Sunday, May 29, 2016

Was Truman wrong?

1. A friend asked me to comment on nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The question raises two issues: 

(i) The ethics of war generally. The criteria for morally licit warfare. And (ii) whether nuking Japan met these criteria. 

So I'm going to begin by discussing the ethics of war, then say somethings about the bombing in particular. 

2. This raises roughly two issues: 

(i) Facts, and (ii) morality. To some extent these are interrelated. The facts include the circumstances and options. The predicted outcomes of each alternative. That, in turn, feeds into the question of which options were morally permissible.

Both of these are subject to dispute. The facts are contested. For instance, critics of the bombing say Japan was on the verge of surrender. However, defenders dispute that. 

In addition, there are ethicists who consider the circumstances to be irrelevant insofar as they rule out certain actions under any circumstances whatsoever. 

3. Some critics deny the legitimacy of national defense in principle. National sovereignty isn't worth defending.

i) To some extent I agree. I don't think we should kill to defend an abstract principle ("national sovereignty"). Some evil regimes hide behind national sovereignty. But these are illegitimate regimes. They are not entitled to take refuge in that principle. 

ii) But in many cases, national defense is a logical extension of self-defense. Humans are social creatures. We live in communities. In order to secure our human rights and liberties, it's often necessary to pool our collective resources. These are like internal military alliances. 

By the same token, humans who live in the same area for generations develop an infrastructure. That's not something you can replace overnight. That's worth defending. 

4. Many critics suffer from an irrational, knee-jerk aversion to nuclear weaponry. They act as if there's something intrinsically evil about nuclear weaponry, in contrast to conventional weaponry. But at most it's a difference of degree, not of kind. Was nuking Hiroshima inherently worse than firebombing Tokyo? 

What about the use of napalm and flamethrowers? Although that kills on a smaller scale, is it better to die that way?

The moral objection to nuclear weaponry strikes me as generally ad hoc. 

5. Another arbitrary distinction is indignation when many people are killed at the same time and place, but absence of indignation when the same numbers are killed at several times and places. The totals are the same. The difference is that one is more dramatic while the other is cumulative.

6. The objection to nuking Japan isn't isolated to that event, but involves a larger objection to weapons of mass destruction. Bombing civilian populations. Failure to even attempt to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants.

Carried to its logical conclusion, this led to calls for unilateral nuclear disarmament during the Cold War. The deterrent of mutually assured destruction was deemed to be immoral. Of course, that amounts to preemptive surrender. An invitation to be conquered by the enemy. 

7. I'd add that this isn't all that new. Siege warfare starved the inhabitants into submission. It resulted in death (by starvation) of many noncombatants.

8. Ironically, pacifists erase the distinction between combatants and noncombatants when they erase the distinction between killing and murder. For pacifists, all killing is murder. There is no category of justified killing. 

9. In modern Western civilization, just-war theory is the traditional framework for assessing the ethics of warfare, both in theory and practice. For some ethicists, that's an argument from authority. They treat just-war criteria as an unquestionable standard and starting-point. However, for a Protestant like myself, just-war criteria need to be scrutinized. 

10. Just-war criteria include:

• proportionality

• just cause

• last resort

• immunity of noncombatants

• reasonable prospect of success 

I think these are valid considerations. However, there's often a gap between criteria and reality. Concrete circumstances dictate our actual options. Circumstances force choices on us. Sometimes the criteria make sense, but sometimes the criteria are artificial or infeasible. 

I think the criteria can be useful up to a point, but they shouldn't be universalized. The criteria can be arbitrary on their own grounds. And one criterion may conflict with another. For instance:

i) Last resort may conflict with proportionality. What if a first strike saves more lives?

ii) Likewise, immunity of noncombatants may conflict with proportionality. What if a decapitation strike saves more lives? 

iii) Reasonable prospect of success may be prudent if you can predict the outcome. But that can lead to the conundrum of making decisions before you know the results. 

That criterion is more germane to offensive wars than defensive wars. Don't start a fight you can't win. But what if you didn't start the fight?

Likewise, what if the cost of losing is so onerous that it's better to fight even if the odds of winning are low?

11. A further complication is the relationship between just-war criteria and the double effect principle. Does the double effect principle sometimes warrant actions that just-war criteria deem to be unwarranted? Take the immunity of noncombatants. Does the double effect principle justify civilian casualties as a necessary side-effect of achieving the strategic objective? 

Critics like Elizabeth Anscombe balance just-war criteria with the double effect principle. But is that truly consistent, or is that a makeshift accommodation that redefines one or both sides? 

