Jeremy Pierce: June 2007 Archives

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This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • abortion (9x)
  • death (4x)
  • kill (3x)
  • murder (2x)
  • porn (1x)

 Hat tip: Good Brownie

Just for fun, I've tried some other sites to see how they come out: R

  • death (10x)
  • bomb (4x)
  • dead (3x)
  • cocaine (2x)
  • gun (1x) NC-17

  • abortion (13x)
  • kill (5x)
  • death (3x)
  • suicide (1x) G
  • sex (3x) PG

  • sex (2x)
  • missionary (1x)

As you can see, it's an extremely crude measure.

I've had two encounters recently that have led me to want to put together a post on a basic ethical distinction that I wanted to use in my responses to those two different issues. In this discussion, Brian Trapp looks at two different approaches to what conservative pro-lifers should do if Rudy Giuliani gets the GOP nomination for president. James Dobson says he couldn't vote for Rudy against Hillary, and I argued that someone with Dobson's moral views has a moral obligation to vote for Rudy against Hillary. Brian's presentation classified Dobson's view as emphasizing duty and principles and mine as emphasizing consequences and utility. There's a sense in which that's true, but I don't think it's quite right.

Second, in a comment on this post, Alan gave an argument in favor of Ron Paul's candidacy for the GOP nomination for president. His portrayal of Paul is that he is principled rather than pragmatist, that he doesn't allow the ends to justify the means the way all the other candidates do. Again, I think there's a way to look at Paul that way, but I also think it's inaccurate to what's going on, particular to how other candidates would think about what they're up to. I think I can show that the kinds of views the other candidates hold in contrast to Paul are not, in fact, merely pragmatist as opposed to principled, and I think the reason is the same reason that I don't think my argument for supporting a Rudy Giuliani presidency over a Hillary Clinton presidency (should Giuliani get the GOP nod) is purely pragmatist or consequence-based. But my reasoning in both cases depends on an important ethical distinction that I want to spend some time developing first. I'll develop the ethical background in this post, and then I'll look at the two issues that brought me to this in separate posts.

The distinction raised by both Brian and Alan is between two kinds of ethical theories. Consequentialist views consider consequences to be the only thing of moral importance. The right action is the one that leads to the best consequences or that leads to good enough consequences, depending on how the view fleshes itself out. Deontological views are probably best captured as saying that there are moral constraints that go beyond consequences. Sometimes another factor can play a role to make an action wrong even if it leads to the best consequences or right even if it leads to less good consequences. Now if you follow the arguments of Alan or Brian, you might think that the views I would defend depend on consequentialism, and the views of Ron Paul and James Dobson rely on deontological considerations. But I am no consequentialist, and I don't think you need consequentialism to argue against either of the two views I would resist (i.e. Dobson's and Paul's).

Deontology is often thought of as having to do with absolute principles or duties. What I mean by that is that there are moral principles that are always wrong to violate. In Immanuel Kant's presentation, lying and breaking promises are always wrong, no matter what. I've written about the particular issue of lying before, defending the view that the prohibition on lying is not a moral absolute. There are some times when lying is in fact morally obligatory. It's just that there's normally a presumption against lying. I would say further that there are times when lying leads to the best consequences, and yet it's not the right thing to do. This means that I'm neither a moral absolutist nor a consequentialist. So what I am I? I would say that I'm still a deontologist but not of the absolutist sort. At least not every moral principle is an absolute.

 The 178th Christian Carnival is up at Chasing the Wind.

Sophia Pictures

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I normally link to pictures of the kids whenever Sam puts them up, but I saved these for later posting and forgot about them in the aftermath of my intensive two-week Human Nature course at the end of last month. They're not as interesting as some of the pictures Sam's managed to take of our kids, but Sophia's always cute, and it's a nice big-hair moment without any of the gussying-up her mommy usually gives her. She's wearing the purple pajamas that she wanted to wear 24/7 for about two weeks straight. She got mad whenever we tried to put anything else on her, even if she knew full well that the purple pajamas were wet. Now she's got some similar pink ones, which had a similar phase, and she isn't fully as attached to the two pairs anymore.

Marty Lederman raises an interesting inconsistency argument against two opinions the Supreme Court handed down yesterday, both touching on free speech and both written by Chief Justice Roberts. If you want to read the opinions themselves, they are Morse et al v. Frederick and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. Here are the quotes Lederman compares:

From Wisconsin Right to Life: “Because WRTL’s ads may reasonably be interpreted as something other than an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate, they are not the functional equivalent of express advocacy,” the Chief wrote. In defining what qualifies as “express advocacy,” "the court should give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship."
From Morse: ''The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic. But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one.''

I think the key would be to distinguish between different contexts for the two statements. If the context, the kind of case, and the circumstances of when it might be ok to act on the speech in some way differ in the right ways, then there's no inconsistency. In the school case, the issue wasn't whether it was a criminal act to say it. It was whether the school had the right to make a rule against it and thereby punish him in a non-legal way. It could outlaw that kind of speech within certain contexts, the Court concluded.

