Friday, November 29, 2013

Ike on War

Bobby brought this 1953 speech to my attention:  

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.[1][5]

Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States
Former Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Visitation Rough Draft


The sun came back today
For a moment
An hour
No more

It caressed
The cold wet desert
My living room
My soul

For a moment
An hour
No more

Nature and time
Planned well for me
Took care of me
In the last few days
Things were right

For a moment
An hour
No more

At the end of strain
There was rain

For a moment
An hour
No more

A gentle blanket
Furry clouds
Soft slow rain
Constant rain
Three days of rain

For a moment
An hour
No more

Four days
No star
None seen
No ray of sun

Peace and rest
The beginning of a healing

For a moment
An hour
No more

So also then today
Right at the end
The sun
To say hello 

To set the scene
For Taps
My Vespers

For a moment
An hour
No more

Holidays coming
Lights to be hung
Life to be lived
Family to be loved

For a moment
An hour
No more

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A lesson From History

 -- Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sees “the collapse of American liberalism” in sight, in no small part because of the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
“We have not just Obamacare unraveling, not just the Obama administration unraveling, not just the Democratic majority of the Senate [unraveling], but we could be looking at the collapse of American liberalism,” --

Let's go to extreme focus. It's April, 1945. The allies are closing in on Berlin. Hitler has very little left except bizarre fantasies of divisions that no longer exist. Everyone knows the end of Nazi Germany is only a matter of time. They also know that this time will be measured in weeks. No more.  There is no hope.

-- "Suddenly Lorenz, one of the press chiefs, burst into the chamber without knocking and ran across the room." Herrgesell said. "He held a DNB bulletin in his hand and cried out: "Fuehrer. Great news. Roosevelt is dead." 

"Hitler leaped to his feet, grabbed the bulletin from Lorenz's hand violently and suddenly flamed with a queer fire. His expression was maniacal. Then he began to laugh. It was hideous. He walked up and down the room waving his arms and laughing. The room echoed with crazy laughter. 

"Suddenly he stopped laughing. Then a spasm of laughter gripped him again. And he threw himself around the room, laughing and repeating: 'I knew it. I knew it.' 

"Nobody ever saw Hitler ever smile again," the secretary said. --

Some reports indicate that Hitler and his generals broke open champagne to celebrate the sudden salvation of Nazi Germany. They were convinced that with Roosevelt dead the entire Allied war effort would collapse.  

After all, that is what happened to Frederick the Great. When victory seemed impossible, defeat inevitable, his enemy died and that was the end.

Well, it worked for Frederick the Great. It didn't work for Hitler. I don't think it's likely work for Krauthammer, either.

Everything is against the Republican Party. Its popularity has plummeted. The battle between the Tea Party and the not quite so radical Republicans is tearing the party apart. Young people almost universally despise everything the party stands for. Growing numbers of minorities are voting in record numbers, in spite of the GOP's efforts to deny them this basic right.

No, the failure of a website is not the great miracle for which you desperately hope, Mr. Krauthammer. Your party, the party of extremism, is dead. It just isn't smart enough to know that yet.

It is possible that a new Republican Party may rise out of the ashes of the old. However, if it does, it will not be the GOP as we understand it today. It will be a centrist, moderate, tolerant party. It may still call itself the GOP, but it will no more be the Republican Party of today than the Republican Party of today is the party of Lincoln.

The Wisdom of Age

You know you're getting old when you use the blow dryer that you no longer need for the hair you no longer have to warm up your socks before putting them on your feet. Then you hope that you can get them on your feet before they cool off because it's so hard to bend over that far.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lincoln on the GOP?

Lincoln to those who have corrupted the Republican Party:  Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!  ...A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

 Lincoln, 1860 speech at Cooper Union

Friday, November 15, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- The Great Debate, Part 2, Harris

Harris opens with the point that when one criticizes religion, one  receives a great many emails on the subject. He points out however, that the fear which most of these emails express to him is not that the writers are upset about his questioning the existence of God so much as they are upset with the idea that without God there is no objective basis for morality.

Harris then adds that he himself finds much to fear in the erosion of values in the attitudes of some. He points out that a woman who is a noted and respected ethicist, and who is actually working for the President in that capacity, does not see that there is anything wrong with the Taliban's brutality toward women. She says that you have to look at it in the context of their society. The attitudes the Taliban are expressing are traditional attitudes. Since they are culturally acceptable to many in that area, therefore they are perfectly moral.

Harris's objective test of morality which says that that which promotes the well being of intelligent species is moral and that which impedes that development is immortal clearly condemns this action. The species is not benefited when half of its members are denied an education. The species is not advanced when those who dare to attempt to gain an education are brutalized, mutilated, or even murdered. 

However, Craig's standards could allow for these actions as perfectly moral. Greg would say there immoral because his God says they are immoral. But the Taliban worships exactly the same God. Allah is just the Arabic word for God. Muslims worship the same God of Abraham who is worshiped by Christians.  Some of them, especially members of the Taliban, just disagree as to what that God says is moral.

I began my long journey in an attempt to find objective measures of morality which were always applicable without any question when I was exposed to the idea of moral relativism and morality as whatever your society says is moral back in 1970. I was taking a class in cultural anthropology. I didn't devote as much time to it as I should have, as I was spending more time at my fiancé's college than at my own. I did this so much that many people at her college thought I was an enrolled student. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the course and the professor. Except for one issue.

That was the issue of moral relativism. I was most upset when we were discussing discussing a tribe called the Dani in the Highlands of New Guinea. They were in a state of constant, endless war because they believed the ghosts of every dead person would not be happy until a person from the neighboring tribe was killed in retaliation. That meant that the neighboring tribe was now haunted by the new ghost until they killed someone in the first tribe in retaliation. And so on, and so on, and so on. 

Among their customs was the belief that you had to cut off one joint of one finger of the female relatives of a recently killed or deceased person. This resulted in little girls having no fingers whatsoever by the time they reached adolescence.

I found this disgusting and repulsive as did almost the entire class. The professor nevertheless defended this practice. He said that this was just their cultural way of mourning the dead. He said it was in fact neither better nor worse than our custom of bringing flowers to a gravesite. I disagreed then. I disagree now.

Bringing flowers to a grave can bring comfort to the living. It can be demonstrated to have a very positive effect upon individual human psychology and upon the human species as a whole.  Severely mutilating half of your population, on the other hand, is clearly not adaptive in evolutionary terms.

By Craig's definition of morality, if the Dani are correct in regard to what their gods demand, and of course they think they are, then what they are doing is totally moral. But, by the actually objective position of Harris, it is clearly not adaptive and is detrimental to the well-being of the individuals, the tribe, and the human species in general.

I never could find the simple, totally objective, universally applicable moral truth I sought. Morality is a difficult issue and is always a journey that we are taking. There is no ultimate single destination that is foreseeable at this time. Each issue must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but there are some good rules to apply in making that judgment. One of them is: that which is moral is that which advances the well-being of a sentient species.

Harris goes on with the interesting example of someone who believes that water isn't what science says it is because of a rather complex biblical argument. It's interesting but it's theoretical. I refer back to examples I mentioned in earlier posts which are not theoretical but factual.

There is a respected medical school, I believe it is in Cairo, Egypt, which was reported about 10 years ago to still be teaching that the human body had more bones than every other university in the world teaches. Their reason for teaching this was that the Koran says so. Since the Koran is never wrong, it is medical science which must be wrong. Even though they could look at a skeleton, count its  bones, and see that the Koran is wrong.

Also, some years back the LA Times reported on a highly trained, fully certified nuclear engineer. As I commented before not a Homer Simpson, but the real thing. He was capable of  designing and running nuclear power plants. That is to say, he was a real nuclear scientist. Nevertheless, he was excited because he decided he had solved all the energy problems of the world. All we have to do is capture a genie and it will provide no cost, pollution free energy for everyone.

How could he believe that? The Koran says there are genies and they have some sort of mystical power. Therefore it's true. Therefore we can do this.

Science flatly declares that both of those attitudes are wrong. And yet they are held by doctors, practitioners of medical science and by a fully trained and fully qualified nuclear physicist.  Why?  Because they refuse to face facts.

Although it's not so simply and clearly exact in it's factuality, scientific evolutionary morality, nevertheless, is illustrative. Religion carried to extremism allows some people to insist that counter factual things are true, must be true, cannot be questioned. But science says otherwise. Only science is truly objective, even though it sometimes has difficulty getting there.

