Sunday, November 29, 2015

Calvinism and responsibility, a question for secular compatibilists

Think about the Calvinist doctrine of predestination (or deterministic versions thereof). According to that view, before the foundation of the world, God determines that some people will sin and not repent, and go to hell for their sins. Nevertheless, they are held responsible for their actions even though God is the ultimate cause of whatever they do, they are thought to deserve to go to hell because they did not perform those actions against their will. The immediate cause of their actions is their own will, just as in secular compatibilism, but the ultimate cause is God's eternal decree.

If Calvinism were true, would sinners be responsible for their sins? Does having God as the ultimate cause, as opposed to nature, change your compatibilist position? If so, why?

Chesterton on Determinism and Criminal Punishment

Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Virtue, Happiness, and religious views

If there is no God, if death ends everything, then there are people for whom it is accurate to say that they will be happier if they do what is morally wrong. Two examples would be the main protagonists in two Woody Allen movies, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Match Point. In both of these movies, these protagonists were involved in extramarital affairs. However, to sustain these affairs, they would have to give up the financial benefits their marriages provided. However, their mistresses threatened to expose their affairs to their wives if they were to stop the affairs. So in Crimes the protagonist has his mistress killed, and in Match Point the protagonist actually killed his mistress.  And in both movies we are left with the sense that these protagonists would not have been happier had they not gotten involved in murder.

Thus, on atheism, there is at least a possible disconnect between virtue and happiness. Religious views tend to eliminate this. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hard and Soft Determinism

Soft and hard determinism are the same kind of determinism. The difference is that hard determinists say that since determinism is true, we aren't responsible for our actions. Soft determinists say that even though determinism is true, we are still responsible for our actions. The ultimate causes of our actions are outside our control, but the immediate cause of our action is our desire to perform the action, and that makes us responsible.

Or does it? Shouldn't the ultimate cause be what counts?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Easter service at the Cardinals' stadium, with a couple of live Cardinals

A local megachurch, Christ's Church of the Valley, had their Easter service at University of Phoenix Stadium. It featured a discussion with QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Palmer leads the NFL in QB rating. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

C. S. Lewis passed away today 52 years ago

On Nov. 22. 1963. So did a couple of other famous people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is NOT acceptable?

Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means. 

Now, it is quite true that Christians have not always, historically, been willing to leave an open marketplace of ideas and have not always treated nonbelievers fairly. How Christians got to the place where there were willing to use the power of government to uphold their beliefs raises some difficult questions. I think the lessons of history have taught Christians, the hard way, that using force on behalf of one's beliefs is a self-defeating enterprise.

Violence on these matters is only possible when it looks to us as if our cause will benefit from it. Even if I decide that Dawkins is the worst influence on society possible, it would be silly to kill him, that will prove his point on a number of issues and benefit his cause. But even if that were not the case, it would violate the teachings of my religion to kill him. That was an important part of my point, that the failure to engage or not engage in violence is partly a function of what one sees as useful, and this is true of both theists and atheists. One response to the recommendation that the Pope be assassinated in the name of atheism would be that it doesn't work. But that better not be the only reason. 

I am willing to ask anyone who thinks whether one believes or not really matters, what means they are willing to use to get people to get the right answer. The charge I am responding to is the charge that RELIGION leads to violence. The road to violence, however, is open to everyone. I think, if anything, Christianity has some safeguards that limit the damage, which may be why, as Dinesh D'Souza points out, the death tolls are actually lower in the religious cases. For Christians, it is hard to argue that the end justifies the means, that the course of history is really in our hands. My claim is that you get ideological violence when you have the power to commit it, when you think the end justifies the means, and when you really think it will benefit your cause to commit it. 

When I hear that religion is a mind virus, when I hear that everything depends on curing that mind virus, then I have to wonder what means are NOT acceptable in achieving that goal, should the opportunity arise. That is the basis of what I said here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jennifer Roback Morse on the harms of same-sex marriage


Why not?

OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don't have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say "No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means." or do we say "OK, yeah, we're doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means."

The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God. 

In Tolkien's writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Religion leads to violence, or thinking ideas are important leads to violence?

When people find that certain ideas are really important, they may be tempted to kill people for them. These ideas can be religious, but they can also be economic, or racial, or even anti-religious. Whenever you think an idea is important, it is always tempting to think, under certain circumstances, that "the end justifies the means" and that you have a right to harm, or even kill, people who disagree. But it does seem to be true that ideas are important, so one cure for idea-based violence, rejecting the idea that ideas are important, has some bad side effects.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why I don't endorse Kim Davis

Let me clarify something. I make a sharp distinction between a legal concept of marriage and a moral one, or a religious one. There may be reasons for governmentally defined marriage to include marriages that might fail to meet moral standards. So even if someone accepts a moral case against gay relationships, this does not guarantee that the government shouldn't recognize such marriages. You need something else. 

This has the support of one who has a lot of authority in the Christian tradition: 

Matthew 19:1-9
After Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went southward to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Vast crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?" "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning `God made them male and female.' And he said, `This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." "Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful." 

This seems to me to suggest that the law can be justified, for its own reasons, in accepting relationships as marriages which are, in the final analysis, not fully moral. 

Here is C. S. Lewis on the legal-moral distinction. 

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Now let me apply this to the case of Kim Davis. I am very much opposed to people being forced to provide speech on behalf of marriages they disapprove of, if they are in wedding service occupations. However, signing a marriage license does nothing more than affirm the legal status of these marriages, and does not entail moral approval. Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A summary of James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought


Has matter and energy always existed?

OK, has matter and energy always existed? 

In this lecture, I would like to discuss whether time itself has a beginning, and whether it will have an end. All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted. We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end. When I gave a lecture in Japan, I was asked not to mention the possible re-collapse of the universe, because it might affect the stock market. However, I can re-assure anyone who is nervous about their investments that it is a bit early to sell: even if the universe does come to an end, it won't be for at least twenty billion years. By that time, maybe the GATT trade agreement will have come into effect. ---Stephen Hawking. 

Before Big Bang theory developed, the only people who would have agreed with that statement were theists. Now, atheists have adjusted their position to accept this, much the way, we are told, Christians have "adjusted" to accept evolutionary biology.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What the courtier really said

The boy has said the emperor is naked, has he? Of course, to the scientifically untrained eye, the emperor no doubt looks naked. But those of us who know a few things about the science of vision know better. The perceptual skills of someone his age are clearly not sufficiently developed to allow him to assert this with any certainty. Those of us who have studied perception know how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. We know how often our eyes deceive us when we want to see something that isn’t there. This young man has not studied the science of perception and illusion, if he did, he would certainly not assert so vociferously that his perception of the emperor’s nudity was veridical.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Aquinas' Argument from Contingency

A redated post.

Perhaps the most enduring of Aquinas's Five Ways has been the argument from contingently existing things, the third way. Amazingly, some people actually think that Aquinas's cosmological argument is something like this.

1. Everything has a cause.
2. So the Universe has a cause.
Therefore, God exists.

Now let's set aside the question of whether that which causes the universe has to be God. Surely there is something God-like about anything that has the power to cause the universe to exist, even if that being is not, strictly speaking, God. At the very least, naturalism, the view that they there is nothing over and above the physical universe, would be false if this argument were to be correct.

But the problem is obvious. If the universe has to have a cause because everything has to have a cause, then the universe not only has a cause, it has a cause of its cause, and a cause of the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause....There are people, Like Bertrand Russell, who have suggested that you can refute Aquinas, or even all forms of the cosmological argument, by asking the question that an 8-year-old child knows how to ask, namely "Who made God?" Aquinas may have been called the Dumb Ox, but you don't get to be the Angelic Doctor by being stupid. I was a little surprised to find an article, published in Philo in 1998, which attributed this kind of argument to Aquinas.

