Jeremy Pierce: February 2009 Archives

Christian Carnival CCLXV

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The 265th Christian Carnival is up at Chasing the Wind.

One or several of the following are now apparently racist:

1. Unwillingness to accept funding that is supposed to stimulate the economy but won't stimulate much of anything.
2. Unwillingness to accept funding that mandates further expenses to your state after the temporary federal funding providing for those expenses expires.
3. Unwillingness to accept funding that might have strings attached that will prevent campus religious groups from finding meeting space on campuses
4. Unwillingness to accept funding from a bill that was rushed overnight without giving any of the legislators who voted for it or the President who signed for it a chance even to read the thing, never mind decide whether it's morally responsible.
5. Unwillingness to accept funding that sets welfare back to what it was before the reforms instituted by President Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that had wide bi-partisan support and a significant movement of welfare recipients back into the
6. Unwillingness to accept funding that will increase the budget deficit during a time when it's already too high and the President who initiated it is also complaining about the very thing he's contributing to at record levels.

I've heard all of the above motivations for governors resisting some of the funding coming from the stimulus package, and they all seem like pretty good arguments to me based on what I know (but I haven't read the bill; it takes most people a year to read the Bible, and that's not much longer). It may well be that some of the funding might help some people, and some of those people might be black. But the opposition from these governors is mostly to funding that isn't going to help people or would help them at too much cost, cost that might well mean in the long run that it isn't a help after all. So how is it an insult to black people in the states that are refusing this money? It could just as easily be argued that it's an insult to black people to support this disastrous bill that will almost certainly make life worse off in the long run for most Americans, black Americans included.

Does Rep. Clyburn honestly think a governor of a state is going to do something bad for the state purely out of spite for the black people in the state? I can't see how he can say what he does unless he thinks these governors are at least slighting blacks in some way. Otherwise he shouldn't count it as an insult. That assumes that these governors are ignoring the best interest of a major portion of their electorate. It's one thing to have a different view about what's in someonee's best interest and thus take a policy that the other side takes to be harmful or negligent. It's quite another to think this is being done with enough deliberateness or contempt that you could count it as an insult, which presumes that these governors understand that the stimulus bill really is in the best interest of their black population but somehow don't care. Isn't it much more likely that the governor in question really thinks it would be bad to do what Rep. Clyburn thinks would be good? But that doesn't justify being insulted, and his psychological dependence on being insulted is strong enough that he needs some way to justify it, even if it means slandering people who probably really do have the best of intentions.

There are a lot of black politicians who can say what they want with impunity, without having to face election in a district with a racial population spread closer to the mainstream of society. Such politicians will probably never move to higher levels of elected office than in a gerrymandered district in the House of Representatives, so they remain there and get committee chair spots whenever the Democrats are in control. Rep. Clyburn is in that category. Some hoped that electing Barack Obama to the presidency would put an end to the kind of unfair misrepresentation and ridiculous posturing that partisan gerrymandering along race lines has caused. It hasn't yet, and it's still early in Obama's term, but I don't think it will easily have that effect. The ironic result of race-based district gerrymandering is the election of cranks into the Unites States House of Representatives who wouldn't have a chance at statewide office given their extremist view and wllingness to spout them off whenever anyone does something they disagree with, even if it labels that person in a way that has little to do with the facts. I can't see how it helps black America to have people like this serving as their main elected representatives. I do hope having Obama in as visible a role as President will change this sort of thing. It doesn't seem like it's going to happen quickly, though.

Book Suggestions?

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I'm teaching an applied ethics course this summer, and I'm thinking of covering war and terrorism again, which I haven't done a full-blown unit on in a few years, at least not with any focus on Iraq. I've got a great book that has excellent philosophical treatments of pacifism, just war theory, torture, individual rights and national security, the war vs. law enforcement models of fighting terrorism, and other general discussions of current issues on the subject. I've also got a book that I'm thinking of using that makes a case for fitting the justification for the 2003 Iraq invasion into just war thought, and even though it's not a heavily philosophical treatment it should be easy for me to provide that side of things.

What I don't have is a high-quality critique of the Iraq invasion in terms of just war theory. Does anyone know of such a thing? I would ideally prefer a low-priced book (especially something less than $20), but if I have to settle for an article or two then that would be better than nothing. There's probably much more critiquing the invasion than supporting it, simply because academics tend to fall that way in their political alignment, but I don't know much about published works, since most of my reading on the subject has been online. Any suggestions?


