Friday, April 28, 2006

Self-Analysis: Part 3

Nihilism - A word Aaron Kinney used to describe my philosophical leanings.

As defined by Wikipedia:

Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that the world, and especially human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally believe all of the following: God does not exist, traditional morality is false, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no meaning, and no action [intrinsically (this addition is my own)] is preferable to any other.

I do believe Aaron has me pegged correctly. Although, up until now, I never actively labeled myself a nihilist.

So, looking at parts one, two and three of my self-analysis, one may conclude I'm a Populist, Liberal Nihilist.

Self-Analysis: Part 2

You scored 28 Equality, 85 Liberty, and 21 Stability!

You think liberty is important both for yourself and for all of humanity. You respect others and think it is important that everyone be given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves rather than have authority figures tell them what is best. The autonomy of every individual is important to you but you think there are times in which personal action needs to be restricted. As such you recognise that there is a role for government as long as it depends on the consent of the governed this makes parliamentary democracy important to you. You prefer the role of government in economics and society to be small. In practice you will tolerate public sector activity as long as it is efficient and allows you to get on with your life. You are likely to advocate for both a predominantly free-market economy and a cosmopolitan and permissive culture.

For information on liberal political parties worldwide see:

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 11% on Equality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 68% on Liberty
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 12% on Stability
Link: The Political Objectives Test written by Originaluddite on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Self-Analysis: Part 1

The Populist
You scored 100% individualism, 32% fatalism, 16% hierarchy, and 56% egalitarianism!
You adhere to both the Individualist and Egalitarian cultures. You oppose rules and customs that tell people what they can and can't do, and believe that everyone should be treated equally.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 92% on individualism
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 45% on fatalism
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 12% on hierarchy
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 45% on egalitarianism
Link: The Scientific Cultural Theory Test written by Stentor on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

God's Splendid, Magnificent Creation...Ted Bundy

OK, it’s time for a little thought experiment. In order to complete it, I will grant the existence of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Christian God. That’s right, I will grant, without a fight, the existence of a ridiculous deity. However, in return, I ask that theists grant me one bit of science: The fact that our genes, to a substantial extent, are responsible for our behavior and abilities as adults. This shouldn’t be a problem, as that particular hypothesis is well grounded in science. Take, for example, research studies done on twins. It’s a fact that twins who are separated at birth nevertheless turn out far more similar than unrelated children who happen to be raised together. Indeed, it seems shared environment makes essentially no difference in how somebody turns out.

To substantiate this bit of science before moving forward, I’ll quote from a book I frequently cite and constantly plug, The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker:

“General intelligence is substantially heritable and so are the five major ways in which personality can vary (summarized by the acronym OCEAN): openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion-introversion, antagonism-agreeableness and neuroticism. And traits that are surprisingly specific turn out to be heritable, too, such as dependence on nicotine or alcohol, number of hours of television watched and likelihood of divorcing.”


“Behavioral genetics allows us to distinguish two very different ways in which our environments might affect us. The shared environment is what impinges on us and our siblings alike: our parents, our home life and our neighborhood (as compared with other parents and neighborhoods in the sample). The non-shared or unique environment is everything else: anything that impinges on one sibling but not another, including parental favoritism (Mom always liked you best), the presence of the other siblings, unique experiences such as falling off a bicycle or being infected by a virus, and, for that matter, anything that happens to us over the course of our lives that does not necessarily happen to our siblings.

“Here is the second stunning discovery from behavioral genetics. In measuring the relative effects of a shared and a unique environment, we find that the effects of shared environment are small, often not statistically significant, and frequently zero. What this means concretely is that twins who grew up together are no more similar than twins who were separated at birth and reared apart, and that adopted siblings are not similar at all. Whatever experiences siblings share by growing up in the same home within a given culture makes little or no difference to the kind of people they turn out to be.”

This isn’t genetic determinism, but it does substantially undercut the “nurture” side of the nature vs. nurture debate.

