Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Craig on religious experience

Here is Bill Craig's argument from religious experience (from his first debate with Doug Jesseph).

(4) Finally, God can be immediately known and experienced.

Now this isn't really an argument for God's existence. Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. This was the way that people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains,

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality … as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine. … They did not think of God as an inferred entity, but as an experienced reality. … To them God was not … an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.{9}

Now if this is the case, then there is a danger that proofs for God could actually distract our attention from God Himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, then I believe that God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."{10} We mustn't so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

Now Dr. Jesseph would dismiss this experience as being purely based on psychological factors and wish-fulfillment. But the point of the argument that I am giving here is that belief in God, when you experience Him and know Him, is a properly basic belief. It is like the belief in the existence of the external world. Sure, it's possible that there is no external world, that you are really a brain in a vat being stimulated with electrodes by a mad scientist to believe that you are here in this auditorium experiencing this lecture, when actually you are not. You are just a brain sitting in a vat of chemicals being stimulated to think that. But why believe such a hypothesis? Why doubt your experience of the external world? In the absence of good reasons to doubt that, you are within your rational rights in believing that experience to be veridical and genuine. Similarly, in the absence of any reasons to adopt atheism, why should I give up or deny my experience of the existence of God, which is so real and significant to me?

A possible rebuttal:

The main objection to a belief in God based on a strong personal experience is that people throughout the world have different experiences of "God" which seems to vary depending upon the indigenous religion of the society. So in Mexico as strong religious experience would most likely include the Blessed Virgin Mary, while in South Georgia a Virgin Mary experience is far less likely. So, skeptics say that people bring to their "powerful" experiences the beliefs of the society around them, and therefore the experience cannot be used as evidence that the beliefs the acquire from that experience are true.

Christianity without God

This site says it's possible. Keith Parsons disagrees.

Perhaps when we stop believing in God it is best to leave religion in the way that the advice columnists tell us to leave a soured romantic relationship: A clean break may be initially painful, but it is healthiest in the long run.

Conservative or liberal

Is the bank bailout conservative or liberal? Are warrantless wiretaps conservative or liberal? Is the unitary executive conservative or liberal? Is the use of waterboarding conservative or liberal? Is pre-emptive war in Iraq conservative or liberal? (William F. Buckley opposed it). Is pro-life conservative or liberal? (Goldwater was staunchly pro-choice). Is gay marriage conservative or liberal? Is theism conservative or liberal?

Monday, December 29, 2008

These guys want a theocracy

And they come right out and say it! Wow!

Sam Harris on Myths and Truths about Atheism

HT: Eric Koski.

Sam has managed to outdo Keith Parsons, who only came up with seven misconceptions about atheism.

Let's take them in turn.

1) Atheists believe life is meaningless. Well, it depends which atheist you talk to. Sartre and Camus seemed to look at atheism as the basis for believing in the absurdity of life. It seems to me that atheism, or rather a full-blown naturalism, removes the possibility of finding the correct meaning to life. Whether this is a biggie or not, I suppose, depends on the person. The trouble with meaninglessness of life arguments on the part of theists is that you don't want to be telling someone who finds life meaningful by, say, doing evolutionary biology, that their life only appears meaningful to them but really isn't. Other people, however, might be psychologically disposed to be unable to find meaning in a godless world. It is natural, and not unhealthy, to crave the kind of ultimate meaning that Christianity, for example provides. It may be unfortunate, however, if it turns out that God does not exist. However, I do have trouble seeing the kind of reforming moral energy found in people like Gandhi, King, or Mother Teresa, without religion.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in history. No, atheism doesn't kill people, people kill people. And some of the killiers are atheists. Others are not. It is true that atheists do not believe in the sort of deity who disapproves of these crimes and will hold them accountable if they are not punished for them in this life.

Harris says that these regimes are bad because they are too dogmatic. But religion doesn't have a monopoly on dogmatism. There are dogmatic Christians, not so dogmatic Christians, dogmatic atheists, and not so dogmatic atheists. The desire to employ the power of the state to support either religion on anti-religion is what puts you in danger of abusing that power. That can happen to you if you are a believer or an unbeliever.

3) Atheism is dogmatic. No, it isn't dogmatic. But atheists can be. As I tried to argue on an evolution forum once, I think it's absurd to make the sort of claim that atheists often make, that there is no evidence for theism. There are a lot of things in our world that are more likely given theism than atheism, and therefore there are things that you can set in the scale on the side of theism. Now I can see someone saying, when all the Bayesian calculations are done, that atheism is better confirmed than theism. But to say there is nothing to be said for theism evidentially? That's dogmatic.

We might want to ask Harris the question I once asked Keith Parsons. "Suppose I were God, and I wanted to get you, Keith, to have a justified belief in me. What would I have to do?" Keith, memorably, replied by saying "If the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words 'Turn or Burn, This Means You Parsons,' I'd turn." If Harris says he wouldn't turn, maybe we have reason to suspect dogmantism.

4) Atheists think everything arose by chance. If by that you mean that this is a world without design, then that is what they do believe. However, is it just chance that your heart is in the right place, meaning that in an atheist universe it could just as easily be in your rear end or just beside your nose? No atheists don't have to believe that.

5) Atheism has no connection to science. Again, it depends on what you mean. If you mean to say that atheism follows necessarily from anything science might have discovered, then the statement is true. If you mean that there are no arguments from science to atheism, of course not. But before we start comparing polls, as Harris does, we've first got to understand if the conception of God in both polls is the same. Also, science groups are just as subject to intellectual peer pressure as anyone else. It's not clear that members of the National Academy of Sciences are more reliable than the rest of us humans when they are operating "off the clock."

6) Atheists are arrogant. They can be. I've met some arrogant ones, and some that aren't nearly so arrogant. They don't recognize the existence of anyone superior to themselves to whom they are accountable. Harris's arguments here assume Russell's maxim that "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." Why science provides us with the only way of knowing anything is not at all clear to me. Whether science is, as Sellars said, the measure of all things, or as C. S. Lewis said, a truncated mode of thinking, is the subject of epistemological and metaphysical debate.

7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience. Given what they believe, they are not inclined to allow that such experience provides genuine evidence for the existence of realities that cannot be discovered using a scientific method circumscribed by methodological naturalism.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

Really? So if you saw what Paul saw on the road to Damascus, you'd just say it was a piece of underdone potato and go on about your business? If you were to experience what you thought was death, and you were to, as philosophers would say, "be appeared to hellishly," you would consider it an illusion? And you're not dogmatic? What would it take to falsify your atheism?

8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding. Of course atheists believe there are some things we don't now understand. But a scientistic epistemology says that we could potentially understand everything if we just did enough science. I'm not so sure.

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society. Again, it kind of depends on the atheist. Some recognize the contributions of religion to society, others don't. And many Christians realize that some things can be beneficial to society but at the same time be false. Atheists sometimes argue that religion is entirely harmful (Hitchens says it "poisons everything"), and when atheists talk like that, then they are ignoring or unreasonably downplaying the benefits religion has given to society. But not all atheists are as blinkered as Dawkins and Hitchens.

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality. That's true, but then I wouldn't expect unbelief about God to actually provide the basis for morality. However, atheists do have social needs just like everyone else, and so they are at least going to have to come up with some rules for conduct.

The most you can say about the Bible and slavery is that it doesn't condemn it outright. However, I believe that the idea that the meanest slave has a soul that Christ died to save is the idea that eventually provided the moral foundations for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce was a secular humanist, right? Douglass? Garrison?

I do think that a logically consistent philosophical naturalism does logically lead to the conclusion that morals are either person-relative or society-relative. If so, then it is not objectively true that slavery is an abomination. To affirm this is to affirm that we can discover moral truths. But, as Russell pointed out, science cannot discover that it is true, or that it is false that slavery is wrong.

So if we mean that atheists can't have moral codes that they follow, yes, atheists can and do have codes of conduct and they do follow them. If we mean that in a fully naturalistic universe, you can have statements like "Slavery is wrong" be literally and unequivocably and non-relatively true, then no, I think J. L. Mackie is right. Such truths are "queer" in an naturalistic universe, in the sense that they "don't fit" in epistemologically or metaphysically.

