Friday, September 30, 2005

Moral Theory

Some things are so wrong that even God cannot make them right.

I did not have time to research any specific issue for today’s posting, so I thought I would quickly present a bit of theory.

Goodness and God

Many people – too many – state that we can only know about moral truth through God and whoever does not worship God cannot know the difference between right and wrong.

First, I need to point out the bigotry of this statement. Consider, for example, the difference between Christians and Jews. Some could argue that you can only know moral truth by looking at the teachings of Jesus Christ, and any who ignore his teachings cannot know right and wrong. This leaves all Jews as being immoral. Or, we could say that knowing the difference between good and evil requires understanding the word of the prophet Mohammed, and all who do not know his teachings are immoral.

Branding all atheists as immoral is bigotry – pure and simple. It is the same brand of bigotry that once branded all Jews as contemptible, or promoted violent bigotry between Christians and Muslims for a few centuries.

The theist will say that God is required for a tree to exist – no tree could exist without God. Yet, the atheist has no trouble seeing the tree. He simply denies that it comes from God. A theist will say that the wrongness of rape comes from God – rape could not be wrong without a God saying that it is wrong. Similarly, the atheist who knows that rape is wrong simply denies that this wrongness comes from God.

If God were to say, “I now make rape perfectly moral – go ahead and rape whomever you like,” this would not make rape moral. This would make God evil.

Plato presented this argument forcefully 2,500 years ago through his description of the words of Socrates (based on a historical figure). The argument can be found in his book Euthyphro.

Rape, murder, slavery, infanticide, genocide, the use of biological warfare (plague) to accomplish a political objective (“let my people go”) are all so very much wrong that they cannot be made right even by God. Those who forgive a God who does these things forgives evil. Those who worship a God who does and commands these things worship evil.

In short, there is a moral truth that even God cannot violate if God is good. Even God cannot torture a child for the purse enjoyment of listening to him scream and remain good.

So, if there is a goodness that exists without God – a goodness that even God must obey -- the next quest is to find it.

Desire Utilitarianism

The moral theory that I think holds the most promise in identifying moral truth is ‘desire utilitarianism’. Simply put, desire utilitarianism states that the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment are tools. We use these tools to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires (aversion to killing, a love of the truth, a love of reason, a thirst for knowledge, an aversion to non-consent, a passion for liberty, an unwillingness to do harm).

Our desires are malleable. Like our beliefs, our desires are molded in part by our interaction with others. The institution of morality promotes these good desires (desires to help others) and inhibits bad desires (desires to harm others).

This practice does not need a God. If one wants to say that God created desires and the relationships that exist between them, and the ability to use praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to mold those desires, one may do so; just as one can say that God created trees. However, the desires that exist, the ability to mold them, and the relationships between them exist today. They are not invisible to the person who does not believe in God.

This practice also does not need to postulate intrinsic or absolute values. Within the context of this theory, we will only speak about beliefs, desires, states of affairs, and the relationships between them. There is some debate on the nature, or even the existence, of beliefs and desires. However, until the people working in this field of study actually come up with an alternative, I do not think that anybody can blame us for working with the concepts that make up the most widespread and easily understood theory of the day.

This practice is not compatible with common moral relativism – or, more accurately, agent- or assessor- subjectivism. What each individual feels is right or wrong has no bearing on what is right or wrong in fact. Subjectivism is like a moral test, where everybody gets to grade their own paper. Of course, this means that everybody is going to give themselves a perfect score, because the ‘right answer’ is whatever answer the person taking the test put down. I think that this is what makes these forms of subjectivism so popular – the fact that it allows each person to claim moral perfection. I think this is also what makes subjectivism as a theory so dangerous – the fact that any answer is the right answer as long as the individual believes it is right.

This practice also does not allow for any type of evolutionary explanation for ethics. It is true that evolution has molded our desires. It has given us an aversion to pain, a desire for sex, desires for food and drink, some level of concern for our children and close kin, and even some measure of compassion for strangers. However, desire utilitarianism is only concerned with desires that can be changed through the application of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. If evolution fixes a desire, then morality simply takes that as a non-moral background fact like gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. Eating is not a duty, it is just something that people do.

What this practice would allow is a way for people generally to better fulfill the more and the stronger of their desires, by using praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment, to promote desire-fulfilling desires and inhibit desire-thwarting desires.

Moral Language

While each person is promoting desire-fulfilling desires in others, those others are promoting desire-fulfilling desires in them. This will create a feedback loop, Person A seeks to fulfill his desires by promoting desire-fulfilling desires in B. Person B will do the same to A. However, now Person B is using these tools to fulfill desires that have been molded to become desire-fulfilling desires. These are the desires that he is molding A to fulfill. To the degree that their mutual projects are successful, each will be using the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to fulfill ever-strengthening desire-fulfilling desires, and ever-weakening desire-thwarting desires.

I recognize that there are those who would argue that I am hijacking moral language when I express this view in those terms. I, in turn, accuse those who advocate divine-command theories of ethics, intrinsic value theories, subjectivism, and evolution-based theories of hijacking moral language.

Yet, which of us is hijacking moral language really is not a very interesting question. When I speak against other theories, I do not consider the charge of ‘hijacking moral language’ to be very significant. I have more serious charges to level against them.

God-based and intrinsic-value based theories both make use of entities that do not exist. Subjectivism is an incoherent doctrine that says at the same time that each person is both morally perfect and significantly flawed depending on whose perspective one is using at the moment. Evolutionary claims, like physics and chemistry, are merely descriptions and tell us nothing about what ought or ought not to be done.

When somebody says that they wish to call one of these other things 'morality', I prefer to give a two-part answer; (1) it makes no sense to call that 'morality', and (2) if you feel strongly enough about it, then go ahead -- what you now call 'morality' is one in which all moral claims are false, incoherent, or irrelevant to the question of how best to use the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment.

Another Word about God

Anybody who says that those who believe in God are inherently better than those who do not, or that whose who do not are inherently better than those who do, are exhibiting overt signs of bigotry.

Belief in God isn’t a problem, except when a person thinks that God commands him to harm other people – to blow them up, kill them, destroy their temples, force them into the status of second-class citizens, force them to pay more in taxes or deprive them of equal consideration before the law in terms of both justice and benefits. The people who believe that God commands His followers to harm others are the ones we need to watch out for.

Belief that there is no God isn’t a problem. However, a person who does not believe in God can still believe that he has a right to harm other people – to blow them up, kill them, destroy their temples, force them into the status of second-class citizens, force them to pay more in taxes or deprive them of equal consideration before the law in terms of both justice and benefits. These are people we need to watch out for.

Belief in God, or belief that there is no God, is not the issue. The issue is their ability to live in peace with their neighbors.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Head Start in Religious Bigotry

Discrimination means passing over a well-qualified person in favor of a less-qualified person for a job because the less-qualified candidate has some irrelevant characteristic that grants him special treatment. In this case, the characteristic that qualifies a candidate for special treatment is belief in God.

The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed, and passed on to the Senate, a bill to fund Head Start for $6.8 billion through 2011. In this bill they changed the rules to allow faith-based organizations that receive this money to use religious beliefs as a criterion for hiring.

What's wrong with this?

Effectively, this government policy takes money from citizens without regard for their religious beliefs, but then promotes the economic wellbeing of those with government approved religious beliefs (those who can get jobs) over those without (who cannot get those same jobs).

The government has created $6.8 billion in economic opportunity and power, and a set of rules that says, "Alonzo and those who share his beliefs have no chance are hereby prohibited from having any opportunity at all from obtaining the benefits of these funds purely because they do not believe what we wish them to believe."

Of course, the government has a right to disqualify people from jobs if they are not qualified to fulfill those jobs. It would be foolish of me to argue that people should be given equal consideration when it comes to fulfilling an opening for an appellate court judge. However, the legitimate criterion for excluding people from the job of Judge is that they do not know the law. The criterion that is being used to exclude people from the economic opportunities available through Head Start is my belief that no God exists.

Sorry, that was a bad example. President Bush has also announced that it is his policy not to hire people as judges unless they meet a particular religious test as well. In 2002, he said, ""We need commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. Those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench."

What Bush actually said is, “Hey, you, atheist law student. I do not care how bright you are, what your grades were in college, what your professors said about your character or your understanding of the law, the opinions of your peers on legal matters, your level of respect in the legal community, none of that matters if you do not have government-approved religious beliefs.”

Imagine what the reaction would have been if Bush had said that the judges he appoints must believe that our rights came from Jesus. What you would be imagining is the amount of bigotry that still exists in his original statement.

Discrimination is a moral crime where individuals are judged worthy or unworthy based on criteria that are entirely irrelevant as to whether they can do the job they are being hired for. Discrimination means passing over a well-qualified person in favor of a less-qualified person for a job because the less-qualified candidate has some irrelevant characteristic that grants him special treatment. In this case, the characteristic that qualifies a candidate for special treatment is belief in God.

Government money must not be used to fund a practice of declaring one set of peaceful citizens superior to another based on their religious beliefs.


Head Start is meant to provide benefits to underprivileged and at-risk children. However, it provides another benefit as well. It provides economic opportunity. It provides a chance for adults who are trying to enter or advance in the job market to gather valuable work experience.