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The 265th Christian Carnival is 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 the Christian Carnival archive.
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I've been looking a little at Gerald Wilson's NIV Application Commentary volume on Psalms 1-72, and in his discussion of the psalm I'm looking at he refers to his introduction's discussion of psalm titles, where I found the following curious argument. First, he explains the common view that the psalms themselves later came to have musical instructions, with authorship ascriptions added still later and then the historical notes providing a setting even later than that. It's the reasoning that struck me as interesting:

Several features of the psalm headings in the LXX add some weight to this suggestion. The Greek translation of the liturgical terms and notices evidence a degree of uncertainty and confusion. The rather standard instruction "To the director" is translated eis to telos ("To the end [of time]"). This and other equally awkward renderings suggest the translators had only an imperfect understanding of these liturgical terms. This likely means that the liturgical elements were early enough for their meaning to have been partially obscured by the time of the Greek translation -- at least those terms specifically related to temple worship.

By contrast, the LXX not only acknolwedges the author designations in the Hebrew psalm headings but adds to them considerably, increasing the number of Davidic psalms and including attributions to persons and historical contexts that do not appear in the Hebrew versions. This suggests that the author attributions and historical references were later than the liturgical elements and were still in a state of some fluidity. The appearance among the Qumran psalms scrolls and fragments of additional psalms, Davidic attributions, and historical notices not included in the canonical Paslter supports this developing view.

Maybe I just don't understand the argument or need more background information that Wilson doesn't provide, but I'm not fully following all of this. I'm not sure I have enough information here to evaluate the Greek translation of what commonly gets translated as "to the director". Is there a term in Hebrew similar to the one that's been passed down to us that could have caused this confusion? If so, why prefer the reading we've got rather than that one? If not, then do we have any explanation why the Greek translators made this mistake? Or could it be that they might have understood the Hebrew better than we do, and contemporary translations just have it wrong? A popular-level commentary need not get into these issues, but if you're going to be bring it up it might be worth presenting the argument more completely. As things stand, I see no reason in his argument for preferring our understanding of the Hebrew to that of the Greek translators 2100 years ago. If (as Wilson seems to be saying) it was that obscure to them, what reasons do we have for now thinking we've got a better understanding? For all I know, we do have such reasons, but it would have been nice to see what they are if they exist.

The curious part of all this is when you compare about with similar reasoning in other biblical books. This is an argument that something that's more extensive in the LXX is inferior and later than the Hebrew MT. Wilson treats this as the majority view among scholars. I know full well that the recent tendency among mainstream scholars in the early chapters of I Samuel is to treat the significant LXX expansions as earlier and more reliable than the traditional readings from the Hebrew MT. That makes me wonder if the people who say this sort of thing are also among those who do the opposite with I Samuel. The issues aren't always the same with two biblical books. Virtually all scholars agree that the LXX expansions to Daniel and Esther are much later than the original Hebrew works, and virtually all scholars accept some LXX readings as superior to the MT, especially if the LXX agrees with evidence in Hebrew texts that have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it makes me wonder what it is that leads scholars to have rejected these LXX additions but not the I Samuel ones. I've always been skeptical of the I Samuel ones myself, so I don't consider this an idle question.

Christian Carnival CCLXIV

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The 264th Christian Carnival is up at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus.

I've recently discovered that an argument I've often seen and sometimes used is based on something untrue. Christians pacifists (and pacifists intending to win over Christians) often make the claim that, since one of the ten commandments says "do not kill", it must always be immoral to kill. I've also seen the sixth commandment come up in lists of supposed Bible contradictions. Most such lists are filled with mainly easily-resolved surface-language differences with the occasional serious difficulty that takes some real work to resolve (although I know of no such difficulties that don't have at least one possible solution, thus showing that it's not actually a contradiction).

One (among several) responses to both of these claims is that the word used for murder in the sixth commandment in fact does not mean killing but simply means murder, so the only kinds of killing that it could be talking about are those that are wrong, leaving it open that there are kinds of killing that are not wrong. It turns out that this isn't true. There are several words for killing in biblical Hebrew, and this term isn't the most common one. It's usually reserved for contexts of killing within the covenant community, usually used in cases where the killing is especially divisive, often with inter-tribal conflicts in mind.