None of this shows that atheism isn't true, or that we ought not to believe it. But I don't think atheists have a monopoly on good sense, or rationality, or intelligence. Yes, Christians make exaggerated claims about atheists. Atheists make exaggerated claims about theism. Once these claims are set aside, the discussion can continue.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Joe Markus on Van Inwagen on the Argument from Evil

A redated post.

Hello Professor Reppert,

Peter van Inwagen has an interesting approach to the problem of evil in his new book. He makes an initial argument that we should be suspicious of the argument from evil simply because it is a philosophical argument with a substantive conclusion. He argues that because no philosophical argument with a substantive conclusion has been successful in the history of philosophy, we should doubt that any argument for God's nonexistence could be successful.

He says:

Now if it is indeed true that no philosophical argument for any substantive conclusion is successful in the sense that I have proposed, it immediately follows that the argument from evil is not a success in that sense---given, at any rate, two premises that I don't think anyone would deny: that the argument from evil is a philosophical argument and that the nonexistence of God is a substantive philosophical thesis. If we think of what I have just said as an argument for the conclusion that the argument from evil is (in my sense) a failure, I don't think it's a bad argument. But even if it's a good argument, it has an important limitation: it doesn't really tell us anything of philosophical interest about the argument from evil; it doesn't interact with the content of the argument from evil. I might have offered essentially the same argument for the conclusion that the private-language argument or the ontological argument or the analogical argument for the existence of other minds was a failure. It is my project in these lectures to try to convince you that the argument from evil does not have the power to turn ideally rational and serious and attentive and patient neutral agnostics into athesits. And, of coursee, I mean to do this by actually coming to grips with the argument. Even if it's true (as I believe it is) that no philosophical argument for a substantive conclusion has the power to convert every member of an ideal and initially neutral audience to its conclusion, I don't mean to argue from that premise. I mean to show how Theist can block Atheist's every attempt to turn the audience of agnostics into atheists like herself. I mention my general thesis about the inability of philosophical argument to produce uniformity of belief even among the ideally rational simply because I think it is a plausible thesis, and if you agree with me on this point, your agreement will predispose you to accept a conclusion that I will defend on other grounds. (The Problem of Evil p. 53)

JM: It seems to me that there are problems of self-reference here. Is van Inwagen's argument here an instance of an argument with a substantive philosophical thesis? It seems to be. If so, then we should doubt this argument.

Granted, his only purpose in presenting the argument is to predispose us that arguments from evil aren't successful. But should we grant even that much to him?

Also, I'm not so sure about his criterion of success for a philosophical argument. He states it as:

PVI: An argument for p is a success just in the case that it can be used, under ideal circumstances, to convert an audience of ideal agnostics (agnostics with respect to p) to belief in p---in the presence of an ideal opponent of belief in p. (p. 47)
I don't think the criterion is unreasonable. But I'm not terribly enthusiastic about it either. Something about the word "ideal" bothers me.

Anyway, that's one of the many topics of van Inwagen's new book. Have you had an opportunity to check it out? You might be interested in some of his themes which resemble arguments from C.S. Lewis' Problem of Pain.



This brings me to one of the most interesting topics in philosophy, something I call argument metatheory. What can arguments do, and what can they not do? First of all, maybe something is gone wrong when we start talking about the problem of evil as opposed to the argument from evil.

I have been criticized by some people who otherwise like my arguments because I make too modest of claims on behalf of my arguments. The problem is that any argument concentrates on one relevant factor in understanding the whole question of God, and kind of puts all the other factor in neutral, when in the real world these other factors have a whole lot to do with why we make the world-view choices we do. So I will say "Look at the fact that we draw rational inferences, think about what that entails, and ask yourself if that fits better in a theistic universe than an atheistic universe. What is the probability that it will arise given theism, as opposed to the probability it will arise given atheism." But I don't think any argument is so good that it could undergird the claim, for example, that atheists are all intellectually dishonest.

An argument in world-view controversy is often of the form "You can't explain this!" And the problem here is that, of course, logically no world-view, however good, is going to put you in a position where you can explain everything. Still, some explanatory failures seem more devastating than others.

In the absence of that silver bullet argument, how do we proceed? I use a Bayesian metamodel to help me here. It shows how an argument can be modestly successful in a world-view debate.

Find the #1 song in any day in history.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cosmology and the evidence for God

Does cosmology support theism? This site thinks so.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Narnia for Skeptics

Laura Miller provides an appreciation for Narnia for people skeptical of Lewis's Christianity. She finds, racism, sexism, and elitism in the series, but also some things that can still be appreciated.

I am inclined to welcome people who find Lewis worthy of appreciation who don't buy in on his overall world-view.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Does Logic Presuppose God?

Michael Martin says no.

Blog entry on the parallel between ID and SETI

A redated post.

This is a blog entry on the supposed parallel between ID and SETI, courtesy of Ahab. At the same time, my own use the SETI-ID parallel may be different from that used by people like Dembski. In my account we decide that these messages must have come from an embodied source, but of course we can't be sure of that, and then evidence strongly suggests that there is not evolved, embodied source. Then, in order to avoid pseudoscience, do we stop perceiving the messages as designed, even though we built spaceships on the assumption that they were designed?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Evidence, Deterrence, and the Death Penalty

What type of evidence is relevant to the question of whether the death penalty deters? It seems to me that one kind of evidence, statistical comparison of relevantly similar jurisdictions which have, and do not have, the death penalty, is relevant and acceptable. But defenders of the death penalty suggest another type of evidence, the fact that convicted capital criminals, when given a choice in the matter, choose life imprisonment over death, is given as a reason supporting the deterrence claim.

This just strikes me as a bad argument. It seems to me that what a prisoner decides in his jail cell has little to do with what he might choose when he is thinking of committing a murder and thinks he probably will get away with it.

In any event, even if it is evidence, it is not very good evidence compared to statistics.

My diagnosis of Drange vs. Wilson

This is a very old post that someone commented on just recently, so I thought I would update it.

I have decided to work through the dialogue in the Drange-Wilson debate to see what sense can be made of it. It was my contention that Wilson drops the ball, and I was hoping that some of you supporters of presuppositonalism can pick the ball up for him.

I am following the thread through Wilson's opening statement, going to Drange's first rebuttal and on into Wilson's second rebuttal, Drange's third rebuttal, and the final statement by Wilson.

The opening statement presented a version of the argument from reason, and I have few if any complaints about that. I would, however, not argue that any argument from reason establishes the Christian God as opposed to, say, an Islamic conception of God. So Drange's use of the Other Gods objection would not be a concern for me.

But Drange argues that one can be neutral with respect to world-view and try to explain the existence of reason while remaining agnostic on whether or not there is a God. Of course to do that you'd have to explain reason naturalistically, as if it had emerged from an atheistic universe. And insofar as such universes do not allow reason as basic explanations, this would be something I would find objectionable. On the other hand there are non-theistic world-views which are mentalistic at bottom (Absolute Idealism would be one of those) and I don't think AFR refutes AI, though I might argue against it in other ways.

He then mentions nonmaterialist atheism. I would admit that perhaps absolute idealism would be a version of nonmaterialistic atheism, and again I would admit that AFR does not attack that. But what he seems to be proposing here is a view in which there are propositions in existence as well as material things, and here I would just point out that if one's world-view is basically materialism plus propositions, then how there timeless entities can be relevant to the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event is going to be severely problematic. In other words Drange is going to be hard put to show that the fact that A entails B, which is something that does not occur at a particular place or time, can possibly affect S's being in brain state B, which does occur at a particular place and time.

Drange also claims that there are materialists who attempt to show how reason can emerge from matter. It is not just like the shaking of a Pepsi can, but it involves a long evolutionary process. I of course, will argue once again that such scientific accounts will be hard put to show how an eternally existing logical relation can be causally relevant to a space-and-time bound brain state. You can refer to some of my anti-Carrier responses on this blog from last summer to see how I am likely to go about arguing that.

Drange thinks that since Wilson is trying to prove the existence of God he has to establish each step beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think this is required, though to get the kind of certainty the TAGger wants, perhaps he must assume that kind of burden of proof.

And then Drange offers the Inadequacy Objection, which I spent an entire chapter dealing with in my book.

