Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Darwin’s Theory: Not the Status Quo

Posted by Chris on March 10, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.

——

I’ve heard that Darwin had been a Christian, or that his wife was a Christian, and that they struggled to reconcile evolution and faith.  I don’t know if this is true, and I think that I’ll wait until I finish the book to find out– I’d like to consider it as much as possible on its merits and as little as possible on outside information and biases, of which there I already have plenty.

In the Introduction, he gives an overview of the ideas he will present in the book, and it is clear that they are radical in the world of biology/science (or whomever was the target audience).  Likely, that meant radical to the world at large, as science for a long time was intermingled with religious studies.  This quote encapsulates what I’m trying to get across:

the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained–namely, that each species has been independently created–is erroneous.  I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species…

The “view which most naturalists entertain” sounds like a view that would jive with a literal reading of Genesis 1-2.  The marine animals and birds are created on the 5th day; land animals on the sixth day; Adam gives all of the above individual names.  So I read Darwin’s dissension as one that is not limited to his professional field, but one that signified a philosophical and spiritual schism.  As I said above, I will make no presumptions about his personal beliefs at the moment.  But we can all agree that at this point, darwinian philosophy and christian theology are believed to be mutually exclusive with the logic underlying evolution as the great gap between the two.

Must this be so?  I don’t know.  I’ll be looking out for clues as to whether Darwin thought so as I read the book.

Christian theology teaches that there is a deep spiritual divide that should all be concerned about– a divide between the God and sin.  For Christians, we celebrate that

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  Titus 2:11

Gap-covering grace can bring reconciliation to anyone and anything.

Posted in Devotions from Darwin | 2 Comments »

Series: Devotions from Darwin

Posted by Chris on March 7, 2010

I’m going to start another series of posts (perhaps I’ll even finish it?) inspired by reading The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s famous work that at least popularly is considered the introduction of the theory of evolution.  First, I want to explain a) my beliefs about evolution, that is, my biases and preconceived ideas apart from reading the book, because I know that people expect one to approach a book like his either as a huge fan or critic, and b) to explain why I decided to read this book in the first place.  I would assume that very few people read it these days, in fact, that many proponents of evolution have never read it.  And I think that’s okay.

My beliefs about Evolution

  1. Micro-evolution: I believe in.  I’m not aware of anyone who does not.  As far as I understand it, micro-evolution is the idea that species evolve and adapt over time while remaining one species.
  2. Intermediate evolution (a term I’m making up) I believe.  I would not have thought of this without reading the first part of the book.  Darwin spends a lot of ink talking about the debates that naturalists had about defining variations v. different species.  Take a breeder of pigeons.  He is likely to provide a list with many species of pigeons, because small differences are very acute to his perception, whereas a general naturalist might only define a few species of pigeons but with each having sub-variations.  Ultimately, Darwin says, whether something is called a species or variation is immaterial to his greater argument about the origin of species, because he is after what causes these variations. I don’t think anyone should argue with this idea either, because Darwin writes extensively about domesticated animals, and we have seen all around us that man can do much to determine the characteristics of animals just by selective breeding.  (incidentally, this is how Darwin came up with the term “Natural” selection for the process behind evolution).  Thus, intermediate evolution results in the development of new species but within the same genus (category).
  3. Macro-evolution, generally (not of people).  I am unsure.  My answer is that it depends on some historical and theological answers that I also don’t have (see below).  If I was putting money on it, here’s what I’d say.  I would say yes, that animals have evolved beyond small variations, but on this taxonomic chart,
    Biological classification chart

    Thanks to whoever stole this from a textbook.

    it would not be at the not-life to life or kingdom levels, but perhaps somewhere in the class to family levels.  In other words, the pigeon and condor may share a common ancestor, but not the jellyfish and the robin.  Maybe that’s really stupid intellectually and faithless theologically, but I’m just being honest.  And as I said, I’m unsure– this is a guess, placing odds in the middle.   It’s not something I’m very interested in.

