Sunday, November 22, 2020

Nov. 22, 1963

 Aldous Huxley died on this date in 1963. So did a couple of other famous people.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Abortion: Something to shout about?


It seems to me that there are a lot of situations in which a woman might make a decision to get an abortion. They could be doing it because having a baby would compromise their party lifestyle. They might be doing it because they were raped. They might to do it because they don't want to put off their college degree. They might do it because they know they can't afford to care for the child once it's born, or because they won't be able to afford to get the prenatal care they will need to complete the pregnancy. Or they could choose abortion because they don't want to bring a disabled child into the world (implying that disability makes a life not worth living). The only way you can argue that abortion is OK across the board is to maintain that the fetus, prior to birth, is a blob of tissue that has no intrinsic value. Many people who might not be prepared to equate all abortion with murder might nonetheless think that in an abortion you cause the loss of something of considerable value, and that decision to abort, at minimum, should not be taken lightly. (But others actually think abortions are something to shout about).

Soft Determinism and moral responsibility

 Soft determinism says that even if (and even though) determinism is true, we are still responsible for our actions. What does that mean exactly,  that we are responsible for our actions? Moral responsibility seems to have two distinct meanings, and you might answer the question of soft determinism differently depending on which one you mean.  One meaning it might have is that, even if determinism is true, our motives cause our actions, therefore actions that attempt to correct our motives in order to change our future actions are warranted. Whatever might be causing me to contemplate  committing a cold-blooded murder, if you don't want me committing that cold-blooded murder, then whose motive needs to be modified? Well, mine. So you may want to attach penalties to cold-blooded murder so that have a countervailing motive to whatever my motive for murder might be, and not commit the act. If I do commit the act, then you are going to want to find out who did it, and maybe do something to me that will deter others from doing the same thing. But what if determinism is true, and the fact that I am a murderer and you are a law-abiding citizen is, in the final analysis, the result of factors beyond my control, or yours. If you are trying to correct someone's motives and change their behavior, pushing the question of "responsibility" further back like that doesn't make sense. But what if what you are doing is first and foremost trying to give me what I really deserve, to approximate in human terms what presumably God, if there is one, will be doing at the Final Judgment? Then it seems to me that being concerned about determinism is more plausible, since it seems to be a matter of cosmic luck that I happened to end up on the end of a causal chain that made me a murderer, but made you a law-abiding citizen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

In what sense are we responsible for our actions?

An interesting aspect of the free will controversy has to do with the kind of moral responsibility that is at stake. Is it the kind of moral responsibility that can justify retribution, or maybe even eternal retribution? Or is it something else, such as knowing who to motivate through reward or punishment. I first encountered the free will problem in the context of debates of Calvinism. Calvinists and their opponents agree concerning the sense in which we are responsible for our actions--if someone goes to hell because of sin, they deserve to go to hell because of sin. So, in that context, you have to ask whether being predestined by God to, say, commit murder renders you still responsible, sub specie aeternitatis, for committing that murder. And it seemed to me that if determinism were true, and circumstances, (such as a divine eternal decree) rendered it impossible for me to do otherwise from commit a murder, I am not responsible for that murder, but that whoever issued that eternal decree, as the ultimate source of my action, would be.

Consider the fact that "the devil made me do it" is considered an almost comic example of a lame excuse. The reason we are usually given for this is the idea that the devil tempts us, but we have the free will to resist the devil, in which case the devil will flee. This seems to assume that we have libertarian free will. No one made you do anything.

Later, when I wrote my master's thesis on free will, I realized that many compatibilists were secularists, and who were not ascribing responsibility to agents in the same sense that Christians were. They were asking questions, perhaps, of the utility of punishment in ascribing moral responsibility. And here, I thought, their "compatibilist" position was at least consistent. They weren't saying that people were responsible for their actions in some "last judgment" sense, they were saying that we need to know who to motivate and how when we punish, and that the question of ultimate moral responsibility need not be asked.
However, weakening the sense of moral responsibility can have some potentially dangerous consequences that Lewis notes in his famous essay on the humanitarian theory of punishment. What happens if we say that what someone deserves doesn't matter, and what we must do is simply do what will protect society, deter crime, or rehabilitate the criminal. Will this give us the license to reform criminals any way we see fit, regardless of their freedom and dignity? Do we have the right to brainwash people into not committing crimes? Do we have the right to "fix" people we might think will commit crimes for the benefit of society? Does the abandonment of free will lead to fundamental changes in who we think we are?

This is related to the essay "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment."

Was the election stolen?