Harris then makes the most telling and effective point of the entire debate on either side. If someone does not value proof or evidence, then what evidence can you offer them? He asks if people don't value logic, what logical argument what can you offer to them? The answer, of course, is nothing. And he is correct in his assessment that his opponent does not value these things. His opponent's arguments are all emotional.  Further, since he feels good about his emotions therefore his position is a literally unassailable as there is no way to disprove anything that he believes except by somehow changing his emotions.

Going back, Harris talks about a person wanting to experience suffering being used as an example of someone for whom morality is not determined by evolution. Clearly, such a person is doing something that is hurtful and self-destructive, so if he wants to do it, is it not then moral for him to do so? Let me add that medieval monks thought suffering was good. They practiced all manner of terrible cruelties upon their own bodies believing that this made God happy. Science would say damaging your body is not helpful or good for you. However, only say that God wants us to and these individuals act self destructively.  

So again we see the real dangers of believing that there is some absolute figure out there who knows all that is right and wrong. You can overrule reality. You can overrule facts. You can overrule all evidence to the contrary. Thus, believing that God is the absolute and final arbiter of morality is the exact opposite of objectivity. Is the exact opposite of any kind of stability. Given that, then whatever you think God wants is reality for you and may be totally different from the reality of every other human being on the planet. That is not objective.

He concludes by pointing out that it is very strange that people contend that we must take our most objective, our most fact-based, our most logical outlook in the world, that is to say the scientific one, and declare that it has no application to morality. That is objectivity is ruled out, eliminated, simply because it is, after all, nonemotional.

I have said very little about Harris's presentation because there is very little to say. Speaking as a debater, he makes his own points rather well, but does almost nothing to criticize or demolish his opponent's points. That is a serious failure in terms of debate.

Craig's rebuttal. 

He repeats his first two essential arguments upon which he bases everything he concludes thereafter. Disprove either one of these issues and his entire argument falls apart. This is the black swan argument. Remember that one?

So the very first thing he says that is that whether you believe in God or not, on a purely theoretical basis, if God exist that gives us an objective measure of morality. However, I believe I have demonstrated that this is patently false. I find it surprising that Harris did not address that particular issue which is essential to his opponent's arguments. I've made my point if God exists and if he is not merely a robot with no free will and no consciousness then he has free will and can change his mind. Which means that if God exists and if he is the fountain of all morality, then morality is utterly, completely, and totally subjective. There's no objectivity about it whatsoever, because God can change his mind.

Greg destroys everything he says thereafter. He himself admits that if this one statement is not true than all that follows is not true. Since that statement is patently false there's no need to waste any more time discussing the rest.

This is a great danger in absolutism. It sets up a structure in which every piece of the structure is totally dependent upon every other piece of the structure. Prove a single tiny bit of it wrong and everything falls apart.

Craig also declares that God is perfect, and holy, and loving, and gentle, and kind, and a list of other wonderful attributes. But he offers no proof of that either. What if God is vicious, hateful, mean, cruel, and nasty? Craig doesn't even consider that to be possibly true. There is no objectivity in any of his beliefs. They are all beliefs which satisfy him emotionally. And that's all they are.

He then goes on to make yet another error. He says this is about ontology. He simply asks where do my morals come from? His answer is God and God alone. But this ignores all the evolutionary developments which have occurred.  We are back to the 10 Commandments, and it can be argued that there is an evolutionary basis to each every single one of them. They aren't arbitrary rules, they fit our evolutionary history. Only Craig says they don't because he doesn't like that, so it can't be true because it doesn't feel good to him.  

Little girl, I really am having trouble with this. I hope what I did already was enough because this man irritates me so much. He then makes another bizarre claim that we can know the difference between good and evil throughout all of human history. Yeah, except even now we have many thousands of different ideas, millions of different ideas, possibly billions of different ideas about what actually is or is not moral.  We certainly had extremely different ideas about this in the past. None of this can be explained by Craig's beliefs, but he doesn't seem to notice that.

I'm sorry, but this man is anti-intellectual. He has a positive contempt for logic. He actively rejects all falsifiable evidence because it is falsifiable and he demands nothing less than the perfect, universal truth. He makes one argument, and one argument only, over and over again. This is what feels good to me, therefore it is.

Time to call it quits. I don't think the rebuttals are going to contribute much, certainly Craig is just already repeating all his old arguments as if repeating them makes them truer than simply saying them once.

Idle Thoughts -- The Great Debate, Part 1, Craig

Warning: This is a response to a debate, not a carefully crafted statement. I made each response as the debate progressed, stopping the YouTube presentation of the debate to make a comment before knowing what the speaker would say next. Therefore, statements may appear chaotic and disordered, but that is due to the nature of the recording. If, by chance, you find this interesting, it would be wise to play the debate as you read these comments.

As Craig noted in his opening, it is an interesting and compelling point that both parties in this debate agree that there are objective moral standards. They also largely agree, in detail, as to what the standards are. All they disagree fundamentally on, is the source of those standards.

Greg then makes two very broad propositions, both greatly overreaching.  He says one if God exists, therefore we have an objective basis for morality. This ignores the fact that many people have very different opinions about exactly who or what God is and what his moral standards are.

He simply assumes not only that God exists, he also assumes that a God exists who is exactly and doctrinally his god. Consider the gods of the Greeks. Consider the gods of the Hindus. These gods are much more human and far less perfect than his God. So his supposed simple assumption is in fact extremely complex and full of many centuries of complicated and complex rationalizing.

His second assumption that is it if God does not exist there is no foundation for moral values. An assumption that is very broad and sweeping.  Imagine getting your morality from one of the Greek gods who regularly committed horrible acts against each other and against humanity. Are they a sound basis for morality?

This however does show his great weakness. He is convinced that his God and only his God can give certainty. He clearly does not trust science or anyone else's god.

In what ways is God such a sound reliable decider of moral issues? The answer is that Craig assumes that God is perfect. He assumes that God is moral as he, Craig, defines moral.  There is no basis offered in support of these assumptions. He simply states and it is so because he says it is so. He makes no effort to prove these assertions.

He then says as a sub issue that God does indeed provide a solid foundation and only God can provide a solid foundation. But if this is true, how is it that so many believers in God have use their God to justify wildly different values over the centuries? The Aztecs felt it was appropriate to kill human beings, rip out their still beating hearts, and feed them to the gods. According to Dr. Craig this must have been moral. After all, it was based on the moral opinions of the gods the Aztecs worshiped.

I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned Dr. Craig has lost this debate before it even started. His opinions are purely emotional. His essential argument is that this is right because it feels right to me. While this is a typical argument of many human beings, especially in American politics today, arguing that facts are irrelevant and whatever I believe is true must be true because it feels right to me and I don't care what feels to you, is a totally anti-rational argument.

(In fairness, let me note that if you do not require that the  participants in this debate use logic or rationality or actually make their case, then my statement that he has lost the debate is clearly not applicable.)

Then he brings up St. Anselm. Anselm essentially said God is perfect because I think he should be perfect, therefore God is whatever I think he should be. It is a bizarre argument. But again it is a purely emotional argument. Anselm essentially said God must be what I want him to be. Like Craig, he offers no evidence no proof.  It is just so because it feels good to Anselm.

In other words, if we accept Dr. Craig's beliefs as absolute fact then there is no need to test them because since Craig believes it is so, it must be true. But if I wonder if Craig might possibly be even a tiny bit wrong.  It so, his entire argument collapses. Everything he says, everything he believes is based on the fact that his knowledge is perfect. He himself possesses a perfect knowledge of the exact nature of the perfect God, or he is completely wrong in all his conclusions, which are based on the assumption of perfect knowledge of the nature of God.

Again, this ignores the evil gods in whom men have believed throughout history, not to mention all the morally ambiguous gods.

He then goes on to say since God is holy, loving, and perfect, his moral Commandments must also be holy, loving, and perfect. Not only it does this have all the problems identified above, it also indicates the God is in many ways inferior to humanity. We have free will. God does not. God is like a great computer. He, or it, can only do that which he, or it, was built and programmed to do. There are  no choices, no options.

This also means that God is not all-powerful. He is powerless to do anything except the things which he must do. So there's actually no reason to have a God. All we need is a computer that will do these things. All we need is a set of mathematical calculations that make these issues the laws of the universe. There's no need for a God.

