Saturday, December 05, 2015

A story of grief: six months and counting

Today is the six-month anniversary of the day my wife died. You can’t help but reflect back on something like that. Grief is an ongoing thing, and it comes back to bite at you at the strangest of moments.

About a month ago, my church interviewed me for the church newsletter. That went like this:


I'm going to respond to some comments that Lydia McGrew left on this post:

Concerning Typhoid Mary, you are not acting contrary to what is medically best for her by quarantining her. It's rather surprising you should bring that up in any way in the context of your recommendation that doctors kill their evil patients to harvest their organs for their innocent patients! Or even in the context of deliberately refusing to treat Himmler (as, say, ER doctors) with the intent of letting him die. This has pretty much nothing to do with quarantining a patient. 

I bring it up because it forced you to introduce a more qualified position on patient care than you originally presented. Now you've conceded that it's not just a question of acting in the best interest of each individual patient. Rather, there are situations when we must take into account the impact on others. Since you didn't volunteer that qualification, I had to smoke it out of you.

It's strange that you are so resistant to the example of killing baby Himmler but are actually quite open to the example of a fireman with ESP who leaves baby Himmler to die in a fire. 

Lydia, there's often a morally relevant distinction between killing a person and refusing to intervene in an ongoing situation that will result in fatalities, absent intervention. There are lots of hotspots around the world. I could hop on a plane, go to one of those places, and kill some bad guys. My action would save innocent lives. 

But I don't have a general obligation to be a vigilante. The fact that I didn't intervene to save the victims by killing the perpetrator is not equivalent to my killing the victims. Likewise, if the perpetrator is caught in quicksand, I don't have a duty to pull him out so that he can proceed to kill even more innocent people. But I didn't kill him–the quicksand did. I didn't put the quicksand there to trap him. 

Of course, there are situations in which we do have an obligation to intervene. There's no single criterion. There are multiple criteria. Likewise, what's obligatory may depend on the particular circumstances.

You also said at one point that it just wouldn't be legitimate to ask Himmler's mom to kill him as a baby because she has a duty and an emotional attachment to him, which seems to mean that you aren't _entirely_ closed to killing baby Himmler outright. 

I also said: That's different than killing the child in the daycare. There are many evils we have no moral opportunity to prevent. In that case, we must let them happen. If they are to be prevented, God must prevent them, because he hasn't given us a morally licit opportunity to do so. 

But for some reason you ignore that. Likewise, I also said:

Conversely, advance knowledge of Himmler's future gives the fireman many opportunities to intervene during Himmler's formative years to redirect his course in life. There are alternatives to letting him die. Depends on how much we insulate the hypothetical. 

Which I reiterated in a later post:

In addition, you're ignoring something I said before in response to the same basic objection: you have a lot more options when Himmler is four than when he is forty. As an adult, as head of the SS, with the Final Solution underway, saving his life guarantees the death of millions. But at the age of four, there are many potential opportunities to influence his development for the better and deflect him away from that horrendous career. 

Yet you continue to ignore that. You don't appear to be making a good faith effort to accurately represent my stated position. 

Yet in this post, you act as though you think innocent baby Himmler should be treated as an innocent child. But in that case, the fireman has a duty to rescue the innocent child. The active-passive distinction can't be combined, in anything but a really weird, ad hoc manner, with the innocence consideration to give us the conclusion that it's 
a) right for doctors actively to kill adult Himmler when he is not a present threat, partly because of what he intends to do later,
b) wrong for anyone actively to kill baby Himmler when he is not a present threat, because of what he will otherwise grow up and do later,
c) right for a fireman with prophetic powers to stand by and deliberately do nothing while baby Himmler burns to death in a fire from which he could have been rescued, because of what he will otherwise grow up and do later. 
If baby Himmler is innocent, he's just innocent. and the normal duties of doctors, firemen, etc., toward him hold.
If, however, their carrying out their normal duties toward him rather than deliberately withholding their aid so that baby Himmler dies makes them "enablers" of his later evil actions, it's difficult to see how there can be an absolute prohibition on killing him as a baby outright to prevent his later evil actions.

Because your objection is reductionistic, as if there's one universal criterion. I see no reason to accept that. You can only accuse me of inconsistency by oversimplifying my stated position.

I'm not an open theist, nor flirting with the idea that future statements have no fixed value. But words like "taking the lives" of other children or "insuring genocide" and the like simply abrogate free will. One can know, truly, future events that hinge on the contingent free choices of other rational creatures, but it does not follow from this that one's contributing causal actions guarantee, insure, or even are the same as (as if one is oneself "taking the lives" of their victims) those actions. To say so is simply to abrogate the fact that the later choices are _free_.That they are free doesn't mean that there is no truth value to what those choices will be. It does mean that other people's actions in saving my life don't "guarantee" or "insure" what I do later.

Well, you haven't begun to demonstrate how your affirmation of foreknowledge is consistent with your denial of inevitability. Moreover, you haven't offered a refutation of the reasons I gave. You simply assert their mutual consistency.

There can be, but those are cases of what the Catholics call "remote material cooperation," and they are as a class pretty un-cut-and-dried. Whereas the duty of firemen to save people from fires or of doctors in the ER to treat those in front of them is much more cut and dried. Your entire approach involves turning morality on its head: The good and normal actions of people who have voluntarily entered helping professions are being treated as material cooperation with the evil later actions of their patients or the people they rescue (given advance knowledge), and you are then using that to argue that their straightforward act of doing good to that person is morally dubious, that they would be justified in deliberately letting that person die despite their role in society. Indeed, given the strength of your rhetoric ("enabling," "taking the lives," "complicit," etc.), it's difficult how you can avoid arguing that the doctor or fireman has a _duty_ to _at least_ allow the person who will later do evil to die when he finds out that this is the person whom he would otherwise help.
That completely reverses the order of moral duties and the clarity of moral duties.