The other case didn't involve disciplining a student in a school for violation of a speech code or some such thing. It was about whether certain actions violate a law prohibiting a certain kind of speech.

I can understand why someone would think the burden of proof is much higher for establishing that someone has broken a law than it is for establishing that someone has broken a school speech code.

The other issue is that express advocacy seems to be a narrower concept in the Chief's mind, and there's no such narrower concept at work in the Bong Hits case.

I haven't read the opinions, so I don't know what Chief Justice Roberts would actually say, but I think I can make sense of why someone might view both cases differently even though both involve free speech. An interesting question is whether the dissenters, who also took opposite views on the two cases, can also provide a justification for wanting to restrict free speech in the campaign finance case while allowing it in the school case. They probably can, but I haven't read the opinions, and I haven't given it much thought.

I do think it's noteworthy that when people make such inconsistency claims they often forget to apply them to both sides. If conservatives favor restricting abortion but oppose animal rights, that has equal potential for inconsistency as favoring animal rights but opposing fetal rights. If conservatives have to explain how it's consistent to oppose abortion but favor the death penalty, then liberals who oppose the death penalty but favor legal abortion also need to explain how those positions are compatible. In any these cases, there isn't necessarily an actual inconsistency, but the charges are often made without considering that the opposite views might also have the same potential inconsistency.

Anti-Busing Absolutism

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This week, we're supposed to hear from the Supreme Court on a couple cases involving race-based assignment to elementary schools in order to ensure diversity at all schools (as opposed to race-based assignment of elementary schools in order to ensure segregation). I'm not sure yet that I have a view on the case. I plan to read the opinions carefully when they appear. I rarely do that. I think I've only read two Supreme Court opinions straight through when they appeared, and those were the sodomy and affirmative action decisions in the summer of 2003. But both were issues I was teaching about that summer, and I have particular interest in both issues because I regularly focus on both in ethics classes. This will be another case that draws my interest, but in this case I'm nowhere near as sure of what I think. I do think there's a difference between these cases and the segregation cases, but I also think there might be worries about how these programs work in the details. I may very well end up having mixed feelings about whatever the ruling is.

But here's one argument from Ed Whelan of Bench Memos that I cannot come close to endorsing, at least in its current form:
And how many American parents believe that any four-year-old should be forced to endure two daily 90-minute bus rides for any reason, much less in order to satisfy some social engineer’s rigid vision of racial balance?

I can understand that one more white kid in a white-dominated school is unfortunate in some ways, and I can understand concluding that it's not so bad that it's worth a 90-minute bus ride twice a day. But "for any reason"? What about a severely autistic kid who simply doesn't talk who needs a full-day pre-school program with none available in the entire county, and the closest one turns out to be one of the best in the entire region? And it's not fully 90 minutes. It's more like 75 (although it really is more like 90 for the other kid who rides his bus). And what if the kid actually enjoys the ride? I can't think of any better situation for my four-year-old than this, and it's unfortunate that the country can't keep paying for him to do it next year because of ridiculous state law requiring all kids his age to go to kindergarten regardless of any needs for further intensive pre-school services first.

This isn't really more than a quibble with his language, which could have been easily made to accomodate this sort of thing. If he hadn't spoken in such an absolute, he might have been accurate about most Americans' views. Even people who value diversity in education (and I'm certainly one of them, and I think it's ideal to have it at the earliest stages) may not think it's worth a 90-minute bus ride twice a day. But I think it's worth emphasizing a largely true generalization here. The more absolute you make a statement, the less likely it is to be true, especially when you're dealing with political issues, which are usually more complex than other issues (and especially more complex than either side of most debates will admit). I don't know very many Americans who, when presented with our situation, would think that we're immoral for sending Isaiah from Syracuse to Utica and back five days a week. The previous program he was in basically stalled his development right after he'd begun asking for things occasionally and using context-appropriate words occasionally (and then stopped right when he went to the half-day program), and he was making progress in this new program within a couple weeks of going there (and now is asking for things regularly, both with pictures and with actual words). Helping a four-year-old who is stuck whining and pointing to be able to ask for things with verbal language (never mind the other ways they've helped him out, which are fairly significant) is certainly worth the bus ride to another county, and even if he didn't like the bus ride I'd say that.

The 178th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Chasing the Wind. 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:


I've just finished Jorge Gracia's Surviving Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality: A Challenge for the Twenty-first Century, which I've blogged about briefly before. Overall, it's an excellent treatment of the metaphysical issues about race, ethnicity, and nationality. Gracia's primary focus is defending the existence of all three, explaining what they all are, distinguishing amongst them, and responding to objections against using such categories.

It's carefully argued and very clear. I can't see how someone can think through the ethical and political issues involving these three categories without having first thought about these more fundamental issues, and this is the best treatment of them that I've seen. It's treating an issue usually covered by continental philosophers but with the tools of analytic metaphysics, which is a breath of fresh air for me, since I'm trying to do the same thing.

