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ethics

This tag is associated with 38 posts

“We the Underpeople” – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future

wtu-smith

Cordwainer Smith (actual name: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was an expert in psychological warfare, a scholar of Eastern Asia, an Anglican, and a science fiction author, among other things. He wrote a number of short stories and one novel all set in the same universe–our own. These stories go from the past into the far future and put forward a vision of the future that is at once hopeful and bleak. Here, I’d like to discuss a few themes in the works of his I’ve read, collected in a volume called We the Underpeople by Baen. There will be some minor Spoilers in what follows.

Free Will and Determinism

A prominent theme found throughout Smith’s work is the discussion of free will and determinism. The “Rediscovery of Man” is a time period in which members of the Instrumentality decide that they need to change the world such that people aren’t always happy any more. You see, they made it so that accidents wouldn’t happen (or if they did, prompt healing was available), people wouldn’t say bad things, and the like. If someone did get unhappy, they were brain wiped and reconditioned. Everyone’s happy, see?

Yet the members of the Instrumentality argued and finally allowed for some unhappiness to be allowed back into people’s lives: the Rediscovery of Man.

Smith here notes that human freedom is something that is at the core of our being. Without it, “happiness” falls away into determinism. We may be “happy,” but it is a happiness that is not truly experienced or real. The feelings might be there, but the reality is not. The human capacity for wrongdoing and suffering is there, but it must be in order to have the capacity for truly experiencing and enjoying happiness and delight.

A challenge might arise here: what of heaven? I think this is a tough question, and one that I admit I have no answer I feel firmly about. It’s possible that the choices we make are, over time, enough to solidify us into a sinless existence (a position of Greg Boyd). Perhaps instead, the renewal of our minds that takes place in the New Creation helps us to avoid doing those things that we would not like to do but find ourselves doing in our fallen state.

Humanity and Inhumanity

Humans in Smith’s world have created “underpeople”–animals that have been bred to serve humans in various capacities. Yet these animals are self-aware and brutally oppressed. They experience free will and life, but are trampled by human wants and desires. They are not “people.”

The poignancy of this theme hits close to home when we consider those people who are often set aside in our own world. Things like the Rwandan Genocide are allowed to happen by those we have put in power because there aren’t resources there deemed worth protecting; people are allowed to starve to death because we don’t want to give “handouts,” and the like. How might we as Christians work to correct the wrongs in our own world done to those we have deemed “underpeople”?

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major theme in Smith’s novel, Norstrilia. The main character, Rod McBan, is attacked by a bitter man, the Honorable Secretary, who is upset that he cannot also have his life extended for a very long time. At a pivotal scene in the book, McBan forgives the Honorable Secretary for the attacks. However, he also forgives himself, for he had–even in thought–mocked the man and his inability to get the same treatment as everybody else to extend his life. McBan realized that his own behavior towards the Honorable Secretary had, in part, lead to the man’s wrongs.

It is a stunning change in the tenor of the plot thread, for the reader had been prone to sympathizing with the main character and forgiving his own “innocent” jabs at the man who tried to kill him. Yet here, Smith elegantly points towards the need for mutual reconciliation and the need to confess one’s own sins. It is masterfully done and speaks very highly of the power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Cordwainer Smith masterfully wove his Anglican worldview into his science fiction, but he did so very subtly. I haven’t even touched on some of the other messages conveyed in his body of work, such as the allegorical story of Joan of Arc. There is much to contemplate in the works, including human freedom and the need to forgive. I highly recommend his science fiction to my readers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Man of Steel” – A Christian look at themes in the film

man-of-steelEvery movie has a worldview. “Man of Steel,” the latest iteration of Superman, is no different. In fact, many explicit questions of worldview come up. Here, we’ll take a look at some major themes found in the movie. There will, of course, be SPOILERS below.

Morality

The question of morality looms large throughout the film. What does it mean to seek to do good in our world? At one point, Faora Ul, a commander in General Zod’s army, discusses how the fact that they have moved beyond morality has become an “evolutionary advantage” and that “evolution” always wins. I was struck by this brief aside for a few reasons. First, would moving apart from morality really be an advantage? Surely, it may lead to no self-sacrifice, but that self-sacrifice itself is something which preserves a race. In fact, the whole thrust of the film centered around the notion of self-sacrifice by Superman giving up those things which he liked or wanted in order to save others. The fact that Superman overcomes the moral nihilist is significant.

