Jeremy Pierce: April 2011 Archives

sermon update

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I've filled in the last missing sermon from I Peter.

The two big gaps in John are awaiting the digitized files I'm getting from another member of the congregation. I've digitized the rest of Samuel, the complete book of Jeremiah, and two-thirds of Ezekiel. I'm working on Ruth right now, and then I'll finish Ezekiel before going on to Joshua, Daniel, II Thessalonians, Titus, and Luke. There's one more topical series digitized that I haven't posted yet (on the church), and there are another two still to be digitized (one on what comes after death and another that isn't a coherent unified topic but a selection of various topical sermons).

That almost exhausts the tapes I've currently got. I've got some of the sermons on Revelation, but I need to locate the rest. They're not all where they're supposed to be. I've got the tapes for Judges, but the first sermon is missing, so I'm going to try to see if I can find that one before I begin digitizing the rest. It's not as if I have nothing else I can do first.

Update: I've also added a Habakkuk sermon from 2002 to the 2009 series of minor prophets that included Habakkuk, and I've added one of the two missing sermons from the John 18-21 series.

The introduction and preaching schedule for this section of the book of Kings is here.

1. I Kings 17:1-18:16 Jeremy Jackson (There shall be neither dew nor rain these years) 4-18-10
2. I Kings 18:17-46 Stefan Matzal (How long will you go limping between different positions?) 4-25-10
3. I Kings 19 Jeremy Jackson (The sound of a low whisper) 5-2-10
4. I Kings 20 Doug Weeks (You shall know that I am the LORD) 5-9-10
5. I Kings 21 Stefan Matzal (I will give you the vineyard of Naboth) 5-16-10
6. I Kings 22:1-40 John Hartung (I saw all Israel scattered ... as sheep that have no shepherd) 5-23-10
7. I Kings 22:41-II Kings 1:18 Jeremy Jackson (Is it because there is no God in Israel?) 5-30-10
8. II Kings 2 Stefan Matzal (The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha) 6-6-10
9. II Kings 3 Jeremy Jackson (Is there no prophet of the LORD here?) 6-13-10
10. II Kings 4 Doug Weeks (This is a holy man of God) 6-20-10
11. II Kings 5 Jeremy Jackson (I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel) 6-27-10
12. II Kings 6:1-23 Doug Weeks (Please open his eyes that he may see) 7-4-10
13. II Kings 6:24-7:20 Jeremy Jackson (Could such a thing be?) 7-11-10
14. II Kings 8 Doug Weeks (Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done) 7-18-10
15. II Kings 9 Stefan Matzal (In accordance with the word of the LORD) 7-25-10
16. II Kings 10 Stefan Matzal (He struck down all who remained to Ahab) 8-1-10

Jeremy Jackson preached on I Kings 16:29-17:24 in the 1981 eschatology series

For more sermons, see here.

I Kings 1-16 sermons

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Apostles' Creed sermons

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The official title for this topical series was "Some Things We Believe". The individual sermon titles reveal that each discusses a different line of the Apostles' Creed (but the creed is not covered in full). The preaching schedule is here.

From the preaching schedule, it's not clear if the final two sermons on the first and second advent are supposed to be part of this series or are just tagged on at the end. I didn't listen again to the entire sermon on first advent, but I listened to parts of it, and I detected no connection to the series. But the final sermon on the second advent seems to indicate from the very beginning that it's part of the series and connects with a line from the creed. (Perhaps the first advent sermon could be on "He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary"?) So I'm including them here for now.

1. "I believe in God the Father" Jeremy Jackson 11-7-04
2. "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord" Stefan Matzal 11-14-04
3. "I believe in the Holy Spirit" Jeremy Jackson 11-21-04
4. "I believe in the holy catholic Church" Jeremy Jackson 11-28-04
5. "I believe in the forgiveness of sins" Bill Greenman 12-5-04
6. "I believe in the resurrection of the Body" Jeremy Jackson 12-12-04
7. 1st Advent (Luke 2:25-32) Stefan Matzal 12-19-04
8. 2nd Advent ("From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead") Doug Weeks 12-26-04

For more sermons, see here.


The 377th Christian Carnival is up at INSPIKS.

We're still looking for hosts for May 11, May 25, and June and onward. See the hosting schedule. If you'd like to host, please send me an email at the link in the blog's sidebar.

If you have a Christian blog post that you'd like to submit to the Christian Carnival, you can do so here. There's a new Christian Carnival every Wednesday, and anything posted from the previous Wednesday through the Tuesday just before is eligible for the each Wednesday carnival.

Ephesians 4-6 sermons

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The introduction and preaching schedule for this section of the book is here.

1. Ephesians 4:1-6 The unity of the Spirit (Jeremy Jackson) 7-18-04
2. Ephesians 4:7-12 The measure of Christ's gift (Jeremy Jackson) 7-25-04
3. Ephesians 4:13-16 Grow up ... into the Head, into Christ (Jeremy Jackson) 8-1-04
4. Ephesians 4:17-24 Put on the new nature (Stefan Matzal) 8-8-04
5. Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Bill Greenman) 8-15-04
6. Ephesians 5:3-14 Walk as children of light (Doug Weeks) 8-22-04
7. Ephesians 5:15-21 Look carefully, then, how you walk (Jeremy Jackson) 9-5-04
8. Ephesians 5:22-27 Wives .. to the Lord; husbands .. Christ (Stefan Matzal) 9-12-04
9. Ephesians 5:28-33 This is a great mystery (Jeremy Jackson) 9-19-04
10. Ephesians 6:1-4 Children obey .. fathers do not provoke (Jeremy Jackson) 9-26-04
11. Ephesians 6:5-9 Slaves .. to the Lord. Masters .. the same (Jeremy Jackson) 10-3-04
12. Ephesians 6:10-13 Not .. against flesh and blood (Stefan Matzal) 10-10-04
13. Ephesians 6:14-17 Stand, therefore (Doug Weeks) 10-17-04
14. Ephesians 6:18-24 Pray .. also for me (Jeremy Jackson) 10-24-04

Al Gurley preached on Ephesians 4:1-18 in 1980. See the topical sermons here.
Doug Weeks preached on Ephesians 4:1-6 in 1983. See the topical sermons here.
Doug Weeks preached on Ephesians 5:15-6:4 in 1986. See the topical series here.
Jeremy Jackson preached on Ephesians 6:20-24 in 1989. See the topical sermons here.
Doug Weeks preached on Ephesians 5:15-17 in 2000. See the topicals here.
Stefan Matzal preached on Ephesians 4:20-24 in 2006. See the topicals here.
Doug Weeks preached on Ephesians 5:25-33a in 2012. See the topical series here.
For other Trinity Fellowship sermons, see here.

Instrumentalism and B.S.

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In the last chapter of my dissertation, I make mention of instrumentalism about race, defining it as follows. "Instrumentalism is not concerned with whether there are races but focuses simply on how it is best to use the race-language. A pragmatist view that retains race-talk and racial classification without regard for whether races are real could, for pragmatist reasons, adopt a fictionalist semantics and look much on the surface like the pragmatist adoption of fictionalism that I explained above. Or the semantic theory about how race-language operates might be more purely instrumentalist, taking race-statements to be true or false according to whether they are useful statements to make."

[For those who care about what fictionalism is but who aren't familiar with the term, fictionalism about race is "a semantic thesis about how race-language works, taking there to be a fictional account of races that our race-language assumes, with some kind of operator explaining how our language about race is really about what 'race in the fiction' would be like. Such language would not be strictly speaking true, but unlike error theory it would allow us to maintain that language without having to go around correcting everyone all the time about their false and non-referring statements."]

