Saturday, April 29, 2006

Links and Notes

* "21st Century Reformation" has a great post on the dangers of fault-finding.

* I am currently reading Michael Rea's The Metaphysics of Original Sin (PDF). I have an interest in this sort of subject in part because of my study of Malebranche. In fact, my thesis, The External World and the Fall from Reason: Malebranche's Account of our Knowledge of the Existence of Bodies (horrible title, but most thesis titles are), discusses the role played by Malebranche's philosophical account of original sin in his theory of the external world. (Malebranche thinks of the Fall as a falling away from universal Reason, and the doctrine of original sin becomes important because he says seemingly contradictory things about whether and how we can know with certainty that bodies exist -- but you can see that these statements aren't really contradictory when you see that sometimes he is talking about our ideal state and sometimes he is talking about our actual current state under original sin.) Rea's paper, though, is primarily about inherited guilt. Malebranche says almost nothing on this subject, but as I read him his view is this. We inherit a disorder (what Rea calls corruption). Possession of that disorder is itself culpable, because it is not something merely passively possessed but a feature of one's own action. What makes it culpable is that for the disorder to be actively expressed requires an active violation of Reason by failing to love things according to the order Reason tells everyone to love them. Thus we are guilty for our own action. Culpable sin, however, is the very fact of not loving according to Reason; Malebranche denies MR, if understood to be the claim that we can't be guilty except for completely voluntary actions. (On Malebranche's view, I think, all that is required for P to be guilty for S is for P to be such that Reason considers P to be an improper object of love insofar as P is involved in S.)

* PZ Myers at "Pharyngula" recently had an excellent post on PT-141, the potential aphrodesiac that has been making some news recently.

* There was also recently a good discussion at "Mormon Philosophy and Theology" on deification in Mormonism vs. deificiation in the Church Fathers.

* A rather cool site for those who like logical proofs: the Metamath Proof Explorer. (HT: Arborescence)

* The Online Philosophy Conference starts tomorrow (April 30th). Most of it is on things that don't interest me much (which is odd, given how broad my interests are), but I'm looking forward to Hurka's paper on friendship in week 2, Levy's paper on Frankfurt-style cases in week 3, and Duff's paper on virtue jurisprudence in week 4. Perhaps a few others. I'll keep an eye out for papers that turn out more interesting than their titles, as well.

* A lot of people have been discussing or mentioning Caleb McDaniel's The case for abolishing nuclear weapons, for good reason.

* The University of Michigan Life Sciences department has a tutorial on stem cells. They also have a list of other online tutorials. Link to it. As I've noted before, one of the problems with the stem cell debate is that it is very difficult for most people to find out what is actually going on in stem cell work. Given such a dearth of information, more accessible information means a better discussion.

* The Logic Museum has Bonaventure's Prologue to the Second Book of the Sentences online. It gives a good sense of what serious scholars in medieval philosophy deal with all the time.

* At "The Lectures of Mortimer Shy" has a great poet discussing poetry and the literal, developing some ideas from Owen Barfield, in The Writer's Imperative.

Texas Independence and Zavala

Father John Whiteford has a great post on Texan independence from Mexico, which has, among other things, a picture of my favorite Texas Founding Father, Lorenzo de Zavala. Zavala, perhaps Mexico's most brilliant politician and diplomat in the period leading up to the war, threw his lot in with Texas because Santa Anna refused to accept the Mexican Constitution. He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and was the first Vice-President of Texas's interim government. The chief reason for the revolt against Santa Anna -- which is what the Texas War of Independence was -- can be found in the fact that Santa Anna was a despot who arbitrarily violated constitutional law. This is why there were Mexican patriots -- true sons of Mexico like Zavala -- on the side of Texas in the war. I would hope that the same situation would arise if Congress were to give the President power to dismiss Congress and the Supreme Court, a power that was then exercised to establish universal martial law (which is effectively what happened in the case of Santa Anna). And as Whiteford notes, Texas was not the only part of Mexico to revolt against Santa Anna over this point: it was just the only one that managed to succeed, due to the capture of Santa Anna at San Jacinto and to the fact that Texas eventually joined the U.S.