  4. Macro-evolution (as the source of human life & the greater universe).  On one hand I’m unsure, but I also feel stronger about it.  Furthermore, there’s a large dose of agnosticism in my view on human evolution.  I’m going to break my answer down into two parts: one scientific/practical (what I think actually happened), one theological (what it means).  You may not care that much about my long-winded answers.  Feel free to scroll to the next bold heading to see why I decided to read the book.  I do give a summary of each view in italics at the end of each section.

a) SCIENTIFIC ANSWER . For starters, I know relatively little about evolution– I’ll know more after I finish this book.  Nothing is off the table to me.  I will entertain anything from “young-earthers” (the idea that God created the earth in a literal 6-day period ~6000 years ago) to more moderate Creationists, to backers of Intelligent Design, to evolutionary biologists that say we came from monkeys.  My theological view could fit with all of them.  Well, except that I don’t know the differences between ID and Evolution all that well– if the only difference for some is whether or not God is guiding it, then I’d stop at ID.  Neither my scientific nor theological view would consider a scenario that leaves God out.  Because of my theological view, I am agnostic as the scientific answer wouldn’t affect me that much.  My agnosticism is not naivety or snobbery or fear.   Again, I’ll give what I find most likely– once again, the middle ground.  I’ll take an earth older than 6,000 years, more like millions or billions or however old the universe is.  I’ll take the Big Bang because of the ever-expanding universe.  And if I was being really crazy, I suppose that there were two kinds of human beings: There were some that were chosen/created directly by God as the ancestors of his covenant people (Adam), and others that were created either simultaneously or pre-existed Adam.  Adam did not evolve from monkeys.  Concerning other potential people, I cannot and will not hazard a guess as to whether they evolved from other primates.  So to summarize: The universe has a finite life; the earth was created as part of the creation/expansion of the universe; people were not necessarily created physically through one man, Adam, from dust (though I don’t rule it out).

b) THEOLOGICAL ANSWER. I know and care a lot more about creation theology than evolutionary biology.  I’ll admit to some snobbery here: I think it’s more important and more interesting.  I think that Creation Theology is a really big circle, of which evolutionary biology is a small part.  Creation theology comprises much more about human life, existence, and the future than just “how we got here.”  And no, I’m not talking about the Bible v. Evolution.  I’m talking only about what Genesis 1-2 teach vs. the theory of evolution.  Simply, Genesis 1-2 would be like a book, and the theory of evolution would be a section in a short chapter in that book.  Maybe it would get a bold heading.  What do I do with the Creation story (the six days)?  I don’t read it literally or allegorically.  I think the way that would best describe how I read it would be as a cross between a parable and a myth– each of those terms properly understood.  We think of parables as illustrations that teach a lesson, but the Greek word means comparison.  Thus, if Jesus tells a parable about types of soil, the point of the story is that Jesus is comparing soil to something (people) and the way seed grows in the soil to the way the Gospel grows in different types of people.  One would miss much of what is being taught if the lesson was thought to be simply: “Be good soil.”  Myths are not just made up stories about Greek gods.  Merriam Webster defines a myth as: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”  Therefore, the word myth could just as rightly applied to a story of historical events that serves to explain a natural phenomenon, as a story about made up gods and how they judge people.  Before you send your hate mail, please re-read that definition.  Thus, myths are common in many traditional cultures and there are many similar myths because everyone has asked the same questions about life: Where do we come from?  Is there a God? etc…

So I believe that Genesis 1-2 is a myth in that it tells us what God wants us to know about creation.  A literal explanation alone would lack the richness of what we have.  Perhaps we do have a literal story, but that’s a BONUS, not the heart of the matter.  As a myth, it should be the source of our worldview about creation, mine which I will explain shortly.  I also call it a parable, because it is a passage of the Bible that comes alive along with other scripture through an amazing synergistic process.  I will give some examples of this as well.