This is also a fundamental flaw in Craig's reasoning by his own standards. I little doubt that he is very much an absolutist in regard to believing in the Bible. But the Bible says the God of the Old Testament is a God who can change his mind, a God who has free will, a God with whom you can argue and even force him to change his mind if you make your point well.

Lot argued with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra . He made God change his mind and make several points of concession. Craig's God cannot do that. Greg's God is perfect and must always do only the one single perfect thing he mist do, he can make no other choice.  So, Craig's god is not the God of the Old Testament .

To state this in yet another way, Greg's statement really should be: if the God that I believe exists, and if he exists exactly as I believe he must exist, and if I am perfectly correct in this, free of any single error, then it follows that…

Let me interject that I am not upset with all of Craig's opinions about God. I don't agree with all of them, but I do agree with many of them. But that isn't the point. My point plainly and simply is that Craig is incredibly arrogant man. He believes he knows more about God than anyone else, unless of course the person totally agrees with him. Why has Craig been granted this incredible knowledge of God which is denied to so many of the rest of us? He does not address that issue.

Then expresses his contempt of the atheists' view which he says provides no objective bases for believing that human well-being is of any value. He says if we accept the atheist view point, insect well being or hyena well being would be no less important than human well being. His argument is silly. 

1.  Animal well-being may be important and yet still be less important than human well-being.

2. I think this shows a great moral weakness on his part. Like so many who wish to believe that we are a special creation of God above all other animals, he shows contempt for animal welfare, I do not share his opinion. 

3.  Since all known atheists are human beings, it follows that they would be very likely to consider the welfare of human beings more important than that of other animals. Craig's assertion that this cannot possibly be so simply makes no sense whatsoever.

Why would human welfare be of greater importance than animal welfare? One simple answer is pretty obvious. We're human. I would not find it unreasonable if a zebra became intelligent, it fell zebra intelligence was more important than human intelligence.

So why are we more important in the present state of affairs? Because we are the most intelligent, we are the most sapient, we are the most feeling, of all animals. And those of the characteristics that give us our basic rights and a basic desire for, and a right t,o well-being.

Unlike like so many of my fellow Christians, I agree with St. Francis in that I believe all of the universe is a part of us and we are part of it. The animals, the plants, all are our brothers and sisters. We should treat them accordingly. Their well-being does matter.

Craig irritates me by expressing a clear intellectual and perhaps even an emotional contempt for Harris when he says since Harris denies an objective outside platonic test of morality, Harris must find one with in the world within our existing reality. He says this as if Harris is desperately seeking something. But he is not.  He is curious and determined, but not desperate. I also agree with Dr. Harris, of course it's embedded in our world. Where else would it be? This is not an act of desperation. It is a confirmation of a fundamental belief system. Okay, we differ on this point. However, we should not express contempt for each other on this issue.

He then acknowledges that even baboons show morality. But strangely, in making this point which strongly supports Dr. Harris's position, he says this proves that Dr. Harris' position is wrong. What this is actually showing, once again, is his contempt for all other forms of life except the mighty human.

He says baboons only do this because natural evolution made it advantageous to survival. Exactly. What could be more morally objective then something which actually helps you to survive? That's pretty powerful stuff. All Craig offers is God's decree. He declares that survival is irrelevant and unimportant. I cannot help but find this position strange and utterly not understandable.  Craig may not value survival.  I do.

It's a pretty solid objective test, if you live or you die. Nothing subjective in that. On the other hand, what is more subjective than people's opinions about what God thinks?

Until recently Christians were busily spending centuries killing each other over minor theological issues and minor questions of what is or is not moral. Even people reading the same Bible could not agree on what God thought. What's objective about that?

Craig then refers to mankind having developed a herd morality for the same reason under the theory of evolution. I can't resist pointing out that we are not a herd species. We are a troop animal. Herds of cattle and sheep act very differently than troops of chimpanzees, and gorillas, and monkeys, and other primates.

They do so because, being different animals, they have a different set of survival needs and therefore a different moral structure.

I'm also deeply offended that he keeps referring to the atheistic view as if it were inherently distasteful. Well, as it happens I strongly agree with much of what this particular atheist has to say.  Yet, I am a Christian. I am also one of the most deeply religious people people you will ever likely meet. How does he explain that?

Craig points out that most modern biologists believe that evolution could have gone differently and we could be very different creatures than the human beings that are in existence today. This is a factual recognition. He then says that evolution therefore would give given us different morality. I find this an obvious statement. But to him this somehow is a negative.

Clearly he has conflated the meanings of two separate concepts. First is the concept of Objective. This means something that is testable. Something that does not change with the opinions of the commentator. He is then conflates this term with Universal. That is to say something which applies to all beings. This is clearly nonsense. He himself does not believe that animals should be held to the same moral standards as humans. Therefore he himself does not believe thst objective moral standards are also universal. But  he has no problem with criticizing his opponents by saying they don't think it's universal. Will, neither does he!

If our standards do not apply to ducks, or frogs, or elephants, why should they apply to an alien species that evolved differently from us? If, however, there is one absolute all-powerful God, then all intelligent species should all be required to follow the same objective and universal standards of our human God.

It's not impossible to imagine an intelligent species that is by nature a harem animal. That is to say, like wild horses one alien will gather together as many of his females as possible, as many as he can protect, and keep them all for his own desires and interests. This would mean that most young males will never get a chance to reproduce . This would be very immoral for humans, but it would be very moral for this alien species. At the same time, it would also be an objective test. It's just the objective test for humans is different than the objective test for the alien equines. And while some human societies have allowed harem gathering, it is only the rich and powerful who are truly allowed to do this.

I'm afraid Dr. Craig is falling into a very old trap. A Greek philosopher once said if horses had gods their gods would be horses. In other words, we think God is just like us. We think God is just a great big super powerful human being. Not only that, we think God is exactly like us, as individuals. He's just a great big super powerful me.

He then refers to the idea if there is no God, we are only apelike creature with delusions of moral grandeur. I think Dr. Craig has delusions  of moral grandeur. What is wrong with survival? What is wrong with a species behaving so that it lifts itself up? I believe God provides us with guidance and with spiritual assistance when we need it. Not physical assistance, because I'm afraid I can't believe in miracles.  I've seen too many horrible things happen. But rather, spiritual guidance, spiritual assistance. I see nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I would much rather be a risen and still rising ape then a degenerate and still falling angel. If we are apes rising up, then all the horrible things we have done to each other are understandable and it is a wonderful thing that we've come so far and are still getting better. If on the other hand, if we are wonderful, glorious, God created, amazing beings, how could we have been so filthy disgusting and horrible?  We have done vile and evil things. I would rather believe those were because we have not yet completely overcome our animal nature than to believe this was because God did such a lousy job in designing us.

Then he quotes Dr. Dawkins about how utterly meaningless everything is. Well, as it happens I have as much contempt for Dr. Dawkins I have for Dr. Craig on these particular issues. And for much the same reason. I find both to be arrogant, judgmental, close minded, and entirely emotional in all their judgments. I find them to be lacking in any rational basis for their beliefs. Both of them say essentially the same thing. This is what makes me feel good, so it must be true. They then add, this ends the argument because I am always right.

Craig then asks, rhetorically,since he is of course the only speaker, how does Harris solve this horrible problem? First, I don't recognize the problem even exists. Second, I am deeply offended by the fact that he doesn't say Harris's solution is one with which he disagrees. No, he has to say Harris uses a trick! This kind of arrogance, this kind of nastiness, is typical of so many of the deeply religious today. It makes me ashamed to admit that I am also deeply religious. Let us be honest.  Let us say we disagree instead of attacking the other on a personal basis.

Then he complains that the trick is defining moral term in what  Craig says are non-moral terms. In other words, since Harris' definition of morality is  non emotional,  therefore it cannot be a valid definition of morality. It is a bizarre argument. Once again Craig declares the only test of morality is God because I say so. Since your argument does not fit my personal definitions, it must be a trick. It must be invalid. As an argument this is utter nonsense. It works for those who feels emotionally satisfied with Craig's opinion, but it is unable to convince anyone who is independent and thoughtful and therefore wants a reason other than, it makes me feel good to so believe.

Craig complains of Harris' argument that the definition of  morality is that which promotes the well-being of intelligent beings. It sounds like pretty good definition to me. Although I would include any kind of animal which is emotive. That is, which can feel pain or suffering.

