Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Constitution and Doctrinal Development

It is fascinating four of the five justices who are supposed to deliver this "strict constructionist" interpretation of the Constitution and bring us back to what the Constitution is supposed to be are Roman Catholics. Scalia was, before he died, as are Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Kavanaugh. But Catholics have a theory as to how you can get the claim that Jesus was of one substance with the father into the Nicene creed even though the Bible says nothing about substances, how Mary can be ever-virgin even though the Bible at least appears to talk about Jesus's brothers, how Mary can be immaculately conceived and assumed into heaven even though there's nothing in the Bible about that, and that is the conception, developed in Newman's famous work, or doctrinal development. If you accept doctrinal development for Christian doctrine, then why not for the Constitution as well. Hence, the right of privacy isn't spelled out in the Bill of Rights, to be sure, but, as developed in Griswold v. Connecticut, isn't it a reasonable development from Constitutional ideas that ought to prevent state governments from outlawing birth control? And the next step from there is the application of privacy to the case of abortion in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Of course this argument wouldn't work if the Court had decided that fetuses had a knowable right to life that overrides the right to privacy, but the majority argued that we couldn't know whether a fetus has a right to life, so the right we know (privacy) overrules a right of which we are reasonably uncertain. Remarkably, the so-called "pro-life" arguments against Roe actually attack the absoluteness of the privacy right, rather than arguing in favor of a fetus's right to life. Development of constitutional doctrine undercuts the central originalist argument against Roe. If you undercut the absoluteness of the woman's right to privacy, then neither the right of privacy nor the right to life takes precendence on Constitutional grounds, and it can be up to the states whether there are laws against abortion or not. But pro-life defenders argue that we can know that fetuses have a right to life, and if they argued that against Roe, they could get the court to actually outlaw abortion across the board. Making abortion a state decision seems to me to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which was designed to eliminate the possibility that, for example, Dred Scott could be a slave in a slave state but free in a free state. Claiming that fetuses can be persons in Alabama but nonpersons in New York strikes me as incoherent, regardless of what you think about abortion in general. But that is the legal result that pro-life defenders seem to want. I suppose going for state decision may be the most pragmatic way to save fetuses, but it strikes me as incoherent and intellectually dishonest. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The coathanger argument

Most of us familiar with the abortion debate are familiar with what I call the "coathanger argument," that abortions are being done with less damage to mothers if abortion is legal. But could this line of argument be extended to murder in general?

Probably if you legalized murder, people would do it in a more efficient and even less harmful way. (Murder could be legal, but you might be prohibited from doing it improperly, so as to cause unnecessary pain to victims). Messy ways of killing could be illegal, but clean and painless ones would be OK. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Failing to live up to Christian teachings

The fact that Christians have not lived up to the Christian standards of conduct is not surprising, in fact it is a central teaching of Christianity that we as humans are sinners, even after we become Christian, and so if Christians were to live up to the teachings of Christ, it would show that Christianity if false, not that it is true.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Is the atheist world-view de-moralizing?

You don't  have to believe in God in order to behave.  However, you might not have a very strong rebuttal to a rational challenge to the whole business of being moral. It's question I have been wrestling with. When people believed in polytheistic gods they took the world to be not, at bottom, a moral place, and they accepted modes of behavior that we would today consider totally unacceptable. Things like infanticide, prostitution, and exploiting slaves and young boys for sex was considered OK if you were in the position to do it. Monotheistic religion, in particular Christianity, changed all that. Although Christians have struggled with this message, the idea was that Christ died for everyone, so everyone deserved a measure of respect, regardless of class status, age, or sex. Even in the gay marriage debate the idea of everyone being treated equally is paramount, but my reading of history tells me that the basis for it comes through monotheistic religion.
If you go to atheism,  you have a universe that is no more a moral universe than the polytheistic universe, yet many atheists believe in a lot of moral ideas that come through the Judeo-Christian tradition. But lots of people look at those moral ideas and say that they work, and we should stick with them. (Nietzsche, however, thought this was atheists not facing the logic of their own position). People can be completely unethical and die happy and if atheism is true, they rot in the same grave as a saint. You may feel too sympathetic to others to become a total jerk, or it may be to your social advantage not to be a jerk, but  I don't think these factors work for everybody. If society goes atheist as a whole, will we be de-moralized? Will we, as a people, gradually lose our moral sensitivity? I realize that the simple connection between morality and religion doesn't  hold, but the sense that the universe, in the last analysis, is moral, that virtue and happiness meet up in the end, is a moral driver in both Western and Eastern civilization. If it goes down, I truly believe morality will suffer, maybe not immediately, but in the end. 

Atheism and a Platonic realm of moral facts

From Graham Veale

Can’t the atheist posit a Platonic realm of moral facts? Couldn’t moral values just exist, independently, as abstract facts or necessary truths? But how did we acquire knowledge of these moral truths? Natural selection might favour cognitive systems that give us an accurate picture of the physical world around us: accurate information about the natural world helps us to avoid dangerous falls and predators. But what possible reproductive advantage could knowledge of abstract moral truths bring? Isn’t it more likely that natural selection, and inevitably flawed cognitive systems, would lead us into moral error? If theism is true we have been designed to have moral knowledge. If atheism is true we should be sceptical of all our moral beliefs.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Death with dignity?