As I was thinking about instrumentalism, it occurred to me that Harry Frankfurt's best-selling work on b.s. doesn't, as far as I know, connect up with instrumentalism, but he defines b.s. in a very similar way, as the practice of making assertions without care for whether they're true, for the purpose of impressing people rather than communicating or deceiving (i.e. disrupting communication). The motivation distinguishes b.s. from what instrumentalism is up to (about whatever domain they're instrumentalists about: in my dissertation, it would be race, but the view was developed initially about science, and some of the ancient sophists were instrumentalists about morality). It's not as if instrumentalists think we're all just engaging in b.s. all the time. But both involve a similar disregard for the truth, and I'm pretty sure I've never seen anyone point this out before.

As I was revising this section earlier this week, it occurred to me that it might be funny to put in a footnote citing Frankfurt's work as a contemporary development of instrumentalism and then sending that version to the members of my committee who might get a kick out of it, but I think that would be a bit too much. My long footnote on Tolkien and mixed race is already skirting the edge.

Ephesians 1-3 sermons

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The introduction and preaching schedule for this section of the book is here.

1. Ephesians 1:1-6 Jeremy Jackson (The praise of his glorious grace) 5-4-03
2. Ephesians 1:7-10 Bill Greenman (A plan for the fulness of time) 5-11-03
3. Ephesians 1:11-14 Jeremy Jackson (The guarantee of our inheritance) 5-18-03
4. Ephesians 1:15-19 Doug Weeks (The immeasurable greatness of his power) 5-25-03 [sound quality starts bad but improves]
5. Ephesians 1:20-23 Jeremy Jackson (Head over all things for the church) 6-1-03
6. Ephesians 2:1-3 Jeremy Jackson (By nature children of wrath) 6-8-03
7. Ephesians 2:4-7 Doug Weeks (But God who is rich in mercy) 6-15-03
8. Ephesians 2.8-10 Jeremy Jackson (We are his workmanship) 6-22-03
9. Ephesians 2.11-13 Jeremy Jackson (Brought near in the blood of Christ) 6-29-03
10. Ephesians 2.14-18 Jeremy Jackson (He is our peace ... made us both one) 7-6-03
11. Ephesians 2:19-22 Bill Greenman (Christ Jesus himself ... the cornerstone) 7-13-03
12. Ephesians 3:1-7 Jeremy Jackson (The mystery of Christ) 7-20-03
13. Ephesians 3:8-13 Doug Weeks (The unsearchable riches of Christ) 7-27-03
14. Ephesians 3:14-21 Stefan Matzal (Filled with all the fulness of God) 8-3-03

Bill Greenman preached a sermon on Ephesians 1:15-23 in 1996. See the topical sermons here.
Jim Stone preached a Reformation Sunday sermon on Ephesians 2:9-11 in 1997. See the topical sermons here.
Doug Weeks preached a sermon on Ephesians 3:14-20 in 2006. See the topicals here.
For more sermons, see here.

In the oral arugments for Barenblatt v. United States (1958), a case about the investigations conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Justice Potter Stewart objected to a particular line of reasoning by saying, "It would certainly be false, an oversimplification, to say that the right of privacy is a constitutional right." At the time, no one seemed to object, but then most of the justices weren't as vigorous in oral arguments as most of them are now. It struck me as a pretty bold statement of a view that probably seemed somewhat uncontroversial at the time but now sounds so jarring because of how the Supreme Court has talked about rights to privacy for decades.

That it could be said with no controversy in 1958 perhaps says something about the method of judicial interpretation of those who suddenly found it to be so clearly present in the Constitution a mere seven years later. Justice Stewart was one of the dissenters to Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, which first declared there to be exactly such a right, but he lost that argument. By the Roe v. Wade decision in 1972, he had apparently given up entirely, since he voted with the majority in that case. I suspect the reason is that he was always more concerned about going along with precedent than the rightness of a decision on the merits, just as his compatriot Justice John Marshall Harlan II was.

Both Justices Harlan and Stewart were seen as conservatives in those days (although Stewart later came to be seen as a moderate once there were enough Republicans' appointees on the Court again that the 50% of the Republicans' nominees who were actually conservative were able to bring conservative jurisprudence back into the mainstream after decades of the influence of FDR appointees.) Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer have been the strongest defenders of precedents they don't agree with in more recent years, so this tendency to favor precedent runs across traditional liberal-conservative lines. But Justice Stevens, to this day, insists that he is a judicial conservative, specifically on the ground that he respects precedent above other considerations, because that's what he sees being a judicial conservative amounts to, ignoring other ways of being judicially conservative (e.g. sticking closer to the constitutional or statutory text rather than policy arguments, ruling narrowly according to the smallest issue that would decide the case in question rather than making wide-ranging proclamations against laws not at issue in the immediate case, favoring states' rights over federal power, ruling in a way that politically conservative views would favor, and so on).

I don't really have an argument to make here. I just thought it was interesting to hear a comment like that in a pretty different context during a time when such a comment was less politically-loaded and could go relatively unquestioned by the other justices once it was put forward by the junior-most justice of the time.

sermon update

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I've added today's sermon on Matthew 25:31-46, which was the last one to be added to the Matthew 20:29-25:46 sermons.This thereby completes that set. We'll pick up with ch.26 in January, so that's as far as we're getting in Matthew for a while.

I need to get the units on Samuel and Kings posted, because we're moving into our third unit on Kings next, starting with II Kings 11. The sermons on I Samuel 1-12 are already posted, but I Samuel 13-19 still need to be digitized. I think we've got all of I Samuel 20-II Kings 10.

In the meantime, you can expect sermons on Ephesians and Jeremiah to appear in the near future. Those are all digitized and just need to be posted. I'm hoping to receive digital copies of the missing units on John soon, also. Someone in the congregation had digitized those for his own use, and he's found them for me but hasn't yet gotten them into my hands.

This is a rare series of topical sermons at Trinity Fellowship, during a break between finishing the minor prophets and whatever we do next during our fall prophet teaching slot. The introduction and preaching schedule for this series is here. It includes lengthier descriptions of the individual sermons than is usually the case.

1. Being a Christian II Peter 1:3-11 (Stefan Matzal) 11-7-10
2. Shaping the mind Ezra 7:1-10 (Jeremy Jackson) 11-14-10
3. Forming the heart (Stefan Matzal) 11-21-10
4. Self-control and the body (Nathaniel Jackson) 11-28-10
5. Means of grace (Jeremy Jackson) 12-5-10
6. Good words and works (Stefan Matzal) 12-12-10

For more sermons, see here.

This is on an NPR show I've never heard of. Our local station doesn't carry it. But I'm listening to the episode right now, and the authors do are doing a good job presenting the barebones issue they're dealing with. I'm not hearing much in the way of arguments, though, just quick summaries of positions. But it's done in an imaginative way, just because of the Doctor Who context. The particular issue is the genocide of the Daleks issue from the Fourth Doctor serial "The Genesis of the Daleks" (along with the general issue of pacifism and the Doctor's resistance to violence). There's more about the show itself than the philosophy, but I won't complain about any intelligent publicity for the show and for what I hope to be an excellent book.

I really wanted to submit something on the ethics of time travel for this book, but the editors wanted full submissions, and I can't afford to devote the time to write an entire chapter that might not get published. Most editors in this series and the similar Wiley-Blackwell series sort through a larger number of proposals, select their chosen entries, and then commission the people they choose to write the chapters. These editors wanted entire chapters that would likely not get published anywhere if they weren't accepted.

Philippians sermons

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The word 'type' is a self-antonym.

As used in Christian theology, a type is something that looks forward or back to an anti-type. The usual idea is that the type is a partial or incomplete reality looking toward a more complete reality. So David is a type of Jesus as a precursor of a Messiah with some messianic elements, or the temple is a type of Christ as taking a form that looked forward to what he would institute in the church. The temple is also a type of the church (the people, not the building), where the church is God's dwelling.