Its most frequent occurrences are all in one chapter, though, and that chapter is Numbers 25, which provides the details of the city of refuge provision of the Mosaic law. The ancient near eastern method of bringing murders to justice was to have an appointed avenger within each extended family or clan unit, who would hunt down and kill anyone who killed one of their own. The city of refuge provision took several of the Levitical cities and made them safe havens from avengers until a trial could take place, thus ensuring justice could be pursued more carefully as long as the accused was willing to flee to one of those cities. If the person was not found guilty of deliberate murder, they could live in the Levitical city until the death of the current high priest atoned for their sin of negligence, but otherwise they could be put to death once convicted.

I don't remember all the details now, but after looking over this with someone who knows Hebrew I discovered that most or all of the occurrences of deliberate murder used the same word as in the sixth commandment, but the term also occurs two or three times of the killing by the avenger, which as far as I can determine is legally sanctioned killing. It's not used of outright death penalties for specific crimes in the Torah, but it is used of the avenger's killing of duly convicted criminals. So what was probably the easiest response to the difficulties I mentioned above doesn't seem to be correct. The pacifist may not be able to claim that what the commandment says not to do can cover every kind of killing, but they can claim that the word can be used for legalized killing. Also, you can't get out of the supposed contradiction simply by saying the word doesn't mean "kill" but means "murder", since the Torah seems to allow instances of killing that use this very word. But I don't think this puts a stop to the kind of view I would defend. It just makes one of the easier and quicker responses no longer as easy and quick as I would have liked.



The 264th Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

On the News

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Sam was interviewed for the local news broadcast tonight for a parent reaction to today's decision that there's still absolutely no reason to believe that autism is caused by vaccines. They included some brief family footage without the boys (with me in full mountain man mode) and a still shot of the boys' latest pictures. She's got a link to the video in her post.

Does anyone know if there's a way to download video in that kind of streaming format? I know there used to be a way to do it by changing the filename extension, but I don't remember how to do that, and I'm guessing it no longer works the same way. Update: Got it. Thanks, Jonathan I!

I've been wanting to post some thoughts on a recent piece by Richard Gray in The Telegraph on a new book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore that details Charles Darwin's anti-slavery motivations. I've been putting it off, but I decided it would be fitting to write it up on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Gray points to some journals from Darwin's voyages on the Beagle and letters of family members that reveal his disgust at the practice of enslaving fellow humans and involvement in the abolitionist movement. This is so contrary to the false portrayal of him in some circles that applies later Social-Darwinist ideas to Darwin himself, something he never endorsed and would not have tolerated.

This wasn't all that surprising to me, even though I didn't know of his outright abolitionist views. After all, Darwin was such a strong supporter of the common descent of all humans in explicit opposition to views that had different ancestries of different races without a single common ancestor population for humans. Such views were around in his day and had been put to use in support of slavery. In this way Darwin was closer than some of his contemporaries to the view found among many Christians that three races had arisen from Noah's three sons, with further divergence later on at the tower of Babel.

There were alternative Christian (or, I would argue, sub-Christian) views at the time as well, most notably the outright racist idea borrowed from Islam that the curse on Ham's son Canaan was really a curse on all of Ham's descendants (or more precisely the darker-skinned ones, in contrast to Canaan's middle-eastern descendants in what became Israel, who were the actual group referred to in the Genesis curse). This view involved a number of curse elements not in the Genesis text that mentions Noah's curse on Canaan, including intellectual and moral inferiority to other races among the darker-skinned Hamites from Africa and the moral justification of slavery (rather than the text's simple report that Canaan would serve Shem and Japheth without saying whether it would be morally ok for those who enslaved them). So not all support for slavery came from the view that humans arose in different and unrelated races in different parts of the world completely independently. But it's easy to see how Darwin's opposition to that view was part of his motivation for providing an account of human origins that resisted such a view.

Two things have occurred to me while reflecting on this and reading some people's responses to it. One is that it's a clear case of being motivated to adopt a thesis based on ideology. It's true that Darwin's support for the view ultimately is supported by his actual reasons presented in his work. He does in fact give arguments for his view, and he expects people to accept his view based on those arguments rather than because of his ideological motivation. It's probably true that he accepted it at least in part based on those arguments and not because it happened to fit with his preferred social view. At least he believed the arguments supported the view. But he did have an ideological motivation.

