Jeremy Pierce: April 2007 Archives

For my initial thoughts on the recent Supreme Court decision Gonzales v. Carhart, see here. Since that post, I've had a chance to see a lot more of the commentary that's ensued, and I wanted to highlight a couple responses I've seen to the aftermath, first on the claim that this is a religiously-motivated decision and second on the actual constitutional issue at stake. The first point comes from Rick Garnett here, in response to a post by Geoffrey Stone at the Huffington Post. The key quote from Stone is:

What, then, explains this decision? Here is a painfully awkward observation: All five justices in the majority in Gonzales are Catholic. The four justices who are either Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent. It is mortifying to have to point this out. But it is too obvious, and too telling, to ignore. Ultimately, the five justices in the majority all fell back on a common argument to justify their position. There is, they say, a compelling moral reason for the result in Gonzales. Because the intact D & E seems to resemble infanticide it is "immoral" and may be prohibited even without a clear statutory exception to protect the health of the woman.

By making this judgment, these justices have failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality. To be sure, this can be an elusive distinction, but in a society that values the separation of church and state, it is fundamental. The moral status of a fetus is a profoundly difficult and rationally unresolvable question. As the Supreme Court has recognized for more than thirty years, when the fundamental right of a woman "to determine her life's course" is at stake, it is not for the state -- or for the justices of the Supreme Court -- to resolve that question, and it is certainly not appropriate for the state or the justices to resolve it on the basis of one's personal religious faith.

Now consider Garnett's response:

It is true that the majority included “moral concerns” – like the public interest in promoting “respect for life” – among the “legitimate government interests” that could justify the federal ban. It is not clear, though, why we should regard these concerns, or the view that human fetuses are moral subjects whose lives have value, as any more “religious”, and therefore suspect, than our nation’s fundamental commitment to the view that all human beings are moral equals, regardless of race, and should be treated as such in law. For a judge to identify such concerns as a permissible basis for legislating – given the fact that, in the Court’s view, the law did not impose an “undue burden” on the abortion right – is not to attack church-state separation or to substitute revelation for the will of We the People.
As I've argued many times in the past (see especially here), there is no rational basis for the claim that pro-life convictions are mere religious dogma, because such assertions ignore a fairly rich philosophical framework that often lies behind such convictions. But what's particularly silly about Stone's claim is that one of the five justices in the majority in this case voted to uphold the basic right to abortion in 1992 and insists in this opinion that he sees himself still affirming that. If he's spouting forth Catholic doctrine in the guise of a legal opinion, how did he end up affirming what his church denies? Still worse, if Stone is serious about this he should worry about Kennedy's votes on capital punishment cases, since the Roman Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. I haven't heard anyone complaining about the church-state line being transgressed there. Even worse, the mainline Protestant denominations and Reform Judaism congregations of the four minority justices are officially pro-choice, and I don't see anyone complaining about their violations of church and state in voting in a way their religion happens to support.

The 170th 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. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Is this a flip-flop? Mayor Giuliani once accepted civil unions as good while resisting calling them marriage. Now he's opposing one version of a civil union law because it makes civil unions indistinguishable from marriage and because it recognizes civil unions from other states.

Whatever this is, it doesn't seem to be a flip-flop, because at most it's a change in position once in one direction and not a moving back and forth according to the audience or according to changes in his mood. But I'm not entirely sure his two positions are inconsistent. He seems to think it's too far to make civil unions absolutely equivalent to marriage, but maybe he thought civil unions in previous cases didn't go that far. (He may have been wrong about that factual matter and now realizes he was wrong. Alternatively, maybe this new law he's complaining about is different. I have no idea, but either seems possible to me.)

And if he did change his mind, it might be wrong if he changed from the right position to the wrong position, but our political dialogue seems to have stooped to a new low with this election by insisting that any change of mind ever is automatically immoral. Calling it a flip-flop not only doesn't recognize that a change of mind isn't the same thing as a flip-flop. It treats all changes of mind as bad, when changes of mind in the right direction are generally good and ought to be supported.

I'm not sure why he thinks it's wrong for a state with civil unions to recognize civil unions in other states, though. Isn't that strange?

Update: The Influence Peddler and DaveG at race 4 2008 agree with me that this isn't necessarily a change in view (never mind a flip-flop). I don't agree with DaveG's attempt to make sense of the other state issue, however. Maybe the Influence Peddler is right that he thinks it encourages other states' allowance of gay marriage, but I don't see how merely recognizing gay marriages from other states as if they were civil unions in NH counts as endorsing gay marriages in other states, since it doesn't at all recognize them as marriages. What it does is demote them to civil unions. So I'm left wondering what his problem with that aspect of it really is. Perhaps he does think it will promote gay marriages, but I'm not sure on what grounds. But there's no way it counts as endorsing gay marriage in other states.