Ironically, it's your own position that represents a moral inversion, when–at best–you treat innocent and guilty alike, and–at worst–treat the guilty better than innocents.

You also have a bad habit of overgeneralizing. I daresay most folks don't volunteer to become firemen or trauma physicians to save the life of Himmler or Pablo Escobar. Rather, they enter those professions for the common good. To do good for garden-variety patients or ordinary at-risk citizens.

Likewise, they don't normally take future outcomes into account when making decisions because they don't have ESP. 

It doesn't follow that if they had advance knowledge, that would (or should) have no affect on their decisions. Their motivations for entering these professions are based on ordinary circumstances involving normal knowledge, not extraordinary circumstances involving paranormal knowledge.

It's difficult how you can avoid arguing that the doctor or fireman has a _duty_ to _at least_ allow the person who will later do evil to die when he finds out that this is the person whom he would otherwise help. That completely reverses the order of moral duties and the clarity of moral duties.

Which simply begs the question. Ted Bundy lands in the ER with internal bleeding. If I patch him up, he will abduct, rape, torture, and murder a coed next month. ESP alerts me to that eventuality. Therefore, I give him placebo treatment instead.

According to you, that "completely reverses the order of moral duties and the clarity of moral duties." Really?

The moral duties to whom? Ted Bundy or his next victim? I doubt the coed would share your sense of moral clarity.

What makes you think the order of moral duties was ever based on that scenario? 

Sign of the horns

Recently, the Most Holy Family Monastery did a devastating expose on the true identity of James White. Based on incontrovertible photographic evidence of White routinely using the sign of the horns, they confirmed what many have long suspected: "James White" is an alias for Damien.

This led to a crisis of confidence at Team Apologian. Security footage picked up TFan, Jeff Downs, and James Swan sneaking into a Roman Catholic church to siphon water from the font into a whiskey flask. The experiment was to determine if White sizzles on contact with holy water–like those vampire flicks. That would confirm his infernal paternity.

Of course, splashing him with holy water isn't risk free. That's why they drew straws. I have a reporter stationed at the local burn unit in case the experiment backfires.

Backdoor martial law

Whenever we have a "mass shooting," the liberal establishment calls for tougher gun control laws. Likewise, the DOJ announces an investigation. 

i) To begin with, people fixate on numerically clustered violence, but that's often artificial. If you have 20 people shot on one day in one place, that's a huge news item. But if you have one person killed per day over a 20-day span in the very same city, that's buried in the back pages of the newspaper. Even though the totals may be the same, we tend to hype clustered totals. The same number spread out over days doesn't garner the same attention. 

ii) Because the liberal establishment cannot or will not solve the real problem, it diverts attention to a decoy issue. For instance, there's clearly a correlation between global warming rhetoric and ecoterrorism, but the liberal establishment doesn't demand that we crack down on Al Gore. 

The liberal establishment is in denial about the manifest link between Islam and terrorism, so it must deflect attention away from its failure to address the real problem.

Likewise, some shooters suffer from mental illness, but there's no convenient solution for that. If you make involuntary commitment easier, that will lead to predictable abuses. 

iii) There is, though, a more sinister element to this. There's a sense in which mass shootings further the liberal agenda. Mass shootings are pretext for greater domestic surveillance, a pretext to expand law enforcement, a pretext to disarm the public. It empowers the bureaucracy. Liberal officials have a totalitarian impulse. They don't want freedom. They have a utopian vision that requires both massive and minute social control. 

They're spoiling for an excuse to declare martial law. And we've come close to that. Consider the city-wide lockdown after the Boston Marathon bombings. Although I don't think the authorities instigate these crimes, our immigration policy on Muslims has the same effect. 


Unsurprisingly, the authorities denounce vigilantism. Yet vigilantes are very popular in fiction. More realistic examples include the Dirty Harry series and Person of Interest

Then you have the whole genre of superhero vigilantes, viz. Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Green Arrow–plus video game characters like Max Payne.

The usual context of fictional vigilantes is when the authorities let crime spiral out of control. Indeed, the authorities are often in cahoots with the criminal class. They get kickbacks for looking the other way. 

The authorities resent vigilantes because it make them look bad. It shines a light on their incompetence or corruption. The effectiveness of fictional vigilantes is a constant embarrassment to the ineffectual authorities. 

There's a popular audience for this character because it has real-world parallels. Big city mayors or US presidents who don't do their job. Who don't protect the citizenry. 

Indeed, we have situations where the authorities perversely protect the bad guys from the good guys. Just recently, in the wake of another jihadist attack (in San Bernadino), the Attorney General vowed to crack down, not on domestic jihadism, but "anti-Muslim rhetoric." 

I think the popular audience for fictional avengers also reflects an instinctive yearning for eschatological justice. So many crooks elude justice, including heinous criminals. And it never ends. It's like a secularized Second Coming. 

The world's dumbest mugger

I'd like to make a view additional comments on anti-abortion violence. To some degree, this is a follow-up to my "Kill at your own risk" post. 

From what I've read, the only organized anti-abortion violence was sponsored by the Army of God, a domestic terrorist cult. In addition, some figures, like Eric Rudolph, aren't focussed on abortion, per se. 

Whenever there's an incident of anti-abortion violence, which is increasingly rare, there are the usual demands to denounce it and "tone down" the rhetoric. 

A few quick points:

i) I'm the wrong person to ask. If someone demands that I denounce anti-abortion violence, they will get a twofer. I'll simultaneously condemn violence both inside and outside the clinic. I'm more than willing to condemn anti-abortion violence, but that's not all I'll condemn. So they may be getting more than they bargained for.

ii) It's possible that some anti-abortion rhetoric is over-the-top. I don't move in those circles.

Often, though, this is just a matter of using accurate terminology rather than euphemisms. 

Likewise, gruesome posters of aborted babies are no different than news footage of corpses at Auschwitz, or pictures of piled skulls in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. 

