March 2009 Archives

It's Not About You

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I had a friend who used to conclude from his conviction of God's sovereignty and the fact that a young woman he was attracted to happened to cross his path that day that God was sending him a message about his future with that young woman. It was hard to convince him that just because it was part of God's plan that he run across her path that doesn't mean it was for the reason he might think God had them cross paths. It could be because his running into her reminded her of something she needed to be reminded of that day. It could have been because of something unrelated to the two of them, though, for instance maybe because God wanted them each to be at separate locations shortly after that, and the best way to achieve that at the precise times he wanted them to arrive was for them to walk right by each other. It could have even been so that he could have this conversation with me and be reminded that it's not always about him and what he wants.

I Kings 20 is an interesting case study in a chapter we don't look at all that often. Ahab, the King of Israel, engages in continual conflict with Ben-Hadad, King of Syria. It goes on for a while until Ben-Hadad decides he can get the better of Ahab's forces by fighting in the valleys, claiming that the gods of Israel are gods of the hills, and the gods of Syria are gods of the valleys.

At that point God sends a prophet to Ahab to tell him that Ben-Hadad's statement is the reason he's going to hand him over to Ahab. Interestingly, he quotes it as a statement that God is a god just of the hills, where Ben-Hadad seems to have used a plural verb, indicating plural gods (the noun, I believe is the same in either case, so I believe you have to go by the verb to know which it is, because 'Elohim' is a plural name for God; someone who knows some Hebrew should correct me here if I'm wrong, but that's what I think is going on here). If that's right, then Ben-Hadad was referring to God even though he thought he was referring to several gods of Israel (and the evidence of the surrounding chapters is that Ahab did worship other gods), because there is only one God for Israel even if they pretend otherwise.

The result is sobering. Ahab is handed this amazing victory, basically because God thought it was a good time to bring Ben-Hadad down. It's not about Ahab at all. I think it's a natural human tendency to take things going well for us as a sign that God approves of what we're doing, but here's a clear counterexample to that. This has nothing to do with Ahab, and it's clear from the surrounding chapters that God absolutely disapproves of the defining characteristics of Ahab's life. This is about judging Ben-Hadad. Just as Rehoboam was judged by God via Jeroboam's rebellion and subsequent separation of more than half the kingdom, so here we have Ahab benefiting from God's judgment on Ben-Hadad, when it has nothing at all to do with Ahab.

In both these cases, the King of Israel was judged for something else later, Jeroboam for how he ruled once he had his own kingdom and Ahab most immediately for not completing the task and letting Ben-Hadad go, just as Saul had done with Agag and the Amalekites at the very beginning of the Israelite monarchy. Something similar occurs in Isaiah 10, where we see judgment on the God's for doing it for the wrong reason (in that case the king of Assyria gets judged for how he caries out judgment on Israel, since he does it for his own glory and while thinking it's his own power that achieves it).

One interesting part of all this is that God delivers a real blessing to Ahab, one of the wickedest of Israel's many wicked kings. God chose to give him victory with serious odds stacked up against him -- but the reasons God gives for this choice were very clearly nothing to do with Ahab. It's a nice instance of the general principle given to Israel at its founding. They were chosen not because they were large or strong but because God wanted to demonstrate something.

A passage in Thomas Aquinas' discussion of predestination often reminds me of this biblical principle. Aquinas wonders what basis God might use to single out particular people to be predestined for salvation or damned. He can't imagine God does it by something akin to flipping a coin or some such arbitrary method, because God isn't arbitrary, despite how a lot of Calvinists sometimes want to think of God. At the same time, it can't be based on the actions people do to deserve salvation, because everyone at the most basic level does not deserve grace, or it wouldn't be grace. It has to be an unearned gift. [For those stumbling over how a Catholic can say this, see the footnote. This is the official Roman Catholic doctrine, even if it doesn't sound like it to Protestant ears.] So whatever leads God to choose particular individuals to be saved must have nothing to do with their earning it in any sense. It must have to do with other things. In effect, he concludes that God's reasons for choosing certain people to be saved or damned would be for something like artistic reasons. It makes for a greater providential plan to choose someone like Paul, coming out of his Pharisaical training and resistance to the gospel and having his skills to be used in developing the canonical epistles. It makes for greater spread of the gospel for God to work through certain people. It shows God's mercy and grace in special ways. There's plenty of room for God to have purposes that aren't arbitrary that are in some sense about you but not in the sense of the title of this post. It's not about you in that sense.