I was listening to a Bloggingheads conversation between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, and McWhorter used the term 'type' in this way. He said Jesse Jackson is a type, meaning that he exemplifies some elements found within a generalized group of black leaders.

In philosophy, a type is not the specific instance, where someone has some elements of some general form. The type is the general form, and the tokens are the specific instances. The type would be black leaders of a certain sort, and Jesse Jackson would be the token.

I don't think it's just immersion in philosophical circles for 15 years that makes me think the philosophical use is the closer of the two to ordinary usage. I've always found the theological use to be strange, but it's only just occurred to me that it's not just strange but backwards. Every time I hear someone use it in a sermon without explaining it, I think the ordinary person isn't going to get it, and it's just occurred to me why. If you say David is a type of Christ, people will think that means he's a kind of Christ. In loose usage, that doesn't mean he's a category rather than a person, but theologians who say such things don't remotely mean that David's a messiah. They mean he's a precursor of the Messiah.

I don't think the ordinary usage is exactly opposite the theological usage, but this kind of funny use, which becomes second-nature for some with a lot of theological training, is at odds with how most people will hear the term, and that's something preachers would do well to keep in mind.

The introduction and preaching schedule for this series is here. This series was posted when it was still in progress, but it has now been completed, and we now await the remaining chapters of Matthew, to begin in January 2012.

After preaching sermon #12 in this series (on Matt 24:32-44), Stefan Matzal wrote up some supplemental thoughts that can be found here.

Jeremy Jackson preached on Matthew 25:32-46 in the 1981 Matthew series.
These chapters were previously covered in 1985
For the 1997 and 1998 sermons on these chapters, see here and here.
For other Trinity Fellowship sermons, see here.

The 376th Christian Carnival is up at Ichthus77.

We currently have hosts scheduled through May 4. See the hosting schedule. If you'd like to host after that, please send me an email at the link in the blog's sidebar.

If you have a Christian blog post that you'd like to submit to the Christian Carnival, you can do so here. There's a new Christian Carnival every Wednesday, and anything posted from the previous Wednesday through the Tuesday just before is eligible for the each Wednesday carnival.

The introduction and preaching schedule for Matthew 14:1-20:28 is here.

1. Matt 14:1-21 Jeremy Jackson (Signs of life and death) 1-3-10
2. Matt 14:22-36 Stefan Matzal (You are the Son of God) 1-10-10
3. Matt 15:1-28 Doug Weeks (What defiles a man?) 1-24-10
4. Matt 15:29-16:12 Stefan Matzal (Beware of false teaching) 1-31-10
5. Matt 16:13-23 Jeremy Jackson (On this rock ... my church) 2-7-10
6. Matt 16:24-17:13 Stefan Matzal (The foundation of glory) 2-14-10
7. Matt 17:14-27 Jeremy Jackson (The mark of true power) 2-21-10
8. Matt 18:1-14 Stefan Matzal (Who is the greatest?) 2-28-10
9. Matt 18:15-35 Doug Weeks (Private mercy and public discipline) 3-7-10
10. Matt 19:1-12 Jeremy Jackson (Marriage, divorce, and singleness) 3-14-10
11. Matt 19:13-20 Stefan Matzal (Who can be saved?) 3-21-10
12. Matt 20:1-19 Jeremy Jackson (The Cross and the Throne) [Palm Sunday] 3-28-10
13. Matt 20:20-28 Doug Weeks (A ransom for many) [Easter Sunday] 4-4-10

Doug Weeks preached on Matthew 18:15-20 in the 1981 Matthew series.
Some of the material from the last three sermons was previously covered in 1985.
Dickson Rothwell preached on Matthew 16:21-28 in 1992. See the topical sermons here.
For the 1997 sermons on these chapters, see here. For other Trinity Fellowship sermons, see here.

I've been looking at some empirical work that's been done gauging people's attitudes about race. I've been taking these studies to be empirically sound and up to social science standards. As I'm going through the comments on my chapter dealing with this, I'm seeing some worry that my arguments rely on surveys that aren't up to social science standards because they're not representative enough. I have no idea how to evaluate such a charge.

What exactly does a study need to do to meet social science standards? One study I'm looking at was an internet survey of 449 people. The initial contacts responded to ads on a university campus and were told to invite other people they knew to participate, and the authors of the study say that the invitations allowed it to mushroom into a more diverse group. The ages ranged from 18 to 82, with a mean age of 35 (SD=13.38). They asked for self-identification racially, and they got 64% identifying as European American, 14% African American, 9% Latino/a, 5% Asian American, 3% Biracial/Multiracial, .2% Native American/Alaskan, and 4% Other or None of the Above. For educational background, 3% had just high school, 23% some college, 23% college grads, 15% some graduate school, and 36% completed graduate school. 29% were from the Midwest, 24% from the West, 17% Midatlantic, 18% South, 7% New England, and 5% Southwest.

The full text of the study is here.

Can anyone with a background in social science give me a sense of whether it's fair to charge studies like this one with not being representative enough and therefore not up to social science standards? The only thing I can detect is some geographical skewing and a heavy emphasis on people with higher education backgrounds, but the authors acknowledge the latter and checked to see if responses differed significantly from one education level to another and detected no problems there. Is the sample size large enough? I don't have a sense of how these things are supposed to be done.


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I've been using Dropbox to host the sermon files I'm putting online. I'm starting to run out of space, but they increase your disk space if you can get others to sign up under you as a referral.

This is a great site for storing files online that you can then access from another computer, and you can use it to share your files with certain people but not make public, or you can generate public links, as I'm doing with the sermon files, if you prefer that. If you sign up as a referral, you immediately get your first bonus as if you had referred someone, so it's better to sign up as a referral than otherwise.

So if you would find such a site useful, please sign up and install the software, and it will increase my disk space and allow me to store more sermons there. (Or you could even do it just to help me out, if you're so inclined!) The link above should give the referral to me.

Swamp Rock

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An example I'm using in my dissertation is a modification of Donald Davidson's Swampman example, which is a standard enough example in philosophy to have its own Wikipedia entry.

The Wikipedia description of the Swampman example is as follows:

Suppose Davidson goes hiking in the swamp and is struck and killed by a lightning bolt. At the same time, nearby in the swamp another lightning bolt spontaneously rearranges a bunch of molecules such that, entirely by coincidence, they take on exactly the same form that Davidson's body had at the moment of his untimely death. This being, whom Davidson terms 'Swampman', has, of course, a brain which is structurally identical to that which Davidson had, and will thus, presumably, behave exactly as Davidson would have. He will walk out of the swamp, return to Davidson's office at Berkeley, and write the same essays he would have written; he will interact like an amicable person with all of Davidson's friends and family, and so forth.
My modification targets the view that being a member of a certain race requires having an ancestor of that race. Besides having an infinite regress problem (since races have to come into existence at some point), that view is at odds with what I think our intuitions would be with a Swampman-like case. Suppose an exact duplicate of Chris Rock were to appear out of nowhere, with no causal history and certainly no ancestry, never mind black ancestry. I think most people, even knowing this origin of the Chris Rock duplicate, would take the duplicate to be as black as Chris Rock. I've discussed this case with a lot of people, and almost everyone takes that to be the implication.

If that's right, then there can't be an ancestry requirement for race-membership, since the duplicate is black, and he's got no ancestors.

Incidently, my dissertation supervisor, in a parenthetical remark in the middle of an objection to this example, indicated that she thought my name for this example -- Swamp Rock -- was slightly offensive. I haven't had a chance to ask her about that, and I might not. I'm happy enough to change the name of the example or just not give it one. But I'm a little curious what led her to find it slightly offensive, unless it's something she sees offensive in the original name Davidson used. Is it that the name is all right until it gets applied to a black person, and then it's slightly offensive? If it had been someone named Dave Rock, who was white, and I was using it to show that the duplicate is white despite having no ancestors, would it be equally (i.e. still slightly) offensive?