Finally, I'd like to expand on a previous point. Let's take a comparison:

A hapless thief is hoping Mafia don Vincent (The Chin) Gigante will let bygones be bygones. Willie King yesterday kissed up to the reputed head of the Genovese crime family and humbly apologized for mugging his 94-year-old mother. King had second thoughts about trying to beat the rap at a trial and decided it might be safer to spend some time behind bars. He pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court to grand larceny and will be slapped with a jail term of 11/2 to 3 years when he is sentenced Aug. 19. "His motivation was to apologize to the Gigante family and Mrs. Gigante," said King's attorney, Steven Warshaw. "In this way, he is trying to put this behind him, and he also hopes the Gigante family puts this behind them. 
"King, 37, of St. Nicholas Ave. in Manhattan, became the unluckiest mugger in town July 21. He snatched Yolanda Gigante's wallet outside her Greenwich Village apartment as she returned home from a shopping trip with her son the Rev. Louis Gigante. Witnesses who trailed the fleeing thief flagged down Lt. Robert McKenna, who arrested King, recovered Yolanda Gigante's wallet and her $90 and then revealed to the mugger the identity of his victim. McKenna said King slumped in the patrol car's seat and rolled his eyes. 

Now, it wouldn't be my duty to exact revenge on the mugger. For one thing, she wasn't my mother. 

But imagine if Vincent's men caught up with King before the police did. Imagine King walking by the newsstand the next day and reading about the crime. For him, life would get very interesting very fast. 

Suppose I was present when Vincent's men show up, with baseball bats in hand. Is it my duty to interpose myself between the mugger and the avengers? Hardly. 

He mugs little old ladies at his own risk. This time he picked the wrong victim. Big mistake.

But that's his problem, not mine. Even if I disapprove of vigilantism, I'm not going to get that worked up over what happens to the mugger. I'll keep on walking.  

Gun free zone

Gun Free Zone

Friday, December 04, 2015

Typhoid Mary

I'm going to respond to some comments that Lydia McGrew left on this post:

Problem is, Lydia starts with a principle that's reasonable in ordinary cases, but stretches it to cover cases where that becomes fanatically unreasonable. Extending plausible cases to lend bogus plausibility to implausible cases. 

For instance, if your patient is Typhoid Mary, then it would be wildly irresponsible to just consider what's best for her. For she needs to be quarantined. To act in her best interests, to the exclusion of everyone else, is far too one-sided.

Rain water versus a heavenly sea in Genesis 1:6-8

"Rain water versus a heavenly sea in Genesis 1:6-8" by Vern Poythress.

The jihadist and the Messianic Jew

The Significance Of George Whitefield

Thomas Kidd published a biography of George Whitefield last year. Albert Mohler recently had a good interview with Kidd. I recommend listening to it, and I recommend the book.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Half-empty glass

I don't know the percentage of registered Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters, so I can't give precise figures, but this is my general impression:

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a majority of registered voters. To win, both sides need to attract unaffiliated voters. 

Both parties have almost enough partisan voters to win, but they need unaffiliated voters (or crossover voters) to put a Democrat or Republican candidate over the top.

It's like three glasses of water. Both Democrat and Republican candidates begin with a glass that's fairly full. So they just need to make up the difference by siphoning water from the third class to top off their glass. 

Let's say Hillary becomes the Democrat nominee. She will basically get 100% of Democrats. 

Let's say Cruz or Rubio becomes the Republican nominee. He will probably get about 100% of the Republican vote. 

Suppose Trump is the nominee. He will get far less than 100% of the Republican vote. From what I've read, many conservatives have said they won't vote for Trump no matter what.

So the initial water level for his glass is far below Hillary's. He starts much lower. That means he must get enough unaffiliated voters just to get back up to the level where Cruz or Rubio begin, plus enough additional unaffiliated voters to put him over the top.

By contrast, Hillary has to get far fewer unaffiliated voters to put her over the top, because her glass is so much fuller to begin with. And they'd be competing for the same unaffiliated voters. It seems like Hillary has a strong completive advantage under that scenario. 

Suppose Cruz or Rubio becomes the nominee, and Trump runs as a third-party candidate. There will be a two-way split in the Republican vote between Trump and the Republican nominee, as well as a three-way split in the unaffiliated vote between Hillary, Trump, and the Republican nominee. It seems like Hillary would be undefeatable under that scenario. 


I'm going to respond to some comments that Lydia McGrew left on this post:

I'll begin with a general observation. Lydia has recast my original position. I didn't suggest that the duty of a doctor is to sort out good guys from bad guys and then impose rough justice. Rather, I've discussed what's morally permissible for a doctor to do, using some hypothetical limiting-cases. 


I listened to James White on the Dividing Line yesterday:

This will probably be my last post on the subject.

i) The timing was unfortunate for White. His "Two Contrasting Views of Islam" happened on the same day as what has all the earmarks of another domestic jihadist attack (in San Bernardino). 

ii) His broadcast continues a recent pattern, both on Facebook and Youtube, of scorched-earth rhetoric to characterize those who don't share his viewpoint. If you disagree, he brands you a bigot or Islamophobe.  The whole show was full of mockery.

I have to repeat a question I asked before: what does he hope to accomplish? Is his objective to persuade or to burn bridges?

iii) One irony is how his rhetorical tactics on this issue parallel homosexual activists. They brand their critics as homophobes while White brands his critics as Islamophobes.

Likewise, both invoke the argument from experience. Homosexual apologists ask "How many gay friends do you have?" If you just get to know us, you'll see that gays are good neighbors, too. We're not all alike. Don't lump us in with those obscene, flamboyant exhibitionists at gay pride parades. Don't lump us in with gays who frequent the bathhouses. No, we're monograms, all-American, hand-holding, boy-next-door gay couples. Right out of Norman Rockell. 

