September 2007 Archives

Christian Carnival CXCII Plug

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The 192nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at On the Horizon. 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:

Imprecatory Prayer

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Justin Taylor had some great posts not too long ago on imprecatory prayer (i.e. praying against someone). I was particularly impressed by Crying for Justice. The main difficulty is that these prayers occur throughout the psalms (and elsewhere in the Bible), and yet they seem to offend modern moral sensibilities. Justin gives three approaches people have taken that minimize the role of imprecatory prayers in the Bible and why those views are misguided:
1. Imprecatory psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed or confessed as sin (C. S. Lewis, Walter Brueggemann).

2. They are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics (Roy Zuck, J. Carl Laney, Meredith Kline).

3. Such words may be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him (James Adams, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Justin gives a brief but good account of why all three views are unsatisfactory and offers a better approach that takes these psalms as legitimate prayers in certain contexts, even if such contexts are more rare in contemporary North American life. I won't repeat his reasoning, but I think he's right.

I think it's worth thinking through the possibility that love and hate are simultaneously possible and in fact even good in certain contexts. We assume that love and hate are opposites, and thus love for enemies requires not hating anyone. But there are clear biblical statements of hate for people, which Justin in an earlier post explains and defends in the context of loving enemies. Augustine's way of thinking through this issue has seemed to me to be the best way to work together these two seemingly contradictory themes. Love is our obligation, always, to any human being, whether we see the person as an enemy or not. With respect to the gospel, no one is our enemy. Everyone is a person in need of repentance. At the same time, we ought to hate evil, and people can be pretty evil. Everyone is evil in some significant ways, and we ought to hate what is evil in people.

This isn't just hating actions that are bad, since actions aren't all that makes us bad. Evil is within us, worked into the very fiber of our moral thinking, our character, our hearts and minds. We ought to hate that in anyone, and that does mean hating individual people with respect to the things in them that are evil. But what is redeemable, what will still be there if the person is transformed by God's grace, is always lovable, is always worthy of love. We aren't worthy in ourselves, without God, of any love, but what remains of God's original work (and something must, or regeneration would actually produce a new person, with the original ceasing to exist) is good. What God will do in transforming someone's mind and heart is good, and that is worth seeing as deserving of love. This is so even with the worst persecutors of Christians. Consider the example of the worst of such persecutors in ancient times, Saul of Tarsus, who was so transformed.

White Non-Welcome

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Jae Ran Kim writes about why she doesn't feel welcomed among groups of white moms. Some of this may well be bias against newcomers (despite official views that newcomes are welcomed) rather than racial bias. After all, white newcomers often experience the same sort of thing. I've certainly seen it happen many times among people who officially want to welcome and accept new people but are not comfortable doing so when they've already got their friends. But I doubt it all is that, since many people are a little intimidating by the prospect of doing all the work to initiate relationships across racial lines (particularly with certain racial groups).

But whether it is actual racial bias or just perceived racial bias isn't really the point. If it can even come across as racial bias, and it shouldn't be there to begin with, it's worth taking stock of that and seeking to avoid sending such signals.

Christians should pay special attention to her advice to those who say they want to reach out to non-whites but can't seem to do so successfully. I know a lot of congregations and Christian ministries that say such things without, to my mind, having a clue that many of the people they're trying to reach out to have exactly the kind of response she's describing here.

Christian Carnival CXCI

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The 191st Christian Carnival is up at Pseudo-Polymath. 

I've never been much of a fan of Ayn Rand. Her egoism gets the motivations for moral living completely wrong. I'm not much sympathetic to her atheism. Her libertarianism on free will is contrary to my own compatibilism. Her political libertarianism is motivated in her egoism and ends up with results that I think are contrary to my own political conservatism, even on the economic and structural matters where conservatives and libertarians often agree. But it's nice to find one redeeming quality in her work. David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy notes one way she influenced him that I can't help but agree with.

First, she indirectly persuaded me that caring about the success of strangers on sports teams that happen to carry the name of my city or school is a waste of time. This freed up thousands of hours for other endeavors more directly related to my own life.

I never needed convincing on this, but it's nice to see that Ayn Rand at least got one thing right. There are so many conceptual confusions, misrepresentations of views she's arguing against, and just complete howlers of arguments in what I've read of her writing, and I'm sure I'd disagree with her reasoning even on this one point. (I'm actually not sure how she can consistently argue against people choosing to do this out of enjoyment.) But until now about the only thing I've been able to credit her with is sheer force of will in maintaining her commitment to a ridiculous thesis (that morality consists only and completely in being selfish). Now I can at least acknowledge her recognition of one of the biggest wastes of time in American culture for what it is.