Sermon Gaps Filled In

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I've been digitizing some of the sermons that were missing from the sermon series I've been putting online. So far this includes:

one sermon in the I Samuel 1-12 series
seven sermons in the Zechariah 1-9 and Malachi series
three sermons in the John 5-8 series

Those three series are now complete. When I get my next chance to look through the tape library, I'll look for the missing sermons on John 18-21, I Peter, and II Peter.

The usual expectation of the Justice Department when a federal law is being challenged in court is to defend the law, as long as some good-faith argument can be mustered in its defense, even if the administration in power at the moment disagrees with the law on policy grounds. The Obama Administration has chosen not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that it had been defending with what it had taken to be good-faith arguments for most of the Obama presidency.

The president's change of heart on this issue isn't just a question of consistency between his past statements (including what he ran his campaign on) and his current views, because it's possible to change your mind on important issues. It also isn't just about whether the solicitor general always has to defend policies that the sitting president disagrees with. There are plenty of cases of other presidents choosing not to defend laws that are challenged in court.

What especially worries me about this current move is that there are people on both sides of the issue who do have good-faith arguments. They each believe there are convincing arguments. The Obama Administration acknowledged this by presenting those arguments. They seem to have gotten tired of offering arguments they no longer agree with (on the more charitable explanation: I would say "or have been politically pressured to abandon" on the less charitable explanation). Barack Obama was convinced enough by such arguments, if we take him to be remotely honest, that he defended the law during his run for the White House. He directed his solicitor general, who is now his second Supreme Court appointee, to defend the law in the courts. But if he's supposed to defend the law unless he thinks there are no good-faith arguments for it, that means he implicitly has indicated that he (no longer?) thinks there are good faith arguments for it.

I've been thinking about the implications of this, in light of one of the key themes that got him elected. He talks about putting yourself in the shoes of your political opponent, thinking how they think, coming to understand them so that you don't simply present them as evil incarnate. They differ from you on policy matters, but it's often based on core values that we all share, just applied differently (and in your own view incorrectly). In other words, he spends quite a lot of energy calling on people to do politics differently, in a way that recognizes they have good-faith arguments for their positions.

Now this isn't the first place where I see a conflict between that message, which is a major theme of his book The Audacity of Hope, and how he actually describes his political opponents when disagreeing with them, which strikes me as not abiding by his own advice. I could give numerous examples from that very book, but I don't have a hard copy from the library yet, so I'll have to come back to that at another time. (But see my discussions of his comments about Bush's Supreme Court picks for a clear example of this.)

I have to wonder if this is another example. By implicitly indicating that he doesn't think there are good-faith arguments for DOMA, is he therefore tarring all proponents of DOMA, including every member of Congress who voted for it (and it was a popular bill on the Democratic side) with having no good-faith arguments for the bill? They were all supporting it disingenuously, in other words. What would motivate them to support it if they had no good-faith reasons to support the law in principle? Presumably corruption, right? Is he asserting that of all supporters of DOMA, including the Senator Obama who ran for president in 2008 and succeeded in getting elected, who went on to instruct his Solicitor General Elena Kagan to defend the law with arguments he was claiming were good-faith arguments? The arguments often given about his inconsistency on this issue are too simplistic, given that people really can change their minds in good faith. Perhaps he has (though I admit some skepticism). But I'm not sure he can consistently claim that there's no good-faith argument without thereby admitting deception and political opportunism on his own part.

The only way out of this argument I can see is if he's going to insist that you can think there are good-faith arguments for a position but still refuse to defend it. But that does go against significant tradition, and it has him falling afoul of another problem he raises in his book, and that's the biggest criticism he thinks he has of the Republicans under Bush. He accuses them of being unwilling to abide by how things have traditionally been done. Some issues he picks on involve issues where he sees a constitutional violation. (On many of those issues, I suspect he's changed his mind and simply continued the Bush policy, since he mostly had in mind war on terrorism issues, where his policies haven't different much from Bush's.) One place he applies this is to the so-called "nuclear option" issue in the Senate, where he thought they should continue to allow the filibuster in judicial nominations, in part because it's a longstanding tradition. Now he's going against a significant tradition, if he thinks there are good-faith arguments, anyway.

So either way, he's going against a major theme in his book.

The Other Race Effect

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I came across this article about a recent study done exploring the difficulty of recognizing differences among people of other racial groups. According to the author, Kate Shaw, this new study helps explain why it is that we have an easier time distinguishing people's faces when the people are from our own racial group. But from what she goes on to say about it, it does nothing of the sort.

What this study shows, if the research is accurate, is (1) the effect occurs and (2) there's a biological mechanism involved. They've identified, from having subjects look at faces, a tendency to have a harder time distinguishing differences among faces that belong to people who are members of a different race from the person doing the looking. They've also identified an electrical effect in the brain that, according to this article, is triggered by the sight of a human face. The effect decreases in subsequent viewings of the same face, and this is called repetition suppression. The repetition suppression effect occurred with faces of the same race but not with faces of another race.

But is this an explanation? Hardly. All it does is show that there is a neurological explanation. It shows that this effect occurs with same-race faces but not with other-race faces. It doesn't explain why that's true. It doesn't explain why the repetition suppression effect occurs with same-race faces but not with other-race faces. So it doesn't really explain why this biological response occurs, and therefore it doesn't explain, as this article was claiming, why we have an easier time distinguishing faces of people in our own race than with people of other races. For that we'd need an explanation of why this particular neurological effect, with certain repeated faces, decreases or why, with other faces, it doesn't. This study, at least from what I see in this article, hasn't even attempted to explain that, and that's the interesting question.



The 375th Christian Carnival is up at Jevlir Caravansary.

I've put up some links at the top of the sidebar, including several for the Christian Carnival, since I haven't been as consistent in plugging it and then linking to it on a weekly basis. The hosting schedule is now permanently here. If you'd like to host, send me an email with the link in the sidebar. See here for what hosting would involve. The Blog Carnival form for submitting posts is here.

Exodus 20:1-17 Sermons

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Imposing Religion

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There are several different things someone might mean when they speak of imposing religious beliefs on those who don't hold them. There are two different axes to pay attention to. One is what is meant by "imposing", and the other is what is meant by "religion".

On the first axis, what is meant by "imposing", I can think of a number of things in decreasing order of severity:

1. Forcing people with threat of force or imprisonment
2. Coercing people by some manner less severe than force or threat of imprisonment (e.g. giving them incentives like a right to vote, to drive, to hold an independent job) that most Americans consider rights or close enough to it
3. Incentivizing by some manner less severe than coercion (e.g. government influencing social acceptance, giving tax credits or deductions, criminal penalties of smaller sort such as a fine)
4. Calling on people to change their mind or behavior, perhaps with strenuous argumentation
5. Explaining one's attitude on the issue
6. Simply stating what one's view happens to be

On the second axis, what is meant by "religion", I can again think of a number of things, in decreasing order of centrality to religion:
A. espousing a statement of faith or unfaith (that they might not actually agree with)
B. engaging in certain behavior that is motivated (on the part of those instituting the policy) merely by religious beliefs and not by any attempt at rational argument
C. engaging in certain behavior that is motivated (on the part of those instituting the policy) in part by religious beliefs but also by some attempt at rational argument, even if it's not a strong argument
D. engaging in certain behavior that is motivated (on the part of those instituting the policy) in part by religious beliefs but is held by most who hold it (even if controversially) by rationally-motivated arguments that, while disputed, at least are philosophically-driven in addition to or, for some, without the religious motivation
E. engaging in certain behavior that is motivated (on the part of those instituting the policy) in part by religious beliefs but is commonly held by most people, and for most people there is motivation that in their minds is on grounds entirely independent of religion

There are those who insist that even stating one's religious views counts as imposing them in an improper way, never mind preaching them. Fortunately, in the United States even 4A is protected speech by the first amendment. I'm not about to argue for 1 either, so we're really looking at 2 and 3. In the history of the world, we've certainly seen pseudo-conversions coerced at swordpoint or recantations of religious beliefs at the threat of martyrdom. In comparison with that, the idea that one is imposing one's religion merely by trying to make a case for it seems absurd. It's similar to the War on Christmas people complaining of Christians being persecuted in the United States just because schools are refusing to sing Jingle Bells in schools on the ground that the song is tied to a religious holiday. (In my experience, schools nowadays don't reduce Christian content at Christmas but simply include it alongside religious content for other religions' holidays too, so this complaint is getting even more stale than it was when I was younger, when such songs might have been excluded on the strange claim that they're somehow religious).