Autism Awareness Month

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I suppose I should post something on Autism Awareness Month before the month is over. I was going to link to Sam's series on autism and the brain way back at the beginning of the month, but I thought the series wasn't finished, and then I forgot. She's had three posts on autism and the brain: part 1, part 2, part 3. She also posted on autism research and autism on Wikipedia. There's a wealth of information amidst all that.

I have mixed feelings about N.T. Wright's work in theology and biblical studies. I think he's committed a great deal of excellent thought, and I think much of what he has to say has great apologetical value, particularly in response to radical and even somewhat mainstream Jesus revisionism (although I think there's some unhelpful revisionism in his own work). In theology in particular, I think he's majored on the minors and minored on the majors to a great extent. See my post from a couple days ago for D.A. Carson's in-depth interaction with Wright, which I think is right on. Whatever criticisms anyone might offer against Wright, it's very clear that his scholarly work is well-researched and responsible in most respects, and he deserves great recognition and respect for that.

But I'm disappointed to find that some of his public writing isn't in that same category. Richard Dawkins loses all rationality in his recent book critiquing theism and sounds like the internet atheist with no background in philosophy who confidently asserts philosophical howler after philosophical howler. So too it seems N.T. Wright can weigh in on politics in a way that doesn't speak well for his ability to maintain high standards in disciplines that aren't his specialty. He penned this piece in The Telegraph [hat tip: Mark Goodacre], which includes the following criticism of Tony Blair and George W. Bush:

With the disastrous escapade in Iraq, there was a sense of horror that the two world leaders who were most overtly Christian - Bush and Blair - should be lured into such a disastrous parody or caricature of the Christian imperialist, going around the world beating up Johnny foreigner and the infidel.

It's a shame someone like Wright could stoop to such a sophomoric portrayal of the motivation for invading Iraq. I wouldn't complain if he represented Blair and Bush fairly and then expressed disagreement with their reasoning. I'd disagree, but I wouldn't compare him with the likes of Dawkins.

Bush and Blair have both consistently affirmed Islam as a good religion (which is consistent with believing it to be wrong, as long as they simply mean that Muslims can be good citizens, which is exactly what they mean). Describing it as "a disastrous parody or caricature of the Christian imperialist, going around the world beating up Johnny foreigner and the infidel" is just disingenous and morally below the belt. It's drastically unfair to the reasons they gave to justify the invasion, and thus his own choice of words seems to apply to his own characterization of their actions. His description is indeed a caricature, a pretty childish one.

Even if some of the critics are right in their attribution of motives to these leaders, it still wouldn't be true that they did it simply to beat up on foreigners or to persecute infidels. Even if it's about Western interests in oil, revenge against Saddam Hussein, establishing Western control over the Middle East for self-interested reasons, and so on, that doesn't amount to wanting to beat up on people just because they're foreigners or members of another religion.

This doesn't lower my respect for Wright's academic work, of course, and I happen to know enough people in philosophy who say as ridiculous and petty things as this and yet somehow manage to put forward very intelligent and responsible academic work in their specialty. I do have to say, though, that it disappoints me to see someone with such respect as a teacher in the church making such indefensible and immoral statements about people he seems to view as fellow Christians.

D.A. Carson has reviewed N.T. Wright's new book on evil and God's justice. You can read the review here. Carson has authored what is hands-down my favorite book on evil from a biblical (as opposed to philosophical) perspective. I'm currently reading through the second edition of that book, but you can read my review of the first edition here. I have read his review of Wright, and it's definitely worth reading whether you've looked at Wright on this issue or not. Beware that it's ten pages long, so reserve some time for it.

For more discussion of Wright, who has been getting some play in the Christian blogosphere lately, see

  • Jollyblogger's post on the penal substitution discussion in the UK (where it's clear that Wright affirms penal substitution and denounces some who are denying it, from Wright's quotes in this article).
  • Adrian Warnock's discussion of Wright's critique of both sides in the UK debate
  • Justin Taylor's post on the Carson review
  • Jollyblogger's followup on Wright and penal substitution
  • Justin Taylor's discussion of Wright's defense of Steve Chalke, whom he amazingly doesn't think denies penal substitution
  • But perhaps the best thing to do is to read what Wright has to say about the penal substitution debate and then to examine the other posts in the light of Wright's own carefully prepared thoughts.
  • Update: Justin Taylor has some choice quotes from Wright very clearly defending something that most people would count as penal substitution (and that Wright himself clearly does count as penal substitution, given some of his above-mentioned quotes against those he does believe to deny it). Perhaps Wink would quibble here on whether Wright's view is truly substitutionary. I suspect Wright would accept substitution and union on that issue. But it's very clearly penal, and that's the main issue under debate here.
  • Update 2: Alastair Roberts has some helpful distinctions between different models of the atonement. One position worth considering is that none of them is wrong, but what would be wrong would be denying any of them. (Or perhaps most of them are correct, and it would be wrong to deny any of those number.) Heresy, of course, is another matter. Being wrong does not always line up with being heretical, and I'm not sure I've thought about this long enough to have a sure view on that.
The 46th Philosophers' Carnival is up at The Space of Reasons.