Second, does evolution always win? This is a question to consider for a different time and place, but surely I think one must wonder whether it is the case that having an advantage would guarantee victory in the race to survive. Any kind of random fluke could happen to eliminate a better-suited creature. Again, these are questions for another time, but in context of the movie, the whole notion was again overthrown, because Superman, with a stringent morality, overcame.

But at what cost? The climactic scene in which Superman confronts General Zod ends with Superman snapping Zod’s neck to prevent him from killing even more people. Superman’s self-made (but unmentioned in the movie) ethos of avoiding killing is thus itself overthrown. What does this say about objective morality? Is such a killing ever justified? Or, might it mean that Superman abandoned morality in order to confront the moral nihilist? Perhaps, instead, there are shades of virtue ethics found throughout, which confront Superman with a choice and allow him to carve out his own moral sphere?

These are questions suitable for reflection, and I think the movie does a great job asking the questions without spoon-feeding any answers.

Shades of a Savior?

Superman is, of course, readily seen as a savior-stand in. Superman is 33 years old, which is also the generally accepted age of Jesus at death. One scene depicts Superman in a church, and his face is set against a backdrop of a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scenery is surely intentional–Superman is seeking to give himself up for the sake of humanity, just as Jesus did. But the way in which they go about this self-giving are radically different. Superman’s ultimate sacrifice is compromising his moral code in order to save people, while Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice–taking on death and becoming sin for our sake.

The question which all of this begs, then, is whether Superman might be envisioned as an interesting Jesus-parallel, a kind of allegory to be utilized to discuss the real Savior, or whether Superman is instead a kind of rival savior figure intentionally subverting the narrative of an incarnate deity. Support for the latter might be drawn from the notion that Superman would be “viewed as a god” simply because he came from a different world and the atmosphere/sun of Earth strengthened him to superhuman (groaner, I know) levels. Is this a subversive way to describe Christ? Well, really only if one wants to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of alien and that a radical deception has gone on for two millenia. Of course, some people would like to suggest just that, but how grounded in truth might it be?

Conclusion

It seems to me that the film, then, is a useful way to juxtapose saviors. What does it mean to be a savior? How does one bring that about? There are parallels between Jesus and the story of Superman, but the most important things are perhaps the contradictions in their stories and lives. Many interesting questions about morality are raised in the film as well, and it would be hard to argue that the story of the movie is not compelling. “Man of Steel,” it seems, is another way to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of life. What are your thoughts on the movie? What other themes might be discussed (like this post on Platonic thought)? Let me know in the comments below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa– Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Virtue Ethics and the Man of Steel– Check out this interesting post on the Platonic thought found throughout the movie.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Response to “Problem in the Pro-Life Camp”- Abortion, victims, and moral culpability

prolife-dcA recent comment by Donald Trump caused something of a stir. What a surprise. This time, it was about abortion, and he said that there has to be “some kind of punishment” for the woman who chooses an abortion, should abortion be made illegal. The internet exploded, as people of both pro-choice and pro-life persuasions came out to discuss the topic, largely coming out against Trumps comments. Here, I want to discuss one post from a pro-life individual that offers a critique of the pro-life movement for not arguing for a harsher punishment of women who choose abortions, in the case of them being illegal. That post is entitled, “Problem in the Pro-Life Camp.” At the outset, it is worth revealing my bias in this. I am pro-life myself and I think that this is a complex topic that many pro-life persons have not thought deeply about. I am essentially editing and re-posting my comments here with some context.

The post in question begins by stating the “problem” with the pro-life camp:

The problem that I have with the “pro-life” movement in general is that much of it appeals to the woman as being the victim/or merely the accomplice to the crime. Rather, the mother is the transgressor who in the majority of cases, knowingly tested positive in her pregnancy test and nevertheless, storms into the abortion mill with premeditated murder. Whether the sin is done in ignorance or not, she is still morally culpable before God.  She is not a victim.