This change in the rules grants extra privileges to those who share certain religious beliefs. In making the change, the government says, "If you accept these approved religious beliefs, then we will help you up the economic ladder. We will provide an opportunity for an additional economic boost. However, if you do not share these beliefs, you are on your own. You are banned from participating in some of these opportunities."

The practical effect of all of this is that our government has a policy of imposing a "belief tax" on certain citizens. This “belief tax” is the opportunity for employment and advancement that these citizens would have had if the government had been fair and just in how it spends tax revenue.

The government is setting up offices for economic advancement, and posting a sign on the door that says, "Authorized personnel only beyond this point."

"Authorized personnel" are those with government-approved religious beliefs.

Fighting Injustice

These types of situations always call up a question that I do not fully know how to answer. What do you do if you find yourself in a society that has significant structural injustices and immorality.?

I think of the slave, living in the South in 1800, who realizes that he is being treated unjustly -- that those who hold him in this position are immoral. Yet, what is he to do? He could go up to his owner and say, "What you are doing is wrong. What you are doing is fundamentally immoral. No decent, moral person would do such a thing." However, if he does this, the chances are good that the owner will only whip him for insubordination and tell him to get back to work, or else.

Similarly, I wonder at the effects of what I write here. I have identified a basic, structural evil inherent in the government charging a belief-tax and providing certain belief-subsidies to its citizens. This immorality is combined with another where the society claims to honor the moral doctrine of freedom of belief. These belief-taxes and belief-subsidies show that it is not the case. A free country does not impose extra tax burdens on those who do not share approved beliefs, or distribute the benefits of government expenses based on the beliefs of its citizens. So, the country that claims to be free and just, who imposes these belief taxes and subsidies, is a country of hypocrites.

What is the use of pointing out the moral failings and hypocrisy of people who have deafened themselves to moral truth? I fear that I can expect only to be (verbally) whipped and told to get back to work -- if I can find it (because the government is giving its money to those who have said that I have no hope of finding work with them).

In a moral and just society, a citizen would only need to report an injustice and the society will put itself to work trying to correct it. In a moral and just society, the citizens do not tolerate injustice or those who seek to promote it. In a moral and just society, the citizens would not support a belief tax. In an immoral and unjust society, however, there is no limit to what we might find.

If a person lives in a fundamentally unjust society, then what is to be done?

I can’t think of an answer to this question. The slaves in the 1800s never found an answer to the question, “Then what?” They remained slaves as the injustices committed against them went on from one decade to the next.

Hopefully, we are better than them. Hopefully, we live in a society that has not so far abandoned an interest in fairness and justice that we are forced to seek an answer to the question, “If we are not such a society, then what?”

Hopefully, we still have a society where decent people realize that it is fundamentally wrong for the government to have anything that can be ultimately expressed in terms of a religious belief tax.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

National Debt

Are you the type of person who gets furious when you hear about an adult abusing or neglecting children? Then, the rising national deficit is something that you should be paying attention to.

Let us imagine a pair of new parents.

They bring their child home from the hospital, place it in its room, then begin filling out credit cards in the child's name. They use these credit cards to buy vacations, electronic equipment, seats at their favorite sporting events, and the like. When the child gets to be 18 years old, the parents give the bills to the child.

These are not good, morally responsible parents. These parents have clearly abused their responsibility to care for the child. Instead of providing the child with what he or she needed for a good life, the parents mortgaged that child's life for their own pleasure.

For all practical purposes, they enslaved the child. They took for themselves the fruits of that child's future labors. So, the child will become an adult that will have a job, where a portion of those wages will be taken from him, and handed over to those who lent his parents money.

The National Deficit works much like this. The present generation spends the money, running up a tab that is then handed to the future generation.

If the present generation spends $1 more than it makes, then some future generation is going to have to make $1 (plus interest) more than spends. The future generation cannot spend that money on their own goals and projects. They have to use the money they make to pay for their parent's expenses.

No Taxation without Representation

In politics, whenever it is possible to tax a group who does not have the option to vote those imposing the tax out of office, there is a risk of exploitation. Representatives simply have no incentive other than their own personal values to stop them from taxing those who cannot vote. Those same representatives have every incentive to provide benefits to those who can vote -- effectively purchasing those votes with government pork.

This is precisely the mechanism that drives the national debt. Politicians who raise the debt are effectively raising taxes on those who do not vote -- future generations who cannot get to the polls. They are using the money to purchase the votes of those who can get to the polls -- today's voters. The net effect is a massive wealth-transfer scheme from those who cannot vote to those who can.

The overall effect is that the tax burden goes up on those who cannot vote, as that wealth gets transferred to those who can. Much like the policy of taxing America to benefit England, our country has adopted a policy of taxing the children to benefit the adults.

Repaying Debts

In addition to the basic moral wrong of robbing our own children for our benefit, we must consider the basic obligation to pay debts. On September 24th, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan met with the Finance Minister of France, Thierry Breton. According to Bretin, Greenspan had said, “We’ve lost control of the budget.”

It is not clear exactly what Greenspan meant by this. Yet, it is clearly the case that this is as much a moral failing as it is a failure in economic policy. Our political leaders have an obligation to keep our budget in control. If Greenspan is correct, our political leaders have abdicated on an important moral responsibility.

There is no law of nature that says that American cannot drive itself into economic ruin. There is no law of nature that says that, no matter how much debt we pile onto our children and their children, that they will be able and willing to pay that debt. Immoral acts are immoral precisely because of the destruction they cause to other peoples’ lives. Living beyond our means is immoral precisely because of the disadvantages we force on children who are unable to give informed consent as to whether to accept those burdens.


There are some things for which a deficit makes sense. If a community is building a road, the present community will have to suffer through the costs, while future generations enjoy the benefits. It seems fair to have future generations pay for the road. Therefore, a bond issue or some sort of debt to pay for the road seems appropriate.

When a nation goes to war, this is another case in which a current generation makes a noble sacrifice for which future generations will obtain a benefit. Those future generations cannot share the risks of life and limb that the current generation must endure. They can, however, share a part of the financial burden. It is not unfair to ask them to do so by having them pay back war bonds and other forms of debt.

Also, if professional economists say that a debt is useful to restore a battered economy, I am not going to argue against that professional. If a leader has assigned experts in a subject to give him advice, then he would be negligent in his responsibility if he did not consider the advice of those experts.

All of these cases ultimately follow the same moral principle. Future generations should shoulder some of the burden for things that benefit them.

However, the present generation has a responsibility to determine if future generations will benefit. If the present generation is wrong, then it is the present generation -- not the future generation -- that should pay for the mistake.

The "benefits" that were promised from an attack on Iraq -- to secure weapons of mass destruction and to weaken anti-American terrorists -- have not materialized. Evidence suggests that the current generation has made the lives of future generations of Americans less secure, for which we are also sending them the bill for our service.

In this case, the expenses are hardly justified. The expense mostly took the form of tax cuts for the rich. This means that it actually did go to buying vacations, cars, and other expensive personal equipment. It also went to a war that, it appears, will not provide future generations with any benefit.


This particular wrong is different from many of the others I have spoken of. The other wrongs have victims in the hear and now – victims who are capable of getting angry and taking action to make sure that these wrongs are made right. However, the victims of deficit spending are not able to defend themselves. They’re out on the playgrounds in the nation’s schools or sitting in front of the television watching cartoons. They are trying to get up the nerve to ask Suzie out on a date, or they are not even born yet.

They cannot take care of themselves. They do not know what they need to do to protect their own future, so they count on us to take care of these things for them. They count on us to make sure that they eat well, exercise, do their homework, wash their hands, get inoculated from disease.

In all of this, there should be room somewhere for an obligation not to steal their money – the money they will be making once they grow old enough to get a job. People not willing to live up to this obligation are no better than those parents who inflict abuse and neglect on their children.

Are you the type of person who gets furious when you hear about an adult abusing or neglecting children? Then, the rising national deficit is something that you should be paying attention to.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I Am to Be Eradicated

A person cannot, at the same time, be on a quest for justice, peace, and support for all people, while calling for the eradication of those who do not share his beliefs.

I am to be eradicated.

So are many of the people that I associate with. All of us are to be eradicated.

Actually, the individual calling for our eradication was saying that "anti-religious materialists" should be eradicated. I do not consider myself to be anti-religious. If my neighbor is kind, respectful, willing to help in times of need, and unwilling to inflict harm or injustice, I do not care about his religious beliefs.

Yet, the person calling for my eradication would accuse me of being anti-religious. He includes in this category anybody who believe in Darwinism or materialism. So, I guess I must be anti-religious.

Oddly -- and this is the part that confuses me -- the author describes the eradicators as those with special qualities. The eradicators allegedly have a sincere belief in justice, peace, and support for all people. The agents of our eradication are those who are “conscientious, tolerant, helpful, conciliatory, reasonable, virtuous, peaceful, and fair.”

As I understand these terms, it is difficult to imagine how these could be the primary traits of an army of eradicators. Indeed, the very urge to eradicate others seems to define a person as intolerant, unreasonable, warlike, and unfair.

The Source

I woke up this morning, followed a few links, and ended up on an article called "Islam's acceptance of Judaism and Christianity" written by Harun Yahya, a "prominent Turkish intellectual", in an online periodical called the "Media Monitors Network."