He then makes another bizarre statement. He says that if you do define moral good as maximizing animals' well-being that this is aa tautology. He says that since morality is maximizing well-being and maximizing well-being is morality therefore there is no basis for the statement. This is insane. It's like saying if I say duck is a waterbird and that a waterbird is a duck, therefore that is circular reasoning. Definitions must work in both directions. this is nothing to do with circular reasoning. It is a fallacious argument.

Circular reasoning exists when your cause for believing something is the same as believing it. This is not true of definitions.

In fact, it is Craig who is guilty of circular reasoning in his argument. He declares that that which is good is whatever God says is good and it's good because God says it is good, and everything He says is good, so it is good because God says so... And so on and so on.  That's much more circular logic. But it can be interpreted merely as a definition, if we eliminate the unsupported assumption that God is always good, so I will allow it to be so for the purpose of my analysis. Craig's primary problem is that he believes that he is totally correct and that there's not even the slightest possibility that he could be wrong. This permeates everything he says and every series of arguments that he makes. If anyone believes Craig is anything less than totally perfect, his entire argument, the entire basis of everything believes, simply disappears.

His entire argument consists simply of, this is so because I said so. All who disagree with me are wrong. There. I win.

He offers no evidence. He makes no case. He simply declares again and again how correct he is, with an occasional straw man side argument about how awful his opponents are.  I am a Catholic. But I wouldn't even accept that argument from the Pope if he were speaking ex cathedra, which is supposed to make him infallible.

The argument will convince every single person who already believes everything he said. It will convince no one to change his mind.

Nevertheless, to answer the point. What is more objective than, this contributes to welfare or it doesn't. That's pretty objective Why is what Hitler did wrong?   Because it caused suffering grief instead of supporting and expanding welfare. That's obvious, but let's try a religious argument. Applying Craig's argument, what Hitler did was wrong because God says so.  But Hitler believed that what he did what was right because he thought God told him to do these things. In other words, by Dr. Craig's supposedly objective definition, Craig says Hitler was wrong, but Hitler says what he did was perfectly moral and correct. After all, he was convinced that God wanted him to do it.  How can the test of morality be objective when no one can agree on what is or is not moral by applying it?  Not even in the case of Nazi atrocities is there agreement on the "objective" God based morality.

Since all morality comes from God, if God says to torture and murder millions of people to death, then we must do so. This is objective? I have asked this before but I have to keep asking it. Craig's supposedly objective system is one of the most subjective in the entire history of human thought.

On the other hand doctor Harris' is indeed objective. Did Hitler bring well-being to humanity or harm? The answer is simple, obvious, and yes, objective.

Let me add that I do not know exactly what kind of god Hitler believed in. I do know that he endlessly repeated the story, to the boredom of his listeners, of how he was spared from being killed in World War I when a comrade was killed beside him because he felt that God, whatever he meant by that, had chosen him to save the world, among other things, from the evil Jews.

Craig than contemptuously says what about the well being of corn, mosquitoes, or bacteria? My answer is that if there were intelligent corn, mosquitoes, or bacteria, the same objective definition of welfare and morality would apply to them.  Of course it would.  He then says that merely supporting well-being is not objective. But of course it is. Is he seriously saying that it is not bad for well-being to commit murder? Rape? Torture?  That which causes harm is bad, that which promotes well-being is good. How can that not be objective?

He then says that this is arbitrary. What's arbitrary about living or dying?  That which helps you to live and to live comfortably and well are objectively superior to that which makes you suffer and die. What is actually arbitrary is the declaration that God is good because you want God to be good. To offer no proof or evidence of this position, but to simply say it is so because that's the way you want to be, that is an excellent example of being arbitrary. Again, the Craig's circular reasoning and contempt for evidence insult logic almost every time he speaks.

Finally he declares a vast number of unnamed unspecified and unquoted individuals have successfully attacked Harris. Once again he makes an unsupported statement of personal opinion as factual.  That's all he ever offers.

Then he goes on to presumably specify the objections of these supposedly numerous individuals as being: "science is about facts not norms." True. It is not science to say that we should support the well-being of our fellow creatures. However it is science to say that we have evolved to support the well-being of our fellow creatures. Once again Harris's argument is there must be his God to define things or the facts are meaningless.

Clearly what most offends Craig is the fact that Harris's attitudes are objective. Craig demands absolute subjectivity.  Things are right because God says so and to say otherwise apparently is to insult God.  

Of course science does not tell us what we should and should not do, evolution does so.  Evolution developed our morality. We are social animals, therefore we have social morals. We do not have morals imposed upon us by some arbitrary outside source, we grew them inside our brains as we evolved.  We believe things are immoral because they make sense to us. That means, they evolved. Nothing is more objective. Therefore Craig says science can't objective in this narrow case. I just don't how to respond to this man because I insist on using logic and rationality and I found none in anything he has said.

This is always the problem and trying to debate or discuss things with the emotional extremist. Since their entire basis for what they believe is that it feels good to them, how can you possibly attack that position? It does feel good to them. Since you are self limited to facts and reality, while they can say, or frankly make up, anything they want, you are completely unarmed by their standards.  And, trust me on this, they accept no standards but their own.

It is actually clear to me that science does exactly what he says science cannot do.

This is true even if we regard classical natural selection as the reality. That is, that evolution functions only to benefit the survival of the individual. However, if one goes further and accepts the theories of Etheridge and Gould, who believe that not only does evolution work on the basis of the survival of single individuals, but also on the survival of herds or species, then of course morality evolved to provide for that evolution. Admittedly, this theory is seriously controversial at this time, but many biologists believe it to be true. And even if evolutionary benefit is restricted to the level of the individual, making the species or heard stronger makes the individual more likely to survive. So the evolution  of morality makes perfect sense. And yes, being moral is what we should do if we want to survive. How can this not be objective and non arbitrary?

I can't help but get a little bit personal here. I will make a serious effort not to be nasty about it as I have accused Craig of being. Listening to Craig is giving me the same feelings as having lengthy debates with a loved one who was an addict. The endless rationalizations. The refusal to face facts. The constant declarations that it is so because it feels right to me and I'm always right and you're always wrong. That is exactly the situation I once experienced. All I could do was to be rational, thoughtful, logical, and try to deal with facts. Craig, on the other hand, like any addict, can make up any nonsense he wants because it feels right him, no facts allowed.

(A perfect unassailable statement on my part. At least, by Craig's standards. After all I really do feel that way. Therefore, I must be perfectly correct.)

Craig goes on to say that evolution says we're just animals and animals have no morality. Evolution does not say both of those things. On the contrary, evolution says that morality evolved. This means that animals must have some level, or type of morality.  So what he's doing is taking his opponent's argument plus his argument and sticking them together into some sort of bizarre chimera with the horse's headless body and a man's upper body into a sort of weird centaur thing. 

And here we go again with his bizarre logic. He says a lion kills a zebra, it does not murder a zebra.  Well, if a human kills a cow,  it doesn't murder it either. Again, an argument that is so totally irrational, so totally unreasonable, so totally bizarre, that how can you possibly answer it?

I can improve his argument for him, being an old varsity debater, I find it easy. If a human kills a human we often call it murder. If an animal kills one of its own kind, we never call it murder. However, if a human kills a human being because he's executing a criminal, we don't call it murder. And if a human being kills another human being who is an enemy soldier, we don't call it murder.

Craig is saying that since animals cannot murder each other therefore they have no morality. But that's like saying that 2+2 doesn't equal seven, so nothing equals 7. He has isolated one single situation and declares that it covers everything. This is not true. Animals do display morality in a number of situations, as we have described before discussing your ethics class.  Craig's argument is simply absurd. I would laugh at it, except it honestly, I find it both infuriating and pitiful.

He also is cherry picking. It is clear that higher primates, the more involved animals, do display moral behavior. In fact he admitted it so himself earlier in the argument! Yet, somehow, he now he forgets that baboons show some morality. So he admits they do, until he denies they do, depending on whatever is convenient for his argument at the moment. This is intellectual dishonesty.

His dishonesty is not limited to this particular act. He also continually says that his opponents believe things that some of them may, but which many of them obviously do not. In other words, he is setting up straw men. "Since my opponents love to eat live kittens they must be evil."  But most, if not all, of his opponents have said nothing like this, so he should not be saying that. He says to atheists, everything is just social conditioning. Rape is only taboo because we declared it so. It's just social. This is dishonest. Yes, there are some who say that all morality is simply social conditioning, that it must be interpreted in terms of the social milieu. But only a very few say that. Most people, even most of his opponents, do not. 