Note especially the flag flown at the Alamo, which Whiteford shows in his post. It bears on it the number '1824' -- the year the Constitution of the United Mexican States was adopted. You can read that Constitution online in both Spanish and English.

[UPDATE: Since this was nominated for the History Carnival, I should point out its companion post on Juan Seguín. Zavala and Seguín are an interesting juxtaposition; looking at the matter through Zavala's life shows the Texas revolution in a very good light, whereas Seguín's shows how messy and complicated and sometimes nasty it could be.]

A Poem Draft


All temptation, tower-topped
by soft surrender, is undone swiftly
beneath star-courses gently shining,
where our meeting, angel-sung,
makes you into fire's emblem,
inflaming me to be divine,
where I await with breath abated
as your finger, incense-scented,
sets your sigil on my soul.
Beyond all merit and deserving,
beyond all labor and design,
this, with grace's heart-possession,
makes me yours, and only yours,
intermingles in our breathing
the very spirit of our souls,
joins together in kiss soft-pressing
two bright stars in southern sky --
one fire like a dragon winging,
shedding light like morning's dawn --
this, the mercy of your being,
captures me and makes you mine.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Roe v. Wade and Leaving It to the States

I found this, from a Wall Street Journal op-ed, interesting:

Mr. Allen's position is carefully demarcated: He would like to see the decision "reinterpreted" to allow states to decide the legal status of abortion. Does that mean he would like to see it overturned? He won't say. So I suggest that Mr. Allen's "reinterpretation" would produce precisely the same result as overturning the ruling: States would decide the fate of abortion. I pause for a response. Nothing. I get more direct. "Why won't you say you want Roe reversed?"

I notice the same thing in a recent New York Times article:

Perhaps to demonstrate commitment, Mr. Allen recently became a co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He also opposes legislation classifying crimes against gay men and lesbians as hate crimes. When South Dakota passed a restrictive new abortion law, Mr. Allen said abortion should be left to the states — a view tantamount to calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

But this is not actually true. It's simply false that such a 'reinterpretation' would produce precisely the same result as overturning the ruling; Roe v. Wade already explicitly recognizes the authority of states to take measures to protect prenatal life, as anyone who has read the decision knows. What it does is balance against this the right to privacy, so that the right to privacy overbalances the authority of state interest earlier in the term, and the authority of state interest grows stronger as the term progresses. As the decision explicitly says: is reasonable and appropriate for a State to decide that at some point in time another interest, that of health of the mother or that of potential human life, becomes significantly involved.

And again:

The decision leaves the State free to place increasing restrictions on abortion as the period of pregnancy lengthens, so long as those restrictions are tailored to the recognized state interests.

This has usually been understood, both within this decision and afterward, to mean that prior to viability state interests cannot be sufficiently strong for restriction of aborition. Overturning Roe v. Wade would mean overturning this balancing (which was explicitly reaffirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey). Allen's reinterpreted Roe v. Wade, which is actually a very common libertarian position, would have to take this balancing strictly -- the state, not the federal government, would have jurisdiction in this matter, and the laws passed by the state would have to recognize this sliding movement, whereby the state's interest is very weak toward the beginning of the term and stronger toward the end (I don't know if Allen would accept the point about viability). Federal laws concerning abortion, whether one way or another, would not be allowed; states would be allowed discretion so long as they show that state interest is involved and significant.

On Allen's own position, in interviews (e.g., here) he always puts the emphasis on the claim that "the people in the states ought to be making these decisions" and shrugs off the question of whether this should be considered an overturning of Roe v. Wade or not. But there's nothing in the position that requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which already explicitly affirms that states have some authority in the matter, and says nothing about the federal government. (This is not to say that I think Allen particularly consistent in general on this subject; I'm not sure how he would go about reconciling his voting record with his stated position, for instance. But there is nothing inconsistent about leaving it to the states and not overturning the decision.)