I haven't had anything to say about the Supreme Court's upholding of the federal ban on partial-birth abortion in Gonzales v. Carhart, largely because a lot of what I've wanted to say would have taken a lot more time than I've had. But over the weekend I managed to put together some of my thoughts on the main issue.

It seems to me that the left-leaning are seeing this as a monumental move away from long-standing precedent. 1973's Roe v. Wade got it right in securing a right to abortion, was upheld in large part in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and was applied accurately in 2000's Stenberg v. Carhart, when state bans on partial birth abortion were overturned. The right-leaning, on the other hand, are seeing it as a narrow ruling that makes a baby step toward possibly restricting abortion further, but it's just a small step, even if it's in the right direction. When all is said and done, I think both attitudes get something right but also get something important wrong.

It's true that this isn't much compared to what pro-lifers want, which is one psychological explanation for seeing it as a narrow ruling. It also actually is a narrow decision in one sense. The way Justice Kennedy words the opinion, it does not explicitly overturn any previous Supreme Court decision. It does not reconsider the right to abortion. It does not overturn the prior decision on state laws, which it still takes to be unconstitutional because they lack an exception for the life of the mother. It forms a distinction between this law and prior ones. Thus it seems from Justice Kennedy's opinion that nothing in the prior decisions would have had anything to say about had the law existed when those cases were decided.

But that picture isn't entirely true. Casey's famously vague "undue burden" standard has regularly been taken to include a health exception and not just a life exception. That's certainly how Stenberg took it. But then Kennedy hadn't signed on to the majority opinion in the latter case. He voted with the minority (i.e. with Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas). Jan Crawford Greenburg has a fascinating account of why. Apparently he thought Justice O'Connor had betrayed him by taking Casey in that direction. He didn't think he'd signed on to that when he switched his vote to join her in that case, thus putting her in the majority.

What we see now in this case is what he thought he was agreeing to in Casey. That's why he thinks this is fully in step with the Roe and Casey precedents. But it's not true that it doesn't overturn something in Carhart v. Stenberg. It overturns the requirement for a health exception, and that's quite significant, even if the majority opinion doesn't seem to recognize that it has done that.

The 169th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Imago Dei. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Romney Googlanche

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A couple days ago my sitemeter started becoming saturated with hits from searches like Mitt Romney flip-flop, flip-flop Mitt Romney, and "flip flop" "mitt romney". I'm now #11 on the first one, but I was at #2 when I checked a couple days ago. My daily visits went up from in the 500s to in the 800s, with daily hits going from the 800s to the 1200s. I think I've discovered at least part of the explanation: Doonesbury. Unfortunately, I've been replaced by misinformation for the most part, but it was nice that my correction of this mindless repetition of an outright lie could be so high in Google's ratings at a time when that search was getting so much action.

Interestingly, I'm also at the #2 Google spot for googlanche.

Oxford Singular 'They'

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I was going to post this a week ago, but I didn't get around to it. Rick Mansfield found an occurrence of the singular 'they' in the Oxford American Dictionary.

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting observations about interracial dating. It turns out that there's more resistance to interracial dating even when it comes to online dating, which means it doesn't just have to do with who you associate with in daily life within your local community (although that's got to be a factor, because groups who tend to live in areas where they are the majority are less likely to take part in interracial dating than groups that typically find themselves in the majority wherever they live).

One factor that he includes that I hadn't connected with this is that people with higher or more specific standards in non-racial ways might be more open to interracial dating simply because their pool is already much smaller than other people's. He includes religious standards such as refusal to date someone of another religion. This may well be one explanation why, in my own observation, evangelical Christians (at least in the circles I run in) are far more open to interracial dating than most any other group I can think of. It may well be partly because evangelicals have a smaller pool to pick from because many evangelicals will date only other evangelicals, and being open to interracial dating helps widen the pool from what it would be if they looked only at people within their own racial group.

Nonetheless, I don't think such an explanation undermines what I've long thought to be the explanation for evangelicals' greater openness to interracial dating. I've generally taken it to be because evangelicals have a heightened sense of the oneness of all genuine followers of Jesus, who evangelicals typically see as including mainly those who have put their allegiance to Christ above all other allegiances. Identity in Christ is primary, and other sources of identity are at best secondary. Thus when I think about who I'm most closely aligned with, I'm going to think of black evangelicals as much closer to the heart of my identity than I will white non-believers.