(Note: I'm not saying that it's not an enjoyable waste of time for those who enjoy it. That would be obviously false. I just can't see how that particular enjoyable activity should be better than other ones that are much more productive, self-improving, other-improving, and so on, and I can't see how it can be worth all the money that gets thrown into it, the permanent injuries that arise among those involved with certain sports, or the level of importance given to watching it that trumps all other endeavors. I certainly have my own obsessions, but I think mine all have at least some deeper importance, even if I might take them too far.)

Skipping Debates

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I thought the leading Democratic presidential candidates were being petty, politically stupid, and morally unjustified when they refused to participate in a debate co-sponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus a few months ago. I will say the same for Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, and John McCain for refusing to appear at a PBS debate hosted by Tavis Smiley that will focus on minority issues. Tancredo doesn't surprise me, I would say that I doubt he has a race-sensitive bone in his body, except that most of his language on immigration seems designed to appeal to those who very much are race-sensitive but in the wrong direction. Rudy Giuliani does have some episodes during his tenure as mayor of NYC that he may not want people like Al Sharpton haranguing him about. Maybe Mitt Romney is worried about Sharpton continuing his criticism of Romney for belonging to a religious institution that used to be racist. (Doesn't Sharpton support Planned Parenthood?) I can't think of any reason why Thompson and McCain are doing this, and I'm not impressed on the moral level by any of the reasons the others might give, even if it's psychologically understandable.

There is nothing wrong with having a debate that focuses on certain issues. There's nothing wrong with appearing before questioners who will ask you difficult questions, even loaded questions with immoral assumptions. The point of a debate is to be able to answer such people, sometimes answering what's wrong about the questioners' assumptions. Several commenters at the post I linked to above are saying that it would be stupid to show up at a debate where it's clear the point is just to lambaste Republicans for their policies, where everything is framed in terms of trapping them into saying things to make them look foolish to minority voters. But if they can't handle themselves in that kind of environment, then they deserve not to get any votes from minority voters.

There's a reason black voters tend to vote 90% Democratic, and it's not because black people are inherently Democratic or because Republicans advocate policies that are so obviously anti-black that no decent black person would vote for a Republican. There are enough intelligent, well-meaning, and sincere black conservatives to disprove such a ridiculous notion. The real reason, I believe, is because Republicans are typically bad at explaining why they think their views are actually more in the interest of blacks than Democratic policies are, and that's because many Republican candidates simply haven't thought through the issues they need to think through to make that case but have adopted extremely simplisitc justifications for the very policies that I think could be justified much more carefully when the issues are framed differently, in ways that many black voters might be more inclined to listen.

Republicans don't have the easy out of simply supporting some politically correct policy that doesn't accomplish all that much in terms of real social progress. Liberals, just by supporting affirmative action and other band-aids, can get away with not worrying about dealing with the actual wound, because liberals tend to get black votes as long as they don't advocate anything terrible. Conservatives have to work much harder to get black voters, so they need to explain why conservative views are actually more in line with what blacks and other minorities want for this country (as I think is actually the case, at least on some issues, so I think it can be done and just isn't).

When the four leading presidential candidates from the GOP skip out on a debate that would give them the chance to do that, it gives fuel to the myth that Republicans are all racist or at least don't care about issues that affect non-whites. But then it makes me wonder if candidates who would skip out on a debate like this are the ones to make that case.

Christian Carnival CXCI Plug

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The 191st Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday 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:

Holy Observer, Batman!

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After a very long hiatus, the Holy Observer has a new edition. In case you're unfamiliar with the Holy Observer, it's a Christian online news parody site much like the Onion. If you're unfamiliar with the Onion, I'm not sure there's a lot I can do to help you other than to tell you to check it out at some point. But check out the Holy Observer first.

Nahum Commentaries

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

This post in particular is heavily reliant on my earlier reviews of commentaries on Habakkuk and Zephaniah, since most commentaries on each of these books include all three. One Nahum-specific commentary appears here, just as there were some Zephaniah-specific and Nahum-specific commentaries in the other posts. Where possible, I have tried to key my discussion of each commentary here to the Nahum section in the commentaries that deal with more than one book.