The range of what needs a cause, in other words, has to be restricted, so that the things in the physical world do need causes, and God does not need a cause. One way to do that it in the way that is employed by the present-day Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This argument doesn't require that God needs a cause, because God never began to exist. However, Aquinas did not argue in this way either. The reason for this is that Aristotle had said that even though the universe is caused to exist by the Unmoved Mover, it nonetheless never began to exist. It has existed from eternity. And Aquinas maintained that while you couldn't prove Aristotle right on this score, you couldn't prove him wrong either, and so premise 2 is an article of faith rather than an article of reason; that is something that is must be believed on the basis of the revelation delivered through the Bible and the Church. (Aquinas' concept of faith is not what a lot of people today mean by faith; belief that is contrary to reason). But articles of faith are going to be useless in arguments for the existence of God, since obviously anyone you are trying to persuade will not accept the Bible and the Church as authorities. (You may be able to use the Bible as ancient historical documentation, but not as the Word of God).

So how did St. Thomas Aquinas argue for theism? Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger, in their book Reason and Religious Belief (OUP, 1991) present the following argument, which they call the Thomistic cosmological argument.

1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

Here, we can respond to any challenge coming from the "Who made God" quarter by pointing out that a the causal principle in 2 requires only that contingent beings need a cause for their existence.

The critical premise here seems to be 5. One could argue, and I that Aquinas does argue, that if the series is a series of contingent beings, then there would have to be an infinite number of contingent beings. But the number of contingent beings in the universe is finite, so this can't be right.

Further, if there were an infinite number of contingent beings, each explanation would be an explanation in terms of something that needs an explanation as much as did the thing we were explaining. If you explain the position of the earth by saying it rests upon a turtle, is it really a satisfying answer to say that it's turtles all the way down.

We might want to ask this question: Why are there any contingent beings at all? The existence of particular contingent things that explain the existence of particular other things is not a satisfying answer to this question.

Russell responded to this question by saying "The universe is just there and that's all." If everything in the universe is contingent, does that make the universe contingent. But if each particle in the universe can cease to exist, doesn't it make sense to suggest that they all can cease to exist collectively?

But how do we know that everything in the physical world is contingent in the required sense? I believe that my car exists contingently because I have seen cars fall apart and go to the junkyard. I believe that people and animals exist contingently because I have seen them die. But what happens when I die? Since this is a theistic argument, we have to assume that our discussion partner is an atheist. What an atheist most likely believes is that we are all conglomerations of material particles. While we are alive, those particles work together organically, when we die, the functional unity that exists amongst the particles in our bodies is dissolved.

But while we know that organized unities of things in the world invariably fall apart, do we have equal confidence that the basic particles we find in the world (atoms, quarks, strings, or whatever they finally tell us it is) exist contingently. Scientists actually tell us that matter is not created, and matter is not destroyed. So couldn't the basic stuff of the physical universe be the thing that exist non-contingently, the existence of which does not depend on anything else for its existence.

So, does the basic stuff of the physical world exist contingently? I can't find anything in Aquinas that gives me a reason to think that it does. But suppose we have good reason to suppose that the universe began to exist. This was an article of faith for Aquinas, but if the standard interpretation of Big Bang cosmology is correct, then it has a basis in modern science. Historically, the atheist has answered the question "But why does the matter in the universe exist" by answering that the matter in the universe has always been there, and since it has always been there its existence does not need to be explained. If this response isn't available, then doesn't the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang provide a reason for supposing that the stuff of the physical universe exists contingently and not non-contingently?

Are opponents of gay marriage all religious?

No, some of them are gays who don't what to be put in an institution, the institution of marriage. Here. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Oceanfront property

CM: I don't know who apologists think they're fooling when they step forward and try to solemnly, double dog declare that imagining living forever surrounded by the ones they love is so much more chilling than their existence ending in a universe that doesn't seem to care. Because I sure as heck don't buy that one.

