January 2015 Archives
January 2, 2015
Teaching about bad philosophy without making the heinous mainstream
In putting together my last post, I was beguiled into rereading some ancient (almost three years' old) W4 history in the form of the comments on one of my posts about infanticidal ethics.
You see, I had chortled a bit over the extremely mild discomfort suffered by the ethical advocates of infanticide when their views became known and the ordinary folk were upset. Worse, in that same brief post, I had implied that the article in question should not have been published. Worst of all, I had done so on the basis of representative quotations from the article without having read the whole thing.
This was too much for one of our commentators, who accused me of undermining my philosophical bona fides.
January 3, 2015
The presuppositions of the skeptics
The same pedants who declare the New Testament an utterly unreliable historical record also cling to their own certain knowledge of the details of human prehistory. Thus they say that while they can’t be sure if Jesus Christ ever existed, they are quite sure Noah never existed, and they are quite sure no one ever was taken up by God in the manner of Enoch — because while they can’t say anything certain about what happened 2000 years ago, they can be very certain about what happened many thousands of years before that.
One wonders how these people are even certain that Abraham Lincoln ever truly walked the earth. Perhaps George Washington was an invention of avaricious Virginia conspirators dabbling in a sophisticated legendarium? How can these skeptics be sure Columbus or Dante ever existed, much less Plato or Buddha? Clearly their own certain knowledge is confined to the distant murky antiquity of mankind, not his more recent recorded conduct.
To be intensely skeptical of the historical record that comes down to us from Roman imperial times, and insouciantly credulous about conjectures of human prehistory, is a special kind of provincialism unique to our age. Only a current day professor can really hold this awkward and unbecoming poise.
If you truly wonder whether Jesus of Nazareth ever lived, think it possible that he is merely the invention or exaggeration of the world’s great forgery, also known as the New Testament, the only possible position vis-à-vis ancient human prehistory, evidencing a logical soundness, must be complete agnosticism. You cannot now adopt a firm certainly and pronounce the biblical account false.
January 4, 2015
America is No Worse Than Countries with Real Race Hatred
While many of my African-American friends cringe at my stories about being black in Eastern Europe, I reflect on my time there fondly. That’s not to say that race relations in Europe are better than in the United States. As far as I am concerned, they are just as bad, if not worse, on average.Read the article from which that quote was extracted. Note the kinds of discrimination he experienced in Ukraine, and then consider the quote again.
How are we supposed to deal with a person like him?
He thinks that perceived racial discrimination in the United States -- attributed by him to subconscious attitudes, requiring studies to even detect them (assuming the studies validly identify what he thinks they do) -- is "just as bad," or maybe a little better, on average, than people openly refusing to rent to him, making Nazi salutes at him, and harassing him under the assumption that he's smuggling drugs. By any objective measure, his treatment in the United States is orders of magnitude better, yet he appears to be blind to that fact.
It's enough to make one want to give up on ever having a serious discussion with people like him. ("Like him" meaning irrational people, not black people. There are whites who would think like him, and blacks who would not.)
January 5, 2015
Welcome to new contributor John Fraser
Alert readers who watch the sidebar here at W4 with eagle eyes will have noticed a new contributor pop up: John Fraser has just joined our ranks here at What's Wrong With the World.
As his bio says, John and his lovely wife and children are missionaries to Hungary. I also note that he is deeply interested in philosophy and apologetics. My family and I have been friends with John and his wife personally for many years, as he was one of my husband's students when Tim first came to Western Michigan University. We always enjoy having a chance to spend time with the Frasers when they are in the United States.
Welcome, John. We look forward to your contributions to What's Wrong With the World!
January 6, 2015
Climate Change and Eschatology
The eschatology of secular humanism can be summarized as everything goes to pot in the end. Even if we survive whatever environmental doomsday scenarios are thrown at us, at some point in the future the sun will burn out, go supernova, and destroy planet earth along with the rest of our ill-fated solar system. If humanity manages to develop technology to populate other worlds and solar systems before that our future descendants will have to keep planet-hopping to avoid a similar fate on those other worlds until it all comes crashing down with the ultimate end of the universe, whether by heat-death, Big Crunch, or some other similarly sad fate.