Now White is using exactly the same approach in reference to Muslims. He seems to have a bad case of clientitis. 

iv) James White and Rich Pierce had little exchange about how you just can please the critics. How many people over last 14 years have been calling for Muslims to denounce jihad, but when they do so, they must be liars. As soon as they do that they're not the real Muslims. Can't win for losing. 

Speaking for myself, my stated position has been more specific. It really doesn't matter what moderate Muslims in the West say, because they don't speak for the Muslim world. They aren't taken seriously by their own. 

The lead to come from high-level representatives in the ancient, influential centers of the Muslim world. Not from Westernized ex-pats. 

v) Later, White makes fun of Ben Shapiro. For Shapiro, commitment to sharia is a hallmark of radical Islam. White accuses him of knowing nothing about the varieties of sharia and does a facepalm.

But Shapiro didn't actually say that. Moreover, for White's distinction to work, he'd need to give examples of kinder, gentler versions of sharia that can peacefully coexist with the infidel. And he'd need to show how popular that version is. But he gave no such examples. 

vi) Later, White quoted Phil 2, then said it sounds like We christians believe every tongue will confess, Jesus will reign over all the earth, God's will shall be accomplished, his kingdom established. And yet we freak out when another religion says we're going to do the same thing. You can't do that! I'm that weird guy that goes you probably need to be consistent. It's a bummer!

But that comparison is so equivocal. Phil 2 doesn't summon Christians to wage war agains the infidel. it says nothing about Christians imposing this regime on the world. There's no suggestion of conversion by the sword. 

Indeed, that's incompatible with evangelical theology, which attributes conversion to the Holy Spirit. Conversion, in the Christian sense, can't be compelled. 

So how in the world is that seriously analogous to jihadist passages in the Koran and the Hadith? Why does White pretend these are comparable when he knows perfectly well that's not the case?

vii) Later, he attempts a comparison between Robert Dear and jihadists who frequent brothels and get drunk. He then accuses Christians of a double standard: That works for us but not to you!

Yet White keeps hectoring critics on how Islam is not monolithic. But if Islam is so diverse, why can't at true Muslim frequent brothels, get drunk, and go to paradise so long as he dies in jihad? White careens between saying we're not entitled to distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslim, only to draw that very distinction when it suits the immediate needs of his argument. 

viii) He then suggests the solution to ISIS is to change hearts, but for a lot of Christians the Gospel isn't a good enough answer anymore. Let's trust in horses and men.

But, of course, that's a caricature which he himself doesn't take seriously. White is not a pacifist or universalist. So he doesn't think evangelism alone is a substitute for the armed forces or counterespionage.

White is a very smart guy, so why does he feel the need to burn so many straw men? The whole show is talking back at critics rather than reasoning with critics. He accuses the critics of "roid rage," but he's pretty hopped up himself. 

Background on San Bernardino attack

This is a developing story. Due to political correctness, the authorities tend to withhold information:

Ideas For Christmas Sermons

I recently referred to the problem of Protestants being shallow and overly repetitive in their sermons, including Christmas sermons. I discussed a related problem a couple of years ago. There was a news story about how pastors neglect apologetic issues during the Christmas season, even when those issues are prominent in the society around them. In light of these problems, I want to post some ideas for potential Christmas sermons, in addition to the idea I suggested in the first post linked above. This list isn't meant to be exhaustive. These are just several among many more that could be added. The links below, including links on scripture passages, will take you to relevant posts in the Triablogue archives. These are just ideas in seed form, which would need to be developed to produce sermons, Sunday school classes, blog posts, or whatever. The posts I link provide further thoughts about how to develop these themes:

Syed Farook

Preliminary report:

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Armed and dangerous

Saving little Himmler

I'm going to respond to some comments that Lydia McGrew left on this post:

First, there is the issue of the doctor-patient relationship. A person who happens to be a doctor may also, wearing a different hat, be an executioner (for example), but he shouldn't be both at once. 

What about execution by lethal injection? Isn't the executioner a physician? 

Qua doctor treating a patient, he is obligated to set aside questions of whether the patient is a good or evil person and do what is best for the patient. That is his duty as a doctor. It is of the essence of the doctor-patient relationship, which it is important not to corrupt. This is why, for example, doctors should not be saying that they don't want to save a patient's life because nobody loves that person, or his life is pretty miserable, or whatever, and hence the utilitarian judgement is that their resources are "not well spent" saving that person. The doctor's job qua doctor is not to make those decisions but rather to treat the patient before him. Anything else is completely corrupting to the medical profession. It is the utilitarian ethicists that are trying to undermine this and involve the doctor in deciding what is "best for the community" etc. rather than having this special and exclusive responsibility to the patient as a person under his care. We shouldn't help them out with that.

There's a lot to sort out:

Love potion N°4

Love potions get a bad rap in freewill theism. Apparently, they don't read fairly tale love stories to their children. 

Now, all things being equal, I'd rather have the beautiful princess fall madly in love with me because I'm such a wonderful guy. If, however, it's a choice between having her or losing her, I'll settle for the love potion. Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good

On a more serious note, consider Robert Nozick's The Experience Machine:

Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? Of course, while in the tank you won't know that you're there; you'll think that it's all actually happening. Would you plug in? 

i) This is like the love potion in the sense that if you plug in, it disarms your critical faculties. A pleasant, self-induced delusion. 

ii) I daresay many readers would find his thought-experiment very appealing. Insofar as that is generally true, it counters the frequent appeal that psychological determinism is intuitively wrong.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Oligarchy or mobocracy?

Conservatism test

PIty both sides can't lose

Guy Williams
Thank you from this pro-life mainliner for the reminder that many of you sectarians are pretty okay with lawlessness when the law in question doesn't strike your fancy. Echoes of Kim Davis.
And for the record, yes, a physician has the moral/ethical/legal obligation to save even Pablo Escobar needing an embolization. Anyone with a cursory understanding of medical ethics or law knows that.