Now this was a fair batch of arguments by Drange, and it was time for Wilson to step up to the plate and answer them, perhaps the way that I have sketched out my response here.

Instead, we get complaints from Wilson about the way Drange formulates his argument. He complains that there instead of there being only two frameworks in which to consider the emergence of rational thought there is only one-Christianity. But that is to state the conclusion of the debate. The debate must first begin with two opposing viewpoints. One could just as easily say that in agreeing to the debate Wilson lost it, because he had to allow the legitimacy of the atheist viewpoint in order to get the debate going, when in fact his own position denies the very possiblity of an atheist viewpoint.

And here also the dreaded "Circularity? No problem!" response comes up.

Another problem can be seen in Dr. Drange's formulation of the TAG. As he states it, "As shown by ART, the fact that rational thought exists entails the conclusion that the Christian God must exist." Again, he has assembled the key elements, but he is not holding the thing right side up. The fact that rational thought exists does not entail the conclusion that God exists. It presupposes God's existence. The argument is not "rational thought, and therefore God." The argument is "God, and therefore rational thought." God is never the conclusion; He is the only necessary premise of any argument. This is why many people accuse those who present the transcendental argument of committing the fallacy of petitio principii, that of begging the question. How can one debate the existence of God by assuming or presupposing that God exists? Are you not assuming you are supposed to prove? Exactly so.

But this is not a problem because all ultimate questions involve circularity, and we might as well get used to it. The virtue of the Christian transcendental argument is that this feature which is necessary to all creaturely thought is simply embraced and understood, and the right ultimate question is properly identified. But the process of necessary circularity can be still seen when anything is falsely elevated to the level of ultimacy. To the fellow who says, "You can't tell me that God exists just because He does. By contrast, I base all my thoughts on reason." I would reply, "Oh? What is your reason for doing so?" He may not like transcendental circularity, but he is stuck with it too. How can an embrace of reason be justified through an appeal to reason? That is no different (at least as far as circularity is concerned) than the fellow who says that God must exist because otherwise He could not have written John 3:16.

Now on the face of things I would have to say someone who really believed this should not be agreeing to a debate. What it looks like is that Wilson wants to shape the argument to meet the demands of presuppositionalist theory, but what he actually does is effectively destroy the debate. If Van Til's position is more complex on the question of epistemic circularity, we need some development of that position. It is interesting that the disciple of Bahnsen doesn't employ a more sophisticated conception of epistemic circularity, if indeed the Van Tillian position has one.

Here you get a mere assertion that reason cannot arise from matter, with no explanation as to why. He does say that there is a difference between describing thought in materialist terms and explaining it in materialist terms, and this is a valid point worth developing, but without further development it's just an assertion. For example, he says:

In his science objection, he rallies to a quasi-defense of the atheistic materialism he does not hold. He concludes by saying that science "has come a long way towards explaining rational thought in materialist terms." But here, Dr. Drange has actually confused an explanation of rational thought with a description of rational thought. Materialist scientists observe and describe various phenomena, and then give it a scientific name to conceal their helplessness. When it comes to explaining immaterial phenomena, such as reason, scientists as scientists have absolutely nothing to say.

But surely we should expect a statement like that to be backed up. Neuroscientists are able to explain a lot of things. So I wouldn't make this kind of statement about science, even though I don't, for example, see them on their way to unlocking the key to intentionality.

So the arguments remain underdeveloped. If you are really going to argue against the atheist, then argue against him. If you don't have to argue against him, don't agree to a debate.

A Critique of Lewis's Views on Scripture

A more serious critique of Lewis from conservative evangelical quarters.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Religion and personalness

What do we mean when we say religion is very personal to every individual. It sounds so very American (and so un-American to deny) but what does it mean?

William Lane Craig on the Anthropic Argument

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sam Harris Faces Aslan

Reza Aslan, that is. This is an MP3 debate.

Russell's Why I am not a Christian

A well-known essay attacking Christianity. It has always struck me loaded with straw men. Try, for example:

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God. That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Please, Bertrand, can't we do better than this? Cosmological arguments always tell you what needs a cause. Contingent things. Things that begin to exist.

A critique of inerracy

Anyone care to tackle some of these?

Lewis wasn't a Christian

According to this guy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Actually, it was the milk

They had us all fooled. We thought the commies were trying to brainwash us by flouridating the water. Actually they were trying to undermine our moral fiber by giving us homo milk. It was right on the cartons, but we never noticed.

How many Darwinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Somehow I missed this when it came out.

Richard Dawkins: To say that it took a Darwinist to do the screwing in of the lightbulb is to explain precisely nothing. The obvious question becomes: Who did the screwing to create the Darwinist screwer? And who did the screwing to create that screwer? There would have to be an infinite regress of screwers. And if you invoke some invisible, mystical Unscrewed Screwer (for which we have no credible evidence) to start the whole thing off, why not just say that the lightbulb screwed itself in and be done with it?

Elton John the Bulverist.

The opening paragraph of my essay on miracles

Tom Gilson's comment on Sam Harris reminded me of the first paragraph of my paper on miracles.

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!" But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

Bill Craig's personal testmony

Is he entitled to believe that God exists because of this kind of experience?

Evidence and Intellectual Dishonesty

What is it to be intellectually honest? What is the duty of honest, in deciding what is true.

One example was given by a philosophy professor of mine who said that when he presented the case for the existence of God in class, a student took careful notes. When the arguments against the existence of God were presented, the student covered her ears.

Or someone who says that, if the case for and against God were to be assessed rationally, atheism would surely emerge victorious, but they nevertheless choose, as a personal existential choice, to believe anyway? Or to disbelieve in the face of contrary evidence. Someone could say "I see some good evidence for Christianity, but if I believed it, I'd have to change my sex life. I don't want to do that, let me click on over to Internet Infidels, so they can get me nice and convinced that atheism is true."

But, of course, in most discussions, we find people on both sides of the issue claiming to be rational. And here it is still, of course, possible to accuse the other side of dishonesty. Russell, for example, thinks that the case for God is so strong that the only way any otherwise intelligent person could accept orthodox Christianity would be if they were to be affected by a desire to disbelieve the unpleasant.

Do we have a duty to fix beliefs in a certain way, so as to be honest? What are those methods? The trouble I have is that dishonesty charges are made by people who just think the case is just overwhelming on their own side and can't see how intelligent people who are interested in the truth could be on the other side.

The problem I've got is that people make these charges, and what it amounts to is the fact that they assessed the evidence differently and can't see how an intelligent person could fail to assess it the way they did. It's a kind of personal incredulity claim: I can't believe anybody could think the evidence was in favor of that.

What kind of evidence do we need to make charges of intellectual dishonesty against others? My claim has been that this is a claim that we should make very cautiously. We do not know what the total evidence another person is looking at.

If someone were accused of taking a position which implied a contradiction, one might be tempted to make this kind of charge. But of course, we don't see all the contradictions, and what may seem contradictory to you may seem so to someone else; they may see a relevant difference where you see none.

I'm trying to make a case against an itchy trigger finger on these charges. Again, I'm asking, what kind of evidence do we need?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Avery Dulles on C. S. Lewis

Dulles notes that the Argument from Desire is the prime theistic argument used by Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac. This was news to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Exonerations and the death penalty

Though I had a commentator on this site say that the number is a fraud.

Lewis on Christian Apologetics

Lewis on translating into the language of our hearers, and what we can expect, or not expect, people to understand.

4) We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use at all laying down a priori what the “plain man” does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience. Thus most of us would have supposed that the change from “may truly and indifferently minister justice” to “may truly and impartially” made that place easier to the uneducated; but a priest of my acquaintance discovered that his sexton saw no difficulty in indifferently (“It means making no difference between one man and another,” he said) but had no idea what impartially meant.

On this question of language the best thing I can do is to make a list of words which are used by the people in a sense different from ours.

ATONEMENT. Does not really exist in a spoken modern English, though it would be recognized as “a religious word.” Insofar as it conveys any meaning to the uneducated I think it means compensation. No one word will express to them what Christians mean by atonement: you must paraphrase.

BEING. (noun) Never means merely “entity” in popular speech. Often it means what we should call a “personal being” (e.g. a man said to me “I believe in the Holy Ghost but I don’t think He is a being!”)

