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May 2014 Archives

May 1, 2014

Freedom? What freedom?

Some of you may not have heard that the Philosophy department at the University of Colorado has been subjected to a bizarre and extreme administrative takeover designed to force a more welcoming atmosphere towards women. The accusations involved are all unstated or vague (or covered by the veil of secrecy that attends intra-university complaints of harassment). I am not even saying that no professors in the department have done anything wrong. (The one publicly available report accuses some unspecified number of "ogling" female students.) But the sanctions are terrifying and, if applied, some of them are arguably illegal.

A team of feminist activists from the American Philosophical Association was dispatched to evaluate the situation, make recommendations, and submit these to the university's administration. According to this blogger, the administration says it is implementing most of them. I haven't been able to find out whether the ones I'm going to highlight here are among those that the administration is implementing. My cynical guess is that to some degree this point will be left nicely ambiguous so as to keep the philosophers in constant fear.

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May 3, 2014

The character of God and argument

I have a new post up at my personal blog in which I respond to some of the strictly theological criticisms leveled against intelligent design theory by our respected erstwhile contributor, Ed Feser. Feel free to comment in either location.

May 7, 2014

Pay no attention to that rationing behind the curtain

Our readers and my fellow contributors may remember, back when Obamacare was in the making, that we had some posts about the rationing implicit in aspects of the bill. In particular, we highlighted the limitation on "excess" readmissions as a probable locus of rationing. One of our liberal commentators insisted that it was not so. No rationing would take place.

Well, surprise, surprise! The board that oversees the rules for Medicare put rules in place to implement precisely that requirement (preventing "excess" readmissions), and whaddaya know? Those rules have already killed one person.

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May 10, 2014

The Honor of Mothers

On Mother’s Day, of course we are going to honor our mothers. And, of course, we don’t each of us individually just honor our own mother, we honor all mothers.

What does that mean? What do we mean when we say “we are honoring mothers”? Is it like Hispanic Heritage month, where we honor things Hispanic? Is it like Columbus Day, when we honor the man who “discovered” our land? Or “Businessman of the Year? In those cases, saying we “honor them” means that we take note of the distinct good that this person (or this people) rendered to us or the distinct good they stand for, and we give due thanks and due recognition of the effort and spirit of the person(s) who did it.

Yes, we certainly do this too when we honor mothers today. But I think that we mean more than that for mothers. There is another, more specific sense of honor that we should think about as well. The generic sense is “giving due recognition” for someone’s good work, good will, and goodness of spirit. The specific sense is more like “giving due recognition for full self-sacrifice”. This is the honor applicable to soldiers and police and firemen, most especially: they put their own bodies, even their very LIVES on the line for the good of the rest of us. So, when we think of “honors” in this sense, and we have military awards and medals to make known these honors, we acknowledge that honor is connected to these professions, and the people who fulfill them, in a special way.

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May 12, 2014

The last Civil War pensioner

A woman in North Carolina is the last living Civil War pensioner, the daughter of peculiar veteran of that stupendous war. This family has lived life enough to have a tale to tell. The Wall Street Journal has the story, on a beautifully designed page with images and documents. This peculiar Civil War veteran began soldiering for the Confederacy.

Along the way [to Gettysburg], Pvt. Triplett fell ill with fever and went to a Confederate hospital in an old tobacco warehouse in Danville, Va. Eight days later, he disappeared. Pvt. Triplett was "present or accounted for until he deserted on June 26, 1863," state records say.

He missed a terrible battle for his regiment, and the South, whose loss at Gettysburg portended its final defeat. Of the regiment's 800 men who fought at Gettysburg, 734 were killed, wounded or captured.

There was a strong strain of Union sympathy in western North Carolina. Friendly locals often helped hide Confederate deserters. Pvt. Triplett crossed the mountains to Knoxville, Tenn., where on Aug. 1, 1864, he joined a Union regiment, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry. Military records listed him as a farmer, 5 feet 8 inches, blue eyes and sandy hair. He signed his enlistment contract with an X.

An Army surgeon certified him "free from all bodily defects and mental infirmity, which would in any way disqualify him from performing the duties of a soldier." The recruiting officer swore that Pvt. Triplett was "entirely sober when enlisted." Pvt. Triplett's older brother, Darby, joined the same day.

Triplett’s Appalachia Unionist regiment commenced to make life hell for the rebs and their postwar revanchists. Let it be noted that the Confederates, likewise, had no compunction against making life hell for Southern Unionists, mostly concentrated in Appalachia; and managed to make life hell for blacks in the South for a further century.

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May 14, 2014

Would progressive creation undermine the existence of an order of nature?

Suppose that God intervened multiple times, prior to the advent of man (presumably by some kind of special creation as well), to create species or to make it probable that a new species would come about where this would not have happened absent divine intervention.

For now, I want to set aside the question of the empirical affidavits of this suggestion. I also want to set aside arguments about the age of the earth. I hear that some Christian groups have had to ban, explicitly, arguments about the age of the earth, because they are a kind of Internet black hole. Also, the criticism I am going to answer would apply to both old-earth and young-earth versions of creationism.

