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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The importance of belief

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (All scripture quotations from the ESV.)

Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25a whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

In John 14, Jesus points out to His disciples that they must believe in Him.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Phlox, aka thrift, with morning dew

Phlox, aka Thrift, with morning dew

This is a photo of Phlox, known locally as thrift, growing in our lawn, with dew on the flower parts. The actual flowers are about an inch, or 3 cm, across. They grow close to the ground, and come also in white, and in a darker purple color.

Isn't God a great artist?

We will be having some family doings for the next few days, so I don't expect to be blogging, or reading your posts.

Thanks for looking.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sunspots 212


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:


Humor:
(or art) Wired says that a Swedish artist has been sending all sorts of strange items through the European postal system -- unwrapped.

Science:
(sort of) Wired on the association between Peanuts, the comic strip, and NASA.

The Panda's Thumb reports on a newly discovered fossil primate. It's not nearly as important as the hype over it has indicated.

CSI, NCIS, etc., notwithstanding, much forensics, such as fingerprint analysis, is not really backed by solid scientific research, reports the New York Times .

Politics:
(sort of) Wired tells us that the Federal Communications Commission can search your house or business without a warrant.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

I recently read Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. The book was aimed at older children, and is quite good. I won't give away the plot, which is rather scary. You can read about the plot in the Wikipedia article on the book. The book was made into a movie, which appeared recently. I have not seen the movie.

I do want to present one quotation from the book. That is this:

Coraline sighed. "You really don't understand, do you?" she said. "I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?" Neil Gaiman, Coraline, New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 120.

Coraline, perhaps a 5th grader, has been offered a number of treats. Her response is quite sensible, and insightful, in most circumstances. But there is an exception. What if we are really letting Christ live through us? In that case, our desires would not be for ourselves, and they would be good things, that ought to be fulfilled. As Paul put it:
2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (ESV)

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Visual models of the various views on origins

Steve Martin has proposed a visual model of the relationship between various views of origins. You can see that model, and discussion, here. The springboard for that discussion was the publication of a more complicated, and, says Martin, somewhat flawed, previous model, produced by Eugenie Scott of the the National Center for Science Education (Click on Figure 1 to see a larger version of Scott's diagram). Martin begins his own discussion by making some improvements to Scott's visual model.

I think Martin's model is a definite improvement. I would, however, suggest that there is one rather serious problem with it, namely that he has not defined what he means by "evolution." Unfortunately, that problem is very common. In a non-blog web page, I have attempted to categorize the meanings of that word.

A careful reader who looks at Martin's model, or Scott's, may notice an omission. That omission is that Intelligent Design is not listed. In a way, that's too bad, as so many people claim to believe in this. But the omission is legitimate, because people who believe in Intelligent Design are divided in their belief in, for example, the age of the earth. Intelligent Design, as usually understood, does not provide a model for origins.

See here for some musings on evolution, here for my own visual representation of various views on origins (click on the chart to see it all) and here for my take on Intelligent Design.

Thanks for reading. Read Steve Martin.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some thoughts on the eye

The human eye is a splendid apparatus. We use it to see.

In the Bible, the eye is used to mean not just physical sight, but spiritual vision. Here are some verses that illustrate that, in various ways:

Philippians 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

And, of course, keep our eyes on Christ, our perfect example.

Acts 26:15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Matthew 13:15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

The eye is also said to lead us astray:

Deuteronomy 5:21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.

And Jesus suggested some drastic treatment:

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Surely he was speaking ironically. It isn't our eyes that cause the problem of covetousness, or addiction to pornography, or other sins. It's our brain. We need to control our thoughts. (It's a good idea also to avoid situations that might tempt us to sin, although that isn't always possible.)

Thanks for reading. Seek a clear vision of the Christ.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Neil Gaiman on the geography of Faerie

But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain.) Here, truly, be Dragons. Also gryphons, wyverns, hippogriffs, basilisks, and hydras. Neil Gaiman, Stardust. (New York: Avon, 1999) page 59.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Predestination and Intelligent Design

The Free Dictionary begins its definition of predestination thus:

"The doctrine that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has elected certain souls to eternal salvation."

On April 19, 2009, the Wikipedia article on predestination says "Predestination: The Divine foreordaining of all that will happen; with regard to the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of John Calvin."

In Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, predestination is mentioned, in the above senses.

As I understand the doctrine, it holds that some individuals are fore-ordained to eternal salvation, and some are not. There are differences of opinion about the doctrine among theologians, which are not pertinent to this post.

I pose a question: If God is capable of planning and ordaining, in advance, that some persons will gain salvation, and some won't, wasn't God also capable of planning, and ordaining, in advance, that, say, the Big Bang would produce sub-atomic particles that He knew would spontaneously assemble themselves into atoms, then, molecules? Wasn't God also capable of making things such that natural selection, once living things appeared, would select for complex molecules, structures, and processes?

