Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stephen Davis on the trilemma and other matters

Steve Davis is a longtime friend of mine. His essays here are quite good, including two on the Mad, Bad or God argument. Apparently Last Seminary is what used to be A great resource, and it looks like it's free again. The one on self-caused religious belief is an interesting one as well.

All religious beliefs are true, except that one!

From Biblical Worldview Academy.

 A story is told of an East Coast pastor who began his sermon with the statement all religious beliefs are true.  During the sermon a college student near the front squirmed in his seat as he listened to the pastor preach.  At the end of the sermon, as the congregation was filing out the back, the pastor greeted them.  The student tried to sneak out but the pastor stopped him and asked him where he was from?  He said I am on break from a seminary in Bowling Green.  The pastor asked what religious belief he was and the student said he’d rather not say.  The pastor asked why not?  The student replied I don’t want to offend you.  “Oh son,” the pastor replied, “it doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, they are all true.  So what do you believe?”  The student said okay and whispered in the pastor’s ear, “I believe you are going to hell.”  The pastor got red faced and said, I guess I made a mistake.  All religious beliefs cannot be true, because yours certainly isn’t true!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Predestination and Health Care

Some people see the passage of the health care bill as the end of civilization is we know it. I think the bill, while not perfect, will do more good than harm. Many of my fellow Christians disagree with me on this. Now, if you are a political conservative and an Arminian, like bossmanham, you can explain the passage of the health care bill in terms of the abuse of human free will. If you are a Calvinist, the nultimately, the bill passed because God, before the foundation of the world, chose, in his infinite wisdom, to decree that the bill should pass 219-213, with the exact wording in it that it in fact has. Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?

Well, I suppose if you're a Calvinist, you've already swallowed the Holocaust and eternal hell as predestined by God, so I suppose to object to the predestination of Obamacare would be straining at a gnat after having swallowed a camel. And yes, Calvinism does not say that God morally approves of all the actions he predestines us people perform, so that, yes, he has a good purpose for doing it, no, we don't know what it is, and no, that doesn't excuse the perpertrators of the offense.

Still, the whole thing strikes me as ironic.

My bucket list

Includes doing a debate on the existence of God. I don't think I'm a born debater like Bill Craig, though.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A secular debate about abortion

Here is a debate on Internet Infidels between two atheists, Jennifer Roth and Richard Carrier, on the abortion issue. The debate's very existence should undermine any idea you might have had that the abortion issue is all about religion.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Catholic Answers on Creation and Genesis

The "literal" interpretation of Genesis 1 insisted on by Young Earth Creationists was NOT a test for orthodoxy in the early centuries of the Church.

Wood and Loftus are at it again

I'm going to listen to this as soon as I get a little time. David said he used some of my arguments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Exodus and abortion

Is there a case to be made for abortion in Exodus 21:22? This site comes from Liberated Christians of Phoenix, whose views are, uh, er, out of the evangelical mainstream. Interestingly, the claim has some support from philosopher James Rachels, who writes:

The scriptural passage that comes closest to making a specific judgment about the moral status of fetuses occurs in the 21st chapter of Exodus. The chapter here is part of a detailed description of the law of the ancient Israelites. Here the penalty for murder is said to be death; however, it is also said that if a pregnant woman is caused to have a miscarriage, the penalty is only a fine, to be paid to her husband. Murder was not a category that included fetuses. Clearly, the Israelites regarded fetuses as something less than full human being.[29]

To which his son Stuart Rachels, a philosophy professor (and an International Master in chess) at the University of Alabama, added:

We say that the Bible does not treat abortion as murder: Exodus 21 says that the punishment for abortion is only a fine. (5/e, 65; 6/e, 60) I now refer to three more biblical passages which support the same conclusion: three times the death penalty is recommended for women who have had sex out of wedlock, even though killing the woman would also kill any fetus she might be carrying. (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:20-21; see 6/e, 59-60)  

However, one of the reviewers for Rachels' book on Amazon suggests that this judgment might be exegetically suspect:

Rachels might have a PH.D, but he is no Hebrew scholar. The mistranslation of "yatsa" as miscarriage in the NAS version implies the death of the fetus, but it still takes conjecture and speculation on Rachels part to conclude that the baby definitely died upon leaving the mother early. With easy access to other biblical translations and the Internet (just type Exodus 21:22 in a search engine like GOOGLE) there is no excuse for Dr. Rachels shoddy academic discourse on such a salient issue in today's society.  

 I'm guessing that the Amazon commentator is right. If there's a biblical case to be made on either side of this issue, it's going to take more work than Rachels has put in.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Why "fact vs. opinion" is BS

Does everything have to fit into facts and opinions? I realize many people learned this "fact or opinion" crap in grade school, but if you go by that, either something is cut and dried (we can prove it conclusively), or it's opinion (however anyone feels about it is just dandy). And that leaves out a whole realm of controversial problems where the claims can be true or false, and we have things that can count as evidence one way or another, but we aren't at the point where all reasonable people agree.

Take whether or not there's a God. Do we want to say that's a matter of fact? Well, people have offered "proofs" on both sides, but there's still a debate. Really smart people disagree. Is it opinion? Well, even if there's no proof one way or the other, don't we at least know that either God exists or God does not exist?

Fact vs. opinion is right up there at the top of my list of pet peeves.