This isn't just not in conflict with Somin's point, as if they are two compatible explanations. It's actually the same fact under two different descriptions. On the one hand, evangelicals who have this restriction do indeed have a smaller pool to pick from, and they are thus more likely to be willing to include others in the pool than just those of their own race. But the philosophical justification for restricting the pool to like-minded believers is the same justification for expanding it to include like-minded believers regardless of race. After all, it's the sense of closer identity with fellow believers that leads both to the restriction to only believers and to openness to believers of other races.

 The 168th Christian Carnival is up at Random Acts of Verbiage. Submissions are still open until Friday for late posts, provided that they're posts from within the three-week period this carnival covers. See here for submission details.

If you're a pro-choice Republican running for president, by all means go ahead and try to downplay your pro-choice views in order to emphasize what unites Republicans. Feel free to try to make the case that pro-life Republicans should bracket that issue. You won't convince everyone, but I have no problem if you make the case.

But please don't try to use disingenuous rhetoric masked as an argument when you try to make your case. It's simply deceitful to pretend your opposition to laws against abortion is emphasizing "what we are for" rather than "what we are against" and that others' promotion of the inherent worth of the unborn is "what we are against" rather than "what we are for". Virtually any policy you approve of can be characterized in terms of being for something or against something, and Rudy Giuliani himself regularly characterizes his view on abortion as being against putting people in jail for having abortions, which is a disingenuous mischaracterization of the pro-life view to begin with, but even aside from that it's very much being against something.

Thanks to Nancy French for noticing this.

Rick Mansfield has finally come back to his top ten Bible translations series. He'd gotten through eight translations by November, and he has now posted his review of his ninth, the Wycliffe New Testament. See my discussion of his Good News Translation review for links to previous entries in his series. Rick's post is a good read and provides an interesting discussion of one of the earliest English translations of the Bible (1388), which unusually include the Epistle to Laodicea, all of which (it's very short) is included in Rick's post, along with several samples of other passages, with such cool words as 'anents', 'parfit', and 'advowtry', along with some no less interesting turns of phrase that you wouldn't hear anymore.

This is the forty-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 gave some reasons why many contemporary philosophers resist libertarian views of free will. In this post, I move on to compatibilist views of freedom.

We've now seen some accounts of freedom in an indeterministic universe. Compatibilists seek to give a very different account of freedom. According to the compatibilist, freedom is compatible with being predetermined (whether determinism as an overall thesis is true or not). So if it turns out that determinism is true, or even if only certain of our actions are predetermined, that does not in itself mean that our actions and choices are unfree.

One reason compatibilists give in support of their view is that libertarian requirements for freedom seem to go against why we really do things. A determinist would insist that we do things because we have certain beliefs and desires, because of some inner state that we are in. If I believe I have two options and that the second one will accomplish what I want, then I will take the second option, unless some other reason within me leads me not to (e.g. maybe I believe it would be wrong to choose option 2).

If I had different desires or beliefs, I might have chosen differently. However, I didn't have different desires and beliefs, and perhaps I wouldn't have without the whole history of the world being different. The point here is that events in me - my having certain beliefs and desires - are what determine my actions. Are these things totally under my control? As we saw, an incompatibilist raises the objection that determinism means everything we do is caused by things ultimately outside our control. A compatibilist points out that the very things we often consider to be the explanation of why we do things are also the kind of thing that can ultimately be caused by things outside our control. If my free choices are just the ones that we seem to do for no reason, then how can it even be said to be me who is choosing it? On the other hand, if my character traits, beliefs, desires, attitudes, and so on are the explanation for my choice, then it seems much more connected to who I am. It is for this reason that compatibilists insist that we are unfree if our actions aren't caused by certain kinds of events within us. It is for this reason that as diverse figures as Jonathan Edwards and David Hume have infamously claimed that we aren't free unless we're predetermined.

So compatibilists resist libertarianism and but still want to avoid saying that we're not free, so they try to come up with an account of freedom that's consistent with determinism but that fits with our ordinary sense of freedom. The primary strategy is to assume determinism is true and then still be able to distinguish between cases when we're clearly not free on any view but other cases where we still seem to have a kind of freedom (though not one that will satisfy libertarians) even if determinism is true. Some compatibilists think this debate is merely a verbal dispute; it's purely about the meaning of words. If we mean one thing by the word 'freedom', then we don't have it, but if we mean another thing by that word then we are free. The trick then is to figure out which meaning is closer to how we use the word in English. Compatibilists will then argue that libertarians have begun with an incorrect meaning of the term and then derived the conclusion that determinism and free will are incompatible.

One more voice enters the fray to support the minority report that Don Imus' primary offense is against women, with his offense against blacks only secondary. Roland Martin (who it is worth recognizing is black) argues that, while the nappy-haired qualifier restricted Imus' comment to black women, it's very clear that calling them hos made it an attack on women.

