Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mister Ed

I should state at the outset that this post is directed at Ed Babinski, and not his equine namesake. I don’t wish anyone to confuse Babinski with a horse—even a talking-horse—since such a comparison would be quite defamatory to the good name of the equine species, and I intend them no disrespect. Since Ed Babinski often resembles a certain portion of the horse’s anatomy, such confusion is understandable—which is why I hasten to preface my remarks with this disclaimer.


Steve wrote: "Ed, Care to document your sources?"

Sure, anytime, Steve. Just tell me which things I wrote about Calvin that you feel least comfortable considering, or most comfortable challening me on, and I'll supply the documentation. If you want we could write a joint article on the topic for your blog. I'll simply supply documentation and you rebut each piece I supply, piecemeal, since it's your blog. I just ask that you post the full documentation in context, nothing added or subtracted from what I send you for each question you challenge me on. Then you may reply to it at whatever length you choose. Whether or not people will accept that your explanations are all true and my documentation is all false or of absolutely no consequence, is something I'm willing to leave up to any reader of both sides.

i) I’d begin by noting that, to discredit Calvinism, Babinski must resort to a textbook fallacy. A purely ad hominem, guilt-by-association move. I like it when enemies of the faith must rely on textbook fallacies to attack the faith. That’s very reassuring.

ii) My query wasn’t a challenge to the truth or falsity of anything Babinski said. It’s simply a matter of adhering to some elementary standards of scholarship. If he’s going to make charges, he should document his charges so that we can examine the quality of his evidence.

iii) Babinski has no good reason to disapprove of Calvin’s tactics. Unless he believes in moral absolutes, Babinski is in no position to render a value-judgment on Calvin or Calvinism. How does Babinski’s worldview underwrite moral absolutes? Moreover, his evolutionary viewpoint entails such a reductionistic view of human nature that even if there were such a thing as moral absolutes, meat machines like you and me would have no rights.

I realize it may be tedious to keep harping on this point, but its fundamental, and as long as unbelievers presume to condemn Christians or Christian theology, I’ll remind them that they have no moral foundation for their condemnations.

iv) On a final point, did I ever indicate he said something about Calvin that made me “uncomfortable”? Can Babinski quote me on that? I don’t think so.

I have some news for Babinski: Calvin is not a relative of mine. He’s not my father or brother or son or uncle or nephew or cousin. In fact, I think we could safely say that Calvin was before my time. I wasn’t born in the 16C. Or even the 17C.

Calvin is a perfect stranger to me. Never met the man.

He’s just a famous person, like a lot of other famous people, living and dead. A celebrity. You know, the sort of folks we read about in history books. I don’t feel ashamed of what a perfect stranger does. If he does something wrong, why should I be embarrassed? I

The fact that Babinski thinks that anyone would feel uncomfortable about something a celebrity said or did is a revealing window into Babinski’s odd little mind. Evidently, Babinski is one of those Chris Crocker types who “bonds” with his favorite celebrity. Deeply identifies with the triumphs and tribulations of the bimbo du jour.

Babinski must cry a lot. Maybe there’s a YouTube video clip of his grief-stricken demeanor whenever his favorite celebrity is caught in some scandal. Babinski clearly needs professional counseling to overcome his intensive/compulsive feelings. Perhaps we can take up a PayPal collection.

I can, of course, understand how celebrity worship would fill the emotional void created by his apostasy. Rom 1 and all that good stuff.


Steve also wrote: "While you're on the subject, would you also like to give us a historical overview of life in non-Christian/anti-Christian regimes, such as pagan Assyria, or Japan under the Shogun, or China under Mao, or Russia under Stalin, or Germany under Hitler, or Cambodia under Pol Pot (to cite a few examples)?"

Steve, for the record, Germay under Hitler was filled with Christians who had moved to the right in reaction to the previously more liberal Weimar Republic days of Germany. So the country was moving rightward when Hitler ran for office, and the votes of Christians living in the country was where Hitler scored his biggest gains in votes and that's what got him elected. (The votes in the cities were too close to call among the various candidates.)

If you want to talk about the alleged Christian/Nazi connection, I’ll call your bet and raise you by talking about the Darwinian/Nazi connection:

Also, concerning communism and Christianity we could discuss the affinities that religion has with absolutist political ideologies that promise paradise (a worker's paradise in Marx's case) and claims to have the inerrant truth concerning all of history's questions (dialetical materialsm in the case of Marxism). It's also probably no mere coincidence that Maoists varried little red books they had to memorize and carry around like Bibles. See also Eric Hoffer's little book, The True Believer, which relates the psychological affinities b/w people who join religious, fascist, and communist mass revolutionary movements.

In other words, Babinski is reduced to admitting that unbelievers are twisted believers. Their rebellion against the Bible is a just warped form of religiosity. I can go along with that, Ed. Sounds like the Biblical diagnosis of idolatry. Thanks, Ed, for corroborating the Bible.

Leaving such movements aside, let me point out that there are more examples than ever before from much of modern day Europe, Japan, and other first world countries that a high percentage of religious believers does not appear to be necessary for the health of such societies.

i) Of course, modern-day Japan was influenced by the American occupation of Japan. Notice how Babinski runs away from pre-Christian Japan.

ii) And have I ever said that religious believers are necessary for a healthy society? “Religious” as in what? Muslims? Hindus? Wiccans?

Because Babinski is irreligious, he treats one religion as interchangeable with another. I do not.

Such countries have low percentages of religious believers, but high levels of education and vital statistics that are better in many areas than vital stats in the U.S.

Notice that Ed offers no moral criteria for the quality of life. Just college degrees and high life expectancy.

Ted Kaczynski was Harvard-educated. Leni Reifenstahl died at 101. That’s Babinski’s definition of social progress.

(Isn't it a bit ironic that some Evangelical Christians type away tomes on why civilization can't survive without Christianity, on computers invented and manufactured by atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists?)

i) Isn’t it ironic that you know nothing about elementary Christian doctrines like common grace? No doubt your ignorance made it easier for you to commit apostasy.

ii) And did we say that civilization can’t survive without Christianity? Japan survived for a centuries as a vicious, brutal stratocracy.

iii) It’s comical of you to suggest that unbelievers have a monopoly on computer science. That’s really quite droll. You should join the circus.

I could also cite an example nearer Calvin's day, the case of what took place in the Netherlands after Calvin had died but before the Thirty Years War, when relatively liberal Christians (for their day and age) formed the first successful republic in Europe, a place that prospered immensely, with freedom of religion, people of all religions trading equally with one another, and each worshipping as they pleased rather than as a king demanded they all do, and it was even a center for controversial exciting new works to be published from Hobbes to Spinoza, that publishers in other parts of Europe were afraid to publish.

i) Up to a point, I don’t have a problem with freedom of religion. On the other hand, if a Muslim migrates to the West, bringing with him such pious customs as jihad, sharia, honor-killings, child marriage, female circumcision, &c., then there are limits to my tolerance.

ii) I also find it amusing to see you pose as a champion of religious freedom when so many of your cohorts try to persecute Christian expression.

But here's what happened to this first success republic in Europe, what happened was that conservative Calvinists despised the prosperity that their fellows were enjoying under this experiment in a republican form of government and these Calvinists plotted with Catholics to reinstall a kingship which they deemed more godly than a republic, because they thought it was more important for a nation to fear God than gain in prosperity, and they hated that the Dutch East India Trading Company was not striving to make Christian converts out of everyone they hired and met in Asia.

In other words, you attack “these Calvinists” because they’d rather save souls than guilders. If only they’d been more venal and materialistic, you’d commend them. But because they put evangelism ahead of filthy lucre, you disapprove.

Hence the first successful republic in Europe was undone by conservative Calvinists. Though of course the Netherlands is back to being liberal today, and a republic. Calvinism just doesn't last so far as governmental systems go. Geneva today is over 40% Catholic and they erected at least one (I've read more than one) statue to Servetus, even naming a local football team after him. And Calvin's Academy is likewise more liberal than it was when he founded it.

i) Considering the fact that secular Europe is committing demographic suicide, you might need to adjust your actuarial charts.

ii) I don’t care that much about process issues. What matters to me is not so much the political process, but the end-product. A process is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

iii) You also ignore the role of Calvinists like Calvin, Knox, and Rutherford in challenging absolute monarchy.