Men and women are indeed victims when abortion is presented as the only logical choice or the only option. They are victims when people of specific races are targeted for abortion advertising. But whether one agrees on this or not, it is largely irrelevant to the primary point you’re making in this post. It seems that there are two issues raised in the post, but they are interlinked: the notion that the woman is a victim in abortion is false, and that is intrinsically linked to the notion that woman is morally culpable.

The original post asked, “Can an abortive mother who has malice of forethought be considered a victim and be morally responsible the same time? Morally responsible for what? when they are already deemed a victim.”

It seems to me that there are clear cases where someone who is a victim could still be morally culpable. A child soldier who has been forced into fighting for a cause they don’t believe in is a victim, yet the killing he or she may do is not without moral culpability. We may give a lighter sentence or charge than murder, but that doesn’t mean that this victim is without moral culpability whatsoever. Indeed, I think this is a far better analogy than the one with the bully utilized in the original post. (A bully beats up someone to take their money, and then sends others to do so; are they a victim?) After all, the analogy with the bully begins with the bully directly beating up someone else! The analogy, then, falls apart at the beginning, because I don’t know of any case (I suppose there could be such a case–but I would be surprised if it were even possible) where a woman performed an abortion on herself.

Now my analogy is to show that the notion of being a victim is not incompatible with the notion of being morally culpable. It does not demonstrate that the woman who seeks an abortion is a victim. Instead, my purpose was to show that the complaint of incompatibility is mistaken.

Thus, it seems to me that the pro-life person who maintains that a woman is, in some sense, morally culpable for the abortion, while also arguing or believing that the woman is, in some sense, a victim in such a situation is not being inconsistent.

The original post appealed to a question asked in a group of women who had abortions. They were asked whether they believed they were victims. I agree that self-definition is vastly important, but I also think it is easy to be mistaken about such things. For example, someone who is working as a prostitute may say that they are not a victim and they did it by choice, but even if they choose such a profession, the fact remains that the act of purchasing another’s body for sexual gratification does, indeed, victimize them whether they acknowledge it or not. I’m not saying that women who have abortions are prostitutes, obviously. My point is that self-defining oneself as “not a victim” does not make it the case.

To sum up: my response has sought to demonstrate two primary points. (1) The notion of someone being a victim does not necessarily undermine the notion of that person being morally culpable; (2) Self definition does not necessarily show us with certainty that someone is not a victim.

I would like to emphasize that these points don’t necessarily reflect my own views. I have, instead, written simply to show that the argument here is not sound.

Responses and Replies

The author of the original post kindly responded to my comments above. The comment can be viewed at the original post. I offer below my reply.

A woman cannot be both a victim or morally responsible at the same time. Either she is a victim or morally responsible (i.e. murderer)… I am using ‘victim’ in a more specific and literal fashion concerning a crime against the unborn.

As a result, it would be a logical fallacy (violates the law of non-contradiction and Scripture) to call a murderer a victim.

I think the conclusions here are hardly surprising, then. By what is written above, victim is being specifically defined as “a crime against the unborn” and then concluding, in accord with this definition, that anyone who disagrees is violating the law non-contradiction. Yet this is does not defeat the argument put forth above. I could just as easily say: “A woman can be both a victim and morally responsible at the same time. I am using ‘victim’ in the sense that makes this true. Therefore, disagreeing with me is fallacious.” Yet that is exactly what the response here has argued. I did assert that a woman can be a victim and morally responsible at the same time, but I defended that assertion with arguments.

Substantively we agree that it is a morally culpable act to seek an abortion. The area of disagreement remains as I outlined it in my original comment, and so far the response is simply to define out of existence any evidence to the contrary.

The author of the post followed with another response, arguing that the pro-life movement has consistently held that women are victims in abortions, but that they cannot be. He wrote,

abortive mothers are not victims, when they commit abortions… Either they are a victim or the transgressor when the abortion is committed.

In other words, what we have is simply a re-affirmation of the original point without argument. My purpose in commenting was to establish that being morally culpable is not incompatible with being a victim. I have been arguing all along this is a false dichotomy, and at no point has there been any attempt to refute the argument I’ve put forward. Each response has merely reasserted the initial premise without argument.