I wouldn't say some of what he says, and I'd word some more of it very differently than he does. I think you could be critical of Hillary Clinton as an opportunist without basing it on her violation of gender stereotypes that we'd prefer her to conform to. But I do think enough of the criticism she receives comes from what he's getting at. The same is true of Condi Rice. People can criticize her views or even slander her character without necessarily being sexist. After all, they do the same to other members of the Bush Administration, most of whom are not women. But sometimes it takes on a particular flavor with her in ways that you couldn't see if the attack were against a man. The same is true of Janet Reno. Just consider the SNL parodies of all three of these women, especially Will Ferrell's Reno.

Compare someone who refers to some black people (sex unspecified) as nappy-headed and someone who refers to some women (race unspecified) as hos. The former makes fun of someone's physical characteristics, deriding a distinctive characteristic of the appearance of black people. The latter invokes a double standard (men who are promiscuous have no similar negative term) and usually involves a moral judgment about sexual behavior based on evidence that often isn't closely (or isn't at all) tied to sexual behavior. It is a particular insult against women to take part in that game, regardless of whether the insult in a particular case is restricted to a particular sub-group of women, even if the context also insults that sub-group.

Both are immoral, but the second seems much worse to me. So when both are done together, why is it that people focus just on the former? Is it that we're just incapable of seeing an insult against black women as being an insult against women? Or is it that we've got a heightened sensibility toward seeing slights against black people that we don't have toward seeing slights against women? Or is it some combination of the two?

MeredithKlineFestschrift_op_207x331.jpgTheologian and biblical scholar Meredith Kline died last night, according to Justin Taylor. It seems he had been sick for a while, and he died peacefully. I actually know two of his grandsons, who were both (at different times) part of our congregation in Syracuse when they were in college, but I haven't really been in touch with either since they graduated except at a couple weddings.

I've never had the opportunity to read anything directly by Kline, but I've regularly seen his name in footnotes on all manner of subjects, and his work has influenced a number of people I have read, particularly in understanding the significance of the covenant treaty form of Deuteronomy and in furthering the framework interpretation of Genesis 1. His theopedia entry is currently uneditable, or I would have updated it, but it does have some nice information about his contributions to biblical theology and Old Testament studies, with a few links to further sources.

Update: Some tributes.

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The 168th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Matt Jones' Random Acts of Verbiage. 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. Normally, the second step is to select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Since we missed a couple weeks, the post can be from the last three weeks (i.e. from midnight on Tuesday March 27 through midnight April 17). Then do the following:

Habakkuk Commentaries

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

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

Waylon Bailey's NAC is probably my favorite of all the commentaries I looked at. It isn't so detailed that it's hard to wade through, but he addresses most issues most people might ask of the text unless they're working on an academic paper. He deals with historical, theological and linguistic matters fairly well, and he's also concerned about connections with the New Testament. He's coming from a conservative evangelical perspective, but he's also good at presenting various views. This is my all-around recommendation for seeking the best balance of what I look for in a commentary. It doesn't shirk anything I consider truly important.


O. Palmer Robertson's NICOT is probably my favorite Habakkuk commentary in terms of theology. His theological reflections are probing and get enough time to explore the issues, with more time than any of the other commentaries on the list given to the task of simply reflecting on what the text means for Habakkuk's view of God and Habakkuk's view of faith in God. It's much weaker on linguistic matters, sometimes not even addressing important issues that most of the other commentaries will spend some time on. It doesn't get first place primarily for that reason.

His perspective is conservative, evangelical, and explicitly Reformed. His expertise is in covenant theology, and he has a keen eye for seeing New Testament connections, although on occasion I think he reads a NT perspective into a text that may not have originally gone quite so far. I appreciated his willingness to defend Paul's appropriation of the justification by faith text in ch.2, although I found him too eager to rule out the possibility that faith and faithfulness are both in mind. It's a shame that Eerdmans has contracted a replacement for his commentary in this series this early, though Thomas Renz will probably produce a good commentary that will give more detail on the things Robertson doesn't focus much on. See my more detailed review of Robertson here.

