Jeremy Pierce: November 2006 Archives

This is the the thirtieth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I began responding to the first two of five questions about particular kinds of evil or ways of evil that come up in the evidential problem of evil. This post contains the main responses to the third and fourth questions.

C. Even if God would not restore things immediately, wouldn’t a good God prevent innocent beings from experiencing the consequences of that evil?

Similar things can be said here as with the previous question. The only way to prevent the consequences of evil completely is to prevent the innocent people from even discovering what happened. But that would mean no one would know when anyone else does anything wrong unless they deserve the negative consequences. In effect, this would be a virtual reality for each person in which no one else ever experiences the effects of their actions, but the person doing the evil action experiences things as if the other people did. There are three reasons why we should not expect a good God to do this.

Christian Carnival CL

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The 150th Christian Carnival is up at Brain Cramps for God.

This is the the twenty-ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post presented the evidential problem of evil, including five questions that deal with specific kinds or manifestations of evil thought by some to be evidence against the existence of God. This post begins a series of responses looking at answers to those five questions, starting with the first two.

A. The primary response to the logical problem of evil involves free actions of human beings. What about kinds of evil that aren’t the result of the free actions of human beings?

Two things have been suggested about what is sometimes called natural evil (i.e. evil not caused by human beings). Natural disasters, suffering in nature, and so on may not be the result of free human actions, but it’s possible that they are all the result of free beings. Alvin Plantinga has suggested that perhaps non-human, even non-physical, beings are responsible for all the evil that does not result from human choices. Some people might call these beings fallen angels or demons. Even if we do not consider that possibility likely, it remains a possibility that we cannot absolutely rule out. Should we believe that all such evil is caused by such beings? Probably not, but it remains enough of a possibility for theists that it means there is at least a possible explanation. If there is a possible alternative explanation for the existence of a kind of evil, then the claim that a good God would never be able to allow it seems wrong. There is at least one possible way that a good being would allow such things, and that is if other free creatures do it in a way that it would be wrong for God to stop them (thus mirroring the free human beings response to the logical problem of evil discussed in a previous post).

Some More Searches

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what can I do if someone threatens to blackmail me
Is it possible to threaten to blackmail someone? Isn't it blackmail already once you threaten them? I suppose you can tell someone that you might blackmail them without actually threatening anything in particular beyond that.

Denzel Washington won't even appear on screen with a white woman
Now that's certainly not true. It may be that his love interests are always black, but that's not even close to not appearing on screen with a white woman. Have you seen The Pelican Brief?

abraham lincoln should all men be created equal
Should? Is this about whether God violated some moral obligation by creating us all equal?

who was the prostitue in the bible
Interesting. I suppose I can answer that once I know who the prophet in the Bible was. For that matter, I'd like to know who the king in the Bible was. While you're at it, who was the wealthy landowner in the Bible? Who was the tax collector in the Bible? This could get fun.

false doctrine of tongues speaking is for today
I was kind of hoping that the false doctrine of tongues speaking was for another time so that we could just focus on the true doctrine of tongues speaking. I'm not sure what the idea here is supposed to be, since false doctrines aren't really "for" any time. I guess you could have a temporal relativism according to which doctrines are true for some times but not true for others, but then you wouldn't have false doctrines being true at the same time. So that doesn't really help make sense of this statement.

penal surgery
What kind of crime has surgery as a punishment? Is this supposed to involve taking "an eye for an eye" literally?

Christian Carnival CL Plug

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The 150th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Brain Cramps for God. 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:

This is the the twenty-eighth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post looked at responses to the logical problem of evil. This post moves on to the evidential problem of evil.

Most philosophers have conceded that the logical problem of evil does not disprove theism. That does not stop them from offering a different version of the problem of evil against the existence of God. William Rowe is probably the most prominent philosopher defending the problem of evil today. He calls this version of the argument the evidential problem of evil.

