds are already made up and will not give them a chance. But this is not the reasoning of the other pure view on such matters.

The alternative view is not merely that there is a convention among judges not to engage in such prediction out of fairness to parties in future cases. The alternative pure view is that it is simply not the business of the Senate in confirming judicial nominees to engage in partisan politics. That is for the president to be concerned with, since it is his election that determined who would nominate judges for any vacancies. The Senate's role is merely to safefuard the president's choices against serious corruption and ethical issues and to ensure that the nominees are qualified to carry out the tasks required of them. Deference is given to the president's nominee. The primary objection to this view is that the Senate is also an elected body, and they are elected for partisan reasons to present partisan considerations for or against what the Senate might do, including for or against judicial nominees in their role of advising and consenting. It is thus within their authority to question nominees who are both qualified and not corrupt simply because they disagree with the nominee on issues of legal philosophy.

I think the latter issue is an interesting debate in constitutional interpretation. The Constitution's text merely says that the Senate will advise and consent to the president's nominees. It doesn't give a reason why. It doesn't indicate what process the Senate will engage in before giving their consent or their advice. It doesn't say if the advice and consent are different stages of a two-step process. Those things are all not in the text of the Constitution but are in the Senate's current practice of carrying out this role. I don't know anything about the legal background to this sort of thing and whether English common law explains it. I don't know anything about the debates in the constitutional committees over this language and what light that sheds on it. I don't know anything about whether the federalist papers explain what some of the founders were thinking of as they argued for this kind of wording. In short, I am woefully unqualified to have much of a view about what the Constitution really means by saying this. If I were to go by what I take from it merely by reading the words, I'd be inclined to think that the Senate ought to give advice to the president and then confirm whoever the president selects.

New Charge Against Romney

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Mitt Romney is now being accused not of flip-flopping but of actually holding contradictory positions at the same time. Apparently he has spoken in favor of a constitutional amendment recognizing fetuses as protected by the 14th Amendment, all the while continuing his statements that he would favor overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the abortion question to states.

I see no necessary contradiction here. He sees a problem with the status quo and would be relatively happy with either solution. The Supreme Court could overturn Roe and give it back to the states, or we could pursue an amendment to the Constitution to protect the unborn. He obviously would prefer the latter, but giving it back to the states would be preferable to leaving things as they are.

That's in fact my position, and I'd pursue either goal over what we have now, even if I'd prefer making it explicit that the 14th Amendment makes it unconstitutional to allow abortion (which I think it does do). I am not a federalist on abortion. I think the 14th Amendment is clear. Citizenship isn't conferred until birth or naturalization, but the last clause of section 1 gives equal protection of the laws to all persons, and I know of no attempt prior to 1971 to limit personhood to post-birth stages of development. I don't think there should need to be a constitutional amendment to make that clear, but given current Supreme Court doctrine there does need to be such an amendment for it to be treated as constitutionally guaranteed. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe and give it back to states.

It is true that Romney could have stated this more clearly, acknowledging both items on any occasion when he mentions one or the other or simply being more careful in his language, not overstating his points. But he's not a philosopher. He's a politician. It's rare that even those with the more nuanced views in politics will not occasionally have problems like this. It may be right to complain about how he put things, but I don't think his views are necessarily inconsistent, and I don't think this is a sign of any continuing problem with Romney. He's had a couple changes in positions, and he's several times been accused of a change or an inconsistency that isn't a real change or inconsistency, but usually that's due to his having a nuanced position that his critics don't understand or to immoral manipulation of his statements out of context to get a result that looks inconsistent. It's not due to uncareful statements, as here. So I'm unwilling to call this a pattern.

The 186th Christian Carnival is up at Chasing the Wind.

The Christianity of War?