Waylon Bailey's NAC (1999) is probably my favorite of all the commentaries I looked at. It isn't so detailed that it's hard to wade through, but he addresses most issues most people might ask of the text unless they're working on an academic paper. He deals with historical, theological and linguistic matters fairly well, and he's also concerned about connections with the New Testament. He's coming from a conservative evangelical perspective, but he's also good at presenting various views. This is my all-around recommendation for seeking the best balance of what I look for in a commentary. It doesn't shirk anything I consider truly important.
O. Palmer Robertson's NICOT (1990) is probably my favorite Nahum commentary in terms of theology. His theological reflections are probing and get enough time to explore the issues, with more time than any of the other commentaries on the list given to the task of simply reflecting on what the text means for Nahum's view of God and its implications for life. It's much weaker on linguistic matters, sometimes not even addressing important issues that most of the other commentaries will spend some time on. It doesn't get first place primarily for that reason.

His perspective is conservative, evangelical, and explicitly Reformed. His expertise is in covenant theology, and he has a keen eye for seeing New Testament connections, although on occasion I think he reads a NT perspective into a text that may not have originally gone quite so far. It's a shame that Eerdmans has contracted a replacement for his commentary in this series this early, though Thomas Renz will probably produce a good commentary that will give more detail on the things Robertson doesn't focus much on. See my more detailed review of Robertson here.

Christian Carnival CXC

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The 190th Christian Carnival is up at The Minor Prophet. Not only did Chad do an excellent job hosting the Carnival in his first time out, but he enjoyed it so much he's already reserved a spot in the hosting schedule to host again in November.
Speaking of which, if you're interested in hosting a Christian Carnival at your blog and aren't already on the schedule, please send me an email at the link in the page header above. New hosts and seasoned veterans alike are welcome.

I mentioned in this post the one place I've found something in D.A. Carson's writings that I disagree with, and I wanted to explain in detail what that is and why I disagree with him. I've summarized Alvin Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology in this post, so I refer you to that for the basics of the view. Carson discusses the view in Letters Along the Way, pp.151-156 and in The Gagging of God pp.186, 188. In the first book, some of his critique is from what he (or possibly Woodbridge) thinks Plantinga gets wrong about Calvin. I have little to say about that, since I haven't read Calvin on the issue and am not interested in what he said for the sake of getting him right, at least not with respect to this issue. I do think Carson (and Woodbridge) ought to get Plantinga right if they're going to critique him in print, and I don't think that actually happened in this case.

In Letters Along the Way, Plantinga comes off as if he denies the possibility of establishing the existence of God with evidence, as if he doesn't think there is any evidence whatsoever to support Christian belief. Nothing could be further from the truth. Plantinga thinks several arguments for the existence of God are convincing. He thinks there is good evidence to support belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I'm not sure where this understanding of Plantinga is coming from, but it doesn't fit with Plantinga's actual beliefs or his discussion in the piece Carson and Woodbridge cite ("Reason and Belief in God", in Faith and Rationality, ed. Plantinga and Wolterstorff).

What Plantinga does say is that evidentialism is false as a requirement on knowledge. Evidentialism takes knowledge to be impossible without either evidence or self-evident truths. He allows that people disagree on the value of the evidence, and so he doesn't think evidential arguments will be convincing enough to those with highly skeptical standards. I don't know of anywhere where he simply denies the possibility of gaining support for Christian beliefs with evidence, however. He just doesn't think you need evidence to have knowledge of God. Plantinga does recognize (rightly) that there are no standards agreed on by all sides that we can use as the basis of rational arguments for God. The atheist can just deny any premise necessary to get out of the argument. That's how philosophical arguments work, no matter what the conclusion is. But that's a far cry from thinking such arguments are inconclusive or unsound. To make that jump would require making it in every area of philosophy, making no argument successful or sound. This is simply not Plantinga.

The discussion continues with a number of claims that I find it hard to see as responsible Plantinga exegesis. Woodbridge and Carson compare Plantinga with Barth, with whom I see no comparison. Barth rejects the kind of natural theology that Plantinga has spent a good deal of time defending, even if he's recognized that atheists can deny a premise to any valid argument to get out of accepting the conclusion. Plantinga does discuss the objections he sees to natural theology in the works of Bavinck, Calvin, and Barth. But he does so in order to show that his rejection of evidentialism is in the general Reformed tradition, not to agree with everything in those thinkers' rejection of natural theology. He in fact says that the natural theologian can respond to some of their complaints, and he gives a defense of natural theology before going on to continue his critique of evidentialism and response to the no-evidence argument.

Pass the Port

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This is funny coming from a Baptist theologian and biblical scholar:

If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.”

