Jeremy Pierce: September 2006 Archives

Here's another argument from Jorge Gracia's recent book Surviving Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality: A Challenge for the Twenty-first Century. (See here for the first.) This argument (which I should make clear Gracia does not endorse) is against nationality on the grounds that in a nation you have conflicts between national obligations and universal duties to humanity. Special obligations to protect fellow members of your own nation will potentially (and in fact might often) lead to actions that harm or kill members of other nations. According to this argument, then, it's wrong to allow a setting for such conflicts, which means we need to remove the idea of nationality altogether.

Conflicts between general and special obligations occur all the time, and it's not a reason to remove the special obligations. If I have an obligation to provide for my family, that means I have fewer resources to use for any general obligations I have to help out the poor of my community or of the world. If I have a special obligation to defend my son from a violent attacker, that means I might have to harm or kill the attacker. In the first case, this conflict of obligations doesn't mean I should stop thinking in terms of a family in order to prevent the conflict. In the second, the conflict is only illusory to begin with. I have no general obligation not to harm someone who is trying to harm my son, if the harm I do is necessary to prevent harm to my son. I have a prima facie obligation not to harm people, but that obligation is trumped by other considerations when my son's wellbeing is severely threatened by an evil-doer. By parity of reasoning, the same is true of nations and those in nations defending their fellow members of their nation against outside attackers in the conflict is just, and unjust wars are unjust and thus not justified to begin with, so those don't raise a conflict of obligations unless you're in the military, and then your carrying out orders is usally seen as excused because of the nature of military decision-making. I just don't see how this is supposed to count as a consideration against the existence of nations or the idea of nationality at all.

Roman Catholic Merit

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I was talking with a philosopher friend of mine who is Roman Catholic about the differences between Catholic and Protestant views on salvation and justification, and he said something that I'd never heard before. If he's right, this should make the Catholic view much more palatable to Protestants. He explained the Catholic view as follows. Salvation is initiated by a work of God's grace, an unearned, unmerited favor of God. Then we are brought to what Protestants typically call sanctification over the rest of our lives in this world, and at the end God judges the works that his grace produced in our lives to be meritorious. We actually earn our salvation. This comes only through the work of God in our lives, and thus this is what Reformed theologians tend to call monergistic. God does all the work, and we do it only because he is doing it in us. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing it. This involves compatibilism about human freedom and divine sovereignty. Synergism would mean God does part of the work, while we do the rest. That's not the Catholic view. The Catholic position is that God does all of it, and we also do all of it. In other words, the Catholic position on that is the same as that of Reformed Protestants. The only difference is that Catholics think that should count as enough to say we merit or deserve reward.

None of this was new to me, since I've written a great deal on this before. But I was pressing him on why he thought that should count as merit. His answer made a great deal of sense. When God promises something, he bestows on us a right that we wouldn't otherwise have. We now are owed something. He makes it the case that we deserve something. When he says that we will have a reward for doing something, and we do that thing, then he owes us that thing. He gives us the right to it. He makes it such that anyone who fulfills the command in question has earned the reward in question. It's conditional merit, since what makes it merit is that God promised something. It wouldn't be merit without that promise, and God had no obligation to promise it. But given that God promised it, God has an obligation to follow through on that promise and treat the actions in question as meriting the reward in question. Now maybe my friend completely misunderstands the Catholic view, but he's a pretty smart guy with a lot of philosophical training to make careful distinctions, and this is how he understands the Catholic view after having investigated it very carefully. If he's right, I'm not sure Protestants have anywhere near as serious an objection as we might otherwise have thought.

I've been reading Jorge Gracia's recent book Surviving Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality: A Challenge for the Twenty-first Century. I came across a passage earlier today that, while largely irrelevant to my dissertation, caught my interest. Gracia presents a whole bunch of arguments in his first chapter against the notions of race, ethnicity, and nationality. He himself doesn't oppose these terms but simply wants to distinguish among them while acknowledging the role such categories play in reality. But he begins with these arguments to show what he's responding to.