The evidential problem of evil begins with the existence of evil, but it takes a different strategy. It does not seek to disprove the existence of God by finding a contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of God. It simply seeks to show that the existence of God is unlikely given the kinds of evil, the amount of evil, how long evil has gone on, and so on. The facts about evil are that it is a lot more than just human free choices. Even if human free will explains some evil, some evil seems not to be explained so easily that way. Even if there are good reasons for God to allow some evil, is all evil explained so easily? What about cases where a little less evil would have accomplished the same purposes? Do we need to have all the kinds of evil? Did it need to go on this long? Does it need to be as widespread as it is? Do the individual cases of evil need to be as bad as they are?

Searches

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Aids is not a moral issue
No, it's a disease. But does anyone actually think it is a moral issue rather than a disease? Surely that's not the idea. But if you're denying that there are moral issues regarding AIDS, that's got to be false. It's certainly evil to have unprotected sex with someone uninfected if you're infected, for instance. Maybe you just meant that it isn't immoral merely to have the disease, but that's a very different claim from the one you searched for.

Is Vanessa Williams mixed with White
Or is it that she's mixed with black? Isn't there something racist about either way of saying it?

biblical fornication has nothing to do with unmarried sex
The word sometimes translated as "fornication" is more general in its scope than the English word 'fornication'. That doesn't mean it has nothing to do with it. It certainly includes it. It's a general word for immoral sexual behavior, and any Jewish writer of the time would have considered that to include sex before marriage.

logic problem #22
Do you seriously expect to find the answers to the exact problem you've been assigned simply by searching for the number your instructor assigned it as?

why the death penalty should not exsist for the falsely accused
So how often is it that the same jury will both not know that the person is innocent when convicting someone but then know the person is innocent during the penalty phase? Doesn't the question assume that such cases are the norm? Ideally, there's no penalty for the falsely accused. But the process of requiring convictions by jury of peers rather than by an omniscient being kind of allows for false convictions in such a way that we don't know they're false convictions.

Human Embryos are thrown away each year in abortion clinics
Do you mean fertility clinics? What would abortion clinics be doing with embryos?

Christian Carnival CXLIX

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For those who don't know, Michael Richards has gotten in trouble recently for making some pretty racist comments in his stand-up act. His apology on Letterman is also worth watching. There's a bit of it out of context at the end of the first clip, but it's worth watching the whole thing for the full context. The press has been selecting clips from it out of context, in a way that I think masks his general tenor. It takes some offhand comments as if they are the main thrust of his apology.

Now what he did was thoroughly despicable, and to his credit he admits that and has apologized. Some people have been claiming that it's not really an apology, but it most certainly is. He apologized for his actions. John McWhorter thinks it's just a case of his being sorry that it happened rather than the sincere apology that I thought it came across as. Carmen Van Kerckhove at Racialicious thinks the fact that it's just an apology for his actions without reference to what underlying attitudes the words expressed shows that he must have a deep attitude of resentment against black people for having achieved equality, thus preventing him from getting away with lynching them. I'm not sure I agree with either of these claims.

Here's a possible interpretation of his actions and what motivated them that doesn't involve the kind of racist attitudes assumed in those two responses (although it's not free from racism of a different sort). Isn't it possible that he was just willing to use a racial dynamic in a pretty immoral way to say hurtful things whose content he doesn't actually agree with? People do often say hurtful things they don't agree with when they're mad at someone and want the person to feel hurt. I'm not sure how we can rule out that possibility here by assuming that he really does long for the days of segregation and lynching. Maybe he does, but the fact that he said these things doesn't show that he does. It just shows that he's willing to speak as if he does, but that may just be to achieve a hurtful effect in others by relying on a racial power dynamic.

It still makes what he did pretty evil, and it does show that he's able to think of racist words and references at the slightest sign of black people disrespecting his comedy routine. But I don't think it shows that he's literally longing for the days of segregation and lynchings, as I keep seeing people assert (see Carmen's post, the comments there, and the links to other commentary on race blogs). I just think it's a bad idea to attribute certain emotions or views to him that may or may not be true, when there are alternative interpretations that are pretty plausible.

Update: See also Laurence Thomas' comments on this.

Update 2: Laurence has another post, this time comparing Michael Richards with Mel Gibson.

This is the the twenty-seventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post looked at the logical problem of evil, which seeks to show a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. This post now moves to responses to that argument.