It should catch our attention that this same pattern recurs in scripture. It's not just Saul, Jeroboam, and Ahab. You see it in different ways with Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson in the book of Judges, to name three other examples. People receive God's grace because of reasons having nothing to do with their own deserving, and in some of these cases having nothing to do with the person at all. They then proceed to take God's grace as a sign of God's favor, or at the very least they aren't grateful enough for God's blessing that they proceed to live in a way that honors the God whose blessing they've received without deserving it. In some of these cases, that vastly understates how significantly they slight God and insult his gracious bestowal of favor. It must be particularly fearsome to receive such blessing only to end up in a place of severe judgment, as Ahab certainly did.

But isn't this the story of the whole Bible? Humanity as a whole has continually rejected God's favor and spat in his face, and his patience and love is shown all the more for his willingness to pursue those he is bringing to salvation even amidst their constant rejection of many of the opportunities God gives to pursue holiness and reject inferior substitutes for God. We would do well to remember the lessons of these figures, because God will bring to completion the good work he started, and he calls us to participate in his transformation of our hearts and wills to serve him as we work out the salvation he's working out in us.

[Footnote: Aquinas does not hold the caricature of Roman Catholic theology that has Christians straightforwardly earning their salvation. Salvation is a gift of grace and totally unearned initially. He does think God, at the end of your life, evaluates the actions you did through the Holy Spirit as being righteous actions, and only in that sense is your salvation merited because the God-produced works you did do match up to what God wants of you in that they were produced by the Holy Spirit. But even this isn't meant to cancel his claim that you don't earn the initial grace that puts you in a position to be transformed by the Spirit to do good.]



The 270th Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at A True Believer's Weblog. 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 the Christian Carnival archive.
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:

I was reading way down my list of things I wanted to blog about that I never got to, and I found Kenny Pearce's Five Favorite Philosophers post from December 2006. (Sadly, this was only 60% of the way down in my huge file of things to be blogged about that I haven't gotten to, and the latest stuff is at the top!) I'd started the post but hadn't completed it, and I thought it was a worth task to be completed, so here we go:

1. Augustine: On every test checking one's views with actual philosophers, I come out closest to Augustine. When he disagrees with Aquinas, I usually side with him. He was one of the most intelligent Christian thinkers to interact heavily with philosophers in a systematic way, and I think his criticisms of his contemporaries, if occasionally exaggerated, are nevertheless accurate enough assessments of the problems with those philosophers' positions. His emphasis on ordinary language is similar to one of my own complaints about many influential philosophers. He rightly rejected the high-standards view of knowledge endorsed by Plato, the ancient Skeptics, Descartes, Locke, Hume, and most philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries up until the 1980s or so. After all, such views use the terms for knowledge in ways that simply don't match up to ordinary usage. He adopts a view on the passions that's very similar to the Stoic view but denying their strange definition of emotions as faulty reasoning, again emphasizing ordinary language over philosophers' arbitrary redefinitions. I'm not sure his view of freedom is coherent, unless he changed his mind when writing <i>City of God</i> between the single-digit books and books 12-14, but his view is one of the better ones in the ancient world. His view that ethics is primarily about rightly-ordered love of what's best seems to me to get closer to the heart of what's most important than any other ethical thinker.

2. G.W. Leibniz: Leibniz was by far the best of the early moderns. He retained much of what was good from the medieval philosophers, a lot of which had been rejected by his contemporaries. He's the first I know of to use the philosophical device of possible worlds, but he does it better than contemporary philosophers by recognizing that worlds are what God could have created (and thus God isn't in any possible worlds but is existent for all of them). I go back and forth on the Principle of Sufficient Reason as he states it, although something like it has got to be true, and a lot more of what he derives from it is true than most philosophers accept today. His systematicity and careful attention to detail place him as one of the greats, and it's too bad much of his work is barely studied today. A significant portion of Saul Kripke's game-changing work in the 1970s and 1980s was present in Leibniz's responses to John Locke. He (and not Locke, as some claim) was responsible for the first modern discussion of personal identity that I can find. Everything halfway decent that Hume had to say about free will and compatibilism (one of the few issues Hume has anything to say about that's worth paying attention to) was anticipated by Leibniz.