At the risk of sounding like Loftus, Let's look at this from the point of view of an outsider. Suppose I come here from a foreign country. I am not a Republican or a Democrat. There are all the sources of information out there. I am trying to figure out whether the election was stolen. How would I assess the evidence on this matter? By what neutral criteria should I take, say Sean Hannity seriously and Rachel Maddow not seriously? Both, no doubt, have an axe to grind. But you can grind your axe with facts, or with "alternative facts." Or are we stuck with the Nietzschean conclusion there are no facts, only interpretations of facts. (Is that a fact?)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Compatibilism, the devil, and Jeffrey Dahmer


Free will, along with the existence of God and perhaps the mind-body problem, is one of the philosophical issues that is of great interest to a lot of people. One idea that offends many of us would be the idea that someone should be treated differently, or even punished, because of the color of their skin. Martin Luther King’s dream was that his children would one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Judging someone by the content of their character is not arbitrary in the way that judging someone by the color of their skin is. But why?

            Well, because arguably, our character is, to a large extent, a product of the choices we make. We do not choose our race, but we do choose our actions. Thus, we treat bank robbers differently than we treat non-bank robbers, and that’s not discrimination, because people chose to rob a bank, but did not choose to be white or black.

            Or did we? A well-known African-American comic from my youth, Flip Wilson, used to have a character who frequently used a punch line, “The devil made me do it.” A country song entitled “Speak of the Devil” includes the following lyrics:

Speak of the devil
He took me out again last night
He got me drunk and he got me in a fight

He was chasing women
I was just there for the ride
Speak of the devil
He took me out again last night

            I won’t here attempt to adjudicate the question of whether or not there is a devil. But I would ask why this might be perceived by its intended audience as a lame excuse, even if people in the audience believe that the devil is real. Those who believe in the devil normally think that while the devil can tempt you to do something, he ordinarily does not make you do it. You could, and should, have chosen to resist. The devil may highlight in your mind the attractiveness of wrongdoing, but he cannot by his temptations guarantee that you will do the wrong thing.

            But we can imagine the devil doing a great deal more than just tempt. Suppose the devil were to literally cause your body to engage in numerous acts that you believe to be evil, while your mind watched helplessly in horror, unable to prevent your body from committing a series of horrible crimes. If that were true, then surely you would not be responsible for those crimes, it would really be the devil.

            But now suppose that what the devil does is something different. He finds an eight year old boy, Little Jeff, and alters his brain chemistry in such a way that it guarantees that  he will grow up to be notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Jeffrey forms the desire to commit the horrible murders he committed, and those desires cause him to commit those murders. The devil made him do it, in that the devil’s actions guaranteed that he form the desires and commit the murders. But there was not Real Jeffery inside thinking that he was being driven against his will to commit crimes. So if this is true, who is responsible for the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer? The devil, Jeffrey, or both?

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Is religion for me?

 If you say religion is not for me that seems odd in the following way. Religions make assertions about God, Christ, how one comes into relation to God through Christ (or some other way), etc. Now it seems to me that either God is real or not, either Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity who rose from the dead or he is not, and either Christ has established the Catholic Church and sacraments as the way to be in relation to God. If these things are all true, then everyone should be a Catholic, and if they are false, then no one should be a Catholic. I don't see how these things can possibly be a matter of personal preference. These are claims that something is true, and these claims are either true or false. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Abortometrics, or what is the real pro-life goal?

 Is getting abortions as close to zero as possible the pro-life goal, or is it something else?

From the point of what I would call abortometrics, the idea of trying to figure out what policies will produce the most nonabortions, it is not clear to me that the Republicans are any better than the Democrats. Democrats supported the idea that employers don't have the right to fire employees for getting pregnant, allowed for unpaid medical leave in the Family and Medical Leave Act, and try to make sure that everyone, including pregnant women, get health care. They support paid medical leave, and that would give women a reason not to get an abortion. All Republicans try to do to produce nonabortions is to prevent access by reversing Roe and allowing states to ban abortion. In other words, they think the only way to get rid of abortion if to use force to prevent women from having access to abortion. But because we are a nation governed by the people, this would only be possible in a few red states. In other words, the attack the supply side of abortion. On the other hand, they seem contemptuous of any policies that would decrease the number of abortions by decreasing the need for them. Many pro-choice people in the Democratic party strongly dislike abortion (Biden certainly, though I am not so sure about Harris). Historically, abortion rates don't go down any faster under Republicans than under Democrats. The old slogan for Democrats was safe, legal, and rare, although there has been some, to my mind disturbing backing away from this perspective. But, in practical terms, a safe legal and rare strategy might in fact produce fewer abortions that a strict pro-life position, given the impracticality of getting anything close to an across-the-board prohibition of abortion. So, if the goal is to get the abortometrics as close to zero as possible, (a goal shared by pro-lifers and anti-abortion pro-choicers and no, that's NOT an oxymoron.) Now, maybe pro-lifers think that the abortometric approach is the wrong way to approach abortion. I suppose they think that pro-life laws and the supply strategy are more deontologically adequate even if they are infeasible and less effective abortometrically than the demand strategy. But if the goal is to get as close to zero on abortions as is feasible, then it is less that clear which party is really more pro-life.