Furthermore, we know about the Westermark effect don't we? Incest is bad because we we evolved to realize it's bad. An objective moral test! The man's ignorance is appalling.

Although he doesn't say it, another point he should have made is that if we accept evolution as the basis of morality, then we must accept that morality was different at different points in our evolution.  Yes, theoretically, morality was different when we were more primitive and maybe it will be even more different when we are more advanced (sounds like Nietzsche's overman, doesn't it?) but evolving morality is real.  It does tell us what we should and shouldn't do at any given point in our development. This means morality is a work in progress.  Once again, Craig is acting like the Pope and taking rigid, absolute positions.  His justification for this is, I declare it is so therefore it is so.  You must believe, or else. Or else what? Or else we disregarded his silly arguments.

He says rape and other such bad behaviors occur in the animal kingdom all the time, which proves animals have no morals. Excuse me Dr. Craig but that occurs all the time among humans. Which according to your argument means that of humans have no morals.

Again, I could improve his argument, but then I'd just have to go and demolish even the improvement.

He then makes a despicable act which makes me ashamed to admit that I'm also a Christian and a believer if that's how believers behave. He says that according to atheists, someone who commits rape is merely doing something that is not important and that is not at all immoral. That is a lie. I know a number of atheists. Every one of which is very good person. 
They have morals and theirs are much superior to those of some of the Christians I know. For example Dr. Craig should not make nasty smears against his opponents, he especially should not make declarations which are bearing false witness against his neighbors. He says that to atheists, rape is the moral equivalent of Lady Gaga's antics. It is a despicable thing to say.

Craig states that without a moral lawgiver there is no moral law. Once again this is his opinion. He actually makes no case for this being so, he simply declares it like the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Once again he ignores the obvious. If God is a person, God has free will. If God can make a choice, he may do so.  If God changes his mind, then, according to Craig, morality itself changes. 

Yet Craig insists that morality is forever immutable and unchangeable. Therefore, If God is the moral lawgiver, then by Craig's definition, God is forever immutable and unchangeable.  So, God is either a mindlessly rigid, unthinking computer which can never varies its functioning or morals are 100% totally subjective because anytime God changes his mind morals also change.

Craig adds that without God, there is no source of moral duty. But there is. Evolutionary science provides it. Remember the capuchin monkey who has a duty to announce his find of delightful food before he even takes a bite? Craig doesn't criticize this point, he just ignores it. Once again he simply declares things are so because he says they are, therefore he is right because he is never wrong. The man really irritates me.

Now the second problem he finds is that he says Harris says man are basically biochemical robots who have no free will and cannot make choices. If Dr. Harris says that, then indeed there is no morality in Dr. Harris's view.

But even if this is true, it says nothing about the billions of other people with opinions about morality and its source. Craig thinks that he only needs to prove that Harris is wrong in order to prove that he is correct, therefore declaring entire world is wrong except for those who already agree with him. 

This is exactly the same situation as if I said,  this one person cannot explain the Pythagorean theorem. Therefore, no one can explain the Pythagorean theorem. Therefore, the Pythagorean theorem is wrong. Even if you can prove one person is wrong, it does not mean everybody who disagrees with you is wrong.

Craig then proceeds, once again, to totally contradict his own previous statements. He admits that although Dr. Harris is an atheist, he has essentially the same moral outlook that he himself has. But how is that possible for an atheist? According to him all atheists are believe that rape is no different from Lady Gaga acting a little silly one night. The man simply states whatever argument suits him at the moment, even if it contradicts what he said just a few moments before. This is intellectual hypocrisy. 

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kafka on Trial

Comment to my friend and colleague Dan regarding his comment on how much he enjoys TheTrial.

 So my favorites always were The Burrow first, Metamorphosis is up there, but also, Investigations of a Dog, Josephine the Singer or the Mouse Folk, The Hunger Artist, The Penal Colony.

Although I've read his entire works, I must confess I don't remember most of them all that well.  And yes, that includes The Trial.  Once things settle down around here little bit, I have to reinvest some time in Kafka.

For example, I had to look up the actual titles, because I usually refer to them by my own names, like, "The Mouse Singer".  Not a bad title, just not the right one!

For a few decades I used to say when I'm really truly depressed the only thing I can read is Kafka. Now I add, or Terry Pratchett's Disc World Series.

You Say Chemtrails and I Say Contrails...

In response to a local newsgroup's Facebook post about contrails being chemtrails, that is, some sort of government plot to...well, I actually don't know what it's about, but apparently it has something to do with chemicals in the sky...anyway, I replied:

During WWII, before the Mustang began escorting bombers all the way to the target and back, Luftwaffe fighter pilots found the bombers easily by following their contrails.  They referred to them as die dicker hund.  The fat dogs. Aka easy targets.  Contrails are unavoidable side effects of high flight.  If we could have prevented them, we would have.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time Keeps On Slippin'...

For those of you with the science bent, here's an article that will blow your mind:

The article says that time exists only within the universe, not as an external property. Furthermore, it's an emergent property which exists only in relationship to quantum entanglement. To a Godlike observer outside of the universe, our universe does not experience any time at all.

There are implications that a similar situation may apply to gravity. It may be so different from all the other forces because it is also an emergent property which exists only within the universe and only in terms of relationships to other objects within the universe.

Wild and exciting, isn't it? Well, it is to me!

-- Perhaps most significant of all is the implication that quantum mechanics and general relativity are not so incompatible after all. When viewed through the lens of entanglement, the famous ‘problem of time’ just melts away. --

As Spock put it, "Fascinating."

Best of all, this has been indicated by an experiment. That means it is definitely not in the realm of philosophy or religion as so many physicists complain about string theory. This is an experimental result which is testable, repeatable, and falsifiable. In other words, this is solid science.

Let me add a comment I made based upon the report that a Canadian 10-year-old had discovered a supernova unknown to astronomers while "playing" on his computer. "There's a perfect example of what's wrong with this new generation. Wasting all their time discovering supernovas on computers when they could be out playing Cowboys and Indians."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Death, Where is Thy Justice?

Which in your view , is the strongest argument in favor of the death penalty? Which is the strongest argument against it ? In your view , should we retain or abolish capital punishment ? Explain.

For me, the strongest justification of the death penalty is that many believe it reduces crime, murders in particular.

I have very mixed feelings about the death penalty. It gives me a sense of repugnance and yet at the same time there are those for whom I believe execution is actually an appropriate act due to the heinous nature of their crimes. As always, I try to take my position on the facts. If studies proved conclusively that the death penalty actually did reduce the rate of capital crimes, I would then be forced to support it no matter how repugnant I found it to be.

The problem is that you can take exactly the same data set and, depending on how you interpret the data, come to exactly opposite conclusions. The simple fact is, we do not know whether the death penalty reduces crime, has no effect on crime, or increases crime. That is not a pleasant fact, but it is the truth.

The strongest argument against the death penalty is that we have seen, as more and more advanced forensic techniques come into play, that very large numbers of people on death row are entirely innocent. If it is wrong for an individual to commit a murder, is it not even more wrong for a state to execute an innocent person? Is this not a form of judicial murder being committed in the name of all the people of a given state? I say that it is.

I am horrified at the idea that throughout the history of this country we have executed an untold number of innocent people. I do not see any excuse for this. If the death penalty is ever to be acceptable to me, then it must be shown that it can be imposed fairly and accurately. Only the guilty must suffer and all of the guilty must suffer. Race, economic status, and many other factors must not be allowed to influence the imposition of the penalty. The law applies to everyone, or it should apply to no one.

Idle Thoughts -- An Ounce of Prevention...

Do we have a moral responsibility to try to interfere with the expected climate changes? Explain why or why not. If your answer is yes, how would you propose we do that ?

To answer the question, let's set up an imaginary situation which I think is rather parallel. A group of people live in an apartment building. The building inspectors inform everyone that there are some serious problems with the building's wiring. The building is very old and as more and more people have moved in, the apartments are growing more and more crowded and more and more extension cords are plugged into the already overloaded wall sockets.