For context and explanation, see the whole quote. It's just funny seeing this from a committed Baptist like Carson, but then again there's only been one time I've seen anything in Carson's writings that I disagree with, and I've read a lot of Carson. In that case he did get it about as wrong as it could be gotten, but it really is the only time I remember thinking that something Carson was writing was surely wrong. (There have been things he's defended that I've had no view on, but that doesn't count as disagreeing with him. There have also been times he's said things I disagreed with, until I finished seeing his arguments, and then I was convinced. But I don't remain in disagreement with him in such cases.)

But there aren't that many Baptists, even Reformed Baptists, with absolutely no qualms about the fundamental morality of drinking alcohol. I'm a complete teetotaler myself, but my reasons for not drinking alcohol have nothing to do with thinking it's wrong to do so. I just think it smells so unappetizing that I've never wanted even to taste it, and so it isn't very tempting to try to develop a taste for something that, given my hypoglycemia, would be extremely unhealthy to drink regularly. I do find myself regularly purchasing 12-packs of Saranac or Sam Adams, however, because someone in the family does happen to have a fondness for those particular beers. I don't think I'd pull one out and start drinking it if I encountered someone claiming that not drinking was essential to being a Christian, but maybe I could pull one out and hand it to someone who would drink it.

One of the arguments open theists give for the view that God doesn't know the future exhaustively is that several biblical passages seem to indicate God changing his mind. This is indeed how the text is worded in several places. In Genesis 18, God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham pleads with him to spare it even if there are ten righteous people there. As it turns out, there's just one, Abraham's nephew Lot. So God still destroys it, but he spares Lot. You might get the impression from the passage that God wasn't originally going to save Lot (although the text never says that).

Several times during the wilderness wanderings, you have similar events. After the golden calf incident in Exodus 32, Moses intercedes for Israel more than once within a few chapters. Each time, the text seems to say that God changes his plan about what he intends to do with Israel. First he intends to destroy all Israel and then make a new people out of Moses as he had done with Abraham before. Then God agrees to spare Israel, but he won't be with them in the same kind of manner as he had been (with the pillar of fire and cloud). Then he eventually agrees to be with them as he had before. There are a couple more shortened accounts of similar things with the rebellions in Numbers, and other examples appear throughout the Bible. 

Now there's always been a way to take these passages that's consistent with classical theism. God knew what he intended to do all along, and that never changed, but the language about God changing his mind is really not about God having one intent and then changing it. It's about God's policy during one time being one thing and then the policy during the next time being something else, and what someone does at some time in between is God's reason for having a different policy. So God's policy in Exodus 32 is that he's telling Moses a plan (one he never intends to carry out, because he knows how Moses will respond) and then by the end of Exodus 34 is telling Moses his real plan, but he frames it in language Moses can understand so that Moses can see that he's really interacting with God. Describing it in atemporal language or explaining the final result before Moses has been brought to where God wants him is counterproductive. It doesn't allow Moses to experience the succession of states that he needs to experience.

But I'm not interested here in arguing exegetically for the traditional interpretation, even though I think it's the best way to make sense of these texts, often because of signs within the texts but especially in the light of the wider scriptures. What prompted me to write about these passages is something that occurred to me as I was reading one of these kinds of passages in Numbers last week. Look at the examples of God changing his mind that open theists claim as evidence for open theism. It their interpretation is true, then God initially has some plan he wants to carry out, and Abraham, Moses, or some other righteous figure comes along to convince God that his plan is bad. It violates God's character in some of these instances, particularly in the case of God saying he'll go against his promises to Abraham and destroy Israel. That's Moses' very argument. So if the open theistic interpretation of these passages is correct, it isn't just the metaphysical status of God's nature that they're revising. It isn't just the issue of God's exhaustive foreknowledge that's at stake in this debate. If the open theistic interpretation is correct, then God has some pretty seriously immoral tendencies that these wonderful people like Abraham and Moses then come along and help God to overcome by standing up against God's evil.

I think, then, that most classical theists who complain about open theism's biblical revisionism are missing the most revisionary aspect of open theism. It's not that open theists' view of God contradicts the plain statements of scripture (although I think it does) in order to take narrative passages told from a phenomenological perspective as if they are reporting the most basic metaphysical reality in careful, philosophical language. (If we did that with another passage, we'd end up with the view that the sun goes around the earth.) It's that open theistic interpretation of the very passages most commonly used to argue for open theism make God out to be thoroughly immoral in a way that it requires human righteousness to temper God's passions. Doesn't this get the Christian gospel upside-down?

