September 2009 Archives

The District of Columbia was ticketing people for parking in their own driveways, and apparently this was actually legal (at least there was a law that provided for this; I'm not sure whether the courts would find it constitutional). I don't know if this is still going on, but it sounded like a hoax when I first heard of it.

David Boies, Al Gore's lawyer in Bush v. Gore, and Ted Olsen, George Bush's lawyer from the same case (who was also Bush's first Solicitor General) are working together to try to get judicial declaration of same-sex marriage at the federal level. Olson, to be fair, is not advocating the kind of policy-preference right that more liberal lawyers and judges often see in the Constitution and that he has consistently argued against his entire career. His argument doesn't even assume that there is a right to marry. It just relies on the fact that our court system recognizes a right to marry and concludes that it ought to be applied to gay couples as well as straight couples if we're going to be in the business of applying such rights. (However, their argument does seem to assume that couples as couples and not just individuals have rights, or else it assumes what an Equal Rights Amendment would have provided but didn't when it never passed.)

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to reinstate the draft during the Bush Administration and then voted against the bill (almost no one actually voted for it, which was what he had expected). I thought it was strange when Republicans kept pushing a marriage amendment that they knew they didn't have enough votes to pass, but it's well beyond that to waste government time and money by pushing something you don't even want passing to begin with.

Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges are brothers, and Lloyd Bridges was their father. Beau I can understand. But Jeff? I wouldn't have expected it.

All the miscreants who linked the phrase "miserable failure" to President Bush's biography had succeeded in making it the top website in Google for that expression. I was sure this was a joke when I first heard about it. It was pretty quick to verify, though. It had less skepticism when I heard that miscreants on the right had done the same with getting John Kerry's senate bio at the top of searches for "waffles".

Jeremiah Wright, whose heterodox, anti-white language makes him sound as if he doesn't think white people can be genuine Christians, actually has white members actively ministering in his congregation, sometimes even occupying leadership roles. (I don't think that excuses his rhetoric, which I think still counts as heterodox divisiveness, but he seems not to mean what he says.)

Philip Pullman wrote an entire scifi/fantasy series (His Dark Materials, whose first novel is The Golden Compass) out of an anti-religion and particularly anti-Christian agenda. When I first heard this, I thought it must be an exaggeration and that it probably just had some anti-religious elements throughout, but it turns out as the series develops that the agenda is far more central to the books than at first it appears. Pullman has even portrayed it as his remedy to the Narnia Chronicles, which he thinks call good evil and evil good. (I happen to think he failed in some crucial ways at what he was seeking to accomplish, but I wanted to post on that at some point separately, and I just haven't gotten around to it. Finishing up this post, which I started weeks ago but didn't have enough items to finish, has reminded me that I had wanted to do this, so maybe I'll get to it soon.)

Two days after his big announcement revoking President Bush's stem-cell policy, President Obama signed into law the big budget bill for the year, including a provision that prevented any funding from being used for embryonic stem cell research. I was especially skeptical about this, and it took me a long time and some hard Googling to find enough information to confirm it, but it does seem to have happened.

The Obama Administration's original discussion suggestions for his speech to school kids on September 8, 2009 really did ask kids to write about how they could help Obama, but they later changed it to ask about how they could be responsible. This was especially surprising given the actual content of the speech, which was mostly politically neutral. Why would they then ask how kids could help Obama when the thrust of the speech was just calling them to work harder in school and to be responsible? The original question therefore puzzles me a little unless he changed the speech too, which we have no evidence of (and the official explanation that the revision was what they had meant all along is completely implausible).

You can't help out your neighbor in Michigan by putting their kids on the bus for them every morning without a license to operate a daycare business.

Christian Carnival CCXCV

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The 295th Christian Carnival is up at The Evangelical Ecologist.

Justin Taylor posted a video of Tremper Longman discussing Genesis 1 and the historicity of a real person named Adam. His main claim seems to be that we shouldn't insist on the text requiring an actual historical person to have existed and that it's an overly literalistic interpretation that requires that. I read through the comment section, and I think a lot of people are making some mistakes both in interpreting what Longman is saying and in what it implies about his view of scripture.

Several points seem to me worth emphasizing.