VR: But the doctrine of heaven isn't all there is to it, is there? First off, the belief that there is a heaven doesn't guarantee that we are sure to enjoy it. Admittedly there are some Christians who think they are eternally secure, but a lot of them think they could end up being lost eternally. 

Second, most people, especially the younger among us, deal with death by not thinking about it. Christianity tells you that you have a chance to live forever with God, but that's going to be a long time in the future. It also tells you that if you want to get laid tonight you can't (if you want to remain in God's will), unless you are married to your prospective bed partner. If you have done wrong, you have to repent of that wrong, which means you have to reverse your course of action and accept consequences for having done wrong. Forgiveness doesn't imply that your actions lack consequences, and that there won't be a painful process you have to go through to reverse the effects of sin in your life. That isn't fun at all, and it isn't supposed to be. It means that someone in control of the universe has laid down rules of proper conduct which you have almost certainly broken, and as your maker he has the right to lay those rules down and expect you to obey them. You don't own yourself. Whose life is it anyway? Not yours! If you go to heaven, you don't reign there, God does. Milton's Satan said that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven, or was that Christopher Hitchens? Do you never have thoughts like that? Really???? You don't have any of what Nagel called the Fear of Religion? 

I sure as heck don't buy THAT one. If you'll buy that, I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona, from my front porch you can see the sea.

Do same-sex marriage opponents need the choice thesis, and do same-sex marriage supporters need to deny it?

By the choice thesis I mean the claim that sexual orientation is chosen, that someone can make a choice which results in their being gay or not gay.

A version of the no-choice thesis would be the genetic thesis. I remember finding out that a pair of identical twins my family knows have one straight twin and one. My first reaction was that this closed the case against the gay gene thesis, but biologists have made the argument that a genetic disposition to homosexuality might be the result of epigenetics.

I am going to argue that the answer is no to both questions, and that the choice thesis is probably true in some cases but not in others, unless you define everyone who can make a choice as bisexual.

Same-sex marriage opponents Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet write:

Note that we did not say that homosexual inclinations are necessarily a sin. Unfortunately, some Christians, often our of deep concern for those struggling with same-sex attraction, promise that Christ will change one's orientation from gay to straight. He might. Many, like Rosario Butterfield, have experienced a change in their sexual orientation. Others, like Wesley Hill, did not. We should neither make false promises about change in orientation nor ignore its possibility. We must tell the truth. 

On the other hand, too many Christians conclude that God must be OK with homosexual behaviors or else He would take those inclinations away. This denies the historic, consistent witness of the Church to the testimony of Scripture. Any sexual activity outside the given norms of marriage is sin. We must tell the truth. 

The book by Wesley Hill that I linked to was a book entitled. Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. In other words, McDowell and Stonestreet hold that there are unchangeably gay people, but that they are morally obligated to be celibate. Now some might be thinking that it is an awfully cruel God who would demand such a thing, but if you are congenitally attracted to little boys and only little boys, it seems to me the only reasonable thing to conclude would have to be that there is no moral way to have a sex life. If you are married and your wife has contracted a health condition (and there are conditions like this) that makes intercourse always painful, does this give you the moral right to find other partners?

I suppose it might be possible to deny the choice thesis by arguing that everyone who goes from gay relationships to straight ones were really bisexual. But this would, of course, suggest that the population of bisexuals is considerably greater than most of us would have initially thought. If the case in defense of gay relationships depends on the "no choice" thesis, then not only could traditionalists argue that those in that class ought to be celibate, but it also opens a "weak" version of
traditionalism which suggests that if you have no choice, then gay might be OK, but if you have a choice, you ought to choose hetero. There are large portions of the LGBT community who are not going to like this, especially the Bs.

On the other side, defenders of gay rights are moving away from the "born this way" argument, claiming that if one is really able to defend homosexuality, then one ought also to be able to defend it as a viable and morally acceptable choice. See here. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

An online edition of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict


Ridiculousness is in the eye of the beholder

CM: But your religious beliefs are ridiculous. Demanding that others treat them not marginalize them because.... is special pleading. No thank you.