In this article, Yahya is calling for an alliance of all conscientious people defined as "sincere Christians, along with religious Jews and Muslims, who will come together and unite in this common cause." The people he is speaking to are "All Jews, Christians, and Muslims who are sincere, conscientious, tolerant, helpful, conciliatory, reasonable, virtuous, peaceful, and fair."

In the name of peace and fairness, Yahya wishes that these groups should not be fighting each other. They should be uniting against a different enemy.

That enemy is me.

"Muslims are not at one pole and Jews and Christians are not at the opposing pole. In fact, one pole represents people who believe in God's existence and unity, and the other pole represents the unbelievers, who believe in such anti-religious ideologies as materialism and Darwinism."

This is Yahya's idea of religious morality at work. This is Yahya's idea of tolerance, reasonableness, virtue, peace, and fairness. Yahya thinks that the person with these qualities exhibits them by dividing the world into groups of ‘us’ at one pole and ‘them’ at the other -- not on the basis that 'them' are actually hurting anybody, but on the basis that 'them' does not have the same beliefs that ‘us’ do. On this basis alone, the reasonable, peaceful and fair members of ‘us’ are to embark on a campaign of eradication.

In a paradigm example of double-speak, Yahya says that this campaign is grounded on "[T]he sincere believers' quest for justice, peace, and support for all people."

Well, not quite all people. He seems to have forgotten about those he wants to eradicate.

Unless, of course, I am not to a 'people'. It is, after all, the first step in oppression and injustice is to deny that the victims are 'persons' in the moral sense.

My Take on Eradication

Here is my take on the issue.

In the name of peace and tolerance, I am not going to care about the religious views that my neighbor holds. I do not care if he is Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Wikkan, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, Mormon, Undecided, None of the Above, or whatever. I am going to judge him on a different standard -- whether he is a threat to the rest of us, and whether he is willing to help those who are in desperate need.

If his religion does not make him a threat to others, then I have no right to question it. If, in fact, he belongs to a religion that threatens him with damnation if he does not live in peace with and respect his neighbors, I certainly have no grounds for complaint.

However, if he belongs to a religion that says it is a virtue to blow himself up in a crowded bus or shopping mall, taking as many innocent civilians with him as possible; or fly airplanes into civilian buildings, then I object that his religion is not to be tolerated.

If my neighbor wants to build a temple, it would be wrong for me to try to stop him. However, if he comes over to rob my house or loot my bank account to pay for the construction, he has broken the agreement that we live together in peace. I should have the liberty to decide for myself which temple I will contribute to, if any -- and not be forced to make contributions to a temple I do not care to support. If I am being taxed to pay for the construction of somebody else's temple, then our society is not tolerant, conciliatory, peaceful, or fair.

If my neighbor wants to express his own belief in God, it would be wrong for me to stop him, even if he is in a public place. An individual who ends an oath with, "So help me God" expresses his own view and harms nobody else, so it would be wrong of me to complain. However, if my neighbor promotes an oath that denigrates my beliefs -- saying that I am comparable to those who support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice -- he has stepped beyond his rights. He can no longer honestly claim that he has an interest in tolerance, peace, and fairness if he treats his peaceful neighbor this way.

If my neighbor claims that he should do unto others as he would have others do unto him, then he is not doing what he should if he forces his neighbors to pay for his religious symbols and rituals when he would protest being forced to pay for theirs. He is a hypocrite if he demands the right to make it a public oath to denigrate the views of other peaceful citizens if he would not tolerate oaths that denigrate his own beliefs.


If you want to say that you seek the happiness, security, peace, and tranquility of all people by opposing conflict, you have to be able to do more than use the words in a sentence. You have to be able to show that you know what they mean by your actions.

You do not prove your interest in these goods, or in avoiding conflict, if the reason you are bringing this army together is to eradicate others merely on the basis that they have different beliefs. There is no better proof that an individual's interests is not in happiness, security, peace, and tranquility than the fact that he is calling for the eradication of his peaceful neighbors based only on a difference in belief.

The moral person includes all peaceful neighbors interested in security, peace, and tranquility. This is how one goes about reducing conflict, rather than promoting it.

The moral doctrine should be, "If you can live in peace with me, then I will live in peace with you."

No other ideology deserves the name 'moral'.

Monday, September 26, 2005


An individual with harsh words to say against war, should be able to spare a few moments for some harsh words against terrorism.

Why are there no protests against terrorism or the people who use this tactic?

We see people gathering in large numbers throughout the world to protest a war, but I have not noticed a similar movement to protest terrorism.

Are there too few of us who think that terrorism deserves our condemnation? Does everybody else (or almost everybody else) think that the terrorists are the 'good guys'?

Definitions of Terms

On the issue of terrorism, I want to define my terms. A terrorist is somebody who targets civilians. Their goal is to instill terror in the population by making common people fear for their lives and well-being. Terrorists target the student learning to become a biologist or engineer, the office worker trying to support her family, the gardener, the waiter, the computer programmer, the lawyer, and the gas-station attendant. In short, they target us.

If somebody attacks a military convoy, an army base, a destroyer -- these people are not terrorists. They are rebels, or insurgents, mercenaries, or enemy combatants, but not terrorists. This does not imply that the actions of these people are justified. It only implies that we can communicate better if writers and readers are on the same page.

I am talking about people who target civilians; and I will be using the word terrorist.


There are those who want to call individuals who target military installations and troops 'terrorists'. I suspect that this is because of the usefulness that this type of claim has for propaganda. In the drive to generate stronger hatred and less sympathy for the enemy, political leaders want to put them in the least favorable light. Calling all enemy combatants ‘terrorists’ may accomplish this objective for a short period of time.

However, in the long run the effect will be to blur the concept of a ‘terrorist’. While the original effect is to cast enemy combatants in the worst possible light, the long-term effect is to give terrorists a veneer of legitimacy. They are, after all, nothing more or less than enemy combatants, and attacking a public shopping mall is no different than attacking a military convoy. A possible effect of blurring this distinction is to make it psychologically easier to attack civilians.

This type of propaganda makes it more difficult to say, "I do not care how legitimate you think your cause is or which side you are fighting on, targeting civilians is not acceptable." It becomes harder to make this type of statement because our language loses a term specifically for identifying those who target civilians – a role once played by the term ‘terrorist’. This term gets drafted for other uses, and those who target civilians can then hide in the confusion and obscurity this creates.

So, if we are going to target those who attack civilians with special condemnation, as they deserve, then let's keep a term in our language that is specifically used to identify those who target civilians. Let's reserve the word 'terrorism' for this purpose so that we can know exactly the type of person we are talking about.

So, is it the case that "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter?"

Answer: No. One person's terrorist is another person's terrorist. If he targets civilians, then he is a terrorist. If not, then the term does not apply.

Now, why do we not see protests against terrorism and those that support it?


Perhaps one of the reasons that people do not protest terrorists is that one fears that it will be confusing. "If I were to protest terrorism, this might be taken as a sign that I support the war against terrorism. I do not support the war, and I do not wish to be thought of as somebody who does support the war, so I will not condemn the terrorists."

It's not that such a person actually supports the terrorist. She just does not know how to express disapproval in a way that will not be misinterpreted.

She fears that protesting terrorism might be taken as support for the war. Yet, she does not worry that protesting the war might be seen as support for terrorism. For some reason, she thinks that people are smart enough to recognize the distinction when it goes one way, but too stupid to see the distinction when it goes the other way.

The 'confusion' argument is a smoke screen. There is something else sitting at the core, motivating the decision not to protest terrorism and those who support it.

What Is There to Protest?

Perhaps the reason there are no protests against terrorists is because the target is just too obvious. There are no protests against people who hold up convenience stores. This is because there is no need. Everybody already knows that these people are worthy of condemnation. There is no need to protest the obvious.

However, each night is filled with news that somebody does not think that the moral prohibition against killing civilians is all that obvious. If it were so obvious, then why are so many people targeting civilians?

Where are they finding the support they need to carry out their activities, and to hide from those trying to stop them?

Terrorist organizations, unlike convenience-store robbers, survive on a network of support. There are people out there, people walking among us with money and contacts and prestige, who write checks and give other aid to terrorist organizations. These are the people who need to be told that supporting terrorism is intolerable. These co-conspirators deserve no less contempt than the terrorists themselves.

Who are these co-conspirators?

From whom are these people getting the message that it is morally permissible to attack civilians?

In too many cases, this message comes from religious leaders. It comes from people who say that all true morality comes from God, and God not only accepts but demands that his subjects target civilians. In this case, the source is an evil religion.

We can and should tolerate a great many views in our pluralistic world. The view that it is permissible to target civilians – particularly children – is no more to be tolerated than a religion that thinks it is permissible to offer children as religious sacrifice to any God.

These protests should target those who defend this type of view and those who support such groups. We should be seeking to socially, financially, and politically ostracize these groups, taking away their power to harm civilians and promoting a culture in which people do not accept these types of actions.

There is a great deal of good that a public protest could accomplish -- identifying and publishing the identities of those who refuse to renounce attacks on civilians, and solidifying a public determination to show the public discontent with those who think this way.

The way to start this public protest is simply to ask people to make a public and unequivocal statement about their attitudes regarding attacks on civilians and those who support them, and find out who is not willing to condemn these types of actions.

Why Not?