Supporters of assisted suicide say they support death with dignity. What conception of dignity are they using?

An eye for an eye

What if they raped and tortured their victims. Do we let them off easy with lethal injection?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Finding a historical basis for biblical commandments

Are Christian permitted to say “Well, God put (or allowed to be put) this commandment into the Bible because circumstances in Bible times were thus and so. This is no longer the case, so the commandment should not be binding on us.”

On the one hand, I have never been to a church in which I have not heard a female voice, yet, there is a verse that says “Women should be silent in church.” This is typically explained in terms of the lack of education for women at that time. On the other hand, people love to sin, and it is easy to find “motives” why God might have proscribed the thing we want to do, so as to avoid doing our duty. 

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Who wrote a lot of Christmas songs? Jews!

By Dennis Prager, here.

The rape exception

I am convinced that if we ever get to the place where it becomes possible for states to outlaw abortion, no state will ever do it without a rape exception. There is a pro-life argument here,  however, that asks why a baby should get the death penalty for what his father did. Still requiring a rape victim to carry a fetus to terms seems an awfully harsh thing to require by law. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

A woman's right to choose-----prostitution?

A pro-choice slogan is that a woman has the right to do as she chooses with her own body. Does that mean that we shouldn't have laws against prostitution? If she wants to sell her body, doesn't she have the right to do as she chooses with it? 

Are there any real conservative politicians?

Bill Vallicella wrote: 

A liberal is a person who wants to use the power of the state and other people's money to do what he considers to be good.
A conservative is a person who, rightly skeptical of of the power of the state to do what is truly good, and to do so without infringing individual liberties, USES HIS OWN MONEY to do what is good.
Am I being fair?

No, I don't think you are being fair. Both liberals and conservatives use other people's money to promote the common good. They just do it in different ways. Want to build up the military? I don't see Donald Trump or the Koch Brothers saying we are going to do this with our own money? Want a wall between us and Mexico? That takes other people's money from taxes. Want a war in Iraq? or support for Israel? How about hurricane relief? And then there was the Conservative argument that Obamacare was a bad thing because a) it was socialistic and b) it undermined Medicare. Of course, when Medicare was passed it was vehemently opposed by conservatives on the grounds that it was socialistic. Advocates of a night watchman state and an isolationist foreign policy refrain from using other people's money for the common good, or minimize it as far as they can. Conservatives and liberals just disagree over what we should use other people's money (gotten through taxation) for.

Perhaps, none of the actual politicians who call themselves conservative really are conservative. If that is true, then why vote Republican? You are just voting for one brand of liberal as opposed to another. I don't see the difference between spending my tax money to keep me from being killed by a terrorist and spending tax money to keep make sure I can afford the treatment I need to keep from getting cancer, except that getting cancer is a lot more likely than getting killed by a terrorist.

On the concept of tolerance

There is the aspect of tolerance which occurs when we decide we disagree with someone's lifestyle choices. We are often taught in the name of tolerance not to disapprove of the lifestyle choices of others, but I think this is a misuse of the concept of tolerance. If I get to know someone well enough I am bound to disagree with a number of things that they do, but I impoverish myself and others if I allow differences to get in the way of all social interaction. (On the other hand, I probably ought to back away from all association with someone if I discover that they are a serial killer.) One important form of tolerance is the ability to not allow genuine disagreements and disapprovals get in the way of social interaction. But we are instead taught that disapproval = intolerance, and I think that's a big mistake. In fact, at one point I thought that tolerance is actually impossible unless there is a is a disagreement or a disapproval, but I think this is an exaggeration--I may believe that there is nothing wrong with something someone does or believes but it can still bug me, in which case I can still exercise tolerance by not letting it conflict with social interaction. But it is extremely important that we define tolerance in terms of a willingness not to allow something to impede social interaction, as opposed to equating tolerance with agreement or approval. Hence, a person who disapproves of homosexual conduct but doesn't let this undermine social interaction with practicing homosexuals is tolerant, not intolerant. 

Relativism does not support tolerance, it actually eliminates a significant form of it. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

I could have done otherwise

Shouldn't it at least be possible that we could have done otherwise than what we did? If we murdered someone, shouldn't it at least  have been possible that we thought better of it and refrained? Otherwise, is the murder really our fault?

Russell on physicists and the search for causes

Russell on physicists and the search for causes: I think -- there seems to me a certain unwarrantable extension here; the physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn't he's had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes.

This links to the Russell-Copleston debate. Before there was William Lane Craig, there was the Russell-Copleston debate. 

Five arguments for free will, from a Christian apologetics site


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

If there is no life after this one, does our life here matter more?

"If there is no  life after this one, then what we do here matters more than ever." 

I hear this a lot. But I don't think it's true. If there is no afterlife, then the consequences of our actions will eventually fade out, and eventually not only will you cease to exist, but the human race will cease to exist, and when that happens your actions will make no difference.

On the other hand, if we have to live forever with our decisions, then the effects of our actions go on indefinitely, and are not eliminated by the fading effects of time or even the heat death of the universe.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Does religion shackle people?