So I don’t ask how the earth was created.  I find theological truths.  The origin of earth? Gen 1:1- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  That fits with the Big Bang.  It fits with young-earthers.  It fits with the macro-evolution of species.  I won’t restate these points, but it’s the same for all the theology I’ll include below.  In verse 3, we get more specificity that leads people to speculate “how” or “how fast” God does creation: ” ‘And God said, Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  This is my best and favorite example of parable, and why Creation Theology is bigger than evolution.  In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we are reminded of the mythological explanation, and given the comparison: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  What’s the better miracle: Jesus healing a blind man and giving him sight, or the salvation of John Newton, a former trouble-maker and captain of a slave ship who never lacked physical vision but wrote “I once was blind, but now I SEE”??  The light of the gospel is like the ceiling light of your bedroom, which gives you the ability to make sense of your surroundings, compared to our solar star which is like a book light that illuminates a paragraph or two in front of your face.  I better appreciate and understand the process by which God plants the gospel in my heart through this parabolic connection of Gen 1 and 2 Cor 4.  I worry less about whether God literally spoke english words, or caused a big bang, or whatever to make the sun, and how long it took, because when I’m reading Gen 1:3 I’m re-checking all the references to scripture that have nothing to do with the practical act.  Spend some time in the six days of creation, Genesis chapter 1.  Follow it all over your Bible.

Rather than give other examples, I’ll trust that the above is the best I can do to explain why I read Gen 1 as myth and parable.  Having that view enables me to worry less about the scientific and makes the scientific facts, whatever they may be, jive with my theological beliefs about creation.  However, I want to come back to the original topic, which is Evolution.  It cannot be addressed without addressing creation, because the two are inseparable in traditional Christian belief.  There are two versions of the creation of humans in Genesis 1-2.  The first, in Genesis 1, is very similar to the picture I drew about creation of light.  We learn that God creates man “in his own image”, commands him to be fruitful, etc… Genesis 2 gives the account about God creating man from the dust of the ground, and woman from his rib.

This second story is less like the first, than the first is a reflection of the other days of creation in Genesis 1.  However, I read it similarly.  The description of how God created man and woman is contained in 3 verses: 8, 21, 22.  But we get a lot of other good stuff: Mandates to care for creation; A tree that serves as a parable of our struggle between good and evil, sin and righteousness; the goodness of God to provide woman for man; and a theology of marriage.  My take away from the two creation events is that not only did God create man (or serve as the cause of the creation of man), but that it is a personal event.  Adam was personally known and cared for by God.  Thus, if people evolved from monkeys, there was at least a person chosen by God to be in communion with him, and God had to supernaturally act in this man’s life in some way to do it.  (I don’t consider this set of circumstances likely, remember).  In my practical belief, I explained that I thought there may have been other peoples on the earth that did not descend from Adam.  This is a scientific belief that I draw from the historicity of scripture– simply that Cain left the area where his parents lived, and feared that he might be treated with hostility elsewhere by other people.  To my knowledge, the Bible never says that all men literally descended from Adam.  However, the line of descent of God’s people in the Old Testament, and more generally, the point at which we begin tracing a spiritual heart of man is with Adam.  Thus, Adam introduces sin in the world, and condemnation (Romans 5:12).

So to summarize, I think that the Creation account of Gen 1-2 shouldn’t be limited to an alternate or complementary narrative to the theory of evolution.  It explains much more about us, the Bible, and God.  Therefore, theology matters to me a lot more than evolutionary biology.  But, in order to make an attempt to explain my beliefs, I asserted the view of scripture that God created the universe and the heavens, and everything else.  This is stated as fact.  Furthermore, other parts of creation, such as light, can be viewed as a myth that explains the source while acting as a parable to give us a greater significance.  The greatest light God speaks into being appears in the darkness of our hearts, rather than over the darkness of the earth.  Finally, I view the 2 accounts of the creation of man with some uncertainty as to how God acted, but with certainty that God was responsible and again, that we learn many other things far superior to the methodology of creating man.

Why I decided to read the book

  1. Intellectual Curiosity.  I like to read some of these famous, influential books for myself.  Recently, I read The Prince by Machiavelli for similar reasons.  Not because I care that much about political or war strategies in Italy hundreds of years ago.
  2. To learn more about Evolution, but more specifically to learn more about the attitude of those who feel strongly about evolution.
  3. To have more credibility when talking to people who believe in Evolution.  And to be honest and self-centered, so that I could say to someone who is trying to cram it down my throat as a reason God doesn’t exist, “I’ve read The Origin of Species, have you?”  Not that it makes me smarter, or more interested in it, but to show that I’m not afraid of it and to give reason for the other person to stop and be as considerate and open-minded as I try to be.
  4. I got it for really cheap on the Amazon Kindle.  I would’ve never paid retail.  It’s important to note that I pay retail for very few books- most books I purchase come used from thrift stores or amazon.com.