Because the purpose of my responses have been limited to the above point, I haven’t made an extended argument for how one might view the woman involved in abortion also as victim. Given the mere reassertion without argument, I believe that on some level my point has carried.

As a final question, I’d ask whether the author of this post, EvangelZ, believes that women are in no way harmed by abortion. That is, does he believe that abortion does not, in fact, lead to increased risk for breast cancer, that it leads to a higher risk of suicide, that it leads to increased risk for depression, that potential for future miscarriages is increased post-abortion, or that other risks (such as the possibility of the death or physical harm to the mother) are not, in fact damaging? The position of this post and the comments following it entail that no harm comes to the mother in any sense. After all, the mother is not–and according to the author–cannot be a victim (repeated claims of logical impossibility entail this). Hence, the woman cannot possibly be harmed by abortion, because that would entail that she is, in some sense, also a victim. Thus, EvangelZ or any who share this position are forced to conclude that abortion in no way causes harm to the mother. I think that is a pill too tough to swallow, because it seems obviously false.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Problem in the Pro-Life Camp– The original post I am responding to here.

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

The Expanse: Episodes 6-7 – A Christian perspective

the-expanseI’ve been enjoying watching SyFy’s TV series, “The Expanse,” quite a bit. Part of that is because I’m a huge science fiction fan, but another part of it is because there is plenty of worldview discussion to go around. I’ll be posting a series on worldview in episodes from the expanse biweekly as they come out. There will be SPOILERS for the episodes discussed here, as well as possibly any earlier episodes. Please don’t post spoilers for later episodes on this post.

Home, Family, and Self

Once more we have the OPA entangled in a struggle for a sense of home. I emphasized this last time for episodes 1-5, but here we have the need for home countered by the revelation that the OPA killed Chrisjen Avasarala’s son, and it has become personal for her. Family was emphasized on her side of the plot, as she tries to play that card to get more information about the OPA. It will be interesting to see whether dynamics of family, self-service, and home continue to drive some of the main characters in the series. One question I still have: how important is it to have a place we can call “home”? So far, “The Expanse” seems to emphasize that this is a great need, and this resonates with a Christian worldview when, throughout the Bible, we have continued pointers to a promised land and sense of place.

Truth and Lies

One of the most common expressions regarding lies is that we “weave a web” of them. The more we engage in deception, the more we must tell more lies to keep up the facade. Detective Miller goes deeper and deeper into a web of lies. The question is: what does he have to ground himself? His job was terminated instantly once it was found out he was delving too close into territory that others wanted to keep quiet. What does it mean to continue to seek truth even in the face of such opposition–even threat to one’s own life?

Christianity was based upon the testimony of those who were willing to die for truth. This isn’t merely an appeal to sincerity of belief, but rather an argument that shows that some truths are worth dying for–something difficult to do if you know what you’re dying for is false. Miller–technically no longer Detective Miller–seems like he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to discover the truth. I wonder where it will lead him.

Survival and the Secular Ethic

The conversation Burton has with the stowaway spy, Kenzo, in episode 7 is interesting, because it focuses on the notion that survival is the highest good for humanity. This reflects an understanding of reality that puts mere continued existence as “the good” as opposed to anything else. Frankly, this is the kind of grounding that secular ethics almost always end up appealing to, whether it is mere survival or some abstraction like “human flourishing.” Yet in this episode we see how hollow such an ethic is. It leads to Burton’s willingness to kill anyone–whether it is someone he just met (and has completely at his mercy) or to keep from getting captured.

Later in the same episode, Kenzo has a deep conversation, asking whether he is going to be dropped out an airlock because he is found to be “inconvenient.” Perhaps with the most moving line in the series so far, he asks to be told if they’re just going to kill him so he can make his peace, because “I am not an animal.” Yet, so far, many of the people have been acting just like animals, again, with Burton’s argument for mere survival as his motto for life.

