Saturday, December 31, 2005

The "Atheist" Ethicist

I spent the day with my spousal unit, so I did not have time to think deep thoughts or to write deep wrotes.

I do, however, have some shallow thoughts that have been sitting around in my mind for a while.

One of the questions that keeps getting quested in my mind is, "What has been the impact of calling this blog what I did? What has been the impact of calling myself an atheist ethicist?

I certainly did not need to. Atheism itself has nothing to do with ethics. Calling myself a "heliocentrist ethicist" would have had just as much relevance. Or a "Tyrannosaurus Rex was a scavenger ethicist". There simply is no ethics specifically associated with atheism.

So, why put atheist in the title?

There are reasons not to do so. By putting the word atheist in the title, I have definitely reduced my potential readership.

Heck, one of the things that I will bet good money will happen with some of what I write is that a lot of people will simply dismiss it on the assumption that no atheist cannot have anything useful to say about ethics. Many (a majority?) of the population thinks that "atheist" and "ethics" go together like "round" and "square" or "married" and "bachelor." If the title has the word "atheist" in it, the postings cannot possibly have anything useful to say about ethics.

Independent of this concern, there are also people who simply do not want to be associated with anything associated with atheism. Almost nobody in my extended family knows that I write this blog. Nobody that I work with knows about this.

My friends know. Heck, they would not be friends if I could not be honest with them about what I believe and what I do about those beliefs. So, in fact, a person does not earn the title "friend" unless they know. Others are acquaintances.

Now, many of my co-workers know that I have an interest in politics and that I write about it. They are also passively aware of the fact that I am an atheist. But, none of them know about this blog.


It is all noble and wonderful to give up food, clothing, and shelter for the sake of a principle. However, the same income that pays for my food, clothing, and shelter also pays for this computer and the internet connection that allows me to write.

Now, I'm not saying that somebody is going to go, "You're an atheist; therefore, you're fired." Discrimination is more seditious and underhanded than that. Typically, the bigot is not even aware of his prejudice.

Rather, it's, "I'm not prejudiced against atheists. Your beliefs are your own business." However, the next time something turns up missing at work, the question is, "I wonder if that atheist had anything to do with it. I've always wondered how an atheist can have any morals if he does not believe in God. If something turns up missing, I have to look at the most likely suspects. Christians know that it is wrong to steal. But, atheists, what do they go on?"

Or, the atheist makes a mistake at work that causes a few people a few minutes of inconvenience, while the Christian in the next cubical misses a deadline on a vital proposal. The attitude, however, is that, "The atheist screwed up. He simply does not care about the quality of his work. That's what type of people they are -- only interested in themselves. Whereas, I'm sure that what the Christian did was an accident. After all, he is a Christian, so obviously he understands and respects his moral duties. That’s just the way Christians are."

Then, one day, the boss summons the atheist into his office and says, "There seems to be some tension between you and others in the staff. This is not a good working environment. Plus, your work just is not at the level that we would like to see here. Therefore, we are letting you go."

The thought process is not "atheist; therefore, fired." It's more like "atheist; therefore, suspicion as to his moral character; therefore, interpreting events in ways that conform to one's preconceived notions that atheists have a poor character; therefore, if we need to get rid of people, let's put the atheist on the list."

The same is true of the atheist student who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher is not going to say, “He does not stand for the Pledge; therefore, this paper gets an F.” Well, most teachers won't. It will be, “This paper came from an atheist. Atheists are inherently irresponsible and self-centered. Besides, somebody who does not realize that there is a God obviously has something mentally wrong with him. He can't see a truth that sits right in front of him. Yep, here it is, evidence that this student merely threw this paper together without giving the subject any real thought. Therefore; C-.”

That's how prejudice works.

Recognizing this, I recognize that putting the word "atheist" in my title means that many potential readers will simply skim past this blog, and others who may be interested will only do their reading when others are not aware of what they are doing. They will either print the essay so that they can read it later, or read it with the mouse cursor hovering over the minimize button in case somebody comes by.

This won't be true of everybody, mind you. Some live and work in a more tolerant environment than others. Some have a level of control over their situation that they do not need to worry about what others might think. Some have not experienced just how much they can lose.

I learned my lesson in Junior High. One particular example involved being held underwater by classmates who wanted to "baptize" me. They held me under at the city swimming pool to the point that I realized that I could not hold my breath much longer. I remember thinking, "If I scream, I will have no air, and when I breathe in again after I scream, there will be nothing but water." It is amazing how quickly the brain works at time. I had no other option really. I could only hold my breath for a few seconds more anyway. So, I screamed. Nothing but bubbles -- very silent bubbles -- of course. I remember being very disappointed that even I could barely hear my own voice, so nobody else was going to hear me either. So, that was it, no more air. However, when my tormentors saw the bubbles, they let me up.

This was not the only violence I suffered because I dared say that I did not believe in God. It was, however, the most frightening. And, I learned my lesson. "If you want to have food, clothing, shelter . . . and air to breathe . . . be careful who learns that you are an atheist."

I think of those events when I think about the demand that there be a "patriotic exercise" -- saying the Pledge -- in public schools. We did not say the Pledge when I went to school. If we had – if I had been forced to either stand and say something others knew I did not believe, or sit and draw attention to my beliefs in a ceremony designed to communicate the idea that "those who are not 'under God' are not true Americans . . . I shudder at the thought.

So, way back before the beginning of recorded blogestry (last August), I wondered about whether to include the word 'atheist' in my title -- knowing how many potential readers will respond to that fact. I thought about how this would hamper those who might share my writings with others -- because some people are not going to like the idea of forwarding something from an atheist to their friends and family, even if they think the content has merit and I am discussing something that has nothing to do with religion.

Would I not do better by hiding the atheism, and simply going with the ethics?

But, then again, the main reason I wanted to write this blog was to expose some of the wrongs that I found in society. Some of those wrongs concern the unfair an unjust treatment that atheists endure. Some of those wrongs are embodied in the fact that I have to think twice about putting the word "atheist" in my blog title. If I was going to write a log dedicated to identifying and addressing moral problems, that was one moral problem in need of addressing.

Maybe there was another Jr. High School student out there who could avoid some horror by having somebody somewhere write something that defended the idea that atheists are not inherently amoral.

So, I went to Google and typed the words “atheist ethicist” into the search engine.

I got exactly two hits.

Obviously, it is true that people almost never see the words “atheist” and “ethicist” together. It also meant that I had a title that I could call my own, and I would not be stepping on anybody else’s namespace. And I started writing.

Yet, I still wonder, from time to time, what would things be like today if I had decided against putting “atheist’ in the title?

Friday, December 30, 2005


I wrote yesterday's blog entry, “The Ten Amendments” as an introduction to today’s discussion of the practice of rendition.

Rendition is a practice whereby American CIA agents enter another country (so far . . . we think), kidnap a citizen off of the streets, put him in the trunk of a car, haul him to an airport and fly him to a "black site" prison. There, he is questioned using a number of harsh questioning techniques. To the rest of the world, he simply disappears.

Sometimes, these agents discover that they have captured and questioned somebody who is useless to them. These people show up again, months or years later, with stories of what they have gone through.

Yesterday, my theme was that the Bill of Rights either embodies a moral code that has been formally acknowledged as a part of our law, or they are political contrivances of no real significance. If we hold the former view, then a person does not need to be an American to have these rights, and Americans themselves would still have these rights even if they were not listed in the Constitution. If we hold the latter view, then there is nothing particularly special in the fact that Americans have these ‘rights’; so, if they really are the burden and the threat that the Bush Administration claim them to be, perhaps we should discard them.

If we take the former view -- if these are moral rights -- then the nationality of the victim of a wrongdoing is not relevant. I used the slogan that if it is wrong to murder, then it is just as wrong to murder an Albanian as an Alabaman. If it is wrong to rape, then it is as wrong to rape a Peruvian as it is to rape a Pennsylvanian.

Testing the Morality of Rendition

So, I offer this test. In any story of rendition, read the story while blinding yourself to the nationality of the victim or the location of the act. Imagine going online to read the local news and learning that the American government has been sending FBI agents out to pick up suspected criminals. Those criminals are hauled off to secret prisons where they are held and interrogated for months. No news of their capture is ever released. Friends, family, relatives, employers, only know that they disappeared.

In your imagination, have it be recognized that we know about these activities because a few people who disappeared eventually popped up again. They popped up with stories describing their capture, their torture, their imprisonment for years (in some cases) without charges and without opportunity to defend themselves. Imagine that at least one of the people who disappeared came from your neighborhood.

In fact, you might disappear suddenly because there is no judicial review or indictment. let's say that the government decides that the war on drugs deserves the same treatment as the war on terror -- it certainly does a lot more harm. Maybe some old college roommate with your number on his speed dial got in trouble with the law – as a drug smuggler, for example, and now the government is suspicious of you. So, they want to question you about what you know about these crimes. So, one evening, while walking the dog, a black van pulls up, your family is left wondering where you went.

Imagine that the victim is an American and the acts are occurring in this country. Then ask yourself, "Is this wrong?"

If it is wrong, then discovering that the victim is German or Lebanese or Iraqi is not relevant. When we say that murder is wrong, we say that the nationality of the victim does not matter. When we say that rape is wrong, we say that the nationality of the victim does not matter. If we imagine the rendition of an American and say that it is wrong – truly wrong in the moral sense to abduct a person off the streets and have him disappear without a trial and with no hope of judicial review -- then the nationality of the victim does not matter.