VR: True and false, correct and incorrect, these are objective categories. Ridiculousness is in the eye of the beholder. Truths can be ridiculous to some people. People who are worried about the opinions of others are influenced by ridicule. But such worries about how strongly others disapprove of what you believe is a bad motive for belief-formation. If Einstein had been more worried about that than he was he would have stayed in his patent office, and we would never have gotten the theory of relativity.

What are religious reasons

Cal: These terrorists based their actions on ancient documents, an imagined afterlife, and the pronouncements of men imbued with religious authority. (I can't think of a much more uncritical and irrational approach to belief.)

And likewise,  Christians who oppose homosexuality basically use a "because He said so argument." 

When I mentioned divine commands in the last thread, I was rightly corrected by two commentators who pointed out that the case against gay marriage typically comes in the form of natural law argumentation rather than divine command argumentation. People on this issue don't typically just say "because He said so." I brought up divine commands because 

I remember when I went to groups like Campus Crusade for Christ, where very often speakers (such as Josh McDowell) would make a case against premarital sex. The argument was almost never in the form of "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Nor was hell threatened.  There reasons presented always had to do with achieving stable happiness on earth. 

That doesn't mean that arguments were all necessarily or equally good. But I think atheists are sometimes naive about what kinds of reasons religious people have for what they believe. 

A good friend of Bob's and mine from college days, Bill Patterson was an atheist. He also gave some of the most forceful anti-abortion arguments I have ever heard. 

The arguments against SSM typically take the form of natural law arguments. I suppose you could argue that these are implicitly religious, in that they appeal to the idea of inherent purposes which materialistic atheists might reject. But it's very far removed from "God said it, I believe it, that settles it. 

Here is an example. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Why William Jennings Bryan Opposed Evolution

"Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can be perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of machinery. ... If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene."

Here is the article on Bryan from PBS. In a lot of ways, politically, he had a lot more in common with Bernie Sanders than he did with Rush Limbaugh. Although history is right in viewing him as a supporter of obscurantism, it's hard to fault his motives.

Mind-virus thinking

I think we are in trouble if we think that we can infer from the fact that someone holds a view based on a religious conviction, it must therefore be an uncritical and irrational belief, and therefore we have the right to deputize the government to punish you if you try to act on it. This kind of "mind-virus" thinking concerning one's opponents is precisely what is going to turn the atheist movement in a totalitarian direction. I'm not going to argue that atheism always leads to totalitarianism, but well-intentioned anti-religious philosophies have produced the worst forms of totalitarianism the world has ever seen. How does this happen? It happens because people think there is a right answer to the world's problems, and to get us to the end, any means is justified. 

The simple fact is that there are people at the top of every major academic field, from theoretical physics, to evolutionary biology, to philosophy, who are serious, orthodox Christians. These are people who think very hard about these issues, and come out where they come out. They are not going away, and they are not going to go away in response to anti-Christian bullying. Simplistic ways of explaining them away won't wash. If they are mistaken, the explanation for their error is more complex than the simplistic answers I am used to (and tired of hearing) from atheists.

Religious freedom is foundational to our country. People are going to disagree about religion, and we have to find a way to deal with it. Gay marriage? Maybe. But, oh, that's not enough. We have to protect gay people from anyone expressing openly the idea that they might not be doing the right thing before God, and therefore they are unable to produce speech congratulating them for doing what they are doing. 

You can tell me that the deity I worship is "the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” and that's not hate speech. You can say that biology instructors who teach intelligent design should be fired from their jobs. But we have to punish people who won't do wedding photographers for a gay wedding when the couple can go right across the street and find a photographer who will? Ohhh, that's discrimination, you're just like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. 