The current alarmism about the environment in the form of Climate Change (formerly and more falsifiably Global Warming) is thus a bit puzzling from the secular standpoint. We’re supposed to be alarmed because the earth is going to pot. But the only difference between this and the scenarios sketched out above is how soon it all happens. Why anyone should care about that? If the earth goes to pot in 10 generations or 10,000,000 generations, it still all goes to pot. Secular humanists might pretend they have some reason to think that matters, but in fact there isn’t one in the secular worldview. They might even claim some sort of moral imperative to do something to help ensure that it goes to pot in 10,000,000 generations instead of 10, but where would this moral imperative come from?
Christian eschatology on the other hand holds forth the promise that everything turns out right in the end. Justice is ultimately done, God is vindicated and glorified in all of his works, and it will all be good. This will be the case no matter what human beings do. God’s plans cannot be thwarted. In secular eschatology salvation comes through the wise use of technology combined with good government. It is up to us to save the earth but even this salvation is, in the end, only temporary. In the Christian vision salvation is not temporary; it is permanent and comes through the divine action of God in history. The appeal of secular eschatology lies here. Rather than depending upon God and waiting for him to do something, we get to save ourselves. We are the change we have been waiting for, to quote a progressive politician.
January 7, 2015
Is it okay now to oppose Muslim immigration?
In a stunning terrorist attack, Muslims armed with Kalashnikovs have murdered journalists, bodyguards, and policemen to a total of twelve victims in Paris. More were injured. The paper Charlie Hebdo had defiantly posted cartoons and tweets critical of Mohammad and Islam. The terrorists escaped and are currently on the loose, presumably in Paris.
In view of the evidence, I do not consider that cautious doubt is warranted concerning whether or not these were Muslims or what their motive was.
As long-time readers know, I have repeatedly said that Muslim immigration is a bad idea and should be stopped. This is not to say that all Muslims are going to commit acts of terrorism. It is, rather, to say that this group contains terrorists, supporters of terrorism, supporters of sharia, and those likely to be "radicalized" and become terrorists or supporters or terrorism in percentages far disproportionate to their representation in the population. They are also more likely than other immigrant groups to create domestic enclaves in which honor killings, suppression of Christian evangelism, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and other sharia-motivated behaviors flourish and are difficult to root out.
The opposition to Muslim immigration per se makes some mainstream conservatives uncomfortable. We're always supposed to seek some other solution--trying to encourage immigrants to assimilate and be (or remain) "moderate," for example. But why? Immigration is not a right.
Even if the wicked jihadi murderers who committed this atrocity in Paris were, in fact, born in France, somewhere in the recent past the story of how they come to be there can be traced to Muslim immigration to Europe. You can bet the farm on that.
So now is it okay to oppose Muslim immigration?
January 10, 2015
Reiterating the point: Incommensurable evils
Back in 2007, which is a long time in blog-o-spheric terms, I wrote a post for W4 called "Incommensurable Evils." My point there was that Islam and decadent Western leftism are incommensurable. To try to decide which is worse is a classic apples and oranges comparison. One is worse in some ways while another is worse in other ways, and that's about all that there is to be said. It's anybody's guess (I didn't get into this question) which one is going to "win" in Europe and/or in America, or whether some better (or worse) alternative will rise up and conquer both. I don't deal in speculative history of that kind, so I'm not going to make any bets.
Since the question of obscenity has come up in the thread below in relation to the recent terrorism in Paris, I think it's worth reiterating the incommensurable evils point.
January 11, 2015
The demise of Amedy Coulibaly
Minutes later, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, who murdered a policewoman on Thursday and was behind the drama at the kosher store in which four hostages were killed, was also dead, after dozens of armed officers blasted their way into the shop. It later emerged that Coulibaly – who had phoned a French television station to claim allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – had accidentally left the phone off the hook, allowing police to listen in to what was going on. They moved in when they heard him praying and decided they could catch him unawares.
So in the midst of his treachery, this morbid pantomime of a soldier pauses to pray — and by this prayer some considerable number of Jews are preserved from lethal harm.
We know from earlier attacks, like the razzia that shattered Mumbai in 2008, that Jews are specially selected for gruesome torments. We can suppose that this Jihadist, too, was preparing himself spiritually for the defilement and torture of these French Jews who likely never sketched a cartoon or said a word against any prophet. We can also speak definitively about the wickedness of a doctrine that induces a man to pray to God before he undertakes torments upon the innocent and unarmed.