Whip Cracker

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A friend of mine told me last summer that he was going to make a film. I thought he had in mind something like the home video movies my brothers and I made with some friends when we were in high school. We had:

  • a murder mystery involving a Mr. Thurmafer (I don't remember if we had a name for that one, but I thought the character's name was funny)
  • Alabama Smith
  • Ken the Barbarian (which involved some hokey wooden swords and shields)
  • Ken the Destroyer (which we managed to get some real medieval swords and armor for, not to mention a real ATV for the knight's ride-by slaying of the documentary commentator)

Then there were the fake commercials:

  •  the product that could start with the skinny, little wimp (me) and end up with my brother (who at the time worked out quite a bit and was on his school wrestling team)
  • a Volkwagen commercial where the car that's supposed to stop just before it gets to the two engineers with white robes and clipboards doesn't manage to stop in time
  • Foundationland, which made foundations for houses but advertized itself with stock used car sales pitches; we filmed it in the foundation of a house that someone was in the process of building in the neighborhood next door
  • two with a character named Gil Isuzu who had a sickly evil smile, wore really loud colors on his shirts and ties, and was trying to sell wide-body trucks big enough to hold three wide bodies (with an arm hanging out the back that he hadn't intended to be shown)

Our friend who engineered the whole thing went on to get a degree in film, but I wouldn't exactly say we were making real films. It was some kids having fun.

It turned out my friend wasn't talking about something like that. He was making a real film, using real film equipment with something on the order of a serious film budget (at least serious for an indie film). He told me he was thinking along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre in terms of the kind of humor. He's calling it Whip Cracker, and he's not putting out very much information about it yet (even I know only a little more than what's available online), but he has a trailer up in YouTube. So check out the Whip Cracker trailer, and if you like it give it some good ratings.

I think we've gotten to a point where enough people want to continue the Christian Carnival despite no word from its ongoing manager (see here). I don't want to usurp anything from Dory, but we've now had two weeks go by without a Christian Carnival. Here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to see what we can do at least temporarily about having some continuing Christian Carnivals. If time goes on, and we still don't hear from Dory, maybe we can gradually work together a structure for its continuing without her. But for now I want to say that, assuming she has been detained from internet activities for some reason and can return, we should reserve this role for her if she wants to continue in it and doesn't foresee future problems in carrying out its responsibilities.

With that in mind, I'd like to try to organize a list of people who can host for the next couple months, and we could stick with this list even if she returns, because I strongly suspect she hasn't gotten together a list beyond the carnivals that actually happened, or we would have heard from those hosts. So if you're interested in hosting a Christian Carnival in the next two to three months, please let me know and tell me any preferences you have about which weeks you can host. We'll set it up so people will send submissions directly to you, at least for now. I think it would be a good idea to allow people to submit posts from over a three-week period of time for the next one, just so those posts have the opportunity to be in some Christian Carnival. But then we should resume doing them one week at a time.

Don Imus' recent racist and misgynist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team have gotten him suspended from his MSNBC morning show and the CBS radio network for two weeks. Two weeks? Forget the nappy-haired bit. How many people do you think could call some college students hos on a major cable news network and not be fired permanently on the spot? Not very many. All Imus gets is two weeks of presumably unpaid vacation. ABC and CBS are basically collaborating to let him get away with this with minimal impact on his career.

Isn't it interesting that the people who have been bearing the burden of responding to this are black people who have been offended by the racist connotations of his "nappy-haired hos" comment (and the more explicit epithet of his conversation partner)? Why aren't we hearing as much of a response from feminists about the misogyny of calling college women hos, even aside from the race issue? I wonder if it's got something to do with the fact that most feminist don't consider themselves-as-women insulted when it's only black women who have been spoken of this way. The lack of feminist response itself is an interesting example of hidden racism.

A friend of mine overheard some university students yesterday morning talking about this in Starbucks. They were actually defending Imus on the grounds that the people he was talking about really do have nappy hair. Even aside from the racial issues some might raise about such a statement (which I'm guessing people will disagree about), isn't it kind of silly to defend someone who called some people "nappy-haired hos" by saying they do have nappy hair? It's kind of like defending someone calling a Jewish person a "Jew-nosed liar" by saying that since the person really is Jewish then it sort of follows that they have a Jewish nose and then not even mentioning that they accused the person of lying too.

Update: I didn't hear about this today, but some are comparing this incident with a similar one in 2003 when Michael Savage called someone a Sodomite and wished he'd get AIDS and die. MSNBC fired him on the spot. Now wishing someone's death on the air is much worse than what Imus said, but does one justify immediate firing and the other just a two-week vacation'? I have no idea if this piece is trustworthy, but it suggests that Imus is just too connected to influential people for this to affect him long-term.

Update 2: Apparently MSNBC has fired him now. See the comments. I'm curious how they're going to spin their change of mind. They very clearly had not wanted to do that and were hoping a slap on the wrist would pacify any outrage.

This is the forty-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 presented the reasons why someone might be an incompatibilist about freedom and determinism and why someone might be attracted therefore to a libertarian account of free will. In this post, I'll present some problems with libertarian views of freedom.