All that being said, I had no intentions to blog about the book or all of this, until I read a passage in it tonight.  So now I’ll blog about that passage in the next post.  Click on the Devotions from Darwin category link for all posts under this topic.

Posted in christianity, Culture, Devotions from Darwin, literature | 5 Comments »

God; direct & indirect causes; & the death of Saul, king of Israel

Posted by Chris on July 15, 2009

excerpts from 1 Chronicles 10

v2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons…

v3 The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers.

v4… Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.

v13a So Saul died for his breach of faith… he did not keep the command of the Lord…

v13b-14 [And also Saul] consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord.

v14b Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David.

3 human events led to Saul’s death. A battle with the Philistines turned against and his foes began to defeat his army. Saul did not escape, being struck by an arrow. Lastly, as he was dying, he hastened his death by killing himself (rather than dying directly from the blow of his enemy).

Yet, the text tells us that Saul’s death was a sentence. Not the natural results of losing a battle, not random, not chance. And not a sentence from the direct agent of his death, but a sentence from the Lord. It was against the Lord that he had sinned, not keeping his commands & seeking guidance elsewhere.

[This was not the intention. Saul was the first human king of Israel. In a sense, he replaced God, who had been their king and Lord. At the very least, he was an steward of that throne. The Lord had ruled and guided the Israelites according to his Law, created for their good, and consulted his will, the only omniscient sovereign source of guidance.

Saul should’ve picked up where God left off. He had no sovereign, all-knowing will. He obviously was far short when it come to moral purity and upright character, attempting many times to murder his servant David. But he threw off the light burden of his Lord, accepted the heavy yoke of depending on himself, and brought the Israelites into corruption and servitude. This was the source of his guilt.]

How do we reconcile the last bold statement with the first 3? Archers shot him, he falls on his sword, God puts him to death? They can’t all be literally true. The Lord rules the earth through direct and indirect causes. This the case here.

Take this truth and hope in and fear it. He’s in control, but he also allowed it to happen (and we all have many it’s).

John Piper writes in his book Spectacular Sins,

By ordain I mean that God either caused something directly or permitted it for wise purposes. This permitting is a kind of indirect causing, since God knows all the factors involved and what effects they will have and he could prevent any outcome. So his permission is a kind of secondary causing, but not a direct causing.

Posted in christianity | Leave a Comment »

The credit card thief apprehended…

Posted by Chris on March 8, 2009

This is a continuation of this story/post.

It was a woman that I knew.  At least, I had met her several times and spoken with her briefly.  Originally, she was the wife of a friend of a friend.  So there were several degrees of separation and besides helping she and her husband out a few times (putting them up in a motel for a friend who reimbursed me, buying them some food), I barely interacted with her and had not spoken with her for several months.

I ID’d the photo and the detective said he already had leads and ended up arresting her that day.  A few days later I called and she was no longer in jail.

A few disconcerting things I’ve learned since then: she is very familiar with other social service providers/folks in the community.  And her reputation is not a good one and several people I spoke to knew she was in jail and were not surprised to hear what had happened.  It is likely that they played my friend and played him big time.  What do you do with that?  How do you keep that from creating bitterness, either towards them or towards others who lead transient lifestyles?  I wanted to protect my friend from that knowledge, but unfortunately he was dragged into it because she dropped his name to the police and he received a call.  So now he knows, or can at least presume, at the deception.

There were a few other ways that she and her husband betrayed the trust given them and exhibited poor stewardship in the investment others made in them with time and money (and probably love/emotions, though that’s harder to measure and is just as much about the person giving as the person receiving).   I won’t go into any details.

I saw her husband recently while he and I were in the same room– me doing tax prep volunteering, he one of the clients  that day.  It was awkward.  I don’t know if that was my perception/expectation and he was just having a bad day, or if there was real tension.  If he wasn’t a part of it, I will assume he at least knew by this point what had happened and would expect he knew that she was using my credit card, though he could have believed it was with my permission.  (her story to the police was that it was my card #, given to her by one of my friends who had asked if I was willing to help them out).

