Category Archives: Ethics

Grudem’s Christian Ethics and Other Themeliana

My review of Wayne Grudem’s Christian Ethics appears in the latest issue of Themelios. (In case you’re left wondering: yes, I actually used a set of scales.)

The April 2019 issue is quite a treat. Some highlights:

Something for everyone!

The Soft Bigotry of Leftist Exclusions

A splendid article by Nigel Biggar on Cambridge University’s shoddy treatment of Jordan Peterson. Drawing lessons from the Peterson incident and his own experience at the hands of intolerant progressive academics, Biggar argues that the Cambridge administration is guilty of rank hypocrisy.

Excerpt:

When one puts Cambridge University’s serial inaction in the case of Dr Gopal alongside its precipitate action in the case of Professor Peterson, what is revealed is this: the University does in fact discriminate on the unjustifiable grounds of race, gender, and above all morals and politics. If you’re non-white, female, and aggressively ‘woke’, then you’ll be accorded maximal benefit of doubt, given a pass on official norms of civility, let free to spit hatred and contempt on social media, and permitted (probably) to malform and intimidate students. However, if you’re white, male, culturally conservative, and given to expressing reasoned doubt about prevailing mores, you’ll be given no benefit of doubt at all. And, should you do so much as appear to transgress ill-conceived norms of inclusiveness, you’ll be summarily and rudely excluded.

The implications are grim. Students or academics who are thinking of applying to Cambridge for a place on a course, a teaching or research post, or just a visiting fellowship, should either scrub their records clean of anything that might appear transgressive of the reigning orthodoxy, or turn elsewhere. And if they do get to be included, then they should take care to suppress their doubts, bite their critical tongues, and go into Inner Exile.

Read the whole thing.

Sad to see that great British institution heading the way of Trescott University.

Kneel Before Ze/Zir

Kneel Before Zod

For context, see this earlier post.

A report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

WEST POINT — A Virginia high school teacher was fired Thursday for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns, a case believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

After a four-hour hearing, the West Point School Board voted 5-0 to terminate Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School who resisted administrators’ orders to use male pronouns to refer to a ninth-grade student who had undergone a gender transition. The board met in closed session for nearly an hour before the vote.

[…]

Vlaming, 47, who had taught at the school for almost seven years after spending more than a decade in France, told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female.

The teacher took the approach I recommended here, but it wasn’t enough:

Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new, male name. But he tried to avoid using any pronouns — he or him, and she or her — when referring to the student. The student said that made him feel uncomfortable and singled out.

I imagine Mr. Vlaming now feels uncomfortable and singled out, but apparently that’s a price worth paying.

More:

“I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening,” said West Point High Principal Jonathan Hochman, who testified that he told Vlaming to use male pronouns in accordance with the student’s wishes.

Really? The principal of the school can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than not using the child’s preferred pronouns? Frankly, these are not the words of someone who is anchored to reality.

More:

To highlight the pitfalls of strict rules against “misgendering,” Vlaming and his lawyer pointed out that Hochman used the wrong pronoun for the student during his testimony.

As Hochman described his conversation with Vlaming after the incident on Halloween, Hochman said he told Vlaming: “You need to say sorry for that. And refer to her by the male pronoun.

Oops! I guess we’re all tiptoeing through the minefield now.

You can be sure that we’ll being seeing more and more of these cases in the days to come. But transgender activists are doing themselves no favors here. You can’t win people over by bulling them, and eventually reality will bite back.

When Progressive Ideologies Collide

Can a man have an abortion?

I imagine most of my readers will think that question has a very obvious answer, so obvious that the question is merely rhetorical. Even so, it may turn out to be the rock upon which progressivism dashes itself to pieces. Indeed, it could become as troublesome for progressives as the question “Is the pope Catholic?” has now become for Roman Catholics.

Planned Parenthood CampaignersThe central plank of the present-day defense of abortion is that it’s simply a matter of women’s rights. Such is the feminist argument: women should have the same rights and privileges as men when it comes to medical treatments and control over their own bodies. As a representative example, consider this recent opinion piece by Moira Donegan from the US edition of The Guardian. Excerpts, with my emphasis added:

Abortion rights did not fare well in the midterm elections. Alabama voters approved a measure that will grant full legal personhood to fertilized eggs, a move that will massively restrict the rights of pregnant and fertile women and ban all abortions in the state after the fall of Roe v Wade.

Women’s rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and Naral threw their weight behind the effort during the midterm election cycle, choosing candidates committed to ending Hyde for their coveted endorsements.

The argument [for keeping the Hyde amendment] conveniently ignores, too, that women who seek abortions are taxpayers themselves, and the Hyde amendment imposes on them an unequal protection from the state. Since there is no male medical procedure that is banned from federal funding the way that abortion is, men who use Medicaid receive a full range of coverage; women do not. They pay just as much in taxes as their male counterparts, but they do not receive equal benefits.

The argument is simple, even if perverse: the Hyde amendment unjustly discriminates against women because it prevents them from having the same degree of access to tax-funded medical procedures as men. Men receive “a full range of coverage,” but because federal funding for abortions is prohibited, women do not receive “a full range of coverage.”