Frankfurt, the Devil, and Tiger Woods

First, we have to come up with an account of responsiblity that accounts for all the times when we absolve people of responsiblity on the grounds that they couldn't help it. On the face of things, every time we tell a teacher we have good reason not to be penalized for turning a paper in late, we are appealing to the principle of alternate possibilities. So before I start worrying about Frankfurt cases, I want to know what the opponent of PAP's story is on normal, everyday cases. Why does it suffice to say that I couldn't attend class because I was in the hospital and couldn't get out in time to attend? Why don't we say "That's still your fault. Just because you couldn't have attended class because you were in the hospital doesn't mean that you are free of responsiblity for showing up for class?" When people make excuses for failure to perform, we may in fact think that they aren't telling is the truth, or, at least, the whole story. But if Flip Wilson's Geraldine is right that the devil made her buy the dress, then we'd have to say she's not responsible. Otherwise, she wouldn't be even bothering to use that as an excuse. I'd like to tell the compatiblist "You explain our ordinary excuse-making and excuse evaluating practices, before I have to explain what is supposed to be happening in Frankfurt cases." I'm not saying this can't be done; I am saying we need to deal with normal cases before we deal with Frankfurt cases.

Second, I take it that one critical element of a responsible choice is deliberation. It at least has to be possible for the agent to deliberate. Indeed there is a class of actions which are rightly criticized because the agent didn't deliberate before acting, so there is a kind of sub-choice as to whether or not to deliberate. The Murder 1/ Murder 2 distinction suggests that we don't accord the highest level of moral responsibility in the absence of deliberation.

Which brings us to our Frankfurt cases. Let's say the Devil is our controller. Tiger, a married man, is being tempted to commit adultery with a cocktail waitress named Jaimee. As it happens, the Devil intends to make Tiger commit adultery unless he chooses freely to do so. He deliberates on the possibility of committing adultery, and then what? The moment he starts to take the possibility of not committing adultery seriously in the course of his deliberations, the Devil steps in and makes him do it? But the deliberation and serious consideration of the alternative is what might have been required to make him responsible in the first place, or at least fully responsible. So in order stay in keeping with the concept of responsibility embedded in the murder 1-2 distinction, the Devil can't step in until his adulterous action is fully premeditated. So that means the Devil can only step in and make him do it once he begins the process of choosing to refrain from the adultery. But if that has happened, he has already performed an alternative act of will. PAP holds, and the counterexample folds.

Which means, that if Tiger ever figures out about what the Devil was doing, he can't say "The Devil made me do it" unless he starts to refuse, and is then forced to commit adultery even though he was beginning to choose not to commit adultery. If he commits adultery without Satanic assistance, he is responsible because he could have made an alternative choice. The fact that the Devil would have forced the opposite action doesn't meant the choice wasn't possible. If the Devil is an all-determining deity, then we can all say "The Devil Made Me Do It." Ditto for the Calvinistic God.

Lydia McGrew on Understanding Heaven

Which includes some comments critical of Calvinism.

On what Hasker conceded on the Flicker Strategy

Not really very much.


As for what I conceded: it's about the stuff on p. 91 of TES. John wrote and pointed out that what I said there about him was wrong -- that he does not make responsibility "fundamentally dependent on the overt act," and he does accept the point made by Kant, and affirmed at the bottom of that page. I went back and re-read the relevant section in his book (The Metaphysics of Free Will), and I saw that he was right, so I admitted as much. I never agreed that the Frankfurt examples are successful. And as I wrote earlier, I'm with you on the "flicker" issue.


Perelandra, Plantinga, and the Happy Fall

There's a popluar argument that the Fall is really a good thing overall, because it opens the door for the Incarnation of the Second Person, which Plantinga has endorsed. I don't buy this at all. Interestingly enough, C. S. Lewis's Perelandra a rebuttal to that that theory. As I recall the story, the Un-Man, who is Weston's Body taken over by the Bent Eldil (in other words Satan), uses felix culpa type arguments to persaude the Green Lady (the Venusian Eve) to fall. (It will really do good for you to fall, in fact, it will do so much good that God Himself, in the Second Person, actually came to the Third Planet).

We do have goods that arose as as response to the Fall, involving the Incarnation, but we do not have a basis for comparing what did happen to what would have happened had there been no Fall.

If God had the power to actualize a world in which everyone freely does what is right, it seems reasonably evident that He should have done so. Unless universalism is true, it would have saved a lot of people from eternal damnation. Of course, I don't think God had the power to actualize such a world, because if God guarantees that everyone freely does what is right, then significant freedom is missing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More on those flickers of freedom

Why not say the "flicker of freedom" is enough for responsibility?

Steven: Because it is "repugnant to the intellect", as Plantinga once said (though about something else).

If you are so set in your ways about PAP, then of course you'd think that a flicker of freedom is robust enough to ground responsibility. You'd rather have that then compatibilism. But I'd say you're just being wild, at that point. Blinded to reason and unable to form sound judgment.

It is hard to see how people in Frankfurt cases are responsible in virtue of that fact they can either X or begin to form an intention to not-X and then be manipulated into X-ing.

That seems outrageous. Like Fischer says, getting responsibility from flickers of freedom is akin to alchemy.

VR: I don't see any arguments here at all. Is my position self-contradictory? Are there any fundamental principles of logic I have violated? My central point is that Frankfurt counterexamples are abnormal cases. We take a principle that we use in ordinary circumstances (I couldn't have finished my assignment, because I was in the hospital because of a car accident), the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) and we ask how we are going to apply that principle to bizarro cases where there's a Controller who would have prevented me from carrying out my action if I had started to will it. The "flicker" shows that there WAS an alternative possibility, and comparisons to alchemy and insistence that I can't reason soundly are not going to undermine this fact.