That's in response to this post:

Let's peel the layers of the onion:

1. He doesn't explain what he means by calling me a "sectarian." 

2. I don't concede that Kim Davis was lawless. 

3. Only a fanatic like Hobbes is an absolutist about the rule of law. The law exists for the sake of morality, not vice versa. Sometimes it's permissible or obligatory to break the law. I commend the Jewish midwives for defying Pharaoh's edict (Exod 1). I commend Christians who illegally sheltered Jews during WWII. I commend businesses that broke Jim Crow laws. 

4. He doesn't bother to identify what lawlessness I'm "okay" with. What law did my post advocate breaking? None. 

For instance, my final paragraph said: But there's no moral obligation to save the life of a contract killer. People in the business of taking innocent lives should kill at their own risk. They are not entitled to protection. You can't obligate others to rescue you in that situation.

That, however, is hardly an incitement to lawlessness. There's no legal mandate for me to get involved in that situation. Supposed I happen to be walking by an abortion clinic when gunfire breaks out. There's no legal mandate for a private citizen to step into that situation. There's no legal mandate for me to call the cops. So it's unclear what Guy imagines he's referring to. 

5. Suppose there's a turf war between the Cali cartel and the Medellin cartel. Drug cartels don't like competition. 

I don't take sides in that conflict because there's no side to root for. As Kissinger would say, it's a pity both sides can't lose.

I'd say the same thing about Scott Roeder and George Tiller. They deserve each other. 

If Scott Roeder were on the lam, I'd have no moral or legal obligation to either cover for him or report him to the authorities. Both sides kill at their own risk. I disapprove of each. 

6. Although I've given my reasons for opposing anti-abortion violence on several occasions, let's briefly review:

i) If a person has dependents, he has a prior obligation to care for his dependents. As a rule, he doesn't have a right to take actions that would jeopardize his ability to fulfill his prior obligations. An exception might be a member of the armed services. We could discuss the permutations of that exception.

Likewise, this can apply to the future as well as the present. If I'm an only child, my parents may need me to care for them in their old age. That's something I should make allowance for. 

ii) Nowhere does Scripture indicate that Christians have a general obligation to be vigilantes, even though the Roman Empire was rife with injustice. If that was a Christian duty, we'd expect the NT to say so somewhere or another. 

In the OT, there's the avenger of blood. Even aside from the question of whether that carries over into the new covenant, the avenger of blood is confined to avenging the wrongful death of relatives. Moreover, that's not so much a command, but a custom that Scripture permits and regulates. 

iii) In his providence, God often puts us in situations where we have limited ability to rectify injustice. 

7. That said, there are situations in which I think vigilantism is justifiable. For instance, the Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not protect Americans from Chinese cyberterrorism. Suppose Chinese hackers attempt to penetrate Microsoft's firewall. Suppose Microsoft has the wherewithal to retaliate by planting a worm or virus in Chinese military computers. Since the Federal gov't has abdicated its duty to defend Americans against foreign aggression, I think Microsoft would be justified in acting in self-defense, even if that's technically vigilantism. 

8. Guy asserts that a physician has the moral/ethical/legal obligation to save even Pablo Escobar needing an embolization. "Anyone with a cursory understanding of medical ethics or law knows that."

i) He offers no supporting argument. Legality and morality are hardly interchangeable. An action can be legal but immoral, or moral but illegal. 

ii) Here's an overview of Escobar's illustrious career:

Escobar’s ruthlessness was legendary. His rise was opposed by many honest politicians, judges and policemen, who did not like the growing influence of this street thug. Escobar had a way of dealing with his enemies: he called it “plata o plomo,” literally, silver or lead. Usually, if a politician, judge or policeman got in his way, he would first attempt to bribe them, and if that didn’t work, he would order them killed, occasionally including their family in the hit. The exact number of honest men and women killed by Escobar is unknown, but it definitely goes well into the hundreds and perhaps into the thousands. 
Even being important or high-profile did not protect you from Escobar if he wanted you out of the way. He ordered the assassination of presidential candidates and was even rumored to be behind the 1985 attack on the Supreme Court, carried out by the 19th of April insurrectionist movement in which several Supreme Court Justices were killed. On November 27, 1989, Escobar’s Medellín cartel planted a bomb on Avianca flight 203, killing 110 people. The target, a presidential candidate, was not actually on board. In addition to these high-profile assassinations, Escobar and his organization were responsible for the deaths of countless magistrates, journalists, policemen and even criminals inside his own organization. 
By the mid- 1980’s, Pablo Escobar was one of the most powerful men in the world. Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh-richest man in the world. His empire included an army of soldiers and criminals, a private zoo, mansions and apartments all over Colombia, private airstrips and planes for drug transport and personal wealth reported to be in the neighborhood of $24 billion. He could order the murder of anyone, anywhere, anytime.

But according to Guy, a physician has a moral/ethical obligation to save his life, even though Escobar will use his renewed lease on life to order the deaths of hundreds or thousands of additional innocents, including entire families. Not surprisingly, Guy doesn't bother to explain how that's morally obligatory. 

Let's take another example, if Himmler was wheeled into the ER with a pulmonary embolism, would Guy say a Jewish physician has a moral/ethical obligation to save his life–knowing that will ensure genocide? 

iii) You can't just stipulate ethical obligations. An argument from human authority can't leverage moral norms. You can appeal to natural law or revealed moral norms. 

iv) In fact, I'd take it a step further. Suppose jihadists shoot up a synagogue full of worshipers. Suppose the synagogue has security guards who return fire. Both jihadists and security guards are wounded in the melee. The security guards have irreparable damage to their liver and kidneys. They need organ transplants to survive. 

In that situation, I think physicians would have a right to euthanize the jihadists and harvest their organs to save the lives of the security guards they shot. 

If only I had known

Freewill theists frequently distinguish between "determining" (or "causing") evil and permitting evil. They regard the latter as exculpatory.