Perhaps it is too obvious to say. However, I think it is important to take the time to say that it is worth the effort to target those who would target civilians. The ideology that says that this is permissible threatens us all. It is in our interest to bring the weapons of social condemnation to bear against those who practice it, and those who support it, even if that support comes merely through the implied acceptance of silence.

This is my statement, that I offer no support and wish to see no victory handed to those who would target civilians. I condemn them and think that it is worth while to ensure their defeat. “Defeat”, in this case, does not mean just stopping the people. It means defeating the ideology that fails to recognize the moral depravity of showing such disregard for civilian lives.

If we are going to raise our voices to protest the wrongs that people do, let us not forget to protest the acts of the terrorists and those who support them as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Dying in Vain

It is a morally bankrupt leader who says, "Do not criticize me and call my orders foolish, because doing so insults the soldiers who execute my foolish orders to the best of their ability." The soldiers aren't being insulted, only the leader who wastes their lives by handing out foolish orders.

The soldier and his commander lives within the confines of a moral contract.

Soldiers have a duty to follow orders (unless the orders are obviously immoral). There is no time to explain the “big plan” to each of them and get them to approve of the overall strategy, and there will always be some who will not approve even if they did know. Therefore, the military has a chain of command. In that chain, the soldier has a duty to obey (except when commanded to do something that is clearly immoral).

In return, the commander has an obligation to use the soldier’s obedience to right and proper ends. Before he puts the soldier at risk of losing life or limb, the commander has an obligation to ensure that the soldier will not suffer that loss in vain. Even when he commands the soldier to kill, he has an obligation to make sure that the soldier kills for a good reason. The soldier has little choice (except under the most extraordinary circumstances) but to assume that this is the case.

This chain of command and obligation goes up to the top to the Commander in Chief.

So, what does it mean to say that the soldier suffers or dies in vain?

The typical describes a situation where an individual goes through a great deal of effort or suffers a huge cost in order to achieve some important end and dues not succeed. The failure means that the effort produced no benefit -- no good result. "It was all in vain."

There are always some risks associated with this type of heroic struggle. There is always a chance of failure. The person going through the effort or suffering the loss cannot guarantee a good outcome. Every once in a while soldiers do die or suffer in vain, just as they die or suffer in an accident. Sometimes, this happens in spite of the best intentions of everybody involved.

Sometimes, somebody is responsible.

Vain Sacrifice 1

One way in which a sacrifice can be in vain is if the goal that one sought to reach was not available. A special team is sent behind enemy lines to destroy an enemy outpost. After days of struggle and sacrifice they reach their destination, and there is no outpost. The survivors groan in frustration, “It was all for nothing.”

We were told that America was sending soldiers into Iraq to secure weapons of mass destruction. We were told that we needed to take these weapons out of the hands of those who would threaten their neighbors, threaten our allies (such as Israel), or threaten us. If Iraq could not threaten us directly, they would turn these weapons over to others (terrorists) who would use them against us. With this invasion, the suffering and loss of life was worthwhile because it would buy us safety from these weapons.

After all of the suffering and death, we found out that there were no weapons. There never were any weapons. It was all for nothing. It was all in vain.

As I said above, sometimes soldiers are given orders to accomplish things that have no value. When this happens, those who ordered the maneuver have made a mistake. It may be an innocent mistake, but it was still a mistake.

One way to judge an innocent mistake from one that was not so innocent is by whether others, looking at the same evidence, would have made the same mistake. In this case, we have reason to believe that this is not the case. The Bush Administration had an opportunity to made its best case to our allies in secret and to the United Nations in public. Others did not find the case convincing. Therefore, the mistake was not innocent. It was foolish. Which means that the soldiers died in vain.

Vain Sacrifice 2

Perhaps one of the most tragic ways in which somebody can suffer and die in vain is when he struggles to achieve one goal, but ends up making things worse. For example, imagine a case where a father struggles to save the life of one of his children and gets all of his children killed in the attempt. He had a worthy objective, but his efforts were all for nothing. They were all for worse than nothing.

Our leaders told us that they were sending soldiers into Iraq as a part of the war on terror. The objective was to deprive terrorists of potential supplies, recruits, and training areas.

It now looks as if the attack on Iraq has recruited tends of thousands of new terrorists, given them ample room to train in Iraq, and equipped them with the weapons of a fallen army that could not be adequately secured. The vast majority of the people attacking our soldiers in Iraq are not terrorists who would have otherwise come to the United States, they are Iraqi citizens who would have otherwise stayed home and ignored us.

In addition, our actions in Iraq have provided the terrorists with another direct benefit. Resources -- men, material, intelligence-gathering capability -- that could have gone to fighting the original terrorists trying to strike us here in America have been diverted from that war, making life a little easier for those terrorists.

We are fighting people we would not have otherwise needed to fight, using our intelligence resources against people we could have otherwise ignored, and generally facing a worse situation than we would have otherwise faced, while the terrorists we would have otherwise been fighting are facing an enemy spread thinner to cover our new commitments.

There is no worse example of suffering and dying in vain than to sacrifice to make a situation better, and making it worse. In this sense, there is reason to believe that those who have fought and died in Iraq have already fought and died in vain. A campaign that we were told was a part of the war against terror is turning out to be a costly diversion of resources that benefit, rather than harm, the terrorists.

Criticism and Responsibility

A leader, too much of a moral coward to face responsibility for his mistakes, will often try to hide behind his troops. "Those who criticize me and say my orders were foolish are criticizing the troops who are executing those orders to the best of their ability. To support the troops, you must say that I am a genius who can make no mistakes -- who cannot possibly have given them a foolish order to execute."

Every soldier knows, or should know, that this is not true. Every soldier knows, or should know, that, if he is given a foolish order, but he seeks to execute it to the best of his ability, that he has done his part and can be proud of it. Every soldier knows, or should know, that somebody who criticizes a commander's foolish order does not criticize the troops. Every soldier knows that the only way to criticize the troops is to say that they did not execute those orders, however foolish, to the best of their ability.

What can we say about the moral character of the leader who denies this? What can we say of the moral character of a leader who gets up on stage and says, "Anybody who dares say that my orders were foolish is insulting the soldiers," as a way of silencing his critics?

He is a moral coward who is not brave enough to stand on his own two feet and accept responsibility for his actions. The soldiers that he commands deserve leaders who are better than this.


In these two things, at least, it appears that our soldiers have, in fact, suffered and died in vain. They did not secure weapons of mass destruction because there were none to secure. They did not win an important battle against terrorism because the battle itself created a country full of terrorists that otherwise would have continued living their lives in Iraq without attacking Americans. In the mean time, we have taken resources away from the battle against the real terrorists to fight this new body of terrorists that this Administration’s action created.

In light of this, some of our soldiers have fought, suffered, and died in vain. The people responsible for this are those who planned and ordered the invasion. There is nothing that the rest of us can do at this point to change this unpleasant fact. Some people may not want to admit it, but name-calling and anger against those who speak the truth will not prevent it from being true.

The soldier and the commander have a special moral relationship. The soldier has a duty to obey (except when the order is obviously immoral), and the commander has a duty to make sure that, in obeying, the soldier is suffering or dying for that which is worth the sacrifice.

If the soldier ends up suffering or dying for nothing, but he still executes his orders to the best of his ability, then nothing can be said against the soldier. Critizing the order is not the same as criticizing the soldier.

The vast majority of America's soldiers have executed their orders to the best of their ability, and deserves our praise and commendation for this.

Yet, it is still the case that their leaders have commanded them to take actions where they suffer and die in vain.

This is not the soldiers' fault. It is the fault of those who gave the soldiers their orders.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Children of Iraq

Anybody who argues that we should pull our troops out of Iraq must answer one question for me. Not only must they give an answer, they must show that the answer is based on evidence and sound reasoning.

What happens to the children of Iraq?

What type of world will the five and six year old boy or girl grow up in if our soldiers leave Iraq and come home?

Here are some possible answers that I have seen.

(1) “It does not matter. It is not our problem.”

First, we helped create this situation, and that makes it our problem. If we perform an action that puts a group of children at risk, then we have an obligation to remove the risk before we abandon the children.

Second, this answer has the same moral merit as sitting back and eating popcorn, watching while a neighbor’s child gets raped and murdered. Compare the moral character of the person who turns his back and says “It’s not my kid. It’s not my problem.” Compare that to the character of the person who gets involved for the sake of the kid, even at great personal risk. It is easy to see which person is worthy of the greatest moral praise. It is easy to see which is the better person.

The moral question here concerns which is the better person. The person who protects and defends children, or the person who ignores and abandons them. "They are not my kids; it's not my problem," is not the morally best answer.

(2) “The Iraqis were better off before we started this mess.”

Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t. It does not matter.

Assume you are driving to the airport, rushing to catch a flight. You find yourself in a traffic jam. Your passenger says, “If we had turned off on I-70 a couple of miles back we would not be in this mess."

Do me a favor; resist the urge to hit him. Simply try to explain to him that he's not helping. "Don’t tell me what we should have done 30 minutes ago, give me an idea of what I should do now."

It is appropriate to have the same attitude to the person who answers the question, "What about the children of Iraq?" by saying what we should have done -- or not done -- two or three years ago. I agree that the administration made some poor choices. Those choices got us into a serious mess. Still, the relevant question is, "What should we do now?" not "What should we have done two years ago?"

(3) “The Iraqis have a right to decide for themselves how to raise their children.”