Controversial claim?

Either God exists or God does not exists. If God exists, then the people who say that God exists are right, and the people that say that God does not exist are wrong. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then the people who say that God does not exist are right, and the people that say that God does exist are wrong. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Originalism and Judicial Activism

The Constitution says I have the right to bear arms. Does that mean a) a musket (which is what the Founders surely had in mind, 2) a handgun, 3) a machine gun, 4) an assault weapon like an AR-15, or 5) a hand-held nuclear device? We are supposed to look at the original meaning of the words and just go by that. But the founders had no idea what types of weapons would be in existence 200 + years after they wrote. So, no matter what we decide aren't we stuck with some damn activist judge, liberal or conservative, deciding what is in the spirit of the Second Amendment? Originalism offers no answer that I can see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is it OK to use deceit in opposing abortion?

 Here is an interesting problem. Working from the point of view of pro-life politics, putting a replacement for Ginsburg on the court with the present President and Senate would be a victory, as was refusing to the nomination of Merrick Garland and leaving the seat open to be filled by Neil Gorsuch.  It could have been done on the basis of straightforward power politics, we have the majority in the Senate, we want a conservative majority that will overturn Roe and do other things we want, so we are leaving the seat open. We will do it because we can.  But they didn't do that. 2016, like 2020, was an election year, and they specifically argued for the Garland refusal by insisting that in an election year the people should decide. They used this rhetoric,  no doubt, to help Republican candidates in tight Senate races look good. And they didn't qualify it, that is what they said. They didn't say it applied only if the President and the Senate majority were of opposite parties. Lindsey Graham said if this happened with a Republican President the same principle would apply, and if he changed his mind, you could use his words against him. Well, he changed his mind, and he is in a re-election race. Or maybe he didn't, maybe it was power politics from the beginning for him, and he was gambling on this never coming up. In any event, Jaime Harrison should be able to use it this to his advantage. 

If we act on principle, the idea of this is that we are going to be willing to employ the principle when it is convenient for us as well as when it is inconvenient. 

But we can also ask this question: If you are a pro-life Christian, should you be happy about the use of deceit to promote the prohibition of abortion? In this context there is also the payment of a huge sum of money to Norma McCorvey, the Roe of Roe v. Wade, who was paid that money because her support for the pro-life cause was thought to be wavering, who really didn't support the pro-life position, and who wrote a book convincing millions of people that she had changed her mind. It was called "Won by Love," but was she really won by money? A committed pro-lifer could say that the deceit involved was a small price to pay considering the fetuses that were (presumably) saved. And they might say that same thing about deceitfully implying that Republicans were following principle, as opposed to practicing power politics, in refusing to allow Merrick Garland's nomination to be considered. 

One response would be to say that people on the other side are deceitful in this or that way, so it's hypocritical to bring this up. But hypocrisy arguments are inherently weak and are often beside the point. But what that suggests is that if a rule is being violated on the other side, it is no longer valid. What you are saying is that deceit in the interests of pro-life is justified, since people on the pro-choice side practice deceit. But does that follow in any sort of logical way?

And this ties in with the whole Trump issue. How many deceits and transgressions of basic Christian values are Christians willing to tolerate because, after all,  he's "pro-life." (This is in scarequotes because I find it impossible to believe he cares about fetuses. This is a transactional deal with the pro-life movement--you scratch by back and I'll scratch yours.) This is a man who straightforwardly mocked the fundamental value of loving and forgiving one's enemies, something the Bible says a lot more about than it says about abortion. 

Some evangelicals, if confronted with the news that Trump had just shot three people to death on Fifth Avenue, would just say "Well, I still support him. At least he's pro-life." 

But let me ask this question as pointedly as I can. If you are pro-life, to what extent is deceit justified in pursuing that goal. If the right to life is a good end, what means are justified in pursuing it?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Anscombe's final response to Lewis's revised chapter in Miracles

 This is a paper Anscombe did for the Oxford C. S. Lewis society, which I have not seen until recently. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Will reversing Roe save fetuses? Maybe a couple.

Reversing Roe will NOT outlaw abortion, unless you use legal arguments that say that we can show that fetuses are persons in every relevant sense and that laws permitting abortion are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. That is what the argument would be if you follow pro-life logic out to its logical conclusion, but that is not the argument that people like Scalia use against Roe. They claim, not that the fetus's right to life was denied by Roe, but rather that a woman's right to privacy is not as absolute as Roe implies that it is. Hence, Scalia says, abortion should be decided by democratic choice. He may be right, but democratic choice in most states is going to be on the side of the pro-choice position, except in some Bible Belt states, and even there I doubt that such strong abortion laws are going last very long.