In what way does it shackle people? Science, for example, allows some beliefs and disallows others. Is it a mental prison? After all, once you start getting into science you can't believe in just any speed as the speed of light. 186,000 miles a second isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

Friday, November 09, 2018

The good life without God, or anything else naturalists reject

I like to say that ethics without God is easy. Ethics without metaphysics is a lot harder. Consider, for example, the idea of a good life that is independent of the pleasure calculus. That seems to me to require something like an Aristotelian metaphysics. Good from whose point of view, we might ask. Is a good life one we like, or is there an objective standard of goodness by which life can be measured? Doesn't that involve either a God, an inherent human teleology, or maybe a Form of the Good which we can know (perhaps by having perceived those Forms in a past life and bringing them back through re-collection?" I have yet to see a good attempt to do ethics without God that doesn't ultimately commit you to something as unacceptable to a modern naturalist as God, and for much the same reasons. Oh, I forgot, yeah, you could bring in a law of karma that governs transmigrations of souls. Try getting that one past Richard Dawkins.

How can this be?

I’m a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, and I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  So do dozens of my colleagues. How can this be?


Act utilitarianism, voting, and veganism

Singer, as an advocate of animal welfare, believes that you should practice veganism out or respect for animal rights.  But my decision to eat meat, or not eat meat, will have zero direct effect on the welfare of any animal. If I eat a steak dinner, the cow from whence the steak came was dead long before I chose steak over the veggieburger. But, you might say, I am voting with my dollars against the meat industry if I go for the veggieburger. But, would even a lifetime of veganism save so much as one animal from slaughter? If people in large enough numbers did what I did, then animal welfare might be affected, but the question "What if everybody did that" comes straight from Kant and is not part of at least act utilitarianism. (You can get to it through rule utilitarianism, however). But many things we do we do even though they will have little effect individually, but are still right because it would be good if everyone did them. Voting is a good example. I remember standing in a 3 hour line in the Presidential Preference Primary in Arizona to vote. It didn't affect the outcome, but if everyone refused to vote where would we be? One utilitarian of a previous generation said that he never voted, because the benefit from his voting did not outweigh the suffering he would endure standing in line. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Is it wrong to hunt witches?

If you really thought that some people were using supernatural power from Satan to harm people, and you could figure out who those people were, you probably would want to punish them. Good methods of identification seem hard to find, (putting someone on scales with a duck won't get you a fair cop).

On witch hunts, here. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Who is to say

When people ask "Who's to say" I am always puzzled. Some things can be true or false even if there is no one to say that it is true or false. I happen to think that there are objective moral values. But if you don't believe in them, I only ask that you be consistent, and apply relativism to all statements, including. 

1) Homosexuality is wrong.
2) It is wrong to judge people for being homosexual.
3) It is wrong to impose your own moral views on others.
4) We ought to be tolerant.
If someone is intolerant, who is to say that they are wrong to be intolerant? Many people think the idea that morals are relative supports tolerance, but it actually undermines it. It turns out that there is, on that view, nothing wrong with being intolerant. 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Human rights, moral objectivity, and the law of noncontradiction.

With subjective claims, such as "McDonald's burgers are better the Burger King's," we would not apply the LnC because these statements have an unstated "for me" clause. Hence, Gladys's preference for Burger King and Marie's preference for McDonalds do not contradict one another. On the other hand, if I say "The Democrats will win the House" and you say "The Republicans will hold the House," both can't be true, and one of us will be shown to be wrong sometimes this week (probably). So this was my way of asking the question of whether moral statements are objective or subjective. Now if there is a God, and God has a view of a moral issue, then the issue is objective. That may not help us figure out what the objective truth is, but it does seem to imply that there has to be one. But what if there isn't? Well, there atheists, so far as I can tell, split down the middle on moral objectivity. J. L Mackie was a famous atheist who thought that morals are subjective, but Erik Wielenberg, an American philosopher, has defended moral objectivity and argued that it is compatible with atheism. 
One feature of moral objectivity that doesn't get the attention it should is that the very idea of human rights implies that morals are objective. Think about it, some society practices, say, female genital mutilation. The idea of human rights says that that isn't just something we don't like, there is a right that these women  have not to have this done to them, and even if the society where  you are approves of doing this to them, it in FACT violates their basic rights. There is some truth about what these women should have a right to that is not changed even if the people with the biggest guns (and knives) say otherwise. The Declaration of Independence uses religious language to assert these rights, it says that they were endowed by our creator. But what this is aimed at is the idea that these rights are not up to government, or society, to give and take away, that they inhere in persons regardless of whether or not they are violated. It seems to me that accepting the subjectivity of morals means that you have to dump the idea of human rights entirely, and say it is up to individuals, societies, or governments to determine whether a girl has a right to an education, or a man has the right to be free of slavery. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