We do have some laws that are all the way down to 1E or sometimes 1D, however. For example, same-sex sodomy laws, bans on selling contraceptives, and bans on teaching evolution (all deemed unconstitutional now) were often religiously-motivated but did include arguments, often arguments widely accepted at the time, that didn't rely on religious premises. Evolution was thought not to be as well-supported as its proponents think. Creation science has insisted that evolution is just bad science. This isn't about whether their arguments are good but about what kind of arguments they are. Similarly, bans on same-sex sodomy were justified more by disgust at such acts than any biblical prohibition on them, and the Connecticut ban on selling contraceptives was supported by an argument about population control.

But there remain some laws at level 1E or 1D and some attempts at instituting laws at this level. Sodomy laws are deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court since 2004, but incest laws vary from state to state. It's not criminal in Rhode Island to have sex with a close relative, but you can't marry them unless you're Jewish (to allow for Levirate customs, I assume). In Ohio it's criminal to have sex with your children, but only the parents are criminal even if the children are adults. But in Massachusetts you can get 20 years in prison for having sex with your adult sibling, even if one of the two parties is demonstrably infertile or if it's a same-sex act, in either case removing any chance of genetic problems with offspring. Such a law is, as far as the courts have so far indicated, perfectly constitutional. Yet I can think of no easy argument against it unless you rely on beliefs that are either very controversial and often supported by religion or simply feelings of disgust. Arguments against pornography aren't all religious (see the feminist arguments), but we make distributing or producing certain kinds of pornography illegal in part because a lot of people have religious objections to it. (But I should say that this is clearly 1E and not 1D, since almost all religious people who object to pornography would agree with just about the entire feminist case against pornography, despite feminist claims to the contrary.)

In fact, 1E prohibitions occur all the time. Laws against murder or robbery fit into this category. People certainly have religious reasons for thinking such acts are wrong and ought to be given severe penalties. But the arguments for them are widely accepted by religious and non-religious people, and the secularly-accessible arguments are usually present even for religious people.

Coercion of sorts 2 and 3 is a little more commonly thought of as imposing religion, and there are some ways that can occur today in the United States with legal sanction (although for letters further down the list than happens with Islam). You're not going to find 2A or 3A in the U.S. today, but you will find both in Islamic countries. Most debates in the political context of the U.S. about imposing religion aren't even about 2B or 3B. The kinds of things that get labeled as Taliban-like behavior in the U.S. aren't about matters that have purely religious support. They at least make an attempt at rational argumentation. But that's also true of the Islamic laws requiring women to wear veils or prohibiting girls from being educated in any formal way. The supposed rational argumentation in both cases is extremely weak and based on false views of the capabilities of women or false priorities, elevating the concern with provoking male lust to a point where it overcomes eminently reasonable considerations about freedom in how women might dress and conduct themselves in public. Even the most stringent Christian concerns about modesty in women's dress are going to allow for much more freedom than you'll find in many Islamic prohibitions on female dress.

I think most cases I'm aware of on level 2 are actually all the way down to 2E. I'm thinking of laws that prohibit minority religious behavior, such as requiring a photo ID for a driver's license (which some orthodox Jews resist and even some Muslims, or like the Florida law requiring a photo ID not to have a face covered too much, which some Muslim women won't do). The attempted ban on peyote even in Native American religious ceremonies would have fallen into this category, but Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Scalia, overturned that. Banning certain kinds of political protests that someone might have religious reasons for insisting on doing, e.g. perhaps an abortion protest of a certain nature, amounts to a 2C imposition.

Level 3C is much more fair game for a lot of issues in the U.S. We don't imprison people for much at level C, but we do incentivize religious charitable giving by giving tax deductions, and we recognize (so far) a privileged position for opposite-sex unions to be called marriage at the federal level and in most states. That gives government sanction for something with some secular arguments but also based on religious motivation for many supporters of that policy, and it has an effect of cultural sanction or respect for certain behavior over other behavior. If we ban a certain religious act but without criminal penalty other than a fine, that would fall under 3C. There are religious and non-religious arguments for abortion protests that cross the line into illegality to a point of a fine but not to the point of imprisonment.

In the UK and Canada in the last couple years, pastors have been carted off to prison for preaching that same-sex sexual acts are immoral. This isn't quite an expectation of having a certain view, but it's prohibiting the speaking of such a view. It's a level 1 prohibition of level 6 behavior. Americans rightly deride such policies as contrary the value of debate as a basic, fundamental component of civil society. Speech codes that prohibit even stating your religious views if such views are considered offensive to someone, while indisputably unconstitutional in the United States, somehow manage to appear at most universities anyway. Even 4A is uncontroversially protected speech under the first amendment, unless it takes it to a level of actually provoking people to a fight or to the level of panic that would result by yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Yet I've encountered a number of people who have considered it a clear case of immorally imposing one's religion, as if trying to persuade someone of a view you happen to find true is somehow wrong. Some take it to a further extreme, considering even the reporting of your view to be inappropriate when it's a controversial view that some might find offensive. Merely indicating that one believes Jews who don't accept Christ as the Messiah will go to hell would, to some people's mind, count as imposing one's religion in an immoral way. I find such an analysis so unhealthy that I almost consider it undeserving of a reply. But if pressed I would insist on the value of philosophical debate, the importance of understanding those who disagree with you, and the moral importance to certain religions of attempting to win people over to something they consider very urgent for all humanity, which prevents them from remaining silent if they're taking their own religion seriously.

What's the moral of the story? Mostly what motivated me to work through all this is that I think we should be wary of anyone who makes blanket statements about imposing religion, whether moral statements or simply factual claims that it has happened. It should be pretty clear from all this that it's never clear what people mean by that unless the specify, and the debate that might ensure once they do specify is probably worth having. Most people who make such comments haven't thought them through and could benefit from some effort to explore precisely what they mean. The term "imposing religion" is at this point so unhelpful as to be worth avoiding whenever we can, and in its place let's clarify the particular elements that we're concerned about, since the different items in both lists above certainly do involve different moral considerations.

The introduction and preaching schedule for chapters 1-7 is here.