3. David Lewis: Dean Zimmerman joked at Lewis' memorial service that when you cross David Hume and Gottfried Leibniz, you get David Lewitz. Lewis was more responsible than anyone else for bringing metaphysics back to its rightful place as the central branch of philosophy in the 1980s and 1990s. There's far too much of David Hume in Lewis' views for me to get too excited: e.g., on causation (facts about causation depend merely on what happens and not the obvious truth that it's the other way around), the ontological status of possible worlds (they all exist in the same way our world exists), the existence of God (for him only in other possible worlds, but that sort of God isn't God, since he doesn't necessarily exist), consequentialism in ethics (consequences are the only morally relevant consideration for how we should live). But his approach is much more Leibnizian, in that he actually gives arguments for his views, something Hume rarely does (at least not while accurately representing the views he criticizes and not in a way consistent with all the things he wants to say). Lewis was in many ways (but unfortunately not in some important ones) a model philosopher. The entire field of metaphysics today has been shaped by him in ways that are largely good, and the ways that aren't are ripe for response from those who have views that are closer to the truth. It's hard for me not to admire the comprehensive and systematic work that his career produced, and I'm glad to have been able to meet him shortly before he died. In my view he's by far the most important philosopher of the 20th century.

4. The Stoics: This is a bit of a fudge, but I can't pick one. I really like Chrysippus for his comprehensive presentation of canonical Stoic thought, but he had some really weird views about time. Cleanthes was never viewed as quite as good a thinker, but he was the first person to give the correct solution to foreknowledge problems and related issues about time. Other than that issue. Chrysippus is my favorite, but when I discovered that about Cleanthes my opinion about him went way up, because it took until Aquinas to get that right in a more explicit way than what Cleanthes had come up with centuries earlier. I don't like every way the Stoics express their compatibilism about freedom and determinism, but it's closest to the truth of any view I know of before Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, whose views capture something not present in any Stoic work I know of but may also go too far in distancing themselves from the Stoics. Their insistence on final causes in nature in a stronger way than even Aristotle acknowledges (because they do believe the divine universe has a providential plan) makes them the closest thing to Christian views on nature among the ancient Greco-Roman philosophers. They come the closest in their time to anticipating reliabilism in epistemology, a view that I find absolutely obvious once it's considered and understood but is difficult enough that it has few predecessors in the history of philosophy (although Augustine is another exception).

5. Plato: I'm not usually impressed by his arguments, at least in terms of their convincingness. He regularly presents arguments that rely on premises his opponents wouldn't grant. But unsupported premises don't mean the arguments are unsound, because the premises are often the sort of thing that I find intuitively true, and I can't understand how anyone can deny them, even if I know that many have denied them. Most of Plato's arguments are like this, and his presentation of a great many issues seems to me to show a good deal of wisdom in thinking through things in ways that make many more recent philosophers seem to have regressed. Even when he seems extreme, I think it's because he's presenting things in a mode of thinking ideally, and he often takes it back once you introduce more ordinary considerations for how things will work in real life (e.g. his <i>Republic</i> view of government that amounts to benevolent dictatorship gets presented in the <i>Statesman</i> as ideal if it worked but unworkable in practice, a view that I find absolutely compelling and quite welcome to a theist, for whom the unworkability with human government is easily removed with a divine ruler. When he and Aristotle disagree, I tend to be more often on his side. His picture of virtue as moral health seems to be to ground a much broader view of what morality includes, especially moral obligations to oneself, and that seems right to me.

The 269th Christian Carnival: The Lord of the Rings Edition is up at The Bible Archive. As I write this, it's just become Rey's birthday, so wish him a happy birthday when you stop by for the carnival!