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When I first saw this video, I was wondering what Andrew Sullivan was getting at by calling it The Christianity of War. He obviously finds it problematic but says nothing about what is so problematic. But then I followed the link to the original location and read some of the comments, and I think I know what's wrong with it. The problem is that the makers of the video produced something for the evangelical community that anyone remotely biblically literate would understand as a call to spiritual action, cognizant of the reality of Satan and the necessity of bearing up the weapons of Christian warfare as listed in Ephesians 6:10-20 and referred to in II Corinthians 6:7; 10:4; Hebrews 4:12 (among other places). These weapons are things like faith, righteousness, the good news message about Jesus Christ, the word of God in general, and salvation. Most of them are defenses against spiritual attacks from Satan and his minions.

But it seems to me that in a biblically-illiterate culture, it's setting yourself up for misunderstanding to post something on the internet if many will not understand the biblical context of the metaphor you're using. This is especially true given those vocal anti-evangelicals who adamantly misinterpret everything evangelicals do in order to further the completely ridiculous thesis that evangelicals are all about political agendas and that evangelical missions groups have nothing to do with spreading the gospel but seek to fight human enemies (not the spiritual enemies discussed in the verses I just referred to that the video was actually about) with human weapons (not the spiritual enemies in the verses I just referred to that the video was actually about).

I am not going to absolve the pretty ridiculous commenters on the video from doing their homework. Anyone who thinks that video was about political fighting against the political opponents of the religious right is morally at fault. There's plenty of publicly-available information that should easily make it plain that that's not the case, and it is indeed immoral to make base charges, that are so obviously false, against such a large movement when it's so utterly obvious that you know so little about that movement.

But I think evangelicals have a calling to make the message of the good news plain and clear in a way that videos like this are not going to get in the way of that. This was obviously not intended to do anything but motivate Christians to pray, study the Bible, hold each other up in times of spiritual trial, and seek to live a godly life. Its creators therefore didn't expect this to be viewed by those who know very little about evangelicals besides the popular misconception based on how evangelicals are treated in the media. But they put it on the internet, and they failed to take into account the small but vocal miscreants who find anything they can about evangelicals in order to take it out of context and put evangelicals in as bad a political light as possible, and that's what's happened here. Those who would produce such videos ought to take that into account and not just leave metaphors like this hanging unexplained to be taken to be about whatever the viewer happens to want it to be about.

Update: I write this post, and then I check up on what's been going on at the Volokh Conspiracy in the last couple days while I haven't had the chance to check in there, and I find this post, which has statistics showing that the demographic group that is most disproportionately Christian fundamentalist in the U.S. is African-American women, and more fundamentalists are Democrats than Republicans. Neither of these is all that surprising to me once I think about it a bit, but it certainly goes against the sort of thing I was trying to confront in this post.

I've commented a little on Hillary Clinton Joe Biden and John Edwards' discussions of their faith and politics from intrerviews posted at this post from a couple months ago. I have a little bit more to say from the interview with Barack Obama now. I'm not going to comment on any of the other candidates, because they didn't really say anything about which I thought I had something worth saying.

My first observation from what Senator Obama had to say is that what he positively says on faith and politics is very similar to what the current president has said. It's even the sort of thing that gets many of my colleagues riled up and attributing to him all manner of things he's never said (e.g. that he's ontologizing evil, that he thinks God is on his side no matter what he does or believes, etc.). Obama, to his credit, makes a number of qualifications that might prevent some people from such misunderstandings, although I don't think those qualifications should be enough to satisfy these people I know. I do think it's actually qualified a bit too much for me; I agree more with Bush on substance even if Obama puts his similar view in a clearer way.

I was a bit disappointed at how he described Republicans:

So we say either people are entirely responsible for their own lot — and this tends to be expressed within Republican circles, but not entirely — pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, act responsibly, act morally, a great emphasis on private morality, or, conversely, that individuals are responsible, society is acting on them, and they are not free agents.
And my attitude — and I think the attitude of every religious leader and scholar that I value and listen to — is that we have these individual responsibilities and these societal responsibilities. And those things aren’t mutually exclusive. 