This is certainly true. They have this right. However, that right has limits. Furthermore, a right has no value if people are not willing to defend it. Who is going to protect and honor that right, and who is going to trample that right?

My neighbors have a right to raise their children as they think best. They have a right to teach their religion to their children and other values without my interference. I have no right to dictate what they set as a curfew, or whether they allow their children to get their ears pierced or wear a tatoo, or what they allow their children to watch on television. I will not even force them to have their children eat their vegetables.

However, there are limits. If I view that my neighbor’s children are at risk of abuse and neglect – if they are being beaten and killed, deprived of an education, left unfed, have health-care needs that are being ignored, kept in cages, enslaved, or offered as prostitutes – then I have not only a right, but a duty, to interfere with how my neighbors are raising their children.

Will these children become the victims of suicide bombers? Will they become suicide bombers themselves, or soldiers in another religious war?

More importantly, will the Iraqis actually have a society in which they can raise their children as they see fit? Or will some faction imposes its will on everybody, dictating how children will be raised? What are the odds that some religious fundamentalists will be dictating standards – prohibiting women from getting an education (or from voting, or even from being seen in public)? What are the odds that some new dictator will rise up, slaughtering the children of those who belong to an opposing political or religious faction, the way Saddam Hussein gassed and slaughtered whole villages -- including the children?

If the Iraqis actually had the power to exercise this right, and they did not have options forced upon them, then, certainly, it would be time to leave. However, the question about whether we should leave may very well be the same as the question of whether the Iraqis have a system where these rights are respected and enforced.

(4) “Obviously, they will be okay.”

The question, “What will happen to the children of Iraq?” lends itself to a number of answers. Everybody can have an opinion. A quick cursory glance of what is going on in Iraq, some mental extrapolation, and any arm-chair general or political strategist can assert with confidence which road Iraq will take.

None of them really know what they are talking about. None of them are actually offering a believable account of what the future of the children if Iraq will be like. They are all simply pretending that they have a level of expertise they do not have.

The person who offers a serious answer will need to be able to draw on studies and research by those who are experts on Iraq. They will have to cite a mountain of statistics, and be able to show that they know what those studies actually say and their implications.

No protestor standing on the street saying, “Bring the troops home now!” has executed this responsibility. At least, I have not heard of any.

When you look at the average person with a blow-horn edging a crowd in an anti-war chant, he has no idea what will happen to the children of Iraq. Neither do those who follow them.

More importantly, none of them are the asking the question. It’s a good sign that none of them really care. This, in turn, brings us back to option (1).


Here is my position. I am not going to join any street protest to bring the troops home. I would join any street protest to put the project in the hands of somebody who seems competent to make wise decisions. Right now, this is not the case. Like FEMA before Hurricane Katrina hit, the Iraq War is in the hands of people who prove daily that they lack the basic skill set to do the job effectively. It is time to demand that they be replaced. We need competent leadership.

I certainly would prefer a leadership that has an expressed, moral drive to create a policy that fits the intelligence, rather than fixing the intelligence to fit the policy.

A competent leader is not necessarily one who agrees with "Bring the troops home now," crowd. A competent leader is somebody who has a plan for building the best possible future for the children of Iraq -- whatever it takes.

A competent leader knows that he does not have all of the right answers and listens to the advice of experts who have given the subject a great deal of thought and attention, with an eye to what is best for the future of Iraq. He is not one that listens to mobs who have purchased their opinions on a whim without doing their homework.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Divine Wrath

Pick any group. Eventually, you will be able to find a set of events that will allow you to say "God is punishing that group and those who tolerate members of that group living amongst us." These types of arguments are the wares of the hate-monger; the individual who is in the market to sell hate and fear.

It should be obvious by now. America has offended Allah with its Crusade against Islam, and Allah is striking at us in order to defend His chosen people. Hurricane Rita is simply the most recent in a long list of messages that Allah has sent telling us that He sides against us with Muslim fundamentalists.

It 's more than just these two hurricanes that prove that this is the case. Last year, Florida got hit by 4 hurricanes; one of which turned around and came back, hitting Florida twice. Who else but Allah could stop a hurricane in its tracks and send it back to strike Florida a second time? No force of nature can do that.

The odds against America suffering so many strikes -- the last two against vital strategic targets that Muslim fundamenalists would have targeted -- are so astronomically low that there must be an intelligent design behind it.

Obviously, the reason that Allah is attacking Florida is because its governor is George Bush's brother. Allah wanted to make his message clear, so He sent all of His hurricanes against this one state.

Katrina and Rita also hit Florida, though Allah clearly had grown impatient and sought other useful targets as well. So, He aimed the hurricanes at New Orleans to destroy the city more efficiently than any terrorist bomb could hope to accomplish. In attacking New Orleans, Allah attacked our vital oil supplies.

Then, a few weeks later, with hurricane Rita, he attacked those refineries and oil ports that Katrina had left standing. By doing this, Allah has attacked all of America, hitting us at our weakest point - our dependence on energy.

In addition, He made his vengeance known by attacking George's home state of Texas.

The message could not be any clearer. It is time to renounce Christ and admit that Allah is the one true God and Mohammed is his prophet.


Of course, I don't believe any of this. I wrote it to illustrate a point. Arguments that target some individual or group as the victim of 'God's wrath' are easy to come by.

Pick any group (Christians, Japanese, homosexuals, red states or blue states, redheads or brunettes, etc.) and wait long enough and you will be able to catch a set of events that will appear to be targeting that group for divine wrath.

If you pick a group that you hate, and you want others to hate them as you do, just wait a while. Sooner or later you will be awarded with a set of events that will allow you to shout, "God hates those who are in that group and will punish anybody who show them tolerance and acceptance."


We see these types of claims all the time. When Hurricane Katrina hit, some groups claimed that New Orleans was being targeted because of it shows more tolerance of homosexuals than it should. People noted that the hurricane struck just before a ceremony that homosexuals tend to favor. Nobody explained why, if God hates gays, He decided to attack before the party, and not during the party, when he could certainly have inflicted even more damage on His intended victims.

Others claim that God targeted New Orleans to show His disapproval of abortion.

Why did God also take out a lot of innocent people? This is because God was sending a message that He will punish the innocent who choose to live among and accept the wicked targets of His divine hatred. God will not bless us and protect us from harm until we have successfully rid ourselves of these target groups or struck at them with as much hate and contempt as would make Him happy.

Except, maybe God does not hate New Orleans because of homosexuality or abortion. Maybe he hates New Orleans because it gave its electoral votes to George Bush in the 2004 election. This seems to be a much more plausible result. Note that every state struck by this hurricane was a Red state -- a pro-Bush state. Maybe that was the cause of this divine wrath.

Any innocent victims caught in the disaster was God's warning that we should not be tolerating Republicans in our midst. God will not leave us alone unless we get rid of all of them. After all, Hurricane Rita destroyed Trent Lott's house. How much more proof do we need before we admit that God hates Republicans - probably because of false piety?

Maybe God just hates Jazz music. New Orleans has long been known to be the center of Jazz. Maybe he has taken just about as much of that noise as he could tolerate and decided to put an end to it.


The argument, "God is punishing us because we let these people live amongst us" can be used against any group. As a result, these arguments tell us more about the people who use them then they do about God. The speaker is saying that God hates this target group, but it is really the speaker that picked the target group, not God. The message is a message about the speaker's hate and intolerance, not God's hate and intolerance.

Hatred of Americans causes one person to interpret the hurricanes as proof that "God hates Americans," while hatred of gays causes another to interpret the hurricanes as proof that "God hates gays." If there were a religion out there with a commandment against playing jazz music, they could argue that this hurricane is proof that God hates those who play jazz music and is punishing the rest of us for tolerating jazz music players amongst us.

What we are actually witnessing when we see this argument at work is a hate-monger plying his trade. He is trying to sell hate and intolerance, and he is using God as a marketing tool to help sell his product.

In addition to using God to sell hate and intolerance, he is also using God to sell fear. He is telling us that if we do not buy into the hate and intolerance he is selling, that God will see that we suffer. It is much like a robber pointing a gun at his victim and saying, "You will purchase protection from me, or you will suffer the consequences." Only, the price of protection is paid, not with cash, but by driving out the target group, be they homosexuals, abortionists, Americans, Republicans, or jazz musicians -- take your pick.

Useful Arguments

Because these arguments can be used against anybody, the conscientious person does not use them.

For example, any group that disapproves of what Republicans are doing should still not suggest that these hurricanes are proof that God is punishing people for supporting Republicans. These people should have the intellectual integrity to restrict their arguments to actual sound criticism of Republican policies, and not drum up phony arguments like 'God's wrath' arguments.

An earthquake in some mountain region that terrorists use is not 'the wrath of God'. It is an earthquake -- a phenomena of nature that does not care about the guilt or innocence of its victims. It will kill a child as easily as it will kill a terrorist or a soldier fighting against the terrorists. These events are not to be used foddor for promoting an agenda of hate. If the target group actually deserves hate (e.g., terrorists), then we do not need to make up arguments to prove it. We have enough proof without these arguments.

A conscientious person would have another problem with these 'God's wrath' arguments. A conscientious person knows that it is wrong to punish somebody for the actions of another. If God is in the habit of killing innocent people to get at those who He thinks deserves to die, then this does not testify to the moral depravity of those who die. This testifies to God's own moral depravity.

