Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hard and soft determinism

Neither soft nor hard determinists believe that we are the original sources or causes of our actions. My act may be caused by my choice, but what caused my choice? That needs a cause, too. In determinism, causes are events which are temporally prior to the action. And those causes need causes, and therefore a chain goes back in time prior to when any of us were born. Given conditions millions of years ago, you could not have done otherwise that write this e-mail you just wrote me. Assuming that everything is material, for example, given the state of the material world 4 million B. C., and given the laws of nature, everything has to happen just the way it does. 

What soft determinism actually says is not that we are originating causes of our actions. What it says is that even though we aren't the originating causes of our actions, we can still be responsible for them just in case the immediate causes of our actions are our own will. There is a difference, for example, between consenting to sex and being raped, in that the consensual partner wanted the sex to occur, while the rape victim did not. Freedom, says the soft determinist, is the ability to do what we want to do. The fact that we were caused to want to do it doesn't affect our responsibility for our actions. 

The hard determinist, and the libertarian, look instead at the fact that we are not the ultimate source of our actions, that a number of things in place before we were ever born guaranteed that we would do what we did. Given this fact, the idea that we can deserve something bad for doing something bad, if determinism is true, doesn't seem right. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Did Mueller come up with nothing?

Did Mueller come up with nothing? Certainly not. Just not the slam-dunk "unindicted co-conspirator" affirmation that might have provided a bipartisan basis for impeachment, which is what you need to get impeachment and removal. Leading Russian figures were indicted for a criminal attack on the American election system. Several American figures, including the former campaign chair, deputy campaign chair, and national security advisor, have all been convicted of felonies, based on questionable relationships with Russia and lying about it. Evidence of criminal activities were found which Mueller did not think to be part of the narrow scope of his inquiry, which he farmed out to other jurisdictions, such as the Southern District of New York. What they did not find was sufficient evidence that Trump or people in the campaign assisted in the basic Russian crime of interfering in our elections.
There was a crime against our country, and it was Mueller's job to prosecute those who were involved in committing it. Please, please, please, don't tell me that you're OK with a foreign government hacking into campaign computer systems and leaking secret stuff, so long as they do it to the Democrats and not the Republicans. The Russians try to do this in elections around the world. It was no witch hunt--Mueller did his job and was honest enough not to try to make illegitimate cases that could not be carried through to convictions. Where he did prosecute, no one has been acquitted. And yet, through all of this, he had to endure constant a constant media attack calling his investigation a witch hunt. Now Trump supporters are calling for Trump opponents to apologize and back off. Maybe. But Trump supporters need to apologize for their constant Mueller-bashing and witch hunt charges. Lots of people in the Trump orbit were guilty of inappropriate relationships with Russia, which is why they're going to jail. There was a major crime against our electoral system, a cyber 9/11. I was actually kind of hoping Mueller would indict a sitting President--Vladimir Putin of Russia. But he didn't. But don't call it a nothingburger. You don't have to be on the Left to have problems with a foreign government hacking our election system and a President who benefits from that hacking and then acts as if the Russians did nothing wrong, and even carries on conversations with their leader while insuring that we have no record of it. Trump consistently welcomed the fruits of this crime against our country, asked Russia to provide Hillary's hacked e-mails, and as President consistently has disregarded his own intelligence community's assessment that there is no reasonable doubt that this interference was the work of the Russians. . I would call that collusion after the fact (rather like being an accessory after the fact to murder), but that is not the sort of collusion that fell within Mueller's mandate to prosecute, and is not, I guess, illegal. It may be within reason to impeach the President on just these grounds, it is certainly something for Americans to take into consideration in 2020 when, as is expected, Donald Trump’s name will appear at the top of the Republican ticket.

We have not been given a definitive answer to the question of whether our President is so under the influence of a foreign government that he is likely to do things that are not in our national interest in virtue of his business interests or the undue influence that foreign governments might have over him. That is the proper subject, not of a criminal investigation, but of Congressional oversight.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Political idolatry

In general, I find political parties to be conglomerations of moral, nonmoral, and immoral concerns, producing some pretty accidental alliances. No Christian should be fully and completely comfortable with any political party. One can, I think support the party one think best embodies Christian principles at any particular time, but there are always going to be some things about your own party that make you cringe. If you think your own party is always completely right the opposing party completely wrong and evil, you are committing idolatry.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Mary Anne Warren's case for abortion rights

uMary Anne Warren, in “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” argues that the fetus does not have a right to life.
uOnly a person has a right to life.
uFor a human to have a right to life, it needs five criteria.