There is much that is admirable and just in the prayers of even pagan men, as they gird themselves for the field of battle. We may hope than even some fierce and hardy pagan men are not untouched by repentance, by a sincere desire to have hatred taken from their heart, that dutiful service might remain unvarnished, when faced with the approach of the blood and iron of battle. Nor has battle between Christians been altogether uncommon. “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”
To pray before battle is entirely human. But what happened this week in Paris was only a battle in the deranged minds of the sons of Jihad.
The morbid charade of soldiering that these Jihadists undertake has its exemplar in this man who, in the midst of visiting treasonous butchery upon the innocent, exposes himself to defeat when he kneels to pray. It is a fitting end for Monsieur Coulibaly.
January 13, 2015
No, it isn't just like saying "Jesus Christ"
A number of news outlets and even some Christians (unfortunately) have taken to referring to Mohammad as "the Prophet Mohammad," "Prophet Mohammad" or even just "the Prophet."
Occasionally when one objects to this one hears that it is just like the phrase "Jesus Christ" and has no more significance--that is, that it does not represent any catering to Muslim sensibilities by appearing to acknowledge the status of Mohammad as a prophet.
There are a bunch of things wrong with this comparison.
January 15, 2015
On marriage and heaven
Now for something completely different. Several days ago I received some correspondence from a young pastor who has been sending his questions on this topic to a variety of Christian writers and speakers. He had seen my husband speak recently but was more readily able to find my e-mail address and wanted to know if either of us had some insights on his questions. I won't quote his questions here, but their general import was to wonder what Jesus meant when he said that we will neither marry nor be given in marriage in the resurrection. As a happily married man, he was distressed at the thought of being separated from his wife in heaven or "not married" to her anymore and wondered how Jesus' words should be taken.
He also wondered whether Jesus' death and resurrection would not be able to restore us to Adam's prelapsarian state, which clearly was meant to include marriage.
One commentary he had read had even conjectured that we might be completely a-gendered beings in heaven, while another person he had consulted was not entirely closed to the idea that there actually will be sexual intercourse in heaven, though that person nevertheless discouraged speculation along those lines.
What follows is my response, which I admitted up front would be rather a long treatise:
Don't Insult the Pope's Mom - Or Else
I couldn’t help but take note of the Pope’s comments today about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in which he stated that free speech has its limits. He was by no means condoning the slaughter of cartoonists (although the context of his remarks certainly confuses the issue). But I was particularly interested in this quote from the AP article: “’If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,’ Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. ‘It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.’”
Did I miss something here? I distinctly remember Jesus saying something about being insulted, even slapped in the face (an extremely serious and personal insult). I don’t recall him saying that if you do that you should expect a punch back – either from him or from the future Pope. In fact everything Jesus ever said about being insulted and being attacked and persecuted was – get this – not to do likewise in return.
January 19, 2015
Conservatives, free speech and the disputed question
Disputation on the subject of Free Speech arises again. I have written before that, generally speaking, conservatives have a temperamental inclination to let everyone have his say, while at the same time a robust understanding of the inherent philosophical limits on free expression. The conservative as a dour censor, ever ready to silence dissent, is little more than a calumny from the port side of the political spectrum. The enormous diversity of conservative opinion and the eccentricity of its notable characters should be evident on even a cursory study. Stated simply, conservatives have a very hard time holding a party line. Beyond opposition to abortion and a distrust of government intervention, no strict orthodoxy of opinion can be found. Furious quarrels regularly bubble up on economics, political theory, culture, foreign policy, and theology, among other things.
Right-wingers in America, especially those in media and academia, have long experience with being, intellectually, “behind enemy lines.” It goes back at least as far as Buckley’s God and Man at Yale. Last year, a new hue and cry was raised against Harvard’s only prominent conservative, Harvey Mansfield, purposed toward silencing him for deviation from feminist orthodoxy. On matters of sexual mores and environmentalism, the puritanical urge to snuff out dissent from the Left is particular determined.
From this conservatives have developed very thick skins. Likewise, they have been habituated to a higher standard of quality, arising in part from a close familiarity with the doctrines and monomanias of liberalism; they know their opponents’ arguments well, and they know how to seek out and discover the best arguments among them. The contrast could hardly be plainer: few pro-abortion agitators have even a passing familiarity with the best pro-life arguments. Not two out of ten Leftist culture warriors could supply a single pertinent fact about Russell Kirk. Books like Conor Cruise O’Brien’s The Great Melody are so noteworthy because they are so uncommon: here is that rare man of the Left who treats Burke with seriousness and sympathy. (Indeed, the first portion of O’Brien’s book is precisely dedicated to exposing the egregious and unscholarly belittling of Burke’s life and work by the British historical establishment; his denunciation of the “Namierite” school of Burke denigration is enough to make conservatives stand up and cheer.)