The absurdity of this way of life was revealed by Kenzo, because his words resonate with us. Mere survival is not enough–we are not animals. Indeed, even the more popular appeals to ground ethics upon “human flourishing” is little more than putting forward prettier words for the same concept. Is mere survival, or even the move towards whatever hedonistic view of “flourishing” we’d like to put forward, the best we can do? I don’t believe so, and I have argued at length that the secular grounding for morality fails even on its own criteria. We are not merely animals, and we can do better than grounding a philosophy of life on an animalistic drive to survive.

Such an ethic makes the most sense on a theistic view of the world, and Christianity is the worldview that stands up under scrutiny. Those who wish to deny this and continue to affirm a secular ethic must embrace the very opposite of that which Kenzo states in this episode. That is, they must affirm “I am [merely] an animal” and then ground their moral action on that.

Conclusion

The Expanse continues to bring intriguing questions about worldview to the forefront, while couching it all in a pseudo-noir science fiction epic. I’m loving the series so far, and would like to know what you think as well. Let me know in the comments!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Racial Incarceration

njc-alexander

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Racial Incarceration

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is an astonishing, eye-opening book about how apparently race-neutral and colorblind laws can be used to perpetuate a system of racial injustice.

One argument Alexander raises in support of her conclusion is the disparity between white and non-white drug-related arrests in The War on Drugs. Although the law is technically not racist, its enforcement is tellingly slanted:

In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men. In fact, nationwide, the rate of incarceration for African American drug offenders dwarfs the rate of whites… People of all races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. (98-99, cited below)

These statistics are astonishing and speak to how the enforcement of these laws shows a racial disparity that leads to a kind of new “undercaste”–as Alexander puts it. Re-read that quote and let the numbers sink in. The incarceration rate for blacks in some states is fifty-seven times that of whites for the same crimes, despite the fact that there is no evidence suggesting blacks are more likely to be drug users (in fact, some studies cited in the book show that whites are more likely to be drug users in some areas).

I highly recommend The New Jim Crow to you, dear readers, as a book that will challenge you in ways that may not all be expected.

Source

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: The New Press, 2011 edition).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

SDG.

“The Masterpiece Society”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Genetics, Eugenics, and Ethical Quandaries

the-masterpiece-society

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife from the beginning and recently watched “The Mastepiece Society” from Season 5. The episode is a fascinating look into the moral issues of a society that wishes to control breeding. Here, we will examine some of these questions. For a plot summary, see here. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Eugenics/Genetics

The “Masterpiece” society is one in which they have actively worked to use genetic enhancement and therapy [see my post on genetic enhancement and therapy to get some background into this debate; see a differing opinion here] to try to create a perfect society. Diseases are genetically selected against; other alleged defects are also screened before birth (euphemistically referencing the termination of pregnancy); and other methods are hinted at.

One of the most poignant scenes is when Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer, is sitting down with Hannah Bates and they talk about his blindness. He challenges her on the notion that he would have been terminated before birth:

“It was the wish of our founders that no one have to suffer a life of disabilities.” – Bates
“Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I might have something to contribute?” – La Forge

After this brief discussion, it turns out in an ironic twist that Geordi’s visor that helps him see actually is the solution to saving the colony. This emphasizes his point: he does have much to contribute.

One can’t help but wonder about the echo that those unborn who are killed each and every day through abortion would raise. What contributions have we stolen from our society through the desire for convenience or other reasons for abortions?

Free Will

Suppose we were able to create a society in which we could select genetically the features we deemed best-suited for specific roles. What would this due to free will and the right to choose one’s own destiny? Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise, asks this very question.

It sounds like something wonderful: we can have sure and certain knowledge of what we’re going to do. There is no uncertainty; no worrying about a job. The society has been built around having you in the exact place you are to occupy based on your genetics.

Is there, in any sense, a right for children to not have their genetic qualities selected for them? I’ve discussed this very issue elsewhere, but I think this episode raises it fairly poignantly. Suppose someone was bred to be a leader in the society, but they felt they would rather be a construction worker? The society, it seems, would suffer in the sense that they now lack a leader; but perhaps someone else who would want to be a leader could step up to the task. Of course, as in the episode, one fears a kind of cascade effect in which people who would be perfect, allegedly, for the tasks they are destined to be assigned instead opt for tasks they can only “imperfectly” perform.