OK, with that bit of science out of the way, let’s proceed with this thought experiment. The subject of the experiment will be Theodore Robert Bundy, the serial killer who was executed by the State in 1989 after having brutally killed more than 30 people.

Bundy was born on November 24, 1946. According to Christians, God created him. Indeed, if we are to believe Christians, God specially crafted Ted Bundy, and endowed him with a purpose [presumably horrific slaughter]. Don’t believe me? Read this:

“We are not just a collection of organisms, which accidentally occurred, and have remained in place for some time. The Bible clearly teaches that God created each of us, and has a specific plan for each of us.”

It’s from this prominent Christian website.

So, from this, we can conclude that God crafted Ted Bundy to be a serial killer. This belief practically absolves Bundy of any guilt for his crimes; all of his actions were already known [or determined] before he was even a fetus. As Bundy was being crafted by God, who is an omniscient entity, God already knew exactly what Bundy would become. As an omnipotent entity, God certainly had the power to craft Bundy in a different way. As an omnibenevolent entity, God would essentially be required to craft Bundy in a different way, given the knowledge he would become a serial killer and the ability to make him something else. God, quite apparently, chose not to. And so, the serial killer was born.

A quote from Gene Roddenberry comes to mind: “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”

The notion that God’s benevolent design somehow was tarnished by environment is false, and anticipation of that fallacious argument is why I cited the Pinker text to start. Besides, isn’t it a bit silly to think a mother who smacks her child around would be able to subvert the will of God, with respect to the specific plan He had for the child? In any case, by most accounts, Bundy had a fairly normal childhood. Certainly, there were some bumps along the road. For example,
Bundy might have believed his mother was in fact his older sister during most of his childhood and adolescence. But, strange as that might seem, it’s not all that uncommon. Look at Jack Nicholson for example. Left by his father during his childhood, he was raised thinking his grandmother was his mother and his mother an older sister. Clearly, that didn’t subvert God’s plan that Nicholson become a playboy movie icon.

Besides, God’s evil natural inclinations for Bundy began to manifest extremely early in life. At least three times during his early childhood, Bundy is said to have come to his aunt's bedside, smiling as he handled multiple knives and put them beside her on the bed. Remember, this is an account of early actions in the life of one of God’s personal creations. Remember what the Christians say: “The Bible clearly teaches that God created each of us, and has a specific plan for each of us.”

The “specific plan” of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God was to doom Ted Bundy to be a serial killer, thus damning his eternal soul to Hell before the fetus was even growing in the womb. How can the decisions really have been Ted’s when the actions were known prior to his even being born? Could Ted really have proved God’s foreknowledge wrong? If so, “omniscient” would be tossed in the junk pile, to keep “omnibenevolent” company.

It’s all precisely analogous to a toymaker booby trapping a toy. Which brings me back to the great Roddenberry quote—In Christianity, it’s always the toy’s fault.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I get letters...

A few days ago, I received an email from a My Case Against God reader named Austin Wilson. In his note, he took issue with my stance that abortion is an absolute right, which should be wholly unrestricted. Since I found his comments interesting, I decided to publicly respond right here. He requested that, if I publish his letter, I do so in its entirety. I will do just that, although I will respond paragraph by paragraph in the interest in immediacy. I’ve made no changes at all to the text of his letter.

I just happened upon your blog recently and I must say that I am very pleasantly surprised. You seem both well informed and capable of coherently expressing an opinion with supporting evidence. I am always happy to find out that such people live and the US. Its what keeps me from being absolutely certain that this nation (or humanity for that matter) is going down the tubes.

Not much to refute here! :)

Enough introduction, I am writing you concerning your post on Tuesday. I agreed with all of your plans save one. The unrestricted abortion clause. Do you really think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days? What about if she were going into labor, would be all right for to abort the fetus right up until the umbilical cord is cut?

I’m not sure if he read my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, but it’s certainly relevant here. The argument basically states that females own their fetuses until such time as the fetus is born. The word “born” does have some leeway built into it, since it’s not exactly precise. So, to answer the first question: Yes, I think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days. If she were going into labor, I would say abortion is appropriate (whether medically feasible or not) until such time as the fetus completes emergence from the vagina. Once the emergence is complete, I would say the fetus has been born, thus ending the ownership.