The irony is that his intellectual descendants refuse to allow an exactly parallel situation with supporters of intelligent design, who present arguments for their view that don't rely on ideological assumptions, expect people to accept the view based on such arguments, and probably believe the view at least in part because of those arguments. At least they see those arguments supporting the view. Yet opponents of intelligent design regularly deride intelligent design proponents for having ideological motivations to want to find arguments for their theistic view. I haven't yet seen anyone of that ilk deriding Darwin for his parallel motivation. Perhaps that's merely because they happen to agree with Darwin's motivation but don't agree with theism. If so, then it's an unfair double-standard, because it can't be in principle intellectually dishonest to believe something you have arguments for but also have ideological reason to want to be true unless that's true of every case of believing something you have arguments for and ideological reason to want to be true. But it's common among those who are anti-ID to confuse the motivation for an argument with its theoretical basis, as I've pointed out before.

Christian Carnival CCLXIII

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The 263rd Christian Carnival is up at The Evangelical Ecologist.

Rash Vows

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There are several cases of vows with strange conditions in the Bible. Many of these are rash vows, often morally negligent or suspect. In Joshua 9, the Israelites make a covenant with Gibeon under the false pretense that they were from far away, when they had a command from God to wipe out any of the peoples of the land. Once they made the vow, they honored the covenant with Gibeon and didn't kill them rather than keeping the command of God to wipe them out. In Judges 11, Jephthah vows to sacrifice the first thing to come through his gate, expecting it to be an animal, and it turns out to be his daughter. In a very tragic move, he ends up fulfilling his vow and sacrificing her.

King Saul makes a similarly rash vow in I Samuel 14. He says that if any of his soldiers eat during their attack, they would be put to death. His son Jonathan wasn't present for that vow, and when he found honey in the woods he ate some. In this case, however, Saul's soldiers convince him not to keep the vow. You get the sense that he only did it because his men were able to calm him down and talk some reason into him.

In I Kings 2, Solomon makes a promise to Bathsheba to grant her a favor but then refuses once he finds out that the favor was to do something that would in effect give his older half-brother Adonijah a foothold toward claiming the throne that David had passed on to Solomon. Adonijah flees Solomon's wrath and in fact has him killed. Adonijah had already been spared once when he grabbed the horns of the altar, and Solomon had let him go on the condition that he shows himself to be worthy; otherwise, he'd die. His request to Bathsheba showed Solomon the latter.

In the gospels, King Herod makes a promise to his step-daughter that he'd give her anything, up to half his kingdom, and is shocked when she asks for the head of John the Baptist. He complies to save face but perhaps only for that reason.

It's worth thinking through the conflicting moral principles that arise in these cases. The most fundamental is the third commandment the third commandment (not to take God's name in vain), which Jesus interprets simply as a command to let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no". The third commandment says not to use God's name in a way that doesn't take into full account who God is and our place in God's universe. The most fundamental way that we can take God's name in vain is simply to ignore God, thus living in a way that ignores God is the most serious violation of the third commandment. This is especially important for a people called to represent God as his ambassadors to the world, since the representation is a fact, and thus representing God badly takes his name in vain and drags it through the mud. But uttering God's name when you don't have any intention of referring to God, particularly in a sinful act of verbal outrage over something not all that important. So the common view that using a name that normally refers to God in a sort of curse is indeed correct. It's a violation of the third commandment. It's just not the most fundamental way to do so.


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The 263rd Christian Carnival Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at The Evangelical Ecologist. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the followin

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This is the latest schedule of hosts for the Christian Carnival. You can find more information about the Christian Carnival here. I will add to the schedule as new hosts volunteer.

If you'd like to host a future edition of the Christian Carnival and have not contacted me about doing so, please let me know at the email address at the top of the sidebar. If you have particular preferences as to when you would like to host, please include that in your message. When possible, I will try to give the earliest spots to new hosts and hosts who have hosted less recently.