It's a little bit like the Thomsonian intuition pump with the violinist. Someone who is firmly enough convinced of the overriding character of the right to life can simply say "No. you don't have the right to get up and walk away. The violinist has a right to life, you're violating that right if you walk off." If you are prepared to go to the mat for the principle of the right to life, you can resist the violinist argument. No amount of ridicule from the other side will dissuade you, or should dissuade you.

Or consider people who say that we have to give up on the law of non-contradiction because of the liar paradox. If we look at all the things we do with the law of non-contradiction, and its role in making discourse even possible, it looks to me as if, even if I don't have a nice neat solution to the liar paradox, I shouldn't just trash the law of non-contradiction.

Look at what we do with PAP on a daily basis. "I'm sorry, I didn't have a choice. I had to.... so I couldn't...." How many times do we say "I couldn't help it?" Why did Flip Wilson build an entire career out of the phrase "The Devil made me do it." Because if the Devil really did make you do it, you're not responsible, or so we ordinarily think.

In fact, earlier versions of compatibilism prior to Frankfurt, such as those of A. J. Ayer, affirmed PAP but argued that the alternative possibility statements had suppressed "if" clauses. "I would have done otherwise if I had wanted to."

What has always seeemed correct to me is that puppets, including conscious or willing puppets, are not responsible, and this is so whether or not there is a someone pulling the strings. This seems more evident to me that any result that might be generated by the Frankfurtian intuition pump. Because it is a set of intuition pumps, and the cases are deliberately contrived, I have trouble seeing how they can undermine so basic a principle.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The flicker of freedom

A flicker is still an alternate possiblity. The fact that all you get is a flicker is a function of the "cooked" character of these Frankfurt cases. In the real world, unless determinism is true, we have more than a flicker of freedom. Denying the PAP means that there are no alternative possibilities. No means no. We point out that there has to be some movement toward the opposite action in order for the Controller to act, and then we are told "Oh, that's just a flicker. You can't base moral responsibility on that."

Why the heck not?

Explaining Hume's Fork

Hume is a classic, consistent, empiricist. He thinks that all ideas come from experience, because they all come from what he calls impressions. Now these impressions are experiences, however, some of them come from within ourselves as opposed to the five exterior senses. Second, he thinks that all justified beliefs are justified through experience, except for what he called relations of ideas. What relations of ideas were were simply how our ideas are related to one another. So, for example, you could know that all bachelors are unmarried without interviewing any bachelors to find out their marital status, because that is a matter of how we define the word "bachelor." He also asserts that all mathematical knowledge is just the knowledge of definitions. But we can't know anything about, say, whether something exists or not based on how we define the word. So attempts like the ontological argument to show that God must exist because of the way we define "God," are bound to fall flat. On the other hand, any knowledge that might lead us to conclude anything about what is real outside of our own minds, according to Hume, has got to come from experience.

Rationalists think that we can have knowledge of the world outside of our minds through reason, independently of experience. Kant, for example, thought that we could deduce our moral duties through rational reflection and use of the Categorical Imperative. Hume, on the other hand, thought morals derived from feelings.

Hume calls what we can know apart from experience relations of ideas, and what we need experience for matters of fact. This is called, in philosophy, Hume's Fork.

Some notes on Churchland's How do Neurons Know?

Yes, of course this is in conflict with not just the AFR, but with a lot of what we think we know about ourselves. And yep, I think the whole mess is self-referentially incoherent. Showing that it is, however, is more of a chore than you realize.

On the one hand, the Churchlands are committed to listening to brain science and seeing what those disciplines have to tell us about what our cognitive enterprise is like. Interestingly enough you have a lot their fello naturalists, like Jerry Fodor, who aren't looking to brain science to provide much info on what our cognitive life is like. The reason is that there seems to be too big of a disconnect between our mental life as we know it through introspection and what science is going to come up with. There are people who say, yes, in some sense it is all material, but you shouldn't be too eager to throw over huge elements of what Sellars called the Manifest Image (as opposed to the Scientific Image), because to do that is going to undercut what we know about our mental life. So I guess there's a kind of promissory note put out there that the disconnect will go away someday, but an unwillingness to turn neuroscience into philosophy.

The Churchlands are the deadly enemies of people like Fodor; they think we have to start taking neuroscience seriously now, even if it means that we start thinking that we are dead wrong about having things like propositional attitidues like belief. So they are classed as eliminative materialists, eliminativists in the sense that they say that we have to be prepared to throw over our common-sense understanding of our cognitive life. It is typical to couch their position as the claim that there are no beliefs, but actually what they suggest is that as science develops on cognition, we may have to be prepared to drop the notion of belief. We may have better terms to use once brain science gets where it will eventually go. The problem that they face is precisely what you mentioned: that when they talk about all of this they use the langauge of common sense psychology. But it's not as if they're going to hit their heads and say "I never thought of that" if you point out to them that they are using prescientific language. I mean, what other language would you suggest they use? We don't have the scientific image mapped. So they may say "if you think about it" but they may think that, if they knew enough future neuroscience, they wouldn't talk like that. They routinely hit self-referential objections with a charge of begging the question.

My contention is that the disconnect between naturalistically acceptable talk about cognition and the common-sense talk (I did the mathematical question, and concluded such-and-such) is a logical disconnect, and that any reconciliation is bound to be based on some sort of confusion of categories. For starters, surely neurons don't know, even if things composed of neurons do know. Talk about neurons making predictions seems puzzling as well. What does that mean? If I say, "I predict the Lakers will win the NBA Finals this year", that doesn't make sense unless you attribute to me all kinds of states that are naturalistically illegal.