If this is the case then you have missed the point of the argument. On television the debate is framed between religious individuals thinking about god and souls versus liberal individuals not wanting women to be subjugated by unfair laws. But all of that is inconsequential; the real question is what defines a human (and vicariously what rights does that being have)? In the process of life we start out as a zygote; a single cell that is in no way mistakable for a human being. At some point we develop into what we know to be human, a creature not only of a certain form but also possessing a degree of sentience that we feel is unique to us.

In my view, one of the best features of the Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument is that it applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias. With this argument, the fetus is the private property of the female by virtue of the fact that it’s growing within the female’s body. Thus, in the argument, humanity is wholly irrelevant, as is sentience, the ability to feel pain and bodily form. Additionally, I reject the notion that humans are intrinsically more valuable than other forms of life. To assert that humans are more valuable, one must assume that our characteristics are “value-adding” characteristics. For example, humans often cite their sentience as a value-adding characteristic. But, where is the hard evidence that sentience is value adding, while, for example, the ability never to sleep (ants) is not value adding?

This is the problem I have with the abortion debate; at some point between zygote and man there is the creature between that cannot be categorized as one or the other. At what point in this gray area can we pluck out that which is human and that which isn’t? When does abortion stop being about killing a few parasitic cells and start being about killing a baby?

Once again, I think you are getting wrapped up in the fallacious notion that humans are special, and thus worthy of unique protection. I’m not sure if you read it, but I think my post “Well, Aren’t We *Special* is relevant here. I truly believe that, since all species are on the same exact Tree of Life, all species have equal intrinsic value. Our speciocentricity makes us believe our characteristics are value adding, while dismissing the unique characteristics of other species.

All of this is dependant on what you define as a human being. If a human is defined as having a soul, then prove if or when a soul exists. If sensation of pain is what defines a human, then don’t abort after the development of the nervous system. If you go by what looks like a human then you have a very subjective argument that can never be settled. If you define a human by a certain degree of intelligence and memory capacity, then you would have no problem ending the life of many mentally handicapped adults. Even babies that are several months old don’t match the above description of a human, could you conceivably end their life too?

You bring up all the relevant questions about “humanity,” a concept that is about as hard to pin down as “spirituality” or “morality.” That’s why, in my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, I throw out humanity and throw out morality as irrelevant. I believe abortion is a property-rights issue. In my view, that which grows within the body of a female is that female’s private property, until such time as it stops growing within the body of the female. What precisely is growing inside isn’t particularly relevant; as I said, my argument applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias, as long as they are growing within someone’s body.

I don’t really care about human life. But for those that do care, or at least pretend to, the above are some very important questions to consider. You can be as cut and dry with your views on abortion as you want to be, but unless you can seriously and adequately answer these questions to yourself, then your entire argument is faith based. To have opinions that ignore evidence or that have none to support themselves are opinions that are not grounded in reality. Unfortunately ungrounded opinions are what make up the vast majority of the abortion debate.

One thing that I think is very important to clarify at this point is this: Abortion, objectively speaking, isn’t acceptable or not acceptable. Indeed, nothing is objectively moral or objectively immoral. I analogize the idea this way:

Morality is like the weather and movies. To me, 90 degrees and no precipitation is “pleasant” weather. To another individual, 30 degrees with a light dusting of snow is “pleasant” weather. To me, Brokeback Mountain is a four-star movie. To another individual, Brokeback Mountain is a one-star movie. No weather is objectively “pleasant”; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. No movie is objectively “good”; again, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. In exactly the same way, no act is objectively moral or objectively immoral. “Morality” is only coherent when placed in the context of “to me.” When things are placed in the context of “to me,” they are taken out of the realm of objectivity and placed into the realm of opinion. Thus, the Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument is just my way of methodically mapping out the method by which I reached my opinion (as well as a demonstration of the inescapability of my conclusion when you accept my premises).

