Philosophy: November 2009 Archives

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.

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.

Ken Miller gave a talk tonight at Le Moyne College, where I teach. I'll probably put together the thoughts I recorded as I listened to him in a separate post later, but I wanted to comment on one issue that I've written about before. I think I was wrong about him here (which I repeated here). He gave an criticism of intelligent design arguments that ID requires believing in a God who is actually a bad designer. From the way he gave that argument, it seemed to me that he couldn't really endorse what he was saying unless he thought there was no sense in which God is a designer. Basically he'd have to hold the view that God didn't design the evolutionary process with all its dead-ends but that it came about through a long evolutionary process that God didn't oversee in any way, because then that would make God responsible for the bits that are failures.

But apparently that's not his view. I still need to continue my conversation with him over email, because I'm not sure of some of the details of his view on divine providence, but he was very clear in rejecting the view I was assuming he held. 

At the very end of his talk, he gave his stance on God's role in creation. While it wasn't in-depth enough to satisfy me, and I'm not sure yet that he's answered about every question I'd like to nail him down on to understand what the above argument is saying, I think my conclusions about him from his argument on Stephen Colbert were wrong. I'm not sure yet that I was being unreasonable in drawing that inference given what he said, and I'm not satisfied yet that I understand the details of his view, but the view I thought he must hold turns out not to be his view.

He quoted the current pope as accepting the following two claims (and he said he agreed):

1. Evolution as a radically contingent materialistic process.
2. True contingency in the created order is not incompatible with God's providential plan for creation.

If he means contingency the way Aquinas or a modern compatibilist might, then I'd agree. But I'm not sure if Miller agrees with that. How does God's design through evolution work? Is it by building it into the laws of nature? But if it's radically contingent, the laws of nature couldn't assure any outcome, right? The only way it can be contingent in a way that can ensure the outcome is if it's compatibilist contingency, where God really does control all the details of what happens at least by deliberate allowance, and I don't think that's what he was saying.

Miller insists that he's not a deist. He says God is active in the world and in our lives but not in what he calls empirical way. God does it in a way that doesn't interfere with our free will. If God intervened constantly, it would undermine human freedom. We'd cease to rely on moral  choice, so God has to withdraw to allow us to be ourselves. The Holocaust is humanity's work. God allows us to do the most horrible things to each other but also to do wonderful things, including sacrificing to resist evil. Deism is about the personality of God as a creator, and he doesn't accept that approach. Miller believes God answers prayers and believes in actual miracles around him in his life. There might be a perfectly natural explanation for any miracle, but that doesn't rule out God's role.

I talked to him afterward about his problem of waste argument. I was able to get him to agree that the argument didn't apply to every ID position that there might be (although he thinks it does apply to Behe, but I'm not as sure it does even for the reasons he gave, but that occurred to me only later). I wasn't able to get all of the details that I think I need to know to be sure what his view of providence really is. Some of how this argument works depends on that, so I'll hold off on concluding anything further about the argument itself. But he clearly does not hold the view that there is no sense in which God designed the world. The evolutionary process is part of God's design, and the parts of that process that led to evolutionary dead-ends are part of the process God used, which includes death and dead-end species, because it's a process that uses natural causes, which will do that.

I want to pursue this with him over email, because we didn't have time to finish the conversation, and I think I need to know more before I take a definitive stance on his argument. But I wanted to record my re-classification of his views. In my classifications in this post, I have to revise my judgment that he would hold to 1 and 6 and not 2 and 8. He might hold 1 if that just means that the best scientific arguments assume no God. But he would accept 2, and he told me that he's even open to 3, as long as it's clear that he doesn't think we have any scientific evidence of 3. It might nonetheless be true.

He would deny 6. I'm not sure if he would accept 7, although it's probably the closest in the second list to his view. He does think the evolutionary process is a more glorious process for God to have used than special creation would have been, and that might be an indication that he does think the natural world has marks of design, but he's clear that he doesn't think the best scientific conclusion from such things is that there's a designer. I don't think he accepts 8, but I haven't seen him comment on that specifically. He certainly denies 9 and below.


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