I'm actually a little worried about what sort of positive view I'm going to end up with in my dissertation, because he's already come up with a similar enough view, and I think he's basically right. I'm sure I'll come up with something distinctive as I go, but this is the best discussion of the metaphysical status of race that I've seen yet, and I've been immersed in this literature for some time now. The other issues aren't my area, but I found his discussions of them helpful, particularly his arguments for what the differences are and why it's important to distinguish them.

I came across a nice little quote near the end that doesn't relate at all to my dissertation, but I found it both insightful and intriguing, and I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting as well:

The common idea that colonialism is responsible for the conflicts that afflict some parts of the Third World because colonial powers carved out states without regard to racial and ethnic differences assumes that it is a good thing to have states that are ethnically and racially homogeneous and divided along ethnic and racial lines. I am not going to defend colonialism, or the way colonial powers created states in the territories that once they controlled. I do not believe these are defensible causes, and their defense appears to be morally repugnant. It is quite clear that colonial powers created artificial states without nations. But their mistake was not neglecting ethnic or racial boundaries, but rather forming states without regard for nationality. Instead of helping to develop nations out of disparate ethnic and racial groups based on a common will to live under a system of laws with the aims of justice and the good of their members, they mostly drew lines on a map based on expediency and their own national or state interests.

I've always just accepted this argument whenever I've heard it. There really have been all manner of problems appearing in parts of the world where the boundary lines have been redrawn by colonial powers, separating ethnic groups down the middle and forcing them into states with other ethnic groups. But the solution wouldn't be making ethnic groups line up exactly with nations. That's a recipe for making every ethnic disagreement an international disagreement, and it makes outsiders of anyone who happens not to be in that ethnic group who is in the state. But as Gracia notes, the problem isn't arbitrary dividing lines, as if different ethnic groups couldn't form a nation and thrive. The problem is that those who colonized and drew the lines didn't engage in nation-building, i.e. they didn't work toward bringing these people to be part of a nation seeking a common system of laws to govern them for their own best interests.

Stem Cell Rhetoric

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From Hillary Clinton's statement on the Bush veto of the stem cell funding bill
You know, later today, apparently, the president will veto a bill passed by Congress to support stem cell research.
Now, this is research that...holds such promise for devastating diseases. Yesterday, I met with a group of children suffering from juvenile diabetes. I co-chair the Alzheimer's caucus in the Senate. I've worked on helping to boost funding for research to look for cures and a way to prevent so many devastating diseases. And we know that stem cell research holds the key to our understanding more about what we can do. So let me be very clear: When I am president, I will lift the ban on stem cell research.
This is just one example of how the President puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families, just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become. And it's just one more example as to why we're going to send them packing in January 2009, and return progressive leadership to the White House. 

No mention of the president's actual reasons for vetoing the bill. No mention that a large percentage of U.S. voters have strong moral objections to their tax dollars funding the deaths of human embryos. The way she tells the story, there are the people who want to help look for cures for diseases, and there are those who are just mean and prefer that sick people to get better.

Further, she gives a very clear implicature that there is a ban on stem cell research by talking about lifting it. But there is no such ban. Period. There is a ban on federal funding for such research, but no one has ever banned the research itself, at least in this country, and several states are now funding the research. So she misrepresents the position of the president and much of the opposing party, and then she says something about the current policy that's pretty much the moral equivalent of a lie.

Next, she makes it sound as if this is ideology and politics on one side and science and the needs of families on the other side. Yet there's no need to deny anything that scientific study has shown on the issue in order to argue against federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. There is information that each side of the debate downplays (e.g. the successes of adult stem cells, the potential for other methods of getting stem cells, and so on). Both sides want to tilt the evidence a little in their direction, but there's no way she can make the argument that her side is always on the side of science, while the other side is always against it. Neither case is based on science, in fact, since both views can admit the same scientific information. The real issue is about whether certain kinds of scientific research are immoral, and a lot of people do think this particular kind is thoroughly immoral, while others think there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Here is the updated schedule for Christian Carnival hosting. If you're interested in hosting in September, please let me know.

#177: June 20 The Evangelical Ecologist
#178: June 27 Chasing the Wind
#179: July 4 Participatory Bible Study Blog
#180: July 11 Everyday Liturgy
#181: July 18 Mere Orthodoxy
#182: July 25 Brain Cramps for God
#183: Aug 1 Crossroads
#184: Aug 8 The Bible Archive
#185: Aug 15 Parableman
#186: Aug 22 Chasing the Wind
#187: Aug 27 Imago Dei

The 177th Christian Carnival is up at The Evangelical Ecologist.

I received a very interesting question via email from Patrick Chan:

According to the theory of evolution, why couldn't future man be materially different from present day or modern man, such that he is no longer distinguishable from modern man (by "materially," I include genetic and biochemical differences which may or may not manifest themselves physically)?  As far as I can tell, it's possible according to evolution.