Libertarians consider determinism the end of the road when it comes to human freedom. If determinism is true, we simply aren't free. So they deny determinism. But does that mean we are free? It doesn't automatically follow from the denial of determinism that anyone actually is free. Just as the compatibilist will have to explain what compatibilist freedom is, why it should count as genuine freedom, and how we can have it if determinism is true, so the libertarian will need an account of freedom that shows how we can have it if indeterminism is true and why it should count as genuine freedom. Libertarians have generally thought that this is much easier than what compatibilists have to overcome given the main incompatibilist argument in the last post. But the problems presented against libertarian views of freedom are not surface-level criticisms. There are deep worries about how freedom of the sort the libertarian thinks we have could arise in the kind of world libertarians think we live in.

The problem arises in its first form in debates among the ancient Greek philosophers. Epicurus was the first philosopher we know of to endorse what we now call a libertarian view in a clear, explicit way. (Some think Aristotle might have been a libertarian, but the evidence there is at least somewhat ambiguous. He didn't formulate a view in this sort of way, at least.) One problem Epicurus faced from his contemporaries was that he was also a materialist and an atomist, believing that everything is made up of indivisible atoms, bouncing around and hitting into each other. Everything we see ultimately is derived from different combinations of atoms. How does free will fit into this? According to his follower Lucretius, Epicurus had an explanation of how freedom appears within such a seemingly-deterministic system. Atoms occasionally swerve. This swerving is not caused by anything prior to my action, so it explains how my action is not determined. So determinism is false, and my choices can be free if they are caused by these swerving atoms.

Lucretius took this explanation to be good enough, but the ancient Skeptics and Stoics found it insufficient. If the atom swerves randomly, meaning that nothing caused it to swerve, then I am just as much out of the loop as I was with the determinist’s story. If nothing caused it to swerve, then its swerving is not under my control, so I still have no choice about what I do as a result. This account of freedom just won’t do. It seems as if denying determinism isn’t enough to show that we’re free. We might not be free even if determinism is false, because our actions could be caused by random events that still aren't under our control.

The latest Veggie Tales video, Moe and the Big Exit, tells the story of the exodus from Egypt in a Western setting. The whole thing is pretty funny, but one of my favorite moments is at the very end, when they list the ten commandments as they might have been given in the old West:

1. Y'all have no other gods b'fore Me.
2. No makin' idols.
3. When y'all use my name, y'better mean it.
4. Lay off the trail one day a week.
5. Mind yer ma and pa.
6. No killin' folks.
7. Dance with who brung ya.
8. No swipin'.
9. No lyin'.
10. No hankerin' for things that ain't yours.

I usually put up a notice for the upcoming Christian Carnival on Sundays, but I'm not sure what's going on with the Christian Carnival at this point. The schedule on Dory's blog has run out. I don't know if anyone was scheduled to host last week, but I never managed to find it if it happened. Dory hasn't responded to the email I sent her. The Blog Carnival submission engine has removed the Christian Carnival from its active carnivals, because no one was updating where it was each week (and only the registered carnival-runner can update it, as far as I've been able to tell).

So I don't know what's going on with the Christian Carnival. If anyone has any information I don't have, please update me. I'm not going to plug carnivals that I don't have any good reason to think will happen. Last week's apparently non-existent Christian Carnival and my unreturned email are enough for me to wonder whether anyone is planning to host this week who is or will be set up to receive posts via the usual Christian Carnival submission email address.

Boston to London

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Go to Google Maps, enter "Boston" and "London" into the search boxes for directions, and then look at the results. Pay close attention to the step-by-step directions. [hat tip: Eugene Volokh]

Be a Egg

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"Be a egg. You ca' do it, Mommy. You ca' do it. Mommy, be a egg. Mommy, take your glasses off. Now be a egg. Mommy, wanna be a grass?"

-- Sophia, while decorating Easter eggs yesterday

This is the forty-first 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 enumerated the main views that can be taken on the issues of freedom and determinism. Now I'd like to begin looking at arguments for and against the various positions.

In an earlier post in this series, I presented several arguments for thinking that we are free. Some people have taken those arguments as arguments that we have libertarian freedom. I don't see how they can be arguments for that. They might come alongside an argument that libertarian freedom is the only kind of freedom worthy of being called freedom. Then the whole package could support libertarianism. But those arguments don't come close to showing that we have libertarian freedom. A compatibilist could present the same arguments and say that they support thinking of ourselves as free. I'll return to this point in a couple posts when I look at some of the reasons people give for being compatibilists. I thought it was worth pointing out here because I want to make it clear that those aren't strictly speaking arguments for libertarianism but simply arguments for thinking we are free. Arguments for libertarianism don't conclude that we are free but that freedom is of a certain nature, and those arguments don't argue for any conception of what freedom is.