In fact, I have identified four dimensions of our mental lives which seem to be automatically excluded from base-level naturalistic accounts: intentionality, normativity, subjectivity and purpose. The divide between something that these terms can apply to, and that which these terms cannot apply, doesn't work. And being told "Aha, look at all the nifty stuff science is discovering about the brain! Surely this great divide will someday be crossed if we keep going on brain science!" doesn't wash. It is as if a lot of nifty maps of one side of the Grand Canyon can tell us how to get across the Grand Canyon. Bridging attempts, such as functionalism, appear to work, in my view, because we take out eyes off the ball and miss the category mistakes.

But this has been battled out numerous times on Dangerous Idea 2. Haven't been over there much lately, because I haven't done a lot of AFR stuff of late. There are also some very nice BDK/Doctor Logic vs. Darek Barefoot debates that were done around late 2007, when I was writing the Blackwell Companion entry on the Argument from Reason.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pojman on desert

New content for today:

I am redating this post one more time because I believe that the paper here shows the extent to which we are starting to stop thinking in terms of what someone deserves. Pojman is, in fact, trying to regain a role for desert in our thinking which he thinks is an endangered species.

I think one essential feature to many religious traditions is that there is some sort of answer to the question "What do people deserve?" I think this makes the free will problem a problem, in that determinism tends to undercut this notion that people should receive either something good or something bad for doing something bad, simply because this is deserved. If you stop thinking that way, you may do a number of things in the interests of behavior modification that are similar to what you would do if you were trying to give people what they deserve, but that doesn't mean that you actually believe in desert.

So if someone says "I am a compatibilist" on free will, it is not clear based on that whether they really think desert and determinism are compatible. Dennett's Elbow Room is a classic example of someone who reconciles all the varieties of freedom and all the varieties of moral responsibility worth wanting with determinism, but doesn't really find room in his thinking for desert. This suggests to me that he's really finding ways of living without free will, and the sort of moral responsibility that free will was supposed to provide for, rather than reconciling free will with determinism. I see him as a hard determinist who hasn't come out of the closet.

This is a fascinating paper by Louis Pojman on the vanishing role of desert in, particularly, liberal political thought. Though I'm not sure its role in conservative thought is so secure. If I read him correctly, it looks as if Marx wasn't the Marxist most of us are inclined to think of him as being, in that he didn't seek to implement "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" from the outset, and criticized some utopian socialism for attempting this, making the kinds of criticisms against that program that defenders of capitalism would make against 20th-Century communism.

So, how should it go?

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to the principle of utility"
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his deserts."
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his merits." (and note the difference between merit and desert in Pojman).

The Blatchford Controversy Archive

This is the archive of the Chesterton-Blatchford controversy. It doesn't look to me as if he ran into compatibilism in that controversy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Secularism, desert, and moral responsibility

I think there is a profound problem in the discussion of freedom and moral responsibility because I think the idea of desert fits in well with a religious world view like Christianity, and is in fairly serious danger from a secular perspective, which is something worth noticing when you read Lewis's essay on the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.

But even if Desert drops off the table, if you have a serial killer running around killing people, you want him to stop doing it, you want to deter others from doing the same, and if perchance it is possible to make him a productive member of society, you want to see that happen, too. You also don't want angry people in the community. You have a batch of utilitarian considerations that will probably result in our doing, in many cases, the same things to the person that would have been done if you thought the person was really morally responsible. It's not like we would say "Sorry to see you're killing people, but it isn't your fault, so I guess we've got to leave you alone."

Chesterton wrote: The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, "Go and sin no more," because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment.

But, so is saying "Go and sin no more." It may modify the "sinner's" behavior. But as a revelation of some truth about the sinner, I think Chesterton is right. Real sin, real blameworthiness, requires being something more than a biological machine.

In a consistent secular world-view, following that view down the path of materialism/naturalism, I think the whole idea of desert can't be sustained. But there can and will be a lot of conduct on our part that looks and sounds like we're holding people morally responsible. But on close examination, the heart of moral responsibility, an assessment of desert, drops out of the picture.

The link is to some quotes on Chesterton and materialism. 

How do Neurons Know by Patricia Churchland

Some notes from Hasker of Frankfurt counterexamples

 Another redated post.

Bill Hasker sent me some clarifying comments on Frankfurt counterexamples.

WH: First, I think agent-causation is the key issue in the Frankfurt cases; what one is ultimately responsible for is agent-causing one’s own action (or attempted action, etc. . . .), or failing to do so. The issue of responsibility for consequences of one’s action is certainly complex, as the discussion shows, and I haven’t worked out a detailed position on it. The second point is, I may have “softened” my view insofar as I no longer think it’s possible to give a simple taxonomy of Frankfurt cases and dispose of them once for all. (John Martin Fischer has persuaded me that my criticism of him concerning “flicker of freedom” defenses is inaccurate and unfair.) “Of the making of Frankfurt cases there is no end, and many refutations make for weariness of the flesh!” Seriously, if one wants to engage these cases, they have to be taken one at a time. But I haven’t yet seen one that can’t be answered. Either the intuition that the agent is still responsible is shaky, or there is something in the example concerning which there was an alternative possibility. And then Fischer, et al., will say that the alternative isn’t sufficiently “robust” to ground responsibility – and that is probably where the argument reaches an impasse. At least, that’s the way I tend to see it at present.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reply to Hays on Jurisprudence

Steve Hays thinks my reflections on jurisprudence lead to an "anything goes" judiciary that will be completely out of control. It's either originalism or chaos. (Kind of reminds me of people in science who say it's complete methodological naturalism or chaos).