12. For critics like Anscombe, the priority is to avoid evil rather than prevent evil. Even if nuking Japan saved more lives (on both sides) than the alternatives, they'd still oppose nuking Japan. 

For other ethicists, the priority is to prevent evil rather than avoid evil. So that's a basic dividing line when we assess the ethics of warfare. And that's not confined to debates over nuking Japan.

13. Critics like Anscombe say you should never use evil means to achieve a good outcome. I agree. But that begs the question of whether the means in question are evil. Yet that's the very issue in dispute. 

By the same token, it equivocates over "evil". By definition, we should not commit evil. But doing harm is not equivalent to doing evil. Killing is not equivalent to doing evil. 

14. Critics like Anscombe say killing the innocent as a means to an end is always murder. But it's unclear why we should accept that maxim. For instance, why is it murder to kill the innocent as a means to an end, but not murder to kill the innocent so long as that's not a means to an end? What makes the means-ends relation rather than innocence the moral differential factor? 

15. Critics typically focus on the immunity of noncombatants. But that's a complex issue:

i) On the face of it, it's arbitrary to say naval ports and munitions plants are off-limits. Likewise, military technology may depend on a handful of innovative scientists. If you can assassinate the scientists, you may save hundreds of thousands (or millions) of enemy combatants–not to mention your own soldiers. What makes that tradeoff morally illicit?

By the same token, a military dictator is not a combatant. He just gives the orders. But if he's assassinated, it may spare the lives of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of enemy combatants–not to mention your own soldiers. What makes that tradeoff morally illicit?

ii) What if you attack a soft target because that's the most effective way of achieving the strategic objective? Your aim is to defeat the enemy and end the war. You attack the enemy at his point of weakness, not his point of strength. You attack him indirectly by going after supply lines or support services. You do that both because it's easier and more expeditious. 

iii) I don't think that the immunity of noncombatants is a worthless principle. But the arguments for making noncombatants a protected class overgeneralize. Here's a better way to frame the distinction:

a) It's prima facie wrong to target noncombatants. It's wrong to target noncombatants if more selective methods are available.

b) As a rule, combatants are more dangerous than noncombatants. They generally pose a more immediate threat. But that's not absolute.

c) We should distinguish between wartime activities (e.g. munitions plants) and peacetime activities (e.g. farming). Even though many peacetime activities incidentally support the war effort, these activities would take place apart from war. 

d) I'd recast just-war criteria like proportionality and immunity of noncombatants in terms of avoiding gratuitous harm. That's a sounder principle. In situations where targeting noncombatants or disproportionate force inflicts gratuitous harm, that is morally illicit. 

There are, however, situations where targeting noncombatants and using disproportionate force does not inflict gratuitous harm. Rather, that's a rational tactic in the absence of superior alternatives. 

16. One objection that Anscombe raised to nuking Japan is that we didn't give the inhabitants advance notice. But a problem with that objection is that warning them would give Japanese combatants an opportunity to evacuate and regroup. 

17. I've read that in Nagasaki, military production was in part a cottage industry. That makes it harder to maintain the combatant/noncombatant distinction. 

18. The strongest objection I've seen to nuking Nagasaki is that this was the center of Christianity in Japan. Christianity only had a toehold in Japan to begin with, and nuking Nagasaki decimated what little Christian presence there was in Japan. 

That, per se, is not an objection to nuking Japanese cities, but that particular city. 

19. Many war historians defend Truman's action. I find their arguments persuasive. However, my primary objective in this post has been on how to frame the ethics of warfare. I'm less committed to defending our action in Japan, although I think that's reasonable. For instance:

The Suffering Servant Prophecy As Evidence For Christianity

Here's something I just posted on the subject on Facebook.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

God and the problem of evil

Has a focus on the soul-making theodicy:

Yesterday's liberal orthodoxy is today's liberal heresy

Because secular ethics is relativistic, it changes on a dime. The instability of secular ethics makes it a threat to everyone. No one is safe.

Owen's dilemma

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
  1. All the sins of all men.
  2. All the sins of some men, or
  3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
  1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
  2. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
  3. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, "Because of unbelief."
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

– John Owen

i) Is Owen's dilemma sound? Critics object that Owen makes too much of the debt metaphor in Scripture. By the same token, they say he operates with a "commercial" or quantitative model of the atonement: Jesus atones for specific sins. 