The inspectors insist that the building must be rewired. This will be a very expensive project, but it will make everyone safe and provide them with electricity that is not a threat to their health and survival. The people who use most of this electricity are those in the penthouses at the top of the apartment building. They enjoy their luxurious lifestyle and are worried that if they make changes they might have to pay for them. So they start declaring that the inspectors are in a conspiracy. It's a plot to make people stop using electricity. It's not true. The wiring is in perfect shape!

What is the responsibility of the people living in the apartment building? This is not just a moral issue. If the wiring overloads and the apartment building catches fire, many will be killed, possibly even some of the people residing in the penthouses. Not only that, while the cost of rewiring the apartments will be high the cost of rebuilding the apartments after they have burned down will be much, much higher.

It is a purely practical issue that this problem should be addressed now when it can be addressed with the least possible expense and the least possible harm.

There are moral issues too, naturally. The wealthy few up in the penthouse already use most of the electricity and cause most of the problem, so surely they have an obligation to work hard to correct the problem which they helped create. The fact that they are so wealthy may make them think that they will escape the worst consequences even if the apartment does catch fire, but even if that is so, aren't they morally culpable for the harm inflicted on the poorer members of the apartment community?

Action now will cause expenses and difficulties, but will prevent much more damage later on. Aren't all members of the apartment building morally responsible for doing their best to prevent disaster?

So, for both practical and moral reasons, we must take action. Failure to do so will result in the loss of trillions of dollars to the world's economy, will cost lives as storms intensify and increase in frequency, may cause massive starvation if rainfall patterns move away from the current bread baskets, and on and on and on. Even if we take action now, a great deal of damage will continue to happen. We can no more suddenly bring a stop to climate change then you can suddenly make a train stop.

What action should we take? We should enact carbon taxes so that those who cause the most damage provide the money to help us fix the problem. We should establish carbon exchanges. This is the system that has worked very well in the past for other problems and will work in this case.

We must put a great deal of money into scientific solutions. Some examples of what has already been tested include artificial trees which absorb more carbon than real trees. We can also buy or lease forest lands which are currently being chopped down by desperately poor individuals to make a small amount of money. If we lease or rent the forests from them, we will maintain these carbon absorption capacities and also enrich the local economy.

Alternative energy sources are being developed which can make wonderful alternatives to the existing use of fossil fuels. Some fascinating examples include inserting jellyfish genes into plants which will create nighttime lighting in a very gentle but effective glow and cost us nothing except water to feed the plants. Such plants have been created. They are not economically feasible at this time, but research could make them so. California and several other southwestern states have agreed to establish hydrogen refueling stations. This will create an infrastructure for hydrogen powered vehicles, which produce only clean water as a "pollutant".

There is a vast array of things which we can try, some of which will work, some of which will fail. But if we put the money and effort into the basic research, we can make a difference that will greatly reduce the impact of global warming. We are morally obligated to do so and, as a practical matter, it is the only sensible course to take.

Idle Thoughts -- Rights and Wrongs

Should animals have rights? If no explain why not? If yes explain whether you view is based on their ability to suffer, their ability to think or both, or neither.

My answer to this question is that of course animals have rights. This is not an issue of whether they have rights, it is an issue of what rights do they have? To me the question is the same as asking should humans have rights? And my answer would be the same, of course humans have rights. The question is which rights do humans have?

Human rights derive from… now there's a good question for you. If you believe in God then that may be your answer, that God grants those rights. If you don't believe in God, you might answer that there are certain rights that are inherent in any intelligent self-conscious being. But most Americans would not believe our rights are something granted by the government or other authorities. Yet, on a recent C-SPAN program, a professor paused during his explanation of how the Bill of Rights was developed in colonial times and then adapted to our new republic to explain that he had a group of Chinese students attending his class recently.

He explained that when he asked American students and audiences where they got their rights the answer was always either that God gave them to us or that they are inherent in human beings. But his Chinese students invariably answered that rights were something granted by the state. Obviously, I agree with the Americans.

So whatever the source of our rights, they are inherent. They are not something that is given to us. Rights are something that we have by the very fact of our being here on this world.

As I've pointed out so often before, whatever we humans possess came to us through our animal ancestors in the process of evolution and natural selection. Whatever it is about us that gives us rights, our intelligence, our self-awareness, our ability to suffer, all came to us through our animal ancestors. It follows that they must have a set of rights as well. Not as complete as ours. Not as all-encompassing as ours. But rights nonetheless.

Anyone with eyes to see and a brain to think knows that animals can suffer. So animals have a right not to suffer. This right applies primarily to human beings. After all, we cannot expect animals to have the ability to think so clearly that they can see each other suffering and try to prevent it. Although, that does happen within social species, it usually does not apply to non-members of the species.

You might ask, if animals don't have to respect each other's rights, why do we need to respect those rights? The answer is that from him to who much has been given, much is expected. Animals lack the ability to make these moral decisions, but we do not. Since we can make them, we are obligated to make them.

Again, let me repeat that animals do not think as clearly as we do. They do not have as much consciousness as we do. They are inferior to us in all these ways. But they have self-awareness to some degree. They can think to some degree. They certainly can suffer, and that places upon us an obligation to care for them and respect their rights. This is all the more true because they cannot protect themselves.

Idle Thoughts -- War, Justly Evil or Just Evil?

In your view, can war be just? Explain in detail, referring to the text.

Since I don't have a copy of the text, I can't do that part. I will give you a quick view of my opinions toward war which I have stated earlier, but the question requires a repeat performance.

Christians became obsessed with the idea of a just war as Christian belief evolved . After all, Jesus was the Prince of Peace. How could they, as Christians, get involved in wars? The answer was that some wars were just. If a war would accomplish good things, then to go to war was a good thing, even though Christ was clearly a pacifist.

(Okay, so I oversimplified. Ancient India and ancient Rome also had the concept of just war which the Christian fathers built upon. A just war was fought fairly and honorably for a good cause.)

There are many different theories about just war. Each one has its own particular justifications. Among the most common today are:

Just cause. You can't go to war for profit or gain. You must go to defend innocent lives. There is no other justification that is just.

Comparative justice. Even protecting innocent lives isn't enough in and of itself. You must be protecting so many innocent lives that the lives lost in the war will be justified. You also can't just choose one of two sides when both sides are threatening innocent lives. The effect of the war, at least your reasonable expectation of what the effect of the war will be, must be to do a significantly better job of protecting innocent lives than not going to war would have accomplished.

Competent authority. Dictators are not considered to be competent authorities. They rule over unjust systems and therefore do not have the right to ever decide on a war. If they do so, it will not be a just war. Only a legitimate ruler who rules by consent of the people can make such a decision

Right intention. Your motives have to be good. Pretending you're out to save innocent lives when what you really want is to grab some new colonies or loot some other country is not acceptable.

Probability of success. There must be a reasonable basis for believing that the war will be able to be conducted without an excessive use of force and still accomplish its goals.

Last resort. You may only go to war when you have tried every other possible alternative. Every bit of diplomacy must be used. Economic sanctions must be applied. Every kind of peaceful pressure that you can put on your opponent must be exhausted before you finally go to war because it is the only alternative left.

Proportionality. You must look at the expected costs of the war. How much damage will it cause? How many people will it kill? Will those be less than the results of not going to war? You can't kill 1000 people in order to save 100 people. That's not proportionate.

Then there's a similar set of rules for how to behave during the war. You can't torture or murder. You must fight an honorable and reasonable war.

Finally, there's a whole set of rules on how to make peace. Once again, they focus on justice, accomplishing your ends, and causing minimal harm and damage.

I understand this attempt. I feel very sympathetic towards it. But I think it's a total failure. Once a war starts, it always goes awry. An old military saying is that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. However carefully you plan, however skilled those who were making the estimates of what will happen and what the consequences which will result may be, things will go in a direction that no one can predict. That has happened in every single war. There are always unexpected consequences.

My conclusion is that the war is never just. I believe no war is ever good. I do believe it sometimes wars are unavoidable. Sometimes a nation is forced to go to war against its will. Sometimes a war is the lesser of two evils.

That doesn't mean it isn't evil. It means you will do less evil by going to war then by not going to war. That is not very comforting position to take. No one wants to do evil except the very sickest of the mentally ill. In the real world, you don't always get the choice. Sometimes you must choose the lesser of two evils.

War is always evil, but sometimes good men and women must choose the lesser of two evils. The decision will wound their souls and very likely their bodies. Yet it is a decision which must be made. That is what it means to be an adult in this world.

Idle Thoughts -- The Myth of Amoral Business

In your view Is the "myth of amoral business" true? Why or why not?