January 20, 2015
Apparently Science Says "Is" Really Means "Ought"
Ah, grammar. You can be a descriptivist (you think that "correct" grammar is whatever grammar people actually use), or a prescriptivist (you think that people should follow correct grammar rules), or something in between. I'm in between, leaning descriptivist in most situations.
But if a scientist describes the descriptivist position, suddenly "science says" that is the correct one.
The article is titled, "Science Says You Can Split Infinitives and Use the Passive Voice", and the subheading tells us that "Steven Pinker explains why you don't have to follow bogus grammar rules."
"There are so many bogus rules in circulation that kind of serve as a tactic for one-upmanship," explains Pinker on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "They're a way in which one person can prove that they're more sophisticated or literate than someone else, and so they brandish these pseudo-rules."
Any rules that tell you what you ought to do are "pseudo-rules"; the only real rules are whatever exists that aligns with your individual will.
(In fact, I get the feeling that it may go farther than that. It's late, and I don't have the formulation down, but it seems to me that this is related to the idea that everything not forbidden is compulsory.)
Funny, but I always thought that science was a descriptive endeavor. Science tells you how electricity works, but not whether you should use it to light a hospital or to torture a political prisoner. Science is is, morality is ought.
One could wish it were only in grammar that people make this error, but no: We have to endorse homosexual behavior because it's practiced by bonobos as well as in some humans.
By that logic, of course, anything goes. Somehow it never quite works that way, though: People who say that science has all the answers (Michael Shermer comes to mind) will also tell you that science supports their view of morality. Gee, it's amazing that objective science happens to back up the ideas they had already decided upon. I wonder how that works.
Sad thing is, I agree with Pinker on the grammar. I just don't agree with him on its "scientific" nature.
January 22, 2015
Medicine depends on axiology
I got thinking about Jake's post below concerning "is" and "ought," science, and language while cooking pork chops last night. (The pork chops have nothing to do with this post. They're thrown in only to show that this really was just generated by random thoughts while going about one's day and that this post is not in any way disagreeing with the post that I happened to be thinking about at the beginning of my musings.) It got me thinking about how to distinguish "is" and "ought" statements, and I came back to a hobby horse which I have so far not ridden much here at W4.
The practice of medicine depends essentially upon believing propositions which fall right at the intersection of "is" and "ought." Consider the following:
--Cutting off Jennifer's leg would be detrimental to her health.
--Anti-oxidant vitamins are good for you.
--John's spleen is healthy.
Repeat After Me:
You should be able to sleep with whomever you love. You should be able to marry whomever you love. The state has no business discriminating among the sexual relationships of consenting adults. And slippery slope arguments are stupid.
January 25, 2015
Old compromises may come back to haunt
More than six years ago right here at W4 I posted this research article on pro-life opposition to aborted fetal tissue research. What I showed there by fairly fine-grained research was that the National Right to Life Committee consistently and explicitly argued against the use of tissue from aborted fetuses in research until the George W. Bush presidency. Then they stopped. In fact, when the Bush NIH funded aborted fetal tissue research, the NRLC issued an explicit statement that it would be a wrong emphasis to be upset about this or oppose it, because embryonic stem-cell research was now the real danger that we must oppose. (Not that that opposition continued consistently either, but that's a story for retelling another day.)
The issue of research using tissue from aborted fetuses may have seemed largely moot in the years since then, because the previous proposals for the use of such tissue have turned out to be scientific busts, and ESCR was touted as more promising. But Moloch is surprisingly creative, and the use of tissue from aborted fetuses is baaaack.
January 26, 2015
The hard case for Free Speech
Envision a really strong case against Free Speech, understood in the sense of someone contracting with someone else to produce political propaganda. Envision the circumstances where the First Amendment has been abused and perhaps the laws should no longer countenance it.
Imagine a guilt-ridden old currency trader, emerging from the shadows of Cold War Eastern Europe, sick in his aged bones with ill-gotten gold, but still energetic and hungry; who decides upon a conspiracy to disperse large sums for peculiar institutional purpose.