262 Feb 4 Participatory Bible Study Blog
263 Feb 11 The Evangelical Ecologist
264 Feb 18 Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus
265 Feb 25 Chasing the Wind
266 Mar 4 C. Orthodoxy
267 Mar 11 Christ's Bridge
268 Mar 18 Crossroads
269 Mar 25 The Bible Archive
270 Apr 1 A True Believer's Weblog
271 Apr 8 Fathom Deep
272 Apr 15 Fish and Cans
273 Apr 22 The Limitless

Obama's Abortion Statement

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Justin Taylor notes that President Obama, by implication, seems to have endorsed the following claims in his statement on abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

1. The will of the stronger is the rule of law.
2. Women are congenitally inferior and need the availability of certain medical procedures that require the killing of an innocent to stand on equal footing with men.

The first claim, while he doesn't endorse it in general and certainly resists it in many cases, does seem to me to be true of his view of abortion. The stronger get to decide for the weaker whether their lives are worth living. Now this is softened because Obama's view of abortion is derived from his view that this is to compensate for women's being less strong than men and thus needing the availability of this procedure to prevent the will of the stronger ruling. So it's sort of ironic that he would advocate on the next level down (women with respect to their fetal children) the exact principle he seems to want to resist on the higher level (women with respect to men). It is a little strange, though, to think that social injustice on one level can be fought by introducing a social injustice with an uncontroversially weaker group.

His move to justify the first claim seems to me to rely on the second claim. I think Frank Beckwith's comment, that Justin included in an update to the post, is correct to say that such a view amounts to a pretty severe form of male chauvinism. One of the things I find refreshing in third-wave versions of feminism is their insistence that women should be recognized as good in what they are without having to compare them with male standards to consider them successful or expecting them to have to be like men in every way to be equal. Pro-life feminists have recognized that most abortion rhetoric, including comments like the President's speech on this occasion, runs contrary to seeing women as equal. Even if I were to grant some of the pro-choice arguments, I'd be loath to accept those that begin with the premise that women simply are inferior and thus need to be compensated for that by giving them permission to end the lives of their own offspring so they can be equal to men. That's not an argument that I could ever see myself appreciating even if I were convinced that there's nothing wrong with abortion.

I'm sure some will object to what I'm saying here by pointing out that pro-choice positions don't accept full moral status for the fetus. Given that, it follows that there need not be the kind of concern for the fetus that would make it a case of the stronger taking advantage of the weaker. While that's true of the standard pro-choice position, it doesn't help with the second observation, since that doesn't rely on the wrongness of abortion but on a view of women's equality. Also, it's not available to President Obama, since his view on abortion is that he doesn't know if it's wrong because he isn't qualified to try to figure that out. He doesn't let that get in the way of allowing something that, for all he knows, might be morally horrific, so I'm not sure his view is all that coherent (if indeed he's being honest about his claim that he doesn't have a view). But one thing is clear. He can't, without contradicting his clear statements in the past, respond to the first claim by asserting that a fetus has no or relatively small moral claim to a right to life.

I'm certainly hoping he's going to be a better President than I expected him to be during the campaign. For the sake of this country, I want him to succeed at the good things he's trying to do and hope he has good ideas that will move the country in a better direction on many fronts. But on this issue all I can do is pray he has a miraculous change of heart. His support for a bill that will surely increase the number of abortions, while insisting repeatedly that he wants to make abortion safe, legal, and rare strikes me as typical politician's rhetoric to play to both sides while not occupying a middle ground at all, something not at all consistent with his image of moving away from such dishonesty. Perhaps there will be ways that his administration will bring needed change to the U.S. government. There are enough warning signs about his reform message conflicting with his choices for his cabinet that I'm wondering if he's going to manage to maintain his reform image at all. Two cabinet appointees who I thought were demonstraqbly unqualified in their respective positions because of immoral behavior related to their specialty (Geithner and Holder) were approved, and two more (Richardson and Daschle) withdrew in the face of corruption complaints. That's a pretty high number for the Hope and Change messiah. But there's still hope that he'll introduce some significant positive changes given some of the refreshing moves he's made already, even if his record so far also raises some serious concerns.

But one thing I've become sure of. On this issue at least, he's either very confused (i.e. intellectually dishonest within his own mind) or obfuscating (i.e. rhetorically dishonest with the public), and I see little hope of the bi-partisan cooperation he was proclaiming on this issue when he courted the evangelical vote if he continues to support a bill that will remove most ways of legislatively restricting instances of abortion, restrictions most of the nation agrees with. I contend that he's not honoring the sense of moderation that he appealed to in order to get elected when he takes that kind of extreme view.