Puritanism in Britain and in the U.S. likewise lost it vigor. Such systems just don't hold up.

Do you apply the same yardstick to secular systems like communism and socialism?

Human creativity, curiosity and questions undo them all. Harvard was quite conservative religiously, then the questions began entering there, and Yale was founded in reaction to Harvard's loosening of its conservative orthodox heritage. Now look at Yale.

This is so olde hatte. Do you think you’re telling me or anyone else something we haven’t heard before? In the meantime, you disregard the rise of new Christian institutions of higher learning.

Schools of the highest caliber attracting professors and students of the highest caliber for two centuries or more, do not remain as conservative in their religious beliefs as when they first began.

Actually, the Ivy Leagues are chockfull of politically correct quackery.

You know about Westminster Theological Seminary?

Gee, Ed, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that place. What do they sell? Lingerie? Fried chicken?

Van Til taught there.

Van Til? Doesn’t ring a bell. Is that a brand of cheese—like Gouda, Leerdammer, and Limburger?

Founded by Machen who left Princeton Theological Seminary (home of B.B. Warfield, but by Machen's day Princeton Theol. Sem. had grown too liberal, so the fundamentalists left Princeton to found Westminster Theological Seminary.

Thanks, Ed, for your first grader’s grasp of American Presbyterian history.

Today Westminster is having difficulties with professor Peter Enns and his book, Inspiration and Incarnation and the faculty's endorsement of him staying, but the administration told him to git gone because they don't approve of his broadening of the definition of inerrancy.

You know, Ed, for a computer savvy library, you’re remarkably ignorant of facts in the public record. If you bothered to mouse over to the website of WTS, and go to “Official Theological Documents,” you could learn in a hurry that opposition to Enns wasn’t limited to the administration. There was substantial opposition to Enns from his colleagues.

And there's Paul Seely, a graduate of Westminster Theol. Semn., and his book the inerrancy question that nearly destroyed Glenn Morton's Christian faith. Seely also expressed himself with such aplomb and conducted such massive research in a few papers that they were published in the journal of Westminster Theol. Seminary, papers outlining why the creation stories are those of a flat-earth believing culture, and that the tower of Babel story is likewise probably mythical.

Considering the fact that I personally debated Seely, your appeal leaves me less than overwhelmed. His performance was less aplomb and more of a bomb.

I'd chalk up Seely and Enns as having had too much contact with the full range and depth of bibilical scholarship in the outside world.

Once again, Ed, this is yet another illustration of your studied ignorance. There’s no dearth of evangelical seminaries out there committed to the inerrancy of Scripture—whose OT faculty is quite conversant with comparative Semitics. They’ve studied with the leading figures in the field.

So in future I'd expect Westminster to also be considered too "liberal" by some Calvinists who go off to try and found another little retreat from modern scholarship.

Ed, you’re the one, in your pitifully demonstrable ignorance of who’s who, that’s on a little retreat from modern scholarship. But thanks for making a public fool of yourself, and the cause you so disably represent.

Better Dead Than Red

In interest of full disclosure, I should say that I have had some private email conversations with Hays where I have disagreed with some of his critiques of David VanDrunen, natural law, and two kingdom theory. So, this post doesn't come from someone opposed to the above views. In fact, I've been trying to force myself to become convinced of them. And I've warmed up to them quite a bit. But it's hard trying to find much substantive material when it seems that many two kingdom advocates are either unable to, or don't care to, offer cogent arguments for their positions. Indeed, it's all become a little tiresome to read many of the online two kingdom advocates as it seems they're more skilled in rhetoric and maligning the opposition, than in arguing for the position in any relevant way. One has to try hard to stop the thought that people engage in maligning the opposition when they have no arguments from flying into their head. But analyzing why this is so, and I have some thoughts, is beyond the scope here. As an illustration, though, take this recent post from Jason Stellman:


From Democracy Now:

Meanwhile, Obama is drawing criticism from gay and lesbian activists for his choice to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama has selected the Reverend Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Warren supported California’s recent gay marriage ban and has compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. He’s also backed the idea of assassinating US foes, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a letter to Obama, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign said, “Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”

Wow, it sure is scary having such a pinko-progressive president, innit? With "liberals" like this, who needs conservatives?


In intrest of full disclosure, I hasten to add that I'm not a fan Rick Warren or his praying at the White House. I am on board with the thoughts in, say, Christless Christianity.


Stellman's trying to persuade here. So it's an argument. It's obvious that he wants you to draw the conclusion that Obama is not going to fit into the categories that some in the "Christian right" said he would.

Apparently, the argument is something like this:

[1] The "Christian right" thought Obama was going to be a pinko-progressive president.

[2] If you invite a leader of a mega church who has affirms some conservative social values to offer a prayer at the White House, then you're not a pinko-progressive president.

[3] Obama invited Rick Warren to offer a prayer.

[4] Therefore, Obama is not a pinko-progressive president.

[5] Therefore, the "Christian right" was wrong.

But what justification is offered for [2]? Why think a thing like that? Can Warren appoint anyone to SCOTUS? Is having him pray at the White House a relevant premise that would undercut some Christians' or conservatives' concerns?

Furthermore, the cautious person, rather than the person looking for a cheap shot in advancing two kingdom via straw men, would take account all the relevant data when making such an argument, no?

Isn't it a fact that Obam is also inviting the Rev. Joseph Lowery to also offer a prayer? As one commentator writes,

Rev. Lowery is sort of an anti-Warren, actually. Warren threw his considerable church resources into ensuring the passage of Proposition 8, the California anti-gay ballot initiative that took away the civil right of gay people to marry. Lowery, by contrast, has courageously supported gay marriage. In 2004, Rev. Lowery told ABC News he supported same sex marriage. "When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody."

Thus, given's Stellman's logic, shouldn't also write a post denying the post I cite? If his Warren post leads to the unstated conclusion that was obviously in his mind, wouldn't a Lowery post lead to the opposite conclusion?

Why was this relevant information suppressed? it does not bode well for one's intellectual integrity to suppress this kind of information just so your soap box looks more sturdy than it really is.

If Stellman wants to undercut some of the statements made by some on the "Christian right", he's going to have to resort to more sturdy stuff than one-sided rhetoric that makes a point by being careless with all the relevant data. In fact, one might say that Obama's asking both Warren and Lowery to pray evidences his irrationalism. What would one think of asking (say) both Golda Meir and Joseph Goebbels to offer a prayer? Not that I'm equating either Warren or Lowery to these two, but I'm just illustrating that asking people who hold polar opposite positions on many moral questions could be seen as evidence of sloppy thinking rather than any support for the "Christian right" or the "Christian left," for that matter. It would seem that these two appointments cancel each other out. It could look to some like evidence of their concerns about Obama.

So I find Stellman's attempt to persuade one of his political insights grounded on two kingdom theology, ultimately unpersuasive. These kind of sophisms might actually have the opposite effect.

More on Secular Ethics

Continuing with Singer and Hauser...

"What was good for our ancestors may not be good today." (ibid)

So, they're simply relativists.

And all this bluster about a viable alternative to Christian ethics was just a bunch of hubbub, then.

If a moral principle was truly good, how can it not be good today?

Of course, they may mean that some applications of principles are not good today. But in that case what they've said is superfluous since every ethical tradition would agree with that. Thus, the comment can't do any relevant work in justifying a specifically secular ethic.

If they mean that an ethical principle can be good and then not good because some cultures regard them as such, then they're cultural relativists (as opposed to subjectivist).

But if they're cultural relativists, then problems follow. For example, Singer argues for rather counter-intuitary moral practices, e.g., infanticide. But of course since this is out of step with his larger culture, then he's actually being immoral. He may think himself some kind of moral reformer, but on cultural relativism, moral reform is actually an immoral usurping of the moral standard of the day. Hence someone like Martin Luther King was something like a moral monster. A moral reformer acts as if there is a standard that transcends culture by which culture can be judged. Unchanging standards. But then we've undermined the Singer-Hauser claim that moral standards can change.

But perhaps he means that what some particular people regarded as good is now regarded as "not good" by other particular people. And that this regarding is what makes the moral principle, x, true or false that x is good or not good. In this case he trades in a cultural relativism for a subjective relativism.