Christian Carnival CXC Plug

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The 190th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at The Minor Prophet. 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:

Respect for Parents

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I've often begun ethics classes by having my students write about something that they've done that they believe to have been wrong, explaining why they think it was wrong. It gets them into the mode of having to give reasons for their moral views. This semester I decided to supplement that assignment by having them write a week later about someone they admire and respect or some action they respect, explaining why they find that person, trait, or action admirable. It captures a kind of ethical thinking that I think a lot of ethics classes will downplay because of their focus on what factors make an action wrong. There isn't as much emphasis on good-making features of actions, character traits, and so on in contemporary ethical theorizing.

I was very surprised by the results, and I'd be interested to see if this happens with a different kind of group. I'm teaching a junior-level class, and all these students have had at least two philosophy classes that are supposed to be heavy on the history of philosophy. I wonder if newly-arrived freshmen would answer the same way. Still, it was a little unexpected to find that 19 out of 43 students who did the assignment had chosen a parent (or both parents in one case). These were about evenly split between mothers and fathers. Another 10 were other family members (a sister, two brothers, a grandmother, three grandfathers, an uncle, and a cousin). Five chose friends and one an unrelated, older role model. Two were about complete strangers they'd interacted with or observed. One was amorphous, just listing character traits. Five were famous people (Max Roach, Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Lynch, Abraham Lincoln, and professional baseball players as a whole).

For some reason it didn't surprise me that a lot had chosen family members, but this was overwhelmingly family-heavy, and the bulk of the family members chosen were parents or grandparents, with parents occupying the most (almost half of the responses). I expected a lot more than three contemporary celebrities, but I guess it's not so surprising that most people don't see celebrities as heroes to respect or admire. Most celebrities aren't all that worthy of respect and admiration.

But my question is this. Is this a reflection of a cultural change? Are college students now all of a sudden more respectful of parents than we've been led to believe? Common wisdom among those I spend a lot of time with think there's very little respect for parents among young people. Or is it something that wasn't ever really true to begin with? Or is this something due to a change as students move out from their families and live on their own, now seeing their parents in a more accurate way? Or is it something particular about this group of students because they're at a Jesuit institute of higher learning?

 The Christian Carnival hosting schedule has gotten off my front page, so I thought I should post the most current version. Volunteers are always welcome for unassigned weeks. I will update this post as new hosts are confirmed. If you are interested, please email me. The link is at the top of the page. If I have multiple volunteers at once, 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.
200 Nov 28

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that doctors are not liable for giving inaccurate information to women seeking to have an abortion. Justice Barry Albin wrote the opinion, which says:

On the profound issue of when life begins, this court cannot drive public policy in one particular direction by the engine of the common law when the opposing sides, which represent so many of our citizens, are arrayed along a deep societal and philosophical divide.

First of all, this gets the issue compltely wrong. There's no debate whatsoever among actual doctors and scientists about when life begins. It begins at conception. Period. There are some who frame the issue in terms of when life begins, but they do so at odds with science. Those who claim that life does not begin at conception or that there's any serious scientific debate over when life begins are opposing science. People like to complain about the Bush Administration or social conservatives being anti-science, and this seems like such a clear case of the very thing those people complain about. If it's anti-science to suppress or deny controversial but nonetheless dominant views in the scientific community, then it's certainly anti-science to deny and suppress the universal position of all scientists that biological life begins at conception.

Now there is a debate over when moral rights begin. Some tie that question to what they call personhood, and then they define personhood in terms of capacities that only develop later on. They thus conclude that a fetus has no moral worth, and anything can be done to a fetus without any moral worries. That is a controversy, and people disagree about it, including scientists. But it's not a scientific question at all. It's a philosophical question about what sort of living being has moral status and is the subject of rights and moral worth. This particular doctor did not speak to such matters but simply told the woman who was asking whether the baby was already there, "Don't be stupid; it's only blood." When a nurse later told the woman that parts of the baby were still inside, she wondered how something that's only blood could have parts still there. The doctor lied to her, and she had depended on him for accurate information to inform her moral decision.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy took a lot of heat from supporters of abortion rights in his recent opinion overturning lower court decisions that had declared partial-birth abortion bans unconstitutional. One thing many had complained about was that he had put quite a bit of effort into arguing that women are often not given accurate information about what the abortion process consists of and what is actually true of a fetus at the stage in question (6-7 weeks). Many complained that he was portraying women as stupid, ignorant, and in need of men to make their decisions for them. I haven't read the opinion closely, so it's consistent with what I know about the opinion that he did use language that comes across this way. But the general point does not require such a view of women. The general public is disturbingly ignorant on many matters, including scientific information relevant to moral questions. That this is so with abortion is demonstrated by this NJ case.