The logical problem of evil makes one assumption that theists might not want to give up on so easily. A perfectly good being would in general want to oppose evil, and couldn't an omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything to stop such evil? Actually, the answer isn't so clear. An omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything possible. There are limits to omnipotence. They are not physical limits. They are logical limits. An omnipotent being could not make contradictions true or make square circles. Those are not actions that could be done, and thus a being that can do anything possible could not do them. This is not a real limitation, since there is no such action to be done, and thus God could still be able to do any coherent action.

(One reason why it makes little sense to say that God can do anything is that God would then be able to make true contradictions. If so, then the contradiction between God and evil would not be a problem. God can make contradictions, and thus that contradiction would not be a difficulty for theism. So it is not in the best interests of the person presenting the problem of evil to require that sort of thing of an omnipotent being. For more on this issue, see here and the discussions also at the two cross-posted locations of the same post at Prosblogion and Philosophy et cetera.)

Now it may be true that you can put a coherent description to the following action: God stops the existence of all evil. But that is coherent only if you grant a few things. One way to stop the existence of all evil is not to create. Presumably creating other beings is a good thing, however. Is the world better off with created beings than it is without them? Is it a good action on God's part to create? Most people tend to say yes. But it also seems coherent to describe God as creating in such a way that no one ever does anything wrong. If God could create beings, and those beings could turn out to be perfectly moral beings 100% of the time, then there would be no evil (it would seem). Could an omnipotent being make such a situation the case?

The Logical Problem of Evil

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This is the the twenty-sixth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. My last post finished up a three-post sub-series on the moral argument for the existence of God. I expect to look at the problem of evil for the next six posts. As one of the most common philosophical reasons not to believe in God (the other being no-evidence arguments), I think the problem of evil deserves twice as much time in class than any of the theistic arguments, and since these posts come from my class notes there's going to be a little more detail in these next posts than there was in some of the last few issues in the series.

[Note: The next several posts on the problem of evil are derived in part from discussions in (1) Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press, (2) Daniel Howard-Snyder, "God, Evil, and Suffering" from Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (1999) William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pp.76-115, and (3) Peter van Inwagen, "The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy" (1988) in God, Knowledge, and Mystery (1995) Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, ch.4, pp. 96-115.]

The problem of evil takes two forms, the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil. This post starts the Logical Problem of Evil. In a couple posts, we'll move on to the evidential problem.

The logical problem of evil begins with three traditional features most theists believe are true of God. The logical problem then proceeds with an argument that such a being would never allow any evil. Given that there is evil, there must be no such being. [The most important presentation of the logical problem of evil is J.L. Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence", which was published in the journal Mind in 1955.]

Traditionally, God is held to be omnipotent (or all-powerful), omniscient (or all-knowing), and perfectly good. Since there are no limits to what an all-powerful and all-knowing being could do, such a being could prevent evil. Additionally, a perfectly good being would prevent evil as much as possible. Therefore, a being who has all three characteristics would prevent all evil. But there is evil. Therefore, there must be no such being.The logical problem of evil thus takes the existence of God and the existence of evil to lead to a contradiction. There is no way both could be true, according to the argument.

The 149th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Touring with Virgil. 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:

Grape-Shot

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There's a kind of internet behavior that I find particularly difficult to deal with, but I've never been able to put it into words in a way that really shows how frustrating it is. Mark Goodacre has now done so:

I am finding the comments of the bloggers, as so often, more interesting and thought provoking than the article itself, which is a bit too grape-shot in its approach to want to present a precise and coherent critique of the SBL. There are so many points at which the author simply throws out a grenade and runs away, that it is difficult to choose only a couple of points for comment.

The issues he's dealing with are irrelevant to my point. It's what he calls grape-shot that I'm interested in. I often find that a post I want to comment on, or some commenters in a comment thread I want to comment on, have done something very much like what he's saying here. They'll leave a barrage of nasty little points in grenade-like fashion, leaving their opponent to pick up the pieces. Each point is of the sort that it could take several paragraphs to respond to adequately. What I've found is that those who hang around to see the aftermath will then get mad when you write such careful responses in the comments, saying that they don't have time to read a book. They'll then accuse you of trying to monopolize the conversation. But the grenade-tossing method of argument (if it can be called that) leaves no other way to respond except to let the damage stand without argument, and sometimes that would be immoral. It's a particularly devious kind of behavior, and I wonder if this kind of tactic deserves the name 'troll' even more than some behavior that commonly receives that label. I do like the image of grenade-throwing. That struck me in Mark's description, and I had to record my thoughts on that, if only to have something to link back to when I see people doing this.