So I'd like to set aside the question of whether this scenario is in fact probable and ask instead whether we should be closed to it and not investigate it on the basis of a particular theological concern.

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May 21, 2014

Mark Steyn makes a good, and shocking, point

I've been following, with a kind of horrified paralysis, the case of Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to 100 lashes on a trumped-up charge of "adultery" and to be hung for the crime of being a Christian.

In an all-too-real case that sounds like something straight out of Roman history, Meriam was asked to deny her Christianity, refused, and was sentenced to death by the government of Sudan. The 100 lash sentence has been handed down because she married a Christian, a marriage the Sudanese government does not recognize because it deems Meriam to be a Muslim. Hence, her relations with her Christian, American husband are deemed sexual sin.

Meriam has a twenty-month-old child and is eight months' pregnant. She will be allowed to bear her baby and then, presumably, horribly lashed and hung. Or maybe if her wicked persecutors are feeling kind, they'll just hang her instead.

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May 22, 2014

There are no slippery prior probabilities

For the present let it suffice to bear in mind that there is no limit to the strength of working, as distinguished from abstract, certainty, to which probable evidence may not lead us along its gently ascending paths.

W.E. Gladstone, Studies Subsidiary to the Works of Joseph Butler, 1896, p. 349.

In our article on the resurrection in this volume from Blackwell, my husband and I discuss a confusion that has dogged historical apologetics for hundreds of years: The idea that a person who has "too low" of a prior probability for the miraculous is justified in dismissing evidence for a specific miracle out of hand and accepting any other explanation instead.

David Hume made famous capital out of this confusion in his claim to have delivered an "everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion." Atheists run back to the prior probabilities as a rabbit runs to its hole. Never mind the concrete evidence! If I don't already believe that God exists, why should I even listen to your concrete evidence? There must be some other explanation for it, and that's all!

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May 26, 2014

Anti-anti-patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance


A little late for Memorial Day, a meditation on what is wrong with this post against the Pledge of Allegiance.

Well, lots of things. But to my mind the biggest problem is that the author, Benjamin Corey, seems to think that pledging patriotic allegiance to your country means promising never to engage in civil disobedience. Since as Christians we have to be prepared to say at some point, "We must obey God rather than men," Corey thinks we can't pledge allegiance to our country and flag.

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May 29, 2014

Remembering the Fall of Rome

Five hundred and sixty-one years ago today the Roman Empire fell to the Turks, the final eclipse for one of the grandest, highest, most gallant and varied experiments in civilization ever undertaken by the creature called man. May 29, 1453, is a date that should not be neglected, for it retains a strong savor of those mystic chords of memory of which Lincoln spoke. We need only let swell the chorus of a Union older and nobler than that for which he appealed to the better angels of our nature — the Union of Greece and Rome.

Here is my Touchstone essay from some years ago about that Fall, that Union, and how the chords of mystic memory play upon my mind, as an American Christian today, contemplating that disaster so many years ago. I should think some deep but potent chords, stretching from very distant battlefields and very strange patriot graves, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, can compass a Memorial for the men who died defending Constantinople, the day Islam snuffed her out.

The Ottoman engineers’ attempts to sap the city walls had repeatedly failed in the teeth of Greek cunning and intrepidity, and finally the Sultan simply hurled his forces against them, in wave after wave, beginning with the least capable mercenaries and ending with the terrible Janissaries.

The slaughter, there on the walls, was considerable, and yet the Christians held out for five further hours. But then the defense finally broke.

A group of Turkish irregulars had discovered an insecurely locked, or perhaps a treacherously unlocked door, plunged through it, and managed to raise the Sultan’s standard on a high tower. This, with the loss of the great Genoese commander Giovanni Giustiniani, brought despair and final defeat.

The emperor and his closest surviving lieutenants flung themselves into the ever-growing mass of Turks, and died there. The City of Constantine was now broken. Constantine son of Helena had founded it; Constantine son of Helena perished in its final defense. The earth stood still and the heavens wept.

The slaughter and rapine that followed need not be dwelt on at length. It was unspeakable. Children raped on Christian altars; women and the elderly impaled; blood running on the streets; St. Sophia a great bloodbath, then a mosque. Legend holds that several priests vanished into the very walls of the church, to return when Constantinople is liberated from the yoke of the Mohammedan.

Untold Greeks were captured and clasped in fetters, the maidens and attractive boys destined for Turkish harems, the strong boys for the barracks of the Janissaries, to repeat the conquest of other Christians in other lands; and the Orthodox Church herself was seized into a captivity under which much of her toils to this day. The slave markets of the world showed a rapid depreciation in their miserable commodity for months to come.

Though he had promised three days of looting (to entice those of lesser piety in his army), the Sultan called a halt to it after one, so terrible was the pillage; few complained. The city was vanquished and violated. He established the Greeks under the standard dhimma contract, Islam’s system of official subjugation and humiliation: a kind of Jim Crow for infidels.

Eventually order was restored, and before long the city was thriving again, after a fashion, under Turkish suzerainty. Human resilience is a remarkable thing. But the Roman Empire was no more. The morning of May 29, 1453, shone with the last sunrise over Greek Rome.

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