Critics counter this with a qualitative or categorical model of atonement. As one 4-point Calvinist put it: "the way federal headship works is not by imputing specific sins, but by imputing guilt. Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, which means that his atonement is applicable to any human being in principle."

ii) I don't think the conventional objections to Owen's dilemma succeed. Whether he operates with a commercial theory of the atonement had been disputed. 

iii) More to the point, his dilemma doesn't rely on Owen's theory of the atonement, but the theory of his opponents. So long as his opponents subscribe to penal substitution, the argument goes through. 

iv) Historically, many Arminians reject penal substitution because they concede Owen's dilemma. They admit that if you combine penal substitution with universal atonement, that entails universal salvation. The way to relieve the dilemma is to ditch penal substitution. So the argument does not depend on Owen's theory of the atonement (whatever that may be).

v) I don't see how framing the issue in terms of a qualitative atonement salvages the Arminian/Amyraldin position. It's trivially easy to recast Owen's dilemma in those terms. Is  refusal to believe in Jesus culpable? That's a premise that Arminians and Amyraldians typically grant. Indeed, that's a premise they deploy in attempting to argue for unlimited atonement: how can refusal to believe in Jesus blameworthy if Christ never died for the reprobate?

If, however, Jesus died to make atonement for generic guilt, for human guilt in general, then culpable unbelief is covered by the atonement. So I don't see how a qualitative paradigm circumvents the force of Owen's dilemma. If refusing to believe in Jesus is culpable, and Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, then culpable unbelief is included in the atonement. The category of guilt includes all instances thereof. 

vi) Speaking for myself, I doubt human guilt is a conglomerate entity that's separable from the specific sins of specific sinners. I don't think Christ atones for guilt in that sense, as if guilt can be detached from guilty agents, to become a free-floating mass of guilt. Guilt is personal. Jesus didn't die for an abstraction. Rather, Jesus died for sinners. He makes atonement for particular sinners. The sinner is prior to the sin. Guilt is just a property of sinners.

The qualitative paradigm reminds me of the treasury of merit, where the supererogatory deeds of the saints produce so many pints of merit, which go into a general reservoir of merit. The pope plunges a big dipper into the reservoir when he needs to dole out so many gallons of merit. I don't think of merit and demerit in such anonymous terms. I don't view one sinner's guilt and another sinner's guilt blending into a generic human guilt, like adding drops of water to a bucket.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Boy-friendly education

Goin' to the dawgs

The latest frontier in social justice and trans [fill in the blank]:

Poisoning the well

A violent pestilence which ravaged Europe between March, 1348, and the spring of 1351, and is said to have carried off nearly half the population. It was brought by sailors to Genoa from south Russia, whither it had come from central Asia. During March and April, 1348, it spread through Italy, Spain, and southern France; and by May of that year it had reached southwest England. Though the Jews appear to have suffered quite as much as their Christian neighbors (Höniger, "Der Schwarze Tod in Deutschland," 1882; Häser, "Lehrbuch der Gesch. der Medizin," iii. 156), a myth arose, especially in Germany, that the spread of the disease was due to a plot of the Jews to destroy Christians by poisoning the wells from which they obtained water for drinking purposes. This absurd theory had been started in 1319 in Franconia (Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniæ," xii. 416). On that occasion punishment had fallen upon the lepers, by whose means the Jews, it was alleged, had poisoned the wells. Two years later, in the Dauphiné, the same charge had been brought against the Jews. In 1348, once the accusation was raised, it was spread with amazing rapidity from town to town.

Although the Jew-baiting was scurrilous, irrational, and hateful, it's revealing in another respect. How many times have you read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute natural events to God's direct action? How often have your read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute plagues to divine judgment? 

Yet these medieval Christians did not attribute the plague to divine judgment or direct divine action. Rather, they suspected the plague had a natural cause. 

Moreover, although they were mistaken about the transmission of this particular pathogen, there's nothing irrational about considering the public drinking water supply as a possible source of contagion. Some epidemics have a common point of origin. Indeed, infected drinking water is a source of cholera. It can be reasonable to trace some epidemics back to common source. 

So the notion, popularized by atheists, that prescientific Jews and Christians (as well as pagans) automatically ascribed natural events to direct divine action, or divine judgment, in the case of epidemics, is a simplistic and ignorant urban legend. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Unjustifiable naturalism

Bradley Bowen is a regular, longtime contributor to the Secular Outpost. I'll interact with a recent remark of his:

I am in favor of using a "naturalistic heuristic" in doing historical investigations. But this approach needs to be rationally justified.


Part of justifying this approach is clarifying the difference between a firm belief in naturalism on the one hand and a more provisional skepticism that is open to the possibility of miracles and supernatural events. 

Although that's a valid distinction, it's necessary to justify provisional skepticism as well.