Quite simply, "God is punishing people because he hates those in some target group and those who tolerate the target group," is an argument for hate-mongers -- a person who sells hate and uses God in his advertisements. A civilized society has no room for those who peddle midnless hate.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Professional Integrity: Journalism and Research

An individual who claims to be a scholar has an obligation to present his case using only arguments that scholars will accept. Failure to do so displays a lack of moral and professional integrity comparable to the wrongs that, in other fields, count as malpractice.

The online edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network NewsWatch recently ran an article on "Dispelling the Myths of Global Warming." For this article, the reporter, Dale Hurd relayed several arguments from "Climatologist" Pat Michaels of the CATO Institute.

Mr. Hurd's article provides an extremely conspicuous display of academic negligence on his own part, and on the part of Mr. Michaels.


In spite of the fact that I am talking about an article on global warming, this essay is not about global warming. This is an essay about peoples' professional obligations. Regardless of where any reader comes down on the global warming issue, Michaels used arguments in defense of his position that are so poor that they are equivalent to professional malpractice. In writing the article that reports these claims, Hurd has shown his own lack of professional integrity.

In fact, I want it known that I think that the Kyoto Protocols have serious problems -- problems I think that Michaels and Hurd would agree with. However, I think that it is vital to be against them for the right reasons. There are some arguments against the Protocols that I would never use, precisely because of the lack of academic and moral integrity required to use them.

Human Acts and Natural History

Against the issue that humans contribute to global warming, Hurd quoted Michaels as saying, "…climate has changed in the past without human beings having anything to do with it. There was an Ice Age not very long ago -- 5,000 feet of ice over Chicago and look, here we are, thriving on a planet with an ever-changing climate."

What's wrong with this argument?

Imagine that you are a detective arriving on a crime scene. You see a body. The victim was clearly shot through the head. You see another person holding a gun. Forensic evidence reveals that the victim was killed with a bullet fired from that gun. The gun has the accused person's fingerprints on it. There are witnesses who say they saw the accused point the gun at the victim (who was alive at the time), and pull the trigger.

Now, the accused offers up his defense: "A lot of people have died in the past without my help. I did not kill any of them. Some of them died before I was even born, or in places I could not have visited. Therefore, I clearly did not kill this person."

Would any thinking person consider this to be a rational defense?

I repeat, this is not a essay about global warming. It is an essay about Michaels' display of academic wrongdoing by saying that he has a reason for us to doubt that humans are contributing to global warming. He has a reason that is no better than the accused murderer saying, "Some people have died even though I did not kill them; therefore, I am innocent of this murder."

It is a bogus argument that no academic scholar with integrity would consider using.

One Estimate

Michaels also makes use of one estimate that the Kyoto Protocol, if adopted, would contribute to only one seven one-hundredths of one degree Celsius change in global warming. He then goes on to argue as if this one estimate is the most accurate and best supported estimate in the field. "Not seven-tenths of a degree. Not seven degrees. But seven one-hundredths of a degree - an amount too small to measure. The European answer to this is, 'Well, at least we're doing something.' Yes, they are doing something. They're wasting money . . . "

I wonder if Michaels has any stock investments. If he does, I am certain that I can find an estimate that says that the stock market is going to crash in the near future and investors are going to lose a lot of money. Yet, if I were to write in a report saying that, "By one estimate, the stock market will crash in the very near future," I sincerely doubt that Michaels (if he were to read it) would suddenly sell everything he has.

Michaels knows that one study does not produce meaningful results. The smart investor gathers additional research and looks for the best evidence among them. However, when it comes to “dispelling the myths of global warming”, Michaels wants us to take one hand-picked report as the one and only authority on the issue.

Why This Is Wrong.

Morally, what type of person is Mr. Michaels?

Apparently, he is a researcher who cares very little about the quality of the arguments he uses to support his conclusion. He cares little about how good his evidence is. If it is convincing, even if it is poor evidence, this is all he cares about.

In the medical, legal, engineering, and many other fields, malpractice is wrong. Somebody who simply makes a mistake is not guilty of malpractice. This charge applies to somebody who should have known, as a professional, not to do something that he did. People who engage in malpractice are condemned and punished for the consequences of their actions because those actions are things that no decent, conscientious person of integrity would perform.

Micheals' use of these arguments constitute actions that no decent, conscientious researcher of integrity would perform. He has a professional obligation to make sure that he presents the best case possible.

A person who takes that obligation seriously would have seen the flaws in these arguments and not used them. Either Michaels lacked the professional integrity to check his arguments for flaws and weaknesses, lacked the competence to detect those weaknesses, or he lacked the moral integrity to not use arguments that knew to be flawed.

There is also a chance that Michaels is guilty of hypocrisy. What would Michaels have said of an opponent that he caught making arguments like, "X occurred naturally in the past; therefore, no human has ever done X" or "There was once a study that showed P; therefore, P"?

If he would have condemned that person, then he is a hypocrite. By definition, a hypocrite is somebody who applies a set of standards to others that he is not willing to apply to himself. A hypocrite is somebody who would condemn an opponent for using these types of arguments but not apply those same standards to his own writing.

Finally, Michaels can be accused of promoting academic irresponsibility. That which Michaels practices, he also preaches – he teaches by example. When he uses these poor arguments in his own writing, he communicates to others that this behavior is permissible. This promotes academic laziness and sloth, not to mention giving license to demagogues and outright liars.

A society of decent and respectable people with integrity is not a society that would welcome people like Mr. Michaels as a member.


Michaels' behavior not only taints his own work. It also taints the CATO Institute which, apparently, does not care whether its representatives use such sloppy reasoning in support of their conclusions.

It also tarnishes Dale Hurd, who wrote an article that endorsed these arguments, reporting them to the world without having the decency to scrutinize them. The heading clearly endorses the idea that the opposing view counts as "myths" and asserts that Michaels' work is to be taken as effective at dispelling them. If he says this, he has a professional obligation to make sure that this is correct -- a professional obligation that he failed to meet.

Finally, it taints the Christian Broadcasting Network, which did not have sufficient intellectual integrity to question the reasonableness of these claims.

It also taints the whole society that allows this type of behavior without treating those who engage in it to the moral condemnation they deserve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Intelligent Design

Society would benefit if students were taught about intelligent design in school. They should know why it is philosophical theory and not a scientific theory, what the differences are, and why philosophers do not take it seriously.

On September 26th, the Dover Area School District will defend its policy of reading a statement questioning evolution and proposing intelligent design to students taking biology.

This has been raised as a church/state issue. However, as I have said before, I have no interest in the legal arguments. I am concerned with the moral issues. Of course, there have been, and there will continue to be, just and unjust laws, and the question of what laws ought and ought not to exist are, ultimately, moral questions.

On the moral side of the dispute, where is the wrong in exposing biology students to intelligent design? What moral principle is being violated?

To answer that question, I want to examine a hypothetical requirement to expose biology students to intelligent design and try to see if I can find where doing so crosses a moral line.

Teaching the Teachers

Of course, the state has an obligation to fill teaching jobs with qualified teachers. Consequently, we cannot expect biology teachers to address this subject until they have learned about it themselves.

This is not an insurmountable barrier. As soon as these rules are adopted, the state’s universities can add the required coursework to their students’ curriculum. Those who are already teaching should be required to get additional training in this new subject area. As they are trained, they can go back to class and teach this material.

Where would these teachers go to learn this new subject?

Actually, they would need to take a philosophy class. Contrary to claims made by those who defend "intelligent design", this is not a theory invented in the last fifteen years. This is the "Argument from Design," which has its roots in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The most widely known expression of this expression comes from the 18th century scholar, William Paley.

Paley argued that, if you were walking and discovered something as intricate as a watch, you would assume that there was a watchmaker. Similarly, if you were to find something as intricate as the human eye, you should assume that there was an eye-maker.

Of course, Paley argued that this eye-maker is God.

Even if we are justified in assuming an eye-maker, we are not permitted to infer anything about the moral character of this artisan, or any other characteristic, other than that it can make eyes in the context in which eyes are found. The eye-maker may be a malicious individual that made humans so that he could watch them suffer from the diseases and natural disasters he subjects them to. Or, he could be a benevolent being that knows just enough to make the eye as it is -- certainly not enough to make an eye free from cataracts or glaucoma. Or, again, maybe he is knowledgeable and kind but lacks the power to make an eye better than what exists.

This matches the claims that the defenders of intelligent design make. They state that irreducible complexity justifies the inference that there was an intelligent designer, but they refuse to say anything about that designer. They allow, for example, that it could be a space alien – perhaps a malicious, sadistic extraterrestrial species that built us so that they can sit in front of their televisions and watch another season of Survivor: Earth.

Problem with the Design Argument

Philosophers have had centuries to discuss this argument, and have recognized a number of problems. One of the most significant problems is this:

We are told that the existence of the watch implies the existence of a watchmaker. The watch itself is too intricate to have occurred naturally, so it must have been intentionally constructed.

However, the watchmaker is significantly more intricate and complex than the watch he constructs. If the watch needs a maker because of its complexity, then the watchmaker also needs a maker. In fact, Paley argues this point when he says that the eye is so complex that it must have maker of its own.