It's hard for me to see that as fair. Sure, there are Republicans who leave it at that. But Ron Paul is at this point pretty extreme for the Republican Party. But we've had a Republican president since 2001 whose "compassionate conservatism" motto has been to emphasize societal responsibilities but to direct tax money toward what he considers more effective means of achieving largely the same goals.

He goes on to say:

I discussed some of John Edwards' comments on his faith and its relation to his politics from this old post. I don't have as much to say about Hillary Clinton Joe Biden's section, but I thought this section was interesting: 

And we are a spiritual nation. We are a nation that was founded upon — the only nation I can think that was founded upon the notion that there is a — a — that there is a God. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, et cetera.

And, so, I think, what has happened with the Democratic Party, there’s been this reluctance, in the face of the evangelical, judgmental movement on the far right in the past, of even invoking religion, for fear of being put in the same category. But we’re a spiritual nation. We’re a nation of faith.

In almost the same breath, he (1) claims that the U.S. was founded on belief in God, something many Democrats are loath to admit and many Republicans, particularly socially conservative ones, think is obvious, and (2) treats evangelicals and judgmental people in grammatical apposition, as if the term 'evangelical' and the term 'judgmental' go hand-in-hand. Is he trying to cater to evangelical voters while offending them at the same time? I wasn't sure what to make of this.

 The 186th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Chasing the Wind. 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:

Sean at myelectionanalysis makes great use of a Harry Potter reference in his reflection on the Ames, Iowa strall poll, speaking of Sam Brownback's taking third place and Mike Huckabee's coming in second:

I know a lot of people think that his third place showing is enough to keep him in the race. I’m not so sure. He threw everything he had into Ames, and still came up short. I think donors who are considering Brownback are going to look long and hard at him, then turn to Huckabee. One of them needs to exit quickly though, as neither can live while the other survives.

This is such a nice appropriation of pop culture that I had to mention it here, but I think it's accurate too. Huckabee and Brownback are marketing themselves to those who because of some intellectual vice (ignorance, too comfortable accepting lies without checking them, inconsistency in who to trust) see Romney as a pretender to the pro-life label. Huckabee could be a contender, but if Brownback is taking much of his support he's not going to have a chance. Brownback doesn't have much of a chance if Huckabee steps out, but the same is not true in reverse. So on the assumptions of those who wrongly fail to recognize that Romney is the best pro-life candidate (which is all that's driving the Brownback campaign at this point), Brownback ought to get out.

The following conversation took place earlier today as we were getting in the car.

Ethan: We're going to go see Grammy and Papa.

Me: No, we're going to go drop Mommy off at her workshop, and then we're going to come back home, and we're going to have fun at home.

Ethan: Then we're going to see Grammy and Papa.

Me: No, we're not going to see Grammy and Papa today. We'll see them soon.

Ethan: We're going to see Grammy and Papa tomorrow!

Me: No, we're not going to see them tomorrow.

Ethan: We're going to see Grammy and Papa yesterday!

John Edwards' Faith

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I was reading an old entry from that I'd saved in my RSS reader until I had more time. It includes some of the Democratic presidential candidates' discussions of religion. I have a few comments on three of the candidates, but I'm going to treat them in separate posts, starting with John Edwards.

O’BRIEN: What do you say to all the people — and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it’s about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it’s perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

Is that even coherent? I mean everything after the "No" is coherent, but given the question asked, and his initial answer, can he coherently say what he goes on to say? I'm having trouble imagining how unless Edwards is a relativist about religious truth such that these people are correct in their six-day creationism while he is correct in his acceptance of evolution as consistent with his faith.

One reason I worry that that's going on is his answer to the question about gay marriage. He goes on to say that he has a personal belief against gay marriage but doesn't think he could as president enforce his personal religious views. I'm sure that's how many Christians will view these statements, but I think it's a mistake.