And perhaps as a result of such differences, why couldn't future man differ markedly from modern man in other ways?  Maybe future man will have a different psychological makeup and emotional life, for instance, and thus be subject to and experience different temptations, sufferings, etc. than what modern man experiences.

What I'm getting at is that it's possible Christ himself might not share with future man what he shares with modern man.  It's possible Christ would no longer be "one of us" in the sense that he would no longer be able to share in future man's "humanity," assuming future man can at least still be considered part of the mammalian species homo sapien.  (Of course, if future man is so different that he can no longer be classified as a homo sapien, then that raises other questions.)  This would undercut Scripture (e.g. Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-16).

In other words, if it's possible for man to evolve into something different than he is today -- whether it's only a slight difference or whether it's as jarringly dissimilar as depicted in a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey (in which man is a different species) -- then what would that make Christ in his incarnation as a man?  On the evolutionary tree of life, modern man, and therefore Christ himself since he came as a modern man, could very well be to future man what an ape-man might be to us.  Evolutionarily speaking, Christ in his incarnation would be a different being than future man.  I'll not mince words: as far as I can tell, it's possible that the evolutionary equivalent of an ape-man might have died for your sins.

My response (addressed to him, since I first wrote it in an email response to him):

I can't remember where I found these fascinating musical tests. It was probably from one of Joe Carter's long posts on random things. One measures how fine-tuned your tone recognition is. Another is about remembering a rhythmic pattern and recognizing whether a second pattern is the same one, and a third does a similar thing for a short passage whose melody or harmony may or may not have changed.

It was last week sometime, and I didn't record my scores. I was definitely above average on the pitch discrimination test, but I don't think I could be a piano tuner without a tuning fork, because it doesn't measure perfect pitch, just relative pitch. I couldn't hope to tell you what note any pitch is without a piano in front of me. I did it outside on the back porch while the kids were vying for my attention, and I still got about average to a little above average on the rhythmic and harmonic/melodic patterns, so I'd like to think I'd do better when undistracted and in a quiet place. This is something of a good sign given how little time I've had for continuing my musical skills in terms of actually producing music of my own, although I think listening to progressive rock ought to help a little

As I've discussed before, Sam Brownback recently penned an editorial that The New York Times ran, clarifying his views on faith and reason, particularly with regard to evolution. I've seen several people discussing this response by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, but nothing I've seen details just how far off the mark the Coyne piece is.

It contains several philosophical mistakes and demonstrates serious ignorance about the subject matter under discussion, which happens to be philosophy (not science), as I hope will become clear shortly. But, most disturbingly, it drastically misrepresents Brownback's view. This post consists of an almost-fisking of the piece. I do not quote the entire piece, but I've selected out quite a number of important excerpts. My not discussing something doesn't mean I agree with it. I'm simply focusing on what I do know, and I don't really know any biology, which though it's not the main subject does occupy an important part of his argument. I'm thus sticking to what I do have some expertise in, something I think Coyne ought to do in the future rather than doing bad philosophy while calling it science.

I'll start with one bit toward the end of the piece, because it illustrates the biggest misunderstanding Coyne relies on, and then I'll work through the piece in order.

According to Brownback, we should reject scientific findings if they conflict with our faith, but accept them if they're compatible. But the scientific evidence says that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago. Are we supposed to reject this as "atheistic theology" (an oxymoron if there ever was one)?

This is a clear fallacy:

1. Brownback says we should reject scientific findings if they conflict with our faith
2. the scientific evidence says that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago
3. Therefore, Brownback says we should reject the claim that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago

I'm missing the crucial premise that it conflicts with the faith to hold that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago. Since Brownback doesn't assert that claim, the argument doesn't apply. He does say that he believes microevolution is true, and he does say that he doesn't think macroevolution could be true in a way that requires a materialistic, deterministic metaphysic. What he doesn't say is that macroevolution without a materialistic, deterministic metaphysic is false or incompatible with his faith. He is perfectly silent on that issue. Only if he did say that would Coyne's argument even get going.

The 177th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at The Evangelical Ecologist. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see 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:

What an interesting argument! Laurence Thomas argues that there is a black American imperialism. [Note: Laurence's site doesn't like the server this blog resides on. You usually have to click on the link, wait until you get a rejection message, click in the URL box, and hit enter. I've never seen it fail to work that way.]

Blacks in the U.S. tend to see blackness as something they have a monopoly on, such that Barack Obama isn't really black due to his father being from Africa and his mother being white. You might hear things like, "Immigrant blacks don't have our heritage, so they must not really be black." At the same time, hip-hop is one of the biggest cultural exports from the U.S., and blacks in the U.S. are having a huge impact on blacks elsewhere, while ignoring that Africa is a continent and not a country, smoothing over the huge differences throughout Africa to act as if all blacks are just from Africa (appropriating half-customs with no meaning in the process). A number of elements in this process resemble the cultural imperialism that larger American culture regularly engages in, so it's interesting to see him identifying some ways that the black subculture in the U.S. does similar things.

