The 304th Christian Carnival is at the newly-renamed Stepping Out in Faith to the Nations....
Jeremy Pierce: November 2009 Archives
The 304th Christian Carnival is at the newly-renamed Stepping Out in Faith to the Nations....
Mike Almeida has an interesting argument against abortion that assumes nothing about the moral status of the fetus. It relies on two commonsense claims:
1. We should remove a benign tumor that will eventually become malignant.
2. If we should remove something that's not yet harmful because it will become harmful, then other things being equal we should not remove something not yet good that will become good.
Some will surely resist the second claim, which is what the parallel reasoning relies on. But it does seem to me to be a generally true principle. It's why we shouldn't pull up flowers before they finish growing.
You know, I'd have thought that philosophers would be the ones pointing out contradictions in what other people are doing, not contradicting themselves. But the American Philosophical Association has just passed a new policy regarding discrimination that seems to me to be flat-out inconsistent. It very clearly commits something that it itself condemns as unethical.
According to Alastair Norcross (via Brian Leiter), the policy will be worded as follows:
The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation), or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage). At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives.
For those who don't know the background behind this, the change is mainly due to a petition to change the APA policy, because it's been widely believed to have been inconsistent before the change. The problem case has been (mainly) Christian institutions that have statements of faith or conduct that faculty have to subscribe to, that include statements that homosexual conduct is immoral and that faculty will not engage in it. Members of the APA petitioned to declare such institutions discriminatory according to the APA's own anti-discrimination policy, which at the time did prohibit discrimination against someone for sexual orientation but did not indicate whether it would count it discrimination to refuse to hire someone who is actively gay while being willing to hire someone who is gay but celibate (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church has exactly this distinction with priests, and a lot of evangelical institutes of higher learning have exactly this practice, as I understand it; it was definitely the policy of the requirements for leadership of several Christian ministry groups I know of on campuses, two of which I know to have had either (a) celibate gay or (b) heterosexually-married but homosexually-abstinent gay or bisexual leaders).
So due to this petition, the APA has indeed indicated that it would include such policies as discriminatory, but it didn't go all the way to banning schools with such policies from participating in APA activities such as the main publication for advertising jobs in the profession. They'll just report which schools don't indicate compliance with the new policy and investigate any schools with actual complaints, indicating also which schools have been investigated and found non-compliant. I don't think the APA has actually achieved the result of consistency now that the petitioners have gotten what they wanted (which some insisted they were supporting only for the reason of getting the APA to act consistently with their own policy). In fact, I think now they've simply instituted a new inconsistency and worked it into their explicit statement.
Consider a college that expects its faculty to refrain from male-male and female-female sexual acts. According to the policy, such a school is discriminating against sexual orientation by discriminating against the "normal and predictable expression" of homosexuality. Such a school would be flagged as discriminatory. But that means the APA is now differentially treating that school and schools that don't make such distinctions. In other words, they are discriminating on the basis of the behavior of requiring faculty to conform to a moral code that includes abstaining from gay sex. Such discrimination is not a problem as long as it's not along the lines of anything in the list or anything that's the "normal and predictable expression" of anything in that list (or one of the other two requirements, but those aren't relevant here). But conservative evangelicals, for example, do consider such conduct immoral, and they do want their faculty to uphold a moral standard on such things. It is in fact the "normal and predictable expression" of conservative evangelicalism to insist that your institution's faculty not engage in gay sex. That means the action of flagging such schools as discriminatory is itself discrimination against religion, based on the "normal and predictable expression" of that religion, i.e. by the policy's own standards.
You could run a similar argument based on political convictions, which is also in the list. Someone, for political reasons, might oppose the normalization of homosexual sexual behavior and thus want their politically-conservative college to reflect that in the moral conduct required of faculty. That means the APA policy is also discriminatory against the "normal and predictable expression" of such political convictions. For that matter, you could say exactly the same thing about a school that doesn't cater to a certain group but that refuses to hire KKK members, which certainly is a "normal and predictable expression" of the KKk's political convictions. The new APA policy begins to look ridiculous once you examine its implications. I don't think it's possible to treat all the categories on their list as equally protected without contradiction, at least if different treatment according to the "normal and predictable expression" of being a member of the category can count as equivalent to different treatment because of merely belonging to the category.