A consequence of atheism: this is not a moral universe

People sometimes choose to do what feels good to them to do regardless of how it affects other people. And unless there is an afterlife where these things get, as it were, settled up, there is a reasonable chance that that person might be happier overall doing what most of us would consider to be very bad. Monotheistic religious traditions, and in some ways karmic (Eastern) traditions provide an influential way of sustaining the belief that the universe is a moral place, that in the final analysis right actions, and in particular right character, will ultimately get the best results. If you abandon those traditions, you do give that up, although some people don't fully realize it. The atheist filmmaker Woody Allen struggles with the whole issue of coming to terms with this in his film Crimes and Misdemeanors. There, an opthalmologist has an affair, and also engages in some shady financial dealings, but is still a respected citizen. He decides he won't be able to keep his affair from his wife, and she response by threatening to expose the affair to his wife and also expose his financial dealings. His brother, a mobster, offers to "solve" his problem by killing his mistress. The opthalmologist agrees, and the deed is done. But after that is worries about what he has done and is thinking of confessing. But, in the end, he chooses not to confess, and overcomes any feeling of guilt and remorse he might have had for having the woman killed. He ends up being OK with the whole thing and ends up being happy. We as the audience want there to be some kind of retribution on this guy, but if this life is all there is, that isn't going to happen, and this consequence is just part of what you have to put up with if you say there's no God and no afterlife. 

Friday, November 02, 2018


TANSTAAFL means "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. TANSTAAFBW means "There ain't no such thing as a free border wall." One of the most bizarre moments of the 2016 campaign was when Trump kept promising that there would be a big beautiful wall on the US-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it. He even repeated that piece of bovine excrement after he met with the Mexican President and the Mexican President told him on no uncertain terms that Mexico ain't paying for any wall. So, Trump still wants a wall, but he hasn't told us on whom he intends to increase taxes in order to get that wall. And since the economic successes he touts is still increasing the deficit, the question is a fair one. Are the Trump business enterprises willing to pay higher taxes so that the wall with Mexico can be built? Or maybe a nice middle class tax hike would do the job?

The seventh commandment

According to the Ten Commandments, God says "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

There are four possibilities here.

1. God really did command us not to commit adultery, and is right to do so. 
2. God commanded us not to commit adultery, but he made a mistake. (This would involve a conception of God that is very unorthodox, to say the least). 
3. God exists, but did not command us not to commit adultery. (Maybe he was misquoted.)

4. God does not exist. 

The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. Really???

If there are no absolutes, then the statement "There are no absolutes" contradicts that statement if you call it an absolute. No absolutes means no absolutes. I suppose you could say that there is one absolute, and that is that there are no absolutes other than that one. Of course I am assuming that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true, and am taking that to be an absolute. But if you have a problem with the law of noncontradiction, then you and I are going to have trouble communicating. If you say "You shouldn't judge people" and I say "I don't see anything wrong with judging people," you really have nothing to say back to me, because, per your rejection of the law of noncontradiction, you and I haven't really disagreed. Every statement, in order to so much as function has to exclude something that it contradicts. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Pittsburgh shooting

The idea that it is OK to hate somebody because who they are has gained currency over the last few years.

But this comes from the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Leader of Islamic Center of Pittsburgh announces Muslim community has raised more than $70,000 for synagogue attack victims and their families. "We just want to know what you need ... If it's people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We'll be there."

Want to know how to make America great again? This is it.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Does the law on noncontradiction apply straightforwardly to moral statements?

 Perhaps to help understand the question of moral objectivity better, let's try this question. If one person believes that the earth is round and the other thinks it's flat, only one of them can be right. If one person believes that adultery is always wrong, and the other believes that it is sometimes right, can both of them be right about it, or can just one of them? Does the law of non-contradiction apply straightforwardly to moral statements. (The law of noncontradiction states that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true.)

One reason why we might not want to apply the law of noncontradiction to a statement would be if we thought the statement was incomplete as stated, or if we thought, in the last analysis, the statement was not really a statement at all. For example, if I were to say "McDonald's hamburgers are preferable to Burger King's" we probably mean that we ourselves prefer McDonald's burgers to Burger King's, or as we might put it, we really mean to say "McDonald's hamburgers are better than Burger King's for me." In which case, if someone else said "Burger King's burgers are better than McDonald's for me" they would not be contradicting you, just expressing their own preference. Of maybe these are not statements at all, but are simply cases of emoting. 

But what about our moral statements. If someone says "Abortion is wrong," are they just saying something like "I don't like abortion," or are they saying something more than that. Can our beliefs about abortion be wrong? Or is it more like the Burger King case? And if you think it's like the Burger King case, how about this one: It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I'm sorry, but it's not all about abortion