I don't think so. I think this is a ridiculous example of the slippery slope fallacy.

Look, when you ask whether the Bible has something to say about the abortion controversy, do you say "The Bible doesn't say anything about abortion. Nobody tried to get an abortion that is recorded, and we don't have God's reaction to it. So let's just be silent where the Bible is silent."

Of course not. You brought up something about children being a gift from God, and that that should motivate Christians to not get abortions. The penumbra of those Scripture passages makes your case against abortion. (Your argument is open to further evaluation, of course, but it's surely not wrong in principle).  The anti-abortion conclusions aren't strictly entailed. You have to allow for plausible extrapolations from a text if you want the text to be relevant to present-day life.

But the "penumbra" has got to be plausible. You can't just operate out of thin air.

Same with the Trinity. Is the Trinity strictly entailed by the New Testament? Perhaps not, but it provides us with the best and most sensible interpretation of what we find there. Presuppose it, and the NT hangs together a whole lot better than if you deny it. So I won't be visiting my local Kingdom Hall any time soon, despite the fact that the JW's just rang my doorbell and gave me a gracious invitation to visit them.

Let's take the Griswold case with contraceptives. The Court thought that if the authors of the Constitution intended to protect citizens' privacy in the case of search and seizure, that they were implying a right to privacy which would be violated by laws forbidding contraceptives.

This may be a bad extrapolation, but I have trouble accepting the objection to it on the grounds that it is an extrapolation. New situations arise. The Pill wasn't invented when the Bill of Rights was written.

What I'm criticizing here certainly isn't any opposition to Roe, about which I have considerably mixed feelings. (If it were up to me, late-term fetuses would be declared to have a right to life under the 14th Amendment). In fact I have repeatedly said that if one could show that there is no morally relevant difference between the death of a fetus and the death of an infant, then you could have an "equal protection" argument against the permissibility of abortion.

The Court is appointed by the President and nominations are ratified by Congress. Members of the court can be impeached. I don't think you can go from the acceptability of extrapolation to "anything goes, and the Court is omnipotent."

If you have a text that comes down to us from another era, you have new situations that weren't envisaged in the original document. However, there are still underlying principles from the text that can be applied. I do think Newman was right when he said doctrines develop. However, there are good developments and bad developments, and we have to do our best to distinguish these. In the case of the Constitution, we have no infallible Pope or Councils to guarantee the correct answers. (Well, actually, I don't think we have an infallible Pope in Christianity either. But that's a point on which I can count on you to agree with me, right?)

A debate between Mr. Islam and David Wood on the Resurrection

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Christian government? Eggs in Moonshine

This is from Lewis's essay on the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.

A great many popular blue prints for a Christian society are merely what the Elizabethans called ‘eggs in moonshine’ because they assume that the whole society is Christian or that the Christians are in control. This is not so in most contemporary States. Even if it were, our rulers would still be fallen men, and, therefore neither very wise nor very good. As it is, they will usually be unbelievers. And since wisdom and virtue are not the only or the commonest qualifications for a place in the government, they will not often be even the best unbelievers.

Some problems for originalist jurisprudence

It is important to realize that our country's was founded on something of a moral contradiction. On the one hand we have the Declaration of Independence, (all men are created equal), and the Bill of Rights, which suggests that we all are supposed to have rights, and yet large portions of the country practiced Negro slavery (including the author of the Declaration), and women were denied the right to vote until the 20th century. Because the South dropped out of the body politic through secession, we were able to amend the Constitution in order to end Negro slavery. Thus, through amendment, we were able to make our laws more morally consistent. But the Supreme Court didn't help reach this, it produced the dreadful Dred Scott decision. Women got the right to vote through constitutional amendment. But separate but equal held sway until Brown vs. Board of Education. At that time there were certainly enough Southern states who would have prevented a school desegregation amendment had one been proposed, since you need 3/4 of the states to amend the Constitution. Under those circumstances, the originalist slogan "if you don't like the Constitution as it is written, amend it," would never have worked. Now maybe a originalist argument could have been made for school desegregation, but the actual jurisprudence in Brown seems not to have been that. The originalist has to be prepared to tolerate what they perceive as a deep injustice, hoping for a future amendment, if they can't pull the required change out of the text of the constitution. And to my mind, that is a price to pay.

On the other hand, an out of control judiciary can maybe make the wrong decision, and a lot of people think that that is what happened in Roe. But when I was a kid people talked about an out of control judiciary, but when they did they usually complained about decisions like Miranda, which protected the rights of the accused? Was "You have the right to remain silent," now a staple of every cop show going as far back as Hawaii Five-O, a misguided decision? Unfortunately, I think I want the court system protecting the rights of the accused. I can't trust the body politic, who is generally motivated by "law and order," and can be swayed by such things as the Willie Horton ad, to provide sufficient political will.

And then you've got to ask if judicial activism started with Marbury vs. Madison. After all, judicial review isn't even specified in the Constitution.

I think I want my judiciary to be able to strike down injustice even if that means stepping beyond the borders of original intent, even if that leaves the door open for the judiciary to make some wrong decisions. I think the implicit doctrine at the foundation of the Constitution is the principle of equal rights for everyone, in spite of the fact that it got enshrined in the text of the Constitution only imperfectly.

There's a lot to think about when you select a judicial philosophy.

I wonder who was making the originalist arguments at the Council of Nicaea? The Arians were arguing that you couldn't find homoousion in the text of Scripture, so you couldn't define orthodox Trinitarianism as Christian doctrine.