1.Longman has denies neither plenary inspiration of scripture nor inerrancy. What he has done is deny a view that many people here take to be implied by (a) inerrancy or the plenary inspiration of scripture together with (b) a certain view of what Genesis 1 and/or other texts of scripture, when interpreted correctly, actually teach.

2. If Longman is incorrect about the matters (b) describes, then his view is compatible with inerrancy but incompatible with the correct interpretation of scripture. But lots of people have views incompatible with the correct interpretation of scripture, and we don't claim that they are therefore denying inerrancy. Do continuationists claim that cessationists are denying inerrancy (or vice versa)? No! They simply disagree with their interpretation of scripture. It would be another thing to say that a text really means something but that what it says isn't true. The Fuller Seminary view of scripture allows for that. Longman's doesn't.

3. Longman didn't actually say that Genesis 1 should be taken in such a way that there was no single Adam. What he said is that we shouldn't insist that it must be. He also didn't say that the same is true of other passage of scripture. It's possible, for all he said, that he thinks Genesis 1 doesn't necessitate a single Adam but other parts of scripture do. I get the sense from his language that he's more interested in recognizing that people can accept inerrancy and accept the conclusion of the consensus of science than he is at arguing that we ought to take any particular view of how to interpret Genesis 1.

He does say that insisting on the traditional interpretation is overly literalistic, but he doesn't actually go as far as saying that merely taking it that way is overly literalistic. He says that insisting on taking it that way is overly literalistic. There's a difference. One is insisting on keeping the borders of inerrancy intact rather than confusing them with heremeneutical issues. The other is insisting on a certain interptretation of a certain passage. He doesn't in this video do the latter. I'd have to hear more from him to know his full view, therefore, but I see no insistence that there was no single Adam. We ought, at least, to keep that in mind.

4. There are ways to fit the non-individual approach to Adam to the other texts people are citing. It does mean a somewhat unnatural reading of a few statements (such as Paul's comparison of the one man Adam and the one man Jesus), but it's possible to take those statements as true while not referring to an actual one man Adam but to the one man Adam in the Genesis account. I don't think this is the most natural way to take either the Genesis narratives or Paul's statement, but it's possible to take the Genesis narratives as true in the sense parables are true and Paul's statement as true in the same sense that it's true that the Good Samaritan helped the man that other passersby ignored. It's true that the Good Samaritan did this. It's just truth within a story. The character in Jesus' parable did that. It's just that he was telling a parable and not implying the existence of a real person who did what the Good Samaritan did.

Someone could take Genesis' early chapters in a similar way, teaching about how we are all fallen and how we all do what Adam and Eve did, thus in NT terms taking there to be an explanation of why there's a need for a savior, without believing there was a real individual person whom the Bible calls Adam and a real individual person whom the Bible calls Eve. So the other passages that Longman doesn't discuss don't necessitate denying scripture in other places. The fact that he only mentions Genesis 1 doesn't mean he'd have to say that someone holding the view he wants to make room for (but doesn't seem to endorse) is denying some other part of scripture. It just means he didn't address those other passages, and a fuller presentation of such a view would have to do that.

So, short of further information, I'm not seeing any justification for some of the claims I've seen in the comment section of Justin's post. Longman doesn't deny inerrancy or the plenary inspiration of scripture. He doesn't endorse the view he's making room for and doesn't say the traditional view itself is overly literalistic but just says that insisting on the traditional interpretation as the only possible one is overly literalistic. He doesn't comment on other passages but presumably could, and it's not as if there are ways to fit such a view with the rest of scripture without denying inerrancy. There's plenty of room for arguing about whether such a view is the best way to take various texts, but there's no room in my mind for claiming that this approach is a denial of a high view of scripture itself. It's just a denial of common interpretations that, together with a high view of scripture, would lead to the view of a historical individual Adam.

Christian Carnival CCXCV Plug

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The 295th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at The Evangelical Ecologist.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:

Every once in a while I run into someone criticizing the Bible because it contains some depiction of someone doing something immoral, usually when the text never endorses that act or even if it's clear from the general context that the narrator considers the act downright evil. For example, Richard Dawkins objects to the story of Jephthah's rash vow, that if God gives him victory he'd sacrifice the first thing coming through his gates to greet him as he returns home, only to be greeted by his daughter, so he sacrifices her. His reason for objecting? Well, Jephthah did something obviously wrong. So the Bible must not be a good guide to immorality.