But if they're subjective relativists, then problems follow. For example, they've left the moral game altogether. All subjectivism boils down to is a description of a psychological state. So all the moral fact like:

[1] Torturing children for fun is wrong.

boils down to is a description about a particular subjects psychological state, like:

[1*] Peter thinks torturing children for fun is wrong.

But [1*] is a description and ethics have generally been concerned with prescriptions.

Other problems follow from this observation. For example, it seems clear that people can be wrong about their ethical claims

For example, say Peter believes [1]. All that is required for [1] to be true, is that Peter believes it. If he accurately reports his psychological states, then whatever he belies is right or wrong, is right or wrong, just in case he believes that it is. So, subjectivism entails infallibalism. But that seems clearly false.

There are other problems. Another is that moral disagreement is rendered moot. All the time arguing about who is right or wrong about (say) animal rights seems pointless.

To see this, let's look at another moral proposition:

[2] Torturing animals for fun is wrong.

Presumably Peter believes this. On subjectivism, then, we have:

[2*] Peter thinks torturing animals for fun is wrong.

Now take another person, call him Dahmer. He disagrees with Peter. So, we have

[2*] Peter thinks torturing animals for fun is wrong.


[2**] Dahmer thinks torturing animals for fun is not wrong.

So long as Dahmer really believes [2**], then it is not wrong.

But presumably Peter thinks Dahmer is wrong. So he engages in vociferous debate with him. Spills hundreds of gallons of ink writing about how wrong those like Dahmer are.

But what does that mean? On subjectivism, so long as Dahmer believes it is not wrong to torture animals, then it isn't. So long as he has accurately reported his internal psychological state, he right. Peter would have to argue that Dahmer doesn't believe that torturing animals for fun is wrong. But so long as he does, there's no need to disagree.

In an uninteresting way, for Peter to say that Dahmer is wrong, is just to recognize the truism that Peter disagrees with Dahmer. Neither of them can be mistaken, though. And to the extent that they're both telling the truth, they're both infallible. Thus, real moral disagreement presupposes the falsity of moral subjectivism. So as Shafer-Landau writes,

Right off the bat, we can see that moral skepticism is a doctrine of moral equivalence. If there are no right answers to ethical questions (nihilism), or what right answers there are are [sic] given by personal opinion (subjectivism), then any moral view is just as (im)plausible as any other. If relativists are right, then the basic views of all societies are morally on par with one another. On all skeptical theories, the basic moral views of any person, or society, are no better that those of any other. (Russ Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?, Oxford, p.18)
And so it's hard to see that there's any serious moral theory left when Singer and Hauser say things like: "What was good for our ancestors may not be good today." On one view, it’s superfluous as to providing any muscle for a uniquely secular case for ethics; on another, it has serious metaethical problems.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Evolutionary Ethics

Steve already commented on the Singer and Hauser case for an ethic for secularism.

I'll lift one statement out of their paper and offer some further comments on it.


In speaking of the origins of our "moral sense" they write,

Perhaps a divine creator handed us these universal elements at the moment of creation. But an alternative explanation, consistent with the facts of biology and geology, is that over millions of years we have evolved a moral faculty that generates intuitions about right and wrong.

I'd like to make four brief points related to an evolutionary justification for moral realism:

1. Its speculatory

This statement gets a lot of its traction by hitching its wagon to a name. Whatever the merits of the biological theory of evolution, the above claim is not a biological theory. It's not a scientific at all. It's speculation.

2. Disputed even by evolutionists

Another evolutionist doesn't think this works as a justification for why x is right or wrong. So Mackie, "If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38).

3. It fails to answer the deeper questions

When looking for an answer to metaethical questions, like what makes a moral fact a fact, this theory is wide of the mark. This theory, at its best, only provides a story for why we have certain moral feelings that we do. It doesn't explain moral facts. To explain a little further, take a non-moral fact:

(NF) Some Ball pythons eat mice.

Now, what makes (NF) true? Presumably, it is that what (NF) states is the case, is the case. (NF) is true because it corresponds to the way things are. It corresponds to some non-linguistic feature of the world. So (NF) is true if there is, in fact, some particular Ball python that eats some particular mouse. It matches up to a feature of the world. Without getting into theories of truth too much, the above account seems close to stating the matter correctly. We all can see, pretty easily, how a statement like (NF) would be true.

Now, let's look at a moral fact:

(MF) It is wrong to molest a child for fun.

On a naturalistic story, what would it mean for (MF) to be true? Presumably something like for what it was for (NF) to be true. But it is hard, to say the least, to see how this account would fit in with the naturalist story. I'll offer three reasons:

i) (MF) has moral properties, such as rightness or wrongness. What does it mean to say that rightness or wrongness is "part of the way the world is?" Unlike (NF), we cannot just "see" the wrongness of the act. And it would seem that the moral properties are necessary to explain the fact if one wants to hold to some kind of objectivism or realism.

But a non-realist naturalist could offer an account that did not refer to moral terms at all, just natural ones. For example:

Chester the molester was an extremely loving person. Because of various false beliefs about young children (most importantly, that they loved him), he found that 'molesting' children to be a satisfying way to release his love. His moral beliefs did not place any bounds or restraints on his expression of that love.

I borrowed this illustration, though changed the specifics, from Thomas Carson (Value and the Good Life, Notre Dame Press, p.194). Carson goes on to say that, "moral properties seem to be dispensible for explanatory purposes. Natural properties seem to be doing all the work in the explanations in question" (ibid, 198)).

So given the constant berating on behalf of the scientific naturalist about the principle of parsimony, it's hard to see why the don't just use "the razor" to "shave off" appeals to moral properties. For example, they feel that they can explain all mental properties naturalistically, so there is no need to appeal to some immaterial mind.

ii) If there were no Ball pythons or mice, then (NF) wouldn't be true. However, even of there were no molesters, or children, it would still be the case that it is wrong to molest a child for the fun of it. So (MF) seems to be different from (NF) in this regard too.

iii) (NF) is true because of the way some part of the world is. Conversely, (MF) is made true by the way things ought to be. (MF) is normative. It is not descriptive like (NF).
It carries with it an obligation (though, in a sense, from a Christian perspective, so does (NF), since it is true, we are obligated to believe it, cf. John Frame, DCL).

So, based on these reasons, (MF) facts seem to be very different, even "odd," as Mackie taught us to say, from (NF) facts. It is hard to see how (MF) facts are made true in a naturalistic worldview. And it is certainly the case that Singer and Hauser's evolutionary story do not offer us any help in this regard.

(Cf. Ganssle, Thinking about God, pp. 87-89, for points 3. i, ii, and iii above.)

4. It doesn't go far enough

Naturalists fail because they can't supply ontological foundations for what makes moral facts true, they offer a largely epistemological theory. But even here, Singer and Hauser are inadequate. They write, "over millions of years we have evolved a moral faculty that generates intuitions about right and wrong."

i) But for this "moral faculty" story to do any relevant work in ethical discussions about evolutionary justifications for moral realism, we must go farther. it is not enough that we have "a faculty," it must be a reliable faculty. If it unreliably generates intuitions, it is untrustworthy. So why believe that it is wrong rather than right to commit a holocaust? So, the faculty must be reliable.

ii) Not only must it be reliable, it must be functioning properly. Our "moral faculty" could reliably malfunction, and then what good would it be?

iii) Along with (i) and (ii), our faculty must be successfully aimed at producing true moral beliefs. It does no good if it functions properly and reliably at producing false moral beliefs.

(iv) Along with the above points, our faculty must also come equipped with a defeater system. See Sudduth.

But why think (i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) could plausibly have come about by way of natural selection?; a process, by the way, that keeps only what is needed for survival. Why think our "moral faculty" would be aimed at producing (mostly) true beliefs? Didn’t we learn from evolutionist Praticia Churchland that "truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost" in these considerations? Didn't the evolutionist Francis Crick teach us that,

The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associate molecules .... This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called "astonishing" (Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994, 3).
Other evolutionists have also implicitly shed doubt on the idea that we can truth the product of natural selection to lead us into all truth. So Vizthum,

"A revised and modernized materialism concludes from all this that human thought and feeling is the product of a series of unthinking and unfeeling processes originated in the big bang.

"Materialism should no longer wink at such nonsense but insist that the foundations of all human thought and feeling are grossly irrational.

(Richard C Vitzthum, "Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition," Prometheus Books, 1995, pp. 218-220.)