CATHOLIC. Means papistical.

CHARITY. Means (a) alms (b) a “charitable organization” (c) Much more rarely--indulgence (i.e. a “charitable attitude toward a man is conceived as one that denies or condones his sins, not as one that loves the sinner in spite of them).

CHRISTIAN. Has come to include almost no idea of belief. Usually a vague term of approval. The question “What do you call a Christian?” has been asked of me again and again. The answer they wish to receive is “ A Christian is a decent chap who is unselfish, etc.

CHURCH. Means (a) A sacred building, (b) the clergy. Does not suggest to them the “company of all faithful people.” Generally used in a bad sense. Direct defense of the church is part of our duty; but use of the word church where there is not time to defend it alienates sympathy and should be avoided where possible.

CREATIVE. Now means merely “talented,” “original.” The idea of creation in the theological sense is absent from their minds.

CREATURE means “beast,“ “irrational animal.“ Such an expression as “We are only creatures” would almost certainly be misunderstood.

CRUCIFIXION, CROSS, etc. Centuries of hymnody and religious cant have so exhausted these words that they now very faintly --if at all--convey the idea of execution by torture. It is better to paraphrase; and, for the same reason, to say flogged for the New Testament scourged.

DOGMA. Used by the people only in a bad sense to mean “unproved assertion delivered in an arrogant manner.”

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. In the mouth of an uneducated speaker always means Virgin Birth.

MORALITY means chastity.

PERSONAL. I had argued for at least ten minutes with a man about the existence of a “personal devil” before I discovered that personal meant to him corporeal. I suspect this of being widespread. When they say they don’t believe in a “personal God” they may often mean only that they are not anthropomorphists.

POTENTIAL. When used at all is used in an engineering sense: never means “possible.”

PRIMITIVE. Means crude, clumsy, unfinished, inefficient. “Primitive Christianity” would not mean to them at all what it does to you.

SACRIFICE. Has no associations with the temple and altar. They are familiar with this word only in the journalistic sense (“The nation must be prepared for heavy sacrifices.”)

SPIRITUAL. Means primarily immaterial, incorporeal, but with serious confusion from the Christian use of “spirit” hence the idea that whatever is “spiritual” in the sense of “no sensuous” is somehow better than anything sensuous: e.g. they don’t really believe that envy could be as bad as drunkenness.

VULGARITY. Usually means obscenity or “smut.” There are bad confusions (and not only in uneducated minds) between: (a) The obscene or lascivious: what is calculated to provoke lust. (b) The indecorous: what offends against good taste or propriety. (c) The vulgar proper: what is socially “low.” “Good” people tend to think (b) as sinful as (a) with the result that others feel (a) to be just as innocent as (b).

To conclude-- you must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every ordination examination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama: Not pro-choice enough for some

Pro-choice "extremist" Obama isn't pro-choice enough for some people. Sometimes, you can't please anybody.

'I have repeatedly said that I think it's entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother," Obama said. "I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions."

OK. Let's start writing the bill. Put a closely defined medical exception in.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This is the Eastboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church is for wimps.

Reformed Epistemology and the Great Pumpkin Objection

This is the Wikipedia entry on Reformed Epistemology and the Great Pumpkin objection, which I alluded to earlier.

It is tempting to raise the following sort of question. If belief in God can be properly basic, why cannot just any belief be properly basic? Could we not say the same for any bizarre aberration we can think of? What about voodoo or astrology? What about the belief that the Great Pumpkin returns every Halloween? Could I properly take that as basic? Suppose I believe that if I flap my arms with sufficient vigor, I can take off and fly about the room; could I defend myself against the charge of irrationality by claiming this belief is basic? If we say that belief in God is properly basic, will we not be committed to holding that just anything, or nearly anything, can properly be taken as basic, thus throwing wide the gates to irrationalism and superstition? (p. 74)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Should incompatibilists be libertarians

This is to be found in Hasker's book Metaphysics.

1. If determinism is true, then human beings are not responsible for their actions.
2. But it is clear that human beings are responsible for their actions.
3. Therefore determinism is false.

1. If determinism is true, then human beings are not responsible for their actions.
2. But is is clear that we ought to believe that human beings are responsible for their actions.
3. Therefore, we ought to believe that determinism is false.

Let us assume that a person is persuaded that incompatibilism is true. If that is so, then do we accept, in the absence of overwhelming evidence that determinism is true, that it is false.

intellectual dishonesty

Intellectual dishonesty charges (as opposed to simple charges of lying) require information about other people's internal states that I don't see how anyone other than the person can be privy to.

Let's take someone who believes, quite firmly, that abortion and infanticide are justified. These activities, according to Peter Singer, were attacked by people with Christian assumptions which need to be questioned. That is what the person says, that is what the person believes, that is what the person argues for. They offer criteria for personhood which fetuses and infants flunk, and they are bloody consistent about it. I may think they're cuckoo, but how do I get to intellectual dishonesty? What does the charge of intellectual dishonesty amount to here?

When John Beversluis's book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion came out, a lot of people friendly to Lewis suspected some sort of dishonest effort on Beversluis's part. How could he say these things about Lewis? How could he fail to find in Lewis what we more sympathetic readers find? Beversluis's subsequent review of A. N. Wilson's biography, and his 2007 revision of his own book, make the charge of intellectual dishonesty very difficult to defend.

It's tempting to say to someone you disagree with, "surely you really know, deep down, that you're wrong about this." But how do you prove such claims? Intellectual dishonesty claims invariably poison dialogue, they make parties less willing to engage the discussion. A price in civilized discourse is paid when these charges are made. (Look at the quality of discussion in the Intelligent Design debate if you doubt me). That's why I think intellectual dishonesty charges carry with the a heavy burden of proof, and most of the time they are not worth making.

Russell's Teapot and the Great Pumpkin objection

This links to an Russell's essay "Is there a God."

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them.
This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

From Russell's essay "Is there a God."

The context here seems to be in establishing the burden of proof in debate about God. That debate, over the past few decades, has centered around Alvin Plantinga's controversial claim that belief in the existence of God can be properly basic, and in that context, the Teapot objection is known as the Great Pumpkin Objection. It is a strong, or as weak, as the Great Pumpkin objection to the proper basicality of theism.

This is a paper on the proper basicality debate.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

C. S. Lewis's Evolutionary Hymn


Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,T
owards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,'
Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Wikipedia page on the Trilemma

The most interesting part of this is the claim that the first to use it was a Scots preacher named Duncan. But remember, the argument had a Latin name: aut deus aut homo malus. Something invented in 1870 usually doesn't get a Latin name. So we've got to do better than that.

The earliest use of this approach was possibly by the Scots preacher "Rabbi" John Duncan (1796-1870), quoted in 1870 as a saying used by him during his preaching career:[1]

Is the ad hominem charge overused?

This guy thinks that you can't charge your opponent with arguing ad hominem just because he's not being nice.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dmitry Chernikov critiques Beversluis on the Trilemma

Love Potion #9: A Problem For Compatibilists?

I am redating this post because it is getting still getting some active discussion, and has been visited by Dave Baggett, a co-editor of Harry Potter and Philosophy and C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher.

How would a compatibilist analyze the case of an effective love potion, which the Hasker passage appeals to in his reference to Harry Potter? In the case of Voldemort's mother Merope, she cast a spell on Tom Riddle, Sr., causing him to love her, only to become frustrated by the fact that the love produced by the potion was compelled. So she stopped using the spell, and he dumped her.

What accounts for the frustration and disappointment with a love compelled by the one being loved?

Are we ever justified in hating persons

Ilion wrote:

'Hate' is good ... and necessary ... in the correct context. 'Hate' is bad ... and harmful ... in the incorrect context.

But I think there are some clear indications of where hate is not acceptable. Now hatred of certain attitudes, or beliefs, or concepts, may be acceptable. The hatred of persons, which is the context of this discussion, is always unacceptable. We are never to hate persons.

My point was to say that so long as we are talking about individual cases of hateful action toward persons, we don't have the right to accuse any group of persons of hatred, even if the actions are taken in the name of, or on behalf of, that group.