This, then, leads to questions of what it means to be “perfect” for a task. Are we merely genetically determined creatures, or does our freedom to choose transcend the genetic history we have been dealt? What benefits or costs might there be to a society in which you are trained from birth to occupy a specific role?

Conclusion

Star Trek frequently raises ethical issues, and “The Masterpiece Society” was particularly thoughtful. I’d recommend watching it and then reflecting on the worldview-level issues it raises. How much are we currently missing out on because of the system we have in place? What might we do ethically to improve our society without restricting the freedom of the individual? Is this latter question even important?

From a Christian perspective, it seems clear that it is impermissible to terminate humans simply because they are blind or have some genetic impairment. Here, it seems, the Christian perspective can also demonstrate its practical utility, for as Geordi demonstrated, we may miss out on quite a bit if we decide to allow such things to occur.

Regarding genetic enhancement, however, the issue is much more difficult. My perspective has shifted a bit, but I am still fairly wary of the notion. I admit this might purely be some kind of bias on my part that doesn’t have as much a rational foundation as I’d like to think. The post I shared earlier from a friend has some pretty strong arguments in the direction of genetic enhancement even from a Christian perspective. I recommend reading his post, and checking out my older post (about 2 years old) that I edited as I wrote this one.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I go over a number of key ethical issues related to genetic enhancement and therapy.

“The Measure of a Man”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood– I discuss matters of “personhood,” using the character Data from Star Trek as a foil.

Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children– An argument that differs from my perspective on genetic enhancement. What are your thoughts on this post in favor of it?

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Aborting Aristotle” by Dave Sterrett

aborting-aristotle-seterrettAborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett explores some of the metaphysical background needed to discuss the morality of abortion. It is a brief book best seen as a primer on issues related to abortion in philosophy.

The book proceeds in a logical fashion from showing that inconsistency doesn’t undermine the good things that people like Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson said, then arguing that metaphysics is necessary, and moving on through examination of some of the primary grounds for believing abortion is permissible: uncertainty and materialism. Then, arguments are put forward showing that natural law can be a basis for rule of law, that distinctions related to substance are important to the debate, that all humans are persons, and that we are persons not based on what we do but rather on who we are. The book ends wit ha chapter showing some ares of agreement or disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

Weighing in at 120 pages, the book is quite brief on these various topics. Again, it functions as a primer, not an exhaustive overview of any of these issues. That limits its usefulness in some ways, as there are other books which provide groundwork on philosophy before diving into the abortion debate with greater depth. Where Sterrett’s work excels is in its focus on the concept of “substance” and its importance for understanding personhood. He demonstrates that much of the debate boils down to one’s philosophical background, and advocates one which sees humans as substances.

Aborting Aristotle is a great read for someone looking to ground themselves in the abortion debate. It is the kind of book that one should read before delving into some of the meatier works on ethics and bioethics related to abortion.

The Good

+Provides much-needed background knowledge of the abortion debate
+Builds a framework for discussing various arguments about abortion

The Bad

-Extremely brief
-Relies a bit too much on quotes

Book Review: “Renewing Moral Theology” by Daniel Westberg

rmt-westbergHow might we integrate the study of ethics and theology? In Renewing Moral Theology, Daniel Westberg takes this project head-on. He approaches it from the perspective of Thomism, the philosophical-theological framework of Saint Thomas Aquinas which is itself influenced by Aristotle. The book therefore provides a strong introduction to the Thomistic view of moral theology.

The book is not, like many, a handbook for discussing various moral issues. Some hot-button topics are raised, but they are not the focus. Westberg’s focus is, instead, much broader. He provides here a metaphysical basis for ethical reasoning, while addressing some of the main questions that come up regarding that framework. Thus, this is a book that encourages further reasoning and research rather than trying to answer some laundry list of moral questions (such as questions of sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, and the like). The focus is on giving an overarching metaphysical basis for using one’s reasoning in ethical situations, not handing the answers to such questions to the readers. This alone makes it valuable because many books on ethical reasoning unfortunately do not address the pressing metaphysical or metaethical questions that come up in thinking about morality.

Thomism has much to offer when it comes to moral theology. The system gives a framework for analyzing things like “being,” “right and wrong,” motivations, emotions, and more.