For many Christians, it seems to me that politics is all about abortion. They insist that because there are fetuses out there who are being killed, we must subordinate all other considerations to this one issue. Even if the President enlisted the help of a hostile foreign government to get himself elected, even if the President they elect and the Supreme Court Justice that he nominated committed sexual assault, even if the President plays on unjustifiable fears of foreigners and in order to keep his party in power, even if that same President says a federal judge cannot be trusted because he's Mexican, even if he makes fun of a disabled reporter and even removed Braille from the elevators in Trump Tower (I mean, who does that?) even if his party's  policies would rip health insurance away from millions of Americans, such as those with pre-existing conditions, even if the President is prepared to deny evident facts and the universal consensus of the intelligence community, even if opposes even reasonable attempts to keep what are basically machine guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people, even if he put someone in as Secretary of Education whose stated purpose it is to destroy the public education system, even if he got into the political arena by raising unfounded and racist aspersions about the duly elected President's birth certificate, even if he called countries in Central America and Africa, countries of course consisting of mostly black and brown people "shitholes," even if the President pretends to be a self-made who only got a small loan of one million dollars (which he had to pay back) when in fact he was constantly propped up by his wealthy father, even if he and his father had to commit massive tax fraud in order to receive money from his father without paying a hefty tax bill, even if he refuses to let the public see his tax returns, so that the people can see who he might be beholden to when he takes office, even if he disrespects our traditional allies but kisses up to every dictator on the planet, even if a journalist for an American newspaper is brutally murdered by one of those countries run by one of those dictators, even if he began his campaign by supporting a ban on people in virtue of how they worship God, we've got to, as Tammy Wynette would say, "Stand by our man" since he is going to put in enough "pro-life" Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, and then we can get laws against abortion.

Now I realize most Trump supporters will disagree with large parts of the above description of our beloved President. But in so many discussions I have gotten into, the bottom line for many people is abortion, and they imply that even those who disagree with everything else that Trump does should nonetheless support him because he supports pro-life. (He declared himself "totally pro-choice in 1999, so either he reflected on the matter carefully in the interim, or he decided that supporting the pro-life position would be helpful to him in his political career. I suppose it is only the incorrigible cynic in me that leads me to think it's the latter, not the former).

When you mention evidence of Trump's wrongdoing and manifest unfitness for the Presidency, his defenders, almost every time, either start rehearsing all the things Democrats (particularly Hillary Clinton) have done wrong (Benghazi, the e-mails, the Clinton Foundation, Monica Lewinsky, Juanita Brodderick, Paula Jones) or else they play the abortion card. If Trump were to shoot five people to death on Fifth Avenue, they would just say, "But at least he's pro-life." As for the Hillary strategy, they don't seem to understand that the question of the President's fitness is a separate question from anyone else's fitness. If the worst happens to Trump and he is impeached and removed, Mike Pence, not Hillary Clinton, will become President.

But as a Christian I have to argue that, no, the end does not justify the means. What sent Communism, in many countries into a moral black hole is the idea that there is some great good to be accomplished, and whatever bad things we do in order to bring in the Great Kingdom of the Socialist Paradise will all be worth it because that kingdom is so great.

My own abortion position is complicated, and many would accuse me of making something complicated that ought to be simple. I am not happy with either party's treatment of the issue. I think abortions are always bad, most of the are wrong, but I have qualms about using the criminal law to discourage them (while not using other means at our disposal), and I completely reject the Originalist Argument against Roe, which means I think that abortion laws are constitutionally possible only if there is a constitutional amendment, or an legal argument that it is provable that fetuses are persons. That is not the basis on which Roe has traditionally been challenged. (I'll be happy to cover this in detail in another post.)

My biggest political issues are:

1. Presidential accountability. I want the President, of whatever party to be held accountable for what he does, to be investigated to the fullest extent necessary for any wrongdoing that might show him to be unfit for the Presidency.

2. Health Care. There must  be no returning to the old system that, in the name of capitalism, discriminated against people who earn their living by part-time jobs, and those who have pre-existing conditions.

3. Education.  Supporting, not undermining the public education system.

4. Gun control. Surely there are things we can do to keep weapons of mass murder out of the hands of people who are likely to harm innocent people.

5. Religious Freedom. This could be higher, I suppose, but those who have religious views that are not politically correct should be allowed to express them, and they should not be forced to engage in activity that praises relationships they don't agree with. On these matters, I tend to side with Republicans rather than Democrats, and depending on the candidates it was conceivable that I could have voted for the Republican in 2016. The nomination of Trump fixed that but good, for me.

Voting would be tough if I had to vote on abortion alone. But I didn't have to.  As a Christian, it is wrong to have tunnel vision. All political parties are coalitions, which accept some things that we as Christians can believe in, and others of which we have doubts. We never were, and never will be, the moral majority. There are people in the Democratic party who don't just believe that abortion should be legal, they think abortion is good. This is very, very wrong. There are people in the Republican party, including our President, who think that greed is good. I am sorry, it isn't. Many Christians have tunneled in on a few moral issues, when there are many. This is, I think, tragic, and harmful to the credibility of Christianity.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Peter Singer: Soul-Winner for Jesus

Here.  Apparently this woman, from Oxford, left Singer's lectures with "intellectual vertigo", which drove her eventually to Christianity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Trump made his money through tax fraud. Does anybody care?

Apparently not.  Or maybe people think that whatever comes from the NY Times can be safely ignored.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Large-earthers and small-earthers

Actually, the idea that people who were critical of Columbus were flat-earthers is a well-known historical mistake. Everyone knew the world was round. There were two types of people, those like Columbus whom we might call small-earthers who thought you could get to the Indes after a relatively short trip, and large-earthers, who thought there was a large ocean to cross and that it would not be cost-effective to have lots of ships sailing West to get to the East. The large-earthers were right, of course, but Columbus made it into the history books because there was this other continent between Europe and Asia on the Westward route, what eventually became know as the Americas. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Christine Blasey Ford in the land of Narnia?

Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth. (pg. 52) 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Four consistent possibilities

1. Roe v. Wade was rightly decided, and abortion should be legal. 
2. Roe v. Wade was rightly decided, but abortion should not be legal. 
3. Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and abortion should be legal. 
4. Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and abortion should not be legal. 

2 and 3 are the surprising combinations. 2 is consistent because abortion can always be rendered illegal through a constitutional amendment. 3 is consistent because it is possible that abortion can be defended for other reasons than that offered by Roe. But everyone assumes that 1 and 4 are the only options. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Legalizing murder: The argument from reasonable doubt

I have a strong inclination toward these two positions. 

1) Abortion is murder. 
2) Abortion should be legal. 

Which means I think murder should be legal in many cases, that although very wrong, the remedy for it should be moral rather than legal. That is because the personhood of the fetus is not provable beyond reasonable doubt, therefore the status of abortionists as murderers is not proved beyond reasonable doubt, and that is the standard for convicting someone of murder in America.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What price pro-life

 I think it is a mistake to make the acid-test of whether someone values life whether we are willing to put people who provide abortions in jail, when there are so many other things that can be done that we don't do to have a child-friendly society. When Roe v. Wade came out in 1973, women could be fired if they carried their babies to term. Employers didn't have to give them unpaid time off to have their babies, and when this was outlawed under Bill Clinton, the very party that is supposedly pro-life, or at least most of their Senators, voted no on the Family and Medical Leave Act. If we want women to have their babies and not abort them shouldn't we want to make sure they have health insurance? Yet the Trump administration cut the CHIP program. If we don't want to see abortions, aren't we going to see more babies born in difficult economic circumstances? Are we willing to pay higher taxes to see to it that these children don't starve? Are we doing enough to show people that life with a disability can be worth living, so that mothers who face the prospect of bearing a child with a disability will be more inclined to have that baby rather than abort it? And yet the party of life has been working on a law that undercuts the Americans with Disabilities Act, and conservatives in Texas want to eliminate all mention of Helen Keller from the American history books. If we want to stop abortions, do we really have to accept arguments that deny that a woman has a right to privacy in her medical decisions, because the legal arguments against Roe are all about rejecting and limiting the right of privacy, and not at all about a fetus's right to life. (If you think the route to getting rid of abortions is through conservative justices, that is what their argument is for overturning Roe. They never argue that the fetus has a provable right to life. Ever.)

I'm pretty sympathetic to pro-life. I don't think the pro-life position is provable to all reasonable persons, but I would never want to be party to an abortion myself. But pro-life seems to include a package deal which includes the Republican agenda. If have been told that I have to accept a President whose behavior harms the country in more ways than I can count, all because, by golly, he'll put people on the Supreme Court who will save all of those fetuses, all the while trying to take health insurance away from millions of people, including those very fetuses once they are born. If he shot five people to death on Fifth Avenue, some people would say "Yes, but at least he's pro-life."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

From the Left to the Outer Darkness

Intolerance and political correctness is the poison pill of the political left, the road out from some political viewpoints, many of which I am inclined to support, into the outer darkness of totalitarian thinking. 

Christians are terminally politically uncomfortable. Every ideology has a poison pill. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Socialism and Health Care

Let's do a little history. While he was still an actor, Reagan did recordings for the American Medical Association fearmongering about socialized medicine, but if you listen to them carefully what he is talking about is was for people over 65, so what he was objecting to was what eventually became Medicare. I'm old enough to remember opponents of Medicare were condemning that a socialized medicine. I remember hearing Rush Limbaugh complaining about Bill Clinton's health care proposal by saying THIS IS SOCIALISM. The s-word was used to scare everyone away from the plan, which, of course, never passed even through the Democratic Congress he had at that time, and the fear of socialized medicine was a major talking point for the Contract with America in 1994. Opponents of changing our health care system kept insisting that we have the greatest health care system in the world, even though it left millions of people uninsured and uninsurable. When Obama came along the Affordable Care Act was a compromise. It was originally proposed with a public option. Trump began his campaign by saying that everyone should be enabled to have health insurance, but called Obamacare a disaster and joined the chorus who wanted it repealed and replaced. He was challenged by Ted Cruz at one point for his comments at some point in his past in favor of single payer, but he denied that he supported that. It is hard to know what he believes about health care (if he believes anything at all coherent), but he does seem dedicated to destroying the works of Obama. Nevertheless the Administration has supported bills that would take health insurance away from millions of people. Even now they repealed the individual mandate and support state lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the ACA. Republicans have sometimes insisted that they want a market-based solution to the health care problem. But what does that mean? Markets are things you can be priced out of, otherwise they aren't markets. If it's a market-based, the insuring that everyone gets health care is like insuring that everyone gets, if not a Cadillac, at least a Hyundai. Health insurance companies won't make a profit insuring people like me, unless the government does something to make it profitable for them in insure people like me. It seems that there are two things you can say about the situation I was in for all that time. One is that the previous system, while it left me in an unfortunate situation, was part of the prince we pay for a free society, which means a free market. It's an argument that could have been used, and was used, against Medicare. Health care isn't a right, it's a commodity, which means that if it is unaffordable, that may be unfortunate, but it's not an injustice, and that Obama and the Democrats were wrong on principle for trying to fix it. Or, they can admit that Obama and the Democrats were right in attempting to redress that injustice, even if they didn't go about it in the right way. (Republicans, or course, are going to insist that single payer is not the right way either). Which makes it incumbent upon them to show us what the right way is instead of just objecting to what was actually passed. Republicans need to answer the in-principle question clearly, so that we can understand what, in fact, they want to do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On Cadillacs and Health Care

