Category Archives: Ethics

Philosophy and The Edge of Tomorrow

The Edge of TomorrowI just saw the latest Cruise blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s my kind of movie: sci-fi alien-blasting action with a smart plot that delivers satisfyingly on an intriguing premise. (Plus, I just enjoy Tom Cruise movies. Is that so wrong?)

If you liked Minority Report, Inception, and Looper, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick out of this movie. But what I want to write about here are some of the interesting philosophical issues raised by the movie. It seems to me that the storyline makes at least five substantive (and often disputed) philosophical assumptions.

SPOILER ALERT: Some plot details are revealed in what follows. If you plan to see the movie but haven’t yet, don’t read any further! (But do come back later.)

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Where Are the Muslim Doctors and Nurses?

For a couple of years now, I’ve taught a course entitled Christian Encounter with Islam. One of the major themes of the course, as you might expect, is the contrast between the Christian worldview and its distinctive view of God, and the Islamic worldview and its distinctive view of God. In light of that contrast I was particularly struck by the following section (pp. 220-22) from the recently published book Dispatches From the Front, a missions travelogue by Tim Keesee. (Pay close attention to the third paragraph.) Continue reading

Company Sued Over ‘Homophobic’ Catalog

An electronic component supplier is being sued over allegedly homophobic terminology in its product catalog. Daniel Everett, a resident of Burlington, Massachusetts, is seeking nearly $100,000 in damages from Portland-based Posnex Components for emotional distress he claims was caused by images and descriptions in the company’s Spring 2014 catalog.

Everett, an interior designer who recently married his long-term partner Kevin, first became aware of the offensive material while visiting a relative who is a DIY electronics enthusiast. “I sat down at his kitchen table and there was a Posnex catalog lying open at the section for audio and video connectors,” he explained. “As I glanced down the page, the terminology of ‘male’ and ‘female’ caught my attention. But as I looked more closely at the photos and the product descriptions, I became appalled at what I saw.”

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In Defence of War

[The following review is forthcoming in the Expository Times. It is reproduced here with permission.]

Nigel Biggar, In Defence of War, Oxford University Press, 2013. £25/$55. viii + 361 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-967261-5

In Defence of WarIn Defence of War is an excellent book with a somewhat misleading title. It isn’t a defence of war per se, but rather a defence of just war theory in the Augustinian Christian tradition and, by way of application, of three relatively recent military engagements involving Western nations. As Biggar explains in his introduction, one of his major targets is “the virus of wishful thinking”: the idea that there always must be a course of action better than military conflict. Justice entails that war is sometimes not only justifiable but necessary.

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Just a Little Persecution

Intolerance Will Not Be ToleratedPredictably, there has been much comment from Christians about the Phil Robertson controversy, and (just as predictably) quite a diversity of viewpoints expressed. I concur with Mike Kruger’s commentary. But I also want to comment on a particular kind of response to the controversy, which goes something like this:

C’mon, guys! Compared to the kind of persecution Christians suffer in other countries, this is small potatoes. Christians in the US need to get a sense of perspective and move on. This really isn’t a big deal.

Here are four reasons why I think this sort of response is quite misguided.

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Pomo Marriage Revisited

A spike in my otherwise flatlined traffic alerts me to the fact that Bill Vallicella has breathed some new life into an old post of mine which connects the same-sex marriage debate with postmodernist anti-realism. Check out Bill’s commentary and then consider the following:

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Not So Pro-Choice

I learned this morning that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, not content with regulating the size of people’s soft drinks, now wants to limit access to baby formula in hospitals. As a “pro-choice” liberal Bloomberg is eager to protect a woman’s choice to have her child killed in the womb, but apparently he’s not so eager to protect her choices about what to feed that child if she opts to keep him or her.

According to reports, new mothers in NYC hospitals will be lectured about the negative consequences of using formula instead of breast milk. But don’t expect to find new mothers-to-be being lectured about the negative consequences of abortion.

Will the Real Haters Please Stand Up?

Opponents of same-sex marriage (a.k.a. defenders of real marriage) are routinely characterized as hateful. But who are the real haters? What does the empirical evidence tell us?

On May 8, residents of North Carolina will have the opportunity to vote on whether the following amendment (“Amendment One”) should be added to the state’s constitution:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.

Not surprisingly, numerous yard signs are on display around Charlotte, where I live: some for the amendment, some against. One house on a busy road between my home and my office has three “Against” signs in its yard, right next to the road. They’ve been there for over a month now and no one has removed them, defaced them, or otherwise interfered with them. Free speech has been honored.

Vote for Marriage SignMeanwhile, a friend of mine put a “For” sign outside his house in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. Within days it had been vandalized with obscenities. A few weeks ago the seminary where I teach placed a single “For” sign on its grounds. Since then our receptionist has received what she described as a series of “ugly” telephone calls. Apparently these aren’t isolated incidents — far from it. They’re just two instances of a pattern of intolerance, intimidation, and flagrant disregard for free speech.

So who are the real haters here? Perhaps Freud’s projection theory has something to it after all.

Addendum: Another despicable example from yesterday’s local news. (This is also close to home: Pastor Kulp is a friend and a graduate of RTS.)

The Sting of Death

Death is the theme of the most recent issue of Philosophy Now. Two of the main articles debate whether it would be a good thing for scientists to overcome death. Nick Bostrom’s “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant” argues with vigor that death isn’t something we should “gracefully accommodate”. Technology to retard the aging process, and perhaps even to halt and reverse it, may well be within the grasp of this generation, and scientists should make it a priority to pursue such technology. We have “compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence.” On the other side, Mary Midgley argues that the promise of endless life is a poisoned chalice: the cost of prolonging our lives would outweigh the benefits.

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“Coveting Is All Everyone Does”

Occasionally sermon illustrations are handed to you on a plate. Here’s a gift for any pastor preaching on the Tenth Commandment:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

From today’s edition of The Telegraph:

With her culinary wizadry, [sic] melt-in-your mouth voice and Rubenesque figure, Nigella Lawson has made a career out of turning heads.

But while many husbands might resent such flirtatious behaviour, Charles Saatchi yesterday revealed his pleasure at his television chef wife’s appeal — declaring “who would want to be married to someone who nobody coveted?”

In extracts from his new book, the outspoken adman turned art collector also described the Ten Commandments as an “overrated lifestyle guide” which only succeed in “making people confused and guilty”.

Mr Saatchi, who has been married three times, insisted that the tenth commandment in particular was “obviously a no-hoper” because “coveting is all everyone does, all the time, every day.”

No kidding. Saatchi makes the right observation, but draws entirely the wrong conclusion. Let the apostle Paul set the record straight:

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7-12)