 I've also found it somewhat puzzling that since 1980, most of the Supreme Court Justices have been nominated by Republican Presidents who have been pro-life, and yet Roe is still going strong, supported in many cases by the decisions of those justices put there by Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump. Even Brett Kavanaugh, who did vote with the dissenters in the Louisiana case, tried to send it back to the lower courts to avoid having to rule on it, which is not the actions of someone eager to overturn Roe. And Roberts, well, he didn't even want to overturn precedent on a ruling he opposed a few months earlier, because of stare decisis. What chance is there that he would overturn Roe? I conclude that maybe if Roe had not happened, fetuses might have been saved, but overturning it now would save two fetuses in the State of Mississippi. The horse is out of the barn and not coming back.

I would add that the abortion rate DROPPED during both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. In real practice, Republicans do worse than Democrats at keeping fetuses from being aborted. 

Who are the police defunders?

 Republicans keep accusing Democrats of wanting to defund the police. But Biden, in particular, has been crystal clear about his opposition to violence. And his running mate has spent most of her career putting people in jail. So, you have Biden saying that he opposes defunding the police, and wants more money devoted to them because better police training will prevent police brutality, and that takes funding. You have the Republicans refusing to fund state and local government, which is causing a money crunch for the very entities who FUND the police. Republicans TALK about Democrats wanting to defund the police, but they are not helping state and local governments because they don't like the ideology of governors and mayors. But state and local government is how police get funded. Period. There's no other way they get funded. The pandemic has created a fiscal crisis for state and local government, and while the Democratic House has passed legislation supporting state and local government, the Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell has said no. So, let me ask again, who are the real defunders of the police?

Sunday, September 06, 2020

I support Obamacare--for selfish reasons?

 I would never have been able to get get cancer prevention surgery in 2017 under the old system. It would have been sufficiently "emergent" only if I had come in with cancer, which means I might be dead now if the Affordable Care Act had not been passed. I contracted a chronic auto-immune disease at 23, and no one has wanted to sell me health insurance since. Unfortunately, I haven't had employment situations that allowed me to get health care through an employer, so I was on self-pay through much of my adult life. Until Obamacare.

I suppose you can say my reasons for supporting Obamacare are self-centered, though I no longer need Obamacare. If you could show me that the interests of others as a whole would be improve by a repeal of Obamacare and a return to the old system, I am more than willing to consider it.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Do you believe in the physical world? Where's your evidence?

 If we need proof for a belief, then we will need proof for the proof, and then proof for the proof, and then proof for the proof for the proof, ad infinitum ad nauseum. The demand for evidence has to stop somewhere. Take your belief that there is a physical world. Suppose I told you that only minds exist, and the you need to prove that there is something physical in existence. Lots of people think they don't have to prove the existence of the physical world, but belief in the physical world is a belief just like any other belief. If we must accept NO belief without supporting evidence, then we ought not to believe in the existence of the physical world without evidence.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Wingnuts of all faiths

 This is a wingnut anti-masker who happens to be a Christian.  But wingnuts come from all religions, including the atheist religion. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

A quote from C. S. Lewis and contemporary political debate

 Probably people in political debate today are going to be saying and thinking this a lot, once stated by C. S. Lewis. "How many times does a man need to say something before he is safe from the accusation of having said exactly the opposite?"

Lewis goes on to say something few in political debate would ever say:
(I am not for a moment imputing dishonesty to Dr Pittenger; we all know too well how difficult it is to grasp or retain the substance of a hook one finds antipathetic.)

The prove it game

You can undermine any belief just by demanding proof. Then, when proof is provided, demand proof for the proof. And then proof for the proof for the proof. And then proof for the proof for the proof for the proof. And then proof for the proof for the proof for the proof for the proof. And so on ad infinitum. 

Is atheism a religion?

Although it isn’t an organized religion like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, atheism is a religious worldview. With assurance rooted in faith (rather than in proven fact), the theist says “I believe in god(s)/God,” while the atheist with equal confidence says “I don’t believe in god(s)/God.”

Atheism is a religious worldview because it claims to know something fundamental about reality that hasn’t been—or can’t be—proven. Like theists, atheists operate out of a foundational faith or belief that shapes their perceiving, thinking, and living in the world.


On argument

 When you have an argument, you have an arguer's point of view and the audience's point of view.  The arguer is convinced of the conclusion, the audience is presumed to be not convinced, otherwise no argument would be needed. The adequacy of an argument is determined by the question of whether the argument provides something that the audience ought to believe (assuming the audience is being rational). An argument can be convincing without being a logically good argument.  However, a logically good argument ought to be convincing, even if it is not. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Do Unemployment Benefits Disincentivize Work?