On the other hand, if we say that the nationality of the victim does matter, then we are saying that the act is not wrong. We are saying that the government may, and perhaps should, be doing these same things to Americans and that there would be nothing wrong with it. It may be illegal. However, we should look at the fact that the laws prohibit some particularly useful policies such as the rendition of American citizens off of American streets. If rendition is not wrong, then the laws that make it illegal should be abolished, so that the government can get on with doing that which it has every moral right to do.

We should shrug our shoulders and say, "So what?" as casually to the idea that an American has been subject to rendition as we would if the victim was a foreigner.

Or, we should be as angry and when the victim of a rendition is a foreigner as we would be if the victim were an American.

A third option, as I wrote yesterday, is to suggest that Americans are the only entities with full moral rights. On this model, citizens of other countries are not considered fully moral entities. They are not full ‘persons’ in the moral sense, but are something less than ‘persons’. Rendition would be one of those things that one is morally prohibited from doing to a ‘person’, but not to the sub-person entities that occupy other countries.


"But we would be in danger if we respected the rights of everybody!" the protestor cries.

This argument is not valid against the universality of morality. It does not disprove the claim that if something is wrong, it is as wrong to do that thing to a Peruvian as it is to a Pennsylvanian. It can only be used to argue that certain things are not wrong. This, in turn, would imply that it is as permissible to do that thing to a Pennsylvanian as it would be to do it to a Peruvian.

If the argument truly implies that rendition is a morally permissible action, then there is no moral reason to protect Pennsylvanians from the possibility of rendition. Indeed, if these protections are a threat to the nation, then we should immediately go to work eliminating these barriers against the rendition of Pennsylvanians (and all other Americans).

If, instead, the possibility of danger does not justify making Americans subject to the possibility of rendition, then we are back in the same trap of trying to explain why it is permissible to do to non-American humans that which American humans have a right not to have done to them.

Which Way Do We Go?

I fear that, if certain members of the Bush Administration get a hold of this argument -- particularly Attorney General Gonzales -- that the rendition of Americans off of American streets is just around the corner. Actually, to be honest, given this Administration’s claim that there is no limit to what they may do, I would not be surprised if Bush has not identified American citizens as “enemy combatants” and that a few Americans have disappeared in this way. I am not saying that it has happened, only that a news report saying that it had would not surprise me.

Anyway, I want to make it clear that I am not arguing for the repeal of the Bill of Rights and the rendition of American citizens from American streets. I argue that this is one way to avoid hypocrisy, but it is not the best way. The best way to avoid hypocrisy is to grant that non-American humans have the same human rights that American humans have.

We have written these rights into our Constitution. However, if they had not been written into our Constitution, we would still have these rights. Similarly, the fact that the regard of non-American humans as full persons in the moral sense is not written into our Constitution, they remain full persons in the moral sense nonetheless.

My argument in favor of promoting these principles universally is that, to the degree that we weaken the aversion to these types of actions, to that degree they become more common. To the degree that we engage in torture, to that degree we endorse and promote torture. To the degree that we engage in rendition, to that degree we endorse and promote rendition. To the degree that we promote torture and rendition, to that degree we build a world filled with torture and rendition.

If we are seeking to build a world without torture and rendition, then we need to give up the practice, as our way of telling others that they must give up the practice as well.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and do not do unto others that which you hold it would be wrong for them to do unto you.” Give up those practices that you would not allow to be practiced on yourself or your neighbors. That is what morality demands.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Ten Ammendments

If it is wrong to treat a person in a particular way, then a decent respect for morality requires that we recognize that people who are not Americans are still persons, in the moral sense.

I would like to invite each reader to decide how to categorize the principles embedded in the Bill of Rights -- the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution.

There are two possibilities.

(1) Contrivances. The Bill of Rights represents a political contrivance. It is a bargain made among Americans that applies only to other Americans. People have a 'right' to freedom of speech, for example, in the same way that, before 1865, they had a 'right' to own slaves.

(2) Principles. The Bill of Rights represents a set of moral rights that Americans have written into their Constitution. As moral rights, Americans would still have these rights even if they had not been written into the Constitution. Indeed, it would make sense to argue that we need no bill of rights, because true rights do not need to be written down. In this sense, people have a 'right' to freedom of speech, for example, in the same sense that blacks had a right to their freedom even while slavery was legal.

There is actually a third possibility. It could be the case that the Bill of Rights embodies a set of moral rights. However, Americans are the only beings that qualify as ‘people’ in the moral sense. Anybody who is not an American has a moral rank somewhere between human and animal on this standard, which means we may do to them things that would be wrong (in the sense of ‘immoral’) if they were done to an American. In this sense, Americans have a 'right' to freedom of speech in the same way that they once had a 'right' to buy and sell Africans.

This third option obviously has nothing to do with morality. A part of the very essence of morality is that it is universal – applying to all people equally. If it is wrong to murder, then it is just as wrong to murder a German as it is to murder an American. If slavery is wrong, then it is just as wrong to enslave an African as it is to enslave an American. If theft is wrong, then it is just as wrong to pick the pocket of an Albanian as it is to pick the pocket of an Alabaman.

Option (1): Political Contrivance

So, let's look at Option (1); the option that says that the Bill of Rights is a political contrivance. This model invites us to look upon the Bill of Rights the way that we would look upon the rules to a card game.

For the most part, these rules are arbitrary, and no rule has any particular merit in relation to any other rule. One rule says that you can only discard a card that matches the suit or the number of the top card on the discount pile. A different rule in a different game says that you can only discard a card of the same suit but the next highest value of the card on the discount pile. The rules themselves have no particular merit; they only exist to define the game.

If our Bill of Rights is a mere contrivance, like the rules of a card game, then we can replace a rule granting freedom of the press as casually as we can replace a rule governing the number of cards initially dealt to each player. If our Bill of Rights is a mere contrivance, then it does not matter that the people sitting at the next table are playing a different game using different rules. Ultimately, the rules are not that important.

Option (2): Moral Principles

If we take the Bill of Rights to be a set of moral principles that we happened to put into our laws, then we get a different result.

This differs from the previous option primarily in that a moral right does not depend on whether it is enumerated in the Constitution or any law. If the government were to repeal the First Amendment, the people will still have a right to freedom of speech. That right is theirs, not in virtue of living under this specific Constitution, but in virtue of the fact that humans have a basic right against this type of behavior.

On this conception, constitutions cannot grant or take away rights, they can only express the government's intention to respect or abridge rights that exist independent of government.

The problem is, if we look at the Bill of Rights as a set of moral principles defining rights that we have even if they were not written into the Constitution, then one does not have to be an American to have these rights. The Courts may decide that the government may freely abridge these rights when the victims are not American. Yet, the Courts cannot change the fact that the acts that violate these principles are immoral. They are just as immoral when the victim is German, or Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Russian, as they are when the victim is American.

If these are moral rights, then they are human rights, not American rights.

The person who says that citizens of other countries may be murdered, imprisoned without trial, or subject to cruel and unusual punishment, is somebody who says that the principles in the Bill of Rights are like the rules of a card game -- rules that can be accepted or discarded at will, that the rules have no real value.

The person who treats people from other countries in ways that would wrong if an American were the victim says that there is nothing particularly wrong with treating an American the same way. He is saying that the act is not particularly wrong, but is simply something we have decided (for some trivial reason) not to do to Americans.

The person who says it is wrong – really, morally, deeply wrong – to violate free speech, or to imprison an American without a trial, to subject an American to cruel and unusual punishment, has to be saying that it is wrong to do this to any person, even if that person is not an American.

That is, unless the person holds the completely pathetic view that only Americans are ‘persons’ in any moral sense, and that all other nationalities count as something less than human.

Security Requires Violating these Principles

There are some who argue that we cannot live according to the principles embodied in the Bill of Rights and apply them universally to all humans. We cannot do this because we would then be living in far of the next monster who would want to enslave us. These rules – these principles – make us weak and vulnerable. Our government needs the power to violate the Bill of Rights when it comes to foreigners because it is the only way to keep our country safe, they say.

Those who think this way have to think that America is a failed nation. If we cannot have a successful society governed by the Bill of Rights, then American cannot be a successful society.

My question is: Why is it that the government does not need to violate the rights of Americans to keep this country safe? What is the big difference between somebody in Colorado giving a right to be secure in one’s persons and possessions to a Pennsylvanian versus a Peruvian? If we are not saying that the Pennsylvanian is more of a ‘person’ than the Peruvian, then on what basis that we do things to the Peruvian that would be morally objectionable if we did them to the Pennsylvanian?

Our nation has done quite well respecting and obeying the principles within the Bill of Rights for the last two hundred years. This fact alone gives us reason to reject the claim that a society that respects individual rights to freedom of religion and the press, to peacefully assemble, to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, or be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process, and the like. A society does live under these principles; therefore, a society can be formed under these principles.

The rules that I am talking about – the moral principles embedded in the Bill of Rights – allow that there are exceptions in times of war or public danger. These factors can be taken into consideration while still avoiding the hypocrisy of doing to others in times of war or public danger that which would be considered wrong if it were done to Americans in time of war or public danger.

That only goes to show how good these rules are.