In conclusion

Of all these areas touched on, they fit much better in a Christian theistic worldview. Evolutionary moral theory doesn't seem to be scientifically grounded and is more speculatory than anything. It also doesn't seem to be able to explain how moral facts can be true. Indeed, it seems as if naturalistic anti-realists can "explain" facts without recourse to moral terms, and so it would seem simpler to do away with referring to moral terms. Singer and Hasuer at best tell us how we developed moral feelings. But, Singer and Hauser need to claim more for their "faculty," but once they do the further they get away from a naturalistic evolutionary worldview and the closer to a theistic one. A Christian theistic one I'd argue, but that's beyond the scope of the post. The above claim by Singer and Hauser is an oft repeated claim by atheists when called upon to account for morality. One analyzed a bit, it appears woefully inadequate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Killing is My Business, and Business is Good

Steve's been blogging on bioethicist Peter Singer lately.

Of course Singer's well known for holding such positions that it may be morally permissible to kill hemophiliacs and babies born with down syndrome.

So Singer:

"Suppose a woman planning to have two children has one normal child, then gives birth to a haemophiliac child. The burden of caring for that child may make it impossible for her to cope with a third child; but if the disabled child were to die, she would have another... When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gainof a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the haemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him." (Singer, Practical Ethics, p.186).
Of course Singer doesn't know whether the "total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed." I, for one, would like to see the math. Do the utilitarian calculations. Show us all. Identify all the possible courses of action. For each course identify all the persons affected (this includes future ones), identify every happiness or unhappiness that will result for each person, assign the happiness and unhappiness a numerical value, calculate the net gain and loss for each person, sum it up and arrive at a grand total, then tell us the action with the highest utility. Oh, by the way, there's sub points for each of the above points. How do we rate pleasures to accomplish the first task? Do we need to look at intensity, duration, etc.?

Of course Singer may resort here to rule utilitarianism to escape these kinds of challenges. But it's not clear that this position, rather than lowering the amount of calculations needed to be done, actually raises the number of calculations. Rule utilitarianism only gives us rules of thumb. There are exceptions. And sometimes we want to know if we may be justified in breaking the rule in this or that instance. So we've done the calculation to determine the rule, and then did all the other ones I mentioned above. So sometimes rule utilitarianism means one more calculation than what you would do by doing the particular calculations. Other ways of getting around the calculation problem are to accept tradition, claiming the calculations have been done for thousands of years. But this begs the question. Utilitarianism seems like something new. There's no guarantee that the moral decisions the people in the ancient Near East, for example, used utilitarianism to arrive at their ethical decisions. For all we know they followed some kind of DCT. Another way is to assume a fixed human nature. But obviously Singer can't accept that since he depends on its falsity for his abortion and euthanasia arguments.

So, the first problem is that Singer can't justify his claim that killing one infant so another "healthy" one can live will result in more happiness. After all, what would have been the answer to Helen Keller’s mother? How about to the Menendez brother's parents? The latter was born affluent, with a lot of "prospects" for a "happy" life. The former, not a lot of "prospects".

What is even meant by "prospects" for "happiness," anyway? Singer talks of the "clouded prospects" of down syndrome kids on page 213 of his book Rethinking Life and Death. And how are their prospects clouded? The may not be capable, says Singer, "to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player."

And atheists lay all the blame for discrimination at the feet of "religion," but I digress... So, we can justifiably kill our down syndrome children because they can't enjoy a Woody Allen flick. One might claim that these movies increase suffering, but I digress... A question might be, who died and made Singer the "prospect granting fairy" anyway? And apparently participating in the Special Olympics is not being a "respectable athlete." But what if we included "respectable Special Olympian" on the list? If we add that, and then add that enjoying Allen flicks increases suffering, can we kill Singer? But I digress...

This all seems an odd criteria by which to establish what makes someone's human life valuable. But it fits with Singer's "having a past and future" criteria of what makes it "especially" wrong to murder such a person. This is similar to James Rachels' well-known distinction between biological and biographical life (it's beyond the scope of this post to interact with Rachels' distinction directly. One can read critiques of his view in Moral Choices, Scott Rae, pp. 191-196; also see J.P. Moreland's James Rachels and the Active Euthanasia Debate, in Clark and Rakestraw eds. Readings in Christian Ethics, vol. 2, pp. 102-108).

To see Singer's "past and future" criteria for what makes a killing "especially wrong" (it is important to note that Singer does admit that euthanasia and abortions are instances of killing), he writes,

Killing an autonomous being against that being's will is the most drastic possible violation of autonomy, and this makes it more seriously wrong than the killing of a sentient being not capable of autonomy.

Rachels focuses on whether the being can live a biographical, rather than a merely biological, life, which is similar to the emphasis given by Singer to the ability to see oneself as having a past and a future. To kill such a being, unless at the being's request, thwarts the preferences for the future that the being may have, and this makes the killing wrong in a way that is additional to any wrong that may be incurred by the killing of a sentient being unable to form any preferences for the future.

The effect of these arguments is to distinguish a class of beings whom it is especially wrong to kill.
Why is it "especially wrong" to kill these beings? Because there are other beings that it is wrong to kill. Wrong simpliciter? Perhaps, wrong Lite? These include those beings that can "feel pleasure and pain." Animals fall into this category, but not plants. (Not even ones that grow better when you play Vivaldi around them?) Of course it is not clear how Singer argues for the above. Apparently this kind of "pleasure and pain" is distinguishable from "enjoying science fiction" and "suffering through Annie Hall." It must mean something crass. Feeling pain and pleasure through one of your sense organs. And how he makes it fit in with his physicalism is another question. What is "pain or pleasure" on physicalist assumptions? And why think what we feel when stabbed with a knife is anything like what an animal feels?

These questions aside, we can note that Singer is arguing that "seeing yourself as having a past and a future" is what makes killing you wrong in specie, feeling pain and pleasure in a crass way is what makes killing you wrong Lite.

I propose to offer a thought experiment that gets around all these criteria, yet where it would still seem wrong in specie to kill the being.

First, note that you must see yourself as having a past and future. You don't actually need an actual past because, presumably, it would be wrong to kill someone who could play the guitar, had an appreciation of science fiction, learned a foreign language, could chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, and was a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player, who, like the rest of the universe, "popped" into existence, with all our memories included, 5 minutes ago. This person, call him Mozart in excelsis, would "see" himself as having a past, though he actually would't have one.

So, let's assume Mozart in excelsis gets hit by rays emanating from Alpha Centauri that cause him to blank out when he thinks about his past. Mozart in excelsis can still do all of those wonderful things, yet he doesn't "see himself" as having a past.

[1] So, Mozart in excelsis does not see himself as having a past.

For now we'll let slide that Singer constructs his criteria as a conjunction, so if one conjunct is false, the entire conjunction is false. We can move on to the future.

Say that the evil Alpha Centaurians hate earth with a passion. So, they manipulate asteroids and send hundreds of them hurling towards earth. The president is informed by NASA and goes on the news and lets the planet know that we have roughly 5 days to live, then we are guaranteed to die. We have no future. We cannot see ourselves as having one.

[2] Mozart in excelsis does not see himself as having a future.

Now, can I kill Mozart in excelsis and have it not be "especially wrong?" I don't see why not. On Singer's terms, at least. This is bad enough, but Singer would still say that it would be wrong Lite to kill Mozart in excelsis. So, let's add another proposition:

[3] Mozart in excelsis develops CIPA (congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis) and so cannot feel pain or pleasure in a crass way.

Apparently [1], [2], and [3] taken together mean that it's not wrong, at all, to kill Mozart in excelsis for no reason whatsoever.

So, we could kill someone who could play the guitar, had an appreciation of science fiction, learned a foreign language, could chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, and was a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player and it not be wrong at all.

Maybe Singer could come back with some other criteria. For example, he also, in other places, talks about how others (like parents) would feel about the death of their disabled child. He says we need to take their feelings into account to. But all we need to do is adjust our thought experiment accordingly. We could then kill Singer's paradigmatic "person" and have it not be wrong at all. But this was the very person, with the very characteristics (playing guitar (presumably not Metallica, though), enjoying sci-fi films, etc.), Singer put forth as the paradigmatic "off-limits" person!