I could never get affordable, or even any, health insurance until Obamacare was passed, since I was diagnosed with a chronic illness at the age of 23 and never worked for a big enough employer to get health insurance through them. But some would argue that people not being able to afford a good health insurance policy is like some people not being able to afford the car or house they would like to have. Sure, it would be nice if everyone could have a Cadillac, but in a free market economic system, some can afford it, and some can't. We'd bankrupt our country if we went socialist in such a way that we tried to give everyone who wanted one a Caddy. Besides, who would work hard if Cadillacs were distributed in accordance with need. What goes for Cadillacs, should go for health insurance. It is an individual's responsibility, not government's, to take care of our health. If we go socialist to the extent that will be necessary to make sure everyone has health insurance, we will end up with economic failure like they have in Venezuela. 

This is not an argument I buy, by the way. 

Where were you?

Alan Jackson's famous song is here.  I know where I was. I was in the shower. My wife came in, and I thought she was just trying to tell me to hurry up. Then I learned that the unimaginable had happened.

Saturday, September 08, 2018


 Let me pose the general question of when a candidate's moral problems ought to cause a voter either to vote for someone who is further away from you on the political spectrum that that candidate, or at least withhold support from the candidate closer to you and so, by default, help the candidate further away to get elected. The issue is complicated. It has to do with the extent to which a) the candidate's moral failures, or the discovery thereof, are going to affect the performance of their duties or cause a voter backlash which will benefit your ideological opponents in the long run, and b) whether you think the candidate in the other party isn't just someone who disagrees with you on some things, but in fact embodies an ideology you consider to be simply evil. A liberal, on those grounds, might, knowing what we know, vote for Mitt Romney in an election against John Edwards , because of Edwards' willingness to violate campaign rules to escape the consequences of an illicit affair, if he thinks conservatism to be an ideology with whom he merely disagrees. If he thinks it's the embodiment of evil, he may vote for Edwards anyway, because Romney's conservatism is too evil not to vote against. NeverEdwards is silly in light of that, they might argue.

On Edwards, here. 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

From a facebook discussion on politics,as it concerns fact-checkers

In political discussions, particularly on Facebook, I like to fact-check the claims people make. But some conservatives, goaded on by Trump, don't like fact-checker. They think they are a bunch of liberals. But I don't see them recommending any conservatively acceptable fact-checkers. Do we live in a postmodern world now, where there are no facts, only the interpretations of facts? 

How do YOU determine what is true in politics? It seems to me, on one way of viewing things, we determine what is factual by whether it fits with the ideology we espouse. We assume that only those who are on our side of the ideological fence have any willingness to look at facts and determine what is factual. But why think that. I used to think that the MAGA hats were all made in China, until I fact-checked, and discovered they weren't. 

Or we can think that there are really no facts, only interpretations of facts, and so we can pick and choose based on our ideology what is a fact, since facts are determined by ideology. But that is exactly the kind of postmoderism that conservatives decry. Or we can ask who is doing their homework and working at getting their facts straight, regardless of ideology. 

When I was young I watched the Senate Watergate hearings thinking that Nixon was almost certainly innocent. I thought Democrats like Same Ervin wanted Nixon to be guilty, but why in the world would anyone but a bungling underling do something so stupid as to bug the DNC headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Surely Woodward and Bernstein at the Post were liberal Democrats who were eager to see Nixon fall. John Dean was just trying to save his hide. John Ehrichman came in and finally set everyone straight. And then there was the Saturday Night Massacre, the House judiciary impeachment hearings in which one pained Republican named Railsback laid out the evidence that Nixon was guilty, the Supreme Court said the tapes had to be released, and finally the web of lies fell apart. In the words of the Who, I won't be fooled again.

If you are a Democrat, you naturally want evidence to come out that supports what you believe as a Democrat. If you are a Republican, and like what the President is doing in general, you don't want it to be true that he has, for example, violated campaign finance laws in paying women for their silence in order to influence the results of an election. And then there is such a thing as evidence. We might ask this question-do the news sources you like ever report anything embarrassing the their own political beliefs. Do they ever retract claims that are shown to be incorrect?

The fact check that I quoted estimated the difference between what Trump spent on vacations as opposed to Obama more conservatively than I expected. But since it comes from Snopes, I guess you have to assume that, no Obama spent more money on vacations than Trump. This in logic is called the ad hominem fallacy. We don't look at the case a person presents, we look at the source instead. If we don't like the source, it has to be false, even if it isn't. Liberals can do the same things as conservatives, in which case it is guaranteed that no discussion on the issues on which we differ can be discussed with the hope of progress. You get conversations like this: 

L: Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance offense and implicated Trump. 
C: You're only saying that because you are a liberal. 