In the myth of amoral business, businessmen often excuse their own excesses by declaring that the purpose of business is to make a profit. They declare that there is no other purpose. Therefore ethics and morality are irrelevant to a business.

This attitude became very popular back in the Reagan years when a similar phrase was also very popular, "greed is good."

This attitude has certainly been believed by many businessmen, including some who made themselves quite wealthy, both in the past and in the present. There are difficulties with this position, both moral and practical.

If a businessman acts in a manner that is truly unethical, he can hardly expect others to treat him any better. By establishing that complete ruthlessness is the order of the day, he invites others to be completely ruthless toward him. This alone should give any businessman reason to avoid this particular declaration.

Furthermore, it is bad business to conduct yourself in this matter. Businesses depend heavily upon repeat customers and customer loyalty. What customer will be loyal to a businessman who thinks that he has a right to abuse and deceive his customers? Only in a monopoly situation when a customer has no alternative will this function.

Furthermore, even if there is a monopoly, businessmen should remember that customers are also voters. People who feel that they are being cheated and abused by businesses will begin to elect reform candidates who declare that once they get in office they will heavily regulate the industry in question. The less ethically the businessman conducts himslef, the more severely he can expect be regulated, and perhaps arrested, when his angry customers finish at the ballot box.

But there is also a moral aspect. Every human being is a member of the society. Those who abuse a position of trust in that society are certainly not behaving in a moral manner. Even if your relationship with the businessman is a personal one, how much will you trust someone who has clearly stated that he believes he has no moral obligation in his business dealings?

The idea that businesses should be run solely for profit is shortsighted and self-destructive. It is also not as scientific as those who believe in the myth of amoral business would like to believe. Every biologist knows that evolution does not mean that the strongest and most aggressive wins. Evolution means that the best adapted wins. And the best adapted may be the most cooperative, not the most aggressive.

What this really is social Darwinism, a distortion of evolutionary science which should be called social Spencerianism, since Spencer believed it before Darwin's theory was published and simply took over and distorted the scientific theory for his own purposes.

Businesses and businessmen are members of society. They have the same duties and responsibilities shared by all members of society. That is to say, we should all work cooperatively for mutual benefit.

Idle Thoughts -- Privacy? What Privacy?

Evaluate the concept of privacy in the the context of the social media : how much private information should a person be willing to put on Facebook, for instance, and how much control should a person retain over his or her information? Explain.

The issue of privacy in terms of social media is huge problem.

First, everyone needs to take responsibility for his own actions. Everyone needs to be careful about what they publish. After all, it's no longer private if you make it public. If you wouldn't stand up in front of an audience of strangers and say or do a particular thing, then you shouldn't do so on your Facebook page. By their very nature, social media are not private.

Having said that, it is reasonable that you should be able to post for a group of friends and expect that only your friends would have access to it. This is stated in the context of the fact that social media are free only because they gather information about you which is then sold. What information they gather, and how it is shared are fair questions. Certainly social media should not be data mining or gathering information about members which is unreasonable. Which leaves us with the question, what is reasonable and what is unreasonable?

Many of these answers can't be answered immediately. Perceptions of privacy evolve with changing social situations. It is interesting to watch the process in action as sites gather more and more information, and often find themselves apologizing to their members when they have gone too far, whereupon they readjust their policies.

It's a state of dynamic tension. Customers want only a limited amount of information shared in order to gain service, while the sites want to gather the maximum amount of information to maximize their profits. The give-and-take can be painful, but ultimately it will create new social standards.

Idle Thoughts -- Need to Know

If you were a journalist , how might you describe the proper balance between the public's right to know and the need for national security ? Would it make a diffence if you were not a journalist but a member of law enforcement? Or a school teacher? Or a military person? 

If I were a journalist, the balance between the public's right to know and national security would be a very difficult one. Journalists are trained to be very carefully objective. That is, that they should report the facts which they uncover and let others decide what to do about those facts.

But even a reporter is an American citizen. There is an obligation not to reveal things which will bring harm to our country or to our soldiers. It should be noted that bringing harm to a political party or an elected official is not the same thing is causing harm to the country in general.

Let's look at an actual case. On December 4, 1941 The Chicago Tribune printed the top-secret Rainbow Five Plan in which the US military reported its preparedness for war and what it would take to become fully prepared. Among other revelations, this verbatim report of the plan revealed that the United States would be unable to be fully prepared for war for at least 18 months from beginning to do so. The newspaper published it because it was anti-Roosevelt and wanted to embarrass him politically, showing he was preparing for war, which he had denied. Of course, they also notified Germany and Japan of the total unpreparedness of United States, an act which can only be described as treason, although the United States was not at that moment at war with these individuals, both countries were planning to attack the United States. The Chicago Tribune gave invaluable information and assistance to Adolf Hitler and Gen. Tojo, helping them to kill both Americans and our other allies.

Japan's attack three days later was not influenced by the Rainbow Five Plans revelation because it already been launched. However, postwar documents revealed that Hitler used the secret information to inflict brutal harm on England in a desperate attempt to make that country surrender before America could be ready in the 18 month period. There is no doubt that many lives were lost because of this despicable and treasonous act. Worse, it was done to gain a political advantage against a domestic political enemy, the then sitting president.

In that case journalism clearly went too far. But where to draw the line? That is a question which can only be answered by looking at every individual case. Each case is different, and an individual must use his best judgment in any given case to decide what to report and what to keep secret.

Another example. When Daniel Ellsberg revealed the Pentagon Papers, many called him a traitor. However, what he revealed did not give significant help to our Vietnamese enemies. Instead, it revealed the lies and deceits that had been told to the American people in order to deceive us into supporting the Vietnam War. Ellsberg was acting in a patriotic manner. He did the right thing.

The difference between the two revelations was that one helped our enemies in a significant way. It even helped them to kill American soldiers. In the other case, only our government was embarrassed by it's own bad actions. I see a clear difference between the two situations.

A law enforcement officer would see things differently than a journalist. That is to be expected. One of the primary functions of a journalist in a free society is to restrict the government. As a journalist, it is your job report when the government does bad things. In the two cases I reported above, clearly both journalists thought they were doing the right thing by showing up the hypocrisy of the US president. The difference is that one helped America's enemies kill Americans, the other did not.

The law-enforcement officer, unlike the reporter, has a different job. He is part of the government. He represents the police power of the state. It is in fact, the journalist's job to keep an eye on the police as well as other arms of the government to make sure they behave properly in a free society. The reporter represents the American people. The law-enforcement officer represents the government. Both are supposed to serve the American people, but in different capacities. A reporter should be seeking out government failures, that is beyond an officer's scope of duty.

The schoolteacher also serves the public in a different capacity. Again, it is not the teacher's job to seek out failures in the government. Any teacher should be concerned with educating the children in his or her care, not seeking out corruption.

The military position is even more restricted. Their duty is to serve the government and in so doing, the people. In the military situation, even more so than in a law-enforcement situation, personnel serve in a hierarchical structure of command. All legal orders must be obeyed, and should be obeyed without question. Without this structure a military organization will cease to function effectively. Yet every American soldier takes an oath of loyalty to the Constitution of United States. That is their primary duty. This means that they may be forced to reveal unconstitutional actions of their own government, perhaps even in defiance of their superior officers.

In fact, any of these citizens, whatever their other positions, have the obligations that all citizens have. If we discover government corruption or illegal acts being committed by the government, we should report them. Perhaps the best place to report them is to a reporter. It may not be our job to seek them out, but if they come to our attention the course of performing our normal duties, we cannot simply ignore them. To do so would be to fail in our duty as citizens of a free nation.

The point, then, becomes is the government security classification justified? In the case of Rainbow Five Plan reviewing it was horrifically damaging. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, the classification of been applied for the sole purpose of allowing the president to lie to the American people. In each case, the decision must be made as to whether the classification of secrets was justified or not.

I end by repeating my statement, this judgment must be made by each individual based upon the facts of that particular case.

Idle Thoughts -- Pro What?

Give an account of the most prominent pro-life and pro-chioce arguments. In your view, which is the strongest argument on each side? Why ?

The pro-life movement is different internationally from the pro-life movement in America. The pro-life movement in America focuses almost exclusively upon abortion and occasionally upon assisted suicide. These two items are included in the international definition, but it also extends to quality of life for the severely disabled, the death penalty, and an anti war position.