I've several times seen people refer to studies showing that abstinence-only sex ed programs don't work. What they mean by that is that people who go through the abstinence-only programs aren't any more likely than those who go through comprehensive programs to have had unprotected sex. If the goal is to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies by encouraging people not ready for parenthood not to engage in sex at all, it seems not to work. I didn't look closely at any of these studies, just accepting that they were correct, because I've never favored only telling people to abstain. There's nothing wrong with providing information about condoms and hormonal methods of contraception. In fact, without providing the full information, some might never realize the failure rates of various methods of contraception and those that do choose to use them might not do so properly, thus trusting increasing the unreliability of something they rely on. So it's counterproductive for those who want to reduce sexual activity even apart from pregnancy and STDs to resist presenting comprehensive information.

Someone (I don't remember who) recently directed me to this study. I haven't checked any other studies as closel, but I checked Wikipedia for any further long-term studies on this, and I didn't find anything but this study and a study on a different topic about how some abstinence-only programs didn't do it right (i.e. they had some false information in their educational package). If this data is correct then those who have been posturing about abstinence-only programs not working have been spinning the science with as much ideologically-motivated one-sidedness as such people regularly accused the Bush Administration of doing, not exactly the best behavior among those accusing others of being anti-science for doing the same thing.

A lot of criticism of abstinence-only sex ed has been that it's lack of information about contraception leaves kids with the wrong information, thus making it more likely that they won't use proper precautions if they do have sex. This turns out to be disconfirmed. The kids who went through the abstinence-only programs were as well-informed on such matters as the kids in the control group, and they didn't have any higher rate of unprotected sex than anyone else. It may well be that comprehensive sex ed would have led to their being more informed than average, but it's not as if abstinence-only sex ed made them less-informed, as many opponents of abstinence-only have been claiming. Given this study, it seems that it's just as much anti-science to call abstinence-only education dangerous and even a cause of unwanted pregnancy and the spread of STDs as it is to promote abstinence-only education as the best method of preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Such behavior is irresponsible and pretty obviously motivated by ideology while at odds with the facts, the very thing the Bush Administration has repeatedly been accused of doing on this issue.

When you look at the fine print, you can also see that this is looking at the long-term effects of early abstinence-only programs that aren't continued in high school,and according to this story they did find an initial effect of delaying the first sexual encounter that dropped off in later years, the same later years that these kids weren't continuing to receive abstinence-only sex ed. Isn't that a bit suspicious if the conclusion is supposed to be that abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work? It's not clear that this study really shows what it's been taken to show, which is that abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work.

Keep in mind also that there is a study that shows that a number of abstinence-only programs had curriicula that included falsehoods and questionable elements. So if you examine just the actual abstinence-only programs, it doesn't necessarily tell you what would happen if it were done with more care to present the correct information. Even if some of the false information might have led some to be more likely to be abstinent, it may have gone the other way with some, especially those who know the information being presented is false, which could incline some to reject everything that's being said as a result, including the abstinence message and the correct rates of failure of condoms or other contraceptive or STD-preventative measures. Remember that we're talking about teenagers here. Also, some of these programs were determined to be teaching religious doctrine. I have no idea what that means, and I'm certainly aware that some things claimed by some to be religious doctrine simply aren't, e.g, that life begins at conception, while others are, e.g. that it's morally wrong to engage in sex outside marriage (although I think a secular argument exists for such a view). But the point is that some might turn off to the whole enterprise if their view is that this is religious education.

So what they study does seem to show is that earlier abstinence-only sex ed, as it's actually been taught (as opposed to how it should be taught), doesn't seem to affect later sexual behavior if that kind of sex ed doesn't continue into high school, but it doesn't tell us anything about what happens if it does continue, and the fact that some of these programs were presenting false information might skew the results in either direction. It may well be that comprehensive sex ed would do better on the measure that we're discussing, but this study doesn't help us know that, and I know of none that do. I do see some that show increased effectiveness among those receiving comprehensive sex ed over control groups, but until we have a long-term study that actually looks at those who receive abstinence-only sex ed in high school, the facts simply aren't fully available on that question, and it would ideally help if someone could conduct a study on the best abstinence-only programs compared to abstinence-only programs as they actually occur, to see if there's any difference.