Rick Mansfield continues his series reviewing Bible translations, this time with the Good News Translation, otherwise known as The Good News Bible, Today's English Version, Good News for Modern Man, and various other names. (Rick explains the name issue in the post, by the way.)

For other entries in the series, see the entries on the HCSB, NASB, NLT (with an addendum), TNIV, Message, REB, and NJB.

I have three observations about the examples Rick chose to highlight this translation and one picky comment about his choice of language in one a side point. First, look at the Proverbs example he gives and his comment below. I actually noticed the parallelism issue before I got to his comments on it, and I have to say that it bothers me much more than it bothers him. The structural features of Hebrew poetry often do give clues to meaning, and this is a case where the loss of the structure is entirely unnecessary. Exactly why do you need to lose the parallelism to keep the meaning and to put it into modern English? That strikes me as just unnecessary. It's one thing to give up the form reluctantly in order to preserve some aspect of the meaning, as dynamic translations often do, but here I'm guessing they give it up because they think it makes the content clearer. I fail to see how.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

Philadelphia
The Inland North
The Midland
The South
Boston
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

This is actually the first one of these I've taken that indicated where I'm actually from (Rhode Island, but even just the northeast would be good enough). That's probably because it didn't ask about the ways I differ from many people in the northeast but just about ways I'm with the northeast in differing from people in other parts of the country.

I should note that one question didn't have any right answer. It asked about the words 'Mary', 'merry', and 'marry'. You could choose (a) All three sound different, (b) 'Mary' and 'merry' sound the same but 'marry' is different from them, or (c) All three sound the same. The way I learned to talk, 'Mary' and 'marry' sound exactly the same, but 'merry' sounds extremely different. That wasn't an option. I chose (a), because that was better than (b) or (c), since 'Mary' and 'merry' really don't sound anything alike, so much that it struck me as much worse to indicate that. Other than that, this was probably the best accent test I've seen.

[Hat tip: Random Intolerance]

Christian Carnival CXLVIII

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This is the the twenty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why some people think theism serves as the best non-naturalistic foundation for ethics. This post now looks at an objection to seeing God as the basis of morality.

In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, he has the character of Socrates raise an objection to the idea that morality has something to do with the gods. If something is good just because the gods view it as good, the gods could command anything, and it would automatically be right. You don't have to be a polytheist for that consequence. How could God's mere choice be the basis of morality? Are good things good because God says they're good, or does God just declare them good based on seeing their goodness? If they are already good, then doesn't that mean God's choice didn't make them good?

Mandate Inconsistency

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Whether the new Democratic Congress will maintain their control over the legislative branch of government depends largely, I think, on one thing. Will the new Democratic leadership turn over a new leaf in terms of how they run the Congress? I'm not talking about whether they will adopt new policies, ones favored by the Democrats. Of course they'll do that. I'm not even talking about whether they pass new rules at handling corruption. I'm talking about whether they will rule with the iron fist that they have complained about Republicans ruling with for so long. I'm talking about whether they will claim the mandate that they insisted Republicans did not have for so long. If they govern from a moderately left position and do not allow the kinds of restrictions of the minority they've complained about coming from the Republicans, they will show to those who elected them that they have been faithful to that trust.

I'm not sure this will happen. History tells us that whenever an oppressed people manages to revolt against their oppressors, they set up a regime as oppressive as the one they were under, this time against the original oppressors. The same sort of thing can happen politically as well. We started off nicely right after the election, with President Bush and presumed future Speaker Nancy Pelosi (is she really the only Democrat running for the position the way people are assuming when they call her the next speaker?) indicating their willingness to compromise and with commentators talking about how this Congress will be forced to govern from the center given that many of the positions currently occupied by Republicans who lost will in January be occupied by Democrats who are more moderate, some economically and some socially.