If fetuses really are persons, if every conception of personhood that places the onset after conception is arbitrary, then shouldn't the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment be applied to them?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

C. S. Lewis's famous essay on the humanitarian theory of punishment

A redated post. This seems to have gotten some discussion just today. Also, see this essay by a Brandeis University sophomore (!) which brings the discussion of Lewis on punishment up to date. 

This is the famous essay in which Lewis defends a retributive theory of criminal punishment. Should criminal punishment be retributive?

I am redating this post once again to show how, in present-day secular thinking, the idea of what a person deserves has a tendency to drop out. This is something that has to be sorted out when we talk about moral responsibility. Remember, Lewis wrote the essay because he thought the idea of punishment based on desert was in danger of being lost.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Does cutting the state budget require courage?

Ed Montini, the Arizona Republic columnist, doesn't think so. A state legislator thinks that people like him should stop whining.

Graphics for the Brain in the Vat

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clarence Darrow's Closing Argument in the Leopold-Loeb case

Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.

Punishment, freedom, and determinism

This post was prepared for my ethics course.

This section is devoted to two topics: One is freedom and determinism, and the other is criminal punishment. Although the issues seem to be very separate, I have put them together for a reason. One significant motivation for criminal punishment has been the issue of desert. That is pronounced like dessert, but it comes from the same root word as the word deserve. Now there are other reasons, perhaps, for criminal punishment (deterrence, protection of society, etc.), but some people think criminal punishment is first and foremost about giving people what they deserve.

On the other hand, we might ask why one person is virtuous and the other vicious? How did Mother Teresa end up the way she did, and how did Jeffrey Dahmer end up the way he did? Are they both simply the inevitable products of heredity, environment, or even (if you believe in God), God's predestination, or fore-ordination of all events before the foundation of the world (a belief held by Calvinists even today). Is it possible that if Jeffrey had had Teresa's heredity and environment, he (she?) would have been virtuous, and if Teresa had had Jeffrey's heredity and environment, she would have been a serial killer? This is the thesis of determinism, and some people have the inclination to withdraw claims of desert when they start thinking things through from a deterministic perspective. The line of thought leads us to think that the very idea of one person deserving one outcome, and another deserving another outcome, doesn't make sense. But this is a difficult conclusion to accept, it is the idea that in the last analysis, nothing is really anyone's fault, since their actions are the inevitable result of what came before.

There are a couple of ways of responding to this. The first approach, taken by philosophers such as Moritz Schlick and J. J. C. Smart, suggests that what moral responsiblity is all about it finding the right behavior to modify. They maintain that the very idea of deserving punishment is a barbaric notion we need to just get over.

The second approach is to say that looking all the way up the causal chain and seeing someone's actions as the result of past causes obscures the most important fact, and that is the fact that the person not only performed the act, but wanted to perform the act. It wasn't as if Jeffrey Dahmer wanted to be virtuous, but some alien power forced him to commit murder against his will. No, these crimes were willed actions, however inevitably they might have followed from past events.

The third option is the option of libertarian free will. When we act, we can do otherwise. Perhaps this kind of free will is a gift from God. Even the physical world, if we accept what modern physicists tell us, isn't strictly determined. So, perhaps, our actions aren't strictly determined either.

So, I would ask two questions: Can we talk about what people deserve? To do so, do we have to reject determinism? If we can deserve something good for doing something good, and deserve something bad for doing something bad, should that be the primary basis on which we determine how criminals should be punished? And does it provide a basis for the traditional doctrine of eternal hell?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Balfour's Theism and Humanism is online

A book Lewis said was "too little read." My dissertation adviser Hugh Chandler first notice the close relationship between Lewis's AFR and Balfour's by reading a Moore essay criticizing Balfour.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What should Roe have said?

If Roe v. Wade is a mistake, what is the mistake?

One argument is that Roe simply failed to recognize the fetus's right to life. But if that's the argument, then what it should have done is rule that fetuses are 14th Amendment persons.
Two competing conceptions of the career of a person exist: one views the life of the person as a series of events in the existence of a continuing biological object, and the other sees the life of a person as a series of mental events. (Somewhat paradoxically, it's the "physicalist" model that better supports the pro-life position). Neither of these models is provably true or provably false, so far as I can see.
It is perfectly coherent to place a moral value on something without placing the same level of moral value on it that we place on the life of a human person. That which, through natural processes, becomes a person, has value on that account.

People who are pro-choice, I think, are split between those who really believe that the life of the unborn has no value, and those who think it does have value, but not sufficient value to justify protection by criminal law.
However, the Roe justices couldn't figure the question of fetal personhood out, and I don't have any arguments sufficiently strong on that matter that ought to have persuaded them.

They also said that they did know that a woman had a right to privacy, and on that they had the precedent of the Griswold case. Conservative jurisprudence says Griswold went wrong in affirming a right to privacy, since it doesn't say p-r-i-v-a-c-y in the constitution. I'm skeptical of the anti-privacy argument, so even if I were thoroughly pro-life, I would have a problem with voting for politicians who would nominate justices who were going to overturn Roe via the anti-privacy arguments, since to my mind that would be to use a bad argument to reach a good end. There's nothing inconsistent about a pro-lifer rejecting the anti-privacy argument. It makes things less convenient for his position legally, but the considerations in the privacy debate are logically independent from the considerations in the abortion debate.

I take the deer hunter argument seriously here, and the problem is more acute for me than it would be for atheists, because I think I will eventually have to look into the eyes of Jesus and will then see which conception was right.