Singer's problem lies in the fact that he denies any human nature, or substance, that grounds and is a necessary pre-condition for having, or potentially having, any of his particular qualitative hedonic characteristics. He denies, for example, that humans are image bearers of God, by nature. That nature grants prima facie sanctity to human life. The Christian ethic doesn't succumb to such absurdities. But, we would agree with this conditional (written in a short-hand way, i.e., qualifications omited): If morality, then God. No God. No morality.

Gossip Girl for Congress

Out of morbid curiosity, I spent a few minutes examining Caroline Kennedy’s much touted qualifications to be a US senator. Here’s her distinguished resume:

• Born in New York City
• Lived in Georgetown (DC)
• Lived in the White House
• Moved back to Georgetown
• Lived in penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, on Upper Manhattan
• Dedicated the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy
• Did nine-month art course at the Sotheby's auction house in London
• Attended the private Brearley School on Upper Manhattan
• Attended Radcliffe College & Columbia Law School
• Interned with her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy
• Worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
• Married exhibit designer
• Lives on Park Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side
• Owns 375-acre estate on Martha's Vineyard
• Board member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
• Fundraiser for NYC public school system
• Honorary chairman of the American Ballet Theatre

As a middle class American, who grew up among middle class Americans, I find her resume unintentionally comical. I might as well be reading the Curriculum Vitae of Marie Antoinette.

The boundaries of her worldview apparently extend from Upper Manhattan to a stretched limo to Harvard Yard to the Concord to Paris and London and back.

In a way, her cultural experience has all the diversity of a cowgirl who lived and died in a one-horse town.

Actually, that’s unfair to the cowgirl who, unlike Caroline, has many practical skills.

I also love the modern redefinition of noblesse oblige. This used to mean you gave your own money to charitable causes, not that you solicited money from others.

BTW, did she have to fill out an application form to intern with Uncle Ted?

Godless morality

Peter Singer and Marc Hauser have written a little brief in defense of secular ethics:

Let’s review their case:

Is religion necessary for morality?

Of course, that’s a straw man argument. A Christian ethicist is not going to argue that Hinduism or Islam is necessary for morality.

Singer and Hauser are trying to position the “religious” argument for an easy defeater by framing the question at an artificially high level of abstraction.

Yet problems abound for the view that morality comes from God. One problem is that we cannot, without lapsing into tautology, simultaneously say that God is good, and that he gave us our sense of good and bad. For then we are simply saying that God meets God’s standards.

That’s an allusion to the Euthyphro dilemma. The implication is that grounding morality in the will of God involves an arbitrary divine fiat. But that’s another straw man argument.

God is the Creator. He endows human beings with a specific nature. For example, the fact that human beings reproduce, which involves the mating of males and females, producing children who take years to mature, immediately generates a set of social obligations which would not obtain if human nature were different. So the Euthyphro dilemma is too simplistic to disqualify Christian ethics.

A second problem is that there are no moral principles that are shared by all religious people, regardless of their specific beliefs, but by no agnostics and atheists.

Of course, this phenomenon is by no means inconsistent with Christian ethics. The Bible furnishes a theological explanation for the origin of idolatry and infidelity.

Indeed, atheists and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers, even if their virtuous acts rest on different principles.

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. More on that later.

Non-believers often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone.

Of course, that’s fatally equivocal. Having a strong sense of right and wrong doesn’t entail a sound sense of right and wrong. A Nazi has a strong sense of right and wrong.

And it begs the question to assert that unbelievers have a sound sense of right and wrong. Whether secular ethics can justify that claim is the very point in dispute.

The opposite is also true. Religion has led people to commit a long litany of horrendous crimes, from God’s command to Moses to slaughter the Midianites – men, women, boys, and non-virginal girls – through the Crusades, the Inquisition, innumerable conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and suicide bombers convinced that martyrdom will lead them to paradise.

i) Once again, this begs the question. Singer and Hauser are offering a value-judgment on these actions. This presumes that they are entitled to offer a value-judgment. But, of course, they haven’t even begun to establish that presumption.

ii) They also insinuate that you can blame one religion for the misdeeds of another religion. But that’s a very sloppy inference. Should we also blame utilitarians for the misdeeds of deontologists or existentialists?

If you can blame it on religion in general, then why can’t you blame it on ethics in general.

iii) Christian ethics can easily account for the crimes of coreligionists. There’s a word for that: sin. That is hardly inconsistent with Christian ethics. To the contrary, that’s predicted by Christian ethics.

The third difficulty for the view that morality is rooted in religion is that some elements of morality seem to be universal, despite sharp doctrinal differences among the world’s major religions. In fact, these elements extend even to cultures like China, where religion is less significant than philosophical outlooks like Confucianism.

i) Once more, this poses no difficulty for Christian ethics. Have Singer and Hauser never heard of natural law or common grace?

One wonders in reading their caricature of the religious argument whether they are truly that ignorant of Christian ethics, or whether it simply suits their own political agenda to demagogue the issue.

ii) It’s also duplicitous for them to appeal to cultural universals when Singer, for one, has made a career of challenging conventional morality.

iii) Singer and Hauser are also cherry-picking the best of non-Christian civilizations. But even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that China was a morally upright civilization, what about ancient Assyria? Or Japan under the Shogun? Or the Aztecs? Or the Iroquois?

Perhaps a divine creator handed us these universal elements at the moment of creation. But an alternative explanation, consistent with the facts of biology and geology, is that over millions of years we have evolved a moral faculty that generates intuitions about right and wrong.

Of course, there are two problems with that alternative:

i) It commits the naturalistic fallacy.

ii) As soon as we become aware of our evolutionary conditioning, we’re in a position to override our evolutionary conditioning.

For the first time, research in the cognitive sciences, building on theoretical arguments emerging from moral philosophy, has made it possible to resolve the ancient dispute about the origin and nature of morality.

Grounding morality in cognitive science continues to commit the naturalistic fallacy. Unless nature has a teleological orientation, which naturalistic evolution denies, you can’t look to nature for moral guidance.

Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank space with “obligatory,” “permissible,” or “forbidden.”
1. A runaway boxcar is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the boxcar onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is.
2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond, and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child, she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is.
3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical condition, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time to request organs from outside the hospital, but there is a healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes this person’s organs, he will die, but the five in critical care will survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is.
If you judged case 1 as permissible, case 2 as obligatory, and case 3 as forbidden, then you are like the 1,500 subjects around the world who responded to these dilemmas on our web-based moral sense test ( If morality is God’s word, atheists should judge these cases differently from religious people, and their responses should rely on different justifications.
There are three problems with this argument:

i) As I already pointed out, Christian ethics can explain the common decency of the unbeliever consistent with Christian ethical presuppositions (i.e. natural law, common grace).

ii) Choices like these fail to present a real challenge to morality since the respondent, projecting himself into a situation like this, has nothing to gain or lose.

The acid test of morality is when doing right would be personally disadvantageous while doing the wrong would be personally advantageous. Ruining a pair of pants is trivial. It doesn’t cost you anything of consequence.

iii) It’s duplicitous of Singer to invoke common sense moral intuition when Singer goes on of his way to question and deny common sense moral intuitions on a number of moral issues:

For example, because atheists supposedly lack a moral compass, they should be guided by pure self-interest and walk by the drowning child. But there were no statistically significant differences between subjects with or without religious backgrounds, with approximately 90% of subjects saying that it is permissible to flip the switch on the boxcar, 97% saying that it is obligatory to rescue the baby, and 97% saying that is forbidden to remove the healthy man’s organs.

I’ve already drawn attention to some of the problems with this straw man argument. Now I’ll point out another problem:

There’s a difference between what a morally prereflective unbeliever might do and what a morally reflective unbeliever might do. Singer himself is a case in point. Take his third scenario. From his utilitarian standpoint, would it not be justifiable to kill one person to save five others? How would he himself answer the question of involuntary organ harvesting? Would he agree with the 97% of respondents, or the 3% of respondents? What is he teaching his students at Princeton?

Likewise, I don’t think that public policy in 21C Holland is as virtuous as public policy in 19C Holland. The secularization of Holland (to take one example) has had morally deleterious consequences.

When asked to justify why some cases are permissible and others forbidden, subjects are either clueless or offer explanations that cannot account for the relevant differences. Importantly, those with a religious background are as clueless or incoherent as atheists.

Of course, what all this amounts to is that some respondents lack an adequate worldview while other respondents lack the sophistication to articulate their worldview.