Kenny Pearce hosts the 88th Philosophers' Carnival.


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The 269th Christian Carnival is 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 the Christian Carnival archive.
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:

Interesting Ambiguity

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In the following interview excerpt (source) from a few months ago, then-President George W. Bush misunderstood Charles Gibson in a way that I've just realized has implications for a hotly-debated but obscure-for-the-ordinary-person philosophical debate:

GIBSON: You've always said there's no do-overs as President. If you had one?
BUSH: I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.
GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?
BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.
GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.
BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.

Here are the two ways to read Gibson's question "If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?":

1. Holding the content of the intelligence the same as it is in the actual world, the rest of the world would have to have been different for the intelligence to have been right. If that situation were true, would the war have occurred? In other words, if what the intelligence reports actually said had turned out to be true, and Iraq's WMD programs were not just on hold because of sanctions, if there had been stockpiles of WMD in fact, would we have invaded Iraq?

2. Holding the rest of the world constant, for the intelligence reports to have been true, they would have had to say something different from what they actually said. If that situation were true, would the war have occurred? In other words, if the intelligence reports had said only that Saddam Hussein's WMD programs were not actively producing weapons but were merely on hold so that he could have such weapons within a year if the sanctions ended, would there have been a war?

It's hard to say which interpretation is more natural. I can see how Gibson's might be thought to be more natural, because there doesn't seem to be any reason to ask the question if he'd meant what Bush took it to mean. But for the hearer to come to that conclusion, it requires being aware of both interpretations and considering that the first wouldn't be worth asking in comparison with the second. Most hearers interpreting it in a way that seems most natural to them will probably hear it one way or the other, and thus (like President Bush) won't be going through that reasoning process to conclude that the second is the more likely intent.

On the other hand, I can see how someone might more naturally take it the way Bush did. I can think of a much clearer way to ask what Gibson wanted to know. He could have asked what would have happened if we'd had better intelligence or more accurate intelligence. By referring to it as "the intelligence", Bush took it to be referring to the actual intelligence. It's a lot harder to find an alternative way to say what Bush took it to mean. You'd need a much more roundabout expression like "if the information we based the war on from intelligence reports had turned out to be the accurate description of Saddam Hussein's WMD status".

I thought that was an interesting ambiguity, anyway.

[Sidebar to philosophers: At first I thought it had larger implications, because it seems very close to a debate in the semantics of counterfactual expressions. David Lewis takes counterfactual claims of the form "If A were true, then B" to mean that in the closest possible world (by which he means the possible world as much like ours in material composition) where A is true, B is also true. I've always found that view implausible, and I had at first thought this would be a good test case for people's intuitions on that matter. But then I realized that Lewis' theory is a theory for the truth conditions of counterfactual propositions. This is a case where it's ambiguous which proposition is even meant, not a case of how to evaluate whether a clear counterfactual proposition is true.]


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The 268th Christian Carnival is up at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

The Ethics of Borrowing

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Last Tuesday, after the Bible study I attend, several of us had a relatively heated discussion about Exodus 22:14:

If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. [ESV]

The context is a set of laws about how Israelites were to handle problems that occurred when one person was in possession of someone else's animal and something happened to it. Different circumstances involved different issues. If it was loaned at the request of the borrower, the borrower has more responsibility than if the borrower was holding it on request of the lender, since the lender had taken the initiative to institute the situation. But in the standard case of borrowing (and not renting) at the initiative of the borrower, if something were to happen to the animal not in the presence of the owner, it was the responsibility of the borrower to repay the full price of the animal (perhaps by simply repaying an animal of equal quality).

The question arose about whether someone today should derive the general moral principle that a borrower should repay the full price of damage if something should happen while borrowing something (not just an animal but anything). If I borrow your car and crash it, the principle should apply. I owe you for any cost to you in repairing it. But what if the transmission fails, and it's been on the fritz for over a month? It just happens to go when I have it in my possession. Even worse, what if you deliberately let me borrow that car rather than your other car in the hopes that it would die when I had it so the obligation would be mine, knowing I would take this text to apply that way today?