Unitary Executive

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Ilya Somin nicely clears up some confusions about what's commonly called the unitary executive. There are two issues: the scope of executive power and its distribution. The unitary executive view is that the president's authority over the executive (an intra-executive issue) is absolute. I would have thought this to be absolutely clear in the Constitution, but apparently some disagree. A separate issue is about the scope of executive power. How much authority does the executive has with respect to the other branches (an inter-branch issue)? In other words, unitary executive allows the president sovereign control over what happens within the executive branch, but this other view sees the executive power as expansive in a way that many find controversial. The problem is that many people keep calling the latter view by the term "unitary executive".

Somin says:

As Alito explains, one can consistently support a unitary executive with a narrow range of powers (which is roughly my position). One can also consistently support a unitary executive with very broad, almost unlimited powers (John Yoo's view, and also that of the Bush Administration). You could - also consistently - endorse a nonunitary executive with broad powers. The latter was the position of liberal Democrats during the New Deal and for many years afterwards, when they endorsed both broad executive power and the creation of numerous executive agencies outside presidential control.

Is there an example of someone who both denies the unitary executive and thinks the executive has a limited role? Given that both positions serve to limit the president, perhaps hardly anyone seeks to try both ways at doing so, but I'm curious whether someone has tried.

Welcome to the 185th Christian Carnival. I've tried to order the posts according to some general types of posts, with posts in each section ordered as I received them. Sometimes a post might have fit into more than one category, and I've made a judgment call.
I've included the host's description (or something very similar) when it was submitted, which was true for most of the posts that were submitted by their author. Otherwise I've tried to provide a short indication of what the post is about.
Every once in a while there's a submission that doesn't fit the most basic requirements of the Christian Carnival, which is that the post be from a Christian perspective, broadly construed. Sometimes a good post comes in that's not even by a Christian or that's not really reflective o Sometimes it's clearly spam or just someone promoting some product. One submission this week seemed to me to be something like that, and another may have been (and both were after the deadline anyway, not that that's always going to deter me from including a post that does come from a Christian perspective).
Sometimes, however, it's a good post but doesn't seem at all to be influenced by a Christian worldview, even taking what counts as Christian fairly broadly. That happened this week with an interesting post on the Holocaust by someone I don't think is even a Christian, and the post made it into the Christian Carnival forum, which was designed in part for situations like this. That way we can promote the post while not including it in a carnival that it doesn't belong in. The link to the post can be found here, but you will probably need to create a username and password to access it.
Oh, and submissions were a little low this week. In the interest of promoting a wider group of blogs than just those who submitted posts, and perhaps making some new blogs aware of it as they excessively check their site meter, I've made use of my executive privilege as host and added a few ringers, all of them posts I thought worthy of inclusion despite their authors' lack of interest in including them. See if you can guess which ones they are.
I've finally gotten back to continuing my series at Right Reason with Religious Motivations in Politics. Given the Augustinian framework I've already presented, Christians have a motivation to seek the good of our neighbor around us by participating politically based on what we believe to be good, which does in part come from religious motivations. The post spends most of its time responding to objections that this is immoral because it forces a moral view on those who don't have it and that a secular society (or a religiously plural society) should not allow such a thing.

I'm accepting volunteers for forthcoming Christian Carnivals. I've got a number of volunteers who have not yet been scheduled, but I have scheduled the following hosts so far. If you're interested in hosting beyond the scheduled carnivals, send me an email. Those who have not hosted before get priority, and those who have not hosted as recently come next, although I do take requests for particular weeks if you have a pretty good reason why you want that week.