So what do I do with that relationship, if that’s what you can call it?  I have no negative feelings towards her husband, but am I adding a burden or possibly entering into a conflict by trying to reach out to him in some way?  Or in just talking to him if I see him at the library?  I don’t know.

I have not heard from the police again, though I did receive a copy of the charges and a victim packet from the State’s Attorney’s office.  I returned that and haven’t heard from them either.  I will plan on this being the end unless something crazy happens.

Anyway, I hope this has provided some clarity about what to do if your credit card info is stolen/used, how the justice system works, and provokes thinking about what to do when we’re a victim.

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Seven Social Processes that Grease the Slippery Slope of Evil

Posted by Chris on March 8, 2009

  • Mindlessly taking the first small step
  • Dehumanization of others
  • De-individuation of self (anonymity)
  • Diffusion of personal responsibility
  • Blind Obedience to Authority
  • Uncritical conformity to group norms
  • Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference

All of this in new or unfamiliar situations.

This was a list created by Philip Zimbardo.  You can view his TED talk here.  It’s about how circumstances determine evil rather than people being set as either good or bad apples.  His primary recent example is the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.  What would drive people we thought were good soldiers to do this?  A combination of things opened the pathway, including superiors who turned a blind eye because they wanted to soften up the detainees for interrogation, being located in an area rarely visited, working the night shift, etc…

It’s not all grim as he also hypothesizes that the “Lucifer Effect” (also the name of a book he’s written) can also be wielded to turn people into heroes, rather than monsters.

If you’ve ever heard of the Stanford Prison experiment (very famous, perhaps infamous, psychology experiment back in the 60s or 70s), this is the guy who created and ran that experiment.  Check out the talk, it’s about 23 minutes in length.

Posted in Culture, links of the day | 1 Comment »

SLED embodied

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

This is part of my Roe-tradictions series.  Read the intro.

SLED is an acronym popularized by a pro-life apologist named Scott Klusendorf. It stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency.  He asserts that these are the only differences between a newborn baby and a fetus and argues therefore that both should have equal moral status.

The following news from 2/7/09 in Florida brings focus to the Environment argument.

Doctor loses license in live birth abortion case CNN.com

A doctor’s license was revoked Friday in the case of a teenager who planned to have an abortion but instead gave birth to a baby she says was killed when clinic staffers put it into a plastic bag and threw it in the trash.

According to Florida law, “A fetus born alive cannot be put to death even if its mother intended to have an abortion.”

If you’ve read my ethics introduction you can see how fun this is for me. First, I detect in myself an intellectually jovial attitude. I want to stop and make sure we acknowledge the tragedy of what happen and not dehumanize and make an example of it. I grieve that this woman went to have an abortion and rejoice that a miracle saved her from going through with such an act. Unfortunately, for all involved, this miracle was unexpected and people panicked. I do not think that the nurses there would ever plan to murder a child nor do I make the claim that abortion clinics in general favor this kind of action. However, justice needs to be done and I hope that Dr. Renelique not only is not granted an appeal for his Dr license but also that people are prosecuted because murder demands justice.

That being said, this touches on several of my ethics principles. First, motives. The Florida Law talks about intentions. They don’t matter once the fetus is born.  Since abortion is legal in this country for any reason and at any time (a combination of Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood), intentions cannot matter before the fetus is born.  

This doesn’t bother me because I’d argue that, since motives matter, the intention to abort a child is wrong in the first place. So, Florida is saying that a fetus (a non-alive thing) that somehow becomes alive must stay alive. Moments before, if it dies, okay. Moments after, if it comes out, save it. This baby was in need of serious medical help. They didn’t burn it with chemicals, or stab it, as they would’ve done in the womb—so it was not an act of commission, but omission that they wish to prosecute.

So the Florida law must mean that the medical professionals are obligated to do everything to keep alive a child born alive, even the product of a botched abortion if the fetus is barely hanging on. Literally, seconds or minutes between the abortion attempt and the delivery and the legality changes! This leads into another of my principles, human rights contradictions. The issue of time there is one of them.