As has been said many a time, Dawkins would fail an introductory philosophy or religion course if he submitted materials from his book or similar quality work for such classes. This idea that the mere inclusion of an immoral act in a narrative somehow makes that narrative immoral is downright crazy. No one really believes that. Murder mysteries would suddenly because evil, for instance, because a murder does take place in them. You couldn't have crime-fighting stories of any sort, because those would contain evil acts to be fought against.

Nevertheless, despite this idea being absolutely ridiculous, it apparently comes up in contexts that have nothing to do with the Bible. There's been a campaign against the forthcoming Stargate Universe, the third (and I think what may well be the best) series in the Stargate franchise. Darren Sumner of Gateworld has an excellent discussion of what these objections are and why they fail completely.

Aside from the fact that it's pretty dumb to criticize a show you haven't even bothered to wait to see when you have at best partial information, the argument itself seems silly. It's been rumored that there will be some temporary body-switching, with the consciousness of one person controlling the body of someone else in a different galaxy (which the Stargate franchise has done several times before), only this time the controlling parties will have sexual encounters using other people's bodies. That raises obvious moral questions, in particular if the owner of the body in question didn't consent to have their body used this way. But merely depicting them something doesn't imply endorsement, and it's almost certainly true (given what I know from the Stargate writers) that they will want us to question whether this is ok, again assuming no consent (and we haven't been told if there will be consent to use each other's bodies this way by mutual agreement, which for all I know will be part of the arrangement).

The claim (see the comments) is that it's rape, and they shouldn't be depicting it. Well, we don't know if they'll be depicting it. But they do depict rape on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or at least they sometimes come close enough. They did depict rape on Battlestar Galactica. There were people who objected to the latter, but I never understood why the mere depiction of rape, especially when it's absolutely clear that the people doing it are being downright evil, is somehow wrong. It was, in that case, an easy way to show the morally degenerate state of the Pegasus crew under Admiral Cain's command. The Galactica crew were certainly not perfect, but the Pegasus crew had gone well over the edge to true evil. That scene made that abundantly clear, and it was good storytelling.

The difference here, as some commenters in that thread point out, is that main characters carry this out. But main characters can be morally flawed in a good story. They can even be pretty evil. Why is it immoral for a storyteller to have a main character do something as bad as raping someone? I see no argument for this claim anywhere in any of these discussions.

But comparing these two kinds of fallacious criticisms at least helps me understand that such shoddy thinking isn't present just among those seeking to have any argument, no matter how bad, against the Bible. Those who want to have any argument, no matter how bad, against a forthcoming TV show will resort to the same tactics. So maybe this isn't a problem just among those who want to attack Christianity, the Bible, or religion. It occurs much more generally than that.

The following two claims are clearly and obviously compatible:

(1) There are people who oppose President Obama and everything he does, in part because they can't stand the idea of a black president.
(2) The vast majority of opposition to President Obama's policies is because people simply oppose his policies.

I'm not entirely sure why so many people, including a former President of the United States and the current Speaker of the House, should think the first fact implies the denial of the second.

I've long argued that it's counter-productive for those who oppose racism to throw racism charges around when there's no good evidence of racism, especially when there's plenty of reason against it. If a particular racism charge is incorrect, it does no good to make it and causes much harm. People who regularly get accused of racism when they know full well that it's not remotely true are right to get upset and to think those who are making the charge have no good reasons to make it. They will tend to assume, then, that whenever there's a racism charge it must be manufactured. They'll be likely to think genuine charges of racism are similarly invented. They'll think we've moved beyond racism and that we no longer need to worry about racial problems.

This is in fact what many conservatives have wrongly concluded from the election of President Obama. If Democratic leaders insist on making obviously false charges of racism against a very large group of people (those who oppose the president's policies, when something like 46% of voters voted against him), it won't be surprising if it just feeds into the false picture many are trying to present that there's no more racism to fight against except the racism of the left accusing so many white people of being racists merely because they happen to be white but oppose someone who happens to be black. In other words, it feeds into the false narrative that the only racism that remains is anti-white racism.

People who voted for President Obama who have since decided that they did not get what they thought they were going to get (as is true of many of the protesters) are not the sort of racist who will oppose him for his being black, no matter what he does. Yet that's exactly what's being claimed by President Carter and Speaker Pelosi.