So, I ask the reader to decide. Is the Bill of Rights a political contrivance of no particular significance or value? Or is it a list of moral principles that define rights that people have regardless of whether or not they were actually written into the Constitution – moral principles that we have in virtue of being human, and thus moral rights that all humans have, regardless of whether or not they are American?

I suspect, in all honesty, many Americans actually accept the third option. This is the option that states that the Bill of Rights identify moral principles. However, only Americans are fully moral 'persons'. People from other countries have a moral status that is less than that of humans, comparable to that of animals, and have no right to the same treatment.

There is one last question to ask. Do you want to keep these rights? Do you want to promote respect for these principles as moral rights? This means getting as angry when others are subject to treatment that these principles would forbid, as you want others to be if you were the victim of these violations. Otherwise, do not be surprised if others are as apathetic about your own victimization as you were at theirs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Perspective on Scouting

I have learned recently that in the Defense bill that recently passed Congress, there were provisions to require state and local governments to get federal funds to support the Boy Scouts.

For any who do not understand the objections being made against the Boy Scouts, I offer the following story. This may be considered a sequel to "A Perspective on the Pledge" that I posted a couple of weeks ago.

A Perspective on Scouting

When the bell rang, Shawn stayed in his seat, securely holding onto his book and putting his foot through the strap on his backpack as it sat on the floor, waiting for the other students to file out of the room. At his previous school, he had learned valuable lessons against making himself vulnerable to the "accidents" that angry classmates might have.

He hazarded a smile against the thought that those who claimed that the words “one white nation” in the pledge had no significance got violent when others suggested that it expressed bigotry. Who gets angry over the loss of something that has no significance?

He was not the last to leave, however. Jenny, the white girl who was the first to side with him and also sit through the Pledge of Allegiance, stayed back as well and approached him as the class emptied. "I have to say that, if you want to make friends on your first day of school, that was probably not the best option for you to take this morning.”

"I can say the same to you," Shawn answered, while he collected his supplies. "You didn't have to. Honestly, what you did, as a white girl, took more moral courage than I showed today."

"Thank you," Jenny said with a smile.

Shawn walked out of the room with Jenny beside him, making him nervous on a number of different levels.

"What's your next class?" Jenny asked.

"Study hall," he answered. "However, I'm not going there. I've got something to do at the Principal's Office." He had stopped by a school bulletin board and stared at an announcement with the words Join the Youth Scouts written in large letters across the top. With the hallways starting to empty, he reached up and gave the paper a gentile tug, pulling it down.

"I don't think you should be tearing down other peoples' signs," Jenny said.

"I just want to show the Principal what I'm talking about."

"You're a trouble maker," said Jenny, smiling.

"Jenny, if somebody was attacking you, and you decided to defend yourself, say by grabbing a club and hitting him, who is the trouble-maker; you, or the person attacking you?”

"I'll go with you." Jenny said suddenly.

"You shouldn't do that," Shawn responded instantly. "You don't need to get into any trouble. Besides, what would your father say?"

Jenny smiled. "My grandparents were in Alabama in the sixties fighting to give atheists the right to vote. They’ve told me all about the firebombs and the angry men with rifles burning crosses in their yard. They can deal with my dad."

"I don't want you to," said Shawn.

“Sorry. It’s a free country.”

Shawn had to hurry if he was going to make it to the Administration Offices before hall monitors started taking names, and had no time to argue. He hurried down the hall, with Jenny close behind.

He had no appointment to see the Principal, who was busy getting the school organized on its first day. The secretary took his name and Jenny’s, gave them permission slips good until the end of the period, and emailed excused absence to their teachers.

While Shawn waited, having Jenny there added significantly to his anxiety. He had rehearsed this encounter a thousand times in his head, and not once did he imagine anybody standing with him.

Finally, Principal Hadley had a few minutes to spare. He got their names from his secretary and then called them into his office. He had a large office with a big oak desk, but he directed Shawn and Jenny to a chair at a small round table. After closing the door, he took a seat at the table and said, “Shawn, Jenny, what can I do to help you?”

Shawn found himself too nervous to speak, so he simply slid the announcement across the table for Principal Hadley to read.

"I see," said Hadley. He picked up the paper, looked up at Shawn, and stood up from the table. "Should I assume that you are opposed to this group recruiting on school grounds?"

"Yes, sir," said Shawn.

"Shawn, you should know that this school has a policy against discriminating against any group. If white kids want to get together and form their own club where they can enjoy the company of other white kids, I don't think that I should be stopping them."

Shawn sucked in a lung full of air. "It’s not actually the fact this is a group of people with something in common that wants to get together that concerns me, Mr. Hadley. It’s the fact that this group lives by the idea that anybody who is not white is . . . it’s a part of their statement of principles that a person has to be white to be of good moral character. If you read their handbook, it says that no person can be moral who is not white. They come in here and preach to my classmates that I am morally inferior because I am not white. They say that people like me are poor role models – a bad influence – on the other kids, simply because we aren’t white. If somebody comes into the school and denigrates a whole group of students who are required to be here, then I think that you should be stopping them.”

"Well, I’m sorry, Shawn, but I could not stop them even if I wanted to. The federal government just passed a law saying that no institution that gets federal funds – and we get federal funds – can deny access to the Youth Scouts. It's the law; we can't discriminate." He put the paper back down on the table and slid it back in front of Shawn.

"Discrimination is wrong," said Shawn.

"Of course."

“Okay,” said Shawn, pausing to think. “Let me see if I understand. An all-white Senate and an all-white House of Representatives pass a bill. They send that bill to a white President – the very same white President who said that the founding fathers wanted this to be a white nation, and that he would not appoint any judge who did not share that belief. That president signs a law that you cannot ban a group that holds that being white is necessary to being a person of good moral character. And, the reason they did this is because discrimination is wrong.”

"Yes. Exactly,” Principal Hadley said with a smile. “We are not going to discriminate against groups like the Youth Scouts in this school. I know that there are a lot of people out there who want to destroy this group. However, they are a good group. They teach a lot of important skills and values that it would be good for kids like you to learn.”

“Kids like me,” Shawn echoed.

Principal Hadley stammered, “Well, not kids like you, I mean . . . well, a lot of famous people were Scouts, and a lot of them will tell you that their scouting experience helped train them to become leaders in society.”

“Famous people," said Shawn.

"Yes. People such as . . ."

"Famous white people," Shawn interrupted. He pressed his palms down on the table and pushed himself up onto his feet. He then put his palm down on the announcement he had brought. As he closed his fist, he crumpled the paper within it. "I guess that kids who are not white either do not need, or do not deserve, these character-building experiences.”

Principal Hadley reached over to his desk for a note pad and offered it to Shawn. "Leave me your name, and I will look into the issue a little further. I'll let you know what I find out."

Shawn stared at Principal Hadley for a moment, then dropped the crumpled announcement back on the table and took the pad and pencil. He wrote down his name then handed it back. Principal Hadley then offered the pad to Jenny, but Shawn interrupted. “She is not a part of this. She was just curious, so I said she could come along if she wanted.”

Jenny then reached forward, took the pad, and wrote down her name. As she stood up, she told Principal Hadley cheerfully, “I think I would like to introduce you to my grandpa and grandma. I think you would have a wonderful time together.”

“I would be happy to meet them,” Professor Hadley said cautiously. “Now, is there anything else that I can help you with?”

“No, thank you, sir,” said Shawn. “Thank you for your time.” He stepped around Principal Hadley and headed out of the Administrative Center.

Principal Hadley watched them until they were a safe distance down the hall. He then dropped the pad on his secretary’s desk. “I would like to see their files, Ms. Farnsworth. Also, find out who their teachers are. Warn them that these two might be trouble. If they become a problem, I want to nip it in the bud.”

“Oh, not Jenny,” Ms Farnsworth sighed. “She has always been such a proper white child.”

“Well, she is obviously falling in with the wrong crowd,” Hadley answered. “There is a reason why we don’t let people like Shawn into the Youth Scouts. They’re a bad influence. Maybe we can find a way to end this and get Jenny away from him before he has more of a bad influence on her.”

Ms. Farnsworth had Shawn’s record up on her computer before Mr. Hadley was through his door and back in his office.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On Markets and Rights

In a secret bunker in an undisclosed location I am involved in a discussion about price controls in which I am defending my claim that Markets value the pleasure of the rich more than the survival of the poor.

If a poor person and a rich person enter into an auction for some item, where the poor needs that item to survive and the rich needs it for pleasure, the market will assign that good the rich, unless somebody steps in and interferes. The poor person can put everything he has into his bid, and still lose out to the wealthy person bidding out of petty cash – even though the rich person wants the good only for entertainment.

This happens because markets do not ask people why they want what they want. Markets only ask about willingness to pay. Where resources are scarce, they go to the person willing to pay the most -- again, regardless of why that person wants to pay anything.

Of course, this makes me a Lenninist Marxist Communist Liberal, in spite of the fact that I defend free markets for the most part. I simply believe that one must be honest about the strengths and the weaknesses of any system. This fact, that markets care only about ability to pay and care nothing about reasons, is one of the weaknesses of free markets.

There are two possible answers to this issue.

Answer 1: "So what?"

One answer is to simply dismiss this fact as irrelevant -- to say that it does not matter that markets value the pleasure of the rich above the survival of the poor.

Certain devoted fans of unfettered free markets might dismiss this fact as trivial. However, it is highly doubtful that those whose suffering, starvation, sickness, and death are at issue here are going to accept the thesis that those reasons lack significance.