Look, I would be more impressed by conservative complaints about fact-checkers if conservatives could point out some fact-checkers to me that were more credible than the ones I use. (chirping crickets).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Supporting Trump and summoning the White Witch

Gina Dalfonzo, a former writer for Charles Colson's Breakpoint, claims that Christians who support Trump are doing what Nikabrik was doing in summoning the White Witch to defeat the Telmarines.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Five Views of Meaning Without God

Can there be meaning in life without God? Here. 

A voice from the past

Egil Krogh, one of the conspirators, speaks regretfully of the Ellsberg break-in, an attempt to punish free speech during the Nixon administration. He wondered if these lessons from the past were lost on the Bush administration.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hate speech laws

I am inclined to oppose hate speech laws.  laws like that would put Trump in jail for sure, and it would be a Pandora's box we would never be able to close.

What if?

Trump says he would retain his support if he were to go to Fifth Avenue and shoot people. But what if he were to sign an amnesty bill, or a single payer health plan.

Trump has no conservative principles, even though he gets conservative results. So if it were ever in his interests to do these things, (for example, facing a Democratic Congress about to impeach him), he might say "Look, I do deals. My VP, he's got conservative principles, so he will veto everything you try to put through. I don't have such principles, so for heaven's sake don't impeach me. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

I always think I'm right. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

People sometimes criticize others because they "always think they're right. But don't we always think we're right? If we don't think we're right, we change our minds. Then, we think we are right about that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The media" is a myth

Why do conservatives think there is a liberal media when most of their information about the news comes from sources with a conservative point of view? Doesn't it make more sense to say that there are liberal media sources and conservative ones? Many years ago, at least all television news came from three networks, and so if you thought all the broadcasters there were conservative, you still got your news from there and had to work to find a conservative perspective. (Except in Phoenix, where the newspaper was known for its right-wing stance). But now? To say that "the media" is liberal is to deny that Fox, Drudge, and Breitbart are part of the media. But they are part of the media. The fact is that today people can choose the political perspective from which their news comes. Which, I think, explains the polarized nature of the political arena today.

"The media" is a myth. No one political perspective controls all the sources of news and information.

Hey, whatever happened to the falsification challenge

Peter Atkins' atheism certainly fails it.

Could Trump end up signing a single payer bill?

Nunes seems to think it essential that Republicans be re-elected to majorities in both houses of Congress, because Mueller won't exonerate the President, so we have to. Nunes has done everything possible to limit inquiry into the President's conduct with Russia and to attack the propriety of the Mueller investigation with questions about FISA warrants, etc. If the Dems win the majority in the House, then he loses the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee falls to the aggressive Democrat Adam Schiff, who wants to do a thorough investigation of the Russia scandal along the lines of the Senate Watergate Hearings under Sam Ervin in the 1970s, which revealed the White House Tapes, included John Dean's harmful testimony against Nixon, and eventually resulted in the Nixon's resignation to prevent inevitable impeachment and removal. If that happens, Nunes says on the tape that everything will be lost. I take it this means impeachment, or if not, maybe Nunes fears that Trump, facing a Democratic Congress, instead of just vetoing everything they put through, decides that he is the ultimate dealmaker, and so to prevent impeachment, maybe he will sign some things the Democrats want on immigration or health care. Who knows, maybe even single payer. After all, Trump's conservative convictions are questionable, even if the actions of his administration are conservative. Maybe he thinks the Democrats won't impeach him if he makes a deal with them, because they know that Pence is a much more principled conservative and would never sign Democratic bills.

Nixon went to China. Clinton signed welfare reform. Trump.....

I mean it would repeal and replace Obamacare, now wouldn't it. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

What the laws say

This is what our laws say about foreign influence in elections. It says that foreign governments and foreign nationals cannot provide anything of value to American election campaigns, and campaigns cannot solicit or receive anything of value from foreign nationals and foreign governments. It doesn't matter whether it swung the election or not. Trump's tweet that people do this all the time and it's perfectly legal either shows massive legal ignorance, or is a bald-faced lie.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea is still in print

C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea is going into its 11th printing, nearly 15 years after its original publication in September of 2003. IV Press has told me that this brings the number of copies in print to 10.882. But I'm still a one-hit wonder as far s monographs are concerned, and am of course no match for Patterson and Clinton.


Who ought to hold claim to the more dangerous idea--Charles Darwin or C. S. Lewis? Daniel Dennett argued for Darwin in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Touchstone Books, 1996). In this book Victor Reppert champions C. S. Lewis. Darwinists attempt to use science to show that our world and its inhabitants can...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Trump's choice

Does he really think that the evidence doesn’t support ongoing Russian interference (ongoing is the key word)?  If yes, he should commit to combatting it, if no, he should say that the while intelligence community is full of baloney instead of pretend to respect it. He can't have it both ways. 

A Day in the Life of Joe Republican

A redated post.

This post is dedicated to the memory of David Baur, a friend of mine whom I recently discovered died of a heart attack last August. He sent me this during the 2004 election campaign.


Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.

With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It's noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.

Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

* written by Donna L. Lavins and Sheldon Cotler.