On the other hand, the change in leadership will have a hard time satisfying the independent voters who were largely responsible for the Democrats' victory while simultaneously satisfying their base, two groups who want very different things right now. What's worse is that I'm already seeing warning signs from Rep. Pelosi that she is moving more in the direction the base prefers. It remains to be seen whether the tactics the Republicans used to govern the House will continue under new leadership, but on the issues I'm seeing red flags that many might take to be a betrayal of trust.

Searches

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I haven't done one of these in a while, so I've been collecting a huge list.

Someone in Boston searched the Ektopos blogs for the following: "what does it take to make it on one of Jeremy's search posts?". Now the real answer is to search for something really funny or really stupid on Google or some other external search engine and click on it when it turns up my blog. What's funny about this search is that it was the internal Ektopos search engine, which never shows up on my sitemeter. I rarely check those logs except when one of my trackbacks doesn't go through, as happened when I found this search. So I guess I can add a tag onto the end: or you get really, really lucky that I happen to be looking at the internal logs at the exact time you try to get noticed by using an internal search. (I suspect this was my second cousin Danny Pierce, by the way. Danny refused to comment when I mentioned this to him.)

Dis the Amish believe that sex was a sin?
The Amish think sex is one of God's very good creations. Maybe you mean the Shakers. Consider how many Amish are still around after how long there have been Amish people. They don't get very many more Amish by converting people. The Shakers, on the other hand, are a different story altogether. There are only a few of them left, of course.

the bible is sexually immoral genesis 45 -homosexual
I was prepared to make some statement about how what the Bible reports isn't necessarily endorsed, and then I looked at the chapter. What about this chapter even remotely relates to sex?

michael eric dyson argument for anti essentialism
I didn't know he wrote about metaphysics. I wonder if he's aware that Saul Kripke has refuted Lockean and Quinean anti-essentialism pretty handily. Is he a convert to David Lewis' counterpart-theoretic rival to Kripke's view? And here I was thinking my dissertation was supposed to introduce all these political types to some hardcore metaphysics to fill that gap in the race literature.

white women saying she was raped by a black man
I've defended the singular 'they', but this may be the first time I've encountered a plural 'she'.

conservative republicans should kill all minorities
Yes, and I suppose liberal Democrats should kill all our troops too.

This is the the twenty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why naturalistic foundations of ethics seem unsatisfying to many people. In this post we'll now turn to what non-naturalistic accounts of ethics can do and why some take theism to be the best account of the foundations of morality.

How does this become an argument for God? What can someone say about morality if moral truths go beyond the natural world? It doesn't immediate show that theism is true. A few possible accounts of morality remain:

A) Moral truths are beyond nature but have no explanation.
B) Moral truths are beyond nature but necessary. Their explanation lies within themselves.
C) God's nature explains moral truths.

Moral truths have no explanation:

The first view is that moral truths go beyond the natural order. Science can't tell us anything about them. However, this view doesn't have anything additional beyond nature to ground these truths. They're true on their own as abstract principles, part of the very fabric of the universe, but there isn't anything that makes them true. They're just true, although they didn't have to be true. Some see this view as having an advantage over theism because it's simpler and admits to fewer entities.

The SciFi Channel in the U.S. has always shown Battlestar Galactica on Friday nights, at 9pm or 10pm EST. When they stupidly and separated it from its two Stargate lead-ins as a precursor of canceling Stargate SG-1, the ratings began to drop a little for Galactica (although honestly they're still doing fine for first-run cable, as SG-1 had been doing when they canceled it). Now the rumor is that the programmers at SciFi want to move it into a competitive timeslot opposite one of the most popular and best new shows on network TV, Jericho. Michael Ausiello at TVGuide for some reason thinks it "could go a long way in boosting the show's ailing Nielsen's".