Suppose I buy a set of steak knives as a wedding present. A few years later, the couple's 5-year-old son stabs his 3-year-old brother to death with one of the knives. Had I not give the couple that particular wedding present, that tragedy would not have happened. Am I culpable?

We'd say no, because I had no idea my gift would be used that way. Had I known, I would have given them a different (harmless) wedding present instead. 

But suppose, when I was in the cutlery store, looking for a wedding present, I had a premonition that if I gave the couple a set of steak knives as a wedding present, that would be the outcome. Would I then be culpable? 

Presumably, we'd say yes. Given advance knowledge, that tragedy was easily avoidable, and it's not as if my choosing to buy them a different (harmless) wedding present would violate anyone's libertarian freedom, or destabilize the natural order. 

A testimony

The origins of the Koran

According to Sunni Muslims, copies of the Koran mirror an eternal heavenly exemplar. However, early accounts of how the Koran was compiled tell a very different story. For instance:

Zaid later said, "I then searched out for the various parts of the Qur'an, finding them preserved on palm branches, on the surfaces of flat stones, in the hearts of men, on pieces of leather, and on (the) shoulder-bones (of camels and/or sheep). The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq, 519.

You can read similar accounts. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad. Problem is, the text of the extant Koran is a compilation of oral traditions. Recollections of what Muhammad said. So that creates a gap between what Gabriel allegedly said to Muhammad, and the actual record. 

i) There's no way to sift apocryphal sayings of Muhammad from authentic sayings.

ii) At best, people generally remember the gist of what someone said, not the verbatim statement. 

Although the Koran contains autobiographical material, it's an oral history, passed down by word-of-mouth. Sayings attributed to Muhammad. But there's no way to authenticate the sayings. And even if apocryphal sayings could be eliminated, the remainder paraphrase what people remember that he said. They don't preserve the exact wording. 

The Anti-Catholic Mary Of Christmas

It's become popular in many Protestant circles to say that we need to find a balance between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of Mary. Supposedly, Protestants, especially Evangelicals, are overly negative about her. In an attempt to resolve that alleged problem, we're often encouraged to give a lot of positive attention to Mary during the Christmas season. She's often featured in Protestant sermons, for example, as a model believer. Sometimes we're even told that Protestants have a problem with being "afraid of" Mary, being "suspicious of" her, etc.

"Transgendered leftist activist"

It's funny how liberal outlets like Salon, HuffPo, and Think Progress have pounced on the offhand statement of Ted Cruz concerning Robert Dear:

“Well, it’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and transgendered leftist activist, if that’s what he is.”

It doesn't even occur to them that his statement might be satirical. They blame it the attack on prolife rhetoric, so he turns the tables on them. Cruz was alluding to a voter form in which Dear identified as a unaffiliated female voter. It's a brilliant riposte that sailed right over their heads.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Importing time bombs

1. Before getting to the specifics, I'd like to start with an illustration: Suppose a brewery makes beer for export. 99 out of every 100 cases of beer are just beer. Cans of beer. But every 100th case contains a time bomb. Not accidentally, but intentionally. Suppose another brewery makes nothing but beer for export. No hidden time bombs.

Suppose the captain of the cargo plane refuses to let the plane be loaded with cases from the first brewer. He says it's too dangerous. 

But critics counter that most of the beer cases aren't dangerous. Just a small fraction. 

He replies that we can't detect which is which. And why would we take the risk? Given a choice, moreover, why not ship beer from the brewery that doesn't pack time bombs in any of its cases? 

2. I notice that critics who support Muslim immigration always seem to preface their discussion with the same prologue. They say there was a public backlash against "refugees" after the Paris attack. Another variation is to say there was a backlash against Muslim immigrants after the rise of ISIS. This has created a climate of "fear." 

i) Now, suppose, for the sake of argument, that that's the catalyst. For months now, Americans have been bombarded with horrific images of ISIS. And not primarily from news outlets. Rather, ISIS itself takes diabolical pride in producing videos in which its victims are beheaded, burned alive, buried alive, &c. 

Then, a few weeks ago, Obama unilaterally imposes a quota of "Syrian refugees" on US soil. Given the background, it's hardly irrational for Americans to revolt against that policy, even if that's all there was to it. 

ii) At the same time, it's very patronizing to presume that American opinions about Muslim immigration were formed this year. Muslims engage in nonstop terrorism. We're treated to stories about that on a periodic basis. This stretches back for years. In my own lifetime it goes back to Muslim hijackers. 

3. Now let's turn to some recent things I've seen on Facebook:

[SML] Are there terrorists infiltrating the mosques in our country? Are the "moderate" Muslims able to track them and report them to authorities?  
[Rich Pierce] If a terrorist sat next to you this morning in church, how would you know? The fact is that you would have no idea if the next Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols came in and sat down next you. None. The Imams are no more able to track 'undesirable people' any more than your pastor is. 

i) To begin with, it's not so much a question of whether American Imams are able to track terrorists in their midst, but whether they facilitate terrorism. 

ii) The McVeigh comparison is straight out of CAIR's playbook. The obvious problem with that comparison is the quantitative difference between a McVeigh and jihadism. According to one source, there've been 27,351 jihadist attacks (and counting) since 9/11. The source says that's actually underreported. And the figure is regularly updated:

And here's a list of attacks on American soil:

Keep in mind that that doesn't include plots and attacks which the authorities intercepted. The quantitative difference between a McVeigh and jihadism makes the comparison statistically inane. Needless to say, the quantitative difference is highly germane to risk assessment. 

4. On Facebook, James White recently said:

Ignorance and bigotry is ugly, no matter who the ignorant bigot is. Here's a video of what happens when you combine ignorance, bigotry, fear, and with one guy it seems, way too many roids.