There are plenty of people who would oppose anyone who would expand the federal government at such massive levels and at a cost that will be impossible to pay for who then attempts to transform the health insurance industry in significant ways that will have unpredictable effects while denying that the effects reasonable people might worry about are at all possible. Yet President Carter and Speaker Pelosi are again insistent that there cannot be such people, because the only motivation anyone could possibly have for resisting such a reworking of the private enterprise of health insurance is because of racist opposition to the person proposing it, who happens to be black.

Christian Carnival CCXCIV

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William P. Alston (1921-2009)

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I heard late last night about William P. Alston's death earlier in the day, strangely not through any departmental channels but through a friend who never met him. He was one of the professors I've most respected in my entire academic career. He wrote his dissertation with Wilfred Sellars on the work of Alfred North Whitehead but spent most of his career on philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, and epistemology. Along with Alvin Goldman and Alvin Plantinga, he helped spearhead the externalist/reliabilist revolution in epistemology, a tradition that I think took things in the right direction. He also was one of the most important figures in the revival of philosophy of religion in the last four decades from a point where it had become looked upon as a joke except to reject traditional religious views to a point where some of the most important philosophers today are Christians or other theists. Alston himself was not a Christian when he began his philosophical career, a path shared with several other notable Christian philosophers (Norman Kretzmann and Peter van Inwagen come to mind).

It was always encouraging to me to think about how successful he was in philosophy given his personality and philosophical temperament, which I think are similar to mine in a number of ways that I'm not like most of my philosophical colleagues. He wasn't a system-builder. He wrote about what he had something to say about but wasn't trying to put together a comprehensive philosophical view on every issue he could have something to say about.

Most of his work didn't involve coming up with brilliant views on cutting-edge issues that no one had ever thought of before (although I think there are a few occasions of that in his work, especially in his most recent work in epistemology). He tended to favor traditional views, sometimes so traditional that the majority in philosophy had left the view so far behind that they considered it a joke until people like him came along to disabuse them of such notions by defending the views in novel ways.

Some of the most important philosophical figures are noteworthy for one or both of those reasons (system-building and novel views). Alston, however, filled a role of simply doing good philosophy, often in small but important details. He might see a fallacious argument that was nonetheless popular and apply an important distinction, perhaps one known to the medievals but often ignored by contemporary philosophers, to show why the argument fails. He found elements of competing views that might be compatible and explained why a moderating position might be better than either original view. He applied new arguments in epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, or metaphysics to some problem in philosophy of religion to show why a new trend in a completely different area makes Christian belief more favorable (e.g. his application of functionalism, a recent view in materialist philosophy of mind, to explain how language about God can be literally true even if not used in exactly the same sense as the same terms are used for us).

Christian Carnival CCXCIV Plug

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The 294th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Codex Blogspot.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:

In the opening verses of Judges 3, there's an apparent contradiction:

1 Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. 3 These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4 They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. 5 So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6 And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. [Judges 3:1-5, ESV]

Verse 2 seems to say that the only reason God allowed some Canaanites to remain in the land and not be destroyed is so that future generations of Israelites who weren't part of the conquest would learn warfare. Verse 4 seems to say that God allowed the nations to remain in the land as a test for Israel of whether they would follow the Torah or revert to the Canaanites' ways.

There are those who conclude that these two verses must have been written by two different authors who had conflicting agendas, and somehow and for unfathomable reasons they got combined by some idiot who couldn't tell they flat-out contradicted each other. If you thought ancient writers or editors were either stupid or unconcerned with telling a coherent narrative, then you might be attracted to such a theory, but most decent literary interpretation tries to make sense of the text rather than trying to read it in the least charitable way possible. So it would be nice to find an explanation that doesn't make the author or final compiler look like a complete dunce.

I think the apparent inconsistency disappears if you think of learning warfare not as learning how to fight (which doesn't seem to be the sort of thing God ever emphasizes in the Bible anyway and wouldn't matter if there were no enemies anyway) but rather as knowing the experience of being at war. Why would God want them to have the experience of war? Verse 4 explains that. If this is right, then verses 2 and 4 aren't providing contrary explanations but are emphasizing different aspects of the same explanation. It may not be the most natural interpretation of verse 2 if that verse were taken in isolation, but these other factors should count for something.