 No, says this discussion. 

These claims remind me the line from the theme song for "All in the Family.""Didn't have no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight." 

And it is one of the most difficult aspects of conservatism for me to buy. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A civil debate on abortion

The debate about abortion consists of the pro-life person screaming ABORTION IS MURDER as loud as possible, while the pro-choice person screams A WOMAN HAS THE RIGHT TO DO AS SHE PLEASES WITH HER OWN BODY as loud as possible. Whoever screams the loudest wins. 

 Just kidding (I hope). 

Does murder mean homicide without sufficient moral justification, or does it mean something more than that? If you can argue that abortions are homicides and that they are not justifiable homicides, is that all you mean when you say that abortion is murder? Or is something else needed?

The pro-life debater in this debate thinks it's a mistake to say that abortion is murder. The pro-choice debater thinks that there are a significant number of abortions that are morally unjustified. See this discussion.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Does universal causation entail determinism?

In order to universal causation to entail determinism, "cause" has to mean a set of circumstances and causes which, taken together make it so that no other event could have occurred. However, the word "cause" is ambiguous, and does not always mean that, given the cause the effect is inevitable. For example, we can say that smoking causes cancer without implying that there is some law guaranteeing that every instance of smoking will result in cancer. Some chain smokers, as we all know, live to 100 cancer-free.

The case against soft determinism

The main arguments against soft determinism are there. 1) There is insufficient reason to believe that determinism of any sort is true with respect to human actions. 2) If soft determinism is true you are being praised or blamed for actions that, in the final analysis, are the result of circumstances beyond your control.


Assume, for example that there is a God. Suppose God creates you in such a way that he guarantees that, on 8/3.2020, you commit the crime of murder. Suppose the day after that, you die. You meet God at the last judgment, and God tells you that you are going to have to spend eternity in hell because you are a murderer. But God, you  reply, given the way you created me, I could not have avoided committing the murder. What are you damning me for something you made me do. Can God reasonably say “You wanted to do it, so it really is your fault, not mine.”

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Soft Determinism: The key difference

The key difference between soft determinism and the other views is the definition of freedom. For them, freedom means being able to carry out your will. But, you will is just as strictly determined on soft determinism as it is on hard determinism. The question is, if your will is determined by past causes, but you can carry out your will, do you have an excuse if you act wrongly. You did what you wanted to do, but, given the past, you could not have done otherwise from what you did.


Friday, July 31, 2020

Five problems for assisted suicide

Five problems for assisted suicide:
1. Assisted suicide is a deadly mix with our broken, profit-driven health care system. The Oregon Health Plan told two chemotherapy patients it would not pay for their chemo, but would pay for their assisted suicide.
2. In spite of denials and claims that this is not permitted, persons with psychiatric disabilities such as depression are given assisted suicide in Oregon.
3. Families who want assisted suicide for the loved ones can just find another doctor if the doctor says no.
4. A six month diagnosis of often wildly mistaken, and often given to those who are not terminally ill.
5. The Oregon law does not protect patient facing family pressure, emotional or financial, which may distort patient choice.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


In America, because we have not listened to the scientists, have fallen behind other countries who have listened to them and used masks, social distancing, testing, and contact tracing to control the virus. Hence, Taiwan can have a normal baseball season, but we can’t start ours with fans in the stands, and even now 11 of the Marlins are sick.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Which roommate would you prefer?

We think there is a moral difference between killing someone and letting them die.
However the cases may not be so different. Imagine Smith, who stands to inherit money if his six year old cousin dies. He finds him in the bathtub and drowns him.
Jones, on the other hand, stands to inherit similarly, but sees the child slip and fall, and he lets the child die. Both men’s actions are directed toward the same goal, but one of them actively causes the child’s death, and the other does not.
Rachels says there isn’t. The two people have the same intentions. The difference has to do with what opportunities each had.
However, James Wallace, my instructor at University of Illinois at Urbana, argued against this. He asked us to consider two roommates. One of them is willing to kill you. The other won’t kill you, but is prepared to let you die. Which would you prefer as your roommate? Amanda Knox? 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Cleckley On Psychopathy

The psychopath…is incapable of kindness and consideration for the rights of others, and he is lacking in gratitude, affection, or compassion…..Whether judged in light of his conduct, or his attitude, or of material elicited I psychiatric examination, he shows almost no sense of shame…He does not…show the slightest evidence of major humiliation or regret. This is true of matters pertaining to his personal and selfish pride and to esthetic standards that he avows as well as to moral and humanitarian matters. If Santayana is correct in saying that “perhaps the true dignity of man is the ability to despise himself,” the psychopath is without a means to acquire true dignity. (Hervey Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity, 4th ed. St, Louis, 1964.)
In other words, "I don't take responsibility at all."