According to several people at the study last week, I have the moral obligation to pay the several thousand dollars that it costs for a new transmission. When I called that unjust, they said Jesus' death was unjust, so I should suck it up, as if God doesn't care about justice even though the very context of these laws is so obviously concerned with justice and getting the details of each situation right so that the hard cases can be handled fairly. I know no theory of the atonement that has the cross making me morally responsible for what I didn't do, just those that remove what I did do. This view seems to have the absurd conclusion that if you borrow my pen just as the ink has run out, you have the moral obligation to buy me a new pen when it runs out in your possession.

I think there's a fundamental mistake going on here, and it's not so much a new covenant vs. old covenant confusion, because I think whatever moral principles underlie these laws ought to apply in any context. I think what's going on could actually be a problem in the old covenant itself. What if a farmer decided to take advantage of his neighbor by lending him the ox that he knew was in poor health, hoping that it gave out in the possession of his neighbor when he wasn't present, knowing it would have a hard time handling the kind of work the neighbor wanted to borrow an ox to do? It seems unjust to hold the borrower accountable if the lender is deceptive in hiding this condition from the borrower. So the problem arises even in the setting immediate to the Torah if it's to be applied in the way that my conversation partners last week were taking it.

My suggestion is that we're thinking of case law wrongly when we derive that sort of conclusion. Case law in the Torah describes some hard cases to illustrate some general moral principles, principles the judges in any individual case might have to apply a little differently in a different case. Stealing an animal required payment of more than just what was stolen. If it was a sheep, it would be fourfold. An ox would be fivefold. What about a donkey? We're not told. The reasons behind the original law would then have to be applied thoughtfully by judges to determine a just repayment if a donkey got stolen. We see several instances of variations in circumstances determining a different outcome in this very chapter, but many probably occurred that it doesn't discuss. There would be exceptions for lots of possible situations, and the law wasn't intended to cover every details. It was meant to provide guidance for judges to figure out the just decision in some of the harder cases. If a farmer obviously abused the borrowing law in the way I just described, I'm pretty sure no judge would make the borrower pay. It's not a violation of v.14 to make such a call, unless you take case law in the Torah to be absolute in the way that we know it's not. We know this by the examples of exceptions that we do see and the knowledge that the exceptions listed in the Torah are not exhaustive.

Other relevant considerations might also come up in the car case. We're not dealing with an animal but a means of transportation that involves huge expenses with a lot of long-term wear-and-tear that could without notice cause a failure. There's a lot less of that, and certainly with less expense if it occurs, with farm animals. We also don't have a situation where I'm likely to have a transmission to give to someone else the way we would likely have with an agrarian society whose people mostly did have some animals. If it can be shown that I caused the problem, I'm responsible. If it can't, and there's good reason to think I'm not, I shouldn't be held responsible. It's only in the case where it could go either way that we've got a worry in how we apply it, but those are the hard cases. The case I imagine shouldn't be a hard case. It's just not the kind of case that v.14 has in mind. Other morally relevant factors are present, and case laws aren't intended to cover every case like the one described, just the most typical ones where other factors aren't present.



The 268th Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. 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 the Christian Carnival archive.
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

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The Holy Observer is back, with a new format that will probably help them get new content up more easily without having to have a whole issue of material before posting stuff. This looks like a nice mediating approach between my suggestion of turning it into a blog (which they really didn't want to do) and the original method of producing whole issues at a time.

The 267th Christian Carnival is up at Christ's Bridge.

President Obama announced today that he's lifting the ban on government funding for the destruction of living, complete human organisms in the embryonic stage. In his speech announcing this change, the President declared the choice between faith and science to be a false dichotomy, thus insinuating that the objections from the pro-life side (which are, in the popular mind, associated with faith rather than the philosophical backing that they tend to have among most pro-lifers) are anti-science. He speaks of pro-life objections as coming from thoughtful and decent people, which might suggest that he doesn't think such views are anti-intellectual, as many of my philosophical colleagues typically assume them to be. But in presenting his view as the middle road between the anti-science and pro-faith view on one side and the pro-science and anti-faith view on the other, it's hard to avoid the suggestion that pro-life objections are anti-science.