185 Aug 15 Parableman
186 Aug 22 Chasing the Wind
187 Aug 29 Imago Dei
188 Sept 5 Bounded Irrationality
189 Sept 12 Diary of 1
190 Sept 19 The Minor Prophet
191 Sept 26 Pseudo-Polymath
192 Oct 3 On the Horizon
193 Oct 10 Lingamish
194 Oct 17 Brain Cramps for God
195 Oct 24 Everyday Liturgy
196 Oct 31 Participatory Bible Study Blog
197 Nov 7 Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet
200 Nov 28

Ice Cream Machine

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A friend gave us an ice cream maker. The first two batches came out more like just flavored ice, at least after they sat in the freezer for a while. Another batch was made with actual lactose-free ice cream, so that might come out better. Does anyone know of some good online ice cream recipes for an ice cream maker (especially ones that can use lactose-free milk as opposed to other dairy products that have lactose)? And I don't mean recipes for flavors like these. [ht: Geek Press]

The 185th 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:

Way Out of Proportion

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A megachurch in Arlingon, Texas canceled a funeral service for someone when they found out he was gay, on the ground that they didn't want to be seen as endorsing that lifestyle. Since when does agreeing to host a funeral service for someone mean you endorse everything that person did? Should a congregation refuse to use their building to provide a funeral for the dead brother of one of their members simply because they guy lived with his girlfriend without getting married? What if the dead brother was a convicted thief or a greedy drunkard who slandered people fairly regularly? What if it was the rebellious son of members of the congregation or an arrogant and boastful member of the congregation?

Two of the most prominent passages that deal with homosexual sex in the New Testament list these other sins alongside same-sex sexual acts. No passage in the entire Bible elevates anything to do with homosexuality on a level that disallows showing love to the family of the sort that would be involved in having a funeral. Somehow homosexuality has become so evil to many evangelicals that we could refuse to do something for the family of a gay person that we'd probably do for the family of a murderer.

It's nice to see that this doesn't affect Dale Carpenter's attitude toward Christianity, but I think that's because he has direct contact with sincere, loving Christians who treat him as a real person with a lifestyle they simply disagree with. He understands that true Christianity is not like this. But when high-profile congregations do this kind of thing, it is all the majority of secular people will ever see. Most people who aren't Christians don't have a lot of significant contact with believing Christians who live out the Christian norm of love for neighbor in a way that demonstrates that gay people are part of that love. This isn't because Christians aren't doing that but because most secular people have little contact with evangelicals to begin with. So high-profile Christian leaders and congregations like this one have a much higher responsibility because of their visibility. Unfortunately, this congregation has utterly failed in that responsibility in this instance.

Carmen Van Kerckove and Jae Ran Kim are criticizing a fairly common kind of statement among white parents who adopt non-white kids. It's not that uncommon to hear parents in such situations saying that they love their kids no matter what race they are, and it sometimes takes the form of "I don't care if they're black, white, green, or purple."

Carmen doesn't indicate why such a statement is offensive, but she quotes something from Jae Ran that is a reason. However, her reason seems wholly inadequate to me. She says it's merely because there are no green or purple kids. But there's nothing problematic about saying you would love your kids even if something were true of them that isn't true of any actual kid. There's no actual kid with six arms, but I don't think it's offensive to say that you'd love your kids even if they had six arms. So something more needs to be said to explain why this kind of statement is offensive. I have two suggestions, but at the same time I wonder if Carmen and Jae Ran are nonetheless being too critical.

1. There’s an ignorant assumption behind this well-meaning expression. It’s ignorant to speak as if color doesn’t matter at all. Color does have an impact. If this statement is supposed to be indicating that the parent thinks race doesn't matter in any sense, that is simply ignorance speaking. Also, it's going to be a rare white parent who is not in some way affected by having children who are not white. Most people imagine what their kids might look like long before they have any, and if that involves imagining white kids who look like them, then there will be at least some level of unmet expectations. If the statement is doing that, then it's a lie.

2. Another ignorant assumption seems to me to lie behind the statement. It treats any racial issues that might be raised by the race of their kids as if they are merely a matter of what color the kids' skin is. Why would it be relevant that the kids could be green or purple unless the mere fact of a different skin color is what might be problematic about race. But skin color itself is only our way of identifying and classifying people according to race. It isn't what causes any actual racial problems. So it's profoundly ignorant to speak as if red or purple skin color, which would be weird but doesn't bring any actual racially-loaded issues with it, is anything remotely like having kids of another race.