Are Christians guilty of anti-homosexual hatred? Well, there are times when I think they are. But they are not guilty of it simply in virtue of disapproving of it (there are those who don't disapprove, spare me the boring debate about whether they are "real Christians" or not). However, when people go to funerals of AIDS victims carrying God Hates Fags signs, I think they are guilty of hatred. If gay people disrupt church services the way these people in the link did, I think they are guilty of hatred against Christians.

Although I like Tom Gilson's site, I am less than satisfied with using this incident to say "Aha, see, it's not the Christians who hate, it's the gays. It seems to me a gay person would say that these people no more represent the gay community than Fred Phelps represents the Christian community.

What the Bible says about hate

Thursday, December 04, 2008

C. S. Lewis's The Inner Ring

Does this sound like your philosophy department?

A dialogue about moral objectivity

When you google "moral objectivity," my entries on this blog come up second.

Why the Buddha is fat

Hint: He's not.

It's Ukraine, not The Ukraine, dummy

In case you were confused.

Bill Vallicella on why Russell's Teapot leaks

This also might explain why the Flying Spaghetti Monster has so much trouble flying.

A Critique of Carl Sagan's Naturalism

By Mark McKim

Hate is hate, period.

Hate is not moral disagreement. It is not hateful to oppose gay marriage, or to support it. But hate can crop up on all sides of the political and the religious spectrum.

This is a link to an account, on Thinking Christian, of an attack on a church by gay fanatics. But the problem isn't the church or the gays, it's the hate. Period.

A critique of Brian McLaren

From the A-Team blog.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Different Hindu conceptions of Moksha or release

Is morality relative to the society

This links to the text of the Dred Scott decision. It was accepted by large portions of our society. Was this a moral error, or is morality just subjective. I mean, who's to say what's really right or wrong.

World Religions in Two Minutes

HT: James Sennett.

A blog for people getting out of academia

Was Jesus Crucified

The Muslim position seems to be no. God wouldn't let something like that happen to a true prophet.

The Philosophical Lexicon

Dennett's greatest contribution to philosophy, by far.

D'Souza debates Peter Singer

peter song, n. Related to the patter song (e.g., "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.") a popular ditty exhorting one to love all creatures great and small, except those born deformed. Hence peter singer, n. a singer of peter songs.

The Queerness of Morality and the Queerness of Logic

In response to some new replies on the Ethics Without Metaphysics post. The link tracks back to the original post.

RD said:
The argument you've given is very close Mackie's argument from queerness, posited in "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong." For Mackie, an error theorist, the argument purports to be a problem for all moral realists, whether they happen to be theists or atheists. Why is it a problem specifically for atheists?

Gordon Knight said:
The argument from queerness is a bad argument. By the same lights, mathematics and logical truth are "queer."

RD and Gordon: Yes, to my mind, a "matter-first, mind-later" ontological hierarchy is going to have trouble with the mathematics and logic, that's what is known as the argument from reason!
However, naturalism puts a restriction on what can be fundamental properties of objects in a naturalistic universe. Moral properties are not permitted. Mental properties are also not permitted. They have to be "system properties" that arise at a higher level of organization, when brains show up. However, while there is something incoherent about the idea of a piece of matter being intrinsically morally good, there is nothing about God being intrinsically morally good that is incoherent. So I think this is an asymmetrical problem that afflicts the naturalist but not the theist.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ed Feser's New Book on the New Atheism

Christianity and Wicca

I run into either Wiccans or Wicca dabblers rather often in my classes. This article says that Christians should pay more attention to Wicca.

More on Conservatism and Economic Luck

In response to Mike.

This isn't an argument exactly. It's more of a challenge. I am trying to raise some questions about the absolute sense of ownership that conservatives often appeal to when they oppose even modest redistributionism.

The graduated income tax is already a little bit redistributionist. Obama made a comment about "spreading the wealth around" but McCain did not come out for a flat tax, and along with Obama and the Bush administration signed the bailout package. So by the time McCain started using the "Joe the Plumber" anti-redistributionist argument, it seems to me he was being a tad hypocritical. But one can be a more consistent conservative than McCain is.

If you read what conservatives often say, the implication is that redistribution of any kind takes money from those who merit and and places it in the hands of those who don't. I am asking whether this is a bit of a naive picture, given all the effects of economic luck which result in my having more than the Smiths but less than the Joneses.

Conservatives have to either say:

1) There is no economic luck. (Not plausible).
2) The extent of economic luck is overrated. Differences in income reflect differences in desert to a much larger extent than liberals are willing to admit.
3) Economic luck is real, but the losses incurred when you use government to correct that economic luck are not worth it.

By the way Mike, I am glad someone finally tackled this.

J. P. Moreland on Evolution and Accurate Knowledge

This link is to a youtube video.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Stanford Encyclopedia paper on Desert

But when it starts talking about "the ingredients of desert" I ask "what dessert are you making?"

Conservatism, Liberalism, and Economic Luck

In reading the responses of conservatives to what they consider to be the threat of socialism, there is the presupposition, which I have yet to see specifically defended, that what ends up in our pockets before taxation is genuinely distributed in accordance with merit. People who work with their brains earn more, and deserve more, than people who work with their hands. Therefore, deliberate use of the tax system and government welfare to "spread the wealth around" are bad, because they are in effect theft. The money was where it belonged in the first place, and those dirty socialists want to put it somewhere else that they think is fair.

This view has a tendency to deny, or downplay, the role economic luck plays in the distribution of wealth and income. I seem lucky to have been born in America than in the Congo, had I been born in the Congo, chances are I would be a good deal poorer than I am today.

John Rawls seems to think that the influence of economic luck is quite extensive.

"It seems to be one of the fixed points of our considered judgments that no one deserves his place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than one deserves one's initial starting place in society. The assertion that a man deserves the superior character that enables him to make the effort to cultivate his abilities is equally problematic; for his character depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit. The notion of desert seems not to apply to these cases" (Rawls, p. 104 A Theory of Justice).

I never see this issue of economic luck explicitly debated. Yet, what people think of ecomonic luck pushes a lot of people toward one of the other of the major parties.

Can the Pro-Life position be defended on secular grounds?

Tom Clark, of the Center for Naturalism, says no. Yet many of the pro-life arguments seem not to be especially religious.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Broader look at Anscombe

Who certainly was far more that just The Woman Who Stood Up to C. S. Lewis.

Six paths to Moksha

According to Hinduism.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some material on Christian-Islamic relations

Repeal the Second Amendment

Here's an idea that is likely to run up against some, well, fierce opposition.

If Descartes had only known

This explains the difference between being awake and dreaming. But I suppose it is not sufficient to reassure us if we think we're brains in vats.

Ht: Rosa Ortiz.

Hasker on the value of free will

I am reposting the content of this passage, which I have posted before, but am leaving out the discussion in the comments, which reflected some of the more acrimonious phases of the controversy with Calvinists I engaged in several months back.

The value of free will does not end there. All sorts of relationships acquire special value because they involve love, trust, and affection are freely bestowed. The love potions that appear in many fairy stories (and the Harry Potter series) can become a trap; the one who has used the potion finds that he wants to be loved for his own sake and not because of the potion, yet fears the loss of the beloved’s affection if the potion is no longer used. For that matter, individuals without free will would not, in the true sense, be human beings at all, at least this is the case as seems highly plausible, the capacity for free choice is an essential characteristic of human beings as such. If so, then to say that free will should not exist is to say that we humans should not exist. It may be possible to say that, and perhaps even mean it, but the cost of doing so is very high. William

Star Trek and the Problem of Evil

A redated post.

Consider a Star Trek I once saw. There was a man, who in the show was named Flint, who was born several thousand years BC, whose body was able to regenerate whenever it was damaged, granting him an virtually endless life. What that meant was that, over and over again, he saw his companions and wives die. He ended up on a planet in outer space where he decided to build the perfect companion, an android named Rayna. Rayna could converse with him on any subject imaginable, could be physically affectionate, but there was one problem. Its "love" for Flint was fully and completely determined by Flint's programming, and therefore was deficient as love. So Flint brought the Enterprise and Captain Kirk to the planet so that he could be a rival for Rayna's affections. (Fans of Star Trek will recognize Captain Kirk as the Intergalactic Bill Clinton). Anyway, since Rayna was an android, Rayna couldn't choose freely, and so fell over and became deactivated.