My Forthcoming Books

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I have some substantive things to post on, but I think it would be foolhardy for me to create too many new posts for people to keep commenting on when the comments have been occupying too much of my time already in the last few days. So instead of posting any of what I've been working on for the last couple days, I'll post something completely frivolous that I forgot to mention a while back.

Rajjilicious at Wildebeest's Wardrobe has jumped the gun a bit and announced some forthcoming books, including two by me. I didn't know I could write that fast, but apparently I'll have these done by next year.

My favorite is #3. It makes me want to edit an anthology of women philosophers' works, including papers by Hilary Putnam, Shelly Kagan, Marian David, Lois Hope Walker, Hilary Kornblith, and J. Leslie Mackie.

The 176th Christian Carnival has returned to the carnival's founder this week at

Trinitarian Survey

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I know someone who is doing some work on the Trinity from a philosophical point of view, and he's currently running a survey about Trinitarian belief. You do have to register, but it's a fun quiz for those who like theology, and you get the results of everyone who's taken it at the end. He's trying to learn what Christians think about the Trinity, so it's primarily for those who do consider themselves Christians. He's particularly interested in targeting seminary students or others who study theology of some sort. If you can help spread the word to seminarians or other students of theology, he would greatly appreciate it.

I've seen the following argument several times in recent months:

1. Hate crime laws make a penalty more severe only because of a different intent.
2. If you increase the penalty for a crime merely because of the motive, you are criminalizing a motive, i.e. a thought.
3. Therefore, hate crime laws are really criminalizing people's views and thus are thought crime laws.

The result is that a number of conservative organizations have been resisting hate crime laws and calling them thought crimes. Family Research Council is one group that has been doing this. When Congress had a bill on hate crimes in front of them, they were sending daily emails calling the bill a thought crime bill. I thought it was inaccurate to label it that way at the time, and I'm even more convinced of it now after reading Eugene Volokh's post from a few weeks ago on the subject. Volokh points out that we do this sort of thing all the time, and no one has any qualms about it. Treason is a thought crime, on this view. If I stole a government document in order to destroy it for the fun of it, it wouldn't be treason. But if I did it to sell it to North Korea or Iran, it might be treason. Also, murder or manslaughter can differ in terms of intent, as can different degress of murder from each other and different degrees of manslaughter from each other. Intent is extremely common as a means of distinguishing between different kinds of crimes with different penalties. Even less controversial discrimination laws can distinguish between different penalties (or whether a crime has even been committed) according to intent.

If those things count as thought crimes, then we shouldn't be opposed to legislating against thought crimes. But I think it's probably better to recognize that none of these things counts as thought crimes. A thought crime would be thinking something without doing anything further and then being arrested merely for having the view.

I haven't said anything about whether there are good reasons to favor or to resist including sexual orientation as specially protected in terms of hate crimes. I think there are reasons offered on both sides that have some merit. But it's silly to oppose these laws simply because they treat two murders or assaults as different according to motive. It's true that both are assaults, but they do have different moral factors that apply to them. One is a worse assault. At the same time, we don't always recognize morally important issues as affecting what kind of crime someone committed or even whether they committed a crime. I'd love to try to think through (at some point, not today) which factors count as legitimate ones in terms of motive. But ruling it out merely because it does involve motives is at best ignorant of how law generally works in this country with regard to different motives for the same act.

Michael Bird has a nice post about inerrancy, most of which I'd agree with. I don't have anything further to say about his post itself, at least nothing I want to take up now, but a discussion in the comments reminded me that I've twice now set out to write a post on infallibility and inerrancy and not gotten around to it. I'm remedying that now.

In the comments at Michael's post, Danny Zacharias says he's confused at the use of the word 'infallible' in Michael's favorite expression of inerrancy. His confusion is because he thinks the word 'infallible' means something weaker than inerrancy. Inerrancy, on this view, means the whole Bible is without error, including in historical details and matters of science. Infallibility means the whole Bible is without error in matters of faith and practice but not necessarily when it comes to matters of science and history.

Under the influence of George Marsden, several faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a number of other scholars who began to write about this issue around the late 70s and early 80s, it has become somewhat standard in some circles of theologians to use the terms this way. I will call this approach the Fuller view for lack of a better term. I want to show that this way of using the terms involves a basic confusion about two completely different issues. One issue is what scope of inspiration, i.e. what aspects of scripture are inspired (matters of faith and practice, matters of history and science, and so on). The other issue is whether scripture is merely correct about those things (i.e. inerrant or without error) or whether the inspiration is such that it couldn't be wrong about them (i.e. infallible or unable to err).