1. Matt 1:1-17 Jeremy Jackson (The geneaology of Jesus Christ) 12-2-07
2. Matt 1:18-25 Jeremy Jackson (The birth of Jesus Christ) 12-9-07
3. Matt 2:1-12 Stefan Matzal (Jesus was born ... King of the Jews) 12-16-07
4. Matt 2:13-23 Stefan Matzal (Take the child ... and flee to Egypt) 12-23-07
5. Matt 3 Jeremy Jackson (This is my beloved Son) 12-30-07
6. Matt 4:1-11 Jeremy Jackson (Then Jesus was led up ... to be tempted) 1-6-08
7. Matt 4:12-25 Jeremy Jackson (Jesus began to preach) 1-13-08
8. Matt 5:1-12 Doug Weeks (Blessed ... Blessed ... Blessed) 1-20-08
9. Matt 5:13-20 Stefan Matzal (Let your light so shine) 1-27-08
10. Matt 5:21-26 Stefan Matzal (Everyone who is angry ... will be liable) 2-3-08
11. Matt 5:27-32 Jeremy Jackson (Adultery ... in his heart) 2-10-08
12. Matt 5:33-42 John Hartung (Let your yes be yes) 2-17-08
13. Matt 5:43-48 Jeremy Jackson (Love your enemies) 2-24-08
14. Matt 6:1-8,16-18 Stefan Matzal (Your Father ... sees in secret) 3-2-08
15. Matt 6:9-15 Jeremy Jackson (Pray like this, "Our Father") 3-9-08
16. Matt 6:19-24 Jeremy Jackson (Lay up ... treasure in heaven) 3-16-08
17. Matt 6:25-34 Doug Weeks (Seek first the Kingdom of God) 3-23-08 [Easter Sunday]
18. Matt 7:1-12 Stefan Matzal (Whatever you wish ... do so to them) 3-30-08
19. Matt 7:13-23 Doug Weeks (Beware of false prophets) 4-6-08
20. Matt 7:24-29 Doug Weeks (He taught as one who had authority) 4-13-08

Most of the sermons in the 1981 Matthew series were from this section of the gospel.
Jeremy Jackson preached on Matthew 2:1-12 in 1982. See the topicals here.
Jeremy Jackson preached a sermon on Christmas in 1988 on Matthew 1:18-25. See the topicals here.
Doug Weeks and Jeremy Jackson preached three sermons stemming from parts of Matthew 5-6 in this topical series in 1989.
Jeremy Jackson preached a sermon on Psalm 127 and Matthew 1:18-25 in 1991. See the topicals here.
Jeremy Jackson preached a Christmas sermon on Matthew 1-2 in 1992. See the topicals here.
For the 1994-1995 sermons on these chapters, see here.
Jim McCullough preached a Christmas sermon on Matthew 1 in 1995. See the topicals here.
Jeremy Jackson preached a Christmas sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 in 1999. See the topicals here.
For other Trinity Fellowship sermons, see here.

A while back I was watching an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. One of the characters made the claim that Kyle Reese would have been better off going back much further in time and killing Alan Turing instead of bothering to defend Sarah Connor to ensure John Connor would make it into the future to fight the machines. Presumably the argument is that without Alan Turing the project of artificial intelligence would have been delayed significantly.

Of course, someone else would have come along to do the kinds of things Turing did, so I doubt this would change too much, perhaps slowing down the age of the machines by a little bit. But there are two much worse problems with this suggestion.

First, there's an ethical problem. Turing is innocent. The machines easily kill people who would threaten them in the future, but should humans sent back in time by John Connor become like the machines in their willingness to kill any innocent that would improve things for the humans fighting against the machines?

Second, I can't imagine how this is supposed to make Reese better off (or help fulfill his mission any better). He was sent by John Connor to protect his mother from the Terminator, and in the process he became John Connor's father, thus not only protecting Connor but ensuring his existence. If he went back to Alan Turing's time, he wouldn't become Connor's father. Even apart from the metaphysical problem (he couldn't go back to Turing's time, because then Connor couldn't have been around to send him there), there's the mission issue. The basic assumption of Reese's mission is that if John Connor never exists we'd never get the resistance movement going. This mission prevents Connor's existence. So whenever the machines get around to trying to take over the world, even if it's delayed, there would be no John Connor to lead the resistance. Reese would automatically fail in his particular mission if he'd gone back to kill Turing instead.

Other than the silly view of time travel this show assumes (along with all Terminator movies except the first one), I really have enjoyed it so far (I have several episodes left to go in the second and final season). But this particular suggestion struck me as being just stupid, even if you suspend disbelief and go with the crazy view of time travel they presuppose.

Gene Fant discusses the tendency among some evangelical scholars to adopt views that are more socially acceptable in the academy at large, which sometimes involves abandoning evangelical convictions. I think that phenomenon is clearly present. There are evangelical scholars who engage with the academy and end up changing their minds on certain issues, because they are convinced by the arguments (or at least they feel convinced).

But Gene gives his take on what's going on in these cases. Such people are being intellectual golden retrievers, and he compares it to peer pressure among teenagers in Facebook. He says he's had personal conversations with a number of evangelical scholars who describe their situation as wishing they didn't have "to comport with these theological chains that prevent me from earning the approval of the larger academy".

But I couldn't imagine someone convinced by arguments against some conviction held among evangelicals seeing those evangelical convictions as chains. They would either think the Bible doesn't really require them to hold the more conservative view they've abandoned (in which case they wouldn't consider themselves chained while remaining evangelicals and adopting their more liberal view), or they would reject the evangelical convictions (and thus also not feel chained by them, since they don't care to remain evangelical). Such an intellectually honest person strikes me as unable to say the kind of statement that Gene attributes to all these people he's talked to.

So I'm trying to imagine who would. Is it someone who feels peer pressure among academics to give lip service to a view they know is false? Then why would they call it a chain, if they know it is true but feel embarrassed by it? They would call it right, and they might see the academically-respectable view as the chain, something they'd rather not have to say but feel instead as if they need to in order to be socially respected. It's hard for me to see such a person, as embarrassed as they are about their conviction that a socially-disrespected view is true, considering their commitment to the truth a chain. It's the social pressure that would be the chain.

I'm just trying to understand the psychology of someone who would say such a thing, and I'm drawing a blank. It's nearly impossible for me to imagine someone thinking such a thing. If they agree with the evangelical conviction, the social pressure would be the chain, and if they disagree with the conviction they'd see argue that they need not hold the conviction, not see it as something they have to comport with. So this kind of statement is a little baffling to me.

I Peter sermons

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The introduction and preaching schedule for I Peter is here.

1. I Peter 1:1-5 Stefan Matzal "According to his great mercy" 7-16-06
2. I Peter 1:6-12 Stefan Matzal "Concerning this salvation ..." 7-23-06
3. I Peter 1:13-21 Jeremy Jackson "The passions of your former ignorance" 7-30-06
4. I Peter 1:22-2:3 Jeremy Jackson "Long for the pure spiritual milk" 8-6-06
5. I Peter 2:4-12 John Hartung "Once you were not a people" 8-13-06
6. I Peter 2:13-25 Stefan Matzal "Be subject for the Lord's sake" 8-27-06
7. I Peter 3:1-7 Jeremy Jackson "That your prayers not be hindered" 9-3-06
8. I Peter 3:8-17 Jeremy Jackson "Bless ... that you may obtain a blessing" 9-10-06
9. I Peter 3:18-22 Stefan Matzal "For Christ also suffered" 9-17-06
10. I Peter 4:1-6 Jeremy Jackson "Live ... for the will of God" 9-24-06
11. I Peter 4:7-11 Jeremy Jackson "The end ... is at hand, therefore ..." 10-1-06
12. I Peter 4:12-19 Stefan Matzal "Rejoice ... that you may also rejoice" 10-8-06
13. I Peter 5:1-5 Doug Weeks "Examples to the flock" 10-15-06
14. I Peter 5:6-14 Jeremy Jackson "To him be the dominion forever and ever" 10-29-06

Jeremy Jackson preached on I Peter 4:12-19 in 1979. See the topical sermons here.
Al Gurley preached a sermon in 1981 that included I Peter 5:1-5. See the topical sermons here.
Al Gurley preached a sermon in 1983 covering I Peter 1.3-7,13-16; 2.18-25; 3.14-15; 4.1-2,12-19; 5.6-11. See the topical sermons here.
John Hartung preached on I Peter 3:15-16 in 2005. See the topical sermons here.
Stefan Matzal preached on I Peter 3:1-7 in 2012. See the topical series here.