One of the arguments against nationality struck me as particularly awful. When you have nations that aren't under some higher authority there's room for abuse, and there isn't a lot that other nations can do when countries like Saudi Arabia, China, or Cuba violate what everyone else sees as human rights. National sovereignty prevents enforcement of human rights. This is all true as far as it goes (although those who think a just war can be waged on humanitarian grounds will be less affected by this). The argument establishes, then, that this view of national sovereignty prevents nations from being held accountable. But what follows is strange. Gracia summarizes the conclusion: "The argument, then, points out the need to do away with the myth of nationality and to recognize that all humans are equal and deserve an inter-national, rather than a national, government." (Gracia, p.8)

I was following along (aside from the parenthetical issue above) until this point. Just how does making one absolute authority count as removing the potentiality for abuse? Isn't this removing accountability rather than providing more? Local leaders would have less chance of abusing their authority under a worldwide government, but those at the top would have a much easier time of abusing theirs. Abuse at higher levels is often much worse and much harder to deal with. Someone defending nations as good things will need to say more than this to overcome the argument, but what amazed me was that someone might use these considerations for this conclusion. They seem to me to point more toward anarchy than a global government.

Christian Carnival CXLI

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The 141st Christian Carnival is up at A Penitent Blogger.

The BBC has put up some excerpts from Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. I could say a lot about his screed [Update: see Siris for some of that], but one thing struck me as worth a quick post. In the second excerpt, Dawkins takes on the very idea of calling terrorists evil, because I guess he doesn't think it's possible to try to understand why someone does something while calling what they do evil. I guess he can join some in the religious right on that one. Explaining someone's actions and evaluating them as good or evil are two entirely different tasks. Anyway, in that context Dawkins decides he should complain about the phrase "war on terror". He thinks those using this phrase are thinking "as though terror were a kind of spirit or force, with a will and a mind of its own".

One academic I know fairly well has made fun of the president for speaking of evil as if it's a great force that we are at war with, and I think Dawkins has made the same mistake. Dawkins complains of people who take the Bible literally in the first excerpt of this book. In the second excerpt, he makes fun of people in a way that shows that he's taking something literally that was never intended to be a literal statement. No one thinks that Western nations have engaged in a war with some abstract force with a mind of its own. That's not what anyone thinks the war on terror is. It's an example of a very common literary form called metonymy.

But here's what's interesting about Dawkins' statement. I've never seen him make fun of people who engage in a crusade against breast cancer, as if breast cancer is some abstract spiritual force that takes over people's bodies and makes strange things grow where they shouldn't be. I don't see snide remarks against those who engage in the war on poverty, as if poverty is a spirit with a will. I haven't even found any comments on the war on drugs, although I'd be less surprised to see those. Dawkins isn't really serious about this linguistic claim, or he'd be applying it more universally. I think he's simply saying anything he can when it comes to his pet issues, because he knows it can be rhetorically effective among the civilized crowd (i.e. the ones who don't take the Bible very seriously and don't admit that anything is evil once you can explain why people do it). The problem is that he has to sound linguistically insensitive to score such points. I don't consider that a good trade.

Update: Terry Eagleton's review of Dawkins' book is here. I can't do justice to it by summarizing, but he gives the book a real thrashing.
Update 2: Here's another review [hat tip: Trent Dougherty]

In the wake of my internal criticisms of the religious right (which in turn were spurred on by Joe Carter's), Jollyblogger offers some of his own thoughts. I pretty much agree with all of his major points.

Recent Searches

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How will a christian Know if they have met the person they will marry?
That knowledge usually comes with the declaration of marriage at the end of the wedding ceremony.

what does jenna mean?
I don't really know. It might help to know what she said.

penal piercing
I'm not opposed to corporal punishment, but I prefer a smack or a pulling of the ear. Sharp implements probably aren't a good idea when administering a punishment. For those who still don't understand what I'm getting at here, let me make it very clear. You were not searching for penal piercing. You were searching for something much more evil: penile piercing. Perhaps if you spell it right, you won't end up at a post making fun of you but might instead actually find what you're looking for.

will rick warren ever repent
I'm sure he does fairly regularly. Given the human propensity for sin, it may be several times a day.

illegal things to do on halloween
You could rob a bank, download some copyrighted MP3s, or drive through an EZPass lane on a toll road without having an EZPass. You could sell lots of stock in a company that you have majority holdings in because of inside information. You could violate a legally binding contract or park in a handicapped spot without a handicapped tag. You could even go hunting without a license or smoke in a restaurant in a smoke-free state. The list is really endless, but I hope this helps get you started.