The issue the Fuller view deals with is not whether scripture is inspired in an infallible or inerrant way. It's merely about the scope of inspiration. Around the time of this controversy, Fuller Seminary removed its inerrancy language from its statement of faith, no longer requiring its faculty to hold that scripture is inspired in all of the details of history and science. What's strange about calling this a move from inerrancy to infallibility it that such a view is consistent with both inerrancy and infallibility about matters of faith and practice, as long as it isn't inerrant or infallible about matters of science and history. The view in question is completely independent of the inerrancy or infallibility issue. It's about the scope of inerrancy or infallibility, whichever they might choose to go with, not about whether the inspiration is an inerrant or infallible sort of inspiration.

Inerrancy itself is a fairly weak concept in comparison to infallibility. Something is inerrant if it happens not to have any errors. A newspaper article can be inerrant. I'm sure many articles are. Infallibility, on the other hand, is true only if the thing is incapable of having errors. Scripture, according to the historic teaching of the church, does not just merely happen to have no errors. It is infallible. It is impossible for it to have errors. Given that it is a revelation from God, inspired in a way that God ensures its correctness, it cannot be wrong.

So what the Fuller view has done is co-opt a term about the nature of inspiration, a term used for describing the impossibility of God's word containing errors, to use it to apply to a view about the scope of inerrancy or infallibility, i.e. the view that scripture can or does have errors about some matters while not having, or being unable to have, other kinds of errors. A more accurate description of their view, then, would be that the Bible is infallible or inerrant about matters of faith and practice but not infallible or inerrant about matters of history and science. Calling that infallibility as opposed to inerrancy is wildly confused.

The 176th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at 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:

Civil libertarianism is a general emphasis on individual rights as opposed to government interference in how people choose to live their lives. Some people hold to civil libertarianism purely as a political philosophy, and others base it in a kind of moral libertarianism about there being nothing morally wrong with most of the things they favor allowing people to do legally. Someone like Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, had better take the latter view when it comes to sex-related acts that he wants legal, at least unless he's going to admit to being a thoroughly immoral person. So I suspect that what's grounding his advocacy of first-amendment free-speech rights for the porngraphy industry that he's part of is a moral libertarianism. There's nothing wrong with what his magazine publishes, so there should be no laws against it.

What he doesn't like is social conservatives who speak out against sex-related acts of certain sorts and then commit acts privately that many of their constituents would disapprove of. This is what's called hypocrisy, provided that it's not just a moment of weakness but a regular pattern of saying one thing and doing another, with full realization that their words apply to themselves and just no willingness to let that affect their life. We just heard Flynt on the radio talking about his campaign to catch politicians doing this sort of thing by paying anyone a million dollars if they can come up with photographs of politicians in the act.

Something seems funny about the position Flynt is taking. He denies that this is revenge against those who have caused him legal trouble in the past. So what is his motivation? Would you expect a civil libertarian who thinks people should pretty much be able to do what they want to be concerned about what these politicians are up to? It's not as if he thinks those acts are immoral or anything. So it's not the acts that he has a problem with. The only things left that he could complain about are (1) their public stance and (2) the disconnect between their public stance and their private behavior. I'm not sure either justifies what Flynt is doing, at least not unless you add some additional moral premise that might move in the opposite direction of the moral libertarianism that often undergirds civil libertarianism.

Flynt has a legitimate complaint against the policy recommendations of social conservatives, given his civil libertarianism. On his view those policies are terrible. He objects to restrictions that prevent people from getting married to other people of the same sex, mutilating their fetuses to death, using chemicals (i.e. drugs) to destroy themselves and the kids in their neighborhood that they deal them to, taking advantage of desperate people in order to have sex with them (i.e. hiring prostitutes), taking advantage of desperate people in order to photgraph them nude (i.e. running a porn magazine), and so on. He wants people to be free to do those things, and he thinks he has a moral objection to stopping people from doing such things. So the views of social conservatives are, on his view, wrong.

I haven't had much to say recently about the substance of the immigration debate playing itself out in the U.S. Congress, media, and presidential debates. I did discuss it when he first proposed it. I agree with Republican politicians at most about 55% of the time and Democrats at most about 35% of the time (and that's people like Joe Lieberman), according to a rough estimate from this test. This is an issue on which I don't agree with the main base of either party. I probably agree more with the president, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Kennedy (D-MA) on the general kind of mediating position to take, and I probably would have grave concerns about the way it's being implemented in the current bill, but I've not looked at it in enough detail to have a lot to say. Justin Taylor links to several Hugh Hewitt posts that get into the legal details and practical implications, but I don't have the patience or time to look into any of that carefully enough to evaluate it. I do think it's interesting that hardly anything Hewitt says has all that much to do with the main complaints of the base of either party.

I did want to register some thoughts I've had over the last few weeks about some arguments I'm seeing. They seem to me to be terrible arguments, and some of what I've been thinking hasn't been emphasized very much in what I've had the time to hear on the radio and read on a few blogs I've managed to check in on.