As I have argued elsewhere, value is found in objects according to their tendency to fulfill desires. The aversion that people have to suffering, starvation, sickness, and death count among the desires that are relevant in determining the value of a political system. They will be used to determine the value of free markets. When they are used in this way, the tendency of free markets to value the pleasure of the rich over the lives of the poor does not leave a favorable mark.

Answer 2: "The rich have a right."

Another response that the defender of free markets can offer is that the rich have a natural right to their wealth. There is some sort of intrinsic value by which the pleasure of the rich is, indeed, more valuable than the survival of the poor.

This argument depends on the degree to which one can actually make good on the claim that these natural rights and duties actually exist. To the best of my knowledge, no physicist, chemist, biologist, or psychologist has ever needed to include them in any model governing the motion of bodies through space. And, in fact, human actions qualify as the motion of atoms through space. Therefore, I am fully prepared to endorse the conclusion that these natural rights and duties do not exist.

They are as much fiction as the divine commands of a God. In this, I side with the 19th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who wrote "Talk about rights is nonsense, and talk about natural rights is nonsense on stilts."

The poor do not have a natural duty to lay down and die for the pleasure of the rich.

A Modified Concept of Rights

I do hold that the concept of “rights”, developed in the 17th represented a significant advance in moral theory. I tend to think that the rights theorists were close to the truth, though they made one mistake. Rights are not intrinsic moral properties. Rather, rights, like all value, are grounded ultimately on desire. Scientists have never had much of a need to discuss intrinsic moral properties, but they have had the need to talk about desires.

From this, we can sensibly talk about what it makes sense for people to create universal desires for and universal aversions to. It makes sense for society to promote a universal aversion to wonton killing because people generally will live a more secure life and be better able to secure the lives of those they care about in a society with such a universal aversion. There is nothing wrong with conveying, “wonton killing is one thing to which everybody should be made averse” by claiming “everybody has a right to life.”

If we look, then, at the things that these philosophers said had an intrinsic moral quality, these are things that it makes sense for society to cultivate a universal desire for or aversion to. A "right to liberty" secures the blessings of liberty for oneself and those that one cares about. A "right to property" makes it easier for a person to make plans and to help those plans bear fruit – which they would not if others can take one’s tools or the products of one’s labor at will.

It applies to freedom of the press (a universal aversion to prohibiting people from saying things because those with the power to prohibit typically abuse this power by prohibiting truths useful to others but harmful to those in power). It applies to the right of trial by jury (an universal aversion to doing harm unless guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt because we prefer to live in a society in which if we stay innocent our chances of being harmed are reduced). It applies to freedom of religion (a universal aversion to imposing one's religion on others -- an aversion that, when absent, tends to contribute to violent conflict and a stagnating society).

So, I hold that these rights theorists did a very good job. Yet, they have not done such a good job of accounting for situation where rights conflict. If we look at the classic case of yelling, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. If there is a right to freedom of speech, then why is it sometimes permissible to overrule this right? If we can overrule the right to freedom of speech, then can we not, under relevantly similar circumstances, overrule the right to property?

The alternative I propose makes sense of the issue of yelling fire, because it makes no sense for society to wish that the right to free speech extend to these cases. Their security and happiness is better secured by “A right to free speech in cases other than those like yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.” If their security and happiness is better secured by “a right to property except where the pleasure of the rich is made to trump the survival of the poor,” then this defines the proper limits and scope of the right to property.

So, the question on the table as to whether the rich have a ‘right’ to this wealth ultimately is very much tied in with the question of whether such a universal aversion to taking property will help to better secure the poor from suffering, starvation, sickness, and death. These are very much morally relevant concerns.

There are some capitalists who answer this question by saying, “Yes, it will.” If they are right, then yes, in fact, there is such a right to property. If they are wrong, then no such right exists. Either way, the answer cannot be morally separated from the promise that free markets will secure the poor from suffering, starvation, sickness, and death.

Warning Against Easy Answers

There are people involved in this debate who say, "Obviously, if we redistribute the wealth, then everybody, including the poor will be better off." And there are those who say, "Obviously, if we enforce strict property rights, then everybody, including the poor will be better off."

The people in this debate with whom I have the strongest disagreement are those who use the term, “Obviously.”

I do not have the opportunity in any one blog to defend my position. Part of it is to say that I have no strong position, and it is subject to change at a moment’s notice in the face of new evidence. The evidence that I have seen so far points to the following:

The right to property comes with exceptions like the right to free speech. That one of these exceptions allows society to provide for the food, shelter, and medical care of any individual entered into a training program aimed at placing that person in a secure job as a contributing member of society. Society itself benefits from having a better-educated population. Those who are in such a program will be able to do more than those without the skills that such a program would provide.

Again, I have no ability here to go into this issue in detail. There are complications that I have not breached. The main point of this blog entry, however, remains this: That the legitimacy of a system of property rights does depend on its ability to make good on the promise to provide for the ability of all people to better avoid such things as suffering, starvation, sickness, and death. If it cannot do this, then it loses its moral legitimacy. If it can, then its legitimacy is secured.

Monday, December 26, 2005

On Wisdom

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a set of character traits that I found on the site of the Ohio Secretary of State. In that previous article, I wrote about the site’s Orwellian definition of liberty. Rather than defend true liberty, the site defended a notion that “liberty” means doing what the government tells us to do so that the government will not punish us with loss of liberty. “Liberty,” in this document, is the term used in this document to describe a condition where the government treats its citizens like children. “Do as we say, or we will send you to your room without any supper.”

The site, describes 20 character traits. The first on the list was “Wisdom.” The account given here is as follows:

SEEKING WISDOM: Ethical or high-character people courageously seek something greater than intelligence or knowledge (knowing what is); they seek wisdom (knowing what is right or true). Wisdom must logically culminate in the identification of conscience-convicting truth to be intellectually honest. Hence, the relentless pursuit of truth, its source and its compelling advocacy is the moral objective of ethical, character-building people. (Observable Virtues: principled, prudent, contemplative))

The claim that there is some sort of distinction to be drawn between knowing what is, and knowing what is right or true, is simply nonsense. There is no such distinction.

I suspect that the reason for this nonsense is to deliver a religious message – to denigrate and insult those who do not share the religious views of those promoting this particular concept of wisdom. As I mentioned in the blog entry referenced above, this list of character traits is associated with a group of people in Ohio more interested in theocracy than in liberty. Consistent with this, a reasonable interpretation of “something greater than intelligence” is religious faith. It is an attempt to draw a distinction between those who know the world through observation and science, and to assert the superiority of those who are aware of a “greater truth” probably available through scripture, divine revelation, or a personal relationship with God.

It is interesting to find insults and denigration of others with different views in a document meant to promote virtue – as if insult and denigration of others is a virtue.

Intelligence and Wisdom

When I was young, I had reason to contemplate the difference between intelligence and wisdom. The account that I used to describe the difference to my friends was this:

A person with intelligence can win a game of Trivial Pursuit™ or Jeopardy™. A person with wisdom can win a game of chess.

Chess involves very few rules. The average grade-school student can memorize the rules for chess. However, a person with wisdom can take those few simple rules, look at the huge number of moves that are available in chess, and find those moves that are most likely to produce a desired result – to checkmate the opponent’s king.

There is nothing in this that justifies a distinction between knowing what is and what knowing what is right or true. The distinction depends on how one acquires knowledge.

The person without wisdom can be told how the Queen moves in a game of chess, and can learn the capabilities of a pawn, but lacks the ability (the wisdom) to deduce the value in winning the game of sacrificing a pawn in order to capture the opponent’s queen.

The intelligent person can acquire this type of knowledge. He can learn that he needs to protect his queen. He can learn the relative values of a bishop versus a rook – that the rook’s ability to land on a square of either color gives it an advantage over the bishop’s ability to land only on squares of the color it is on at the start of the game. The wise person does not have to read this in a chess book to come to these conclusions. He can deduce it from the basic rules that he has been given and a few minutes of experience.

What this means is that there is no truth available to the wise person that the intelligent person cannot acquire. There is nothing greater than what “is” to know. The wise person simply has a way of reaching those truths that do not depend on blindly listening to what he is told. He can figure things out for himself.

The Virtue of Wisdom

Wisdom is, indeed, a virtue. Just as the wise person can better win a game of chess, he can better accomplish other objectives. A wise project manager, for example, can meet a group of people working underneath him and conclude which will work best together and which it would be best to separate. He will be able to deduce which types of work to give to each employee, and the type of product he can expect to get back. If he is wise, he can anticipate problems become they arrive and take steps to mitigate those problems if they should occur.

He does not need to read about a problem in a book or hear somebody else talk about an issue to be aware of the possibility. He can anticipate possibilities that nobody else has ever experienced or talked about. These are valuable skills, and a skill that a person seeking excellence will certainly try to cultivate.

Acquiring Wisdom

There are two primary ways to cultivate wisdom; logic and experience.


The ability to deduce new conclusions from given pieces of information is precisely what logic is about. Logic is the study of those rules that say, “If you have these premises, then you can draw those conclusions, but not those others.” The conclusions that can be drawn from these premises are deductively sound or inductively strong. The conclusions that a wise person would not draw from these premises are deductively invalid or fallacious, or inductively weak or unwarranted. The wise person knows how to seek the former and to avoid the latter.