To come back to SLED, what the Florida Law is likely responding to is an environmental change.  We turn a blind eye to what happens in the womb, which is considered a right to privacy issue because it is the women’s body (and under current law and public opinion, justifiably so). But we are also people that are moved by imagery, and the thought and idea of a delivered baby being abandoned makes us all cringe on the inside. Girls at proms abandon babies in the bathroom and become national news. Moms drown their kids in a lake and blame a black car thief and the story is national news for months. We are sensitive to this.

All I’m saying is, to be consistent, we should be concerned about both. In this specific situation, either this doctor and his office should be excused for disposing of the live baby or they should be criminals for what they were attempting to do in aborting the kid.

*The response of the philosopher is the most consistent from a pro-abortion rights perspective. They might say that we can commit infanticide until the age of 2 or so, when the baby obtains moral consciousness. For more info, read Peter Singer, a philosopher and animal rights activist that has led this intellectual movement.

**For a more biased account of this tragedy, read this article at Town Hall. It has a much funnier and crass way of saying what I said: In abortion doctrine, when a “tumor of the womb” passes through the birth canal into the open air, it suddenly becomes a living child. This Miracle of Transpostvagination is a great mystery…

***The day after I posted this a friend sent me a link to another CNN news story. In an effort to be as intellectually honest as possible and to consider all angles, I’d like to link to and quote it.  This article gives more of a defense of the abortion clinic, including the following information from an unnamed “expert”: ” ‘the standard of care for a premature infant delivered at less than 23 weeks is not to attempt resuscitation,’ so even if the baby had been born at a hospital, no measures would have been undertaken to save it, according to the affidavit.”

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A new word I bring the masses: “Roe-tradictions”

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

Please see my introduction to my ethics post.  There I explain my main ethical principles I use to help me discern between black, white, grey, right, wrong, freedom, obligation, etc… I don’t have a philosophy spelled out but I list 5 principles that are kind of like 5 prisms through which I view an ethical quandary.

Within ethics, I am particularly interested in human (legal) rights (to make a distinction between that and “doing” social justice, in which of course I am strongly in favor) and bioethics.  And if you can combine the two of them at the same time– well you will have my attention.

Over the past few years, I have kept track of some news articles related to pro-life issues that either show anectodal proof of exceptions to common sense (persistent vegetative state people who wake up or extreme premie babies that survive abortion attempts) or provide some of these human rights/legal contradictions that I discussed under point 2 in my ethics introduction.

A recent incident in Florida inspired me to find those articles again and meditate on the different issues and motives at play and expose some of the contradictions inherent in American abortion rights discourses.  I will write about it in my next post.

I am going to start compiling and commenting on them in a “Legal and human rights contradictions surrounding pro-life issues in America” ethics series. Or, American abortion rights contradictions for semi-short.  In a word? “Roe-tradictions.”

Posted in ethics, Roe-tradictions | 1 Comment »

Introduction to my ethics

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

I have a lot of interest in ethics. I’ve got my own brand of ethics I guess you could say, and rather than try and explain it on a theoretical level, it would be easier to just do application. I have some favorite principles that I’ll briefly list and discuss.

1) Human rights discourses and contradictions. One of my favorite classes in college was Anthropology of Human Rights. Among other things, we looked at lists and beliefs in human rights and how they were often mutually exclusive. For example (I wrote my research paper on this) the United Nations supports full abortion rights yet comes down strongly against female feticide, aka targeted abortion of female fetuses. The UN, in its various human rights discourses, contradicts itself.

2) If at all possible, be libertarian. I prefer less laws, not more laws. I am (this is a generality) for legislating morality when it directly harms the object receiving the action (drunk driving, murder) but okay with allowing things, even if I think they’re immoral, if it only has an indirect effect (adultery, the argument for the legalization of drugs).

3) I’m a Christian. This impacts my moral beliefs. It impacts my goals of ethics and when and which exceptions I make to the above rules. Also, it adds a factor foreign to secular ethics’ discussions: the value of God’s character and sovereignty. Therefore an act can be unethical merely because it harms God, even if (for the sake of argument) it harms no one else.