Doctors and pro-choice advocates who abuse their positions and take advantage of that ignorance by lying to women, as this doctor did, especially when they stand to gain financially or in any other way from such abortions, are doing something that in any other domain of medical science would be punishable by law. But abortion is the sacred cow that doesn't seem to require being treated like any other medical procedure. That was Justice Kennedy's main point, and I think this case demonstrates that his rhetoric, whether it was as anti-woman as people claim or not, is directed at a real problem that, even on pro-choice principles, ought to be addressed. Unfortunately, the NJ Supreme Court doesn't seem to recognize that. Fortunately, South Dakota and Illinois have similar cases that might end up differently, which would give the Supreme Court the opportunity to resolve the split among circuit courts.

Cutting Edge Keyboards

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It's hard to keep pace with new technology, but sometimes something new appears on the scene that you just have to take notice of. The new Advanced Programmer's Computer is one of those. The Chat Room Keyboard is simply catering to idiocy, and this one would have been helpful when I was running Windows 95. But nothing beats the Ergonomic Keyboard for Pirates. I'm not sure I understand this one or this one, though. [hat tip: GreekPress]

Update: This one's a little more serious than some of the ones above, but the very name suggests otherwise: Keyless Ergonomic Keyboard.

Christian Carnival CLXXXIX

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The 189th Christian Carnival is up at Diary of 1.

Beckwith on Abortion

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Scott Klusendorf reviews Frank Beckwith's Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.

I've seen some of Beckwith's arguments in some Right Reason posts as he was writing the book. This is the first book-length defense of a pro-life position from a philosophical review ever, as far as I know, and it's from a major university publisher, who wouldn't be publishing it if it were second-rate. I haven't bought the book yet, but I'm very much looking forward to reading it, and I might (if I get the chance) try to teach through it (or at the very least teach excerpts from it) in an applied ethics course, up against David Boonin's recent pro-choice defense, which Beckwith interacts with heavily.

Scott intends to blog through the whole book. I'll be keeping my eye out.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is the first Babylon 5 story in several years. It is intended to be the first in a series of direct-to-DVD releases that focus on smaller, character-centered stories involving one or two characters from the Babylon 5 universe. The first release involves one story with Colonel Elizabeth Lochley, commander of Babylon 5 since the 5th season of the original show and another starring both President John Sheridan and the technomage Galen. An effects-heavy third story featuring Michael Garibaldi was pushed to the second DVD release due to funding issues related to reconstructing the entire special effects and sets from scratch. The two stories happen simultaneously and converge at the end, even though there is no connection between them other than the fact that Sheridan and Lochley meet up at the end.

Show creator and producer J. Michael Straczynski wrote and directed these stories, and he had complete creative control. Unfortunately, however, Warner Brothers was fairly limiting in the budget they allocated to this project, and advertizing for it has almost been nonexistent. It deserved much more. The stories are excellent and very intelligent, as is typical for Babylon 5. Lockley confronts someone who appears to be demon-possessed, claiming that God has confined demons to this sector of space so that they would remind later, space-faring humans that God does exist despite their encounters with aliens. As usual, the truth is mixed with lies, and what's really going on is something far more fascinating to me and a little surprising coming from Straczynski. My appreciation for the first story was much higher once it was done, and I look forward to watching it again with a friend who loves B5 once we have a working DVD player again.

The second story involves the technomage Galen once again appearing to President Sheridan, telling him to do something urgent that will prevent some terrible consequences in the future. The only problem is that what he has to do is something Sheridan feels a very strong moral compulsion not to do. He wonders if it's really necessary for him to do it. As is often the case with Straczynski's stories, the moral issues are carefully thought-out, and the twists in the storytelling are interesting. In the end, a lot less is clear about what Galen wanted than we were originally supposed to think. I was fairly impressed with the ending.

As stories go, they are well-written and thought-provoking. I had been worried that Straczynski's Bush Derangement Syndrome would influence these stories, but he wisely stayed away from bringing any of that in here. It doesn't have a lot of action, and it seems a bit short (70 minutes total for two stories, less than two 45-minute episodes would be). Even though the special effects are much better than the original series, it still isn't as good as it could have been if Warner Brothers had been willing to fund it based on the excellent evidence they already have of the fanbase who made past B5 products a success on DVD. But they didn't fund it well. I do think it's pretty good given a fairly low budget, as B5 always was. It's not terrible, but it's not cutting edge for the time, as the original had been. I enjoyed it overall, and it's among the better examples of intelligent B5 storytelling, so I recommend it highly to B5 fans who enjoyed the more intellectual stories who can deal with less action and special effects that could have been a little better. I look forward to future installments with other characters.