When speaking about abortion, the only stance one can have is an opinion-based stance. I’ve been battling Paul Manata about that, since he has the fallacious idea that abortion is either objectively OK or objectively not OK. He refuses to accept that it's just a matter of opinion.

I thank for your time in reading this e-mail, and I hope that it gave you some thinking material, or at the very least made you angry enough to try and prove me wrong. In either case if you feel like posting this on your blog then please only post it in its entirety.

Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write.

By the way, on a tangentially related note, there is a compelling discussion going on over at Kill the Afterlife about whether morality is objective or relative. Of course, I'm defending the relativist viewpoint. Be sure to check it out, since I think, during the next few days, the discussion will progress in interesting directions.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Benevolent Dictator

Tonight’s post will be quite brief, but will probably provide a better picture of me than any post thus far. Basically, I will run down the first 10 things I would do if I were given total control of the United States. As you know, I classify myself as a left-leaning libertarian; my list will clearly reflect this.

Before starting on the list, which will be quite brief, I just wanted to mention that I especially seek feedback on this post. I’m curious to know with how many of my 10 bullet points you agree. Additionally, in your comments, please “classify” yourself with some type of label. I’ll be interested to see the classifications of those who hardly ever agree with me, as well as the classifications of those who share my viewpoints.

OK, let’s get started.

1. Immediately end all political foreign aid. Immediately scale back humanitarian foreign aid.

2. Adopt a strict policy of non-intervention with respect to foreign conflicts. The US will only get involved in military conflicts if said conflicts demonstrably and substantially affect us.

3. Recognize an absolute, unrestricted right to abortion, as well as a personal right to die.

4. Repeal any and all laws banning private, adult drug use.

5. Promote global free trade (including with countries that have poor human rights records) and eliminate as many tariffs as feasible.

6. End all forms of torture and end all forms of the death penalty.

7. Expand domestic oil drilling (especially ANWR), raise fuel efficiency standards and explore non-Middle Eastern foreign oil sources.

8. Repeal any and all obscenity/indecency laws.

9. Repeal any and all laws regulating private, consensual, adult sexual activity.

10. Transform healthcare from a public obligation to a private responsibility.

So those are my 10 key issues. What do you think? With how many of them do you agree? With what classification do you identify?

Would you agree that left-leaning libertarian is the most appropriate label for yours truly?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Alien Invasion?

Though philosophically I’m a left-leaning libertarian, I’m a registered Democrat. I vote Democrat, and contribute to the candidates I think support my interests. On 70% of the issues, I support this party. However, on the issue that’s currently raging in this country—illegal aliens—the Democrats are dead wrong. In fact, the Republicans, a party I usually despise, aren’t even conservative enough on this issue to suit my preference. Maybe I should shut my mouth and let this turn into a “W” in the Democrats’ column; but alas, I cannot. Without hyperbole, the future of the US is at stake (though not in the way people like Tom Tancredo would have you believe).

There are millions upon millions of illegal aliens in the United States as I type this. Living on Long Island, NY, I see them everyday, doing the manual labor so few want to do. For many of the ultra-conservatives I hate, their presence means one thing: the “browning” of America. They hear projections that, in 50 years, dark-skinned minorities will outnumber Caucasians in the United States—and tremble in fear. They break into a cold sweat at the thought of strange languages being spoken, strange customs being embraced and cultures being blended together. Their hysterical language on this issue betrays an underlying racism; almost always, their calls for deporting illegal aliens come alongside calls for tightening immigration in general.

I want nothing to do with those people.

I am very much pro-immigration. If this country’s 11 million illegal aliens had followed the proper procedures for entry, I would embrace their presence fully. Indeed, if 25 million immigrants had followed the proper procedures for entry, I would be happy to have them. My objection is strictly to the illegal means by which the aliens came here. Quite literally, the first act those 11 million individuals committed after crossing the border was a criminal one. They arrived in the country and then, a second later, spit in the face of its laws. If one of the aliens has been here for 25 years, I would argue said alien has been actively committing a crime for a quarter-century. As such, no form of amnesty is appropriate. Granting amnesty to illegal aliens is analogous to granting amnesty to every illegal-drug user currently in prison.