C. S Lewis's Myth Became Fact


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Soft Determinism

Soft determinists believe that even though your actions are determined, they are free because you are doing what you want to do. 
A problem for the soft determinist position can be set up as follows. Suppose someone were to hook up a computer to your brain and cause you to do everything you do. However, the controller takes care to make sure that you form the desire to do whatever they intend to cause you to do. The result will be that you always freely do exactly what they want you to do, 
By the way, soft determinism has the implication that God could have created the world in such a way that everyone freely does what is right. God didn't have to give us the alternative of sinning in order to give us free will. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Marx and Rand

Karl Marx and Ayn Rand were both atheists, but their idea of what is moral could not have been more different.

But it seems as if both of their systems of thought can do a lot of harm if widely accepted. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Closing the door to refugees, including Christians

Apparently Trump is not the supporter of religious freedom he claims to be.


Thursday, July 09, 2020

How do we decide who comes to America?

 When we consider who can enter our country, should we consider the happiness of our citizens primarily, or should the happiness of potential immigrants also be considered? 

Why our children (and my students) don't think there are moral facts


Difficulty and Ethical Truth

A theory like  utilitarianism is a serious attempt to get the right answer on issues like immigration. It says that the correct policy is the one that produces the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. And since illegal immigrants enjoy pleasure and suffer pain, their pleasure and pain counts just as much as the pleasure and pain of a US citizen.

Now maybe utilitarians are wrong, but it is one way to approach the issue. 

It is important not to confuse the difficulty of finding an answer with the lack of moral truth. Difficult moral issues take work to think through, and not everyone is going to agree. But that doesn't mean that no one has it right, or that there is no "right" to be found. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Drawing the line on statues

Washington and Jefferson were slaveowners, and Lincoln didn't really believe that black people were equal, though he opposed slavery. Yet these people's contributions seem to make it worth keeping their statues up. But the same kind of argument can be made on behalf of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee, though there is a difference of degree here. Nevertheless, this does raise the question, where do you draw  the line, and why? 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Josh McDowell's Maximum Sex

What difference does religion make to morality? 

Sexual morality seems to be the most obvious area in which religious believers differ from nonreligious people.  When I was young, Christian groups had a lot of leaders had presentations defending traditional Christian views on sex. But they seemed to spend a lot of time arguing that saving sex for marriage was good for you in the long run, so it wasn't presented as something you just do just because God says so. I remember Josh McDowell doing a presentation at ASU entitled Maximum Sex, the idea being that sex within marriage is "maximum" because it fits best with the way God designed us. 

On the other hand, traditionally people appealed to religious beliefs to justify our belief that everyone should be treated equally. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are CREATED equal, and were endowed by the CREATOR with certain inalienable rights. But what if we weren't created? Do we still have inalienable rights?

Does the law of noncontradiction apply to moral statements?

Moral statements include such statements as "It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for you own amusement." Is this relative? Suppose you and Hannibal Lecter are having a disagreement about whether or not it is OK to invite someone over for dinner, shove them in the oven, and cook them AS dinner. When Hannibal tells you he has no trouble with the idea, can  you honestly look  him in the eye and say "Well that disgusts me. But who am I to say what's really right or wrong?" But unless the law of noncontradiction can apply to moral statements, isn't that what you have to say? 
Suppose there is a God who has actually said that certain things are wrong. Would that make it the case that it was really wrong, or is God's opinion no better than anyone else's?

Relativism: There are no moral facts

If relativism is true, that means that there are no moral facts, and no means no. That applies to serial murder as well as to premarital sex. NO statement about what ought or ought not to be done can be objectively true or false. ALL of them are relative either to personal preference, or to societal preference. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Two Kinds of Religious Influence on Morality: General and Specific