I do think the strongest arguments for libertarianism are actually arguments for incompatibilism combined with the conviction that we are free. So if incompatibilism is true, and we are free, then we must have a kind of freedom that isn't compatible with determinism. I won't try here to motivate any further the view that we are free, so nothing in the argument I'm about to present would be objectionable to the hard determinist, who accepts that incompatibilism is true but insists that we don't have freedom because we are predetermined. Assuming that we are free in some sense, as most people do, we now proceed to look at a reason some give for saying that we couldn't be free unless we had libertarian freedom (i.e. unless determinism is false).

I take this version of the argument largely from Peter van Inwagen, in particular from his book An Essay on Free Will and his chapter on freedom in the second edition of his Metaphysics book (which has a correction of a mistake found in both the first edition and the earlier free will book). These are probably among the best presentations of contemporary libertarian arguments that you can find. Some libertarians won't agree with van Inwagen on everything, but I think he follows arguments where they lead in a way that some libertarians seem a little squishier to me (but I'm open to finding that there is more hope for certain views than van Inwagen allows for; at this point I don't see it; more on that in the next post). So this post and the next one will be heavily dependent on van Inwagen's work on this subject.

The primary argument van Inwagen gives for incompatibilism is roughly as follows. Following Clifford Williams' term from his excellent little book Free Will and Determinism: a Dialogue, I usually call this the before-birth argument in my classes:


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Someone arrived at my blog via the following search this morning: 

is +"gal" a derogatory term

Excellent question. If a derogatory term requires that the speaker intends it to have a negative connotation, I don't think it's derogatory. And I do think that's what it means to be derogatory. But I've never been comfortable with the term. It's always seemed like a diminutive. I understand that it's intended to be a substitute for 'girl' to refer to people who are supposed to be old enough that 'girl' feels inappropriate but who aren't quite women yet. Or at least that's the intent. There's never any negative intent with this word as far as I've ever known, but something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

Ainslee Hooper hosts the 44th Philosophers' Carnival.


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I've been a bit lax in checking my sitemeter, which means most days I have the chance to look through five pages' worth (i.e. 100 visits) once or twice during the day. Some days I don't even get to it. I get about 500-700 visits a day, so most visitors aren't registering on my radar, and thus I'm not getting anywhere near the selection to find good searches that I used to find when I was checking more regularly and noticing about 75-80% of my traffic. But I do happen to have a couple searches from the last couple weeks that I can pull out on a day when I haven't got the time to write anything new that requires any thought.

What race is colin powell other than black

I suppose that would be the same ethnicity the Pope is other than German and the same state the president is registered to vote in other than Texas. Is it farther to New York or by car?

father black mother white kids will kids have kinky hair?

I've received a great many searches in recent months asking about differences between the genetic properties of kids whose parents are a black mother and a white father and kids whose parents are a black father and a white mother. Is there any evidence whatsoever that which parent is black and which is white will make any difference at all to skin color, hair type, and so on? I've never heard of any (other than the fact that people are searching for it and arriving at my blog). I wouldn't rule it out, because some traits are sex-linked. I just don't know why we should expect these particular ones to be sex-linked. They don't seem to be sex-linked among families with two parents of the same race, do they?

Joe Carter has a (perhaps unintentionally, I'm not sure) rather hilarious post about God, vampires, and the anthropic principle. Somehow Joe managed to find an academic paper on this: "Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies: Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality" by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi. 

If these physicists are right, we can reasonably infer from the feeding habits of vampires in vampire literature, together with the continuing population of non-vampire human beings, that there are at most 512 vampires in the world, assuming there are vampire-slayers. Without vampire-slayers, it seems there just couldn't be vampires at all, according to these numbers.

Now I'm not going to examine the connection with the anthropic principle that Joe is emphasizing, other than to observe that both just seem to be simple cases of inferences to the best explanation, but I do have one philosophical point to make. The argument against vampires leaves out a crucial step. One scenario ought to be considered more carefully before ruling out the possibility of vampires given our evidence. The argument takes the continuing population of humans as a piece of starting evidence. But should we be so sure that the population really is continuing in the way that we think it is? Isn't it possible that the population is just a growing numbers of vampires, and only relatively few of the people who remain are still real humans, with a huge vampire conspiracy going on pretending that humans are still around in large numbers? If the vampires have enough technology to clone humans to provide "offspring" for the vampires masquerading as human couples and a continued food source, then I can't see how this assumption can be ruled out as easily as is being done.

The paper makes some funny points about ghosts and zombies also, but I thought this was just a good example of physicists trying to pass philosophical arguments off as science, which is usually complained about when it's intelligent design but apparently just good science when it's skeptical. Well, it turns out a philosopher might have been able to point out how they're not being skeptical enough. A good skeptic wouldn't rule out the skeptical scenario I proposed without some more careful argumentation.

In celebration of Fred and George Weasley's birthday, Mugglenet has posted their first impressions on reading advanced copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the much-awaited seventh and final book in the series. Assuming you've already read through book six, I can say that there are no serious spoilers here.



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