Are the US’ immigration restrictions too tight? Absolutely. Even though we take in a huge number of legal immigrants ever year, we could certainly do with more. Are the US’ drug restrictions too tight? Absolutely. A free country recognizes that the substances one puts in one’s body are one’s own business. However, in neither case is criminality warranted. Laws aren’t made to be broken; they’re made to be followed. If one finds a law intolerable, there are three courses of action: 1. Break the law and suffer the consequences willingly. 2. Follow the law but petition for its repeal. 3. Move to a country that has better laws. Note, there is no option to “Break the law but not suffer the consequences.” Therefore, amnesty for illegal aliens and amnesty for illegal-drug users are analogous and equally inappropriate. In both cases, I recognize the law is unjust. We should have open borders; we should decriminalize personal drug use. However, in no way is criminal behavior ever warranted.

That’s why I endorse the idea of a border fence. That would bring the flow of illegal aliens to a trickle. At that point, once we have control over the border, I would strongly endorse a plan to liberalize immigration policies. The caveat is that it would not apply retroactively (which would end up awarding citizenship to those who engaged in criminal behavior to come here). As I said earlier, I oppose all forms of amnesty for all types of criminal behavior.

The main counterargument I hear with respect to shutting the door on illegals is that they do work nobody else will do. This counter doesn’t really apply to me, since I support unlimited legal immigration (while most conservatives demagogue the illegal alien issue in order to stem all immigration), but I will debunk it nevertheless. For a libertarian such as I, that argument is bankrupt because it presupposes the existence of social welfare programs. If welfare were wiped away, and work absolutely was required in order to get money, I think quite a few people who are currently not in the workforce would end up taking those “undesirable” jobs. If welfare didn’t exist, then lawn-mowing and housekeeping might seem like pretty good options, compared to living on the street. Americans “won’t” do those kinds of jobs because they don’t have to; they have a government safety net that enables them to live without working. Take down the net, and our need for illegal aliens would disappear.

Many libertarians default to the “freedom” position on this issue, irrespective of the implicit endorsement of criminal behavior. I do not. Even though I endorse drug legalization, border liberalization, prostitution legalization, gay marriage legalization and various other freedom-centric causes, I do not advocate breaking the laws currently on the books. Unjust laws should be changed, not ignored. Society depends upon having a functional justice system, with teeth and the ability to assert itself.

Anarchists (to the best of my knowledge) endorse breaking laws with which they disagree. Nothing against that, but I’m not an anarchist. I’m a libertarian, and there’s nothing in classical libertarian philosophy that compels me to endorse illegal behavior of any kind.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Don't Know Much About History, Part Two

I was contacted recently by a My Case Against God reader named Stephanie. She had sent a copy of my post “Don’t Know Much About History” to a Christian with whom she frequently interacts. As expected, that Christian responded, strongly disagreeing with my post. This blog entry will respond to that response.

First off, let me quote some relevant passages from the Christian’s response, which was largely comprised of theistic quotes from historical figures. Since his response is a bit long, I’ll only include bits and pieces.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in the sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”
- George Washington, from his Farewell Address to the Nation
Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 1792

“The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall is a one directional wall; it keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.”
- Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, January 1, 1802, in an address to the Danbury Baptists

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
- John Jay, 1st Chief Justice of Supreme Court

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
- John Quincy Adams

"Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"
- Thomas Jefferson

OK. The response probably includes more than double that, but it’s a fair representation. Before actually presenting my own counterarguments, I’ll provide a few contrary quotes from historical figures.