Joe Carter has a beautiful post on the religious right that I feel compelled to echo. Joe and I both consider ourselves part of the religious right under a broad reading of that term. We're both political conservative, religious conservative, and evangelical Christians. His post is what follows the 'but' in a "yes, but..." attitude that he frequently finds himself having in response to what many on the religious right have to say.

I especially appreciate his desire to see people on the religious right beginning to recognize that things that are of political importance should not be equated with the primary purpose of Christians, who ought (according to the words of Jesus and several apostles) to consider their primary identity in the kingdom of God, which is the rule of God in the lives of believers in a way that influences society but is not about making people carry the outward trappings of faith without the faith itself. Several ways the religious right leaders express themselves seem to me to contradict the very purpose for God to have believers engaged with non-Christian culture, and sometimes I think actual views (or at least emphasis on certain views and not on others) stands in stark contrast to biblical views or emphases (with homosexuality as the most obvious case, something I wish Joe had said something about, but I'll come back to that at the end).

A couple places I might say things differently (or perhaps you could think of these as my "yes, but ..." back to Joe):

Philosophers' Carnival XXXVI

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Hosea 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.

Duane Garrett's NAC is usually the first place I loook on Hosea. It's toward the more in-depth end of the mid-level commentaries, a little more in-depth than most volumes in the series. It's the most recent of the evangelical works on this book, and I find his judgments to be sane and reasoned yet without dogmatism when the issues are less clear. Garrett has also done Song of Songs for WBC and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (all in another volume), and Joel (in this volume) for NAC. His Rethinking Genesis is one of the more reasonable defenses of conservative views on the authorship of Genesis (and the Pentateuch in general). It's not surprising, then, that he is a conservative evangelical. His strengths include philology and a good sense of the literary features of the book, and he offers lots of detailed excurses on exploring some particular issues in more depth.

Douglas Stuart's WBC is the classic evangelical treatment. It's getting pretty dated now, but Stuart is revising it for publication next year (according to Thomas Nelson). Several reviewers I've read have said they Stuart is their favorite on Hosea. His work on Hosea and Jonah in this volume generally get placed as the best of the commentaries on the five books it treats (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah). He is especially strong on theology but handles other matters judiciously also. One key strength is his tying the prophetic oracles back to covenant blessings and curses in the Torah, with his conception of prophets as enforcers of the covenant. One reviewer wishes Stuart spent more time explaining alternative views and thinks he's a little too willing to emend the MT. Stuart has also written the NAC on Exodus, the Preacher's Commentary (formerly Communicator's Commentary) on Ezekiel, and a commentary on Malachi in the same series as McComiskey's Hosea (see below). He is currently working on a second WBC volume to replace the current one on Micah-Malachi. Stuart is also a conservative evangelical. I don't like the format of this series, but I do think it's easier to read than McComiskey below, and Stuart is usually a clear writer. I look forward to the revised edition, which may well replace Garrett as my first choice on this book. [add link to Thomas Nelson site]

Christian Carnival CXLI Plug

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The 141st Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at A Penitent Blogger. 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. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Idolatry and Isaiah 40-66

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I've been reading through Isaiah, and I've just started the second half of the book (chs.40-66). Contemporary scholarship generally assumes these chapters are not written by the 8th century prophet Isaiah, despite the book's seeming attribution of the book to him. The main reason is that they seem to be about a time much later, the return from exile in the 6th century. Stylistic considerations are also cited, but this turns out to be a bit of ad hoc special pleading, since the same stylistic features are present throughout the first half of the book, and these scholars then pull themselves up on their own bootstraps by insisting that those earlier chapters must also be later additions. At some points this gets even as ridiculous as to minimize the contributions of Isaiah to only a very small component of the overall material even of chapters 1-35. It's taken rather to be the additions of this great school Isaiah must have founded, and thus it gets attached to his book because it's in the Isaianic prophetic school. All this makes me wonder what was so great about Isaiah to have merited this great school attributing all these great prophecies to him if what he actually did was only this tiny amount of material, none of it resembling in content most of the stuff that somehow ended up getting attributed to him.

Suffice it to say that I'm not even close to convinced that Isaiah did not write these chapters. He may not have delivered them as addresses, as he did the earlier chapters in the book, but the argument that he couldn't have written the second half of the book doesn't leave me very convinced, which leaves me taking the text's claim as the most important evidence available, and all the text does is introduce the book as the prophecy of Isaiah, with no new introduction of a new unit with other author information once you hit this second major section.