I was really looking forward to the eleventh Star Trek film, due out in a few months now. Casting Zachary Quinto as young Spock was brilliant, and I'll have to see the movie for that even if for no other reason, although I think loyalty to the franchise would be sufficient grounds to see it anyway. But I'm no longer holding my breath about whether it will be a good movie. If it is, I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not expecting as much as I had. I was already a bit skeptical about a script written by the writers responsible for the recent Transformers movie, which was fun but was certainly not interesting script-wise. It was fun mostly because of the visuals. The main human character was painful to watch, and the storyline wasn't all that interesting given the richness of the Transformers material available in the comic books.

It was this interview with script writer Robert Orci that put a full stop to my optimism, though, for two reasons. The most important is that the assurances of producers that I've been seeing that it will be faithful to Trek canon for the fans while still doing something new for newcomers turn out to be a mere facade, given Orci's explanation of why he says it's faithful to canon. But I think the theory of time travel he endorses will also make the movie painful for me to watch, even if it won't be as painful as most Trek time travel stories are.

First, this is how Orci understands the time travel in this movie to work. He recognizes that there's a problem with any time travel theory that allows changing the past, although I don't think he makes it clear exactly why it's a problem. The real reason it's a problem is because if the past happened, then it follows that it didn't get changed, so when you go back you can't change it. If you can change it, then it's not the past. He gets into grandfather paradox issues, but I think those are derivative problems. The main reason is that it just makes no sense to think of changing the past. You can't make something that already was one way no longer be that way but be another way.

There's only one plausible way to interpret time travel stories that seem to change the past (other than the people didn't know what really happened and thus thought they changed something but actually only did what had already happened). If I travel back in time and do something that didn't happen, I must have traveled somewhere other than my past. If I ended up in an alternative time line somehow, then it makes sense to do what seems like changing the past. But the past of my time line doesn't change, and that time line continues on without me. The time line I entered always had me entering at that point and thinking I'd changed the past. This is the only way to make changing-the-past stories internally consistent, but it's still not a genuine change of the past, which the authors of those stories would usually not want.

So I applaud Orci for preferring this to the usual time travel approach. It's an improvement. There are still big problems with it, though. It would seem odd if time travel that doesn't change the past goes to our past and time travel when you do seem to change things ends up at other time lines. So a plausible version of this view must have every instance of time travel involve going to a similar time line, where it can generate a change that makes it diverge from the original one. The unwelcome consequence is that there isn't really anything that we can just flat-out call time travel. It's all Sliders-like world-jumping but with time travel too. You can never just time travel. That's an odd result.

Also, it does disastrous things to the fabric of a narrative in a fictional work that takes years and even decades to weave. Little did we know that the Star Trek canon time line isn't a constant world at all. Every time there's been time travel the characters have moved to a different world. We have no idea what happened after the events of City on the Edge of Forever in the time line that our characters began in. With such a view, it's not surprising that Orci wouldn't mind completely revising Star Trek history, because Spock of the TNG period going back to pre-TOS times and changing things would result in a different time line. That it violates canon is perfectly ok, even if the changes are drastic and far-reaching. It's a way to destroy the canon of Trek history while insisting that the original time line is untouched. It's crazy to think this won't anger fans who see Trek canon as something to build on, not to alter with impunity. It seems Orci wants to go by the letter of his time travel theory in good Pharisaical fashion to ignore the spirit of observing Star Trek canon while technically allowing it to remain in a time line that the movie doesn't follow (except to show that Spock and Nero will presumably never be in that time line again).

Worse still, Orci acts as if this theory of time travel is based on hard science, which just isn't true. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is certainly held by a handful of scientists working in the philosophical end of theoretical physics. It's a far cry from being the majority view, as far as I've been able to tell, though, and it's certainly nothing in the area of being demonstrable by experimentation. I think, in fact, that it's in principle completely impossible to verify or falsify it. There are several other interpretations of quantum mechanics, and the only reason I know of for preferring the many-worlds interpretation is that it avoids the most plausible fine-tuning arguments for an intelligent designer, not a very compelling scientific reason. If Orci is willing to reinterpret all of Trek canon because of misinformation about what science teaches, that's unfortunate. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm hardly confident with the future of the franchise resting partly in his hands, judging by what this interview reveals. I thought maybe they would finally have an odd movie better than some of the even movies. I'm not so sure now.