These studies provide empirical support for the idea that, like other psychological faculties of the mind, including language and mathematics, we are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong. These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals, and are part of our common inheritance. Our evolved intuitions do not necessarily give us the right or consistent answers to moral dilemmas. What was good for our ancestors may not be good today.

So why even bother referring to evolution if evolutionary ethics is admittedly inadequate?

But insights into the changing moral landscape, in which issues like animal rights, abortion, euthanasia, and international aid have come to the fore, have not come from religion, but from careful reflection on humanity and what we consider a life well lived.

Of course, that sidesteps the question of whether the “changing moral landscape” is a change for better or worse. It’s clear that Singer and Hauser are writing for a sympathetic audience. There’s no effort to actually prove a single one of their basic claims. What they do, instead, is to pander to the ethnocentric prejudice of the modern, Western reader. Someone who identifies with contemporary Eurocentric values.

In this respect, it is important for us to be aware of the universal set of moral intuitions so that we can reflect on them and, if we choose, act contrary to them. We can do this without blasphemy, because it is our own nature, not God, that is the source of our morality.

But unless our nature is God-given, there’s nothing normative about our nature. What’s the natural distinction between gang-rape and consensual sex? What’s the natural distinction between murder and self-defense?

Killing spree

"There is, anyway, little historical evidence to suggest that a permissive attitude towards the killing of one category of human beings leads to a breakdown of restrictions against killing other humans. Ancient Greeks regularly killed or exposed infants, but appear to have been at least as scrupulous about taking the lives of their fellow-citizens as medieval Christians or modern Americans. In traditional Eskimo societies it was the custom for a man to kill his elderly parents, but the murder of a normal healthy adult was almost unheard of."

1.Of course, this overlooks the additional fact that ancient cultures were generally warrior cultures. So the body count was quite high.

2.How does Singer know the murder rate among traditional Eskimos? Did they keep written records?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soylent Green is people!

Here’s an example of how Peter Singer—an influential, secular bioethicist—approaches life and death issues:

In dealing with an objection to the view of abortion presented in Chapter 6, we have already looked beyond abortion to infanticide. In so doing we will have confirmed the suspicion of supporters of the sanctity of human life that once abortion is accepted, euthanasia lurks around the next comer - and for them, euthanasia is an unequivocal evil...I do not deny that if one accepts abortion on the grounds provided in Chapter 6, the case for killing other human beings, in certain circumstances, is strong.

In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversible intellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-conscious beings.

The difference between killing disabled and normal infants lies not in any supposed right to life that the latter has and the former lacks, but in other considerations about killing. Most obviously there is the difference that often exists in the attitudes of the parents. The birth of a child is usually a happy event for the parents. They have, nowadays, often planned for the child. The mother has carried it for nine months. From birth, a natural affection begins to bind the parents to it. So one important reason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect the killing will have on its parents.

It is different when the infant is born with a serious disability. Birth abnormalities vary, of course. Some are trivial and have little effect on the child or its parents; but others turn the normally joyful event of birth into a threat to the happiness of the parents, and any other children they may have.

Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born. In that event the effect that the death of the child will have on its parents can be a reason for, rather than against killing it.

Infants are sentient beings who are neither rational nor self- conscious. So if we turn to consider the infants in themselves, independently of the attitudes of their parents, since their species is not relevant to their moral status, the principles that govern the wrongness of killing non-human animals who are sentient but not rational or self-conscious must apply here too.

The total view [i.e. total version of utilitarianism] treats infants as replaceable, in much the same way as it treats non-self-conscious animals (as we saw in Chapter 5). Many will think that the replaceability argument cannot be applied to human infants. The direct killing of even the most hopelessly disabled infant is still officially regarded as murder; how then could the killing of infants with far less serious problems, like hemophilia, be accepted? Yet on further reflection, the implications of the replaceability argument do not seem quite so bizarre. For there are disabled members of our species whom we now deal with exactly as the argument suggests we should. These cases closely resemble the ones we have been discussing. There is only one difference, and that is a difference of timing - the timing of the discovery of the problem, and the consequent killing of the disabled being.

There is, anyway, little historical evidence to suggest that a permissive attitude towards the killing of one category of human beings leads to a breakdown of restrictions against killing other humans. Ancient Greeks regularly killed or exposed infants, but appear to have been at least as scrupulous about taking the lives of their fellow-citizens as medieval Christians or modern Americans. In traditional Eskimo societies it was the custom for a man to kill his elderly parents, but the murder of a normal healthy adult was almost unheard of. I mention these practices not to suggest that they should be imitated, but only to indicate that lines can be drawn at places different from where we now draw them. If these societies could separate human beings into different categories without transferring their attitudes from one group to another, we with our more sophisticated legal systems and greater medical knowledge should be able to do the same.

All of this is not to deny that departing from the traditional sanctity-of-life ethic carries with it a very small but nevertheless finite risk of unwanted consequences. Against this risk we must balance the tangible harm to which the traditional ethic gives rise - harm to those whose misery is needlessly prolonged. We must also ask if the widespread acceptance of abortion and passive euthanasia has not already revealed flaws in the traditional ethic that make it a weak defense against those who lack respect for individual lives. A sounder, if less clear-cut, ethic may in the long run provide a firmer ground for resisting unjustifiable killing.

Now for a few comments:

1.Singer is not a member of the lunatic fringe. He’s a professor of bioethics at Princeton.

2.Under our current system, your views don’t need popular support to become the law of the land. They only need the support of five justices on the Supreme Court.

So even if Singer’s position represents an elite minority viewpoint, that doesn’t prevent it from becoming public policy.

3.Keep in mind that Supreme Court justices typically hail from the same Ivy League culture as Peter Singer. There would be no dearth of candidates who share his general outlook.

All it would take is two or three Democrats in the Oval office to make this happen.

4.Notice Singer’s criteria for the right to life: sentience, rationality, autonomy, self-consciousness, absence of pain, viability, and value to others.

His criteria are confined to psychological, physiological, and sociological criteria.

Notice what is missing from his criteria? He has no moral criteria. Just psychological, physiological, and/or sociological criteria.

5.This probably accounts for the fact that he’s written a great deal in support of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and animal rights, but nothing comparable in support of capital punishment.

And that’s because capital punishment, especially in the Christian tradition, involves moral criteria. The offender has done something sufficiently wrong to merit the death penalty. But moral criteria don’t figure in Singer’s calculus of who lives and who dies.

As a result, while he defends the right to abort unwanted babies or euthanize unwanted hemophiliacs, he doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for executing murderers or pedophiles. For that would involve moral criteria, which have no place in his system of bioethics.

6.This, in turn, brings us to a fundamental shift in the presumption of life.

i) In Christian bioethics, there’s a prima facie presumption that human life qua human is sacrosanct. That’s the default setting. All things being equal, human life is sacrosanct.

That presumption can be overcome under certain circumstances. For example, if a human being does something sufficiently heinous, he thereby forfeits his right to life.

So the presumption can be overcome if certain moral criteria are transgressed.

ii) But for a secular bioethicist like Singer, the presumption is reversed. The life of every human being must be justified by certain psychological, physiological, and/or sociological criteria. There is no inherent or antecedent warrant to live.

It would behoove more people to think long and hard about the ramifications of this shift in the presumption of life. Where the default setting is against the presumption of life. You are not entitled to live unless you can meet a certain psychological, physiological, and/or sociological threshold.

This view puts every human life in jeopardy. No one has a prior claim to life.

7.There is a superficial sense in which Singer does appeal to moral criteria in terms of his utilitarian presuppositions and calculations. But that is ultimately circular.

For example, he says the life of a hemophiliac is valuable if (and only if) it is valued by others. But unless human beings have some intrinsic value, the fact that one worthless human being values another worthless human being is a viciously circular way of grounding the value of human life.

You can’t appeal to the common good if the aggregate is reducible to a set of individually worthless human beings.