As I was reading chapter 42 this morning, something occurred to me that I hadn't thought of before.

Drunk Brainstorming

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Since I don't really have the time today (or the ability to focus) for putting a post together out of any of the several things I want to blog about, I'll just share an interesting piece of information I picked up from Karen Jobes's Esther commentary.

Apparently the Persian emperors had a special method of coming up with ideas for imperial policies. They would gather together their closest advisors, all get drunk, and then start tossing out ideas. If they still agreed with the policies after they'd sobered up, they would implement them. This isn't just the way some of their policies came about. According to Jobes, this was their usual method of figuring out how to deal with difficult policy decisions. This isn't unheard of in our day, either. I know several philosophers who come up with their best stuff when drunk. Since they have to wait until they're sober to write it up, I'm sure that allows some good quality control.

Of course, there's also the following corollary. If you have any ideas while you're sober, you should wait until you see what you think about them when you're drunk before implementing them.

Benedict XVI and Islam

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I haven't commented on the recent brouhaha involving the pope and Islam, largely because I've been too busy to put my thoughts together. In the meantime, lots of posts I've read make some worthwhile points, and there isn't really a whole lot I have to say after all of it, but I thought I'd put them all together in the same place.

My first thought was that nothing could even be taken as offensive once you had everything in context, but Jonathan Wilson at the Elfin Ethicist thinks it's a little more complicated than that, mostly because his representation of Islam is inaccurate. Mark Goodacre also thinks it's a little unfair to Islam to say that Islam doesn't embrace reason. My problem with this complaint is that the pope never asserts anything about Islam, as far as I can see. He does quote some people who say that Muslims place God above reason and thus are not limited by it. Nowhere do the people he quotes say that Muslims see reason as bad. The reason issue is his topic, however, not Islam.

Mark puts the quote in context fairly well, and despite my disagreement of his characterization of what the pope was doing, I do very much like his concluding comment: "those who are overreacting to the speech might well wish to demonstrate the importance of reason in their thinking by engaging it rather than caricaturing it." Indeed. It has struck me as especially ironic that those who took issue with his portrayal of Islam as violent (which I don't think he really did, but that's what's being assumed) decided to confirm that very judgment by being violent in response. Does that make any sense?

Christian Carnival CXL

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The 140th Christian Carnival is at Lux Venit.

I've been teaching an introductory philosophy course this semester with a new text for my God unit, Thinking About God by Greg Ganssle. It's designed to be usable for high school or introductory college/university courses, and it's just about the lowest level of detail that I would want to use for this course. I'm supplementing it some with other readings also, but it's nice to spend a lot of time just in one book after using lots of scattered readings in past versions of the course.

One thing that I found really interesting was in the section on the logical problem of evil. The logical problem of evil presents three traditional attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness) and then seeks to derive a contradiction if you admit to the existence of evil (which pretty much all traditional theists will do, and thus it's a problem even if the person presenting the problem doesn't happen to believe in evil, because the theist does, and it's supposed to be a contradiction for theism). Now it so happens that hardly any philosopher today accepts the logical problem of evil as a good argument, for several reasons, but in the process of explaining why Ganssle hits on an interesting issue that I hadn't thought of before. One way some people have resisted theists' attempts to respond to the problem of evil might actually help the theist in surprising ways.

Explaining is Not Excusing

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Jollyblogger and Tim Challies are discussing an argument from David Powlison against social explanations for homosexuality. In particular, they pick on a Christian counselor who explains why someone is a lesbian by pointing to events in her past.

I think there are several reasons to disagree with the basic thrust of this argument, but one pretty ironic one is that many Christians are spending so much effort to deny biological explanations for homosexuality that they're left explaining it in terms of social factors exactly like the case Powlison is rejecting here. Powlison now wants to remove social explanations as well. Why? It seems that Powlison thinks (and David Wayne and Tim Challies agree with him) that giving an account of why something is true is inconsistent with saying that anything could be sinful about the thing you're explaining.

I can't disagree more. This argument seems to me to rely on two fallacies, a category mistake and a false dichtomy, and I think it leads to some very disturbing consequences if we consistently refused to explain sin in this way. I hereby call them to reconsider for the following reasons.