Sometimes, a belief in intelligent design seems to imply that somehow God didn't get things right in the first place.

God is able, of course, to use His own methods and timetable, but perhaps God's creative activity involved such planning and forethought that little or no further miraculous intervention would be necessary.

I am aware that suggesting such a creation, with extensive emergent properties, might involve considerable death and suffering. I refer to this web page, by Glenn R. Morton, where Morton argues, using scripture, that death and suffering might well have occurred before the Fall. David Snoke has also made such an argument, using scripture. See here and here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sunspots 211

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
Slate gives us a lesson on biodegradability of household products.

One of Galileo's telescopes is now on display in the US.

Sports:
Sports Illustrated on the difficulty of getting a good NBA general manager (that's not the same thing as the coach, or not usually so.)

Christianity:
Henry Neufeld has some good insight on interpreting the Bible, again.



Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Reductionism: Quote from The New Atlantis

Those who would use science to solve real human problems often must first translate those human problems into narrowly technical problems, framed in terms of some theoretically tractable model and a corresponding method. Such tractability offers a collateral benefit: the intellectual pleasure that comes with constructing and tinkering with the model. But there is then an almost irresistible temptation to, as E. A. Burtt said, turn one’s method into a metaphysics—that is, to suppose the world such that one’s method is appropriate to it. When this procedure is applied to human beings, the inevitable result is that the human is defined downward. Thus, for example, thinking becomes “information processing.” We are confronted with the striking reversal wherein cognitive science looks to the computer to understand what human thinking is. Matthew B. Crawford, "The Limits of Neuro-Talk," The New Atlantis, Winter 2008

Thanks for reading. Read the article.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some thoughts on the tongue

The Wikipedia has a fine article on the human tongue. Among other things, it tells me that we have 16 muscles in our tongues. It also reminds me of something that I already knew, namely that there's a bone in our tongue, the hyoid bone. I've never felt mine, but they tell me that it's there. It's the only bone not attached to any other bone. Its function is to give anchor to several muscles, of the tongue and other nearby structures.

We sometimes say that we use our tongues to speak. Of course, we also use them to taste, to clean (especially in cats), to manipulate food in our mouths in various ways, in some types of kissing, as a signal or gesture, and probably in other ways I haven't thought of.

Make a "b" sound. Now make a "t" sound. Do you feel the difference, in what your tongue is doing? Compare an "m" and an "n" in the same way. Although our tongue is not the only body part used in speech and song, it is an important part in those activities.

The Bible has a lot to say about the tongue, directly or indirectly. I believe that all the direct references are to speech. Here are a few statements:
1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (All quotations from the ESV.)

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

James 3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Deuteronomy 5:11 “‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Thanks for reading. Watch your tongue! (Which is almost impossible, without a mirror.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sunspots 210


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
(Sort of) Wired reports that there are scientists, some at big-name institutions, who are doing research on some strange topics, indeed.

Sports:
(and politics, I guess) Sports Illustrated reports that President Obama welcomed the University of North Carolina men's basketball team, national champions, to the White House, saying that playing in a scrimmage game with them, while he was Candidate Obama, brought him good luck.

USA Today reports on a major league baseball game wherein the two starting pitchers had a combined height of 12 feet, 7 inches, a major league all-time record for that statistic. (Who knew they were keeping track!)

Christianity:
In going through notes in a now retired Bible of mine, I found one, which stated, correctly, that a woman, who lost a coin, represents God in a parable in Luke 15. (So do two men, in other parables in the same chapter.) Another note on the same chapter says, I think correctly, that these stories are not about lost things, but about losing things, but about God's faithfulness. Neither of these excellent ideas were mine, by the way.


I didn't post a Sunspots last week, due to some computer problems. Blogger faithfully posted some stuff I had scheduled ahead. Thanks for reading!


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(8-second video) The flags at Southern Wesleyan University

Here's a very brief video, taken at my former employer, Southern Wesleyan University, on the afternoon of the funeral of Professor Howard Allen:



The flags fly between the library and the fountain.

Thanks for looking!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Young-earth creationism is a matter of faith, not science

I have previously posted about the RATE project, wherein the leading young-earth creationist organizations did a thorough study of the evidence from radioactive dating. They concluded that, provided the rates of radioactive decay have remained constant, the scientific evidence argues against a young earth. They also stated that the evidence hasn't been faked. However, they then proposed that the rates of radioactive decay have not remained constant. I am no expert in this area of science, but it sounds to me, and to other people, including Bible-believing Christians, that the reason for proposing such variation in radioactive decay rates is the presupposition that the earth is not very old. There seems to be no scientific evidence for such variation.