1. Here's one argument I won't accept. Some say that finding a pathway for illegal immigrants to mend their ways and become legal is somehow condoning their illegal entry. I disagree. It would be bad if people who enter illegally can get a pathway to citizenship that's easier than people who enter legally. That would be rewarding illegal entry. But you can condone without rewarding. What does condoning involve? Reducing a penalty is not condoning. It is reducing a penalty. Condoning would be saying that it's not wrong. Changing a law so that the penalty is different, even if you do so retroactively for people who've already broken the law, does not mean the act was not criminal. There is still a stiff penalty even in the proposed bill. It requires temporary deportation and a pretty severa fine. How is it condoning something to reduce a penalty from permanent deportation to temporary deportation and a huge fine? The very notion seems to me to misunderstand what condoning even is.

2. The motivation for this bill is an attempt to find a middle ground between two extremes, and I think most people will agree that both of those extremes are bad even if they don't accept that this particular middle ground is the right way to go. Some will see it as too close to one or the other extreme. I think it's worth keeping in mind that the intent is good, since it's at least in principle trying to find that mediating position.

One extreme would be simple amnesty. Those who have committed crimes in entering this country will be pardoned, and they will be allowed to enter the pathway to citizenship more easily (because of their cheating shortcut) than those who entered legally. I don't think anyone wants that, once you put it that way, although some have offered policy changes that would have that effect. The other extreme would be to insist on carrying out the impossible task of finding and deporting all illegal immigrants and preventing the people responsible for doing that kind of thing from fighting more serious problems like Islamicist terrorism.

The 175th Christian Carnival is at The Bible Archive. It's the Trekkie edition. Somehow my post ended up with Kirk, of all people.

Pejman Yousefzadeh has been posting at Right Reason about his reconciliation of Nietsche with conservatism. His latest post looks at Nietzsche and Nihilism, and he asks for others' thoughts on this issue that divides Nietzsche scholars. I haven't spent a lot of time reading Nietzche, but I did spend some time reading him recently to prepare for two hours devoted to him in a Human Nature course I just taught, and I do have some thoughts on the different ways to take him. My understanding is that there are Nietzsche scholars who take all three approaches I'm about to outline, and I have no view on which is correct. I'm not even going to find textual support for any of them. I just want to outline the three ways of taking him in response to Pejman's request for how people might take him on this issue.

Nietzsche does state in several places that there are no moral truths independent of which things people happen to call good and bad, right and wrong. This is the position that philosophers usually mean by the term 'nihilism'. Nietzsche speaks of the master morality, which involves the strong and noble arbitrarily assigning their own characteristics the category Good and slaves' characteristics the category Bad. In response, the slave morality responds by doing the reverse. In his initial discussions, it sounds as if he thinks both master and slave morality are these artificial constructions that society has arbitrarily assigned value to, with no inherent moral value in anything.

But then in other places he talks about how bad Christianity is, and certain characteristics of both master and slave morality get negative evaluations from him. He speaks of how good certain characteristics he likes are, e.g. being strong and not submitting to others' wishes, setting one's own path and defining one's life autonomously, and so on. He then speaks of a position he calls nihilism as bad and worth avoiding, and he sometimes sounds like he's condemning the position that there is no good and bad when he does that. But he does this while saying Christianity and slave morality are versions of nihilism, which makes me wonder if nihilism for him isn't not valuing anything but just not valuing what's really good as good. But if that's right, then there is something good in itself.

The question, then, is how to fit these two together. I'm not going to put it past him just to be inconsistent. He eschewed systematizing, and saying contradictory things might fulfill his desire not to allow people to put him into systematized categories. But there are two other ways to deal with this. One is to take him less seriously in his nihilist claims, and the other is to take him less seriously in his denials of nihilism.

If we take him less seriously in his nihilist claims, then he is perhaps saying that <i>moral</i> notions like right and wrong are arbitrary, and <i>some</i> claims to good and bad are also arbitrary and artificial, but there are some things that are good and bad in other, non-moral senses. Some Nietzsche scholars take him to hold that there is aesthetic value but no moral value.

If we take him less seriously in his denial of nihilism, then he really does think nothing is good or bad in itself. When he denies nihilism, he denies claims that something is bad or wrong, and he sees that as negative thinking, while really anything can be positive or good. Nothing is good in itself. We just assign such values. If this is right, then Nietzsche really is a nihilist, and his denial of things he calls nihilism is just a denial of particular views about which things are bad and wrong. If nothing is good or bad in itself, then anything can be treated as good if we want to, and there's nothing inappropriate about that.

The 48th Philosophers' Carnival is up at Common Sense Philosophy.

According to this story, James Dobson is on the pragmatist side of the pro-life camp, favoring the incrementalist approach to restricting abortion and thus earning the ire of those who think it is immoral to endorse any law or judicial decision that allows any abortion. His praise for the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth abortion bad, and his endorsement of that ban to begin with, count as such pragmatist incrementalisms. After all, the ban only bans some abortions, and Justice Kennedy's opinion upholds the legality of abortion in most cases.