Christian Carnival CCXCIII

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The 293rd Christian Carnival is up at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

Rey Reynoso wrote a post a few months ago on Christians and civil disobedience that I'd wanted to respond to in a post of my own, but I never did. I wanted to put a link up to it before it gets too far distant in time, even if I can't respond in depth.

The one thought that I will say is that I think Rey has an interesting proposal, but I don't think it gets around the Rosa Parks problem. The gospel wasn't at stake for her, so I think on Rey's account she still comes out as immorally violating the law. That's the biggest problem case for the Christian view of submission to authorities, since so many people think what she did was not just good but heroic. But I do think the biblical view is that it was wrong, despite being well-intentioned. (The second-biggest case I can think of for contemporary Americans is the American Revolution, which I also think was immoral on biblical grounds but is certainly supported by most Christians in the U.S.)

The 293rd Christian Carnival will be hosted this 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:

August License Plates

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The students are back in town. That and a trip to NH filled some states I hadn't seen in a while, but several dropped out too.

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

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

Not seen since July 2009: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon
Not seen since June 2009: Mississippi
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since March 2009: Montana, British Columbia
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

On March 11, President Obama held a press conference that got much attention, during which he announced his executive order that he claimed rescinded Bush's so-called ban on embryonic stem cell research. The discerning knew that there was quite a bit of dishonesty in that press conference, including how the media described it. I discussed several problems in his announcement at the time, so I won't repeat all that. It did seem to me to be excessively unfair and insulting to pro-lifers, and he engaged in several instances of historical revisionism at Bush's expense that struck me as underhanded and deceptive.

Yesterday I discovered an excellent summary of the timeline on the general issue of stem cell research. A couple facts stand out as too-often ignored. It was actually President Clinton in 1996, not President Bush in 2001, who began the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (there was never a ban on the research, just federal funding of it). It's true that Clinton did announce at the end of his second term that he wanted to change that and was expecting soon-to-be-president Gore to change that policy, but there was never actually any funding during Clinton's presidency that Bush did away with, as the common myth usually has it. Bush didn't restrict funding that was already there. He actually loosened the restrictions by providing funding for the 21 lines of existing stem cells from already-destroyed embryos, funding that had not been available under Clinton. There was never any ban on embryonic stem cell research or on destroying embryos, but Clinton did ban federal funding on any such research, and Bush weakened that ban by allowing some funding for already-existing stem cell lines.

That was all just a fact-checking reminder, since none of it was really news to me. But there was one piece of information that completely surprised me. After this much-touted press conference that the White House and the media had presented as a return to the 21st century after eight years in the stone age, President Obama did indeed sign the executive order that opened up funding for new lines of embryonic stem cells. However, he signed a bill two days later that undid his own executive order, at least with respect to this year's funding from the main spending bill Congress passed.

When I first read this, I immediately wanted to find something to verify it. It was incredibly difficult to find an actual news story on it, since the mainstream media either suppressed it or never got the information on it. The one news story I could find was from a partisan organization, but it does give chapter and verse for where to find the language in the bill that does indeed do exactly what the story says it does. It's in Title V, section 509 of the Omnibus spending bill (page 128 of this PDF; it appears in full here). It repeats verbatim exactly the section that since 1996 has appeared in every such spending bill under President Clinton and President Bush. This bill therefore does seem to prohibit what Obama's executive order sought to do, and the president signed the bill into law a mere two days after issuing the executive order with such fanfare. Of course, since it appeared in spending bills during Bush's administration, I'm not sure how he got away with the stem-cell funding that he implemented. Wasn't that therefore illegal? Or was the money provided by a separate act of Congress?

I'm not going to speculate on whether President Obama knew what he was doing and if so why he did it. It may have been an instance of negligence in knowing what he was signing, or it may have been an instance of incredible deceit in making a big deal about a big change that he knew he was going to undermine almost immediately. The former seems much more likely to me given the president's officially-stated views and other actions related to this. But it does seem to be true that it happened, despite my initial skepticism upon reading this, and it does raise similar issues for Bush's executive order permitting more limited funding for embryonic stem cell research, although for all I know he never intended funding to come from the big spending bill each year and so signed it willingly. (I know that's not true of Obama, who did seem to expect this bill to provide funding for embryonic stem cell research. His statements that very week did give that impression.) This one's going in my upcoming post on truths that I at first thought must be myths.