For more sermons, see here.

Alan Turing famously devised the Turing test, which was intended to test whether a machine can think. If it could show enough behavior consistent with thinking, Turing claimed that it really does think.

Turing tests have come under quite a lot of criticism for relying on the fallacious inference from something appearing to have a certain property to the conclusion that it does have that property. Turing tests take the behavior that follows from genuine thinking to be sufficient to establish that there is such thinking, even if the same behavior can be produced by a computer program. I would take the fact that it comes from a computer program to be sufficient reason to think such behavior can occur without genuine thinking.

So the usual criticism of Turing tests is that they assume thinking is occurring just because the usual behavior resulting from thinking is occurring. While I'm not interested in diminishing that objection, it occurred to be recently that Turing tests aren't just not sufficient for thinking (things that pass the test might not be thinking). They're not even necessary (things that think might fail the test). For one thing, someone who thinks might simply refuse to comply with the test and thus could fail. But more poignantly, someone with a communication-related disorder, e.g. someone with autism and dyspraxia who is completely non-verbal, simply cannot display the behavior the test is looking for. Being unable to communicate is certainly not a sign of being unable to think.

I would argue that more harm is caused by those who take passing a Turing test to be necessary for intelligent thought than is caused by those who take passing such a test to be sufficient for intelligence. We recently attended a communication seminar for parents and educators of non-verbal and mostly non-verbal children. At one session an autistic college senior was present. He can now speak in a somewhat limited manner, but he can communicate by typing on a portable device at a level that's almost certainly far beyond what most kindergarten teachers would have ever expected if they had seen his communication level in his younger years. He had no verbal language until age 12, but because his teachers taught him to type they knew that he was able to grasp much higher levels of thought than most teachers would have even speculated. At last night's session, there was a guy with Down Syndrome and autism who, as far as I could tell, can even as an adult do little more than grunt was typing out sentences that indicate a pretty high-level grasp of some pretty abstract and complex phenomena.

With a son who can't speak much more than five syllables at a time (unless he's singing or engaging in echolalic repetition of Veggie Tales or some other TV show), we've been able to see something like this firsthand. We knew in kindergarten that he was reading fairly complex words for the level of verbal behavior we normally saw, because he'd occasionally see a word and say it. (I remember him saying "banana" one time when there were no pictures of a banana, just the word.) But it's been very hard to get him to demonstrate his intelligence with writing, until this year, with his teacher and support staff working very hard with him to get him typing. Six months ago we could get him to trace over words we wrote out with a highlighter, or we could get him to point to words sometimes on a communication device, which could then pronounce them for him (but they had to be programmed in first, since he wasn't typing them). Now he's showing reading comprehension by completing "because" clauses to answer why certain characters did certain things. It makes me wonder how much he's been wanting to be able to communicate for years but unable to get his mouth or hands to do anything to show it.

The Turing defender might now say that he is able to show it, so it's not an objection to the test, but he's only now able to show it, and there's no reason to think he just started to be able to think on this level. I suspect most teachers would have assumed he couldn't handle the level of math that he's doing (basically right on second grade level) or the vocabulary and reading that he's doing (which is, as I said, at a pretty good level for demonstrating reading comprehension, better than his older brother could demonstrate at that age). He happens to have a teacher with 25 years of experience working with kids like him, who is informed about technology and methods to get kids like him communicating. Many educators encountering a kid like him might well assume low ability levels and not work to get him to communicate. In effect, they're using a reverse Turing test and concluding that someone isn't intelligent because they can't show it in the typical ways.

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Pro-choicers regularly accuse pro-lifers of favoring policies that increase abortions by (a) being one-issue voters who care only about laws restricting abortion (and politicians who will appoint, confirm, or be judges who will move things back in a direction that allows more of such restrictions), (b) actively opposing laws and policies that will decrease the number of abortions, or (c) promoting policies that will actually increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I'm sure there are people who are inconsistent in applying their pro-life principles by doing such things, but there are plenty of unfair ways to make such arguments, particularly when they ignore other beliefs held by many pro-life people that make their position fully consistent.

For example, contraception decreases the number of unwanted pregnancies, it is argued, and therefore pro-lifers who want to decrease the number of abortions ought to promote contraception. So the charge is that pro-lifers who oppose contraception are thus inconsistent.

It doesn't take much reflection to see that this argument is patently unfair to some pro-lifers. Consider the following proposal. Let's kill everyone on the planet. That would surely decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies. But no pro-lifer would advocate it, because it would be wrong to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies by using such a method. Now no one is offering that proposal, but consider the proposal in question. The suggestion is that by promoting contraception we would decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore we would decrease the number of abortions. You might think that this proposal is much better than simply killing everyone on the planet, which would also produce that same goal. In fact, it is. I'd be shocked to find anyone, pro-life or not, who wouldn't agree. But a proposal doesn't have to be as bad as killing everyone on the planet to be immoral, and at least one possible view would still consistently hold to pro-life views on abortion and anti-contraception views.

Some pro-lifers are simply opposed to contraception in principle. They think it's immoral. They surely don't think it's as immoral as wiping out all human life. But they do think it would be wrong to participate in it or promote it, and supporting policies that attempt to get more people to use contraception would indeed participate in and promote contraception. To such a person, it doesn't matter if they are opposing a policy that would decrease unwanted pregnancies. Decreasing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing, since it removes the occasion in which some people will do something immoral. But we shouldn't do something immoral ourselves in order to remove the situation where someone else will be tempted to do something immoral. So such a person is consistent with pro-life principles while opposing policies that promote contraception, and it's extremely unfair to such a person's actual views to accuse them of inconsistency before exploring what views they might have for resisting the promotion of contraception.

Similarly, if someone thinks it's immoral to promote economic policies that will put more people in better situations and thus remove some of the concerns that lead to abortions, then they should oppose those policies. Suppose the person is a pro-life economic libertarian of an extreme enough sort that they think welfare amounts to stealing, for example. They won't see the good consequences of welfare for those who are tempted to have abortions as good enough to overcome the wrongness of stealing from one group of people to help others. Preventing one bad situation that prevents a temptation for an immoral act is surely a good thing, but if it means adopting an economic policy that one considers immoral, it might eliminate that method, depending on what moral theory we're working with and how one sorts through potentially conflicting moral principles.

Now the argument is much better when directed against someone who doesn't see the policy in question as being intrinsically wrong but just sees it as a bad idea. Most economic conservatives don't oppose welfare programs at any level. Many pro-lifers don't oppose contraception as intrinsically wrong. In the first case, they have to weigh the bad consequences they expect from an economic policy they disagree with against the bad consequences they should expect if something isn't done to change the unwanted pregnancy rate. A lot more factors come into play here, such as which methods will be most effective at reducing unwanted pregnancies, which methods will have better consequences in other respects, how much energy the person is already putting into attempts that they don't see as having bad consequences, and how effective restrictive laws will be as compared with simply changing people's circumstances.

What about the contraceptive issue with those who don't see contraception as intrinsically wrong? A lot of pro-lifers who don't have a problem with contraception in principle will still be extremely hesitant about efforts to promote it among teenagers (or among the unmarried in general, depending on their views about sexual morality). One reason for this hesitation, I think, is that they see such promotion as endorsement of teenage sex (or unmarried sex), and they would see that as participating in something they shouldn't. Or it might be thought of in terms of promotion of something one wants not to promote. Then the wrongness of promoting something wrong or participating in something wrong might be decisive for someone, and we don't have an inconsistent position after all.