White later said:

You see, when someone can look at the video I posted and listen to a man who is clearly not interested in anything but rage and anger, surely not thought or interaction, and think that condemning that is the same thing as defending Islam---well, that's just plain irrational. It again is an abandonment of the necessary element of rational thought that allows for proper categorization and context. Next, you gave the kind of illustration that could be used in a logic class in the "errors of logic" portion: you took the identification of plain ignorance (when some fellow is saying, "Muslims is evil," well, the poor fellow can't even speak the English language, let alone back up what he is saying with any in-depth reasoning) and obvious bigotry (when you do what the big weight lifter dude was doing, yelling loudly, refusing to let the other man, who is NOT yelling loudly, to even interact with you, and then shouting, "Shut your mouth!"), and confused that with folks who are "concerned about the threat of Islam." Seriously? So, anyone who is concerned about the "threat of Islam" will refuse to reason, but will shout, be insulting, etc.? Really? See, it is this kind of irrationality, this kind of emotion-fueled illogic that starts wars and gets lots of non-combatants killed. But more to the point, it is simply NOT A CHRISTIAN WAY OF THOUGHT. 

He's alluding to a public meeting about plans to build a new mosque in Spotsylvania, VA, where one man said: “Shalaby, you can say whatever you want, every Muslim is a terrorist, period!” and “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear your mouth!”

A few observations:

i) Sure, that's a hasty generalization. To say all Muslims are terrorists is clearly an overstatement. 

ii) However, White knows as well as anyone, and better than most, that the alternatives are not confined to either terrorist or nonterrorist. There are lots of gradations:

a) Some Muslims are jihadists. Although that may just be a fraction of the total, given the sheer number of Muslims, a fraction of a huge absolute number is still a very large number.

b) Many Muslims who are not jihadists support jihadists in different ways. It may involve material support. Or it may involve tacit or explicit approval. Jihadists come from Muslim families and communities. If jihadism was stigmatized, if jihadists were ostracized, that would deter many would-be jihadists.

c) Many Muslims support terrorism against Israel. And it's hard to separate that from terrorism against the US. To the extent that US foreign policy, as well as many private American citizens, support Israel, that makes America complicit. 

d) Many Muslims support sharia. But that makes peaceful coexistence intolerable. If the infidel is constantly doing things that are anathema to Muslim social mores, that's lighting matches in a gas station. 

iii) We need to be careful about simply dismissing some protesters as "ignorant." For instance, some homosexual apologists, like the late John Boswell, can argue circles around most Christian laymen–or most Christians pastors, for that matter. Same thing with transgender apologists. These debates can get very technical very quickly. The average Bible-believing Christian is no match for a professional homosexual or transgender apologist who devotes full time to their pet issue. 

But that doesn't mean we should dismiss a Christian who's defending Biblical ethics, even if he's not very articulate or sophisticated. A homosexual/transgender apologist can win the argument and still be dead wrong. Picking on a poor spokesman demonstrates the weakness of the spokesman rather than the weakness of the position.

iv) A recipe for vigilantism is when the authorities refuse to protect the public. When that happens, some private citizens take it upon themselves to police the streets. Instead of criticizing vigilantism, we should criticize the root cause of vigilantism, and rectify the problem at the source. 

iv) What are the theoretical options?

a) Expel Muslims

b) Continue to let Muslims immigrate, but do demographic profiling. Monitor the demographic niche at high risk of domestic jihadist plots and attacks (e.g. young Muslim men).

c) Have dragnet surveillance. The gov't spies on everyone. 

d) Don't monitor Muslims. Just accept the fact that jihadist attacks are now an inevitable and increasing part of life in America. 

This is an unforced error. The problems caused by Muslim immigration are both predictable and preventable. They only become entrenched and irradicable through passivity, procrastination, and wishful thinking. It doesn't have to be this way. We've seen this play out in the Europe and the UK. 

ii) One question I have is why White is more charitable towards Muslims than "the big weightlifter dude." Clearly the weightlifter dude is not an intellectual. But what about addressing his concerns, even if he's a poor spokesman? 

What does it accomplish to refer to concerned citizens like him as "ignorant bigots," making stereotypical comments about his appearance, &c.? Is White's objective to persuade people? If so, how does using antagonistic language accomplish that purpose? Suppose he's a bar bouncer. Is that a reason to make fun of his social class? 

Does White really think "weightlifter dude" can't speak English? Many people get flustered when they speak before an audience. They stumble over words. Especially in a confrontational situation, they may use bad syntax and say dumb things.

In addition, his putdown boomerangs, for White himself commits a grammatical error of the very same kind (number agreement) when he says "Ignorance and bigotry is ugly." But that requires a plural verb. 

Does that mean White "can't even speak the English language"? Obviously not. These are little slips that anyone can make. 

What if the "weightlifter dude" is not a Christian. If so, how does White address nonchristians? Why be so respectful towards Muslims, but so disrespectful towards redneck unbelievers? 

Suppose "weightlifter dude" were a member of Hell's Angels, and White had a chance to witness to him. Would White begin by making fun of his tattoos, biker regalia, and working class vernacular? 

Many Americans are understandably frustrated because the political class disregards their concerns–legitimate concerns. We've had a string of jihadist attacks and close calls on Obama's watch. After each attack or near miss, nothing happens. No policy change. 

I'm sure White knows far more about Islam than the "weightlifter dude." But one thing even the "weightlifter dude" knows is the correlation between Islam and terrorism. 

Does White think Americans don't have legitimate concerns about our immigration policy vis-a-vis Muslims? About Islamist values encroaching on a free society? About the importation of sharia and jihad onto American soil? What is White's alternative solution? 

"Weightlifter dude" is an easy target. But after you knock him down, then what?

Inducting ever more Muslims into our country means importing ever more time bombs into our country. Ticking time bombs. 

And, unfortunately, that's not just a metaphor. Consider the attack that Muslims had planned for Paris. They bungled it, but the plan was to have one or more suicide bombers detonate their explosive belts inside the stadium to cause mass panic. Other suicide bombers would be stationed outside the stadium so that when spectators stampeded out of the stadium, they'd be killed or maimed. Explosive belts are designed to eject shrapnel, causing horrific injuries. You'd have spectators killed and maimed inside the stadium. Some trampled to death. And a repeat performance outside the stadium. 