Thomas Jefferson:

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
- 1787 letter to his nephew

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
- Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”
- Letter to Dr. Woods

Benjamin Franklin:

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
- Poor Richard's Almanack, 1758

"He (the Rev. Mr. Whitefield) used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard."
- Franklin's Autobiography

James Madison:

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
- April 1, 1774

"...the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State"
- Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819

Thomas Paine:

“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.”
- The Age of Reason (1794)

Of course, there are many more anti-Christian quotes to be found in the various words and writings of the Founding Fathers; but, I’ll include no more. Letters only mean so much; actions mean far more. That’s why, in my initial post, I immediately brought up the Treaty of Tripoli. Once again, this is what the Treaty of Tripoli explicitly states: “…the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion….” It was composed (by American diplomat Joel Barlow) under the presidency of George Washington. It was unanimously approved by the Senate, and signed by John Adams. If this truly were founded to be a Christian nation, that certainly wouldn’t have happened.

Additionally, if this truly were founded to be a Christian nation, it seems logical to expect there would be a greater number of explicit references to Christianity in our most important, enduring documents. Allow me to quote David Mills, writing in Atheist Universe:

“The two documents upon which our country was actually founded—i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States—contain not a single word about Christianity, Christian principles, the Bible, or Jesus Christ. Neither is there any mention at all of the Ten Commandments, Heaven, Hell, or being saved. Not a word! The phrase ‘they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’ was a reference to the Deist Creator, rather than the God of Christianity.”

And moreover, if this country were founded to be a Christian nation, it seems that more of our laws would reflect it. Let’s take a look at The Ten Commandments for a moment.

1. Have no other gods. – No correlation to law.

2. Do not make idols. – No correlation to law.

3. Do not take the lord’s name in vain. – No correlation to law.

4. Keep the Sabbath day. – No correlation to law.

5. Honor your parents. – No correlation to law.

6. Do not kill. – Yes, we have a man on base!

7. Do not commit adultery. – No correlation to law.

8. Do not steal. – He’s made it to second!

9. Do not falsely accuse. – Only half-right. This applies when people are under oath.

10. Do not covet. – Our economy depends upon people being covetous.

So, the Ten Commandments are 25% applicable to our basic laws. Hardly impressive.

So, two points have been ably proven: The Founders were decidedly mixed on Christianity, and the United States was not founded upon the religion (nor do its documents or laws reflect Christian doctrine). But, in truth, this isn’t terribly important. I only raised the issue of the Founding Fathers because so many people have the misconception that the United States was founded to be Christian. As was mentioned in the comments to the original post, I have very, very little reverence for the founders of this country. I’m not hostile to Christianity because they were; it’s purely coincidental. In my view, the Founding Fathers were a pack of rather blatant hypocrites.

It takes a special kind of hypocrite to pontificate about “inalienable rights” and everybody being created equal while at the same time owning black people and treating women as subservient to men. At one time, Franklin owned slaves. Jefferson owned in excess of 650 slaves in his lifetime. Quoting from Wikipedia, here's the story on George Washington. "Although the nation was at peace in the late 1780s, Washington worried that his slaves were going to be set free. He therefore endorsed plans to create a new constitution to allow slavery in all of the states. His support guaranteed it would happen, and he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787." Patrick Henry also owned black people.

Whether the Founding Fathers were Christian or not really is irrelevant in this day and age. I don’t take my marching orders from a bunch of white guys who preached about inherent rights yet who, at various times in their lives, owned slaves and endorsed the institution of slavery. I make posts on this subject only in the spirit of historical accuracy. This is not a Christian nation. It never was. I truly hope it never will be. For, a Christian theocracy promises just as many horrors as Islamic theocracies already present. It always amazes me when parasites like Falwell and Robertson defend Bush’s foreign policy on the grounds that it’s bringing freedom and democracy to countries currently under the thumb of extremist clerics. They, apparently, are blind to the fact that they themselves are cut from the same cloth as those they decry.

Friday, April 7, 2006

If the US Were a Free Country...

If the United States were a free country, its citizens’ mail, phone calls and electronic communications never would be subject to government surveillance without overwhelming probable cause.

If the United States were a free country, citizens’ right to buy, own and bear firearms never would be infringed, save for convicted felons and those with demonstrated mental impairment.