8.Regarding his attempt to deflect the slippery slope argument, I’d say three things:

i) The objection to his position is not a slippery slope argument. A slippery slope argument is an argument to the effect that while a given action, taken in isolation, may not be wrong, it will likely lead to wrongful consequences down the line.

a) But that is not the objection to his position. From a Christian standpoint, his position, as it stands, even if taken no further, is already evil.

b) There is the further objection that if you accept his position, then that logically commits you to extending his position to further wrongs. It’s based on necessary implications rather than probable consequences.

ii) It’s true that a permissive attitude towards killing one class of human beings does not automatically lead to wholesale slaughter. Rather, a more likely outcome, on Singer’s criteria, is the ruling class will exempt itself while killing members of the underclass with impunity.

iii) What is more, Singer has no firewall against random killing or mass murder since “medical knowledge” is not a moral criterion for taking human life. There are situations in which a patient’s medical condition is relevant to dispensing or withholding medical care. But that’s hardly a sufficient condition for receiving or withholding medical care. There would be no reason to care for any sick or injured individual unless human life is inherently valuable.

9.Apropos (8), Singer’s disclaimer about the “small risk” of unwanted consequences if we ditch Christian bioethics for secular bioethics is pitifully naïve and horrendously dangerous. Even from his own standpoint, there’s no way to assess the risk. Any rules men can make, men can break.

And from a Christian standpoint, where we’re dealing with fallen humanity, we can expect the worst-case scenario to play out at one time or another. To have an evil premise taken to its evil extreme.

PeTA, Abortion, ES Cell Research, and Cognitive Dissonance

Here's some quotes from PeTA’s FAQ:

“What do you mean by ‘animal rights’?”

People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful and even if everyone dislikes him or her).

“It’s fine for you to believe in animal rights, but why do you try to tell other people what to do?”

Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion, but freedom of thought is not the same thing as freedom of action. You are free to believe whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others. You may believe that animals should be killed, that black people should be enslaved, or that women should be beaten, but you don’t always have the right to put your beliefs into practice. The very nature of reform movements is to tell others what to do—don’t use humans as slaves, don’t sexually harass women, etc.—and all movements initially encounter opposition from people who want to continue to take part in the criticized behavior.

“Animals don’t reason, don’t understand rights, and don’t always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of morality to them?”

An animal’s inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a child’s or as that of a person with a severe developmental disability. Animals are not always able to choose to change their behaviors, but adult human beings have the intelligence and ability to choose between behaviors that hurt others and behaviors that do not hurt others. When given the choice, it makes sense to choose compassion.

“How can you justify spending your time helping animals when there are so many people who need help?”

There are very serious problems in the world that deserve our attention, and cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can. Helping animals is not any more or less important than helping human beings—they are both important. Animal suffering and human suffering are interconnected.

Of course a logical question is, "What about abortion? What about ES cell research?"

Notice above that even using animals in experiments should be considered off limits, regardless of whether experimenting on (say) a monkey could potentially provide the cure to (say) cancer.

One would expect a logical, consistent, well-reasoned answer when it comes to abortion. That this should be expected is even more evident when you consider that the vast majority of PeTA members are atheists - who we all know are renowned for their clear, cogent, and profound thinking skills.

But then why do we get waffling here:

“Where does the animal rights movement stand on abortion?”

There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, the animal rights movement has no official position on abortion. (ibid)

If you're feeling cheated, you're probably not alone. It just seems obvious that an answer in line with the previous answers would follow here. Something like:

"Well, our position on abortion is the same as if you asked me how I'd feel if you poured acid on a dog and chemically burned it to death, or how I'd feel about sucking a cow into a vacuum and chopping it into bits, or the same answer I'd give if you pulled a monkey out of its tree and shoved a giant spike into the base of it's skull. I mean, where do we stand on abortion?, that's a stupid question."

Or something along those lines …

I mean, to me, a condemning of abortion in the strongest of terms seems to follow, by strict internal logic, from other PeTA premises. But that's just me. But, perhaps it doesn't lead to such condemnation. I mean, we're dealing with atheist logic, after all. So, I'll look at some possible reasons for their apparently inconsistent pro-animal-murder stance. But first, before looking outside their answer for possible defenses, I think their answer itself is somewhat confused. I’ll offer a couple reasons why.

First, the fact that there are people on both sides of the issue within the (so-called) animal rights movement seems to be irrelevant. The question is obviously one of consistency. The purpose of the question is to find possible inconsistencies within the ideology of the (so-called) animal rights movement. So the fact that some within the movement are pro-choice seems irrelevant. It doesn't so much answer a question as it begs a question: "Well, how the heck can that be?" By my lights, to admit in this context that some members are pro-choice seems about the same as saying that some members of the movement are for wearing fur and experimenting on monkeys and some aren’t. The question is: Is it appropriate, consistent, or otherwise internally rational to be pro-choice if you are a member of the animal rights movement.

Second, what else can it be but complete ignorance of the pro-life position that there is a parity to be found in the pro-life movement? There is no official statement on non-human animal rights by the pro-life side because their position has nothing to do with non-human animals. However, as the PeTA FAQ sheet makes clear, all animals, human and non, have a right not to be used "for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all" (ibid).

Having made these two brief introductory comments, I'll try to surmise as best I can what types of arguments PeTA might put forward to assuage our worries about the seeming inconsistency that appears obvious to many (and, by the way, it's kind of a throw away comment to claim that some of PeTA's members are pro-life, this position is rare among animal rights advocates, most always made up of those aligned with the radical left. The peer pressure from those on the radical left to be pro-choice is extremely strong, and I think that finding pro-life members among animal rights advocate may be only slightly simpler than finding a needle in a hay stack).

1. One move might be to claim that the fetus is not an animal. But this seems highly implausible. It can be argued that it is not "fully human," that is is not "a person" that it is not "a bearer of rights", or any other typical pro-choice argument. But it is fairly established that it is living, and it is at least an animal. I am of course assuming that PeTA is not on a war against science (though some have claimed that they are by their desire to halt scientific testing on animals). If it is true that PeTA intends to be rational, and submit to scientific consensuses, then this move seems to be a unwarranted move. Here are various quotes by embryologists that have appeard in various journals and textbooks demonstrating the overwhelming scientific concensus that human life starts at conception.

If one does not want to admit to life starting at conception, it seems all sides agree that there is a new, living animal (at least) just a couple short weeks after conception. Yet one doubts pro-choice PeTA members would jump in at this point and defend these animals. And I'm not even saying that they have to get as extreme as they do when they try to stop (say) the making and selling of fur coats. For example, they will sneak inside posh stores and pour red paint all over themselves and on the fur coats, holding signs that say, "Fur is dead." They could write a position paper. And if that is too much to ask, perhaps a sentence or two on their FAQ page could be constructed. It doesn't take much away from your "primary purpose" to give a nod to the pro-life position, especially when taking any position other than the pro-life one renders your broader position inconsistent and makes it look more like it's about being radical than it is actually caring about “animals.”

2. They may answer along similar lines as their response to questions about plants. The question that naturally arises in these kinds of discussions is, "What about eating or 'harming' plants?" I'll present the essence of their answer below. So the FAQ:

“What about plants?”

There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain because they are devoid of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. (ibid)

Though the validity of this answer can be debated with regard to various botanical questions that might be asked, I think it is insufficient to function as a reason to be pro-choice when it comes to human fetuses yet remaining staunchly pro animal rights (as they conceive the term). Some brief observations can be made:

i) Fetuses feel pain fairly quickly. Probably between 6 and 8 weeks. Can we expect PeTA to issue a statement condemning all abortions after this time?

ii) Can I kill an animal, so long as it's quick and painless? Say, blow a cat's brains out in her sleep?

iii) We should distinguish between pain and harm. Not all harm is physically painful. And certainly any self-respecting PeTA member is also against harming animals. Dressing a monkey up in a tutu may not be physically painful, but most PeTA members would say this is harmful to the "dignity" (or whatever) of the monkey. If that is true, a fortiori is it harmful to end the life of an animal? To knock out that future potential? None of us would have wanted our life snuffed out in the womb, even if it would have been physically painless.

iv) What, what do you do about CIPA? A person suffering from congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis disorer cannot feel pain, heat or cold. Take this little girl:

"The untreatable disease also makes Ashlyn incapable of sensing extreme temperatures — hot or cold — disabling her body’s ability to cool itself by sweating. Otherwise, her senses are normal.

Ashlyn can feel the texture of nickels and dimes she sorts into piles on her bedroom floor, the heft of the pink backpack she totes to school and the embrace of a hug. She feels hunger cravings for her favorite after-school snack, pickles and strawberry milk.