This post points out that Kurt Wise, who has impeccable scientific credentials, and is a young-earth creationist (YEC), has said exactly that -- that this presupposition takes precedence over the scientific evidence. The Panda's Thumb, the most important anti-Intelligent Design blog, has pointed out that Wise is not the only such YEC believer. Todd Wood, who also has impeccable scientific credentials, says this:
I have hope because I'm a sinner saved by grace. That's my whole reason. It's not because I can refute evolution (I can't) or because I can prove the Flood (I can't) or because I can make evolutionists look silly (I don't).

So two of the leading proponents of YEC have said that YEC cannot be proved scientifically. That's commendable, but it's a far cry from a great deal of what comes out of the YEC camp. Most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have been taught that the scientific evidence for a young earth is compelling. It clearly is not. Unfortunately, a principal motivation for Christian parents to send their children to Christian schools, or to home-school them, seems to be to expose them to textbooks that make such claims, when they aren't supported by the evidence.

Are YECs the only people who confuse their presuppositions with their conclusions? No. All too many scientists, and others, start with a belief that there is no God. No one has ever proved that scientifically, but if that's your basic presupposition, it's hardly a surprise that you will come out still believing it. As Hebrews 11:3 puts it, the evidence for origins is a matter of faith. That's true for YECs, and of naturalists/atheists, and it's true for anyone in between these positions.

Christianity is never well served by deceit, or ignorance. It's time that YEC proponents stop claiming that YEC is scientifically proved. Will they do this? I'm afraid that most will not.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Motherhood: Do you know anyone named Peninnah?

I didn't think so.

Most of you probably have no clue as to who Penninah was. Who was she? She was one of Elkanah's two wives. The other one was Hannah. Hannah was the mother of Samuel. Now perhaps most of you make a connection.

I just did a Google search on the phrase "Hannah Brown," and another one on "Penninah Brown." I didn't use "Hannah Smith," because there was an author and evangelist with that name (see here and here.) I didn't use "Hannah Jones" because I know a person with that name. There are about 96,000 web pages that have "Hannah Brown" in them, and exactly five with "Penninah Brown," and apparently all five of these are found in pages that specialize in searching genealogies and ancestry. In other words, if you Google "Penninah Brown" you won't come up with any information on a living person. Why not? Because Penninah is harder to spell? Maybe that's a little of the reason, but the main reason is more fundamental.

Hannah was known as a God-fearing, praying, mother. Period. Her main contribution was to give birth to Samuel. She turned Samuel over to Eli, the high priest, at an early age, perhaps before he was six years old, so she didn't have a lot of time to influence the boy. Hannah loved her son. but she loved God more, and she had promised to turn him over to the priests, and she kept that promise. She was a God-fearing, praying mother. Undoubtedly she loved her son, but she loved him enough to keep her promise to God.

God doesn't demand such promises, at least not in the same sense, of twentieth-century mothers. It isn't clear that God demanded such a promise of Hannah, but He did accept it of her. God does want all mothers to love their children, but to love God more, and, as far as possible, to turn the lives of those children over to Him.

I honor my own wife, my mother, who recently turned 99, my older daughter, and my late mother-in-law, plus other maternal ancestors of mine now deceased, most of whom I never knew. If they hadn't loved God, I would not be doing this now. Perhaps I would be dead.

Thanks for reading. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Appeal, by John Grisham

I recently read The Appeal, by John Grisham. (See the first link in the previous sentence for the Wikipedia article on the book, which gives you the plot.)

The main things I wish to muse about are these:
There are good, Christian, lawyers in the world, according to Grisham. There are also people who claim to be Christian, but whose actions in the real world are almost completely separate from their church life, and from radical Christianity. Some of them are lawyers, too, according to Grisham. I'm sure that he's right about that, and not only about lawyers.

Capitalism gone to extremes can bring about terrible evils, and, all too often, get away with them.

I know, the book is fiction, and Grisham, himself, points that out at the end. But I'm afraid that there is all too much truth in his fiction.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Hunting of the Last Dragon

I recently read The Hunting of the Last Dragon, by Sherryl Jordan. I discovered it because it won a South Carolina Junior Book Award for 2004. I'm not sure anyone save school librarians pays attention to such awards, or at least I wonder if the Juniors do. I did, and it is a good book.

There are several interesting features, besides what, from the title, would seem obvious.

One of those is the narrative structure. Almost the entirety of the book was ostensibly dictated to a monk, who wrote everything that Jude of Doran said, in his presence, with goose quill pens, on parchment, in 1356 AD, in England. Jude was a peasant boy, perhaps 15 or 16 years old during the time of the narrative.