I only expect or care to discuss the character of God and the significance to ethics with other Christians who affirm the same thing. I do not expect others with different preconditions to care about this line of reasoning, in fact, they should not be persuaded in this manner.

However, believers and non should understand that my Christian faith is the back drop for the final two principles, motives and conscience.

4) Motives matter. Ex a) if someone is drowning and you try to save them and they die, good. If someone is drowning and you don’t want to risk your own life and do nothing, bad. Same outcome, different motives, different ethical conclusion.

5) Conscience. We should follow it. This should be the final word, but it’s not because we are imperfect, sinful people. Many people have followed their convictions into doing very bad things. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So it’s not infallible, but in situations in which the right thing to do is not clear, it is a guide. Furthermore, it can be the determining factor of what is and is not ethical. If your conscience says go ahead, you should, and if it says to stop, stop.

Finally, the application is to find consistency. That’s the goal. It’s very impractical to have to think through every single ethical quandary. So you want to find principles and then apply them consistently. An example would be the Hippocratic Oath’s “Do no harm.” That lets you know (if you decide Do No Harm is a principle you assert) that murder is wrong, defending yourself with a weapon is wrong, etc…

I often argue my point by finding inconsistencies in another event or person’s position or circumstance.

Posted in about me, ethics, human rights | 2 Comments »

The credit card thief identified… pt1

Posted by Chris on February 4, 2009

This is a continuation of this story/post.  I really didn’t expect to hear anything else on this credit card case from the police, unless it was way later.  But i’ve been called two more times by police officers.  The first was by the same cop who had followed up the first time, gathering information because they were going to try to look at surveillance video.  I ended up providing names of homeless people I know especially those that I’ve put up in a hotel with my credit card.

The second call was today.  It was someone new, saying the case was transferred to his department (investigations maybe?).  They know who it was!  He gave me a name.  It might mean something to me.  He’s coming by my work tomorrow to show me a picture from the ID that they showed once.  So… I will leave this off here with some suspense.

This person has several warrants therefore nothing would happen until they found her (I presume they do not know her exact whereabouts for that reason, in other words).  So, either way, they will be looking for her.  My experience knowing a couple of people with warrants here is that it can be some time… on minor charges, there’s not these movie-like “APB’s for Mr. X who fits this description”.  The cops, at least some of them, know these people by name, have known them for some time.  And they don’t walk around with a mental list of who’s got warrants, so you’ve got to either have that info in mind, or be given a reason to be suspicious to look them up… and that’s after coming across the person.

Anyway, he implied that I would be making a decision whether or not to press charges.  I didn’t anticipate that.  I figured that they stole from Chase Bank, not me– I guess they stole my identity?!  This is a FELONY he said– scary.  Maybe that’s for the identity theft part of it?

What will I do if that’s the case?  Will it matter if I know the person?  Does it matter to me that it’s a woman?  (Hint: I might be slightly less likely to press charges against a woman– sorry ladies who want equal treatment– I still think you should get equal pay for equal work!  But call me a sexist if you want to).

I’m glad he’s showing me the picture tomorrow.  I don’t know that having a lot of time to think about it before seeing it would really help.

Other observations:

  • I’m really impressed with the Police Dept.  They didn’t give up quickly, but then the case didn’t die out.
  • It’s got a “cool vibe” to it.  Admittedly, that’s probably the voyeur/desire to live vicariously in me.  Too much watching TV over the years and developing unrealistic ideas of suspense and excitement.
  • I really want to mourn for the people doing this.  And if I press charges, it’s not out of malice.  Hate the crime, love the criminal.  Especially those who, even though they could go about it a million different ways, were committing a crime for which part of the motivation was a warm bed on a cold night.

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Ramblings on the swearing-in of President Obama

Posted by Chris on January 21, 2009

Today (his first day in office) he passed a series of orders that (so cnn.com says) mandate high ethical standards and transparency for his officials/appointments. It would be about time. I think he means it; not sure if it will happen. And I think it’s dangerous because to me, transparency is transparency. No secret wars, no propping up of dictators, no operating through proxies, no paying private military companies or paid foreign soldiers. Not only a lack of motives, but to me it means the presence of explanations—why we do something, of the factors involved in a decision, honest evaluation of decisions (and admitting mistakes). Thanks for setting the bar high, President Obama—but now I’m going to hold you to it.