Religion can affect morality in a couple different ways. One way is through general religious beliefs, such as the belief in a life after death of some kind where the outcome is calibrated to conduct in this life (heaven and hell, or reincarnation), the idea that a Being who is interested in whether people act rightly or wrongly is in control of the universe, the idea that God created human being in order for those humans to behave in certain ways, etc.
One way to understand the difference this might make for morality is to consider what it is like to deny all these claims. If you say there is no God, no life after death, and perhaps even no free will, the implication is that what whether a person is a serial killer or a great human benefactor, the final outcome of your life is to go out of existence when you die. Hence serial killers and saints end up in the same condition. In addition, on some atheistic views, we are purely physical beings, and hence our actions are all determined by the laws of  physics. Given the prior positions of the physical atoms that make us up and make up the rest of the universe, when we act, we could not have done otherwise from what we did. If that is so, then it seems a little difficult to say that anything that anyone does is really their fault, or is to their credit, since serial killer and public benefactor alike do exactly what nature caused them to do.
This might lead you to think that no nonreligious people have any morals, but the fact is that they are still motivated by two things: 1) natural sympathy for others and 2) the social  usefulness of moral behavior. 
However, there is another kind of religious moral influence, and that is the specific teachings of particular religious groups which they take to be revealed by God. But they differ on how they interpret these. People often think of strictures against homosexuality when they think of these things. (The Bible also says "Thou shalt not murder," but this isn't, for the most part, an issue between religious and nonreligious people). Some religious groups think that homosexual conduct is wrong AND that homosexual orientation is a disorder that they should do everything the can to fix through, for example conversion therapy. The second view is that homosexual conduct is wrong, but homosexual orientation is a condition that doesn't need to be fixed, it just means that God has called that person to a celibate life. (Hence a gay person can come out as gay without being condemned just for having that orientation, so long as you don't engage in any homosexual acts). The third view is that a properly committed gay relationship, along the lines of the traditional  Christian heterosexual marriage can be God's will for some people of homosexual orientation. 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The Outsider Test for Faith, and News

John Loftus, as we all know, uses an argument which he calls the Outsider Test for Faith. He claims that since people are influenced by where they were born as to what their religious beliefs are, you should believe only what you can prove objectively from the point of view of an outsider (that is, someone who holds no supernatural beliefs whatsoever.)  He thinks that since no supernatural claims meet that standard, you therefore ought to become an atheist.
But other beliefs seem to depend on where you were born. For example, my belief that the United States is good and not evil depends on the fact that I was born in America. If I were born in an Arab country,  I might think of the US as Satan America.
Not only that, but even our belief that there is a physical world is affected by where we were born. In India,  you are more likely to have the belief that our experience of the physical world is Maya, or illusion. Do you believe that there is a real physical world? 
Though I wonder if there couldn't be a case made for the Outsider Test for News. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trump's disrespect for the disabled

Trump not only mocked a disabled reporter, he got his brother, who suffered from cerebral palsy and died at the age of 42, disinherited, and tried to get take away his grand-nephew's health insurance, who also suffers from cerebral palsy.

My friend Joe Sheffer had cerebral palsy and passed away in 1989, at the age of 36, so this infuriates me even more than most things Trump has done.

And then there's taking braille off the elevators at Trump Tower.

This is about his niece's forthcoming book.

Her antipathy towards her uncle long predates his foray into populist rightwing politics. When Trump’s father, Fred Trump Sr, died, his will distributed his estate among his children and their offspring with the exception of his son Fred Trump Jr. The children of Fred Jr objected that they had been included an earlier will, written before Fred Sr was diagnosed with dementia, and took legal action.
Mary told the New York Daily News that her aunt and uncles “should be ashamed of themselves”. And soon after the lawsuit was filed, Trump changed a health insurance policy so that Fred Jr’s grandson, who had cerebral palsy, lost coverage. Eventually the lawsuit was settled and the child regained health insurance.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Left and Right

If you want a good compendium of what people on the right believe, this is good, from Chad McIntosh. 

On the liberal side, this is Dustin Crummett's  presentation.

If you believe what a conservative believes, should you support Trump. That is the challenging question I am struggling with. I would like to argue that you should not vote for Trump even if you believe everything McIntosh believes. I think I am right, though, concede all of McIntosh's position, you should still prefer Biden to Trump.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Orange Man Great, or Orange Man the Best We Can Do

It seems to me that there are different ways of supporting Trump. One kind of supporter is the real MAGA supporter who really thinks that talking about grabbing the you-know-what was just locker room talk, who thinks that all the self-absorbed twitter posts have a deep and valuable purpose, who think that children in cages was just law and order, who think that his relationship with the Russians wasn't just not a conspiracy, it was wrong to even start counterintelligence investigations into it, who thinks that not only wasn't the call to Zelensky not sufficient grounds for removal from the Presidency, it was a perfect call, who think that Trump's leadership with respect to COVID-19 is really good, (and the virus is all China's fault), who think that when he tweeted about shooting looters he was just affirming our Second Amendment rights. This is the Orange Man Great perspective.

I think this viewpoint is delusional, in much the sense that Dawkins wrongly thinks that belief in God is delusional.

But other people think that even though Trump isn't the Best of All Possible Leaders, he is preferable to anything the Democrats have to offer. This might be due to his anti-abortion activity, or because of his court appointments, or because of his tax cuts, his deregulation policies, etc., he is preferable to the alternative. In addition, he, unlike McCain and Romney, actually won his election, being better at appealing at the emotional level to people than his Republican predecessors. Still, he has plenty of failings, but they will support him and vote for him anyway, holding their nose with respect to some things.