Update: On second thought, this probably wasn't an issue for Bush, since it doesn't prohibit funding for stem cell research on already-existing lines of embryonic stem cells or on stem cells derived from other methods. I believe Obama has revoked the funding for both of those, so it's more of a problem for him, who only wanted to fund research that actually destroyed embryos in the process, and this bill prevents any of these funds from being used for such research.

Christian Carnival CCXCII

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The 292nd Christian Carnival is up at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus...

President Obama and a lot of other fans of the legislation Congress has been working on for health-insurance reform have consistently insisted that there's no plan in the works to have abortions paid for by federal tax money. In his latest volley, the president called pro-lifers' claims to the contrary not true, even a fabrication intended to "discourage people from meeting ... a core ethical and moral obligation."

It's taken them too long, but has finally chimed in on this issue to confirm almost everything the pro-life side has been saying. Just because it doesn't say the word 'abortion' in the bill doesn't mean it won't cover abortion as part of reproductive health. Given the history of what that term has been used to mean, it almost certainly would be used for that and certainly could be used for that. It doesn't technically mandate such coverage, at least in current forms, but it's hard for me to believe that the people who keep calling this charge a lie are telling the truth when their main argument is the absence of the word 'abortion'. It took the Hyde Amendment to prevent government funding for abortion in the current system. Why wouldn't it take something similar in a new plan that has no such ban?

Now those who think there is a moral obligation for a government health care program to cover abortions should have the freedom to pursue such a policy. But in our political system the way to do that is to propose it openly and not deceive people into thinking something they might support is something other than what it really is. I suspect those who see that as a moral obligation have realized that they can't get it passed if they're honest. So they think the obligation to do it outweighs the obligation to be honest with the voters about what they're doing.

Update: Serge observes something else that's important here. Unless we're going to be so anti-feminist as to define pregnancy as unhealth, the explicit motivation for this bill doesn't support including abortion and indeed undermines it. Starting from the premise that we have a moral obligation as a society to provide basic health care for everyone, then you might think it follows that we ought to treat all illnesses and have the top 10% of earners pay for most of it. But it doesn't follow that such a moral obligation could include something that isn't about health at all. Some do see such a moral obligation with abortion, but if so then it isn't about health care. You don't generally make a pregnant woman more healthy by aborting her pregnancy, even if you might want to argue that it has other benefits. So health insurance reform should not make it even possible that money earmarked for health care should go to something that isn't about providing for someone's health.

So I've listed ten myths that I at one point just believed when I first heard them, even if in some cases it was only when I was pretty young. I also wanted to put together a list of myths that never sounded plausible to me, even the ones I heard as a kid, but that somehow get passed around as if true (and in some cases even get trotted out as if any serious scholar must believe such a thing).

1. KFC changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because they don't use chicken anymore. They use clones of chickens grown without heads, and the U.S. government won't allow them to call that chicken.

2. There's such a person as Santa Claus.

3. The Bush Administration orchestrated 9-11.

4. Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

5. The Pentateuch was compiled over several generations by people with different and conflicting ideologies, and we can reconstruct which ideology is behind which verses or even partial verses with pinpoint precision, according to such tell-tale signs as which name is used for God or whether it happens to involve a negative or positive assumption or conclusion about a certain tribe of Israel. It amazes me how confident scholars can be of this even though no sources have ever been found for such texts, no textual statements in the text we have indicate anything about any such sources, and no two scholars can even agree on which parts come from which sources.

6. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, is a practitioner of Wicca who sought to convert Christians to Wicca by writing novels about magic.

7. Sarah Palin cut funding for teen mothers because of pro-life convictions.

8. George W. Bush attacked Iraq because he believed God told him to.

9. Sarah Palin thinks God directed the U.S. to attack Iraq.

10. Divine foreknowledge and predetermination are incompatible with human freedom and responsbility. Sorry, I suppose I should find something less controversial. How about the commonly-heard line about how Jesus' statement that it's easier for a camel to get through an eye of a needle than for the rich to enter God's kingdom once you know that there's a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle, and camels can get through it, but it's hard. (I once heard someone repeat that false background to Jesus's statement and then say that knowing that changed her life. Somehow. She never explained any further and probably couldn't have done so even at gunpoint.)


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