I would expect it to do the reverse. SciFi's viewership has long reserved their Friday evenings for these three shows (now with Doctor Who added), and separating the original trio hurt the ratings for both shows. Still, all of them have remained on Fridays, just at different times of the year. Moving one of the shows to another night when people already have something to watch is just going to make it worse. Unless they manage to have it showing on Wednesday only during the mid-season hiatus for Jericho, I just can't see this working to increase the ratings. Even though one show is on the surface supposed to look like science fiction, and the other is set on earth in the near future, there really is a huge similar between the two post-apocalyptic survival-of-humanity stories, with the focus on the things people do in desperate situations and the character development amidst the events usually overshadowing the events themselves. I imagine the same kinds of people are drawn to both shows.

See Gateworld and Dark Horizons for more.

Update: It's going to be Sunday nights at 10pm. That's much, much better.

The 148th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week 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 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:

Christian Carnival CXLVII

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The 147th Christian Carnival is at Attention Span.

This is the the twenty-third post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished discussing the design arguments for the existence of God, and this post begins looking at moral arguments for God's existence.

[Note: These posts on the moral argument are derived in part from discussions in Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God and C. Stephen Evans, "Moral Arguments" in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro.]

According to naturalism, the natural world is all there is. There are subatomic particles, waves, fields, etc. There's no room for God, souls, magical forces, angels, demons, a world-spirit that orders all creation, or anything like that. The natural world known to us through physics (and disciplines building on physics, e.g. chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, history, etc.) is all there is, and we shouldn't postulate the existence of anything else.

How can a naturalist account for morality? Consider what you learn from science. You won't find moral truths. It's not as if there are moral facts out there in the physical world together with facts about brain chemistry or nuclear physics. It's hard to find a place to fit morality in. Many theists think an account of morality that seeks to rely only on the natural world will be inadequate, superficial, or illusory. The deep kind of morality most of us believe in requires denying naturalism in some way.

Consider some particular naturalistic accounts of morality.

The 2006-2008 Philosophical Gourmet Report is now online, for any philosophers who may not have heard yet. Syracuse managed to remain tied at 32 for the third report in a row, despite several major changes since 2002. I was hoping some of our hires would have increased our reputation a little, but I guess it wasn't enough to make a difference.

As usual, there's no list of departments especially good in philosophy of race. I'm sure Syracuse would make such a list. (It usually makes the feminism list because of two people. It should make the race list with three, given that it's a smaller field in general.) I'd be really curious to see how many departments would make the lists for both metaphysics and race. I suspect Syracuse is one of the few that would, which makes it a pretty good place for me to be given that I'm working in the intersection of the two.

I mentioned this back in the early days of this blog, but with yesterday's resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all over the news, I wanted to offer a little tribute by recalling of one of my favorite Rumsfeld moments. Whatever else you think of the guy, you have to admit that he's a very intelligent man who chooses his words with great care. At least that's what I would expect any intelligent observer to notice. But some group called the Plain English Campaign was apparently too stupid to figure this out when they gave him the Foot in Mouth award at the end of 2003, calling the following statement "the most baffling statement by a public figure":

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.

As far as I can tell, there's nothing grammatically wrong with that statement. It makes perfect sense syntactically. It also has pretty clear semantic content, and he even states each point in two different ways just to make sure it comes across correctly. As for its truth, it's even a moderately insightful recognition of a kind of ignorance that we don't often focus on. We need to distinguish between the things we know we're aware of, the things we know we have no idea about, and the things we don't know but think we know. He was admitting that there were things someone might not know but without being aware that they don't know it. What's so baffling about that? It's a recognition that we can be ignorant when we think we know something. Duh.

Anyway, I just consider it a cool achievement to have been awarded the foot-in-mouth award for saying something that's actually pretty insightful, an action that revealed more about their own stupidity than it did about the intelligent comment they were making fun of. And then there's what Scrappleface did with this.

It doesn't do to question a victory of 118,599 votes when you're the losing party and then when your party wins to insist that the other side ought to concede a race with a margin of victory of 6,708 votes, especially when there's a legally mandated recount, absentee ballots haven't yet been counted, and the canvassing of the votes in one precinct this morning shifted something like 1400 votes from Webb to Allen.

Of course, Republican lawyers better not pull an Al Gore here and file a whole bunch of lawsuits. That could amount to a similar party inconsistency.