But note the assumption: only women need abortions. After all, abortion is not a “male medical procedure.”

Is that true? Not if you accept transgenderism, for on that view one’s biological sex is not determinative of one’s gender identity. The fact that you have a uterus and the capacity to bear children doesn’t entail that you are a woman. Consider, for example, this recent story about a “pregnant Kiwi dad-to-be.” (Just do a web search for “pregnant man” — if you dare — for numerous other examples.)

Although the opinion piece above describes Planned Parenthood as a “women’s rights group,” apparently some branches of PP are more ‘woke’ than others:

Some Men Have a Uterus

Think this through. If some men have a uterus, then some men can become pregnant and bear children, in which case some men can have abortions. And if that’s the case — if the core claims of transgenderism are embraced — then abortion can’t be matter of women’s rights after all. Put in the language of the truly woke: the claim that abortion is about women’s rights is cisnormative and thus implicitly transphobic.

One cannot consistently make the feminist argument that abortion rights are fundamentally women’s rights while also conceding the transgender argument that a person’s physiology doesn’t determine whether that person is a man or a woman.

Feminism versus Transgenderism. Who will win?

Hard to say, but it’s going to be a fascinating battle for the rest of us to watch.

Postscript: The fight is turning physical.

You Will Be Made to Lie

A while back I addressed the question of how to deal with people who claim to be transgender and ask us to use different names and pronouns to refer to them. Whether my proposal was a reasonable one or not, I was assuming at least that we have some freedom to choose between different approaches. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury:

CINCINNATI – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Shawnee State University officials Monday on behalf of a professor that the university punished because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns (“Miss,” “she,” etc.).

Although philosophy professor Dr. Nicholas Meriwether offered to use the student’s first or last name instead, neither the student nor the university was willing to accept that compromise, choosing instead to force the professor to speak and act contrary to his own Christian convictions.

Read the whole thing.

I believe it was Erick Erickson who, in response to growing secular illiberalism, coined the line, “You will be made to care.” Well, it’s worse than that for some folk now. When it comes to sexuality and gender, you will be made to lie.

Do We Need God to be Good?

This exchange between Christian apologist Andy Bannister and atheist ethicist Peter Singer is worth your time (especially if you watch at 1.25 speed):

A few comments on why it’s a useful discussion:

1. Singer is representative of the modern secular intellectual. Sure, he advocates some highly controversial ethical positions, but his general outlook isn’t fringe. In a sense, he’s only controversial because he’s willing to say openly what he takes to be the logical implications of his worldview. Singer takes for granted the standard naturalistic evolutionary account of human origins. His approach to ethics is a modern, sophisticated version of utilitarianism. He doesn’t have a religious bone in his body, so it would seem, and he doesn’t think there’s the slightest reason to believe in God. I got the impression he could barely conceal his incredulity at Bannister’s views. I suspect he rarely interacts with orthodox Christian intellectuals.

2. Singer trots out the old Euthyphro problem as if it deals a swift death-blow to any divine command theory of ethics, but there’s no evidence that he’s familiar with (or even interested in) the standard responses that have been offered by Christian philosophers. He also thinks the problem of suffering is devastating to any theistic worldview; he can’t begin to understand why an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator would allow the amount and intensity of suffering we find in the world. (Note how much he rests on assumptions about what God would or wouldn’t do. Atheists just can’t help theologizing!) All of this is fairly typical of 21st-century atheist intellectuals: smart and articulate, yet superficial and uninformed in their criticisms of Christian theism.

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Credible Testimony

This is a follow-up of sorts to my earlier post.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week, I encountered many comments to the effect that either Ford or Kavanaugh gave a “credible testimony.” (Some claimed that both did.) Consider these two statements:

(1) It’s credible that S is telling the truth.

(2) It’s credible that S is not lying.

It seems to me that many commentators on this depressing debacle are failing to properly distinguish (1) and (2). When they say that so-and-so’s testimony was credible, it’s hard to tell whether they mean (1) or (2). Perhaps they think (1) and (2) are equivalent. But as I pointed out earlier, that’s not the case. It’s possible to speak falsely without lying. What (2) is really equivalent to is:

(1′) It’s credible that S believes he/she is telling the truth.

But of course, (1′) doesn’t entail (1). Furthermore, the evidential burden of (1) can be considerably higher than that of (1′). It doesn’t take much to justifiably conclude that someone believes what they’re saying is true; it often takes a lot more to justifiably conclude that what they’re saying is actually true.

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A Quick Note on the Kavanaugh Accusation

Liar Liar“Either he’s lying or she is.”

I’ve come across some version of this statement in several online articles this past week. It seems to be a common point of view among those who withhold judgment (for now) on whose story is correct. But it’s a false dichotomy as it stands.

If two people are making conflicting claims, it doesn’t follow that one of them is lying. It follows only that (at least) one of them is making a false claim. It’s entirely possible to make a false claim without lying. In fact, most of us do it unwittingly on a daily basis. For example, a person can be sincerely mistaken: they claim p because they believe p, even though it turns out that p is false. (There’s also the separate question of whether their mistake is a morally culpable one; a person can be sincerely mistaken yet still guilty of some kind of intellectual negligence.)