Then there might also be bad consequences to consider. I've seen claims that promoting contraception doesn't decrease unwanted pregnancies but actually decreases them. I've never looked at the details of studies on the subject, but I think the explanation for why this might be is that people who most (but not all) of the time use contraception are more likely to feel safer in avoiding contraception than without contraception-promotion, in which case they might have been more willing to abstain from sex than to engage in contracepted-sex most (but not all) of the time. Now it doesn't actually matter to my argument whether these claims are true. Perhaps this effect isn't very strong, and the effect of promoting contraception in preventing pregnancies is much stronger. What matters is that some people believe this claim to be true, and it's not totally unreasonable, even if a closer look at facts might disabuse someone of it (if in fact it's wrong, which I'm not taking a stand on one way or the other). That means they have a consistent position of why they think the effects of contraception-promotion do not actually decrease unwanted pregnancies, and thus they can consistently hold to pro-life principles and want to reduce unwanted pregnancies without wanting to promote contraception.

I recently listened to a Bloggingheads TV diavlog between Sarah Posner and Michael Dougherty, and along the way one of them (I believe Dougherty) mentioned an argument that I don't think I've ever heard before. Apparently some people have argued against promoting contraceptives because they think such efforts will lead to a bad consequence, not just in other areas, but one that has a direct impact on abortion. It may well be, as far as this argument goes, that promoting contraception will decrease the number of unexpected pregnancies, i.e. the number of pregnancies that were not wanted before they occurred. But emphasizing contraception might at the same time reinforce the sense that pregnancy is a bad thing worth avoiding. Of those unexpected pregnancies, such an increased sense of pregnancy as bad might increase the number of unexpected pregnancies been seen as unwanted. That might then increase the number of abortions resulting from unexpected pregnancies, even if the number of unexpected pregnancies goes down because of the contraception. You'd then have to see if it's possible to figure out which effect would be more significant, and my suspicion is that such a task would be very difficult, if not impossible, which might lead one toward caution about a policy that might have a good effect but might also have a bad effect. That would then contribute toward explaining the hesitation from some pro-lifers with respect to policies that promote contraception.

There are plenty of other things that might come to play here, but this should give enough sense that it doesn't automatically follow from pro-life convictions that one ought to favor policies promoting contraception or supporting economic policies that might have the effect of helping more women at risk for unwanted pregnancies to have more economically-viable situations where they'd be less tempted to have an abortion. Perhaps when all is said and done, the best pro-life policy is to oppose abortion and favor restricting it while also promoting contraception. Provided you don't think contraception is intrinsically immoral, that's going to depend on a number of other factors, including some empirical data that I'm not sure is readily available in an indisputable form. But it's not an automatic implication of pro-life principles, and how people settle those other issues will affect what they might consistently say about efforts to promote contraception. Similarly, it's certainly possible that pro-lifers ought to support some given effort to increase the quality of life of those who might be at risk for having an abortion. But whether they should consistently do so will depend quite a bit both on their other views and on empirical data that isn't easily available to most people and may, frankly, not even exist in any understandable form.

I Samuel 1-12 sermons

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Andy Naselli has posted a short excerpt from D.A. Carson and Tim Keller's Gospel-Centered Ministry, one of the new series of Gospel Coalition booklets. The excerpt explains why the Gospel Coalition's statement of faith begins with God rather than with scripture. I hold both Carson and Keller in high regard, and it's very rare that I can identify anything to question from either of them. But this excerpt strikes me as being either ignorant about the meaning of a basic philosophical term or completely mistaken in how to apply it.

Carson and Keller's reasoning is basically that they want to resist what they see as a fault in the elevation of reason in the Enlightenment. Evangelical statements of faith in the past begin with a doctrine of scripture and then proceed to derive theological commitments in a systematic way via exegesis of that scripture. The result, according to Carson and Keller, is the presentation of a system of thought that gives the appearance of being deduced by unquestionable reasoning from the starting point of scripture.

It's their next move that I find problematic. They criticize such an approach by calling it foundationalist. The only hint as to what they mean by that is what they go on to say. They resist it because our cultural location affects our interpetation and relies too much on a rigid subject-object distinction, and we need to pay attention to historical theology, philosophy, and social reflection.

I'm not sure what any of that has to do with foundationalism. I have no problem with pointing out that our cultural location affects our interpretation. The subject-object distinction is a bit rigid if we ignore that we can be both subject and object in different respects, and being one can influence the ways in which one is the other. We certainly do need to pay attention to historical theology, philosophy, and social reflection. But how is any of that non-foundationalist? Foundationalism in epistemology is the thesis that our knowledge has a structure with a foundation, a basis upon which everything else is built. The beliefs in the foundation ought to be the best sort of beliefs we could have, ones that we can know to be true or have very good reason to believe. Some such beliefs would be self-evident or knowable just by thinking about them. Others might be learned by reliable processes that we can't prove to be true or reliable but that are genuinely reliable and thus lead to knowledge or justified beliefs.

I can't figure out how foundationalism creates any problem for any of what Carson and Keller are worried about. If the idea is that we shouldn't start with the foundation of scripture and instead start with the foundation of God, then that's still foundationalism, just with a different foundation. If the idea is that there are sources of information that we assume to be perfectly good that can be bad and lead us to false information, then foundationalism accepts that. Our biases can influence what we take to be a good foundation and thus end up with beliefs in our foundation that shouldn't be there. If the idea is that it's legitimate to have sources in the foundation that philosophers of the Enlightenment wouldn't want there, it's still foundationalism. It's just arguing for a different foundation.

The alternative to foundationalism is coherentism. Coherentism uses the raft model to contrast with the pyramid model of foundationalism. The idea behind coherentism is that your beliefs can be perfectly justified or a set of knowledge even if they're not based on anything legitimate. All it takes is for your beliefs to cohere. If they're not inconsistent, if there's no contradiction anywhere in there, then you know everything you believe. Such a view is so radically incompatible with Christian teaching in scripture that I can't imagine Carson or Keller seriously entertaining it. They hold that you can't know God without your information coming from God in some way, either by scripture or by coming through the testimony of a believer (or, in rare cases, by a more miraculous way of coming to understand, but the source would nonetheless be God). In fact, Carson and Keller are both Calvinists, and their Reformed theology has it that any of our beliefs leading to salvation are put in place by God, either directly or by some human means. What grounds them as knowledge is that God places them there and allows them to serve as a legitimately-held belief. The basis of any Christian's theology is therefore beliefs bestowed upon us by God that are epistemically grounded by God's miraculous working in our hearts and minds. Knowledge and belief-justification in Reformed theology strike me as particularly foundationalist. Coherentism is basically relativism about truth or knowledge (depending on whether you're a coherentist about truth or knowledge). I'm 100% sure that both Carson and Keller would consider coherentism incompatiible with their understanding of truth, knowledge, what justifies our beliefs, and so on.

Now there is a tendency among emergentists and pseudo-postmodernists on the fringes of evangelicalism to use the word 'foundationalism' to refer to a very narrow version of foundationalism held by Enlightenment philosophers and then to mis-label all evangelicals as foundationalist and thus living in the dark ages. But foundationalism itself is much broader, and it surprises me to see Keller and Carson giving the term up so easily while defending a view that seems as far as I can tell to be just as foundationalist as the view they're criticizing. I find their reference pretty puzzling, unless they're taken in by this group that they've both spent a good deal of time not giving in to, co-opting a mistaken understanding of what foundationalism is merely because some of their philosophically amateurish opponents have adopted a jaundiced view of what foundationalism is in order to strike it down with little argument. If that's what's going on here, then I would have expected better of both Keller and Carson. If that's not what's going on, I'm at a complete loss.


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