But more is needed than that, since the same sort of qualification could be made in the opposite direction, and one could argue for a provisional theistic approach or provisional supernaturalism in historical investigations.

A striking concession. 

One argument for a naturalistic heuristic is based on the track record of natural vs. supernatural historical claims/hypotheses.

That's a classic uncomprehending objection which atheists repeatedly recite. The assumption is that in the past, people used to attribute more events to direct divine action, but science has replaced that through the ever-expanding discovery of natural mechanisms. Now, it's doubtless true that in the past, more events were mysterious. But Christian theology has always had a category for ordinary providence. The principle of secondary causes was in place all along, even if the examples were less readily identifiable. 

A second argument is the general need for uniformity and stability of natural laws in order for historical reasoning to be possible and successful (if most events were produced by divine or supernatural intervention, then not only would the future be highly unpredictable, but reasoning about the past would be just as dicey).

i) That argument either proves too much or too little. Humans are agents who regularly interfere with nature, resulting in outcomes that wouldn't happen if nature was allowed to take its own course. So how is that different in principle from divine intervention?

ii) His objection is reminiscent of Einstein's objection to quantum physics. There are, of course, competing interpretations of quantum physics. But you can't rule out uncertainly or indeterminism just because you think that has destabilizing consequences. We must deal with reality as it comes to us.

iii) His second argument suffers from the same oversight as the first argument: failure to appreciate the role of ordinary providence in Christian theology.

iv) As a matter of fact, naturalism is unable to justify the problem of induction. The appeal is circular. You can only justify the uniformity and stability of natural laws if, in fact, the future resembles the past. But the past can hardly count as evidence for the future unless natural laws are uniform and stable. Conversely, evidence that natural laws are uniform and stable depends on whether you can project the past into the future. Not to mention that our knowledge of the past is quite piecemeal. Indeed, we reconstruct the past based on interpolations that take for granted the uniformity of nature! That's how we plug the gaps. So there seems to be no way to justify his extrapolation from inside the circle of empirical observation itself.  

You have indicated a third reason, which is logical consistency with our approach to scientific investigations. If we employ a naturalistic heuristic in scientific investigations, then we ought to do the same in historical investigations UNLESS someone can point to a significant difference between history and science that justifies taking a radically different approach to historical investigations.

i) One elementary difference is that science tends to deal with impersonal causes or instinctive behavior whereas history tends to deal with personal agents. Natural causes are mechanical, unintelligent processes–or instinctive behavior. By contrast, rational agents are far more flexible. 

ii) There's no reason to presume a naturalistic heuristic in scientific investigations. In medical science, for instance, there's what normally occurs. But suppose a patient undergoes a naturally inexplicable healing in answer to prayer? The best explanation in any particular case depends on the specific evidence at hand.

A fourth reason for using a naturalistic heuristic is that we don't observe miracles and supernatural events in this century, so that is a good reason for presuming that miracles and supernatural events either did not occur in past centuries or were rather rare in past centuries. If we did observe miracles or supernatural events in this century, then that would provide grounds for making the opposite presumption that miracles or supernatural events have occurred in past centuries.

It's funny how he takes that for granted, as if it's indisputable. Has he even bothered to study the literature on modern miracles? 

Scientific evidence and testimonial evidence

Robert Templeton  
Having studied Physics and science in general for years, being a Skeptical thinker, and knowing about formal systems, I do think that I KNOW what evidence is. 
I have a book, "An Introduction to Scientific Research". There is nothing in there about accepting second, third, or fourth hand stories as evidence.

This is a representative statement of how some atheists approach historical reports. They use a "scientific" standard of evidence to evaluate historical reports. But there are obvious problems with that comparison:

i) Historical events are unrepeatable, whereas science often deals with repeatable kinds of events. 

ii) But even on its own terms, scientists depend on testimonial evidence for most of what they believe. A physicist may have little firsthand knowledge of biology. He relies on the testimony of biologists.

Even within his own field, a scientist is dependent on testimonial evidence. A geologist relies on findings from the fieldwork of other geologists for his understanding of geology. A physicist doesn't personally duplicate every crucial experiment in physics. He relies on physics journals for much of what he believes. And so on and so forth. 