Westberg provides valuable insights into a number of key issues for ethics from a Christian perspective. Incorporating the holistic approach of Thomism into ethics, he notes that emotions do play a vital role in our practical reasoning and the way we approach moral questions. Emotions are often ignored or treated as frivolous in treatments of objective morality, and to have them incorporated into the study was a much-needed corrective.

He also gives excellent illustrations of and counters objections to the “double-effect” principle, which is the notion that moral actions can have two outcomes, one intended and one not, which allows for right action to be taken even if a wrong outcome will occur or is known to occur. Thus, for example, he treats the notion of a surgery which would kill an unborn child but save the mother. The intent of the surgery is to save the mother, not kill the child, but both are “effects” (hence double-effect) of the procedure. There are some key objections to using this principle to allow for certain moral actions, such as the apparent parsing down of moral choices into separate spheres of decision and intent, but Westberg counters them deftly. In doing so, he provides a strong defense of this critical ethical principle.

Examples are abundant throughout the book, and they constantly are used in ways that helpfully illustrate the point at hand. Some of the more obscure-seeming aspects of how an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics might impact ethics are made much more clear by Westberg’s clarifying examples.

This is inherently a work of moral theology and so Westberg spends a good amount of time outlining how theology might impact one’s moral outlook. Aquinas had much to contribute here, and again the Thomistic system is incorporated into the discussion, allowing for a robust metaphysics to back up the ethical reasoning placed herein.

Renewing Moral Theology is a great read for those who want to explore the interconnectedness of theology and morality. It provides a firm foundation to explore further issues of Thomistic ethics. For those who are not inclined towards Thomism, it can serve as a springboard for discussion and interaction with the view. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Strong Thomistic look at ethics
+Good use of examples to illustrate principles
+Excellent analysis of “double-effect” principle
+Rightly emphasizes some key areas of moral decision-making

The Bad

-At times it skips too quickly to conclusions

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not asked to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Daniel Westberg, Renewing Moral Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Response to an Article on Welfare Recipients in Seattle

IMG_0691The purpose of this blog is to discuss things related to the Christian worldview. I tend to try to avoid political issues, but I recently saw a number of friends sharing an article entitled “Workers in Seattle Have Their Precious $15 Minimum Wage. But Now They Want Fewer Hours” and I wanted to respond. I will be analyzing the article from the Christian worldview perspective.

Summary of Article

The article in question points out that Seattle’s minimum wage was raised, but some who are working minimum wage have asked to work fewer hours so they do not lose their government benefits. The author writes:

[E]mployees of a non-profit group in Seattle who’ve achieved their glorious goal of the $15 minimum wage are actually asking their employers for FEWER hours. The reason? Now that they make more money, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing. So they figure if they work fewer hours, they’ll make less money and they can stay in their government-provided cheap apartments –

After sharing a few quotes, the author comments:

HOLY SOCIALISM, BATMAN!

Basically, they want a “living wage” (whatever the heck THAT means) AND they still want all the freebies the government gives them. Because that’s TOTALLY the point of working hard and being independent.

A Response

First, I ran the numbers given in the article regarding minimum wage and cost of living in Seattle. It’s fairly straightforward, as the author shared a quote (without disputing it) of the prices involved. According to the article, the cost of a one-bedroom apartment is 1200$ a month. The cost of child care was about 900$ a month. That adds up to 2100$. Now we do the math on the wages. $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, about 4.5 weeks per month = 2700$. Now this is basically granting the most possible money because some months do only get 4 pay checks, but we’ll go with it.

The math therefore shows that, ignoring any taxes whatsoever, there would be 600$ left over a month for utilities, food, auto/renters/life/health insurance, transportation and related costs, and the like.

Whatever else might be in question here–whatever economic theories one favors–these are the numbers the article itself acknowledges. For Christians, this is the kind of data that we should seek out and try to form our opinions around. Of course we need to have economic practices which are sustainable, but as Christians we must also keep in mind the demands on our conscience towards the “other” in need. We should seek more information and be cautious about making broad statements on either side; whether we agree or disagree. Misrepresenting liberals is just as bad as misrepresenting conservatives.