The other things people are looking for him to do worry me or at least cause some hesitation. He seems poised to prepare a 16 month-ish withdrawal plan from Iraq—I’m glad he’s doing what he promised; I’m unsure of what the best thing to do is. Revoking the “Mexico City policy” aka the “Global gag rule.” (Google it). While I’m pro-life, I’m also pragmatic and democratic—the election of Obama is certainly an indicator of what a majority of Americans would think about this. This policy doesn’t directly impact lives, like abortion laws in the US, some I hesitate to protest based purely on moral reasons. It’s all about goals—and it’s pretty clear that it’s the goal of most of the wealthy, western world to have less people in the poor parts of the world. There are certainly understandable reasons for this (wanting to limit the effects of poverty, disease, etc…). I don’t share that goal, for both pragmatic and moral reasons, but primarily theological reasons that I don’t expect others to agree with and do not think should impact legislation/administration—the idea of the sovereignty of God; trusting it; and knowing that it’s good.

I’m certainly not excited. That’s probably got more to do with my personality than my thoughts on Mr. Obama. I wouldn’t be excited if Mr. McCain were stepping into the office either. Either way, I was going to have a heavy heart (and that’s why, ultimately, I abstained from voting for president). I’d call my state of mind “dubiously hopeful.”

I don’t expect my life to be changed much by any of this. I realized during this election season that my local officials probably had much more to do with my quality of life—I don’t discount the importance of national elections, but it elevated for me the importance of making educated decisions about local and county elections. I do think my life may be adversely affected in a way I cannot easily perceive—the amount of debt we will ring up under Obama’s economic plan (I’m sure this would have happened some under McCain as well). It is our debt. It will be paid with my taxes, or cuts in my Mom’s social security, or cause us to have a less desirable relationship with our national creditors (i.e. China) during the course of my adult life.

In the words of Derek Webb in his song “King and a Kingdom”

My first allegiance is not to a man, a country or a flag; my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a king and a kingdom.

Some of the enthusiasm on the parts of many Americans is really weird to me, sometimes downright frightening. It made me very uncomfortable to hear “O-BA-MA” chants. Maybe I should look at sporting events and fans in the same cynical light, however, this seems far too significant and sober and real for this kind of exultation. Because I worry that it is intentionally much more than exultation; exaltation. He is just a man.

Of course, I am pleased that we have a black president. This is truly historic. Admittedly, I haven’t thought about it much lately. The economy and other things seem to provide opportunities for our president to make much more significant things happen, besides just being the first of a demographic category. Which is kind of cool.

I don’t get the religious/spiritual stuff that has gone on around this inauguration. Many were up-in-arms about Rick Warren’s invitation to pray (“How dare Rick Warren believe what he believe!). Atheists sued to remove the language of God. Mr. Obama had several people pray and went to a prayer service the next morning. I have not heard any liberals say or write negative things about Mr. Obama. Why is none of the anti-christian and anti-religion talk directed at him? Because he ascribes to a watered-down (my words), universalized (his words) version of the faith? He still affirmed that Jesus died for his sins, the thought which one British theologian dismissed as “cosmic child abuse” and the theological tenet that offends many and has offended many for 2000 years. In some ways, he’s what I always hoped for: a Christian who could affirm something like that and everyone love him because of all the other fruits of his life! But I really can’t believe that is the case. What’s the deal? Mr. Obama invited Rick Warren. He schmoozed with him at his church. He quoted scripture, invoked God, and cheered other invocations of God.

I want to develop a habit of praying for this man/administration/government. Not because of something inherent about him, but, it’s like important and stuff. I doubt I’m going to pray as fervently or want to prioritize like some I knew growing up (for whom praying for our “presidents and leaders” was near the top of the list) but at this time it’s needed. While I disagree with him strongly on some issues, I do believe that he is concerned with what works and overall is someone with a somewhat similar moral compass. I believe he’s open-minded thus I feel that praying that God would grant him discernment and wisdom and the proper understanding on certain issues is actually something he’s humble and flexible enough to submit to.

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