Christian Carnival CXL Plug

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The 140th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Lux Venit. 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. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

The Presumption of Doubt

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About a month ago, I was going to blog about Ben Witherington's Justification by Doubt, but I got distracted, forgot, and it got off the first screen of my blogging file. I remembered it last night as I was going to bed and thought I should post a link to it before I forget again. Witherington points out a very strange standard in mainstream biblical scholarship. It's as if the word 'critical' has become a synonym for the word 'scholarly', when calling something critical actually amounts to speaking of a person or work's willingness to doubt positive claims. Somehow it's become a virtue not to believe anything you see but to think that some more complex conspiracy theory about the text underlies it rather than what might be seen as a more straightforward reading of the only information we have, which is what the text itself says.

Then this skeptical approach is called objective, as if it's less biased to assume from the outset that someone is misreporting the information but without any evidence that there's any deception. I have to agree that much of biblical scholarship is like this, and I cannot see how this constitutes critical thinking in the way that philosophers encourage us to submit our views and arguments to careful scrutiny. It seems to me that the push toward doubt is at least an attitude and plausibly a view, and there ought to be an argument for doing so if it means moving away from what the key evidence we have (the text itself) actually says. Such arguments should themselves be submitted to careful scrutiny, i.e. critical thinking, and they should not simply be presumed. Maybe there are good arguments, and if so maybe we should accept them, but this equation of doubt and skepticism with critical thinking and careful scrutiny seems to me to be a thoroughly uncritical acceptance of a bias.

'Human' as a Noun

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Suzanne McCarthy posts about 'human' as a noun. I'm not sure if I've ever encountered anyone saying that 'human' is not a noun. I consider it to be a strange enough view, given that the word 'human' clearly does gets used as a noun in all sorts of contexts. That's just a fact about the English language, and any dictionary that fails to acknowledge that is simply displaying ignorance. But then people who think some arbitrarily selected body of people can arbitrate prescriptions for what counts as English will come up with all sorts of features of common English that they will declare to be wrong.

While I do think it's a mistake to think 'human' is not a noun in English, I also think there are times when people use it as a noun that sound very unnatural to me. Sometimes it sounds much more natural to say 'person' or 'human being' or to change the syntax so the noun is 'anyone' or 'someone'. This is not because 'human' cannot be a noun but because using it as a noun suggests a contrast with other sorts of creatures. We can talk about what's true of a human as opposed to an ape. It seems strange to say that you went to answer your doorbell, and you discovered a human there. When you say that, it sounds as if you were expecting the neighbor's dog, an ogre, or aliens from another galaxy. Since Suzanne's post was about Bible translations rather than just good English grammar or style, I have to suggest that contemporary translations that use 'human' as a noun need to be careful to do so when it's natural to do so. Since that isn't always the case, other methods might be preferable so as not to give the wrong sense.


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the seven supremecourt names
Right. Did you mean that there are exactly seven names for the Supreme Court? There's officially only one. It's the Supreme Court of the United States (abbreviated SCOTUS). If you meant the names of the justices, then perhaps you should do a recount. The other two might feel left out.

scripture about jesus being illegitimate
Whatever you think about scripure's correctness, there can be no doubt that it doesn't say that. It in fact says the opposite. By stating that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit when Mary was still a virgin, it makes it quite clear that there's no illegitimacy involved.

steve-irwin show-off suicide
I love it when a search based on immoral motives lands on a post that explains exactly what's so evil about those desires.

Alabama prohibits missionaries to speak in tongues
Hmm. I really wonder how this could be true. Not only does it violate the first amendment, but politicians in Alabama tend to be fully aware of and indeed insistent on freedom of religion, at least when it involves anything related to Christianity.

why is the preface to the KJV bible in you and your rather than thee and thou
Do you mean a modern preface or a 1611 preface? A modern preface will generally use modern English. A preface at the time wouldn't likely use the more intimate forms 'thee' and 'thou' for complete strangers.

Christian Carnival CXXXIX

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The 139th Christian Carnival is at Thoughts of a Gyrovague.

Was Steve Irwin a Christian?