Should we just accept that a trip to the shopping mall or sporting event now carries this risk? The more Muslims you induct into American society, the more inevitable that becomes.

Immigration policies have irreversible consequences. Once you reach a demographic tipping point, there's no going back anytime soon–short of civil war.  The entire country becomes a hostage situation. Even if you slam the door on further Muslim immigrants, it's like a lockdown in which you trap the students with the sniper. 

Another Response To Colin Nicholl

Sometime yesterday, apparently, he updated his response to me at his web site. The response is mostly the same, but some parts have been changed. He's added a section to the opening expressing a desire to be gracious, and some of the language has been changed so as to be less critical of me. That's good. He interacts with some of what I said in my response to his article. He occasionally says that he's interacting with that response, and a note at the end of his article mentions that the article was updated on November 29. But most of the changes he's made aren't identified as such, and somebody reading his article for the first time might come away with the impression that nothing significant has been changed. As I recall, he doesn't ever explain that my blog response to him was a response to the first edition of his article. People who have been reading both sides of our exchange should know that, but others might not.

I want to respond to what I think are the most significant changes in his update. There are some changes he's made on topics that are significant, but which I think Steve Hays and I have already covered adequately. What I'll do below is address a few points I don't think we said enough about previously.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Islam, rape, and the fate of Western women

Memories of Santa

Some random thoughts about Halloween and Christmas. Some Christians oppose Halloween due to its allegedly heathen roots. You also have some Christians who oppose Halloween because it has its historical basis in the dogma of Purgatory and prayers for the dead. A Catholic holiday. 

The basic problem with that line of objection is that the history of a holiday is irrelevant to its contemporary significance. The very fact that some Christians feel the need to give people a history lesson on the real or alleged background of the holiday ironically illustrates the irrelevance of their objection. For if people don't know the history of the holiday, then that has absolutely nothing to do with why they celebrate the holiday. It doesn't factor in their thinking at all. 

And even if they did know about its historical origins, that isn't what motivates them to celebrate the holiday. Halloween has evolved. For instance, there was a time in the second half of the 20C where it was influenced by horror flicks. But currently it seems to be influenced by superhero flicks. Halloween represents whatever the pop culture makes it to be at any particular time. 

Now that's not a reason to celebrate Halloween. That's just debunking a bad reason not to celebrate Halloween. 

Nowadays there are seasonal stores that hawk Halloween paraphernalia. I don't object to professional Halloween costumes. But I can't help thinking back to my childhood when kids had homemade halloween costumes. That's more meaningful than taking the kid to the store and buying something off the shelf. That's something mothers used to make for their kids. It made it more of a family experience. Admittedly today's kids are probably spoiled by professional superhero costumes, so they'd sneer at anything homemade. 

As a kid, I think what I most enjoyed about Halloween was being outside at night. That was exhilarating. Although I have fond childhood memories of Halloween, there isn't much riding on that holiday one way or the other. It's a very thin holiday. 

Then there's Christmas and Santa Claus. Although some Christians oppose Santa Claus, here's an atheist (Louise Antony) on the topic:

I have a very strong opinion about this, one that puts me seriously at odds with some of my very best friends: I think that there are no good arguments for teaching a child to believe in Santa Claus, or for not telling the child the truth the first time he or she asks.  
Prima facie, one shouldn't lie to one's children. More seriously, one has a duty not to try to convince them positively of things that are beyond false–that are preposterous…In the case of Santa Claus, the risk of losing trust in one's parents' testimony is, I think, not trivial. Finally, when a parent actively tries to get a child to disregard perfectly sound arguments against a certain proposition, there's the risk that rationality will itself become devalued and the child will get the message that making sense is not terribly important. "But does a reindeer fly?" "It's magic!" Alexander George, ed. What Would Socrates Say? Philosophers Answer Your Questions About Love, Nothingness, and Everything Else (Potter Style 2007).

i) Although she doesn't quite come out and say so, what do you bet the subtext is her concern that childish belief in Santa Claus conditions kids to believe in (gasp!) God (shudder! shudder!).

Of course, one obvious problem with the implied analogy is that all kids outgrow belief in Santa Claus, whereas there's no correlation with regard to kids outgrowing belief in God. Indeed, some kids are raised in a secular environment, but then grow into faith in God as adults. 

ii) In fairness to Antony, I agree with her that if a kid expresses doubts about the existence of Santa, it's a mistake to argue with them. It's a good thing that they doubt his existence. That should be encouraged, not discouraged. 

iv) I don't agree with her that we should simply tell them the truth the first time they ask. Rather, I think it's more useful to draw them out. Ask them why they have doubts about Santa. Discuss their reasons with them. If they have a good reason, explore it and commend it. If they have a bad reason, explain why that's a bad reason. Don't co-opt their reasoning process, but help them to clarify their reasoning process. 

A Christian objection I've run across is that Santa Claus is a godlike figure. A figure with divine attributes. So it's a short step from losing faith in Santa to losing faith in God. However, that's a bad objection for a couple of reasons:

i) It's an argument from authority–parental authority. That's fine for young kids, but teenagers need to have a better reason for believing in God than faith in their parents' opinion. 

ii) It's a very bad analogy. I remember, as a very young boy, sitting at a little table in my grandmother's little kitchen, asking her where God was. She exclaimed that God was everywhere. So, pointing to the teaoit on the table, I asked her if God was in the teapot. She assured me he was.

Much as I adored my grandmother, even at that age I didn't believe God was in the teapot. I never confused God with Santa. I never thought of God as that kind of being. I didn't view God as an embodied being. To me, God existed outside our world. 

iii) I don't think parents have a duty to inculcate the Santa narrative. Although I think it's harmless, I don't see much value in that. I think both opponents and proponents make the issue more important than it is.