The other way to improve one’s wisdom in an area is through experience. We learn from our mistakes. Not only do we learn the facts that relate to that specific mistake, but we acquire an ability to anticipate relevantly similar mistakes. We learn the warning signs, and we learn what each warning sign means. In this way, an experienced driver learns to anticipate the dangers of the road and how to avoid them. The experienced military commander learns when and how to use his artillery. The experienced comic rehearses his routine, practices, and learns how to read and respond to each audience.

The driver, the military commander, and the politician know the virtues of practice. To help develop wisdom, we first send drivers to a class where they can be student drivers; we allow them to drive on back roads and parking lots while they develop their skills. Military commanders hold war games to develop the commander’s battlefield wisdom – and even to develop the wisdom that aid the common soldiers in the field.

Policies for Promoting Wisdom

This suggests that if we are truly interested in promoting wisdom – as we should be – that there are two courses of action to pursue towards this end.

Teach Logic

The first policy to adopt to promote wisdom -- teach logic to children. The informal fallacies are easy enough for students in Jr. High to understand and apply. If you do not want your children to be as susceptible to the demagogues and others who will seek to entice them into drawing unreasonable conclusions, a good understanding of the logical fallacies should help in this regard. High school students should be able to understand formal logic. Indeed, I cannot think of a reason why it is not a required course. Would society not benefit by a population that actually knows how to reason – to distinguish between warranted and unwarranted inferences?

I find that the greatest evidence against the claim that our schools aim to teach children how to think rests in the fact that the rules for distinguishing warranted from unwarranted conclusions are never discussed in most schools.

On the main page to this blog, after a link to my own home page, I list three sites devoted to logical fallacies, and one site dedicated to logic in general. This is because of the value that the skill of logic, and in particular being able to detect when others are trying to sneak through an unwarranted conclusion, and to avoid fallacious reasoning in one’s own writing.

Promote Useful Experience

The second policy to adopt to promote wisdom is to promote the right types of experiences. The child who plays computer games and watches television acquires wisdom in how to win that game or anticipate what is going to happen in that show, but is not acquiring any useful wisdom. Useful wisdom means putting the child in situations where he will practice the skills that will help him as adults.


The word “Philosophy” comes from ancient Greece, and means literally “The love of wisdom.” Philosophy consists in the application of reason to the most difficult questions that we know, in the hopes of determining the most reasonable answer.

Wisdom is not insulting and denigrating those who do not share one’s religion. That is not wisdom. That is what the ancient Greeks called “sophistry” – playing games with words in order to manipulate others, usually to the disadvantage of the listener and the advantage of the speaker.

It is quite sad to see a text that claims to respect and promote the value of wisdom instead dedicated to presenting sophistry in its place.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Chat: About This Blog

Okay, yes, I took the day off. The world seems to be having a calm couple of days, with the exception of the rekindling of civil war in Sri Lanka.

I think that it would be a good day just to get a nice cold glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, sit back, and have a pleasant little chat, just to take stock of where things are and where they are going.

So, why am I here, writing this blog? I have given the core reason several times. When I was in high school I resolved that I would leave the world better than it would have otherwise been. Unlike a lot of people who are out advocating a particular political position or policy, I felt that I needed to understand what 'better' meant. So, I actually went through 12 years of college studying theories of value -- particularly moral value.

Now, if I were to sift through all of that education and come up with the most important things that I could say about value, it would be this:

1. Values are real.

Yes, values depend on desires, and if no desires exist than no values exist. However, desires are real. Therefore, values are real. It is just as true to say that there would be no moons without planets. However, planets do exist. And, as a result, we live in a universe that contains a few moons. So, people who talk about value, like those that talk about moons, are talking about something real.

2. It is possible to bridge the is-ought gap.

There has to be a bridge out there somewhere. The real world, the world that can be described with 'is' statements, is the only world that exists. Anything that can't be reduced to 'is' statements is not real. It is fiction or make-believe. So, value statements either have to be reduced to 'is' statements somehow, or all value statements are make-believe.

As somebody who has first hand experience with value, I would like to assure you that the phenomenon is real. I have had first-hand interaction with value, and I suspect that you have as well.

I think one of the most damaging ideas out there comes from those who accept the standard interpretation of Hume's claim that 'ought' cannot be derived from 'is'. Separating 'ought' from 'is' means removing 'ought' from the natural realm (because that is the realm that 'is' statements describe), and putting it in a supernatural realm outside of the reach of science and rational analysis. To think that there is such a realm is problematic at best.

Besides, I don't think these people have Hume right. Hume did not say, "You cannot derive 'ought' from 'is'." He said, "You cannot derive 'ought' from 'is' without mentioning the passions." I convert the word "passions" to "desires" and say the same thing.

These "passions" or "desires" are real. They are very much a part of the natural world. As such, they are very much capable of being captured by 'is' statements. As such, there is a link between 'ought' and 'is' that makes 'ought' as much a natural property as anything else in the universe.

This means that we can study it, apply reason to it, and determine which 'ought' claims are true and which are false.

3. Moral value has little to do with the passions of the speaker.

People like to look at their own feelings to determine right and wrong. We even have a saying that you should "let your conscience be your guide."

Actually, no. That's not right. People view their own "sense of right and wrong" as being more reliable than it is in fact. The only thing these internal sensations tell you is what you like and do not like. They tell you how you have been taught to react to things, without much analysis as to whether you have been taught well or poorly.

The problem with looking into one's own heart to determine right from wrong is captured by the fact that "I like" does not imply "You ought". Nor does "I do not like" imply "You ought not." How is it that you get from an internal sentiment -- something planted (to speak in Hume's terms) in your own breast, to what other people ought or ought not to do? This chasm is much more insurmountable than the gap between "is" and "ought".

I recognize that a lot of people like the idea of linking what is in their own heart to what is right and wrong. It makes it easy to do the right thing. One only looks at one's own inclinations, and goes with them. However, no matter how many times people make a particular invalid inference, it remains invalid. "You ought" and "You ought not" cannot be derived from "I like" and "I like not".

I have no doubt that the 9-11 hijackers, suicide bombers, and other terrorists are confident that they are doing the right thing when they blow up a bus full of innocent people. These people were as skilled at letting their conscience be their guide as the rest of us are. I have no doubt that those who are repulsed by the thought of two people of the same gender in a sexual relationship are feeling a genuine sense of revulsion -- and that it is no different from the revulsion that others feel at the thought of two people of different races having a sexual relationship.

Mark Twain captured the full sense of "let your conscience be your guide" in the book Huckleberry Finn. Huck helped the slave Jim escape, and felt guilty about it through the entire book. He was taught to view blacks as property, and he was taking somebody else's property from them and setting it free. The whole book concerns his guilt over this, with Huck finally deciding that he is a bad person, but he would not turn Jim in. He felt that he had to simply accept the fact that, unlike others, he was born to sin by aiding in Jim's escape. If he had let his conscience be his guide, he would have turned Jim in.

4. Morality is not found in what societies do reward and punish.

To study right and wrong, you have to get outside your own mind.

To understand morality, you have to realize that it reflects facts that existed before you were born, and facts that will persist after you are dead. Morality has to do with what society has reason to praise or condemn, to reward or punish.

This is not what society thinks it should praise or condemn, reward or punish. A whole society can be caught up in the false belief that there is a God that will destroy them unless they promote the misery of a certain segment of their population -- such as women, homosexuals, or "unbelievers". Whole societies can believe that they have reason to segregate the races, treat diseases with prayer rather than medicine, and reject the theory of evolution.

Entire societies can be wrong.

So, we cannot look at what a society does or does not praise or condemn, reward or punish, to determine what morality requires. This only tells us what they think that morality requires. They can be wrong.

So, the quest to do the right thing is not discovered by looking into one's own heart, nor is it discovered by looking at what societies praise and condemn, or reward and punish.

5. Morality has to do with what it makes sense for a society to reward and punish

Morality actually has to do with what it makes sense for a society to praise and condemn, reward and punish, whether they realize it or not.

Freedom of the press, for example, would have been a good idea for any society, from ancient Babylon to the present, long before anybody actually wrote it into a Constitution. The reasons why societies ought to praise freedom of the press and stand ready to condemn and punish those who would violate this principle are the reasons it got written into the Constitution to start with. If the press is chained, then those who hold the key will manipulate it to promote those fictions that consolidate and expand their power, while "convincing" others of their need to sacrifice their own good.

Freedom of the press is one of those things that was a good idea long before I was born, and will be a good idea long after I die, that retains its value to society even if I did not exist. These are the types of truths that morality seeks to expose.

These are the things that I try to identify in this series of essays -- things that it would be wise for society to praise and reward, and that it would be wise for society to condemn and punish. I offer my reasons for suggesting that society would be wise to do these things.

I suggest that it would not be wise for any society to accept the claim that the legislative, judiciary, and executive powers of government should be combined in one office, in the body of one person. Yet, as Bush claims the right to rewrite all of the laws, and to be the sole judge of the legitimacy of his own actions, that this is the type of government we are heading towards.

I suggest that it would be wise for society to keep church and state separate. Because, to the degree that it is not, to the degree that one religion is given power to compel that others accept theirs as the dominant religion, to that degree we can expect conflict and strife. We have seen it throughout human history. And we will see it again, if we are not careful.