If the watchmaker is so complex that it must have been made, then whatever makes a watchmaker must be even more complex. Because whatever makes a watchmaker must be significantly compex, it must have a maker as well. So, now, we are forced by Paley's argument to assume that there must be a maker of whatever makes watchmakers.

The maker of whatever makes watchmakers, of course, is also extremely complex. Complexity means that we must assume that these makers of the makers of whatever makes watchmakers also has a maker.

And so on. And so forth. Ad infinitum.

The only way to break this chain is to say that there must be something that is complex that still does not require a maker. Paley would assert that this complex entity that does not require a maker is God. However, he has given no reason to believe that the complex entity that does not require a maker is man himself.

Paley's claim that this unmade complex entity is God suffers an additional problem. His argument for a maker is tied directly into the issue of complexity.

According to the argument, the case for a maker becomes stronger as the entity becomes more complex. A crude hour glass with sand falling through a hole at the bottom of a rock depression may be natural. A digital stopwatch and timer with an alarm more strongly suggests a designer. If greater complexity means a stronger need to assume that a designer is involved, then God certainly must have been designed by a Godmaker.

It is better to cut this infinite chain off as close to the original object as possible. In fact, we should not even assume that the watch has a watchmaker unless we have independent evidence for the existence of such an entity. In fact, we have this independent evidence, so we can comfortably assume that a watchmaker is involved. We do not have this independent evidence for the ‘intelligent designer’ of intelligent design.

Back to Class

Once our teachers understand the design argument and can teach their students what it is and why it has been rejected, then we can send them back to teach this to their students.

With this, some may object that, "This is a science class, and it is inappropriate to be discussing philosophy in a science class." Of course, it is easy to prove that the design argument is a philosophical argument (and not a scientific theory) because the teachers went to a philosophy class to learn about it.

However, it is not at all difficult to sidestep this objection. All we need to do is rename the class, "The Philosophy and Science of Biology." Clearly, there is nothing wrong with discussing philosophical arguments in a class with such a title. No moral lines have yet been crossed.

Social Utility

The last question we need to answer is whether this change has any social utility. Are we contributing to a better society, or are we just playing games and wasting time?

It seems obvious that this move would have clear benefits for society as a whole. The fact that so many people say that “intelligent design” is a scientific theory and that it has been around for only 15 years shows that they have suffered from important gaps in their education. These gaps are not only proving harmful to them, they are wasting serious resources throughout the whole nation. They are distracting society away from the task of teaching science.

Because of this ignorance, they are putting science education itself at risk. This risk is particularly great in the life sciences – the sciences we use to study the ecology and the environment, agriculture, and medicine. These are sciences that have a significant effect on how well we live, or even whether we live at all.

To avoid these detrimental effects, it is reasonable to argue that high school education must focus at least a little attention on the nature of scientific theories, the argument from design, why the argument from design is a philosophical theory and not a scientific theory, and the overwhelming problems known to exist in this argument.

Over time, our society might become sufficiently well educated that we no longer have to deal with these distractions. To the degree that happens, we can have more and better-educated people taking up the study of ecology, environmental sciences, agriculture, and medicine. This better-educated public will be able to make wiser decisions that will benefit all levels of society.

Is this not what the education system is supposed to accomplish?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Price of Evil

Where ‘wrong’ means ignoring rules that would protect our lives, our health, our liberty, and our security, then failure to promote those rules can do nothing but bring death, disease, tyranny, and insecurity.

Several religions contain the idea that, when something bad happens (such as a successful terrorist attack or a hurricane), this is God's wrath punishing us for our wicked ways.

Several preachers responded to the 9/11 attacks by claiming that God was no longer protecting us because we had insulted him with our refusal to establish a Christian theocracy. Fundamentalist Muslims responded to Hurricane Katrina with claims that Allah was punishing us for interfering with their plans to establish and promote Muslim theocracies.

I do not believe that there is a God out there ready to punish us for our misdeeds. However, the idea that wicked societies will suffer for their wicked ways has a measure of truth to it – a truth that does not require a God or divine wrath.

Secular Moralities and the Cost of Evil

Secular moralities tend to hold that moral principles are rule sets that will promote a better society for everybody. It follows by definition that the degree to which society deviates from these rules -- to that degree society will fall short of establishing that better society that the rules would have allowed.

People will suffer. Some of them will die, because we as a society deviated from those rules that do the best job of preventing people from suffering and dying.

If there is a set of rules that will reduce crime, but we ignore those rules and encourage our neighbors to do the same, then we will necessarily live in a society where people tend to suffer more from the effects of crime. If there is a set of rules that prevent tyranny and injustice, and if our society holds those rules in contempt, then our society is that much more at risk of suffering tyranny and injustice.

However, if we work to promote those rules that save lives, reduce suffering, reduce crime, avoid tyranny, and fight injustice, then each of us stands a good chance of enjoying the fruits of our labor -- longer lives, less suffering, less crime, liberty, and justice.

Hurricane Katrina as Punishment

I would like to look at the ways that the effect of Hurricane Katrina can actually be thought of as punishment for our sins.

Contempt for Reason and Intelligence

One of our sins is that we abandoned reason and held intelligence in contempt. As a result, too many people counted on the protection of a benevolent divine entity that does not exist. Confident that this God would protect us, we did not take the steps we needed to take to protect ourselves. Because of this, we are going to pay a very high price – not only in terms of lives, but in terms of human misery and the destruction of property.

We suffered a fate as severe as those mentioned in any biblical moral lesson.

We lost a city.

It seems that most religious fables that try to teach us a moral lesson has somebody in them that warns the people of the price they will pay if they do not repent and adopt a higher moral standard.

Hurricane Katrina gives us our Cassandras. These are the scientists and engineers who said that the levees can only withstand a Level 3 hurricane. They said that the loss of the wetlands around New Orleans meant less protection from a storm surge, which would otherwise have dissipated much of its energy far away from the city. They warned that global warming will give hurricanes more energy.

Many people ignored them.

Society continued on its course of moral depravity; ridiculing science, insulting reason, and promoting beliefs grounded on nothing more solid than wishful thinking.

Still following the course common to these moral fables, the day came when the people were called to judgment, found wanting, and forced to pay a price for their misdeeds. Katrina hit a society that had not prepared for it, allowing the hurricane to do far more damage than a prudent society that respected reason and intelligence would have suffered.

Selfishness and Short-Sightedness

In the weeks following the hurricane, people showed an amazing capacity to care for their neighbor and to make personal sacrifice for the benefit of those suddenly in need of help. It was truly an amazing outpouring of kindness and support.

However, where was all of this kindness and support in the decades leading up to Hurricane Katrina?

If we discover a person who has fallen off of a ledge, it is natural to tend to their injuries and get them to the hospital. That same level of concern seems to suggest that, if we were discover the person hanging on the ledge ready to fall, that we do something to prevent the injuries that he would otherwise suffer.

We have known for decades that New Orleans was in a precarious situation, like the man hanging on the ledge. Compassion seems to dictate that we do something to prevent the injuries that these people are bound to suffer when fate catches up with them.

There are those who can help themselves. With their money and other resources, they moved to higher ground. They could afford to. The ones left behind, in the lowest and poorest parts of the city, were those stuck on the ledge with no clear way to get off.

At a national level, it would not have taken much compassion and political will to say, “We see that you at risk, and we will see what we can do to protect you.” We could have built up the levees long ago, but we did not care enough to do so. We could have insisted that New Orleans have an evacuation plan that included those without cars and who could not easily move themselves out of the city, but we did not care enough to do so.

So, we pay the price. We could have built up the levees and protected the city. Now, we are going to have to pay the cost of building up the levees anyway, and add to that the cost of rebuilding a city that need not have been lost.

Even if we were to decide that New Orleans is not worth rebuilding, we have still suffered a huge loss that could have been avoided, if only we, as a society, were a little more concerned with the risks and dangers that our neighbors live under.

We could, of course, blame the government for these failings. However, in a democracy, we are the government. The government will do what we insist gets done. And the government will ignore whatever we allow it to ignore. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility by pointing to the government – our government – and saying “they did this; I had nothing to do with it.”


We do not need to assume that there is a vengeful God waiting to punish us when we do that which is wrong. Where ‘wrong’ means ignoring rules that would protect our lives, our health, our liberty, and our security, then failure to promote those rules can do nothing but bring death, disease, tyranny, and insecurity. This is not a matter of divine retribution. It is a matter of logical necessity.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Department of Injustice vs. Political Opposition

There is no justice when the Justice Department decides to use its powers to target organizations based solely on the criteria that they are politically opposed to the administration.

According to news reports, a Senate committee asked the Justice Department to contact U.S. Attorneys to report on any lawsuits filed by environmental groups that may have hindered levee construction around New Orleans.

In doing this, the Senate committee has asked, and the Justice Department has agreed to unfairly and unjustly target political opponents in the investigation of what happened in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The people behind this request have tossed aside basic principles of fairness, decency, and ethics, in an effort to score political points.

The IT Analogy

Imagine that you work for a large company where it is important that the computers keep running through the weekend. To facilitate this, the IT Department assigns an emergency pager to some employee each Friday. That employee is responsible for handling all weekend emergency calls.

George has the pager on a particular weekend. The computers crash at noon on Sunday. People call the emergency pager, but nobody answers. It is not until 4:00 in the afternoon that somebody finally hears from George. George then goes to work solving the problem.