You're kidding. No?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Speech and service: why the racist comparison doesn't work

Typically, a couple doesn't just say "Just bake the damned cake, I want it white with chocolate frosting." They want something that helps to celebrate their relationship and upcoming marriage. If I were going to marry a man at long last because of Obergfell, I would probably want something like a rainbow arrangement and two grooms on top of the cake. Wedding photographers pose pictures to accentuate the romance between the couple. Ours certainly did. If they didn't, they wouldn't be good photographers. That is why at least some wedding services are engaged in what seems to me to be more like speech than just cooking a meal. And if they are traditional Christians and they are being asked to do this for a same-sex wedding, they are being asked to produce, and do a good job of producing, speech that celebrates something that their religion says should not be celebrated. 

There is a principled basis within the religion for taking this position. It's not just a cover for hating certain people. I am not saying it can't be challenged within Christianity. I have a lot of sympathy for people of Christian conviction who find that they are unavoidably gay and become convinced that the best way they can serve God is to have the kind of commitment in a gay relationship that is required of Christians in their marriages. Other Christians are convinced that such people have reached the wrong answer. In my view, neither side in this is stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked, nor is it right to call them bigoted. 

On the other hand, I don't see a principled Christian reason for opposing interracial marriage. So far as I can tell, race isn't even a biblical concept, except for Jew and Gentile, and Paul explicitly bridged that barrier. If someone convinced me that they had a principled religious reason for not providing wedding services to a racially mixed wedding, I actually think I would argue that they have the right to refuse service. Some people are going to get mad at me for this, but there can be cases where freedom of religion trumps equal rights. Convincing me that the religious objection to mixed-race marriage was motivated by religious principle and not racial prejudice would be the trick. 

Freedom of religion is central to any free society. For example, democracy is going to have a lot of trouble working in a country like Iraq where the two types of Muslims are unwilling to grant religious freedom to the other branch. 

The comparisons between defenders of traditional marriage and the KKK don't wash. Traditional marriage defenders may, at the end of the day, be mistaken. If people can't see the real differences between them, then I strongly suspect that they are not primarily concerned about equal rights for gay people, they are primarily concerned about bashing traditional religion and bringing it down a peg, and gays are just a tool for doing that.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Suggestion for traditionalist wedding providers

If you are having a gay wedding, it seems to me that LAST thing you would want would be a photographer or a baker who really doesn't believe in gay marriage. That is, if I were a wedding service provider opposed to gay marriage but asked to do a gay wedding instead of just saying no, I might just point out to them that, based on my convictions, I have trouble seeing their wedding as something to celebrate, and that I would unrecommend myself as a wedding service provider. Now, a gay couple with any sense is going to head for the door. If they don't head for the door, then I am have to suspect that they are not looking for a wedding service provider, they are looking for someone to sue or shame as a bigot. 

Is science coming to an end?

See a discussion of this here. This is a follow-up.

A typical argument is goes this way.

1. Human beings are inherently biased. They will believe what they were taught to believe, or what they want to believe, unless this is somehow corrected.

2. Science, as a way of knowing the world, has a system of inherent safeguards against bias. By adopting a scientific perspective, one will not simply be exchanging one bias for another, one will be able to free oneself from bias.

3. Therefore, regardless of what seems to oneself to be true, we stand the best chance of overcoming bias by adopting a scientific perspective.

4. A scientific perspective has within it no room for faith, and no room for any belief in a supernatural being such as God.

5. Therefore, religious faith should be rejected, including the belief in God.

On the contrary, I think the value of science is context-dependent and contingent. It is a  human institution, and it can be corrupted by human weaknesses. It operates most effectively through the use of high levels of specialization, but success in a highly specialized enterprise does not always translate to effective cognition across the board. There are numerous failed attempts to extrapolate results from some area of scientific success beyond their proper limits.

Here is a interesting set of warnings about what to watch for in science journalism.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Sociological research on same-sex parenting: The Regnerus Dilemma

It seems to me that you have to wonder about bias on the part of researchers on this issue----on both sides.


On Galileo