This becomes clearer later in his speech. He sees this order as part of a larger move to restore the promotion of good science. He sees it as a recovery from Bush Administration resistance to good science. Aside from the fact that those who make such claims have a pretty distorted view of what the Bush Administration actually did and what policies it actually supported in general, the claim is particularly ludicrous in this case. The pro-life objection to destroying human embryos has nothing to do with science or anti-science. It's based on a philosophical conclusion, that human life at any stage has the moral status that human life at any other stage has. The most science can show is that what empirical features are true of human life at any stage, not what moral status something with certain empirical features must have. That's a philosophical question, not a scientific question, and it's one the current President claimed to be beyond his pay grade, so he can't consistently now claim that science does give the answer in as clear a way as this speech insists.

The argument for full moral status does not deny the empirically-observable facts about human development. Consciousness, complexity of thought, fully-formed organs, and other features sometimes thought to be necessary for full moral status are simply irrelevant, according to the standard pro-life picture, and nothing science observes will tell us otherwise. It takes a philosophical presupposition to resist that conclusion, a presupposition not shared by the pro-lifer. So labeling the pro-life view anti-science is grossly unfair and unbecoming for the President of the United States, particularly when he's just called such people thoughtful and decent. Ironically, Obama's own position is also based on an ideological assumption that there's nothing wrong with killing an embryonic human being, and yet he says in this speech that "scientific decisions" should be "based on facts, not ideology". I won't call this hypocrisy, since he may simply not know what he's doing, but his words and actions are certainly inconsistent.

There's a further insult to pro-lifers hidden in this speech. He says, "with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided". What perils does he mean? It sounds as if he's saying that the ethical objections can be handled by applying proper guidelines and oversight, but it's hard to see how that would be unless the proper guidelines and oversight would prevent the killing of any embryos for the purpose of deriving stem cells, and that's exactly the policy he's trying to remove with this executive order. So it's as if he wants people to get the impression that proper oversight and guidelines will avoid all the objections being raised against this research, when in reality the only way to have guidelines and oversight of that nature would have been to retain the Bush policy, which was already the ingenious middle way between the two extremes, one that recognized the value of the research while not allowing further human organisms to be destroyed. Now President Obama wants to claim that spot by abandoning Bush's middle-ground view and going for the more extreme view that refuses to recognize any of the moral objections of a sizable minority of the American populace (something like 41% according to one poll).


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The Obama Administration has signaled that it will rescind the Bush Administration's executive order providing for freedom-of-conscience protection for health care workers who seek to refrain from activity they consider immoral. The motivation for this, according to the article, is that existing laws already provide some of the intended protection, and what the newer executive order does add might be unwelcome. The only examples given of what's unwelcome is that it would allow health care workers from refusing to take part in certain activities that might prevent abortion, such as providing information about contraceptives.

The question seems to be whether it's worse to do (1) something that has a negative consequence in making it more difficult in certain circumstances to find health care workers who won't abstain or (2) requiring people to do something they consider immoral. This should be a no-brainer for anyone who isn't a consequentialist. It's much worse to allow the unwelcome consequence than to perpetuate immorality yourself, and it's pretty downright evil to force people to do something they consider evil just because you would prefer a certain result that they might also prefer.

So this explanation won't fly. I'm curious to hear if they have anything else to offer, since I know President Obama has a track record of offering a multitude of contradictory explanations of his controversial acts, so I know he's creative with this kind of thing, but I'm having trouble seeing a motivation for this that a reasonable person could actually have.

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The following statement is both ambiguous and so obviously ambiguous that it should hardly bear mentioning:

I want President Obama's agenda to fail.

This could be used in several kinds of circumstances, including ones where I might say any of the following:

1. President Obama has a certain agenda whose goals I disagree with, and I don't want him to achieve the goals that I want to avoid.
2. President Obama has a certain agenda whose methods I disagree with, and I don't want him to use those methods to achieve the goals he and I both agree to be good, even if I would want those goals to be achieved.
3. I don't want President Obama to have goals that would achieve good.
4. I don't want President Obama's goals to be achieved, no matter what those goals turn out to be, even the good ones, merely because they happen to be his goals.