So there is a possibility that opinion journalists appear to be systematically misrepresenting: the states should decide because the federal government can't be said to have sufficient interest in the matter (abortion as such is not an inter-state health issue, but an intra-state one). The only role of the federal government would be the judicial one of guaranteeing both that the state laws take adequate steps to protect relevant rights and that discretion about such laws remains entirely at the state level. This, however, is entirely consistent with Roe v. Wade.

It's also the way we do most things most of the time, at least in theory, although in practice it's more complicated.


Dixie Royal
You are 84% true Southern!
You are pure belle or gentleman! You know your Jones Soda, Nehi and RC colas, your Moon Pies and sweet potato pie; you'd absolutely die without air conditioners in the summer, and you've seen Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes (or read the book!). Your grandmother lives in an antebellum home and has a cook who makes the best fried chicken and asparagus casserole and summer squash and everything else in the world. And you know the taste of honeysuckle and the feel of grass between your toes. You are blessed.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 60% on Southerliness
Link: The Southern-ness Test written by gwennykate on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Not quite, I'm nowhere near that 'aristocracy' (and I'm Texan, to boot, which is a different key of Southern); but not wrong in every part, either. (HT: Dappled Things)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dembski and the Cause of Evil

Alejandro has a good post at "Reality Conditions" critique William Dembski's theodicy; in particular, Dembski's paper, Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science (PDF). I am less critical, but I do think some of Dembski's claims and arguments, particularly in the early part of the paper, are a bit odd. For instance, he claims that the following used to be mainstream Christian theology:

S: All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin.

Some people say things like this, but it is fairly clearly false; Christian theology has never been so anthropocentric as to think that all the evil in the cosmos, or even all the evil on earth was due to human free will. S is, in fact, what Dembski says mainstream theology considers it to be: preposterous. Part of Dembski's mistake is confusing S with the following:

S1: Evil is the result of a will that has turned against God.

On Christian principles, S1 is more plausible than S; in part because Christian theology has never assumed that human wills are the only wills capable of turning against God. Whatever one may think of talk of angels and demons, its place in Christian theology has always and ever prevented major Christian theologians from assuming that important things -- whether evil or anything else -- are all about human beings.

But I think even S1 is not really tenable. For one thing, if evil is the result of a will that has turned against God, then it would follow that a will turning against God is not evil unless it is the result of a will that has already turned. And this is just not tenable. So we need to qualify S1 further by saying that evil involves either (a) a will turned against God; or (b) the intended effect of a will turned against God; or (c) both. However, even here we seem to run into a question. Does the modified S1 include natural evil?

It turns out to be difficult to fit natural evil into the modified S1. For one thing, it's rather difficult to pin natural evil down. I'm reminded in this regard of a paper by Hugh McCloskey arguing from natural evil that God does not exist. McCloskey's argument involves a very crude notion of natural evil. Thus deserts are evil because they can kill or hurt you; rattlesnakes are evil because they can kill or hurt you; etc. There is a fairly obvious problem with the criterion that anything is a natural evil if it can kill or hurt you: (1) the first is that by this criterion everything is a natural evil if it has causal powers. For unless it is countered by other causal powers (antidotes, immune systems, etc.) there are few things in the world that cannot kill or hurt you if it can do anything. So we would have to say that fruit is evil because you can choke on it; and water is evil because you can drown in it; and fire is evil because it can burn you; and books are evil because they can give you painful papercuts; and science is evil because it can lead to things that are deadly. This is not a rational viewpoint.

The problem with a criterion of this sort is that it is too quick to identify things as natural evils. Such a perspective not only cannot be reconciled with Christian theology, which regards every substantial thing in creation as good and the union of them together into a world or cosmos as very good; it cannot even be reconciled with ordinary common sense. However, if we take a more traditional view, we can regard as evil any privation of good. In this sense, what is evil in being killed by a rattlesnake is not the rattlesnake. The rattlesnake, in fact, is good in its kind (as any passionate herpetologist can tell you). What is evil is the privation of good that results incidentally from the rattlesnake (namely, being killed, in which we are deprived of life). And so it is with everything else.