Todd Wood responded to some feedback regarding his recent naledi posts:

That included a response to my post:

i) I'll comment on his response to me, but before I get to that I'd like to back up a bit. I don't object in principle to the human identification of nailed. For instance, given the vast variety of dog breeds, some of which are scarcely recognizable in relation to each other or the wild canines from which they derive, by the same token you could have considerable variation in humans.

ii) In addition, I'm not challenging a burial hypothesis.

iii) That said, Todd himself says naledi had a brain the size of an orange. That, of course, raises the question of whether a creature with a brain that size could have human intelligence. Admittedly, the correlation between mind and brain is complex. I'm a substance dualist. Young children have simpler, smaller brains than adults, yet they have cognitive abilities that adults typically lose. Young kids can sponge up languages. They have retentive rote memory. So perhaps a creature with a brain the size of an orange could have human intelligence. But that demands more discussion. 

Over on Triablogue, we find these questions:

is it possible that the floor of the cave is higher than it used to be, due to cumulative debris building up over the intervening time? In other words, was there originally more space between the ceiling and the floor?
Yes, definitely.

What about the possibility of flooding? Would that deposit debris in the back of the cave?
No, there is no evidence of any of that in the Dinaledi chamber.  That point has been emphasized more than once.  These bones did not wash into the back of the cave.

I'm afraid Todd misunderstood the thrust of my question. I wasn't suggesting the fossils were deposited in the cave by flooding. Rather, my second question was piggybacking on my first question. Would repeated flooding be a possible source of debris which, over time, effectively lowered the ceiling of the cave–by raising the floor, through cumulative layers of debris? 

The tacit assumption is that the agents who buried the remains were the same kind of creature as what was buried. However, humans sometimes bury animals.
That's true.  I thought of that myself, but I'm not sure it gets us anything.  As hard as it is to believe someone would crawl that far underground to bury their own child, I'm not sure it's any easier to believe they would do that for a beloved pet.  The only thing it would get you is the ability to affirm the burial hypothesis while saying that Homo naledi isn't human.

I find that response unsatisfactory in several respects:

i) Todd's objection is predicated in part on the inaccessibility of the location. Yet he conceded that originally, the site might have been more accessible. There may have been more space between the floor and the ceiling at the time of burial. But that concession weakens the premise of his objection, does it not?

ii) I'm puzzled by his saying "I'm not sure it gets us anything…The only thing it would get you is the ability to affirm the burial hypothesis while saying that Homo naledi isn't human."

But surely that's a consequential alternative explanation. There's the hypothesis that it wasn't human and wasn't buried. There's the hypothesis that it was human and was buried. Then there's a third hypothesis that I proposed, which splits the difference. 

iii) Moreover, he doesn't seriously engage my argument. My counterexamples weren't confined to pet animals. I gave two examples of ancient burial customs involving animals. The first involves donkeys. As Kenneth Way documents, in the monograph I cited, donkeys had symbolic/ceremonial significance in the ancient Near East, which is why they were sometimes buried.  Among other things, Way mentions ancient cultural associations between donkeys and socioeconomic status, scapegoat rituals, sacrificial rites, death, divination, and donkey deities.  These associations wouldn't even occur to a modern reader. It's so far removed from our worldview. 

Likewise, I mentioned the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying animals. That's in part because Egyptian mythology has theriomorphic deities. (Hinduism is another example in kind.) Surely it takes as much effort to mummify animals as it did to bury naledi.

In certain pagan cultures, animals aren't merely animals. Animals were vested with religious, numinous, or preternatural significance. They could represent deities. You have this in various American Indian cultures as well as indigenous African religions, in addition to Hindu and Egyptian mythology. From what I've read, theriolatry, theriomancy, and theriomorphism were widespread in paganism. 

We need to make allowance for the mindset of ancient humans when we interpret burial rituals. It may take a special effort for modern people, even Christians, to assume that viewpoint, because it's often so alien to our own view of animals. The heathen outlook differs both from Christianity and secularism with respect to the animal world. 

As I understand it, Todd thinks a local naledi community used the cave as a family crypt or cemetery for its own dead. That's possible.

But I'm questioning a non sequitur in the argument. The inference that if burial presumes human intelligence, and the remains are naledi, then they were buried by naledi–in which case nailed were human. Naledi buried their own kind. 

I'm documenting the fact that ancient humans sometimes bury animals. Some ancient humans have a cult of animals. Theriolatry. They attack sacral significance to some animals. As a result, they go to some trouble in disposing of the remains (e.g. burial, mummification). So it's possible that the naledi remains are extinct apes.

And that might be more consistent with the subhuman brain size. That's not what we normally associate with an adult human brain.

A New Feature

For those who haven't noticed, we now have a Featured Post section at the top of our sidebar on the right. The post highlighted there will be changed periodically. If you haven't looked much at the sidebar in general, you might want to do so. We have a lot of material there, including links to e-books we've written. We also have a few resources linked in the bar near the top of the screen, below the Triablogue graphic.