But what should Roe have said? Even if you accept the deer hunter argument for the sake of moral contexts, you are asking a court to set aside a right that it believes to clearly exist (a woman's right to privacy in reproductive matters), on the basis of a right (the right of the fetus to life), which is in doubt. The argument then, I suppose, would have to be that the right to life has a "trump card" status amongst our rights, such that we ought to protect it in cases of reasonable doubt even if it means denying a right that we can be sure of. But I don't know if there is anything in the constitution that would justify this kind of a move from a legal standpoint.

There also seems to me to be a severe moral cost in outlawing abortion and enforcing those laws. Government has to get really intrusive in order to prevent abortions, and has to intrude into areas which we are inclined to think of as private. Further, while in my father's day, a working class family could survive on one income, in today's economy this won't work.

There is also the fact that while lawmaking bodies are mostly male, the burden imposed by pregnancy, for obvious reasons, falls on women and not on men. I can't see in good conscience making this burden heavier than it now is without doing whatever we possibly could to ease the burden on women in other ways. Feminist concerns that outlawing abortion will push women in the direction of barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen are legitimate and would have to be addressed.

The other part of it is, I think we as a society have a resposibility to enhance the choice of life, whether or not we use the coercive powers of law to prevent abortion, but especially if we do outlaw abortion. That is one reason why I support health care reform. But I think there are a lot of things we could be doing which could make the choice of life the more appealing choice to more women, which are things that people who think abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, and people who think that abortion should be illegal and not occur at all, should be able to agree on.

We can't rely on the law to be our moral compass. Strict constructionists have to be open to the possibility that a moral outrage might exist, but the Constitution doesn't provide a way of addressing it.

In the area of marriage, for example, it's perfectly legal to commit adultery, leave your spouse and marry the person you were committing adultery with. It's also horribly immoral. But the law shouldn't be involved in preventing it. The law can only do so much, and I would have thought the people who have the most to say about limited government would realize that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bill Craig's Debate with Theodore Drange

Would universal health care lower the abortion rate?

According to the Washington Post, the answer should be obvious. 

"If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it's needed," Hume explained, "she's more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn't it obvious?"

Imagine two scenarios:

1) Universal health care is passed, but Roe is not reversed.

2) Roe is reversed, but universal health care is defeated.

Which scenario would reduce the abortion rate more? My money is on 1.

OK, OK, I know that is not all there is to the abortion issue. Prolifers might say that it is just as much about engendering the right attitudes toward fetal life as it is about reducing the number of abortions.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What do we do with philosophers from the past who say really insane things? Some problems with Kant

Or so it seems to people in the 21st Century. I don't think that great thinkers are supposed to avoid intellectual errors. Or rather, it is compatible with greatness to get at last some things horribly wrong.

Of course, the Kantian position that most people roll their eyes on is his views on lying, particularly in his response to Benjamin Constant. There you get a sense that, yes, he's got that wrong, but there is something to be gained by coming to terms with him neverthteless.

HT: Ed Babinski.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Is corporate power more dangerous than governmental power?

Tom Stiles argues that it threatens our democracy. As Acton said, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I am more deeply concerned about the corrupting effect of power in the hands of large, multinational corporations than I am with the idea of too much government. Corporations potentially can buy and control government. It seems to me that they, and not government, are the Leviathans of our time.

Do conservatives see the problem? Do they think it isn't a problem? Why not?

When a company gets sufficiently big, the usual market pressures that might keep it from doing evil seem to me to become reduced.

Relativism, slavery, and human rights

I guess the big question for relativism is whether a culture or society's basic moral principles could be wrong or false. According to relativism this is impossible. Societies from the Egypt of the Pyramids to the antebellum South practiced the enslavement of other human beings. Were those societies making a moral mistake? Was there something they didn't realize about people and their rights that they should have?

Or, let's try this statement from our Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
If liberty is impossible where there is enslavement, then if this sentence is true, then the practice of enslaving people is wrong (a point that, notoriously, was not put into practice by Jefferson himself, who was himself a slaveowner). The Declaration says that we have rights regardless of what society says. If relativism is true, the society giveth rights and society taketh rights away. There is nothing you can appeal to over and above society that says that we really have rights that our society is denying us.

If there are no objectively binding moral obligations, then there are no objectively binding human rights, because rights logically entail moral obligations on the part of people who are expected to respect those rights.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Rationalism and Empiricism Explained

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Conservatism in Theory and Practice, or Belly Up to the Cafeteria

The complaint that I was expressing in the post about the Roberts Court was the deep suspicion that I have that while conservatives believe that they are voting in accordance with conservative principles, but the actual practice of conservative political leaders suggests that they subscribe to a "cafeteria conservatism" that will act on conservative principle when it suits the needs of big corporate interests to act on conservative principles, but will sell out those principles in an instant if corporate profits are endangered. Faced with the prospect of ObamaCare, the minions of the insurance companies fight tooth and nail against Socialism. But when Hank Paulson says that banks need a bailout, they take up the hammer and sickle and give Goldman Sachs what it wants. 

It seems to be a notorious fact about Republican leaders that, although they believe in cutting taxes and cutting expenditures, they have a far easier time gettiing the tax cuts done than they have getting the expenditure cuts done.

I'm sure if liberals get to spend as much time in political power as conservatives have, we will see how the political process undercuts liberal principles.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Why don't Jewish writers write fantasies like Narnia?

HT: Steve Hays.

The Roberts Court extends the rights of personhood to fetuses? No, corporations.