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Was Steve Irwin a Christian
steve irwin christian
I've been getting searches like this up to several times an hour (but usually less) since Steve Irwin died, but nothing I said was relevant to this. Maybe those searches will get diverted to this post. I know nothing for sure about Steve Irwin's views on religion. He did, of course, accept current scientific understanding on the process of human origins, which will automatically disqualify him in the eyes of some people who think views on the means and time frame of creation count as the gospel (or, even worse, think evangelism consists of sending creationist tracts to celebrities). But of course plenty of people accept common descent who are genuine Christians.

He did believe in God, or at least he sometimes talked that way, saying, "But I have a gift. God put me on this planet with a mission. My mission is to educate people about conservation." But lots of people believe in God without being Christians, and lots of people speak of God's purpose metaphorically, mostly to suggest that they feel a purpose for their life. Someone in this thread remembers him saying he believed his mom was in heaven and looked forward to joining her, which suggests some sort of Christianlike view of heaven. I can't find any substantiation for him saying this, however. It says it's in the Larry King interview, but I didn't see anything even close to that there.

One piece of evidence against his being a Christian is that they had Buddhist nuns (his term; I don't know the proper term) bless their child in a sort of public baptismal ceremony. I doubt they would have done that in addition to a private Christian service, but it's possible. More likely is that this was all they did in that area, and it's probably not something serious Christians who accept and follow biblical teaching would have done, since this looks strikingly like the kind of pagan temple worship that the early Christians would have considered idolatry.

Update: finally tackles this issue (or at least the issue of the hoax discussed in the comments).

Camel Shadows

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The dark camel-shaped things in this picture are not camels. Look more closely. The light-colored objects just below the dark shapes are the camels. This overhead shot was taken at dawn or dusk, when the shadows were fairly large in comparison to the camels. This is the sort of thing that humans would rarely have the occasion to see.

For more information, see Shadow Caravan at, of all places,

The 139th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Thoughts of a Gyrovague. 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. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

A commenter on the Philosophy et cetera cross-posting of my Moral Pollution post says the following:

I don't feel that embryos are "persons" at all, in fact the only reasons I've seen to be against stem-cell research are religious ones. I admit, I haven't comprehensively studied the issue, but from what I have read, that seems to be the case.

I decided that my response was worthy of a post, which I've cross-posted at Philosophy et cetera. You don't need to know much of the abortion literature to know that this is wrong. All you need to do is pick up any of a number of standard applied ethics anthologies to know the most common argument for embryonic personhood. Most of them contain John Noonan's paper defending the traditional pro-life view, and that is indeed a philosophical argument, no matter how bad you might think the argument is.

How Nerdy Am I?

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I am nerdier than 92% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

[hat tip: Matthew Mullins]

Little League Ethics

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In little league baseball, there's a rule that every kid on the team needs an at-bat, or your team forfeits the game. What if you realize late in the game that you're going to win on score but lose by forfeit because one kid hasn't been up to bat and won't unless you let the other team score a run? This happened in a recent game between the state champions of Vermont and New Hampshire. The Vermont coach decided to let the other team score so they could then get another chance at bat to avoid the forfeit. The NH coach figured this out and told his players to refuse to score. Did the VT coach violate sports ethics? Did the NH coach? See the Ethics Scoreboard for the arguments in each case. I think I pretty much agree with their analysis. [hat tip: Eugene Volokh]

I think this is actually an interesting case of conflicting rules, because it's not just some abstract set of moral rules. These are actual rules that are explict and written down, and those playing the game have agreed to follow them. One clear commitment is to strive to win, and another is to do your best. But way hat happens when striving to win requires not doing your best at the normal game play? Or is it still doing your best because it's doing your best at winning the game? That does seem to me to be the intent behind doing your best. If a strategy at winning means walking rather than hitting a home run, that's not usually seen as a violation of ethics. So why would allowing the other team a run in order for you to win be a violation of ethics? I'm not actually sure if this is a real moral dilemma in the end for the Vermont coach, because it might turn out that fulfilling one of the principles does fulfill the other one in the end, even if it doesn't seem so at first. I do think the NH coach was violating the motivaiton behind the rules and thus violating the spirit of the rule. I'm not sure I agree with all the reasons given, e.g. the NH coach was trying to win but by making the other team forfeit, so it's not strictly speaking true that he was trying to lose, as #3 in the analysis says. It would be more accurate to say that he was trying to win by forfeit via losing by score. Still, I think the general analysis is correct. The Vermont coach did the right thing, and the NH coach responded in way that can't easily be reconciled with fair play.