This has created serious problems for the company. Failure to meet contractual deadlines will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. On Monday, word goes around that the Executive Committee wants to know what happened.

Then, you discover that George has sent out an email to a few trusted friends. Everybody knows that George and Al have never liked each other. The email that George writes to his friends asks, "Can any of you think of anything that Al might have done that could have contributed to the server failure this weekend?"

What does this tell us about George's moral character?

The Red Herring

The question of what caused the servers to fail and what caused George to fail to answer the pager for four hours are separate questions. Sure, we want to know why the server failed, and we want to know if Al or anybody else contributed to that failure.

However, we need to look at the fact that it took George four hours to answer the pager after the servers did fail. Even if we discover that the servers failed, and Al was in some way responsible for that, Al was not responsible for the fact that George disappeared for four hours.

To make the analogy more complete, we need to report that George was also given a four hour warning that there would be an event at noon that could cause server failure. In addition, he held a conference call at 11:00 to discuss the noon event. During that call, a contractors aid, "I cannot emphasize this enough. The servers are going to fail to some extent at noon, and we might be suffering total server failure."

At noon, the predicted event occurred. The servers failed. And George was nowhere to be found until 4:00 in the afternoon.

After George finally showed up, one of the first things he said was, "I don't think anybody could have anticipated a server failure."

Any action that Al might have taken, and any effect that he might have had on the servers, does not change the fact that George abdicated his responsibility.

Now, you discover that George is sending out an email asking people for information on what Al might have done to cause to the server failure.

What type of person is this?

We can go further. It is quite likely, if something is found, that George and his friends will begin filling the email system and every conversation with "news" about Al's contribution to the server failure.

Their goal is to make so much noise that nobody gets to talk about the fact that George was missing for four hours. If George and his friends can keep people from talking about it, maybe George can get away with his dereliction of duty.

Again, what does this tell us about the moral values of George and his friends?

Why Al?

Why does the email only mention Al?

There should be an investigation into what caused the server to crash. However, that investigation should not be a witch hunt concerned with only finding things that Al might have done. The Executive Committee needs to make sure to demand a fair and impartial investigation into what happened.

The very fact that George is out there trying to use this to gain ammunition against Al needs to be accepted as a black mark against George. The Executive Committee needs to investigate whether they want employees like George working in this company.

Any morally sensitive person would be outraged at George's attempt to finding reasons to blame Al. George's single-minded determination to single out Al is unfair, unjust, and entirely behavior.

By his actions, George has proved himself to have more interest in his own welfare than in justice.

In the real world case, the situation is made even more morally repugnant by the fact that the Senate committee is using the Justice Department as an instrument of injustice. When the Justice Department accepts this type of request, it is agreeing to become an instrument of political persecution. In place of a Justice Department whose mission is to uphold and defend justice, we have a political weapons department whose job is to uphold and defend the Republican Party.

This is a complete corruption of what the Justice Department is supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be pursuing justice, not the Administration's political opponents.


There is one additional fact that needs to be brought into this discussion.

The head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is rumored to be on the short list of people to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

If Gonzales sees nothing wrong with turning the Justice Department into an agency that devotes its energies to targeting and prosecuting those who would stand against the Republican Party, then we need to wonder if he would turn the Supreme Court of the United States to target those who would oppose a Republican government as well.

If the Justice Department had sent out a request saying that they want to know about all lawsuits that affected the construction of the levees – including, perhaps, those launched by oil companies fighting to protect their profits – he would have at least preserved the illusion of impartiality. However, unless he can come up with a reasonable explanation for this memo, he has proved that he has no interest in Justice, where he sees an opportunity for injustice to advance the aims of his Party.

This is not the type of person to sit on the Supreme Court.

It is not even the type of person who should be sitting in the Justice Department.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

NASA's Space Budget

We live in a universe that is entirely indifferent as to whether our species lives or dies. The universe does not care, so it is up to us to care. The development of space is the only way we have to protect ourselves – to protect the Human Race itself – from a disaster on a planetary scale.

NASA has submitted its plan to build the vehicles that will take men back to the moon by 2018. The plan will cost $100 billion over 12 years (starting in 2006).

Is it worth the money?

The Basic Argument

I have spent a great deal of effort trying to leave the world better than it would have otherwise been – trying to understand the most important issues so that I can offer useful advice on how to improve the quality of life for my fellow humans (and animals).

However, I have a concern. I worry that some planetary disaster may strike, destroying the human race, and the species that I have sought to help becomes nothing but a pile of archaeological relics for some other space-faring race to discover and to ponder. There are quite a few ways that the species I am seeking to help might suffer this untimely demise. It may come from a comet striking the planet, environmental disaster, or a global war that drags humanity so far back into a new dark age that we never see light again.

Hurricane Katrina has fed those concerns. It has told me that humans are capable of living in the face of imminent destruction for decades while doing little to prepare for prevent that destruction. New Orleans could have improved the levees or prepared and practiced a more detailed and comprehensive evacuation plan in the decades before Katrina hit. These were not done, and people suffered for it.

I fear now that humanity can stand in the face of still larger disasters – destruction on a global scale – and still do little to protect itself against them. Some day, the forces of nature, or the destructive side of human nature, will make them pay for their negligence.

The best protection we can have against the worst that nature can do to us, or the worst that we can do to each other, is to have the seed of humanity spread out so that some of it may survive any eventual catastrophe.

As long as we keep the eggs of our species in one planetary basket, we are more vulnerable than we need to be.

If we look at the huge expanse of this universe, and if the predictions of string theory that there are countless universes available, somewhere there will be a species of intelligent beings that will hesitate too long. It will listen to those members that say to do nothing. The remnants of their civilization will be the relics discovered by some other race that made the choice to step off of their home planet and out into space.

Will we be the race whose relics entertain the archaeologists of some other species? Or will we be the race that survives and does the discovering?

$100 billion is a lot of money. We could do a lot of good with that money right here. But what will we accomplish if we use all of those resources here, only to have ‘here’ suffer some catastrophic damage?

The IT Director

When I think about these concerns, I envision the plight of an IT director. In his budget, he has $1 million earmarked for a disaster recovery plan. The plan calls for building a set of servers offsite – where a local disaster cannot harm them – and backing up the key components of the local system onto that distant server. This way, in case of a disaster, the company is not utterly destroyed.

He looks at the plan and realizes that $1 million is a lot of money. He could use it to make substantial improvements to the servers in his office, and ignore the disaster recovery plan. In fact, some of the members of the Board of Directors suggest this.

However, he listens to these people and does not put some effort into a disaster recovery plan, if there is a disaster, the company is destroyed. All of those local improvements are now worthless. They died with the rest of the system and, ultimately, with the company itself.

This job of preparing for the possibility of disaster is not simply an issue of prudence. It is not a matter of saying, “It would be wise for you to do this, but it is up to you whether you do this or not.” It is a part of this person’s job to anticipate disasters and prepare the best (including the most cost-effective) response to them. The IT director who came to work the day of a disaster and said, “I decided not to prepare for this,” should not expect the employees to shrug and say, “That was your choice.” He should be prepared for the righteous anger of those who say, “That was your duty.”

Perhaps he could say, “I never anticipated anything like this happening.” If it were true, and it were true that no reasonable person could have anticipated such an event, the defense would work. However, in this case, we are talking about events that have already been anticipated. The only thing the individual can say now is, “I decided to ignore those possibilities.”

Another Look at Disaster Recovery

We do not need to imagine the complete loss of human life on Earth to see the benefits of space development. We need only to look at recent large-scale disasters to see a second benefit.

As bad as the Boxer Day tsunami and Hurricane Katrina were, the areas hit were able to benefit immensely from resources in areas outside of the damage zone. Nations around the Indian Ocean quickly received medicine, food, and other emergency assistance from a huge reservoir of emergency services outside the disaster area. With Hurricane Katrina, the people in Gulf Coast were able to benefit from the fact that Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and the rest of the country, as well as the world, had resources to send to them in their time of need.

Any large disaster that sweeps across the entire Earth, from plague to environmental degradation to meteorite impact, to nuclear war, to supervolcanoes, will be less of a disaster if the Human Race has resources sitting outside the damage zone – in space -- that can be used to help those in need.

A Baseless Suggestion

I do not want to say that NASA’s plan is the best, most cost-effective use of that $100 billion dollars. I have a romantic fondness for the idea of having the government divide the money into four $25 billion prizes and say, “Each prize goes to a team that can accomplish the following set of objectives….” In this system, no two prizes would go to the same team as a way of inspiring multiple possible solutions to the problems of space development.

I would then like to see what ingenious plans private individuals can think of to solve the problems of space development. I would also like to have a situation where NASA can draw upon the resources of four separate groups, rather than tied to a single solution that stops the program dead for years every time something goes wrong.

Yet, I have no particular specialty in this type of planning, and nothing to offer but my intuitive idea that it would be beneficial.

The Core Moral Principle

If there is any idea that sits at the core of this essay, it is the idea that we are not under the protection of a benevolent God. Instead, we live in a universe that is entirely indifferent as to whether our species lives or dies. If we do not accept the responsibility and take the care to protect it, nobody else is going to do it for us. We will cease to exist. Everything that humanity is and was, will end up being a few empty husks of buildings of the planet, and lifeless machines floating in orbit, decaying in the dead, cold, darkness of space.