I suggest that it would be wise for society to condemn an administration that sends negotiators out to conferences, such as the Climate Change conference, under the arrogant presumption that we have nothing to gain or to learn by negotiating with the rest of the world.

6. I can be wrong.

There is a particular attitude associated with those who think that morality is not something to be derived from one's own sentiments, regarding the opinions of others. It means that, when somebody steps up and says, "I think you are wrong," then I have to allow the possibility that I might actually be wrong. I need to listen to their reasons for saying that society would not be well advised to do what I suggest. If there is a fact of the matter, it would be arrogance to assume that I know without the possibility of error what that fact is.


So, it is my hope that I am providing something of value with this blog. I hope that the years of education have taught me something useful, and that I can actually do something useful with what I learned. Societies actually can be made better, and they can be made worse. By looking seriously at the options, and discussing them, hopefully we can continue to move closer to the former, and away from the latter, over time.

And, yes, these are the types of things that I sit back and contemplate when I take a day off.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

NASA and Dreams of Space

This blog entry concerns a dream for a bright future for the human race. Though, first, there is a need for some new comments on some old business.

Old Business: Merry Christmas

I hope that all of my readers enjoy a very merry Christmas.

In an earlier blog I covered the "War on Christmas" -- or, more accurate, an attempt by certain people to promote hostility between individuals because this, to them, seems to be what the sprit of Christmas requires.

I see no reason to be concerned with saying Merry Christmas. If we can name one of our most important institutions after a divine entity that does not exist, then we can name a holiday after a divine entity that does not exist.

These blog entries are heavily concerned with what does and does not count as “justice”. Yet the concept of “justice” comes from the name of an ancient Roman goddess, Justita. She was the blind-folded lady with a sword and a set of scales for weighing evidence. Each of us can be concerned with justice without adhering to the ancient Roman pantheon. Similarly, each of us can enjoy a holiday on December 25th called Christmas without being Christian.

Besides, it is good to have a season where we focus on peace, harmony, and good will. Some people would rather use the season as a call to arms to do war against those who do not accept their religion, but let’s try to ignore those warriors, at least for a day.

Old Business: Spying on Americans

MSNBC is now reporting that Bush’s spying was not a matter of listening in on the phone calls of individuals where captured phone numbers revealed a link to al-Queada. Rather, Bush ordered NSA agents to sweep through entire telecommunications gateways for "patterns" that were “suspicious”. Of course, with no judicial oversight, the Bush Administration gets to set its own standards as to what counts as "suspicious".

The Bush defender cries, “Oh, but Bush is only looking for signs of terrorist activity. All that he is trying to do is keep us safe.”

Are you sure? How do you know this? Even if he is, what if the next President has a lower sense of self-control or a stronger sense of his own importance in the world, such that he expands these searches? What protections do we have against these possibilities? Can you imagine what Dick Cheney or Karl Rove would define as a "reasonable" case for evesdropping on Americans? No . . . wait . . .

New Business: Space Development

Since this is Christmas Day, I an going to discuss something about hope for the future, rather than the wrongs that people are committing today.

Congress has passed the NASA Authorization Bill for the next two years, so this would be a good time to talk about space.

I have already written on the value that I think can be found in space development in the September 18th blog entry “”.

In that blog, I also mentioned that I thought NASA could better fulfill this objective, not by launching its own missions into space, but by offering prizes to those private entities that met certain objectives. This follows the model established by the X-Prize, a private contest to pay a $10 million prize to the first company to send a three-person rocket to the edge of space (100 kilometers above the surface) twice in two weeks.

On this front, I am pleased to discover that Congress has authorized NASA to have $50 million worth of prizes available in any fiscal year, and increased the size of any given award above the current $250,000 limit. The new bill actually does not establish an individual prize limit (beyond the limit for the sum of all prizes in a year), which should make it easier to develop some more significant contests.

After all, the X-Prize was for $10 million, and look at what it brought us? It spawned a new industry devoted to delivering paying customers to the edge of space.

Ultimately, I would like to see NASA’s capacity to offer prizes expanded further.

Compare a system where NASA itself builds a probe and sends it off to discover Pluto, or to sample rocks on Mars, or to look for ice buried under the surface of the Moon, to NASA offering a prize.

NASA could spend $500 million on such a probe. Or, NASA could offer a set of five $100 million prizes to any team that delivers a certain set of data on five different Kupyer objects, five $100 million prizes on any team that delivers data on the surface of Mars at any of five specified locations, and five $100 million prizes to any team who delivers data on five different locations on the moon – data that would be useful in determining if ice was present and in what quantities.

I would like the caveat that no more than 2 prizes can go to any 1 team, to give the second and third place teams a chance to be rewarded for their efforts a well.

We would realize three benefits of such a system.

(1) NASA would only pay for success. Are you tired (as I am) of having NASA spend $500 million on a machine that plunges head-first into the Martian landscape without sending us back any of the data that we paid to collect? If NASA offered prizes, it would never again pay for a machine that does not bring back any data. It will only pay for the data.

(2) The prizes would stimulate engineering success. The X-Prize people did not care how one completed the task of acquiring the capacity to put people into near-earth space twice in two weeks. It only cared about whether the invention worked. As such, 25 different teams threw their engineering capability into 25 different systems. If NASA were offering prizes for collecting data, I would also expect engineering teams to be experimenting with some new and exciting options. We may well discover that we are exploring space in ways that NASA itself never would have thought of.

(3) The prizes would also stimulate entrepreneurial success. The problem with NASA missions is that they do not involve the people. It involves a group of engineers in a clean room and a group of scientists sitting around computers, with the people fed scraps in terms of the occasional pretty picture. However, any team competing for one of these prizes will have the freedom to expand their mission in ways that engage the public – in ways that allow for public participation, for a fee.

Whether it is by corporate sponsorships or having a company logo on the side of the craft, or private participation through the internet, you and I would be able to participate in the development of space, and not just watch from the sidelines. The entrepreneurial inventiveness of these teams may also come up with forms of public participation that NASA itself never would have dreamed possible.

One of the advantages of this is that we get a lot of space development without spending tax money. We will see private money going into space development, and people trying to find more and better ways to draw in more and more private funds.

Rich Peoples’ Toys

There are those who complain about rich people buying expensive space toys for huge lump sums of money that could otherwise go into solving the problems of Earth. When I hear about these rich people buying tickets to go to the edge of space or to spend a week on the space station, I have a slightly different perspective.

I imagine the local PBS television station having its fund raiser, offering to send the person who makes a certain minimum donation a book, a DVD collection, or some other keepsake.

The future of the human race rests in space, and it needs money. I see these space tourist agencies as making claims like:

For a $200,000 contribution (or less) to the future of the human race, we will provide you with a few minutes of weightlessness on the edge of space. If you make a $20 million contribution to the future of the human race, you will get 1 week on the international space station. And, for a donation of $100 million, we will send you out on a trip to the moon and back on a free return trajectory, where you will be the first person since the Apollo 17 Astronauts to personally see the far side of the moon.

Do not misunderstand – unlike the local PBS station, these are for-profit companies. Yet, they are still for-profit companies investing in an industry on which the future of the human race may well depend. If rich people buying these products will induce companies to invest in this industry, then I see no reason to object.

What would it take to actually land on the surface of the moon?

NASA says that it will cost $104 billion. SpaceDev says that it could cost under $10 billion.

So, what would happen if NASA said that, instead of investing $104 billion on a lunar base, NASA instead would pay $10 billion each to the first company to put a person on the moon, leave him there for a week, and bring him back to earth, and $5 billion for each of four follow-up trips, and was willing to pay 2 sets of prizes to 2 sets different teams?

We would have 2 lunar bases, NASA would not pay a dime for failure, there would be no cost overruns (who here really thinks that NASA will not encounter problems where these expenses will end up being a lot higher than $104 billion), the tax payers would save $54 billion that they could then spend on other projects, and we would have a lunar development industry, rather than a government moon base.

Lives at Risk

Of course, there is the issue that space development is too dangerous – that people might die. We can’t ignore this fact.

Yet, as we leave this dream and return to reality, we find we are remembering over 200,000 people who died in a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, that over 2100 Americans and 30,000 Iraqis have died in the American invasion there, Hurricane Katrina, the Pakastani earthquake that killed over 70,000, suicide bombers, terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction, and a possible bird flu pandemic, among other risks.

Maybe, going into space is not such a dangerous option after all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Preserving the Rainforests

Old Business: Spying on Americans:

The Justice Department released a letter today defending the legality of Bush's order to allow the NSA to spy on American citizens without obtaining a warrant. The letter contains substantially the same arguments that Gonzales presented on CNN and which I discussed in Spying on Americans III. The same objections apply.

(1) The claim that Presidential powers as Commander in Chief trumps all other parts of the Constitution effectively interprets the Constitution out of existence.

(2) The Justice Department is saying that President Bush has the authority to rewrite every law ever written that contains the phrase "except as authorized by Congress" or any similar phrase, thus turning virtually every law into, at most, a body of polite suggestions.

(3) The President has used this "power" to eliminate any judicial oversight on how he conducts his business. He alone gets to decide whether his own actions are reasonable, and no tyrant has ever thought of his own actions as unreasonable.

In short, President Bush has assumed the right to edit and rewrite all legislation to suit his ends, subject solely to his own approval. He has created a Presidency with all of the powers of a dictator and left us defenseless against any future tyranny.