Theocracy Paranoia

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Ross Douthat has an excellent essay on the theocracy paranoia that's becoming fairly common in certain segments of the left. [Hat tip: Blogwatch] I've always thought any such claims were so far out of touch with political realities and cultural dynamics within evangelicalism and Christianity in the U.S. in general as to be not worth much time, but the frequency and urgency of these claims continues to increase as the plausibility of them continues to decrease. I'm glad someone is bothering to tackle this nonsense, because I don't have the kind of patience with this particular conspiracy theory to put together as comprehensive a treatment. See also the much shorter Rich Lowry piece on the same phenomenon, which contains a couple of the best points from the Douthat article.

Christian Carnival CXLVI

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The 146th Christian Carnival is at the Evangelical Ecologist.

Suspicious Timing

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I've been hearing several things recently that might end up counting in the Republicans' favor in tomorrow's elections. I just have to say that I really question the timing of these events. After all, all together they could provide a real impetus to the Republican get-out-the-vote efforts.

1. The New Jersey Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage: This will surely motivate social conservatives, especially in states with a gay marriage ban on the ballot. It's as if the judges on the NJ Supreme Court have received their talking points right from the Bush Adminstration. This timing cannot be accidental. The courts have been serving as a patsy for social conservatives all along, giving them cannon fodder for the movement for anti-gay marriage amendments. It's only now, however, that we see the timing so close to an election when Republicans are poised to lose control of Congress. Since the judicial branch of the federal government is under Bush's thumb, with his hand-picked leader Chief Justice John Roberts of the very state of New Jersey calling the shots, the timing of this decision is really questionable.

2. The rumors of Justice Stevens' imminent retirement: If the Democrats take control of the Senate, the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees will be easier to achieve with Harold Ford, Bob Casey, Jim Webb, and Jon Tester all agreeing not to join in with those who have called themselves the gang of 12 (a number of whom will probably not be returning). Shame on the Democratic Underground for stirring up such rumors in a get-out-the-vote rush right before the election. I'm really wondering about the timing of these rumors. The Karl Rove shills over at that site are making me awfully suspicious.

3. Saddam Hussein's guilty verdict and death sentence: Those who initially agreed with the Iraq invasion who have been disappointed at how things have gone in Iraq since then may see this as one of the primary goals of the Iraq invasion having been fulfilled, which will encourage some to continue supporting the Bush Administration in its efforts when they may have been inclined not to, and reelecting Republicans in Congress would help do this. Shame on the GOP for releasing this information just before the election. We know the Iraqi government is just a puppet government under Bush's marching orders, and I wouldn't put it past the Rove machine to have faxed them an order to release the Hussein verdict and death sentence right now as a last-ditch effort to save the GOP's control of Congress.

4. John Kerry's place on the Rove team is now firmly established. I mean, how perfect a setup is it for the Rove talking points if the last Democratic candidate for president comes out a week before the election with a statement that our troops are just the people who were too lazy or too stupid to go to college? The only thing that could make it more perfect would be if he protested that he defended the statement before he apologized for it. Even that was too late to prevent some soldiers stuk n irak from asking for Senator Cary's halp. At this point I'm finding it hard to believe that the whole thing wasn't orchestrated by Karl Rove's political machine. It's very unlikely that Rove would have able to get John Kerry to pose as a limousine liberal before Rove was even born, so I don't think Kerry's whole career could be a deceitful GOP plan, but surely the omnipotent Karl Rove has his hands in enough dirty Democrats' pockets that he could have ensured that Kerry would receive a speech with a missing word that makes all the difference. Again, the timing is just so suspicious.

Bruce Meyer left the following comment on a post that wasn't about this subject, so I thought it might better occupy its own post:

Recently Jeremy and I have been talking about reaching out to neognostics and pagans. After we talked, I realized that the guy with expertise in this area is in my own town (where I teach) of Salem, Massachusetts, Pastor Phil Wyman. So on Halloween I stopped by his church to catch up, and found their outreach at work. Also found that they were on the front page of the Salem News and The Wall Street Journal. The problem is that they were reaching out to pagans. Oops. Waddya know. Here are some links. BTW, I'm quite proud of my friend Pastor Phil.