3. Some who say this may well be saying something that could be more explicitly put as follows. “I know it’s weird for white parents to have kids who are black or Asian or whatever, but I'd be ok with that weirdness. I don’t even care if their coloring is so weird that no other kid has ever had that coloring, e.g. if they had green or purple skin instead. I’d still love them.” The problem is that such a speech demeans the kids who aren’t white by treating them as ok despite not being white, and that does have a troublesome assumption. I can see how some who say this sort of thing really are assuming something like that. That reveals at the very least a kind of residual racism that sees non-white kids, even their own, as something they have to make an effort to love more than they might be expected to.

Tiffany Pridgen has a nice post about the tendency among some black kids to see being smart or caring about learning as a "white" trait that "real" black kids shouldn't have anything to do with. This is one of the more insidious anti-black narratives within black culture, because it masquerades itself as anti-white racism (because it sees a supposedly white characteristic as bad) while actually directing its harm toward blacks. It's really sad when it keeps smart kids from doing well in school.

Black conservatives have been quick to recognize this problem. See here for my summary of some of what they say about it. Liberals on race issues have tended to downplay this phenomenon. It amazes me that so many people will insist that something like this can't be part of the explanation for why black kids don't do as well on SATs and don't have as good grades. Just read some reviews of John McWhorter's books by liberals on race issues to see people denying that there's any significant peer pressure of this sort. I can't help but think that they're assuming such an admission would mean that white racism isn't the immediate cause of every problem within the black community, which would then undermine one of the reasons for affirmative action. But almost every black person I've talked to who cared about learning and grades before college has told me that the phenomenon is real and that it does lead kids to do less well.

There will surely be differences of opinion over how much of the SAT and grade gap is explained just by this. I myself don't think it's the only cause. For one thing, affirmative action itself is one further explanation, since it lessens the need for black kids to do as well if they want to get into a good college, and only the best students are doing well purely for the sake of doing well. But the traditional liberal "white racism" explanation for the racial grade/SAT gap is compatible with this as an additional contributing factor, so it's kind of lame to dismiss it out of a desire to maintain support for affirmative action.

 The 184th Christian Carnival: The Sorting Hat Edition is up at The Bible Archive. I've been sorted into Gryffindor House. So did the Sorting Hat find my post particularly brave?

A Pro-Choice GOP?

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I keep seeing a pretty horrendous argument against the GOP nominating Rudy Giuliani for the 2008 presidentyial spot. According to this argument, if the Republican Party selects him then it no longer is the pro-life party, and that would be a tragedy. I agree that it would be unfortunate if there were no pro-life party in this country. But I think it's pretty outlandish to claim that a Giuliani nomination would make the GOP no longer pro-life.

One problem with this argument is that it needs to be applied equally to all pro-choice candidates. Thus those who are making it should also be saying it about Fred Thompson, who is pro-choice for the first trimester, when most abortions take place. Are these people saying that nominating Thompson would make the GOP pro-choice? Maybe some are, but I'm not seeing that point made when I see it made about Giuliani.

Second, I am not willing to concede that the GOP ceases to be a pro-life party just because it concludes that the best way to achieve its other goals is to nominate a presidential candidate who is pro-choice. The Democratic party didn't stop being the pro-choice party when the Democrats in the U.S. Senate elected a pro-life senator as their majority leader. The GOP didn't stop being tough on immigration when they reelected a president known to be in favor of the very immigration reform that the party base has been outraged about. It may be a sign that many consider other issues more immediately important right now, and it may be a sign that some consider electing him better than guaranteeing a win by Hillary (even for pro-life reasons, since he would be better, even much better, than any Democratic candidate when it comes to pro-life issues). But it is not a sign that the party is no longer pro-life.