If God is love, then isn't there something deficient about love that is fully and completely determined by the one who recevies the love? If this is the case, then there is a good reason why a loving God might choose to give us incompatiblist freedom, even if this freedom results in sin and perhaps even eternal separation from God for some persons. In order for the choice to love to be meaningful, the choice not to love must also be given.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving and the Buddha

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thought it appropriate to remind all of the teachings of the Buddha: Suffering is caused by craving, but if you stop craving, you stop suffering.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Choice and Prostitution

A pro-choice slogan is "A woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body." If we follow this line of thought, does that mean we should legalize prostitution? The prostitute Governor Spitzer visited did what she pleased with her own body, she made money. Lots of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alan Cook responds to my book

Though not a detailed response, it is some interesting exploration from someone who is neither a supporter nor hostile.

A problem for Young Earth Creationists

Some passages of Scripture, at least taken in accordance with their traditional/literal meanings, seem to be flatly contradicted by what we know in science. For example, if you add up the genealogies in Genesis, you get an age of the earth that is maybe 6000 years. The traditional figure is 4004 BC, calculated by Archbishop Ussher in the 17th Century. That conflicts with Darwin's theory of evolution, which is still questioned today. But it also conflicts with ordinary astronomy, according to which we can see stars in the heavens millions of light years away. Now a light year is the distance light travels in a year, so the only way light from a star can get here if the star is a million light years away is for it that light to travel for a million years. But if the "heavens and the earth" came into being 6000 years ago, we've got a problem.

The basic pro-life argument

Here is what I think is the essential pro-life argument.
1. Either we are persons, having the right to life from conception, or we acquire the right to life somewhere between conception and birth, or at birth.
2. If we acquire the right to life between conception and birth, the criteria by which we become persons is arbitrary. We end up picking a point where personhood commences without an adequate reason for placing the point there.
3. But the right to life is not to be decided arbitrarily. The beginning of personhood must occur at a principled, not an arbitrary point.
4.The only principled point at which personhood can begin is conception.
5. Therefore, humans in the fetal stage have a right to life from the moment of conception.
6. The right to life has priority over other rights, both our own and those of others.
7. Therefore, we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights (such as the right to privacy, or the right to do as one pleases with one's own body).
8. If we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights, then abortion, except in those cases where the mother's life is in danger, should be outlawed.
9. Therefore, abortion should be outlawed in all such cases.

Trivial truth, disagreement, and religious tolerance

It is trivially true that if two statements contradict, whether in religion or elsewhere, one statement is true and one is false.

What we do about that disagreement can be far from trivial. What people do about that disagreement is another matter. In America, we disagree about politics. What we do about it is that we hold elections for President every four years and make orderly transitions from one administration to another. In other countries they do it differently. They kill one another to get control of the government. It's not the disagreement, it's what we do about the disagreement, that matters.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Wikipedia has an entry on murder

But no good instructions on how to do it and get away with it, in case you were wondering.

A Christian critique of the Qu'ran

Arrogant, or boring?

With respect to religion as with all other things, I believe that what I believe is true, and that in believing it I am correct. Indeed, I think my beliefs are absolutely true. Those who disagree with me, I consider to be wrong about what I disagree with them about.

Do I sound like an self-righteous, arrogant, dogmatic SOB? Actually, I'm just stating something that's trivially and boringly true.

But if it makes you feel better, I should add that disagreeing with me will not necessarily result in your everlasting damnation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Rawlsian anti-abortion argument

Here's a thought experiment. Put yourself behind a veil of ignorance. You don't know whether you will be put into a world in which abortion is prohibited, or not. You could pick a pro-life world, in which case you risk turning out to be the disadvantaged mother. You could pick a pro-choice world, in which case you could end up being the aborted fetus. Which do you pick?

I suppose if you think fetuses aren't persons, then there are no fetal positions in the original position, so this doesn't work on that assumption.

Yep, here's Medved opposing Lieberman on this issue

Does this represent Judaism?

If so, the Jewish tradition lines up on the pro-choice side.

Should students discuss the strengths and weaknesses of evolution?

Charles Garner of Baylor university says that's perfectly OK.

Barbara Ehrenreich on Abortion

"The one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks."

Despite my unwillingness to accept what I think would be the disastrous consequences of continued Republican rule and vote solely on abortion considerations, this attitude indicates a profound moral mental block.

Swinburne on "siphoning off"

This is an extremely important argument, and explains to a large extent how I reply to people who say that the progress of science is evidently going to push in favor of materialism with respect to the philosophy of mind. It's my claim that modern science is grounded, in a important sense, in dualism. That is, science at the time of Galileo was able to treat the physical world as a machine because it could dump all the qualitative stuff into the mind. But if the mind is supposed to be physical, how did that work back then?

No one replied when I put this up before, so I am putting it up again, though we did get some debate on in on Dangerous Idea 2.

From Richard Swinburne’s The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) p. 191.

There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, or sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanic—for molecules are particles’ the entities and properties are not of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter. All reduction from one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i. e. the ‘secondary qualities” of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all. It siphoned them off to the world of the mental. But then, but when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this. If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter. In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind with the world of physics.

Richard Swinburne's articles page

One of the best-known Christian philosophers of religion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Witherington on Calvinists

I'll post this link without comment.

Mere Christ-psychosis

Some Jack-hammering.

Hinduism and Reality

Is the world of ordinary experience, of living from one moment to the next, going up and going down, illusory? If we saw things the way they really were, would we say that the world of our experience is the real world, or is some other reality real.

One school of Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, says the is one reality, and it is the spritual reality of Brahman. It is one. The idea that I am a distinct person from you is an illusion. If I go to prison tomorrow, it's not real. If I win the lottery tomorrow, it's not real. Brahman, the true God whom we cannot even define with our words, that's what's real.

Can abortion laws prosecute only the abortion provider?

According to this article, they can do this only by making outrageously sexist assumptions.

If abortion is murder, does it make sense to let one of the murderers get off scot-free while punishing the other?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why we aren't brains in vats

Putnam argued that words derive their meanings from cause-and-effect relations to the world around us. And our use of words relies on the assumption that normal causal relations exist between out mental states and objects. If we are really vat-brains and such causal relations do not obtain, then in the sentence "we are brains in vats" the words don't really mean anything. Hence the sentence "we are brains in vats" can never be true.

My book was translated into Korean

And I just got my author's copies.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How far does pro-choice go?

I'm redating this post, which I did over a year ago.

One of the difficulties pro-life advocates have with the pro-choice position is the idea that once the right to life is denied inside the womb, there is no nonarbitrary reason for not denying it outside of the womb. Birth, after all, is going from inside to outside, and a law that makes being born the criteria for a right to life is like passing a law that there are certain buildings in which a person may freely be killed, but outside those buildings it's murder.

Peter Singer is one of those who has pushed the pro-choice argument outside the womb. He defends infanticide in cases where babies are disabled.

Of course, Christianity did not face the abortion issue in its early years, since only modern medicine has made abortion safe. However, early Christians (and early Muslims like Muhammad) opposed the exposure of children after they were born. Typically, of course, it was the female babies that got exposed in the ancient Roman world. So much for gender equality back then.

Is there a good way to defend abortion but not infanticide? Or is it only our sentimental attachment to born babies that keeps "choice" from extending outside the womb?

Good news for Thomists

The Summa Theologiae is now online. I'm sure my late friend Joe Sheffer is jumping for joy.

Kant, Reason, and Morality

If Kant is right, it is illogical to be immoral. But suppose you are very good at benefitting yourselves in ways that are immoral. You are a high-up in a crime family, for example, enjoying a life of luxury financed by murder, drugs and prostitution. If you started being moral, you would have to confess your crimes and spend the rest of your life in prison, maybe even face execution, since you have ordered numerous hits on your enemies. According to Kant, the rational thing to do is the right thing to do, which is to go straight and face the law. But, many of us would think that it is an illogical thing to do.

Is Kant right that it is irrational to be unethical?

The Brain in the Vat has a Stanford Encyclopedia page

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why does Manson get parole hearings?

I'm not a fan of the death penalty, but this is one of the better arguments for it. I wish we knew how to swallow the key with people like Manson.