That’s because the genetic mutation that causes CIPA only disrupts the development of the small nerve fibers that carry sensations of pain, heat and cold to the brain."
Therefore, if the inability to feel pain determines whether an animal (or plant!) can be unjustifiably harmed in some way, can we kill little Ashlyn? Of course not. And of course I am not suggesting that PeTA would say we could (though some comments by Singer allow us to question even this). But now they're left with the same problem and no apparent way out.

3. One possible reason an animal rights person may be pro-choice is due to compassion; that is, safe and legal abortions stop back alley abortions, and animal rights advocates want as little animal pain as possible inflicted on as small a number as possible. But not only is this "back alley butcher" scenario largely based on myth, and is now a well-known example of the typical wool that gets pulled over so many an ideologues' eyes because, to be quite honest, most Americans are dumb and will swallow whatever pill their Morpheus gives them, it also undermines animal rights arguments. For example, this argument could very well be used to allow the continuation of slaughterhouses so we don't go back to the old days of hunting our own food. Well-known are the stories about shooting your prey and having to track it for miles as Bambi slogs through the forest looking for a watering hole to quench her dry mouth. A captive bolt gun is "safer" than the "old" ways. The “backwoods hunter” days.

So, I confess that I can find no reason for this inconsistency on behalf of PeTA members. Their arguments for animal rights, if used consistently, are arguments against abortion of embryonic stem cell research. Yet we find the vast, overwhelming majority of animal rights advocates (again, defined as PeTA would define 'animal rights') decidedly pro-choice. This is probably because they are probably something like what "radical Muslims" are for "religions" (considered theoretically), instead they represent radical aspects of progressive and atheistic thought. Peter Singer would argue for the godlessness of it all. But at this point, one wonders of it is the atheism or the animal rights views that cause this cognitive dissonance. At this point I must put my hand over my mouth, for I can go no further.

Refutation of New Scientist’s Evolution

Refutation of New Scientist’s Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions by Jonathan Sarfati

HT: Fred Butler

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


When the enemies of Calvinism can’t successfully attack Calvinism on principled grounds, they resort to ad hominem. The stock example is Calvin’s role in the execution of Servetus.

Of course, this assumes that Calvin was wrong to sanction the execution of Servetus. But it’s worth asking, on what grounds was he wrong?

From the viewpoint of the anti-Calvinist, on what grounds was he wrong? And, from the viewpoint of a contemporary Calvinist, on what grounds was he wrong? Each side of the debate has its own burden of proof to discharge.

1. Calvin’s own reason for sanctioning the execution of Servetus was his belief in the duty of the civil magistrate to uphold both tables of the law. Now, we may disagree with Calvin, but it won’t suffice to simply pronounce him wrong and leave it at that. For this goes to issues that Christian have been debating for centuries. The proper relation between church and state. The proper relation between the OT and the NT.

And there are parallel arguments in the secular sphere regarding the proper jurisdiction of gov’t, ranging from libertarianism to socialism and totalitarianism. And they have their own inquisitions.

Mind you, even if we accept Calvin’s position regarding the duty of the civil magistrate, that—of itself—doesn’t warrant the execution of heretics. There are at least two additional steps you’d have to make.

i) You’d have to establish that the state enjoys the authority to define heresy.

ii) You’d also have to establish that heresy, even if a crime, ought to be a capital offense.

2. One might also object to the execution of heretics on the agnostic grounds that dogma is mere opinion. We should tolerate dissent because there is no way of telling who is right and who is wrong in matters of faith.

i) Such a sceptical attitude is appealing to theological liberals. However, many Christians who condemn the actions of Calvin are not that agnostic. They will have to use a different argument.

ii) And this would be an ironic way of defending Servetus, for he himself did not share their religious indifferentism. He took dogma quite seriously. He was quite dogmatic in his own right. He went out of his way to taunt and provoke the religious establishment of the day, both Catholic and Protestant, with predictable consequences.

He tried, by every means available, to convince people that he was right and his religious opponents were wrong.

3. What is the traditional argument for the execution of heretics? The traditional argument classifies heresy with soul-murder. Here’s a classic expression of that position:

With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Galatians 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."

For Aquinas, you must quarantine the carrier to prevent a pandemic. And if the carrier proves to be incurable, he must be euthanized for the common good.

4. So what are we to make of this argument? Aquinas was nothing if not a logical man, so there’s a certain logical force to his argument—if you grant the premises.

i) From a Christian standpoint, there is a sense in which heresy is worse than murder. A murderer condemns his victim to death, but a heretic condemns his victim to hell.

ii) However, the argument from analogy suffers from certain equivocations. Except for voluntary euthanasia, a murder victim is not a willing victim. He is not complicit in his own demise.

By contrast, there’s a consensual element to heresy. You allow yourself to be persuaded by the heretic.

iii) From the standpoint of Protestant theology, while a given heresy may well be a damnable sin, we need to counterbalance the concept of soul-murder with the concept of soul-liberty. There’s an individualistic element to Protestant theology. Sola fide. The right of private judgment.

The position of Aquinas treats the “victim” of heresy as if he’s in a state of diminished responsibility. And that’s consistent with the paternalistic nature of Catholic ecclesiology. In Catholicism, the laymen are like impressionable children who require the adult supervision of the Magisterium.

But from a Protestant perspective, Christians are directly and individually accountable to God. By the same token, we can make allowance for differences in individual aptitude and opportunity. But a third party like the church doesn’t have the right to co-opt their personal responsibility.

A heretic can’t damn his victim in the way a murder can kill his victim. Damnation is a divine prerogative.

5. Ironically, militant atheists like Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris regard piety in the same way that Aquinas regarded impiety. They treat religion as a contagion. They think the general population needs to be shielded against the infectious disease of religion. They think it’s the duty of the state to restrain religious expression. For example, Dawkins equates religious indoctrination with child abuse.

So the extremes have come full circle. Dawkins is the flipside of Aquinas—although Aquinas has many compensatory virtues lacking in Dawkins.

6. Some Christians object to putting heretics to death on the grounds that, in the NT, the sanction for heresy is excommunication rather than execution. I myself think that’s basically correct, but the argument is somewhat complicated.

For example, the same sort of argument is used by Anabaptists to justify pacifism. They take the NT as their frame of reference, and there is no NT command for Christians to participate in gov’t. Moreover, from their reading of the NT, Christians forfeit the right of self-defense.

The traditional criticism of this position is that, since the NT was written at a time when Christians were a tiny religious minority, with no legal protection, it confines itself to the concrete situation of 1C Christians. But we shouldn’t construe its silence on various aspects of Christian statecraft as opposition to the role of a Christian magistrate.

And I think that criticism is basically correct. It’s also bound up with the contentious issue of whether NT ethics completely supplants OT ethics.

7. Since the OT treated some religious offenses as capital crimes, a Christian can’t very well argue that it’s intrinsically evil to execute someone for impiety. So we need to scale back the expressions of outrage.

8. However, you could argue that, in the OT, certain religious offenses were capital offenses due to the cultic holiness of Israel. And since the modern state isn’t set apart in that sense, we don’t execute people for mere sins or crimes against God. Rather, we only execute them for certain forms of social misconduct against their fellow man.

9. Let’s now revisit another issue: does the state have the authority to define heresy?

i) Even OT Israel didn’t enjoy that authority. God was the lawmaker. It was up to God to determine and disclose what constituted a religious offense in general, as well as a capital religious offense in particular.

ii) And there’s an obvious danger if we empower the state to define heresy. That would be a very useful weapon for the party in power to deploy against its political opponents.

10. Of course, you might argue that the church has the authority to define heresy. The church defines heresy for the state. The state merely enforces that definition. But there are some problems with that argument:

i) It made more apparent sense in the time of Aquinas, when there was only one church (in the West).

ii) It also made more sense if you believe in the authority of the Magisterium to formally define heresy.

Of course, as a matter of church discipline, Protestant denominations must also draw the boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But they don’t lay claim to the same sort of divine guidance that you find in Catholicism (or Orthodoxy), or the fine gradations thereof. We define heresy, and excommunicate heretics, but we ultimately leave it to God to separate the sheep and goats.

11. Finally, if it’s appropriate to single out Calvin’s treatment of his religious opponents to discredit Reformed theology, then it’s equally appropriate to single out Archbishop Laud’s treatment of his religious opponents to discredit Arminian theology.