If the United States were a free country, bodily sovereignty would be recognized as sacrosanct. Suicide and euthanasia would be permitted legally. Abortion would be unrestricted. The government never would concern itself with consensual sex between adults (whether free or paid for). Private, adult drug use would be acceptable, and ownership over one’s body would be recognized without fail.

If the United States were a free country, the First Amendment would guarantee complete freedom of expression, including expression that some people might find offensive, indecent, obscene or repulsive.

If the United States were a free country, the Federal Communications Commission never would be allowed to regulate subjective matters such as "decency" and taste, which are clearly definable only in the eyes of the beholder.

If the United States were a free country, it would make no attempt to export its philosophy, mode of governance or way of life abroad. Indeed, the U.S. trying to spread its way of life is just as undesirable as Iran trying to export its values and governmental framework. A free United States would recognize every country’s right to self-determination, free of external heavy-handed influence.

If the United States were a free country, children never would be made to subscribe to any religious ideology until old enough to weigh different faiths’ relative merits. Speaking of a Christian child is absurd, just as speaking of a Keynesian child would be.

If the United States were a free country, gays and lesbians nationwide would be allowed to marry, as would brothers and sisters as well as groups of three or more. The government has no role to play in intimate relationships between adults, nor may it serve as a moral judge.

If the United States were a free country, government-performed murder (capital punishment) would be abolished.

If the United States were a free country, the advancement of science (both in the classroom and in the laboratory) never would be impeded by encroaching religious faith. Although it is perfectly acceptable as a personal belief, the faintest whisper of religion-derived laws is at odds with a free country.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Aborting Paul Manata’s Refutation

Ever since I posted my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, the reaction has been strong on both sides. For example, Aaron Kinney, who writes Kill the Afterlife, liked the argument so much that he posted it on his site. Conversely, many Christians expressed their extreme displeasure with the argument. Paul Manata, a prominent Christian blogger, was in the latter category. Over his Paul’s blog, as well as at Kill the Afterlife, I’ve engaged him and answered his numerous objections. None of this has helped, though; every time a refutation has been killed, he resurrects it anew. In this post, I will, once and for all, tackle most of Paul’s objections. By the end of this post, everyone should be convinced of my argument’s veracity and soundness.

Let’s look at my argument, to start:

Premise One: Individuals own their bodies, and everything that is growing within them.

Premise Two: Fetuses grow within the bodies of their mothers.

Conclusion One: Females own their fetuses.

Premise Three: Individuals may destroy that which they own.

Premise Four: Females own their fetuses.

Conclusion Two: Females may destroy their fetuses.

Here’s Paul’s first objection:

Frances says that since the baby is growing in the woman’s property then the baby is the woman’s property and she can murder the baby. Well, if I own a house then it is my property. If I have tenants growing inside my house (note: all humans are growing in some way or another) then on Frances’ logic I can kill my tenants since they are in my property, even though it is their rightful place.”

Clearly, this is a fallacious objection. I do not argue that since the baby is growing in the woman’s property it thereby becomes the woman’s property. Rather, I argue that since the fetus is growing inside the female’s body it thereby becomes the female’s property. My argument (and its stated premises) has nothing to do with growing in one’s property in general. It explicitly and exclusively deals with growing within an individual’s body. Paul’s extrapolations are his own, and I do not claim ownership of them.

Here’s Paul’s second objection, which is closely related:

“His argument also says that one person can own another person. That's the argument. But then he says he's opposed to slavery. This business about it only applying when people are in the womb is strictly ad hoc”

Once again, Manata is expanding my premises in order to erect a straw man that he can subsequently demolish. I never said, “One person can own another person.” I only argue that a female may own a fetus when said fetus is growing within the female’s body. While arguments can be justifiably narrowed, they cannot be expanded.

Here’s an analogy.

I am arguing that a female may own her fetus. Paul is extrapolating that one human may own any other human. That is like me arguing that a human may own a dog, and Paul extrapolating that a human may own any animal. Fetus is a subset of human, and dog is a subset of animal. Saying that a fetus may be owned does not necessarily imply all humans can be owned, just like saying a dog may be owned does not necessarily imply that all animals can be owned. Saying a fetus, but not necessarily all humans, can be property isn’t any more ad hoc than saying a dog, but not necessarily all animals, can be property.