The prevailing defense against the impeachment case was that, yeah, Trump did something wrong in his dealing with the  Ukrainians, but it wasn't sufficient for the drastic step of removing the President from office. But the Trump campaign is doing its best to try to get everyone to forget that.

But those in the second category have to be concerned that Trump will continue to make foolish comments and actions that will throw away the November election, if it has not been thrown away already. Showing as much compassion for COVID victims as George W. Bush would have shown might have been sufficient to given him an edge over Biden, but that is not the leader that we have. Making foolish comments about opening up a cold case against a television commentator for murder is another unforced error. The lead the Biden has over Trump in the polls, both nationally and in the battleground states, is the result of Trump's mistakes. He was taken of Twitter by his campaign in the waning days of the 2016 campaign (the most brilliant move in the history of Presidential campaigns).  The only hope he has of re-election is if the campaign makes the same decision for him NOW. But there is no way they can insist on that at this point, now that he is a sitting President.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

When American Christians were Socialists

Does Christianity have socialist overtones? When I was young, communists were the bad guys, who were atheists, so the idea was that you should be the opposite of that, namely, Christians and supporters of capitalism. But do Christianity and capitalism go together?

This is from a book by Page Smith entitled Rediscovering Christianity

"It is the main purpose of this work to demonstrate what should never have been in question, namely, that Christianity has always been resistant to capitalism, to the "spirit of capitalism," to capitalism in whatever form it presented itself."

This a link to an essay in Sojourners called "When American Christians were Socialists." 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Trump or Jesus?

"Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!"--Donald Trump, 1989.
Matthew 5:43-48 New International Version (NIV)
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Let me ask one more time. Who is right, Trump or Jesus? At most, only one of them can be.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Access Hollywood and the Smoking Gun: Why is it different today?

 Historically, ordinary Democrats and ordinary Republicans thought of themselves as engaged in an in-house quarrel amongst people who agree on certain basics, such as the rule of law, freedom of speech and the press, etc. Thus, Republicans would prefer to be ruled by Democrats than by Fascists, and Democrats would prefer to be ruled by Republicans than by Fascists. Further, it was thought better to have someone win of decent character who is from the other party than have someone of bad character from one's own party win. Now, I think, a lot of people are in doubt about this. Republicans and Democrats see the elections in apocalyptic terms--the other party threatens civilization as we know it, so we have to win, no matter who we have on our side and who they have on theirs. I have been struggling to figure out why, for example, the Access Hollywood tape was no absolutely curtains for Trump, the way the Smoking Gun Tape was curtains for Richard Nixon. And the only thing that comes to my mind is that in Nixon's time politics was an in-house quarrel between people who thought they believed the same things and differ about how we go about getting those things done, while now, for many, politics is, like Star Wars, a simple tale of good and evil, and losing to the other side the worst that could possibly happen.

The George Floyd Defense

Has anyone been actually suggesting a "George Floyd defense" (a descendant of the Twinkie Defense) for people who commit property crimes in the wake of the George Floyd incident? Who actually has said this? I don't mean a generalized "people on the left," I mean real statements by real people.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Is this conservatism?

Trying to get a fix on what exactly constitutes a genuine conservative position seems to be getting harder and harder these days. The "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush is an interesting idea--the idea that the government should encourage private agencies to help the poor rather than do it themselves. But what about this, from conservative Christian activist Rebecca Friedrichs.

We should look to the past. So, let’s just take the free lunch program that we have in our schools. It started out being pushed by the unions and their friends for poor children. Well, 28 years ago, I had two students in my class on free lunch. Today almost every single child is on free breakfast and free lunch. So what the unions are trying to do, they’re pushing something called community schools. And in these community schools, we’re giving children free health care, we’re giving them free food, free emotional support, and by the way free political indoctrination for their parents. And so, if these unions and their friends, their politicians, get their way, they would like our schools to be open 24/7. They want to replace the family and families raising their children with our own virtues, they want to replace that with the state. With union-controlled government-run schools. That’s dangerous. That’s communism when you think about it.

This is discussed here on an atheist website.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Is there a charitable interpretation for this?


This is my translation.

"If we test fewer people for coronavirus, fewer people will be diagnosed with it, and if they die, fewer of their death will be attributed to the coronavirus. They'll be just as dead, but at least the coronavirus numbers won't get higher, and it won't hurt my re-election prospects."

Uncharitable? Sure. TDS? Maybe,  But how do you interpret it?

An officially pro-choice church: The United Church of Christ


Other churches, surely, do not agree with them.

Why Pluto lost it planet status

Why Pluto lost its planethood.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The age of the earth

Here is some discussion on Christianity and the age of the earth. But there are those who think that the Bible requires you to believe that the earth is only about 6000 years old. What that means is that light from stars more than 6000 light years away must have been created by God in mid-flight. 
This is a defense of the young earth position.