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