Befriending witches is a problem in Salem, Mass
Let's Not Get Too Cozy with Pagans? Foursquare Church and The Gathering
The Missional Journey of Phil Wyman
Church severs tie with Salem branch:The Gathering chastised for getting too close to witches

I have to say I like the following quote from the first article:

"Sure, he wants to convert people," he says about Mr. Wyman. "But he does it in a way that respects you."

It's also worth noting how much some of his critics sound like Jesus' critics:

Mr. Wyman appeared "too familiar, too cozy, too amicable with that community," said the Rev. Kenneth Steigler, a United Methodist Church pastor.

The 147th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Attention Span. 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:

Baker's commentary is very brief. This would be an excellent guide for a Bible study leader or pastor without much training in biblical studies. For more detailed exegesis, I recommend O. Palmer Robertson's NICOT or Waylon Bailey's NAC. This commentary would provide a nice supplement to those volumes.

Baker takes a conservative, evangelical approach to these three minor prophets, selecting what he considers to be the most important information for the basic interpretation of the books. He defends the unity of each book, along with the traditionally ascribed authorship, dating all three books to the traditional period of the 7th century.

Baker is broadly Wesleyan in his theology, and I am more Reformed, but I did not find much in this commentary that I disagreed with theologically. At most, and in only a few places, I would have worded things slightly differently. Baker thus does well at capturing the theological message of these books without trying to score points for his particular theological viewpoint. He simply discusses what the text is saying. He has room for enough linguistic, textual, and background issues to show the general sense of what the text is saying, even if he does not always give full details on matters that have a smaller effect on the overall message. A more detailed commentary would be required for that.

I know of no work at this level that does as good a job, even if it turns out to be not even as detailed as a number of other volumes in the Tyndale series, even the other minor prophets volumes. I would not prefer to have to teach these books with just Baker's commentary, and there are a lot of good commentaries on these books, but this is one of the ones I want on my shelf. This may well be the lowest price-to-information ratio among the evangelical commentaries.

At Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman and several others often complain about inverted negatives in the ESV. [See Wayne's comment here, for instance.] Inverted negatives are a kind of construction that you find regularly in the KJV and some of its heirs that do not ever appear in contemporary English unless someone is deliberately trying to sound archaic. Yet the ESV continues it, largely out of respect for the KJV tradition and a desire to avoid changing the language many of the biblically literature find familiar to them and expect in a Bible translation.

Matthew 6:13 is an example. The ESV translates it "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The normal English way of saying this in our day would be "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The archaic reversal of the negative is simply not contemporary English, and it's contrary to the purpose of translating into contemporary English (to be understandable to ordinary readers not familiar with Biblese) to translate with inverted negatives.

Contemporary translations not in the Tyndale tradition tend not to translate with inverted negatives, however. The HCSB, a translation similar in many ways to the ESV, translates Matthew 6:13 as "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NET gives exactly the same translation. This rendering is much better as contemporary English than the ESV translation. The GNB (TEV) says, "Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One." The ISV has "And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NRSV translates it as "And do not bring us to the fiery trial, but rescue us from the evil one." I think this is more likely referring to temptation than to trial, and there's no indication of anything fiery in this verse, but the structure of the sentence here is correct (and "rescue" is far better in contemporary English than the old-fashioned sounding "deliver").

This morning I was reading the TNIV of the Luke parallel (Luke 11:4), and I discovered that it uses the inverted negative. In fact, it's exactly the same translation as in the ESV. This is also true of Matthew 6:13, and it's true of the NIV renderings of both verses. That led me to check several translations, and the other one that struck me as interesting was the NLT: "And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." That raises an interesting translation issue that I think is worth spending some time thinking about.


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The 11th Biblical Studies Carnival is up at the stuff of earth. My post on Numbers Commentaries is included. (Since my submission for last month's biblical studies carnival, a review of commentaries on John's gospel, somehow never made it into the carnival, I'm especially grateful for being included this time around.)

The Evolution of Beauty

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This is excellent. I don't know if I can vouch for everything the Campaign for Real Beauty is doing, but the video is itself real beauty.

[hat tip: Tyler Williams]

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