And now we enter into the strange contradiction of those who say that they are pro-life. They are opposed to abortion and to assisted suicide in the strongest emotional terms. Yet, here in the United States, most of these people are also deeply wedded to the death penalty. They also attended the strongest supporters of military actions which resulted in many deaths.

This is particularly strange because the pro-life movement in other countries, as exemplified by the positions of the Catholic Church, are in favor of all life. That is to say, they are as against the death penalty and wars as they are against abortion

This logical contradiction is easily explained. In American politics the emotional issues are utilized as a substitute for logical thought. Thus, an American who says he is pro-life but believes in the death penalty and in frequent foreign military interventions which result in many deaths sees no contradiction between these two positions because one feels right while the other feels wrong. Logic is not an issue in this case.

Many feel this is a totally irrational position, and they certainly have a point. However, to those were holding these positions there's no hypocrisy or contradiction involved. As far as they are concerned, they are trusting their guts. That is to say, they are trusting that their emotions will give them a more accurate picture of what is right and wrong, of what is moral, than will rational thought. In fact, many of them are offended at the idea that rational thought could yield morality. After all, they believe that atheists must be immoral since in their belief system all morality flows from God and it is clear that that which makes you feel good is that which God approves while that which makes you feel bad is that which God disapproves.

The obvious problem with this is much of what we feel is right or wrong is dependent upon societal prejudices, our parents' beliefs, the way we were raised, and many other factors which are highly subjective.

Now back to the American focus, which is on abortion. In so far as the pro-life movement denies people personal choice it would be called conservative. This is in cases such as assisted suicide and abortion. In cases where this pro-life ethic would conflict with government control as in the case of death penalty or war it becomes liberal.

This explains why in America these items are regarded as isolated from each other. The international movement tends not not care whether these issue is conservative or liberal, it tends to judge each situation upon its own moral values. In America, however, it becomes very important to be a part of a strict and rigid group.

So, American conservatives do not wish to support any liberal positions, therefore they exclude war and the death penalty from their position. American liberals tend to be more accepting of the international view, so tend to keep all points united.

The pro-choice movement insists upon several points which must remain legal:

1. Contraception use must remain available to any sexually active individual regardless of his or her age or the parents' beliefs.

2. Emergency contraception use, which can be regarded as a separate issue from one, because it is possible that an emergency contraceptive utilization might prevent a fertilized egg from implantation, must be available. Many pro-life members consider this to be an act of abortion, and therefore, a form of murder.

3. Abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy must be available, safe, and legal.

4. Parenthood for loving couples is a right, regardless of sexual orientation.

The American pro-life movement insists upon the following points:

1. Contraception use is acceptable to some, but not all, pro-lifers under certain circumstances. Some condemn contraceptive use in general. Others believe that contraceptives may be used but only if certain conditions are met. If an individual is a minor, his or her parents must approve the contraceptive use or it must be denied to the children under any circumstances.

2. Individuals who religiously object to the use of contraceptives should not be required to provide them even to their employees through health insurance.

3. No contraceptives should be used which prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. Once a human egg has been fertilized it is a full human being and has all the rights of any other human being. This includes the right not to be killed via abortion.

4. Abortion is murder and both doctors and patients engaging in the act should be arrested and punished for the crime.

5. Children should not be taught about contraceptive methodologies except by their parents. This includes sexually active teenagers. The only truly acceptable method of birth control is absence.

6. Parenthood should be allowed only for loving heterosexual couples in a legally and religiously sanctioned marriage.

7. The government must enforce these rules.

And having given that background, to return to the question about the strengths of the arguments:

Let's take the items one by

1. The best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and all the health problems that result, including abortion, is effective contraception. This is a solution which both sides should be able to approve. It simply makes sense.

2. Preventing a fertilized egg from implanting is a very minor thing. A fertilized egg is simply one single cell. To say that one single cell is the same thing as a baby or an adult human being is absolutely absurd. Millions of fertilized eggs are lost to pregnant women around the world every year, and no one even notices. The argument that it could become a human being, that it has the potential to become a human being, is silly. Any nucleated cell in your body has that potential with the correct scientific advances.

3. The reason for having abortions remaining safe, available, and legal is simple. The idea of the pro-life movement that by banning something legally you can make it go away is nonsense. Through out human history there have been abortions and attempts at abortion. They often involve toxic substances and physical violence to the body. They often result in the death of both mother and child. The idea that you are saving a life by killing both the baby and the mother is patently nonsense. Personally, I find abortion repulsive and wrong. But I find illegal abortion even more repulsive and more wrong. Abortion is not a good thing, but it is a necessary evil which protects young women from harming themselves.

4. Study after study has shown that children raised in a stable marriage between two parents, regardless of the sexual orientation of those parents, are very well-adjusted and live good lives. There is no moral reason to ban same-sex couples from adopting.

Again, the issues one by one… pro life.

1. Parents normally do, and should, have great control over their children's lives. Issues such as contraception certainly are issues in which parents should have a voice. How can the government take away a parent's right to guide his or her children's moral and ethical behavior?

(And my counter argument: However, this control does weaken as the child becomes older and becomes more and more able to make his or her own choices. Furthermore, the government does not allow parents to deny suffering children basic medical care. A balance is required here. Parents are not absolute dictators. They do not own their children. The children also have rights.)

2. The government should not force people to do things which are against their religious beliefs. Employers who are against contraceptives should not be required to provide them through medical insurance.

(My counter argument: public employers who are providing insurance are engaged in public activities. While churches should not be required provide such insurance, people who engage in a secular business should be governed by secular, not religious rules. Also, there are people who religiously believe that other races, usually Blacks, are inferior and should not be granted medical care. If you accept this argument it means that those people, due to their sincere religious belief, should not be required to get insurance to their Black employees, only their White ones. )

3. Once a human egg has been fertilized it has all the potential to become a full human being. Therefore, it is a full human being. We must treat fertilized eggs exactly as we treat other human beings. They have all the rights every human being has.

(My counter argument: Already described above. Simply because the cell has the potential become a full human being means only that it is a single cell that has that potential. Are we to bury our fingernail clippings? When I clip off the bit of skin on my hangnail should we give that a full funeral?  Also, remember my point about a person has a chance to save a refrigerator full of frozen fertilized eggs, perhaps hundreds of individuals, or a single live baby. Anyone who would not choose the baby is some kind of monster. Clearly a baby is much more than any number of fertilized eggs. The argument is ludicrous.)

4. Any fetus at any stage of development, even a simply fertilized egg, is a full human being because it has the potential to grow and become a human being. Therefore it is murder to kill this group of cells. No society can survive which tolerates murder. The government must enforce this law.

(My counterargument: The same as the counterargument above. However, I add the more developed a fetus is the more clearly more closely comes to being human. This is why abortion should be regulated.)

5. Abstinence solves all problems. If teens and adults are abstinent no one gets pregnant early, there's no need for abortion, there are no sexual transmitted diseases, and the world is much healthier place.

(My counterargument: Yes, in an ideal world this would be true. But in this world, the idea that abstinence will solve all problems is either a very bad joke or an absolute refusal to face reality. Sex will happen. Even the Puritans faced this problem, with many marriages occurring because a woman became pregnant. Pretending there is a magic solution to a real problem does not solve the problem.)

6. God intended men and women to marry. This is obvious because only a man and woman can make a new life. Same-sex couples are unnatural and must be banned by any moral society. This is especially true if they are raising children. Immoral people should not be allowed to raise children.

(My counter argument: Homosexual relationships have been observed in nature in hundreds of different species. If you define natural as that which happens in nature, homosexuality is entirely natural.)

7. Governments must have laws or society will fail. Since pro life positions are moral, approved by God and follow natural law, they must be enforced.

(My counter argument: Pro life positions on abortion and contraceptives are not moral, except by the standards of a fanatical minority. Most Americans believe in safe, legally regulated, limited abortions.  The minority must not be allowed to dictate to the majority.)

Best arguments both sides.


Abortion is destroying a potential human life. The bigger the fetus grows, the more complex it becomes, the closer it is to being fully human. Our instinctive revulsion at abortion does have a solid basis.


Reality is real. Sometimes it is harsh, even brutal. Nevertheless, it is real. Governments must make reasonable adaptations to reality. We do not live in an idealized fantasy world but one that must contain within it many compromises. What we must do, what our governments must do, is the best we can under difficult circumstances.