A tale of two Muslim students

In 1994 I taught a summer ethics course, and at it a student came to class every day in a burka. The full head scarf. She was from Jordan and was a very knowledgeable Muslim. I didn't think anything about it at the time; that was what I expected of Muslims.

Later on in 1994, another Muslim student came to class from Iran. She had no head scarf. I asked her about it, and told her about the previous Muslim. She said "Muhammad commanded us to cover ourselves so as not to call attention to ourselves. Now if I were to go around in a burka, what would that do? Call attention to me. So for the reason Muhammad told us to weara burka, I don't wear one.

This reflects two different ways of applying the same passage of the Qu'ran. But not just the Qu'ran. What do Christians do about "Women should not speak in church" out of I Corinthians?

Christianity: A Religion of Violence?

The Secular Outpost complains about the Conservapedia's Entry on Atheism

Don't act so surprised.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What is an ideologue?

An ideologue is someone who looks at everything through the "glasses" of their favored viewpoint, and refuses to allow any merit in the perspective of someone who sees things from an opposing perspective. In debate or discussion an ideologue will invariably make no concessions whatsoever to the other side. Nothing that someone on the other side says has any legitimacy whatsoever.

People who disagree with me are more likely to be ideologues than people who agree with me.

Charges of contradition in moral discourse

A contradiction is this.

"The cat is on the mat."
"The cat is not on the mat."

Once you know which cat and which mat, one's got to be true and one's got to be false.

In the case of abortion,

1) All abortions where the life of the mother is not in jeopardy are morally wrong.

is contradicted by

2) Some abortions where the life of the mother is not in jeopardy are not morally wrong.

But all you need for 2 is at least one. If 2 is true, then some, indeed most abortions where the mother's life is not in jeopardy can be morally wrong. Just not all.

It's important to realize what a real contradiction is, and what it is not.

In ethics we sometimes accuse people of contradicting themselves when they really aren't. There is nothing about being pro-life, for example, that logically entails that you ought also to be against the death penalty. In one case you have fetuses who are not guilty of anything, in the other case, you have guilty capital criminals. On the other hand, there's nothing about pro-choice that guarantees that you should support the death penalty. In one case you have fetuses who are not given the legal rights of persons (whether they should be or not is a different issue) and on the other hand you have capital criminals who, whatever they have done, are considered to be persons by the law.

On the Principle of Charity

This is a discussion of the principle of charity. How many of you have ever heard of it?

Nietzsche banned from professor's door

Now that's unimaginative. If they wanted to do something about that sign, they should have required that the teacher also post a sign signed by God saying "Nietzsche is dead." Equal time, you know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Giving Pro-Lifers What They Say They Want

This is the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the priviledges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

It seems to me that the Supreme Court has to decide whether the fetus has an overriding right to life or not. If it does, then it has to protect that right from coast to coast. If the fetus doesn't have that right, then the mother has rights that have to be protected. What would be a logical absurdity would be to say that a fetus has a right to life in Texas but not in California.

About that Chinese Room

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wikipedia on Jihad

Does al-Qaeda have the right Islamic concept of Jihad?

Emerging Church Bashing

Thinking Christian reviews a book bashing the Emerging Church.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

If this site is correct, the answer has to be no. See also this.

Accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior

Does the Bible ever use the phrase "accept Christ as your Lord and Savior?" Looks like the answer to that one is no. And yet the ease with which we use such terminology identifies us as a real Christian or not a real Christian in the eyes of some believers.

A strange funeral tradition

HT: Sharon Gray.

Mike: You haven't had any Zoroastrians looking for services at your place, have you?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Why do we value life?

Suppose we were to encounter a race of people very much like our own, except that they did not have the attitude toward murder, or rather homicide, that we have. If they wanted someone to die they killed them, and it was legal so long as a proper compensation was paid to the victim's family. They even had commandments from their
god, only there were just nine and "Thou shalt not kill" was left out. How would we make a case for the value of life to them.

I once had an officemate who thought that the so-called value of life was just that: so-called. The real values were pleasure and pain, and being alive or not simply didn't count. "When death is, we are not, when we are, death is not." Another friend said "Based on your philosophy, I could kill you right now and it would be OK." He answered "Only if you could do it painlessly."

How would you defend the value of life to these people?

Here's a blog from a student from my old seminary

Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. I can't believe it's been 30 years since I graduated from there.

Did Christians read the doctrine of original sin into the Hebrew Bible?

This piece, by atheist Austin Cline, suggests that this is so. Is he correct?

The Eastern Orthodox do not seem to have the sort of doctrine of original sin that is prevalent in the West, coming down from Augustine.

Another Al, another year, another recount

Where have we seen something like this before. Despite a very different climate, Minnesota is the new Florida.

I'm going to be a terrific senator! And I'm gonna help people! Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people elected me! - Al Franken.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wikipedia on Sin

This Wikipedia entry should help you become and expert on this subject.

Sin and Stupidity

A Jewish perspective.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Are Republicans real conservatives?

Spread the wealth around?

Is the graduated income tax (first proposed by Adam Smith) socialism? If you really think that "spreading the wealth around" is always and everywhere a bad thing, then shouldn't there be a flat tax?

And what about the $700 billion bailout? How can Republicans attack socialism if they participated in the bailout? Spread the wealth around? Isn't that what the Bush administration initiated, and McCain voted for?

From each according to his abilities, so long as you are in the middle class. To each according to his needs, if you are a big enough corporation.

When it comes to actual governance, the "conservatism" of Barry Goldwater is gone. What you get is corporate prostitution. Republicans follow conservative principles when it serves the interests of "the haves and the have mores." They trash those principles when it becomes convenient for the big companies.

I realize that my tone is a little cynical here. Perhaps someone can explain what the Republican Party today has to do with real conservatism.

And please don't tell me that at least this fake conservatism is better than liberalism. I just want to know what real conservative principles are, and how well you think the Republican party of George W. Bush reflects those principles.

The Book of Hezekiah

It's sometimes just as important to know what isn't in the Bible as what is in the Bible.

How would you write an anti-abortion statute?

I have some questions about how anti-abortion laws are supposed to go. First, can you get away with exempting the mother from criminal punishment. Albert Fall, in the Teapot Dome scandal, got convicted for taking a bribe that the person who gave the bribe, Doheny, was acquitted for giving. The 2006 South Dakota statute, referenced in this post, seems guilty of this sort of absurdity.

Second, if the grounds for objecting to abortion is that it is murder, and there really is no moral difference between killing a fetus and killing a born infant, then shouldn't these acts be prosecuted under the statute against murder, which means that whatever mandatory sentences are in place have to apply. (No community service, in other words).

How were abortion laws written prior to Roe. Can abortion be regarded as a separate crime from murder if it is murder?

Now these are questions. Please treat them as such. There may be good answers to them.

I am quite sure that anti-abortion laws would result in an enforcement nightmare. This bothers the utilitarian in me. But the deontologist answer is, of course, that if something ought to be outlawed, difficulties in enforcing the law should not be a reason to keep it legal.

Judith Thomson' defense of abortion

I'm redating this post, since it keeps coming up.

Judith Thomson's famous argument that if the fetus is a person, its right to life might be overruled by the rights of the pregnant woman.

An anti-slavery site

Lincoln didn't abolish slavery.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Equal Protection and Abortion

McConnell: One can make a pretty convincing argument, however, that fetuses are persons. They are alive; their species is Homo sapiens. They are not simply an appendage of the mother; they have a separate and unique chromosomal structure. Surely, before beings with all the biological characteristics of humans are stripped of their rights as "persons" under the law, we are entitled to an explanation of why they fall short. For the court to say it cannot "resolve the difficult question of when life begins" is not an explanation.

Here's my claim. If this argument goes through, then you have a Federal case against abortion based on the Equal Protection clause. What is wrong with this claim?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why judicial activism is a red herring in the abortion debate

I still have trouble seeing why pro-lifers want abortion to be a state matter. In the case of gay marriage, social conservatives want an amendment preventing state judges or state legislatures from allowing it. Why not go for that with respect to abortion?