Now, does that not make you feel all safe and warm?

Old Business: Global Warming

Two weeks ago, the Bush Administration took credit for a 0.8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States from 2000 to 2003. I argued in my blog entry, American Behavior at the Climate Change Conference that the Bush Administration couldn't reasonably claim responsibility for this reduction unless it wanted to claim responsibility for the recession that shut down the factories that reduced the demand for fossil fuels.

Yesterday, news reports carried the story that America’s greenhouse gas emissions rose to a record high in 2004. Somehow, I suspect the Bush Administration is not going to accept responsibility for the increase and, instead, say that it is due to factors outside of its control.

Does anybody in the Bush administration even have an inkling that there is a word in the English Language called "responsibility?" They certainly show no signs of understanding the concept.

New Business: Rainforests

Today, I would like to take one of the points that I made yesterday and apply it to another of the world's problems -- the disappearing rainforests.

Yesterday, I wrote that if society truly does value the Arctic wilderness more than the oil, than society should be willing to compensate Alaska for the revenue it is forced to give up by not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If we are not willing to compensate Alaska for what we are asking it to give up, this says that we either do not value that wilderness as much as we say we do, or, like any thief, we seek to take what we value while forcing others to suffer the costs -- in this case, the cost of revenue that the state of Alaska has to give up.

By analogy, I wrote that if you had $500 locked in a case, and society says that the preservation of the case is worth $1000, then society should be willing to compensate you for the $500 that it is asking you to give up. If society is not really interested in paying you the $500, then we have reason to doubt society's claim that preserving the case is worth $1000.

If society pays you the $500, and the case is worth $1000 to it, then society is still better off, since it realizes $1000 worth of value at a cost of $500. If society does not think that it is worthwhile to pay you the $500 to preserve the box, then it makes no sense for society to claim that preserving the box is worth more to it than the contents of the box are worth to you.

Application: Rainforests

The same issue applies to the way we regard the rainforests. We have set up a world economy where we tell the governments with large tracts of rainforest (e.g., Brazil and Indonesia) that we will pay them if they destroy their rainforests, but not if they preserve those rainforests. If they tear down the rainforests, sell the lumber and then sell the land to farmers to grow crops, they can make money. If they leave the rainforests alone, they get nothing.

Then, we turn around and notice to our shock and dismay, "THEY ARE DESTROYING ALL THE RAINFORESTS."

My question: "Why are we acting so surprised?"

This is, in fact, the only predictable result of the system that we have set up. If we are going to pay these countries to destroy their rainforests and nothing to preserve them, then of course these countries are going to destroy their rain forests. Furthermore, they will have an incentive to invest in a growing technology that will allow them to destroy rainforests as efficiently as possible.

If we want to reverse this trend, we have an easy solution. We tell the governments of these countries, "Your rainforests are more valuable to us than your lumber and farm products, so we will now pay you to preserve your rainforests."

Then, destroying the rainforests will cost these countries money. In this case, instead of investing in the destruction of the rainforests, they will be investing in their preservation.

The Moral Dimension

Brazil has a rainforest. This rainforest contains a lot of what many people around the world value. It tempers the world's climate, provides for a wide diversity of plant and animal life, produces oxygen, instantiates wilderness values, and provides a DNA bank for genetic research that can help to produce new drugs and other medical breakthroughs.

Rainforests are also becoming valuable for their ability to sequester carbon, mitigating the damage that greenhouse gasses do. Given that those who produce greenhouse gasses cause harm to others and, thereby, have a moral obligation to compensate those harmed harmed (an issue that I discussed in "Global Warming: Who Pays?" greenhouse gas producers such as the United States can mitigate our responsibility by financing carbon sequestering -- that is, by funding rainforest preservation and regrowth.

Unfortunately, we want Brazil to provide us with these goods without actually paying for them. Therefore, our actions towards Brazil and countries like it take two forms.

(1) We attempt to use economic and political coercion to force them to provide us with these goods.

(2) We use moral language to tell them that they have an obligation to provide us with these goods as an act of charity -- that they have a moral obligation not to destroy the rain forests.

In both of these cases, we are wrong.

Because we are dealing with public goods, we are able to demand that a country provide us with goods that we value without actually taking anything out of that country. This is the nature of a "public good." Furthermore, the fact that its benefits are not tangible, free markets tend to destroy these goods in favor of physical entities. Yet, insofar as we force Brazil to preserve its rainforests and its values by threatening sanctions, we are, in fact, taking value by force, as plainly as if we were stealing commodities.

Morality requires that charity flows from those who have to those who do not not. If Brazil were an economically advanced country, and the United States was an impoverished developing nation, then we would be able to make the case that Brazil should provide us with charitable contributions including the values we can realize from public goods. However, the situation is reversed. We are the economically advantaged nation and Brazil is struggling to catch up. Therefore, Brazil owes us no charity. If we want Brazil to provide the goods contained within the preservation of the rainforests, then we have an obligation to compensate Brazil for the other opportunities that it must give up.

In this case, I am not talking about charity for third world countries. I am talking about paying them an honest amount of money comparable to the values that to be found in preserving their rain forests. We can use satellites to continue to measure their success at preserving these rain forests, and make the payments proportional to their success.

It seems a lot more fairer than coercing them into providing us with these goods, and it makes more sense than saying that they have a moral obligation to provide these goods.

Furthermore, if we pay them for preserving these forests rather than paying them only to destroy the forests, we might turn around one day and discover that they have quit destroying all of the rain forests.

Imagine that.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

On December 22, 2005, the Senate failed to break a threatened filibuster on a provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On this issue, I have no strong sentiment one way or the other. However, I do have a strong sentiment that some of the reasons I hear for thinking we should drill in ANWR make little or no sense.

(1) It would reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

Opening up the oil field in Alaska is supposed to reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

I don't see how it is supposed to do that. No matter how I look at it, I see it as increasing our dependency on foreign oil.

To illustrate my concern, I wish to report that I preserve a fairly large pool of unused vacation hours at work. I am constantly hovering near the maximum that I can accumulate. I also save a fairly large percentage of my money, representing another pool of resources that I can draw upon.

As a result of having these reserves, if I should get laid off, I will get a few extra weeks of pay to help me through the rough times that will follow. Similarly, if I should come across an opportunity that will take me away from work for a few days, I have the freedom to take it.

The argument that developing the oil fields in ANWR will reduce our dependence on foreign oil sounds to me like saying that if I spend all the money in my savings account and use up all of my vacation hours, that I will increase my financial independence on the company I work for.

What is actually going to happen is that my employer will find myself in a situation where I have to accept anything my employer decides to throw at me. I would no longer be able to afford to quit my job. Nor will I have the liberty to pursue other options if they should be made available. I must go to work each day and I must not do anything to offend my boss and get him to fire me. By using up all of my reserves, I have destroyed my freedom.

As with my pool of vacation hours and savings, that pool of oil in Alaska buys us options we will not have once that oil is gone. It gives us an alternative of allowing us to risk our relationship with the oil exporting countries. However, it retains that ability only as long as it exists. Destroy it, and we destroy the options and the flexibility that it provides.

Now, it is true that while we are using up this Alaska oil, we are using less imported oil. It is also true that, while I was using up my vacation hours and my savings account that I am not at work. It is possible that some people can confuse this with genuine independence. However, this is a temporary freedom -- one that leads ultimately to a deeper dependence.

Using the Alaska oil will increase our dependence on foreign oil in other ways as well.

One of the effects of using this oil is that it can be expected to reduce the price of gasoline and other fossil fuel products in the United States. This, in turn, will benefit those industries that consume oil. This will yield an economy within which the importance of oil has grown. As such, as the stockpiles in Alaska ran out we would be in a position of needing more oil than we would have otherwise been. At the same time, we would have fewer options as to where to get it.

At the same time, the increased supply and lower price would reduce our incentive to invest in either conservation or in alternative energy systems. These alternatives would have to compete on the market with the lower oil prices. To whatever degree the supply from Alaska contributes to lowering the price of oil, to that degree our investment in alternative energy systems will be dampened.

Combine these three elements, and the effects of harvesting the oil at ANWR will be:

• A lower reserve of oil that we can draw upon in case of an emergency, giving foreign suppliers more power to dictate the terms under which we get their oil.

• An economy with a greater dependence on oil augmented by the lower price that will drive us to seek outside sources as the Alaska source is consumed.

• Lower investment in conservation and alternative energy that provides the best chance of reducing or eliminating our dependence on foreign oil.

It appears to me that harvesting the ANWR oil reserves will increase, not decrease, the power that foreign suppliers will have over us.

Note: See my blog entry "Energy Prices and the Folly of Price Controls" and "John Stossel: Price Gouging" for additional concerns. In particular, I want to repeat my earlier comment that energy assistance of some type for the poor is a necessity -- but it should not come through price manipulation.

(2) Free Ridership

Another concern with respect to the ANWR is that wildlife preservation is a public good. As I discussed in a previous blog, a public good is one in which a person can obtain something that he values without paying for it. If one person goes to the effort of preserving and protecting a species, all of those who value the preservation and protection of that species gets something of value. However, they get this whether they contribute to the project or not. As a result, people tend to contribute to public goods at a lower rate than their worth.

