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January 2021 Archives

January 5, 2021

COVID Vaccines and Moral Evaluation

Now that there are COVID vaccines being rolled out by pharmaceutical companies, a moral question has arisen because some (or all) of them have utilized cell lines that originally came from aborted babies in their development or testing. Can we use such vaccines, or does doing so constitute immoral cooperation with the evil of abortion?

Two Catholic sources have concluded that the answer is: yes, we can use them, with caveats. Both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and the US bishops’ conference, have stated that using vaccines from such cell lines is morally permissible in certain circumstances, if those are the only vaccines available. They obviously base their conclusion on the fact that there is medically serious reason to use the vaccine given the public health situation, so it is not automatically the case that they would have come to the same conclusion about just any illness vaccine. It is clear that they are using the doctrine of “cooperation with evil” (CwE) which sets out criteria for where it is morally acceptable to do something that is in some way connected to an immoral act, and distinguishes those from cases where it is not morally permissible.

Unfortunately, there are other Catholic sources that are rejecting that conclusion. Bishops Athanasius Schneider and Strickland have issued public comments saying that using the vaccines is wrong. In both cases they accept CwE as a moral principle, but find that it does not permit using the vaccines. Bp. Schneider said:

In the case of vaccines made from the cell lines of aborted human fetuses, we see a clear contradiction between the Catholic doctrine to categorically, and beyond the shadow of any doubt, reject abortion in all cases as a grave moral evil that cries out to heaven for vengeance (see Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2268, n. 2270), and the practice of regarding vaccines derived from aborted fetal cell lines as morally acceptable in exceptional cases of “urgent need” — on the grounds of remote, passive, material cooperation. To argue that such vaccines can be morally licit if there is no alternative is in itself contradictory and cannot be acceptable for Catholics….

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January 7, 2021

Pain is the price of patriotism

The events of the last few days here in the U.S. could almost have been calculated to break the heart of anyone who loves this country. First I'm referring to the loss of the Senate to the Democrats. And here I solidly blame none other than our feckless man-child of a President, Donald Trump. In a distant alternative possible universe, had Trump been less narcissistic, had he thought that something mattered besides himself, he would have taken the spotlight off the presidential election shortly after November 3 (whatever he thought about the fairness of the results) and focused solidly on using his considerable influence with his base to rally the voters for the Georgia runoffs. Well, we all know how that went, including Lin Wood's insane recommendation to Republican voters to stay home. The elections were close. Had Trump barnstormed Georgia on behalf of those candidates, the Democrats might not have won the Senate. I don't usually indulge in such what-ifs, and there are plenty of places where I think Trump gets blamed that are far more complicated than they are made to appear in Punditland, but this one is just too darned obvious.

And then, of course, the Capitol-storming yesterday, deadly for at least four people, deadly for any remaining shred of American dignity. (The news media seem to be notably coy about three of these--who they were and what exactly happened--but about Ashli Babbitt, the woman whom the police shot, there seems to be little doubt about what happened.) This ridiculous attempt at insurrection (seriously?) will be treated as iconic of conservatism for decades to come (at least) and used as a stick with which to beat everyone who supports conservative ideals and ideas. Don't like gay "marriage"? Well, you're just like those terrifying insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building. Maybe you're planning terrorism, even. Don't think a man can turn into a woman? The same. Support the lives of the unborn--man, you're a scary person. And on, ad infinitum.

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January 21, 2021

An irony of minimalism in defending the resurrection

For some time I've been writing and speaking about the problems with a certain minimalistic approach to arguing for Christianity that has become popular in evangelical circles in the last several decades. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) Sometimes it goes by the name of the "minimal facts" approach. But not always. The apologetics giant William Lane Craig refers to the facts in question as "core facts" rather than "minimal facts" and includes the empty tomb among them, whereas the father of the minimal facts approach, Gary Habermas, does not include the empty tomb among his set of minimal facts. But as I have pointed out, the difference there is far more terminological than substantive, since in both cases the core fact or minimal fact that the disciples had appearance experiences is kept vague in order to be able to rope in a lot of scholars and say that they accept it. This causes a lot of epistemic trouble when one tries to argue for the physical resurrection of Jesus, since it's precisely the physical details that give us reason to think that Jesus was physically raised. It shouldn't need saying, but the reason Christians think he was physically raised is because we think he appeared physically to his disciples. (Obviously.) The mainstream scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg, who thought the resurrection accounts in the Gospels were heavily embellished, apparently thought that Jesus' body really disappeared and that in that sense he was "physically raised," but that he went immediately to heaven and that the appearances to the disciples were visions sent by God to the disciples and bore little resemblance to the appearances recounted in the Gospels. I'd say that at that point the meaning of "physically raised" has been changed almost beyond recognition and also that the epistemic support for believing in anything objective at all is gravely undermined.

This point was brought home to me recently by watching a series of video discussions between Michael Licona and Dale Allison. (Videos here, here, here, and here.) Allison is a little hard to characterize. He speaks of himself as a Christian (PCUSA), and Licona calls him a "fellow believer." He talks in the interviews about his prayer practices, which involve a yoga mat and icons. He's obviously a theist of some sort. That much I think can be said definitely. But Allison is and always has been profoundly ambivalent about the physical resurrection of Jesus and treats it very much as up in the air, and he obviously thinks it quite plausible that the resurrection narratives in the Gospels are highly embellished and that the details of those narratives, such as Jesus' eating with his disciples, were added for apologetic purposes. Licona is a strong advocate of the minimal approach and tries to do everything "through Paul," and in the interaction with Allison, it cuts no ice. Mind you, Allison is a naturally somewhat skeptical fellow. As he rather charmingly explains, there are four of him inwardly. They all get along with one another, though they disagree. What is interesting to notice is that none of these four "Dale Allisons" believes that robust, orthodox Christianity, including fully physical appearances, is historically justified by the objective evidence. So it is entirely plausible as a sociological and psychological matter that a discussion with someone who takes a more maximal approach to the resurrection would also cut no ice with Allison. But I consider Licona's attempts to counter him, most of them going "through Paul" (e.g., trying to treat Paul as our main or or even only eyewitness of the resurrection whose account has come down to us) to be objectively far weaker than the available arguments really are and hence consider it somewhat understandable that Allison bats them aside.

In reflecting on their interaction, I thought of an irony concerning the minimalist approach and the way that it bills itself, and I posted this on Facebook.

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