u1. Consciousness
u2. Reasoning
u3. Self-motivated activity
u4. Capacity to communicate
u5. Self-awareness
Fetuses don’t pass these criteria, and are therefore only potential persons.
They do not  have a right to live, at least not one sufficient to overturn a woman’s right to control her own body. 
Don’t infants fail these criteria as well?
Wouldn’t that justify infanticide? 
uWarren says no. She says that even though the  parents may not want the baby, others in the community do, valuing newborn infants that way we value valuable art works.
uPeople in the country also want newborn infants preserved.
uBut what if we stopped thinking that? Would that mean infanticide would be OK? 
Two philosophers, Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, think that both abortion and infanticide can be justified. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Universal Causation and Determinism

Having a cause can mean a number of different things. It can be something that  contributes to the occurrence of something. Or else it could mean that something that guarantees the outcome. The thesis of determinism is the claim that for every event that happens, there are a set of past events that, given those past events, the future event is guaranteed to occur. The thesis of universal causation entails determinism on the second definition of causation.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Judith Thomson's Defense of abortion

uThomson assumes for the sake of argument that fetuses really do have the right to life.
uDoes that mean that the fetus is entitled to use the mother’s body as a life-support system until it is born?
uThomson suggests that this need not be true. Suppose the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you and hooked you up to a famous violinist to provide kidney function for nine months. You can get up and leave at any time, but, if you do, the violinist will die.
uAre you obligated to stay in bed all that time and let the violinist use your kidneys, or do you  have the right to get up. If the right to life is an absolute trump card over every other right, then you do. If not, then there may be circumstances in which personal liberty, or considerations of the quality of life, can outweigh the fetus’s right to life in much the way that these considerations can outweigh the violinist’s right to life.

How many abortions does this justify? 
Possibly, not a whole lot of them. The idea that quality of life considerations can outweigh the right to life does not mean that, in typical abortion cases, it does so. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Why aren't open marriages more popular?

I wonder why open marriages aren't more popular than they in fact are.  For example, politician after politician has been caught in extramarital affairs, and I have never heard a single one of them defend their conduct by saying that there is really nothing wrong with what they did, since they had an open marriage to begin with. Perhaps people abstractly think or say that there would be nothing wrong with an open marriage, but when it comes to their own lives, they wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Disability rights and assisted suicide

 Evidence seems to suggest that people who ask for assisted suicide do so, in many instances, not to relieve pain, but because they are having trouble facing disability. By allowing assisted suicide in these cases, are we sending the message that life with disability is not worth living. Disability groups see this as an example of ableism, a prejudice against those with disabilities, and because of this disability rights groups are almost unanimous in opposing assisted suicide.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Want to support the right to life? Impeach Trump!

I can understand the pro-life argument as a reason maybe for voting for Trump over Hillary. What I don't get is Christians not challenging the proclivity of the Republican party to cover from Trump no matter what comes out against him, to refrain from serious investigation of his fitness to be President. Whatever my conscience might tell me about voting Democratic in light of its excessive defenses of abortion, there is no way in the world I could vote Republican so long as Republicans refuse to address wrongdoing by the President. The Cohen hearings are an excellent example. Republican questioners, with maybe one exception, kept just attacking Cohen, who is not on trial (at least by the House), not on any ballot, and whatever you think of him, was offering hard evidence of criminal activity by a sitting President. If the worst happens and Trump is impeached guess what? Hillary Clinton won't become President. The one who will become President will be the most President most dedicated to the pro-life cause in history: Mike Pence. Want to support the right to life? Impeach Trump!

Wives should submit, or should they?

It would make life easier for me as a husband if they had to. But I think its pretty problematic.


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Homosexuality and inerrancy

It is quite true that the essence of human nature remains what it has always been, and the Bible has an explanation for that in terms of our being created by God but having somehow fallen out of fellowship with God. Whatever you think of the literal stories that are told about how that happened, it seems to explain a heck of a lot of human history better than virtually any other account I can think of. In fact, secular schemes often founder because they expect human nature to be better than it really is.