Well and good; now we have a view of natural evil that is at least reasonable. Now the question is this: is every privation of good an act of will, a directly intended effect of will, or both? And the answer seems to be: obviously not. The rattlesnake's killing me is not an act of will -- my being deprived of life is not an act of will; it is simply this: that I am deprived of life. Likewise, unless the rattlesnake has been sent by man, God, or another intelligence to punish or torment me, neither is it a directly intended effect of will. Now, it is true that mainstream theology has tended to regard most evils experienced by human beings that are not faults (moral evils) to be penalties (punishments); but it's very clear that this is not a general principle. For everyone is very clear that the distinction between penalties and faults only divides one class of evils -- voluntary evils -- and not all evils are voluntary. For instance, if a cat leaps on a beetle and kills it, there is (perhaps) a natural evil involved: a beetle has been deprived of a good, namely, life. (Strictly speaking, the beetle can only non-figuratively be deprived of life if its life is due to it in some way. This would be controversial, but we can grant it. Of we deny this generally for this sort of case, we would be committed to saying that there are no natural evils that are not penalties. Some people hold this, but it is not generally accepted.) But there is no penalty or fault involved.

But since the modified S1 was as follows:

S1': Every evil is either a will turned from God or the directly intended result of such a will

we would be committed to saying that every natural evil is the directly intended result of an evil will. For us to know that this is consistent with the case of the cat killing a beetle, we would have to know that there is an evil will directly intending that the cat should deprive the beetle of life. And so on for every other case. This certainly doesn't follow directly from what makes such cases fall under the label 'evil': all that is required for that is lack of due good. And it isn't clear how we would know it to be true short of being shown this evil willer, or being told of him by a trustworthy source. But not even to Satan has there ever been attributed a will intending every natural evil directly. But maybe S1' is a little too strong, and we should remove the qualification 'directly intended'. But if we remove it entirely we get a statement that is inconsistent with the Christian doctrine of providence -- which tells us, among other things, that God is able to make some of the results of evil wills good. And even if we were simply to replace 'directly intended' with 'indirectly intended', i.e., intended under a very general description, this wouldn't seem to solve the problem. So S1', although more plausible than S1 or S, is not consistent with Christian principles, either.

So I don't think Dembski is right that the reason we are not inclined to accept S is that we are not inclined to believe in a historical Fall; rather, the reason we are not inclined to accept S is that there are good reasons not to do so, and always have been. Even the legend in Genesis does not suggest S -- it has a tempter, whose evil is not explained at all, and could not possibly be the result of human sin, because it precedes it. Further, it isolates the story of the Fall to a single garden of delights -- there is no suggestion in the text that everywhere was a garden of delights (as Dembski, to his great credit, explicitly recognizes). Further, there is no suggestion in the story that some things that could be called evil were not there -- certain kinds of pains and deaths, for instance. To get something like S we would have to read all of this into the story and take it as straightforward fact rather than, as it has usually been considered in Christian history, as a story told in the manner of a folktale to convey certain genuine truths, a case of God condescending to speak to us in our own way so that we might understand His basic points. (Dembski recognizes that we can do this with Genesis 1; but he doesn't appear to extend the point, as it should be extended, to Genesis 2.)*

Dembski further makes the claim that the doctrine of redemption presupposes S; but this seems to me to be fairly obviously false, for reasons similar to those I have already discussed.

Dembski is more successful with two points: that (some) natural evils could exist as a preemptive response to human sin; and that Genesis 1 should be seen as primarily a way of describing divine purposes rather than the natural events that result from them. The latter is found, in a different variant, among the Greek Fathers. The former is technically true, but seems to me to get us nowhere, except into a terrain of mere speculation; I don't see any way we could know which natural evils exist in this way (and in what way they are brought into the divine plan for this purpose) unless we were explicitly told by God. There is no serious argument, as far as I know, that this has been revealed. So it remains a speculative possibility. Dembski in recognizing this is right in recognizing that there are certain sorts of evils that can be willed without fault -- just punishment of the guilty, for instance, always involves willing that someone experience penalty. It is a point usually forgotten. But recognizing that natural evils can be willed faultlessly is itself enough to deal with all but a handful of the theological issues involved in natural evil; there's no need for such an elaborate apparatus beyond that, particularly given that there is no reason to attribute all natural evils to human will.