For the record, I don't support nominating him. But it's not because I think nominating him would make the GOP pro-choice. It wouldn't. It's because there are candidates I prefer to him, who I think would represent the pro-life party better than he would, partly because they are pro-life and are thus like what the party tends to be (and would still be even if he gets nominated). It's just crazy to suggest that a party with an official view no longer has that view simply because one of its nominees in one year (or perhaps two years) doesn't hold that view.

Carmen Van Kerckhove has some helpful reflections on how to respond to racist jokes. She gives some good reasons why some responses that you might be inclined toward wouldn't be so good. She suggests of how to respond instead: play dumb to get them to explain it, which will require bringing the racist assumptions into the open, which you can then be puzzled about, asking them to explain why they think that, and they won't be able to defend the assumptions. I kind of like that.

Anne McCaffrey Bleg

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According to Wikipedia's article on the Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey says to read Dragondrums before The White Dragon, even though the publication order (and presumably the order she wrote them) is the reverse. Does anyone know if she really did say this, and can it be substantiated? Wikipedia usually requires citation for such claims, but I see none about this claim.

The 184th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at The Bible Archive. 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:


The Christian Carnival hosting schedule is currently a month ahead (through Sept 5), and I try not to let it get less than that in case of emergencies. So I'd like to start filling out the spots through the rest of September and into October if possible. As usual, priority goes to people who haven't hosted before and then to people who haven't hosted recently, but if volunteer interest is what it usually is there should be plenty of room for all who volunteer (and if necessary we can even go beyond October).

So if you'd like to host the Christian Carnival sometime this fall, send me an email, and if you have any preferences for when you do it please let me know those. If you haven't hosted recently or haven't hosted at all before, it's best to let me know that as well.

Political Test

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Here's a political positions test to see which presidential candidates you agree with the most. It allows you to support, oppose, or other (i.e. unsure or other) each position, and then it ranks the candidates in terms of how closely their views match up to yours. Apparently it includes only declared candidates, so Fred Thompson is not among them. It also seems me to be overly simplistic on many issues, including abortion. I'd consider the selection of issues very far removed from the ones I consider most important. I only thought a few were key issues. There are more good criticisms here. Still, it's interesting to see how you match up according to this measure.

Judging by the statistics, it seems as if fans of Dennis Kucinich have been heavily linking to this test.

For the record, here are my scores:

Duncan Hunter 32
Mitt Romney 30
John McCain, Mike Huckabee 24
Rudy Giuliani 21
John Cox, Tom Tancredo 18
Tommy Thompson 18
Sam Brownback 5
Ron Paul -2
Bill Richardson -17
Joe Biden -18
John Edwards -19
Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton -21
Barack Obama -23
Mike Gravel -27
Dennis Kucinich -31

Mercury in New York City

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One quarter of adult NYC dwellers have elevated mercury levels. I'd like to know the rate of autism incidence in NYC as compared with other places with lower rates of elevated mercury. Does anyone know how to find such numbers?

Computer Poker Programs

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Geekpress linked to an interesting article on computer poker programs that are now becoming competitive with human poker champions. They're talking as if this is a level beyond Deep Blue for chess, and there's something to that. What's involved in beating a human poker champion is way beyond beating a human chess champion, at least when it comes to programming a computer. Still, there's something that seemed fairly problematic in how they're measuring the success of these computer poker programs, at least from how the article's presentation seemed to me to describe it. (I won't rule out the possibilities that unclarities in the article have disguised what they're doing.)

One crucial thing the article doesn't distinguish is very important for poker. It appears that some computer programs can play against some human players and play competitively against them. That's one measurement of how good a computer poker program is. But a more interesting measure would be to compare (a) how well the computer programs do against people with (b) how well the human players do against people. In other words, could the computer programs beat a novice like me as easily as the human champions do? Could they beat a champion as often as another champion could? Simply showing that they can beat champions almost as often as the champions beat them is something. But I'd be interested to see if they can handle human opponents as well as human players do. That seems to require a different play setup than just having all the humans play all the computer programs.



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