Darrell Bock reviews Bart Ehrman's book Jesus, Interrupted. I especially liked this paragraph, which captures very well my own concern about what I've read by Ehrman:
I think what is most bothersome in this book is the way it sets up discussions. It pursues a topic for several pages, often noting in one or two quick and embedded sentences that the point is not as devastating as the impression given by the rhetoric of the whole section. Such qualification involves a quick almost aside that qualifies things so the author has cover. But it becomes a faint cry in light of the more skeptical thrust of the whole work. The result is to launch a discussion in a direction that implies more than the evidence really gives, leaving a greater impression about what is said than the author claims in the qualification. More than that, by excluding other key factors, the discussion leaves the impression of making a point clear that actually is not as cut and dried as the presentation suggests.It does strike me as a rhetorically-successful but intellectually-illegitimate methodology. It even seems a little intellectually dishonest, because it shows that he does know that his point doesn't show as much as he's using it to show, but he goes ahead and emphasizes it well beyond its significance in order to maximize the effect among those whose trust in the text might therefore be undermined.
Molinism as a response to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom accepts the existence of counterfactuals of freedom. Counterfactuals of freedom are facts about what free human beings will do under various circumstances, and the Molinist claims that God knows these facts and uses them to predict our responses and then does what he does to ensure complete sovereignty over human affairs without violating human freedom.
I don't happen to hold to the libertarian notion of freedom that might lead someone to resort to Molinism, and I don't think Molinism works without either (a) accepting facts that have no explanation whatsoever [i.e. why is it true that someone will freely do that thing rather than another when confronted with a given circumstance] or (b) require a compatibilist account of freedom, which defeats the purpose. [But I do think there are counterfactuals of freedom. There are facts about what I'd freely do in various circumstances. A compatibilist should have no problem with this.]
On common biblical example of God knowing counterfactuals of freedom is in Matthew 11, where Jesus says that if Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon had experienced what Jesus' generation of Israel experienced then they would have repented. Jesus seems to be saying that he knows what they would have done in a different circumstance, and there's no indication that this is because he would have forced them against their will to have beliefs that would not have come about in the normal way. So those who deny counterfactuals of freedom are against at least this statement of Jesus.
A few days ago I discovered another counterfactual of freedom in scripture, this time one that I've never seen bandied around in the literature on the subject. In I Samuel 23, God gives a message to David about what Saul will do if David is at the city of Keilah. The message God gives to David is that Saul would come and that Keilah would hand him over to Saul. But because of this information David did not get captured. So God must be indicating what would happen if David were present, when in reality David would not be present. So this is a counterfactual situation, the case where the actually absent David were present. So God spoke based on knowledge of what these people would do in a counterfactual situation, and that means God has knowledge of what they would freely do in that non-actual situation. Molinists ought to add this text to their arsenal.
As I was thinking through the following prayer of Paul last week, several things occurred to me:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. [Phil 1:9-11, ESV]
The logical order here is almost the reverse of the order Paul writes it in. He prays for these believers in Philippi that their love would increase so that they'll approve what's excellent. He prays that they'll approve what's excellent so that they will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. He prays that they'll be pure and blameless so that it will be to the glory and praise of God.
One thing to notice is that he prayed for their love to overflow in knowledge and all discernment. It doesn't serve the goal of approving what's excellent for them to love if they don't love in knowledge and all discernment, because love wrongly applied might lead to approving of what's not excellent. So I can understand why Paul would include that.
But I wondered what grammatical structure was really going on here. In which of the following ways is the prepositional phrase "in knowledge and all discernment" functioning?
1. The pool overflowed in the backyard.
2. The pool overflowed with water.
If it's the former, then he's praying that their love would overflow in the context of having knowledge and all discernment, so that the knowledge and all discernment can aid their love in serving to develop their approval of all that's excellent.
If it's the latter, then he's praying that their love would overflow with the knowledge and all discernment that their love someone is producing out of itself.
I first read it as the latter, but it seems unlikely that he thought love would be the generating force for knowledge and all discernment for the sake of approving of what's excellent. It seems more likely that he thinks love overflowing in an environment where there's knowledge and all discernment would serve approval of what's excellent. Love uses knowledge and all discernment to produce approval of what's excellent. It doesn't generate the knowledge and all discernment.
If this is right, then it provides an interesting motivation for seeking knowledge and understanding. Philosophers tend to approve of what we do because we think pursuit of knowledge is intrinsically good. It's good in itself to have a better understanding of what's going on in the world or of how various truths interact and explain other truths. Thinking through the nature of what's true is simply worth doing, even if it never leads to any good consequences besides a better understanding of things.