He will sow racial discord in Middle America.
He will scratch at an old festering American wound, which none of his ancestors ever knew a thing about, but which always supplies ample vulnerabilities for the shrewd manipulator. In his designing illiberality, he will finance bitterness and exploit sorrow.
Imagine that our Eastern European billionaire, whose currency-trading brinkmanship threatened whole cities and states, has paid for outside agitators to show up at some tragic local dispute, and by their menace and wantonness, throw it into the cauldron of national politics, thereby ensuring greater rancor, mistrust, aspersions, incivility.
Now imagine the agitations and protests get out of hand. Violence erupts. His political speech, his contracting for political activity, has lit the fuse of riot and disorder. A community burns. Old local businesses, with evident roots and equally evident love for their neighbors, are laid to waste.
The political speech, contracted for by a foreign magnate with millions made in usury, has set an American town on fire.
Now imagine no one ever calls him on it, in the real rough and tumble of American politics. Neither politicians nor media, though long preoccupied with the town on fire, have taken notice of the magnate’s machinations. Their curiosity slumbers. His peculations rarely noted, even his funding of controversial agitation is observed in silence.
Those writers most often driven to distraction by the personalities and names of specific financiers of American politics, can conjure no interest in this man. This peculiar financier cuts no prominent figure in journalistic conjecture on Free Speech and Citizens United.
What might we make of this geezer of the hedge funds, this antiquity from the Cold War Left, who dares to finance blood libels on Americans, who dares to hire outside activists to plunder an American town? And what might we think of his cynical use of our free system of political expression?
I do not think we will think very highly of him or it at all. Many of us will feel an instinct to tell him exactly where to put his filthy money.
Here, then, is a very strong case against Free Speech. A foreign financier, fabulously wealthy, conniving at mischief, riot, turbulence, strife. Surely he should be stopped?
But no: in the end, deliberation’s cool effect having prevailed, most of us will in our calmness agree that after all George Soros should not be forbidden by law, from sowing racial discord in Ferguson, MO. Let him spend his millions as he wishes without molestation; let only the rioters and looters face the coercion of law.
Though perhaps Soros should have the decency to use some few of those millions, to make some burnt-out Ferguson businesses whole.
January 27, 2015
Homosexual attraction is not a good at all
There has been quite a controversy humming around lately about those that Catholic writer Austin Ruse calls the "new homophiles." Evidently some think that is a prejudicial term, so I'll make up a different term. Let's call them the "Christian homosexual identifiers" or CHIs. There is no subtle pun or joke here. I'm just trying to come up with something descriptive and different from Ruse's phrase, since for some reason Ruse's is regarded as invidious. (I'm pretty sure he just meant it to be descriptive as well, but sometimes you can't win with these things. Someone is always offended.)
As best I can understand it, the CHIs are Christians who identify themselves as "gay," who accept that they should not be engaging in sexual acts with members of the same sex, but who regard their "gay" identity as in some sense a positive thing. The controversy is over whether they are correct so to regard it. Here is a mainstream news piece about the Catholic CHIs.
January 28, 2015
What need means
A Washington Post article noteworthy for its sensationalism reserves a most arresting revelation for the very last paragraph. It comes from the mouth of a man whose interest and perspective are commendably disclosed, by the very name of the organization he works for: the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. Here is a man who gives voice to the authentic view of the American public education establishment. Here is a man who shows us what they are thinking. His remarks that conclude this article are striking.
But first, the sensationalism.
January 30, 2015
There Is No Such Thing As Political Correctness
At least according to Amanda Taub from Vox, who wrote a blog piece in response to an article by Jonathan Chait. Chait argues that the resurgent form of political correctness today is threatening to undermine liberalism. He seems to think this is a bad thing, but I digress. Taub contradicts that, saying that use of the label “Political Correctness” is actually a way of dismissing the legitimate concerns of others that we ourselves do not feel particularly strong about. She uses as an example a single comment by a Virginia legislator, Jackson Miller, who wanted the Washington Redskins to keep their name unchanged. Taub, unsurprisingly, thinks it is racist and should be changed so as to avoid offending people. Miller made the statement that the controversy over the Redskins’ name was “political correctness on steroids on overdrive” (interestingly Taub left out the “steroids” part in her version of the quote). Taub sees this as simply a ploy to shut down the debate without considering the possibility of racism, and thus shows a lack of respect to those who have what might be legitimate concerns.