I will start with this:
I am opposed to the death penalty.
And yet, I want to call out this piece - The Humanist Case against Capital Punishment by John Shook - as an intellectually vacant, arrogant, and condescending treatment of the subject.
The very first sentence oozes with condescending arrogance.
Humanism cannot support the death penalty.
This is like saying that science cannot support a geocentric theory of the solar system. It could support the geocentric theory - if the evidence were to be found for it. There is no evidence - but that only supports the conclusion that science does not support a geocentric theory of the solar system. It would not be science to say that it could not.
Humanism - unless it is a dogmatic system that issues commandments that no person shall be permitted to question - can support the dealth penalty, if reason can be found to do so. If no reason can be found to do so, this would support the conclusion that humanism does not support the death penalty, but it would not support the conclusion that humanism can not do so.
Here is another place where his arrogance oozes out.
The pro-death camp will admit that trials can deliver wrong verdicts.
There is no pro-death camp.
Claiming that there is such a thing is a libelous distortion of the opposing view in an attempt to bludgeon the reader to accept a conclusion.
I am entirely in favor of name-calling, when the name-calling can be proved true. I do not object to calling somebody who lies a liar, or somebody who rapes a rapist. If I can demonstrate that somebody applies moral principles inconsistently to self and others, and that he makes derogatory overgeneralizations across whole groups, then I call him a hypocritical bigot.
But Shook's 'pro-death' refocus falls into the category of abandoning truth and reason in favor of bludgeoning readers with an emotional club devoid of fact and reason - if they dare to question his Truth.
Next, John Shook writes as if he is in complete ignorance of one of the two classic arguments for capital punishment - the deterrance theory. That is to say, executing convicted murderers provides a way of reducing the number of innocent people who will be killed.
He writes, against the death penalty, that potentially killing an innocent person is a bad thing - something we should avoid. However, if it is a bad thing, and if killing a convicted murderer - or threatening to - deters the killing of 10 innocent people on average (for example), then this would make the death penalty a good thing. We are preventing the killing of innocent people - preventing more of what Shook himself claims to be worth preventing.
This is not some obscure argument buried deep in the capital punishment literature. It is Ethics 101 - an argument I would expect any college freshman just picking up the subject to cover.
The data does not support deterrence claims. However, that is not the point if this post. The point of this article is Shook's arrogant and condescending name-calling without even considering common arguments like the one above. The deterrence argument doesn't fit Shook's interest in derogatory over generalizations, so there is no mystery in the fact that he ignored it.
Besides, even the innocent who are executed are seldom, if ever, pillars of social virtue - far worse, on average, than the average person murdered.
In addition, innocent people are not only executed, they are imprisoned as well. There is a real risk that, in abolishing capital punishment, we conclude that questions of guilt and innocence are less significant. After all, if we merely sentence people to life in prison, we don't have to worry so much about the fact they just might happen to be innocent. That only matters if we plan to kill them.
Isn't this potential execution of the innocent argument really saying that we want to make it okay to be less concerned with the guilt or innocence of the accused? How many people, whose case was given greater scrutiny because of capital punishment considerations, were found innocent - but would have been found guilty in a system less concerned about guilt or innocence because it merely imprisons people?
So, Shook tells us that humanism cannot support capital punishment.
I wonder what humanism has to say about intellectually honest debate on social issues such as crime and punishment. It appears that Shook's brand if humanism, at least, isn't too comfortable with this principle either.