Dobson's difficulty is that he was treating what he saw as pragmatism among those who could vote for Rudy Giuliani against Hillary Clinton as thoroughly immoral, something he could never see himself doing. His reason seems to me to be parallel to the reasoning of those who are currently critizing him for being too pragmatist on these other issues. So is he consistent in taking these very different attitudes to things that some will treat both as pragmatist compromise.

I criticized Dobson's stance on the first issue, and for exactly the same reasons I want to say that he's taking the better approach on this second issue. But because I think the same reasons matter n both cases, I'm wondering if he can consistently treat the two cases as different in a way that justifies his vastly different language about each. Is there some principled reason why he could take what many would see as a pragmatist line on abortion laws and judicial decisions while calling someone immoral for taking a similar stance on which candidates to vote for? I'm not sure what such a principle might be. I can't think of any crucial difference between the two issues that helps distinguish them in the way he needs.


The 175th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at The Bible Archive. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see 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:


Jonathan Adler is belittling Sam Brownback's relatively nuanced (for a politician) position on evolution. The comment thread is getting pretty heated, almost entirely in a direction that seems to me to miss the most important factor in interpreting his position. I would go so far as to say that most of the commenters are immorally taking Brownback's position in the least charitable way possible.

Roughly speaking, the problem seems to be that Senator Brownback is using language that leaves the issue wide open, where what he says is consistent with anything from theistic evolution to six-day creationism. The charge is that he is using coded language that's supposed to tell six-day creationists he's with them, while also using coded language to tell theistic evolutionists that he's with them, or something like that anyway. The assumption is that he couldn't be genuinely conflicted on this issue in a way that's consistent with rationality. I want to suggest that the most plausible interpretation of his comments is not the political coded language one but that he really is conflicted in such a way and that it even results from rational conflictedness.

Given that many people do think the most reasonable interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis is that the world was really created in six days 10,000 years ago (note: I don't think this is the most reasonable interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3, given its poetic elements, but I can understand how an intelligent, rational person might think it is), I can understand why he might genuinely feel conflicted, resulting in the following views:

1. Whatever the Bible teaches is true.
2. The Bible's teaching can be interpreted in a way that's consistent with the consensus among contemporary scientists, but some interpretations are more reasonable than others.
3. Science isn't infallible and has often been very wrong, even when scientists are correct at the time to think their best information leads them to that view. Most of the time these are minor variations, but sometimes they are major overthrows.
4. The most plausible interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the contemporary consensus.

I can easily see why an intelligent, informed person who knows all the science and understands why the consensus holds what it does might still refrain from holding any belief whatsoever on whether speciation occurred in the way the consensus says it did. The key is to insist both that (a) our interpretation of the scripture might be wrong and (b) our science has at least some chance of being wrong, while insisting that (c) whatever the Bible does say is true (whether our interpretation is correct or not) and (d) whatever a perfect scientific study would result it will almost certainly be correct.

Only if you assume from the outset that divine revelation about such matters is impossible could you end up concluding that such a person is irrational.

Mark Goodacre points to the attention Deirdre Good's new book Jesus' Family Values is getting. Her argument is basically that Jesus had no family values, on the following ground:

1. Jesus challenged some of the societal expectations people in his cultural context had about families.
2. Jesus doesn't spend a lot of time on some of the moral perspectives assumed by all first-century Jews because of the background of the Hebrew scriptures, i.e. he focuses on where the people of his time were misinterpreting or violating the spirit of the Hebrew scriptures.
3. Jesus predicts that families will divide over him, without ever saying that those who reject his followers in this way and put them to death are right to cause such division.
4. We see no sign of Jesus calling his foster father Joseph by the name he reserved for his heavenly Father.

She also says (falsely) that the word 'family' never appears in the New Testament. Now the English word never appears in the Greek, but a simple online search would have shown her that many English translations use the word regularly (see the ESV, NIV, HCSB, TNIV, NLT). Maybe she got some not quite true information about the KJV not having the word in the NT (it does have it once), but that has nothing to do with the content of the Greek NT itself but more to do with the English language at the time the KJV was translated (or rather the English language of a couple centuries earlier, which is what the KJV translators were translating the Bible into). [Update: see the comments for a more careful presentation of her view, why it's a little better than this, and why I still disagree with it.]

Now maybe the bulk of her argumentation is good, and maybe her conclusions aren't as radical as this presentation makes it look, but the impression of what I'm getting is that she's trying to send a message that pretty much everything those who speak of "family values" consider to fall under that would have been foreign to Jesus, and he'd in fact take the opposite views on many of those issues. The implicature is that those who say they derive their moral and political views from the Bible on these issues are in fact making them up whole cloth.

As I said in the comments on Mark's post, this is a very strange argument. For one thing, Jesus did speak about family values. He lambasted the Pharisees for taking the money they should have been using to care for their parents and dedicating it to God with a vow so they could use it now and not have to support their parents. He gives his mother to John to take care of her. He treats the love of the father for the prodigal son as an image of perfect, divine love, which affirms such love for wayward children.



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