If I had spoken in generalities, such as “Humans may own other humans,” then Paul could rightly deduce that humans may own fetuses. However, Paul cannot rightly do the opposite (make extrapolations), which is what he continually attempts.

Paul’s third objection:

“For example, I proved that George Steinbrenner owns his baseball players. He can tell them when to go to bed, what to eat, etc. He owns them. No, not in a slave era mentality, but he owns the Yankees, which is made up of many things, including Derek Jeter. Therefore, if a person can murder their own property then Steinbrenner can murder Derek Jeter.”

That, of course, is in response to my premise that individuals may destroy their property. What I’ve pointed out to Paul numerous times, to no benefit, is that Steinbrenner owns the Yankees in the sense that he owns the team and the franchise. He does not own the human beings that comprise the team. He might be able to enforce limited behavioral restrictions on the players, but those restrictions are borne out of the contract the players signed, not Steinbrenner’s ownership of them. For example, in my place of business, the boss compels me to dress a certain way and arrive at a certain time. He sometimes compels me to go on business trips. That the boss has some effect on my behavior does not mean the boss owns me as a piece of property.

I’ve often presented Paul with the ultimate argument against his contention that George Steinbrenner owns Derek Jeter the person: Steinbrenner would never allege that he does. All Steinbrenner claims to own is the Yankees team, which rightfully is his property. And, Steinbrenner has every right to destroy that property by disbanding the team and ending the franchise. Thus, my original premise stands. As long as G.S. may destroy the Yankees (the team, not the players themselves), my argument is solid. It’s also rather curious that Paul, who claims humans can never be owned, cites Steinbrenner’s personal ownership of Derek Jeter in order to attack my argument.

Finally, I want to address Paul’s assertion that my argument is irrelevant because it’s subjective, rather than objective.

He writes:

“Saying something is ‘objective to me’ is nonsense. Anyway, all you just said is that TO YOU they have rights. What we're asking if they have REAL, OBJECTIVE, UNIVERSAL, NON-ARBITRARY rights. A moral relativist cannot account for this.”

My argument is, in fact, objective. My views on morality, immorality, good, bad and rights are all objective. I didn’t reach my views at random: They are organic to me. True, there are no intrinsic rights or intrinsic morals, but things need not be intrinsic in order to be objective.

For example, since I am a huge movie fan, every year I compile a Top 10 list. That list is not randomly reached. Those are the 10 best films of the year to me, completely objectively. Similarly, my set of moral values and my views on rights are also objective, as they are not, in any way, arbitrary. They are the organic result of my mental processes.

Paul, however, is not satisfied with that idea of objective. To continue with the analogy, he wants the 10 best movies as determined in a vacuum, without anybody making a judgment. He wants the intrinsic 10 best list. However, such doesn’t exist. No movie is intrinsically good or intrinsically bad. No act is intrinsically moral or intrinsically immoral. No right is intrinsically possessed or intrinsically lacking. All of the above refer to value judgments, which must be made by an individual. Rights and morality exist within the minds of individuals; they do not exist in vacuums.

To conclude, I just want to mention Paul’s curious use of the word “illogic” in regard to pro-abortion arguments. As a Christian, Paul believes:

1. In a young earth.

2. That Jesus came back to life after 62 hours as a corpse.

3. That macroevolution is a myth and special creation is an actuality.

As a science-minded individual, those are the positions that seem illogical to me. When I told Paul this, he responded, “You can't just assert that some of my beliefs are illogical. Indeed, none of those beliefs defy laws of logic.” Well, what about the laws of nature? What about the conclusions of science? By Paul’s definition of logical, it wouldn’t be at all illogical to believe in unicorns or flying donkeys. After all, neither of those hypothetical creatures defies the laws of logic.

I welcome comments on this post from both sides of the fence, theist and atheist alike…as usual.