I think Alejandro goes a bit far at certain points in his criticism (e.g., I don't think Dembski's point is that the Garden of Eden was any sort of God-induced illusion), but I agree with him on his primary points: (1) S, the foundation of the problem Dembski is trying to solve, really isn't very plausible at all. (2) Dembski's solution seems a Red Queen's race. In the Red Queen's country we have to run as fast as we can to stay in one place. I do think certain parts of the solution are clever; but it seems an awfully elaborate apparatus to keep things exactly one way, particularly given that the problem for which it is a solution doesn't seem to be genuine. (3) There is no serious theological need for claims that human beings are the crown of creation. Unless it's used in a qualified sense, I don't see any way to make it consistent with Christian theology, which has always tended to regard human beings as (to use C. S. Lewis's phrase) creatures of the margin -- we are not the center of the universe or crown of creation in any evaluative sense. Of course, by reason we have dominion over creation; but this has usually been considered a dominion of use -- it's just the straightforward fact that through reason we have some ability to use things as we please. So it does not matter one way or another whether there is any extraterrestrial intelligence or not; nothing about the human place in the universe really changes.

* I think Christian doctrine does require that there have been some primitive originative point for human evil. But this really isn't surprising; it's required by almost any reasonable view, since the alternative seems to be the following claim: human beings willing evil have always (in the straightforward and strict sense) existed. Since there seems no reasonable way to hold that human beings have always existed, no one can hold that human beings willing evil have always existed.

Theologically there are two obvious reasons to make use of the story of Adam and Eve: (1) the unity of the human race; and (2) original sin, for which I direct you to the answers to Rebecca Stark's recent quiz on original sin. However, for theological purposes, it does not (as far as I can see) matter whether you take the whole story of Adam and Eve in a realistic or an instrumentalistic fashion. As long as the story makes the relevant theological points, it really doesn't matter.

U.S. Religious Distribution

This was rather interesting, and Rebecca, who likes maps, might like it: a geography of religious distribution in the U.S. (HT: Benj Hellie at Leiter Reports) Things that strike me on first impression as probably significant for the flow of thought in the U.S.:

(1) Catholics, while big in numbers, are spread out rather than concentrated in any one region, and appear largely on the edges of the continental U.S.

(2) Baptists, another big group, are heavily concentrated in a fairly well-defined region. So are Mormons, Methodists (to a much lesser extent), and Lutherans.

(3) Pentecostals are very evenly spread across the country, and so are, to a lesser extent, Presbyterians.

(4) On the leading religious bodies map, four groups are particularly notable as dominating regions: Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, and Lutheran.


Make anagrams with your name on the Internet Anagram Server. Some of my more interesting ones:

Extra Credit: Of what philosophers' names are the following anagrams?


Links and a Quiz

* I will be in Chicago Thursday and Friday for an interview at the Central APA; there probably won't be any blogging on those two days.

* A sampling from some of the "Ideas and Beliefs" section of Cliopatria's ever-expanding History Blogroll.

->Sayers against "historicism gone to seed" at "Dead Christians Society"
-> "Free St. George's," which does Scottish church history has been posting an ongoing series on James Morison. The most recent post in the series is the tenth.
-> Apocalyptic at "haligweorc" discusses the history of scholarship on the notion of 'apocalyptic'.
-> Dead King Watch: Ethelred the Unready at "Histomat"
-> Historical Reflections on Baptist Ordination at "Historia ecclesiastica"
-> The Holocaust and History and The Holocaust and History, Part II at "The Key to Rebecca"
-> Yom Hashoah at "Menachem Mendel"
-> At "Reformata, Semper Reformanda" there is the beginning of a discussion of Jonathan Edwards and Plantinga's A/C model in Which comes first, the intellect or the will (I)
-> In Compassion at "The Useless Tree" we find a discussion of Taoism and morality.

* An interesting wager argument for vegetarianism at "What is it like to be a blog?"

* A mystery about an entry in C. S. Lewis's diary is solved in Porwizzle at "Laudator Temporis Acti".