The 189th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Diary of 1. 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:

Quotation Police

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I thought this site was pretty funny. Quotation marks may well be the most abused punctuation mark. I've seen several people linking to this since I first saw it here, and one of them was a couple days ago, which reminded me that I wanted to link to it at some point. I thought now would be a good time, since I'm running out of things to post that don't take a fair amount of time to think about or to write up (but not, of course, of things that will take some work, which just keep forming a longer and longer list).

Richard Dawkins is often accused of being a fundamentalist atheist. He dismisses theism almost without argument. The arguments he gives are often straw men or miss the point in some other way. He shows little familiarity with the best philosophical representatives of theism, and since his work on atheism is actually philosophy he's really dropped the ball in backing up his views. It ends up looking like mere dogmatism without much allowance for dialogue with the other side, i.e. fundamentalism.

Dawkins' response:

The answer to the familiar accusation of atheist fundamentalism is plain enough. The onus is not on the atheist to demonstrate the non-existence of the invisible unicorn in the room, and we cannot be accused of undue confidence in our disbelief. The devout churchgoer recites the Nicene Creed weekly, enumerating a detailed and precise list of things he positively believes, with no more evidence than supports the unicorn. Now that’s overconfidence. By contrast, the atheist says the humble thing: of all the millions of possible entities that one might imagine, I believe only in those for which there is evidence – trombones, pelicans and electrons, say, but not unicorns or leprechauns, not Thor with his hammer, not Ganesh the elephant god, not the Holy Ghost. 

Macht at Prosthesis offers a reply, and I think he's right. What atheists are rejecting when they reject theism is not mere theism. They reject a whole set of beliefs and values, a way of life, a kind of community, a view on the meaning and purpose of life, and so on. They reject the fundamental conception of how most people in the world today and throughout history have seen the significance of their lives and how they live. That does seem to me to be disanalogous with merely not believing in an invisible unicorn that someone else tells you is in the room.

Plato the Non-Totalitarian

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It's pretty common to hear that Plato was a totalitarian who thought that philosopher-kings ought to be given the decision-making power in government (e.g. here, for a pretty prominent mention at a top blog), so that the ordinary joes who don't know any better won't be doing what's bad for everyone, including themselves. No laws should restrict these benevolent tyrants, since laws just get in the way of allowing them to make the best decisions. Laws are too sweeping and won't apply as well in every case, and philosopher-kings would be wise enough to see when a given principle does or doesn't apply.  As I said, this is a common mistake. This isn't actually Plato's view, even though someone reading only the Republic might be excused for thinking Plato did hold to something like this (although I think you do have to ignore some clear signs even in the Republic if you want to take Plato to be advocating the model of the city he sets up there).

In Plato's careful political philosophy (e.g. in the Statesman and the Laws), he distances himself from this view. He does think an ideal government would function something like that, but he acknowledges that this is only the ideal government. If you really had an expert who not only knew all the relevant information and could predict exactly which policies would be best but also had the best interests of everyone involved and were willing to do what's right all the time, then the best form of government would be to let that person rule, and those who resisted would be revealing that they don't know what's best for them.

Many will still bristle at this, but I think they ought to do so only if they recognize that Plato was highly skeptical about whether anyone could possibly be like this. Even if there were such experts no one could ever be shown to be such an expert, because the masses who aren't experts of that sort won't be able to recognize that the expert's views are correct (because they're not themselves experts). Therefore, most people wouldn't be able to tell the expert from the corrupt imposter. Therefore, to guard against that eventuality, it's best to have the inferior form of rule, which is rule by many who are not experts. Plato outright admits this in the Statesman, quite plainly repudiating the view that so many attribute to him because of their misreading of the Republic.

As I said, many will still disagree with him about what the ideal state would be like, but they ought to do so not in terms of his faux view put forward in the Republic, which is mostly intended to be a model that serves as an analogy for what he thinks the just person will be like. They ought to take his mature presentation of political discussion in his later dialogues, which are unambiguously about politics as a own subject of its own rather than the moral philosophy and exploration of human nature that the Republic carries out.

The 188th Christian Carnival is up at Bounded Irrationality.

What's your eschatology?

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 You scored as Amillenialist, Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension. People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your view.



Moltmannian Eschatology








Left Behind




What's your eschatology?
created with

Mark Liberman at Language Log wrote an interesting post a few weeks ago on journalistic quotation practices. He gives several examples of the use of direct quotation marks, which most readers assume means they're reading the person's exact words, when in reality the author of the piece has significantly altered what the person being quoted had said. Liberman writes:

These are not isolated errors. They're representative of the normal practice of journalism. The superficial issue is that journalists -- as a culture -- don't act as if they care whether quotes are accurate. The deeper issue, in my opinion, is the role that such quotes play in journalistic rhetoric. They're usually not treated as <i>data</i>, facts about the world in need of explanation, but rather as illustrations or expressions of the writer's opinions and conclusions, put into someone else's mouth because the rhetorical norms of the profession require it.