The outstanding revival of Doctor Who will soon be retiring another incarnation of the Doctor. David Tennant, who I think has been the best Doctor of the whole franchise, is going to move on to other things after several TV movies that also finish off the tenure of head writer Russell T. Davies, the man behind the series' revival. Steven Moffat, who is taking over the head writer's spot, happens to be my favorite writer of the bunch, having written three episodes that I'd put in the top ten of all time and one that unquestionably occupies the top spot. But there's been a bit of worry about who would become the eleventh Doctor. Rumors circulated that they might pick a woman or a black man. I'd be very surprised if they picked a woman, but I wouldn't have been surprised at all if they'd found a black man who could capture the essentials of the Doctor very well. They've certainly made great efforts to be racially inclusive in the revived show, marking a stark contrast with the very white casting of the original episodes.

It's strange, however, to see some of the response that I've seen now that they've finally chosen the eleventh Doctor, and he turns out to be white. It strikes me as affirmative action absolutism. To be clear what I mean, here are a number of different things people call affirmative action:

It can mean (1) outright quotas, where you guarantee a certain number of spots for whatever group you're extending affirmative action toward. This was originally what happened at the college and university level until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for state and federal funding to be used that way.

It can mean (2) idealized quotas, where you lower the usual standards to try to reach a ballpark figure, but you don't do it by the numbers. It's effectively a quota, but because you're not an absolutist about an exact number of spots, the Supreme Court allowed it in 2003 as long as you don't use strict numerical criteria in letting race affect your calculations.

Then there's (3) what George W. Bush calls affirmative access, which is to go out of your way to find qualified candidates but not to lower your usual standards very much, and if there aren't qualified candidates in the target group or aren't as many as you'd like, then you don't lower the standards more to fill up the spots more.

The third policy has always struck me as the best, particularly for this sort of situation. You're casting for an iconic character with a history dating back over 40 years. You want to produce the best artistic product you can, and the choice of the lead role on such a show is huge. It would do a lot of good in the world to cast a black actor for the part. However, there are considerations more important than race, and those should never be put aside if it turns out all the black actors who audition are enough away from what you think the role needs to be like compared with a candidate who just stands out as perfect. According to all reports from the producers, they chose someone who does exactly that. He seemed exactly what they wanted. If they had a black actor who'd auditioned who could do the job passably, it seems to me that it would be immoral to hire him instead of the guy they went with. If they had someone who would have been great for the job if the guy they hired had never appeared, who perhaps might have otherwise been their first choice, then it becomes a harder question. It depends entirely on how much better their first choice is. It didn't sound like anyone was close from the way the producers were talking, though.

So it seems like this sort of complaint relies on a very strange moral premise, which I'll call affirmative action absolutism, a view that becomes very strange when applied to the case of there being only one spot. Somehow the idea is that whenever you've got an ongoing role where the actor can be replaced and not have to look anything like the previous actor, and all the previous actors were white, you've done something bad by not choosing a black one at the next opportunity. Such a view strikes me as completely crazy. Race is an important consideration, but it's not the only one, and there are other ones that can be more important. You have to know that none of the more important considerations are determining the decision to complain that something bad has gone on in the selection of a white actor to play the Doctor.

I can't see how anyone but the producers can flatly say that they've failed at some moral responsibility by choosing a white actor, because only those present at the auditions and casting decision meetings can know enough to assert that the producers are lying when they said Matt Smith stood out so far above the other auditioners that it was hard to consider anyone else. I very much doubt they're lying, though. Steve Moffat isn't out to cater to higher-ups in the BBC. He's a long-time fan who has a very good understanding of the essence of the character. He's a storyteller who wants to tell the best story he can with the best cast he can. Why would he choose someone and then lie about the reasons? It's extremely implausible. Besides, claiming that you know they're lying is stronger than wondering if it's true. Claiming you know it requires having been at the auditions and knowing that there are black actors who tried out who would have done just as good a job or almost as good a job as the Doctor. I very much doubt that's true of the complainers, since they almost certainly weren't present for any of that.



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