That said, some things do change in significant ways. One of them has to do with marriage customs. In Bible times, marriage for love was not normative, and, what is more important cultures in all countries, pagan or Hebrew, felt a strong need to reproduce. That was how you were cared for in you old age, this was how you maintained the tribe's defense. So people didn't make their gay relationships their marriage. It was, if anything, something you did for fun and games over and above your marriage, and you basically typically used slaves and young boys for those fun and games. The picture of homosexuality in the ancient world was an ugly one, if you read the account of it given in Sarah Ruden's Paul among the People. It wasn't gay people wanting to marry the one they loved, it was whether it was OK, if you were a male who has a wife, to get something else one the side from someone who was treated as a plaything, whether male or female.

Ruden perceives Paul's condemnation of homosexuality as falling under the rubric of justice. She writes:

"Paul's Roman audience knew what justice was, if only through missing it. They would have been surprised that justice applied to homosexuality, of all things. But many of them---slaves, freedmen, the poor, the young--would have understood in the next instance. Christ, the only Son of God, gave his body to save mankind. What greater contrast could there be to the tradition of using a weaker body for selfish pleasure or a power trip. Among Christians, there could be no quibbling about what to do: no one could have imagined homosexuality's being different that in it was; it would have to go. And tolerance for it did disappear from the church."

Ruden doesn't adjudicate the issue herself. But, she leaves the Christian gay defender an avenue to come back and say: Look, we can understand Paul as not being a blind homophobe for saying what he did about homosexual conduct. But the world has changed. We aren't like that. We don't want to exploit helpless victims. We are just same-sex attracted Christian people who want to replicate the institution Christian marriage with a same-sex partner. We in society today don't feel so obligated to reproduce, (and many married couples don't), and we can still practice parenthood through adoption. (Do married couples have an obligation to at least try to reproduce?) 

But it isn't quite that easy for the Christian gay defender. The counter-argument is that it's a difficult argument to make that homosexual acts are condemned in Scripture because of the practice is somehow done in an unjust manner. In many passages in Scripture the acts are cataloged as wrong in virtue of, well, their being homosexual acts. And while we might explain Paul's opposition to homosexuality in terms of his observation of how vile the practice was in his time, Christians hold that Paul had an Inspirer, the Holy Spirit, who as the Third Person of the Trinity, was surely aware not only of what homosexuality was like in the first century, but what it is like now in the 21st. If God had intended to only to condemn the injustice of ancient homosexual practice, He would have said so. 

So I think to accept the more liberal understanding of homosexuality along the lines suggested by the argument I sketched above, you have to reject the kind of strong doctrine of inerrancy, for example, provided in the Chicago Statement. Catholics, of course, are playing a different, but similar ball game, in that for Catholics the "inerrancy" is in the Magisterium, and Scripture for them is not considered quite so transparent.

Which goes back to whether we need an explanation for the condemnation of homosexuality. If we feel one is needed, then we might be able to provide one that leaves room for the possibility that gay Christians can, as good Christians, practice homosexuality. Conservative believers, however, can warn that given the sinful nature of man, we have to be careful of accepting interpretations of the Bible that allow us to do what we want to do. If we are not careful, we are going to end up interpreting everything out of Scripture that we don't want to obey.

Like C. S. Lewis, I have never had to deal with same-sex attraction. I respect both viewpoints on this issue. I think the more inclined you are toward an inerrantist model of Scripture, the harder it will be to find homosexual conduct acceptable.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Will gay marriage be the end of homosexuality?

 If homosexuality is genetic, then it is being passed down by gay people going against their orientation. If gay marriage is accepted, gays will marry one another, not reproduce, and eliminate the gay population.

Monday, March 04, 2019

If God opposes homosexuality, do we owe gay people an explanation as to why?

Here is a question which I have struggled with a lot of late. Suppose we conclude, based on Scripture, that God considers homosexual conduct to be wrong. And suppose a person struggling with homosexual desires asks the question of why God condemns such conduct. That seems like a reasonable question to me, but do we owe them an answer? What would it be?

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Judge not

I'm not a pedophile, but who am I to judge those who are? Nothing, right?

We can, it seems to me, hold views that certain types of sexual conduct are wrong, just as we have the right to hold views that other kinds of behavior are wrong, without being guilty of "judging" in some negative sense.

Of course, it's the Bible that says we shouldn't judge. If the Bible isn't true, what's wrong with judging?

Chesterton on determinism and criminal punishment

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.-- G. K. Chesterton
Though, I suppose, saying "Go and sin no more" also changes the environment.