I don't see anything here to deny that, but I do see something here that might serve as a guide to a more important reason for caring about getting a good understanding of things. If knowledge is intrinsically good, that doesn't mean that there's no more important good that knowledge also serves. Paul seems to be taking the approval of what is excellent as a good that love together with knowledge and discernment can produce. I wonder if he'd even go as far as seeing that approval of what is excellent as a higher good. It is further along in his progress toward the goal that he says the whole succession leads to, which is God's glory. But that's compatible with every step of the succession being intrinsically good (contra John Piper, who on my reading reduces all other purposes to serving the glory of God).
If that's right, then the pursuit of knowledge might best be guided by a higher motive of trying to pursue and acknowledge what is excellent, which in turn should be pursued in significant part because it can be an aid toward more excellent living. If this is a higher purpose than mere understanding, then it might change which things we spend more time on thinking about and might focus our efforts to arrive at the truth in a direction that serves thinking about what's excellent for the sake of becoming a more excellent person. I'm not sure if many Christian philosophers spend a lot of time evaluating which things they think about in such ways, but it seems to me that it could have a major impact on Christians in the discipline if they did.
One final observation: the fact that the series ends in God's glory might give pause to those who strongly resist the idea that God's glory can be an ultimate goal that love can serve. As I've already indicated, I don't agree with John Piper's view that everything God does, including the entirety of God's love, is purely for the sake of increasing God's glory. Such a view doesn't allow recognizing God's love as intrinsically good or recognizing the objects of God's love as intrinsically good. But it's just as bad, I would say, to try to resist Piper by denying that God can love people in part because it gives him more glory. If Paul can pray that our love would grow, with the eventual goal of bringing glory to God, then surely love doesn't rule out the possibility that it has a purpose of bringing such glory to God, and then God's love itself also must not be mutually exclusive of the purpose of bringing glory to himself.
It may well be that Piper is right in saying that everything God does he does to bring glory to himself. What I would deny is that that's God's only purpose in everything he does. I think Piper is wrong to give a reductionist account of God's motives, where everything reduces to his pursuit of his glory. But I wonder if those of us who question Piper on this can go too far if we insist that there are things that God does not do for his glory in any way. I think maybe the proper middle ground is to say that God does do everything he does for his own glory, as long as we also say that there are other motives God has for all the things he does that aren't merely reducible to his pursuit of his own glory. They're goals that have intrinsic worth of their own, and love is one of those.
Heroes is still my second-favorite show on TV right now, behind Dollhouse. But something occurred to me last weekend when I was watching the original V miniseries. One of the things many have said was new and original to Heroes was that they came at it from the everyday lives of ordinary people and focusing as much on how their lives are affected as on the science fiction elements. This was especially true in the first season, and it got increasingly less so as the show moved on (until the second half of last season and the first half of the current season, where we've gotten a lot more of that).
What occurred to me last weekend is that this isn't really all that new. It's new for a superhero TV show, but it's not new for science fiction. Heroes was just doing for superhero stories what V had done decades earlier for alien invasion stories. The original miniseries was especially focused on how the alien occupation affected ordinary people. I don't think I've ever made that connection before, and I'm pretty sure I've never noticed anyone else doing so.
Heroes is much better on interesting science fiction elements than V ever was, though. Also, compare Deep Impact and Armageddon, where you have a contrast between the focus more on how ordinary people are affected vs. a spotlight on those who end up being instrumental in saving the planet. There's something interesting about what Heroes season 1 did that's been diminished to a significant degree but somewhat returned of late, and I accept the value of that in the original V miniseries.
But it's not what drives me to science fiction, and I think that's what explains why I think Heroes got better even as many people thought it was getting worse and why I think Lost, which has now ended up being one of the most interesting shows I've ever seen, took way too long to start getting consistently interesting in the way that would keep me longing for the next episode the way I do with Dollhouse and Heroes (which didn't really happen until the second season, when they started introducing more concrete bits of the larger mysterious backstory that's driven the show since). And please don't tell me you thought Deep Impact was better than Armageddon. I wouldn't place the latter on my list of favorite movies, but at least it wasn't boring.
I'm much more fascinated with the focus on more science fiction elements like various creative powers, especially time travel, prophetic visions of the future, and memory-erasing. I've been interested in how they've handled what healers can and can't heal and the reasons why. Several elements that interested me included a virus that could kill all with abilities that was modified to affect everyone, a formula to give normals abilities, someone who could empathically imitate anyone's powers, several characters who steal powers in different ways, a character who can reactivate someone's powers who had been lost, and the most interesting science fiction move in a TV show in decades, the entire removal of one major character's personality and memories and its replacement with another who had just died (I won't spoil who for those who haven't seen it yet, including my wife who is more than a year behind on the show). If only they'd dragged it out longer and raised some of the philosophical questions more fully the way they are on Dollhouse.