Military defense is a paradigm example of a public good. If we defend any part of a city, we defend all of it. As a result, any individual in the city can get a “free ride” on others who contribute to the city’s defense. If military spending depended on voluntary contributions, we would discover that our military strength to be tremendously under funded. As a public good, we can expect that wildlife preservation is also being tremendously under funded.

To correct for this defect, it is necessary for the government to take steps to promote public goods, such as military defense and wildlife preservation, to the degree that they would be funded if they were private (as opposed to public) goods. There is reason to dispute as to what the right amount is. However, there is no reason to believe that the value of these public goods should be ignored entirely. If they are, then our nation is made poorer – in terms of having fewer things of value – than it would have otherwise been.

(3) Buy-Offs

We also need to consider the fact that a significant motivator for opening up ANWR to drilling may well be a political faction's interest in repaying an investment that special interests groups made in that faction.

The way politics works, special interests groups invest in a champion – an individual who will use political power to transfer public assets over to that special interest group. These assets typically take the form of tax revenue or regulatory advantage, but it can also take the form of physical government assets. We know that the energy industry invested a great deal of money in the Bush Administration. We know that the Bush Administration has an incentive to repay these favors by transferring government assets (the Alaska oil) over to those industries.

We, the voting public, also have reason to discourage these types of deals. One of the ways of discouraging them is to require a presumption that these assets will not be turned over, unless the politician can provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it is necessary. This is the same standard we use in trials, where the accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the duty of those who advocate this transfer of oil to provide evidence sufficient to override this assumption. To the best of my knowledge, no such evidence has yet been provided.

Being Fair to Alaskans

There is still an important argument to be made on the other side of the debate that, to the best of my ability to determine, does not get the consideration that it should.

The main argument against drilling in ANWR is the claim that the untouched wilderness has more value than the oil. However, this puts Alaska in an unfair position. Of all of the values contained within this region, Alaska can only get paid for the oil. This gives Alaska reason to push for harvesting the oil at the cost of damaging these other values.

Imagine that you had a stack of $100 bills sealed in a case. The only way to get to the money would be to break the case. Only, the rest of society forbids you from breaking the case because of its intrinsic value. In doing this, society is forcing you to give up whatever you could acquire with the money.

If society truly values the case as much as they say they do, fairness seems to suggest that they should compensate you for the opportunities you have to give up to preserve the case. If, instead, they are not willing to pay this compensation, this suggests that they do not value the case as much as they say they do. They are only claiming to have such a great fondness for the case, because they value having the case more than they value you having the money inside.

This point identifies the main reason why I do not have any strong sentiments as to whether the federal government opens up drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. The answer to this question rests on whether society cares about the wilderness enough to compensate Alaska for the oil revenue we are forcing Alaska to sacrifice.

We are acquiring a good from Alaska, but we are forcing Alaska to pay the entire cost involved in providing this good. This is not fair. If we do not value the wilderness enough to compensate Alaska for its lost revenue, then we should let Alaska harvest the oil.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intelligent Design: Continuing the Fight

We need to make it clear that, not only did the Dover school board members lose in its attempt to introduce intelligent design in a science class, they deserved to lose.

I must confess that I had some secret hopes that Judge Jones would have decided the Dover Pennsylvania Intelligent Design case in favor of the Dover Area School District, upholding their use of a disclaimer favoring Intelligent Design in science classes.

I felt that if the teaching of science as science was sufficiently threatened, we could get some more resources directed into teaching people what science was, how it worked, why intelligent design is not good science, and why intelligent design is not good philosophy. I felt that it would lead to a significant increase in the amount of effort that was going into teaching people why the Dover Intelligent Design Policy was wrong.

I suspect that a lot of good people, who would otherwise have stayed on the sidelines, would have sought out ways to contribute to a campaign to educate the people. They would have sought to organize campaigns on their own, taking greater interest in the electoral process – particularly school board elections, and countering the anti-science campaign of the ID faction. They would help to create a population less inclined to fall for the trap of individuals using the government to indoctrinate all children -- whose parents hold a number of different religious views -- into adopting a specific religious views of those who control the local school board.

An Example of What Must Be Learned

As it is, Judge Jones wrote a remarkable piece of work (pdf). The 139-page opinion goes through the case in painstaking detail and explains precisely what was wrong with the actions taken by the Dover School Board in the eyes of the law.

As I have said in the past, I am not concerned with what the law actually says in a case, but with what the law should say. Yet, in many cases, the arguments are remarkably similar. Some of our laws actually are as they should be, and they can then be defended for the right reasons. We can see an example in the statement that the Dover School Board wanted read to its 9th grade students.

In his opinion, Paul explained the purpose of the test of the reasonable observer and its history in the law, how it worked, and why it was used. Then he applied it to the Dover statement, explaining carefully the message it was designed to convey to the Dover school district students. After giving his detailed analysis, he provided a brief summary.

"In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead seek out religious instruction elsewhere."

The casual reader – particularly the casual reader inclined to give intelligent design a pass, can easily look at the statement and think it is permissible. The reader who takes the time to actually read what Judge Paul wrote about that statement can gain a much better understanding of what was wrong with it.

The Effects of the Decision

To the bulk of the population, the nature of this argument is going to remain hidden on the pages of an opinion they will never read or hear about. A huge majority of the population will hear nothing about this decision other than what they have heard from friends or co-workers, and perhaps what they catch of a 2-minute news blurb designed to promote entertainment and ratings more than to promote understanding. They will not get nearly enough contact with the actual arguments to engage their sense of right and wrong.

Thus, their existing views as to whether the Dover school district was right or wrong will remain unchanged. If they felt that this should be permissible before the judge's opinion was released – and a substantial majority of the population did share this view – then they will end with the opinion that the courts are being used to prohibit that which should be permitted.

This will give the ID proponents a tremendous opportunity to raise money and to manipulate voters. They will go to the people and tell them that, "The government is prohibiting something that you think should be permitted. Join us, and we will change the government so that it permits that which you think should be permitted."

They are going to do this anyway. The difference, if the decision had gone the other way, is that if the science and pro-science community were facing a more imminent threat to the future of science education, they will be out on the field challenging the ID supporters. They will be organizing their own campaigns, which will render the pro-ID campaigns less effective.

As it is, I fear that the science and pro-science community is going to find itself substantially less well motivated to fight these forces. Thinking that the courts will protect their values, many are going to go on to other interesting tasks, leaving the ID supporters with uncontested (or significantly less contested) access to the public.

This will leave the public significantly more misinformed about science, about evolution, and even about the political realities of the world in which we live. Almost certainly, many ID supporters are going to say that this decision is a hate-crime against Christianity and part of a liberal/atheist campaign to seduce children into the atheist materialism of science. If this is the only message that the people hear, then we should be ready to expect that this is what they will believe.

They will then use this to feed a movement where the people contribute money and time to their organizations, so that they can elect the “right” politicians, who will appoint the “right” judges, who realize that our life comes from God and are willing to make that a foundation of their judicial decisions.

Why Care?

Why is it important to combat the idea that "intelligent design" is a theory?

To put it bluntly, the anti-science league promotes sickness, suffering, and death.

Medical advances are built on an understanding of how living organisms work. The best scientific evidence we have says that this understanding is intrinsically tied up with an understanding that we are the products of an evolutionary process. Every organ, protein, and body function was subject to billions of years of evolutionary pressure. Understanding that fact aids in understanding what these biological entities are and why they work the way they do.

This does not mean that every good doctor must believe in evolution. A doctor's need to understand evolutionary theory is no greater than a word processor's need to understand computer programming.

However, new medical breakthroughs, like new features put into a word processing program, require somebody that understands evolution in the first instance, or computer programming in the second. Cures for all of the diseases that presently plague the human race -- as well as those that are about to -- will be discovered by people who understand and accept evolutionary theory.

To the degree that these ID proponents are successful in promoting ignorance and contempt for evolutionary theory, to that degree otherwise bright and promising minds will turn away from helping to find and apply cures to these diseases. To that degree, we can expect disease, suffering, and death that a better-educated society would prevent.

That is a bad thing.


So, I would like to suggest that people put as much effort into informing the public why Judge Jones made the right decision, as they would have spent criticizing that decision if it had gone the other way.

As for me, as something with a particularly strong interest in ethics, I have my own points to focus in.

• According to Judge Jones, these self-proclaimed models of religious virtue lied under oath in his court in an attempt to win a victory.

• These people sought responsibility for educating the children of Dover County – children of parents who hold a wide variety of beliefs – then abused their power to try to seduce those captive children into accepting their specific religious views.

• They used taxpayer money to advance a religious campaign. Muslims, Jews, atheists, and others paid the taxes that these Board Members used to try to tell 9th grade students to seek religious truth in their creationist literature. None of this money is coming out of their pockets; they lost nothing. The taxpayers, who paid these taxes for the purpose of educating their children, instead had their money used to promote a religious agenda.

• Though they accepted a moral responsibility to care for the education of the children of Dover County, they adopted a policy that misrepresented the status of the theory of evolution, suggesting that its status was somehow different than the status given to the theory of gravity, atomic theory, the heliocentric theory of the solar system, and other scientific theories. In short, they sought to uneducated the children of Dover.

• As role-models, they taught the children of Dover County and the world that they think it is permissible (and Christian) to lie under oath, abuse power, misuse taxpayer money, and engage in intellectual recklessness.

We need to make it clear that, not only did the Dover school board members lose, they deserved to lose.