Often, such quotes are made to order by getting sources to answer leading questions, over and over again, and ignoring all of the answers that don't fit the framework that the writer has in mind. In other cases, bits and pieces of quotation are taken out of context and strung together in order to create a meaning that suits the writer's intent (which may or may not have been the speaker's intent).

I have direct experience being treated in exactly that way when interviewed for a news story by someone who had a particular point she was trying to get me to confirm. She took me out of context, ignored the main emphasis of what I was saying, and used a minor concession I was willing to make as if it was my primary concern. After a discussion of a presentation of the value of waiting until marriage for sex, the reporter asked me a number of questions, most of them leading, and I wasn't biting on most of them. But then she asked me if I thought the discussion might have discouraged some from considering Christianity's broader claims, and I said I thought that might happen but that some issues are worth discussing even if most people would be turned off. She quoted me very plainly and simply as saying that I thought the discussion would turn people off to Christianity. That strikes me as deliberate misquotation and in fact pretending I was saying something that I wasn't saying. I was her mouthpiece.

Even ignoring political bias complaints about mainstream news outlets in the U.S., it's a bit arrogant and completely out of step with the news reality to hear people like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather saying that they aren't biased but simply report the news. There's no chance that any major news outlet isn't at least to some degree coloring their reports with what they hope to get across, although I imagine some of that comes from less deliberate manipulation than what I experienced. This can easily happen, and I'm sure it does, from journalists of any political stripe. It's not a left or right thing. But once you factor in the fact that most of the people working in the major news outlets indicate political preferences that are considerably to the left on average when compared with how the general poplulace describes themselves, it's a no-brainer why so many people think the mainstream media are biased to the left. That's why I can't help but laugh when I hear so many people on the left acting as if the media is monolithically biased to the right, as if they're trying to help the current president whom the majority of journalists detest so much. But this is a problem that's not on any political side. Immoral reporting is immoral reporting.

 The 188th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Bounded Irrationality. 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:

WIC and Breastfeeding

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Regardless of what you think about the legitimacy of social welfare programs, it's nice to find one that's somewhat responsible, focused on a real need, and hard to abuse. Food stamp money can cover candy, soda, lobster, and steak. It can be used for entirely name-brand products. It has no regard for whether its funding gets used for expensive or unhealthy products. The WIC program, on the other hand, limits its benefits to foods that contain nutrients that are particularly lacking in the diets of those in the target group. Like most government programs since welfare reform, it requires some earned income or a somewhat reasonable exception from working. It has separated checks for certain kinds of food items with the exact amount of food it will cover and a price limit for the check. It's not hard to get name-brand products for some items as long as you get cheaper brands for some, since the entire check is what matters, but it's usually impossible to get the most expensive products for all the items on a check.

It's therefore more than a little disappointing to see people issuing false charges against the WIC program merely to score points for a more general political thesis (one that in general I think is at least in the right direction). David Freddoso of The National Review Online claims that WIC's provision of formula for infants is encouraging moms not to breastfeed. Anyone actually familiar with WIC would know that this is stupid. WIC provides free food for moms who breastfeed, and those who get formula can't get that. Once the baby is born, the mom goes off the WIC program unless she breastfeeds. How exactly does that encourage using formula? WIC does provide something for such infants so that they do get something, but the benefit of food for the mother only comes if she breastfeeds.

Also, no one on the WIC program can get their checks without hearing constant reminders by WIC dieticians at every visit that breastfeeding is healthier and without seeing the ever-present posters throughout WIC clinics recommending breastfeeding. It's ridiculous to claim that WIC is encouraging the use of formula merely because they provide it as an option to those who don't follow their recommendations. Their recommendations are so very clear to anyone who has ever visited a WIC office. Those on the WIC program are largely from the group that is least likely to breastfeed, and the WIC program has been targeting this group with the message of the benefits of breastfeeding.

But Freddoso (and his supporters in the comments here) seem to want to pretend that they don't do that in order to treat all government programs as if they can't ever do anything right. Whatever you think about tax money used for social welfare, it isn't a good idea to criticize such programs as ineffective or as causing the wrong results if you've got the facts wrong and that programs is actually doing what you would prefer them to do (given that there are going to be such programs, anyway).



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