That being said, I really did enjoy V. There was a dearth of science fiction when it was on in the early 80s. Battlestar Galactica was over. Star Trek: The Next Generation started a year or so after the regular TV show for V was canceled. What was especially good about the original miniseries wasn't the ordinary lives angle or the science fiction, though. It was the Nazi analogy. I'm glad to see that, even though they've removed the Nazi elements from the new V reboot, they've retained the fascist elements that are probably now going to be an even better analogy for any fascist-like elements of our own day without the Nazi distractions. It's too bad that they lost those as they lost and gained writers and had to deal with budget problems. But aside from not really being the most engaging kind of science fiction for me, and aside from the problems the show ended up having in its progressive incarnations, it was a major mainstay of my childhood entertainment (and we had them all on VHS, so we continued to watch them for years after it was off the air). It's still amazing to watch the original miniseries now and to see how effective it was at capturing that element that many have given such high praise for in Heroes, a full two decades earlier.
The 302nd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Who Am I?. 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.
U.S. States: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin
other U.S.: District of Columbia
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario
Not seen since September 2009: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia, U.S. Government, Quebec
Not seen since August 2009: Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico
September was a really good month for seeing license plates, so this is a much shorter list. A trip down to Philly, then NYC, then Connecticut and Massachusetts and then back halfway across NY helped a little bit, but most of the rarer sights were actually in Syracuse. This is the longest I remember the "not seen since" line for the previous month being.
Pro-lifers are trying to pass an initiative defining human organisms as persons all the way back to conception. Opponents of the initiative apparently can't think of a better way to oppose this than to call it the "eggs-as-persons" initiative. I would have thought they'd be smart enough to know the biological difference between a conceptus and a mere egg. Or maybe they just think the voting public is stupid enough not to know the difference.
I also have to note that it amazes me completely that one of their arguments against this is that it now becomes child endangerment for a pregnant woman to drink too much or do something that seriously threatens the health of the fetus. Let me say that again. They think it shows how bad this proposal is that the proposal entails treating someone as engangering a child's health by drinking too much or engaging in wrestling matches while pregnant. Do they think the average voter approves of moms damaging their children by drinking heavily or by abusing their bodies in other ways while pregnant?
But then when you look at the articles from this paper (and the other papers affiliated with it) at any length, it doesn't take too long to realize that they don't have any sense at all of how to convince those who disagree, even though they seem to have a fondness for sending unsolicited email to people who disagree. This is entirely typical of the kind of story they send (several times a week at least) to my university email account. I guess you could call them independent, but it doesn't strike me as the kind of independence I expect when I think of the independent media who are supposed to raise a critical eye to those who hold the central reigns of political power.
In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis unwittingly provides evidence for a thesis that I think is likely to be true but isn't the sort of thing that you'll find much evidence for, one way or the other. The claim I have in mind is that singular "they" or "their" is not precisely gender-neutral. At least I'd say that the conditions under which it's most commonly used (and thus feels most natural) are sensitive to one kind of gender concern, and there are some instances where it would seem awkward to use it when you know you're speaking of one person whom you and the audience hearing you know the person is male. I think this is true to the point where I almost always assume that someone using it of an individual person to disguise the person's gender is almost certainly talking about a woman or girl.
I think it's well-established now that singular "they" has a long history in the English language and is not the result of feminist machinations in the last few decades, as I've heard some claim. It occurs in the King James Bible and in Shakespeare, so there's no arguing that it's a recent innovation. I also discovered it in C.S. Lewis, but what was interesting to me is that he doesn't use it consistently. He has two very similar sentences in two scenes near the end of the book, one from Aslan to Shasta and the other from Aslan to Aravis. When walking alongside Aslan to Narnia, Shasta asks him why he wounded Aravis. Aslan's response:
"Child," said the Voice, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own."
Then later, when Aslan appears to Aravis, Bree, and Hwin, Aravis asks about what will happen to her servant because of her running away. His response:
"Child," said the Lion, "I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own."
Lewis, probably instinctively, refrains from using a generic male pronoun when generalizing from the initial case of a girl, when he did use the generic male pronoun when generalizing from the initial case of a boy. This isn't direct evidence exactly of my claim above, but it does suggest an unconscious gender-related difference in treatment in Lewis' writing, and remember that this book was published in 1952. He seems to have thought a singular "their" was inappropriate when the primary person being referred to was male but not when the primary person being referred to was female.