* Mitochondria
You scored 66 Industriousness, 25 Centrality, and 11 Causticity! Y

You're a mitochondrion! The mitocondria is a "power plant" of the cell. Nothing could ever get done in the cell without you creating energy. Since both the Citric Acid cycle and Oxidative Phosphorylation happen inside the mitochondria, you are critical to every eukaryotic cell. You are always a hard worker, no matter what you are tasked to. Most of the time, you tend to be working in the background, but that often suits you just fine. You get along with almost everyone, and aren't these the most important things?

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 68% on Industriousness

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 30% on Centrality

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 18% on Causticity

Link: The Which Cell Organelle are you? Test written by fading_shadows on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Monday, April 24, 2006


For Doctor Who fans, a lovely online game at the BBC.

This will, I'm sure, waste a few hours of time that I should be using to revise a paper....


Some resources on the Akedah, also called the Binding of Isaac:

The Aqedah: Examples of Midrashic Interpretation

Moses Maimonides on the Aqedah

The Hebrew Akedah in Christian and Islamic Tradition

God, Man, and Morality in the Akedah at "Mayim"

Fear and Trembling, by Johannes de Silentio by Soren Kierkegaard

The Ethical and Religious Revelation of the Akedah by Michael Michau

Sacrificing the Text: The Philosopher/Poet at Mount Moriah by Dorota Glowacka

The Aqedah issue of The Journal of Textual Reasoning

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jacobus Arminius

From time to time I have mentioned various Reformed scholastics -- for instance, Turretin or Voetius. But it occurs to me that I have never mentioned the most famous and influential Protestant scholastic of them all, Jacobus Arminius.

Strict Calvinists, as a rule, wish he weren't so influential; he is the Calvinist theologian Calvinists love to hate, in part because he deviates so strongly from the traditional Calvinist view of the relation between faith and the decree of election. (He holds that the election of believers in general precedes anyone's foreseen faith; but that the the election of particular believers follows it.) Strictly speaking the classic 'five points' formulation of Calvinism is not a formulation of Calvinism; the five points are simply the five responses of traditional Calvinists to five points of the Remonstrants (who were Arminians). Far from being the heart of traditional Calvinism, the five points are just the points on which traditional Calvinists are distinguished from Arminians. It is a sign of just how much influence Arminius has had through the centuries that Calvinists are repeatedly so insistent about these five distinguishing marks.

You can find the Works of James Arminius at the Wesley Center Online.

Aquinas and Hume on the Friendship of Marriage

Aquinas, SCG 3.123:

The greater a friendship is, the more solid and long-lasting will it be. Now, there seems to be the greatest friendship [maxima amicitia] between husband and wife, for they are united not only in the act of fleshly union, which produces a certain gentle association even between animals, but also in the partnership of the whole range of domestic activity. Consequently, as an indication of this, man must even 'leave his father and mother' for the sake of his wife, as is said in Genesis (2:24).

Hume, Of Polygamy and Divorces:

But friendship is a calm and sedate affection, conducted by reason and cemented by habit; springing from long acquaintance and mutual obligations; without jealousies or fears, and without those feverish fits of heat and cold, which cause such an agreeable torment in the amorous passion. So sober an affection, therefore, as friendship, rather thrives under constraint, and never rises to such a height, as when any strong interest or necessity binds two persons together, and gives them some common object of pursuit. We need not, therefore, be afraid of drawing the marriage-knot, which chiefly subsists by friendship, the closest possible. The amity between the persons, where it is solid and sincere, will rather gain by it: And where it is wavering and uncertain, this is the best expedient for fixing it. How many frivolous quarrels and disgusts are there, which people of common prudence endeavour to forget, when they lie under a necessity of passing their lives together; but which would soon be inflamed into the most deadly hatred, were they pursued to the utmost, under the prospect of an easy separation?

It's interesting that Aquinas and Hume hit on roughly similar arguments in criticizing divorce; and perhaps even more interesting is the importance given to friendship in their accounts of marriage. Of course, Aquinas has the stronger view of the role of friendship in marriage; which is not surprising, since he has the stronger view of marriage.