[cross-posted at Philosophy et cetera]

Christian Carnival CXXXVIII

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The 138th Christian Carnival is at From the Anchor Hold.


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Most people arriving at this site lately have done so in very boring ways, so my long list of interesting searches is getting rather slim, but here are some of the remaining searches that landed here in the last month or two that I found interesting or in some way worthy of a comment.

thomson + even if a fetus is a person, most abortions are still morally permissible
The only ones that would be permissible according to the arguments she gives would be those where the pregnancy resulted from rape or failed contraceptives. I very much doubt that most abortions come from those two scenarios.

why is bush not a utilitarian
Probably for two reasons: he likely thinks pleasure isn't the only good, and he likely thinks consequences aren't the only thing that can be morally evaluated.

human rights abuses stargate atlantis
Do Wraith who are temporarily manifesting only human DNA count as human?

why does kjv have fewer books
I didn't know it did.

how do I know if it is right to marry a person
Well, marrying a person is definitely preferable to marrying anything else.

Moral Pollution

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Some people think the immoral origins of the development of racial terms should count as a reason to abandon racial terms altogether. I don't want to get into the issue of whether racial terms refer to anything, which is one of the major subjects of my dissertation, but I thought it might be nice to run through some thoughts on this secondary issue. I'll begin by asserting that I think this is an extremely poor argument for abandoning racial terms, and it's partly because I think some similar ethical arguments with very different subject matter also fail. These might take different forms, however, so I want to consider three different cases before bringing it back to race.

First, after World War II, scientists among the Allies rejected the use of the results of Nazi war crime experimentation on the grounds that the information had its origins in immoral acts. I think this argument is unfounded, relying on a confusion between two things: actions and the information that those actions happen to provide. The actions were surely wrong. But what can make the information itself bad? There is no plausible notion of moral pollution that can infect mere information without positing some spooky property Moral Pollution that somehow transfers from actions to information. I don't accept any such property. Thus this argument fails.

I want to note that it's a very different argument to say that retaining the information encourages others to do such experimentation. That doesn't rely on the magical property in question. However, it seems implausible that people will think they can get away with such awful experimentation just because information like this doesn't get burned. The scientists themselves were convicted of war crimes.

Guest Blogging

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I'm going to be doing a little guest blogging at Philosophy, et cetera this week. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to cross-post everything here or at Prosblogion as appropriate or if I'll just give Richard exclusive privileges with my posts, but either way I think this will generate some more philosophically-focused posts this week.

This post 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.

D.A. Carson's PNTC is easily my favorite commentary on John. I consider Carson to be one of the most balanced theological interpreters of scripture. Those more skeptical might just think that's because I tend to agree with him, but I think it's because we've independently arrived at similar enough views that I happen to think he's just gotten it right much of the time. This is clearly a favorite among most evangelicals. Carson operates at an academically sophisticated enough level that serious research ought to interact with him far more than actually happens. He defends traditional Johannine authorship as the most likely explanation of the data we have without insisting on it as a point of orthodoxy. His theological perspective is mainstream evangelical and broadly Reformed.

Herman Ridderbos' mostly theological commentary (English translation 1997) is very widely appreciated across the theological spectrum despite its distinctively conservative conclusions. It's a little light on what's usually called introductory matters (i.e. date, authorship, and other issues usually covered in the introduction), but that's because its focus is on the theological meaning of the text. At this task, Ridderbos excels. On some issues, Ridderbos' moderately conservative views come through, but it's not usually front and center. The original commentary was published in two volumes, one in the late 80s and the other in the early 90s. Like other commentaries translated into English, the date might fool you into thinking it interacts with scholarship later than what the author actually had access to. His first volume was prior to Carson's, and his second was shortly after Carson's.

Steve Irwin died today in the process of filming a new documentary on marine life. He was stung by a sting ray in the chest, right next to his heart. Doctors have said that such an injury is nearly impossible to survive, even though people survive stings from them all the time in other parts of their bodies. Most of the reporting on this describes it as a freak accident, because the chances of a sting ray doing something like this are very low. My suspicion is that the chances of dying any time you get in your car might even be higher.