So RNC chair Michael Steele comes along and says something that denies 3 and 4, and when pressed on the details he endorses 1 and 2. Popular conservative entertainer talk show host Rush Limbaugh around the same time says 1 and 2, and when pressed for details he denies 3 and 4. Aside from a small disagreement about how to say things and what constitutes the kind of cordiality that it's best to have toward the President of the Unites States, there isn't any real substantive disagreement here, and neither person involved thinks there is. So why do I keep hearing about this? There really is nothing to see here.

There's a movement right now in the American Philosophical Association to prevent schools that have a code of conduct restricting sexual behavior to within heterosexual marriage from advertising in the main job market publication of the field, which is run by the APA.

Before I look to what I think is the key moral issue here, I want to make a few things clear. One is that the current APA policy allows de facto discrimination on the part of participating institutions. The proposed change would mean the APA is actually engaging in discrimination, because they would be excluding schools with a statement of faith or moral code of a certain sort. If you have a choice between allowing someone else to engage in de facto discrimination and engaging in discrimination yourself, then other things being equal you ought to do the former. Aside from pure consequentialists, most philosophers should be willing to count that in favor of retaining the current practice, other things being equal.

The second is that the discrimination in question is merely de facto, not facial. I've seen people calling it facial discrimination, and it's plainly not. This distinction is found in legal discussions, including court decisions going all the way up to the Supreme Court. Facial discrimination is basically discrimination that wears its discrimination on the surface or on its face. Facial discrimination on the basis of race is discrimination for the obvious reason of the person's race. De facto discrimination, on the other hand, is simply an effect of diminishing the likelihood of inclusion by someone of the group in question. A policy of giving priority to people you know when you hire a new employee has the effect of giving white employers more likelihood of white employees, and since white employers are more often interviewing for top jobs you will see a racial effect given that people's friends more often than not are disproportionally one's own race compared to the percentages in the general population. Courts have consistently refused to tolerate de facto discrimination claims as legally problematic for obvious reasons. There has to be intent to discriminate on the basis of race for a race discrimination claim, and it pretty much has to wear it on its face.

In this case the kind of discrimination we're dealing with is not sexual orientation discrimination on its face. The discriminating element is a choice to hire people who share one's views and/or practices. These schools are hiring only those who will sign a statement of faith or conduct that includes either the view that same-sex sexual relations are immoral or a commitment not to engage in such practices. This will indeed certainly have a disproportionate effect of eliminating gay people more than straight people, but it's not discrimination according to sexual orientation. It's discrimination according to moral viewpoint or behavior.

Third, some people in this discussion are simply insisting on consistency with the APA's existing policy on discrimination. They want the APA to change their discrimination statement if they're going to allow these institutions to participate. If these people are being honest, then they wouldn't mind one way or the other if the APA (a) stops allowing these schools to participate or (b) removes their language against discrimination from their official stances. I tend to doubt that this is a very large group who care only about consistency. I suspect most of the people signing this thing are advocating just (a) and would disapprove of (b). But I think those making the consistency argument should not use it alone to favor (a) over (b).

But I don't think any of those concerns gets to the heart of the central moral issue here. The main difficulty I see is that the APA has to decide between (1) allowing schools that de facto discriminate and (2) enacting their own discriminatory practice. They need a clear argument why their own discrimination would be much less bad than merely tolerating someone else's. I think we in fact face the opposite situation, but that's what's going to take some argument. The rest of the post is my reasoning for that claim.



The 266th Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at C. Orthodoxy. 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 the Christian Carnival archive.
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:

U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since Jan 2009: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Quebec, South Carolina
Not seen since Dec 2008: Oregon, Utah
Not seen since Nov 2008: Hawaii, Mississippi, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

I somehow forgot to do this a month ago.

U.S. States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since Dec 2008: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah
Not seen since Nov 2008: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: Puerto Rico, New Brunswick



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