This was the Supreme Court that was supposed to tell us that fetuses were persons, or, at least, to permit states to decide that fetuses were persons. Instead, they decided that corporations were persons. Of course the very idea of incorporating involves your not being treated as a person in at least one important sense; LLC means limited liability corporation, which means that people can't go to jail for what the corporation does.

In the present political climate, conservative Republicans always get the part of their agenda done that benefits the big corporations. Fetuses don't make campaign contributions. Corporations do. 

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Democratic and Oligarchic Capitalism

The way I look at it, capitalism is at its best when it is democratic, when anybody can enter the field with a new idea or new product and be successful. If we are trying to change to non-traditional energy sources, then I would hope for a fresh field day for innovative entrepreneurs. That's when the pressures of competition actually will pressure even greedy bastards in business to do things that benefit the common good. Capitalism is at its weakest when it becomes oligarchic, when a few entrenched companies have taken over the field, and may in fact be in collusion. That is how I see the oil industry today. Of course, oligarchic capitalists will try to hold on to their position, and use government to preserve their postiion. . The banking industry, with the "too big to fail" companies, which prevailed upon a Republican-dominated government to do the most socialistic thing our government has ever done, would be another example of oligarchic capitalism. It's my hope that acknowledging global warming might give a shot in the arm to democratic, as opposed to oligarchic capitalism.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Global Warming: Fact or Fraud? Cui Bono?

These Groups Say The Danger Of Manmade Global Warming Is A . . .

U.S. Agency for International Development

United States Department of Agriculture

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

National Institute of Standards and Technology

United States Department of Defense

United States Department of Energy

National Institutes of Health

United States Department of State

United States Department of Transportation

U.S. Geological Survey

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

National Center for Atmospheric Research

National Aeronautics & Space Administration

National Science Foundation

Smithsonian Institution

International Arctic Science Committee

Arctic Council

African Academy of Sciences

Australian Academy of Sciences

Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts

Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias

Cameroon Academy of Sciences

Royal Society of Canada

Caribbean Academy of Sciences

Chinese Academy of Sciences

Académie des Sciences, France

Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences

Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany

Indonesian Academy of Sciences

Royal Irish Academy

Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy

Indian National Science Academy

Science Council of Japan

Kenya National Academy of Sciences

Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences

Academy of Sciences Malaysia

Academia Mexicana de Ciencias

Nigerian Academy of Sciences

Royal Society of New Zealand

Polish Academy of Sciences

Russian Academy of Sciences

l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal

Academy of Science of South Africa

Sudan Academy of Sciences

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Tanzania Academy of Sciences

Turkish Academy of Sciences

Uganda National Academy of Sciences

The Royal Society of the United Kingdom

National Academy of Sciences, United States

Zambia Academy of Sciences

Zimbabwe Academy of Science

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians

American Astronomical Society

American Chemical Society

American College of Preventive Medicine

American Geophysical Union

American Institute of Physics

American Medical Association

American Meteorological Society

American Physical Society

American Public Health Association

American Quaternary Association

American Institute of Biological Sciences

American Society of Agronomy

American Society for Microbiology

American Society of Plant Biologists

American Statistical Association

Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

Botanical Society of America

Crop Science Society of America

Ecological Society of America

Federation of American Scientists

Geological Society of America

National Association of Geoscience Teachers

Natural Science Collections Alliance

Organization of Biological Field Stations

Society of American Foresters

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

Society of Systematic Biologists

Soil Science Society of America

Australian Coral Reef Society

Australian Medical Association

Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

Engineers Australia

Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies

Geological Society of Australia

British Antarctic Survey

Institute of Biology, UK

Royal Meteorological Society, UK

Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences

Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

European Federation of Geologists

European Geosciences Union

European Physical Society

European Science Foundation

International Association for Great Lakes Research

International Union for Quaternary Research

International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

World Federation of Public Health Associations

World Health Organization

World Meteorological Organization


American Petroleum Institute

US Chamber of Commerce

National Association of Manufacturers

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Industrial Minerals Association

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Great Northern Project Development

Rosebud Mining

Massey Energy

Alpha Natural Resources

Southeastern Legal Foundation

Georgia Agribusiness Council

Georgia Motor Trucking Association

Corn Refiners Association

National Association of Home Builders

National Oilseed Processors Association

National Petrochemical and Refiners Association

Western States Petroleum Association

“FACT” organizations from Is There a Scientific Concensus on Global Warming?,

“FRAUD” organizations are petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.

HT: Hazel Rubenstein.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Materialist Strategies

Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.

However, it is important to notice something about materialist philosophies. They not only believe that the world is material, they also perforce believe that the truth about that material world can be discovered, and is being discovered, by people in the sciences, and that, furthermore, there are philosophical arguments that ought to persuade people to eschew mentalistic worldviews in favor of materialistic ones. They do think that we can better discover the nature of the world by observation and experimentation than by reading tea leaves. Arguments from reason are arguments that appeal to necessary conditions of rational thought and inquiry. Thus, they have what on the face of things is an advantage over other arguments, in that they have a built-in defense against error theory responses. If there is no truth, they cannot say that materialism is true. If there are no beliefs, then they cannot say we ought to believe that materialism is true. If there is no mental causation, then they cannot say that our beliefs ought to be based on supporting evidence. If there are no logical laws, the we cannot say that the argument from evil is a good argument. If our rational faculties as a whole are unreliable, then we cannot argue that the religious beliefs are formed by irrational belief-producing mechanisms. Hence, arguments from reason have what I call a transcendental impact — that is, appeal to things that, if denied, undermine the most fundamental convictions of philosophical materialists.

"The Argument from Reason" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2009), p. 350.