Irwin was widely known as the Crocodile Hunter, whose animal documentaries are unfortunately best known for what they are not. He's been viewed as a danger-seeker who liked to show off by treating very dangerous animals cavalierly. The reality is that he really did know what he was doing. Bloggers are already criticizing him for engaging in the sort of life that would bring on this kind of death, but that sort of attitude is at odds with the great care Irwin took to do what he did safely. Contrary to public opinion, he was not motivated by trying to appear foolhardy. He was emphasizing the danger so that others would not try what he was doing without the kind of training he had.

His primary motivation came through in almost all his productions, and that was not entertainment (though he was very talented at doing documentaries in an entertaining way) but education and awareness of environmental and conservation issues. One of the earliest episodes I saw showed his deep concern for whales that had ended up on a shore and were probably going to die. His love for wildlife and preserving ecosystems always struck me as the real reason he did what he did, starting at the very beginning when he filmed himself catching crocodiles to move them to places where they would not be threatened by poachers. I consider Steve Irwin to have contributed a great deal to the world in terms of education about the environment and awakening those who might not care as much to the importance of conservational concerns. His method of promoting environmental issues is not only far more consistent with careful scientific understanding but also much more effective than the traditional means, and for that I really have appreciated his work. He will be missed.

The 138th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at From the Anchor Hold. 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. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Star Trek TOS Special Edition

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They're not calling it that, but the original series of Star Trek is getting a treatment something like what George Lucas did with episodes 4-6 of Star Wars when he called it the Special Edition. There won't be any deleted scenes added in or anything like that, but it will have new CG effects, stuff added in into the backgrounds, better space scenes, decent planet landscapes, more people milling around in the background in scenes on ships and starbases, and so on. They won't be doing these in order but will instead start with fan favorites. "The Balance of Terror" will be first. That episode introduced the Romulans (and maybe will have decent-looking ships for them now). The only other episode mentioned was "Miri", in which the crew encounteres a planet full of children who age rapidly and die once they reach a certain age.

We already have some sense of what this will look like, including what the ships will be like and what some aliens will look like, since they already did some of this when the DS9 crew visited the TOS Enterprise during the Tribbles episode and then again on Enterprise when the mirror universe Enterprise crew encountered the main Trek universe TOS-era Defiant. We've seen CG versions of that era's ships. The Tholians and the Gorn looked great on Enterprise, and I hope they can do the same thing for other aliens. I wonder if the new Andorian look on Enterprise will lead to some CG changes for these remasters, but it will be hard to do much given that they probably won't recast and reshoot the scenes with new actors. Since they've now fully explained the change in Klingon look, they probably don't need to do any touchups there, but the Klingon ships are in the same category of the Romulan ones, needing a major overhaul to look at all decent.

See TrekToday,, and TV Guide for more.

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[Hat tip: Sam]

The top Vatican bioethicist has spoken out against the new stem cell method that seems to be able to produce embryonic stem cells without killing embryos. [hat tip: Mark Olson] One might expect pro-lifers might be cautious in case the facts are not as they have been presented. Still, this sort of criticism is a little surprising. Is this really the standard Catholic view? It seems to me to be based on very strange reasoning.

As far as the article reports, this is the reasoning. This method relies on in vitro fertilization, which the Roman Catholic Church opposes in general. I understand the argument that in vitro fertilization if immoral as it's often practiced, with far more embryos created than are implanted to be developed. A consistent pro-life view will oppose that practice. But opposing in vitro fertilization in principle? That just seems irrational. The explanation seems to be that in vitro fertilization necessarily replaces conjugal relations in a way that artificial insemination may or may not do so. So artificial insemination can be ok or wrong, depending on whether it replaces conjugal relations. But in vitro fertilization always replaces conjugal relations.

This argument makes absolutely no sense. How many people who engage in in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination do so to avoid having sex? The only people I can think of are single moms who have someone donate sperm without engaging in sex, but I would hope the Catholic church doesn't oppose unmarried people not having sex. The ordinary married couple who uses in vitro methods to conceive is not doing so to avoid sex. They're doing so because sex is insufficient to cause conception in their case, and they're hoping in vitro methods will succeed. That doesn't mean they've abstaining from sexual relations. People do abstain from sexual relations for reasons other than prayer if they're using natural family planning to avoid conception, and that does go against biblical teaching, but that isn't what goes on in the ordinary case of in vitro fertilization. This objection just doesn't make any sense.



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