I have trouble seeing Roe as an unjustified instance of judicial activism. The court had to adjudicate between the rights of the pregnant mother and the rights of the fetus. If you think that, since it was the fetuses right to life that was at stake as opposed to the mother's right to privacy, if you think that all fetuses possess this right from the moment of conception, if you believe that the right to life takes precedence over all quality-of-life considerations including the right of privacy, then the only logical thing to fight for is the application of the equal protection clause of the Constitution to life in the womb. Why wimp out and hand it back to the states? Frank??

Of course, the right to life from conception has to be provable. The Roe argument is that that right is in doubt, and hence a right that is in doubt should not take precedence over a right that is not in doubt. I think Roe is right, unless you can establish the right to life beyond reasonable doubt. But if you're pro-life, that's your position, right?

If I am right, judicial activism is a red herring in the abortion controversy. Everyone likes judicial activism when it gets the results we want. We hate it when it gets the wrong results. The SCOTUS had to act, one way or the other. The only question is whether the Court made the right call or not.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Anti-Materialist philosophy now considered part of the creationist threat

The dualists are coming, the dualists are coming.

Abortion, Roe, and legislating from the bench

It seems to me that the case against abortion has been hitched to the conservative objection to "judicial activism." The hope for overturning Roe has been connected to the claim that had the SCOTUS refrained from "legislating from the bench," the ruling would have been avoided and state laws would have stood.

But if pro-lifers are right in supposing that fetuses are person from conception and we can know that, then the conclusion should not be to remand the issue to the states. The correct conclusion would be to press a case on behalf of fetal life based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, striking down all permissive abortion laws. That might be legislating from the bench, but wouldn't that be the correct for the court to make, on pro-life assumptions?

Quick question

Why is it that the same people who want abortion settled by the states want gay marriage settled by the federal government, through a constitutional amendment?

Abortion and constitutional law

In debating the abortion issue, people sometimes conflate the moral question of abortion with the legal question as to whether abortion laws are constitutionally justified. The following four positions are compossible.

1) Abortion is always morally wrong, (except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger) but as a matter of constitutional law, Roe was correctly adjudicated.

2) Abortion is not always morally wrong, and Roe was correctly adjudicated.

3) Abortion is morally wrong, and Roe was not correctly adjudicated.

4) Abortion is not always wrong, but Roe was not correctly adjudicated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Response to Jim Jordan

I do not have your intellectual certitude on this issue. Do you really think that I'm not telling the truth when I say that? Perhaps a study of the complete works of Frank Beckwith would convince me otherwise. I am even less sure that I would know how to produce a good legal argument against Roe v. Wade, because in a legal context you have ways of blocking the sorts of "err on the side of life" arguments that I would use if I were trying to talk someone I knew not to get an abortion.

And I have even more serious doubts about the standard conservative attack on Roe: that it involved judicial activism. It seems to me that the right of privacy is constitutionally grounded. But to defeat Roe, it seems to me that you've either got to make that argument, or make the argument that we can achieve a rational consensus that fetuses are persons from the moment of conception. Both seem to me to be difficult cases to make. (I wish I had Hasker's debate with Sullivan available to me now).

All you have with any political leader is their professions of Christian conscience.
The pro-life position is appealing in the sense that you don't get stuck with the problem of accounting for how fetal life comes to acquire the full rights of personhood. But to go from there to the conclusion that there is no moral difference between taking the life of a zygote and taking the life of a two-year-old looks like a stretch to me.

I think some of the considerations that support the right to life are some of the same ones that push me in the direction of the Democratic Party, the concern for the defense of the weak and disadvantaged against the powerful. (Probably the strongest moral theme in all of Scripture).

So I would very much like to move my party away from the sort of rhetorical position that really sounds like life in the womb doesn't matter. Perhaps after what I anticipate will be Obama's election victory, my post will be entitled "An Open Letter to Barack Obama" urging him to take fetal life seriously and to move away from the sort of Planned Parenthood party line we are so used to hearing from Democrats.

I really think that neither political party has enough power, with our two-party system, to push through a change in the Supreme Court sufficient to overthrow Roe and get us to the place where abortion is illegal in many states. So long as there is a partisan deadlock on this issue, no progress will be made.

I find this whole issue extremely difficult, and I have never tried so hard to me intellectually honest in all my life.

The Catholic Bishops' statement on forming the political conscience

Sunday, October 26, 2008

No compromise on abortion?

James Howell, on Ben Witherington's blog, suggests otherwise.

I really and truly believe that the partisan, no-compromise positions taken on each side of the aisle on this issue result in more dead fetuses than necessary. I'm afraid that if I were strongly pro-choice, and I were to hear some of the Holocaust rhetoric that I have been hearing in the combox here, I would retreat to a firmer pro-choice stance than I would if pro-lifers were to say, "There are a bunch of you pro-choicers out there who really think abortions are bad things; let's see what we can do to reduce them."

But in an election year, it's easier for the Republican to yell "baby-killer" and the Democrats to yell "they're taking away your right to choose."

But, you say, Obama is a pro-choice extremist and won't listen? Try him (if he is elected). Appeal to the Christian conscience he says he has. If people try it and it doesn't do any good, and there isn't a reduction in abortions, you can come back to me and say "See, I told you so."

Plantinga, Christians and their doubts

A redated post.

Since the issue of Christian doubts has come up on a couple of blogs, I thought this, from Plantinga, would be of interest.

And what can I say about my spiritual life since leaving Calvin? For me,
as, I suppose, for most others, spiritual life is an up and down proposition,
with what one hopes are the consolidation of small but genuine gains.
Sometimes I wake in the wee hours of the morning and find myself wondering:
can all this really be true? Can this whole wonderful Christian story really be
more than a wonderful fairy tale? At other times I find myself as
convinced of its main lineaments as that I live in South Bend.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road

I got this from someone at Spare Oom.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!
JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road...ZZZZZzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz
HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.
DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?
COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.
BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken.
AL GORE: I invented the chicken.
DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.
OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.
NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.
PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.
GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.
BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.
ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.
ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?
COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Supply-Side Economics

I am told that the correct name for trickle-down economics is supply-side economics, and that trickle-down is an insult. Very well, call it what you want. The question is, does it work?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The One-Issue Abortion Vote

It almost sounds to me as if you are saying "Even if we lose all the other arguments, and Obama is the better choice on every other ground except abortion, you as a Christian are obligated to vote against Obama for that reason alone."

But even the actual Obama quotes don't seem to me to say that he wants these "abortuses" to die. He may have been misinformed about whether born-alive fetuses would be left to die. He also has made statements to the effect that "health of the mother" exceptions on late-term abortions should be made clear so that they don't cover just anything.

What are you suggesting, that Obama just likes seeing women get abortions?
And isn't it illegal to let babies die, anyway?

My arguments have been this.
1) Roe v. Wade will almost certainly not be overturned regardless of who is elected President.

2) Even if it is overturned, it will not result in many babies being saved through legal restrictions. I would be surprised if any state, even the reddest of the red states, would pass a comprehensive ban on abortion.

3) Abortion rates rose until the Clinton administration, after which they have steadily decreased. There may be many reasons for that, but one of the has to be the passage of the Familay and Medical Leave Act, which made it illegal for employers to fire employees who took unpaid time off to bear children. Health care reform would be another way in which abortion might be discouraged.

4) I don't see an overwhelming case for the simon-pure pro-life position. I can see both sides of the issue, and some of my moral intuitions suggest that you can't give the same right to life to something that is not conscious that you do to something that is. I'm not coming out as a staunch defender of "a woman's right to choose" and would like to see more restrictive laws on abortion than are presently allowed under Roe.

4) While abortion is an issue that generates a lot of moral passion, other issues, such as slavery, poverty, corporate responsibility, misguided wars, torture, and global warming (or climate change if you prefer that expression) are also moral issues of considerable importance, and they are issues where the President's action have a much greater and more direct effect than in the area of abortion.

So no, I reject the case for a one-issue abortion-based vote. I have made these points a number of times here. If you think this makes me "every baby-butcher's best friend," you should reflect on how many babies have been saved from abortion as a result of 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of Bush I, and 8 years of Bush II. This is a matter that was settled by the one branch of government deliberately set furthest away from the political arena, the judiciary. I'm also convinced that we have not exercised enough leadership in looking for ways to decrease abortion apart from the long arm of the criminal law.