Friday, July 31, 2020

Five problems for assisted suicide

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


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


Monday, July 27, 2020

Which roommate would you prefer?

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Cleckley On Psychopathy

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

C. S Lewis's Myth Became Fact


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Soft Determinism

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

Friday, July 17, 2020

Marx and Rand

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2020

Closing the door to refugees, including Christians

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


Thursday, July 09, 2020

How do we decide who comes to America?

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

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


Difficulty and Ethical Truth

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Drawing the line on statues

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

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Josh McDowell's Maximum Sex

What difference does religion make to morality? 

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

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

Does the law of noncontradiction apply to moral statements?

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

Relativism: There are no moral facts

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

Friday, July 03, 2020

Two Kinds of Religious Influence on Morality: General and Specific

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

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The Outsider Test for Faith, and News

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