Unfortunately it has become commonplace today in public discourse to conflate lying and speaking falsely, especially in politics. Politician A makes a claim which turns out to be false; A is then immediately branded a ‘liar’ by Politician B and all his followers. Well, perhaps A did lie, but the fact that he spoke falsely doesn’t prove it. You have to show that A knowingly spoke falsely or intended to deceive.

I remember during the Iraq War the chant of the “Stop the War” protesters: “Blair lied, people died!” Catchy, but fallacious. It does appear now that the Blair government published and acted on the basis of intelligence claims that turned out to be erroneous, but of course it doesn’t follow for a moment that the Prime Minister lied. That’s a much harder charge to establish.

Either Kavanaugh or his accuser is making some false claims. That’s a logical truism. But it’s a leap to conclude that one of them has to be lying. That’s a far trickier claim to establish. There’s a burden of proof to discharge. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that whoever is making the false claims is more likely to be sincerely mistaken than lying — I don’t know nearly enough about the situation to draw that conclusion — but I do think a principle of charity needs to be applied, all else being equal. If you can explain the facts without having to impute evil intentions to someone, you should do so. That’s simply an application of the Golden Rule. (Of course, if you have positive evidence that someone is lying that’s another matter. I’d say that remains to be seen in this case.)

What Is Normal? What Is Natural?

Is homosexuality normal?

Is polyamory normal?

Is transgenderism normal?

Is left-handedness normal?

Is belief in God normal?

Is death normal?

Picture of a NormHow one answers such questions will hang on how one understands the term normal. The word ‘normal’ is etymologically related to ‘norm’ and ‘normative’. A norm is a standard or rule by which something is evaluated, by which it is judged to be good or bad, right or wrong. Thus the primary meaning of normal has to do with conformance to some norm. The claim that X is normal presupposes that there are norms for X (or for whatever kind of thing X is) and X conforms to those norms. The antonym of normal is abnormal, which implies some fault or failure to meet a standard: a deviation from the norm.

Accordingly the term normal, used in this primary sense, has a normative aspect to it; it involves some kind of evaluation or value judgment. A simple example of this usage would be if someone were to say, “It’s not normal to have three ears.” Evidently the speaker is taking for granted that there’s a proper form for human anatomy and having three ears is a deviation from that norm. Put simply, human beings shouldn’t have three ears.

There is a secondary sense of the term, however, which needs to be distinguished from the first. Normal can also be used to mean usual or typical. Understood that way, it merely reflects a statistical generalization and therefore doesn’t imply any value judgment. For example, if I were to say, “A high of 70 degrees is normal for Charlotte in April,” I’m only making a claim about the average temperature (or something along those lines). There’s no right or wrong about that temperature. It’s just a statistical fact for that geographical location. My statement was merely descriptive rather than normative or evaluative.

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Moral Values and Christian Apologetics

The topic of moral values comes up often in Christian apologetics. For example, Christians will argue that atheists cannot account for moral values or that the moral relativism associated with postmodernism is somehow self-defeating. I’ve noticed that in such discussions there’s often confusion (usually on the part of the non-Christian, but not always) about what we mean when we speak of ‘moral values’. Indeed, the term is often used equivocally, without recognizing that there are at least two meaningful ways in which we can talk about ‘moral values’. My purpose in this post is to explicitly distinguish these two senses and illustrate why it’s so important to keep the distinction clear in apologetic discussions.

There are different ways of drawing the distinction, but here I propose simply to distinguish between Subjective Moral Values (SMVs) and Objective Moral Values (OMVs). Subjective Moral Values are moral values subjectively held by an individual person. For example, we might say that Ben has different moral values than Lisa, if Ben holds to Christian sexual ethics while Lisa does not. Thus Ben values (in a moral sense) certain sexual behaviors differently than Lisa. He makes different moral value judgments about premarital sex, polyamory, etc. Clearly there’s a relativity to this kind of moral value: SMVs are relative to subjects (i.e., the subjects who engage in moral valuation) and thus can vary from person to person.

Now contrast SMVs with OMVs. Objective Moral Values are non-subjective moral norms, i.e., moral norms that are independent of subjective factors (beliefs, convictions, preferences, feelings, etc.). OMVs are moral norms that hold regardless of whether anyone knows, believes, or recognizes them as such. People may disagree about what the OMVs actually are, but the vast majority of people take for granted (at least in practice) that there are OMVs. I think most people would recognize parental care for infants as an objective moral norm. Parents ought to care for their infant children. Even if every human being became infected with a virus which caused a kind of moral insanity, such that everyone became convinced that parents ought to neglect and abuse their children, it would still be objectively the case that parents ought to care for their children. Such a virus would disrupt our SMVs, but OMVs would be unchanged. Indeed, OMVs couldn’t be affected by a mind-altering virus, precisely because OMVs are by nature non-subjective; they’re independent of subjective mental states.

So why is the distinction between SMVs and OMVs important in Christian apologetics? Let me give two illustrations.

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