A Christian Moral Response

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no way around the biblical teaching about caring for the poor and needy–even if we don’t like their “life choices.” Thus, the tone of this article is highly inappropriate as it mocked those who were in need throughout with phrases like “I’m not addicted to government welfare…” thrown in as snide remarks towards those who are on some kind of welfare.

A Christian response to this should be to immediately shut down any kind of mockery of other persons, period. There is no space in the Christian moral system for carelessly decrying those who are in need. Regarding the exact phrase in question, suppose we take it literally–what is the Christian response to addiction? Should it be to point out how we ourselves are not addicted and move on from the one who is? I don’t think so. I believe that we must continue to help those in need–even if addicted. That said, the dubiousness of taking the meaning literally is of course clear. It, like the rest of the article, was directed as mockery of those in need and those who have rival economic theories trying to help them.

I’m not trying to favor one theory over another–whether pure capitalism or pure socialism or some mix is best is a topic for a completely different day and post–the issue involved is rather the tone we should carry even in disagreement. Rather than mock, should we not aid and instruct as needed?

A Rejoinder

The most frequent response I received when I shared concerns related to the article was that I needed to be instructed on economic theory.

Note that I have not commented on whether we need to raise minimum wage or whether we need to make it a “living wage.” I don’t particularly want to enter that debate and the quagmire that follows it. My comments have been on the ethical concerns with the article and its tone. We have looked at the numbers involved, and I suggested those should be a consideration regarding a Christian response to such issues. Other than that I think that we must at all costs avoid the kind of tone present in the article. We ought to treat others as we would be treated.

Conclusion

Finally, as a practical concern, would not a reasoned response sharing one’s own disputes about the economic theory(ies) involved in the article be more convincing than poking fun at the specifics of another’s situation? I believe so. I certainly don’t respond well when the beliefs I hold are mocked. That is a surefire way to shut down conversation rather than spur it forward. If the intent is to convince, would not a winsome approach work better?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Abortion, the Violinist Analogy, and Body Parts

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The “violinist analogy” is an argument for the permissiveness of abortion. It is based on granting that the unborn is a human person, but argues that it is still permissible to kill the unborn because it may be justified as “non-intentional killing.” The argument originated with Judith Jarvis Thomson, to the best of my knowledge. She put the analogy like so:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you. (Thomson, cited below)

The argument seems to have much force. After all, who wouldn’t agree that you may be well within your rights to unplug yourself from this violinist. You aren’t obligated to him in any way.

There are a number of glaring difficulties with this argument (see this post for one argument against it), but the one I want to focus on now is tied to the recent controversy over the allegations of Planned Parenthood selling body parts. I’ve already pointed out one of the biggest problems is the question of “Whose body parts are they?” However, we may see that this controversy also undercuts the violinist analogy in a very brutal way.

Thomson has clearly massaged the analogy to make it seem fairly innocuous. After all, unplugging the violinist is fairly non-violent, right? You’re just having him removed from you so that you are no longer in the state of having to support him with your own body. But Thomson’s analogy needs to be amended. After all, Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges that they’re getting body parts from abortions and donating them. Thus, we might now fix Thomson’s argument for her to make it more accurate.

When the choice is made to “unplug” the violinist, it isn’t just unplugging him. Instead, those doing the unplugging are concerned with making sure that the violinist’s body parts come unplugged intact. They thus break his body apart in such a way as to preserve the heart, liver, brain, and other parts which might be used for science or saving the lives of other people. The violinist is not merely unplugged, but torn quite literally limb-from-limb in order to remove him.

Clearly, Thomson’s analogy has missed this point–a point Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges. For some reason, Thomson decided to smooth over these clinical facts in her “defense of abortion,” choosing instead to present it as something as simple and innocent as an “unplugging.” But the reality is that the analogy should point out that the choice involved is not merely to unplug the violinist but rather to have him effectively ripped from the one to whom he is hooked up in such a way that dismembers him.

There is good news, though: the parts of the violinist can now be used for research!

Source

Thomson, J. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1:1 (Autumn 1971): 47–66. Citation and quote found on Wikipedia.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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