Another is the presence of Chinese characters in a book set in 14th century England. The author doesn't seem to know whether or not that really happened at that time, but it is a central feature of the book, in several ways, and certainly adds interest. One thing I can tell you, without giving away anything essential, is that footbinding, an ancient Chinese practice, plays an important role.

The third feature is that, perforce, a fair amount of the book, although not the main action, takes place in a monastery. Although monastery life is not seen through rose-colored glasses, Jordan presents it respectfully. She treats the death of a monk, and his promotion to God's presence, as if it were true.

Finally, the book is a love story, although Jude doesn't realize it until the end.

Here's a quotation that I found interesting:
"Ambrose always said that fear was faith in one's enemy . . . " Sherryl Jordan, The Hunting of the Last Dragon, New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 87. (Ambrose does not appear in the book.)

I see what Jordan is saying. In a sense, fear is faith in one's enemy, be it a dragon, or Satan, or tornadoes, or our own nature and appetites. But that's not the whole story. Christ told us that there are some things that we should fear:

Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (ESV)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Voices from a Medieval Village

I try to read all of the Newbery Medal-winning books. I recently finished reading the 2008 winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz.

I suppose that most or all Newbery Award-winning books are unique, not sticking to some tried and true formula. That is true of this one. Schlitz, a school librarian, decided to help fifth graders learn about history by having them act the part of inhabitants of an English village of 1255. The book, therefore, is not divided into chapters, but into a number of monologues, two dialogues, and a few explanatory sections, each from two to five pages in length. (There are quite a few marginal footnotes, which allow Schlitz to use words that would have been used, that that fifth graders -- or, in some cases -- I wouldn't have been familiar with, such as sniggler -- a person who catches eels.) Each one of the monologues or dialogues was written to be read aloud. No character appears more than once, although some are referred to in subsequent readings. None of the characters are meant to be adult, although some of them are close. The ages seem to vary.

Schlitz seems to have done a good job of portraying the place and time she wrote about. For one thing, the role of the Catholic Church is prominent, as it was at the time. Time of year and time of day, as set by the Church, are used. One character is on a pilgrimage, and Schlitz explains something of what pilgrimage meant, and what it must have been like, in this setting. One character is going to become a priest, because his family has lost its fortune, but status can be kept by becoming a priest.

Most of the characters are grindingly poor, and Schlitz tells us something about dirt, insect pests, and disease. She also portrays the role of women, realistically, I think.

A solid read, although probably challenging for a fifth-grader, unless she is well-motivated. The illustrations, by Robert Byrd, are good, and look like they might have come from illuminated manuscripts of the time.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Little Prince, by de Saint-Exupéry

I recently read The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, for the first time in a few decades. It's a great book, short, with illustrations, and ostensibly written for children. Well, OK, but the message is really for adults.

What is the message? The message is that what's really important isn't money, or power, but beauty in nature, and relationships with others:

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. (8)

Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man. (9)

Good message, except that it leaves out having a relationship with the God who created boa constrictors, primeval forests, and stars.

The author was a French aviator, who went down in the Sahara. The book takes place in the Sahara, but it is about an encounter between the author and a mysterious boy, apparently from one of the asteroids.

Thanks for reading. Read The Little Prince.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Moral Agency and Moral Considerability: Do Animals have these?

I have done a Google search, and found that I can't find a good summary of two academically-oriented papers on crucial questions for ethics, namely, "Can non-human animals have ethics?" and "How should we treat non-human organisms?" Here's such a summary, taken from my on-line syllabus (I retired in 2005) in bioethics.

Richard A. Watson and Moral Agency
A Summary of Richard A. Watson's "Self-Consciousness and the Rights of Nonhuman Animals and Nature" (Environmental Ethics 1:99-129, Summer 1979. Also see Google Books for the article on-line.):

Moral Agency
Rights don't make sense unless the entity granted rights can also fulfill reciprocal duties. The Golden Rule suggests reciprocation as an ideal. So does Kant's Categorical imperative (Act only in ways that could be adopted as general moral principles).
To earn rights, one must be a moral agent--an entity capable of performing moral duties, and, in fact, carrying out these duties.
The requirements for moral agency, Watson writes, are:
(1) self-consciousness,
(2) capability of understanding moral principles about rights and duties,
(3) freedom to act either according to or opposed to given principles of duty,
(4) understanding of given principles of duty,
(5) physical capability (or potentiality) of acting according to duty, and
(6) intention to act according to or opposed to given principles of duty. (p. 101)
Moral agents can act opposed to duty. This does not make them any less a moral agent, but may cause them to be deprived of certain rights.
Humans can assign rights to corporations, animals, etc., but that does not make such an entity a moral agent.
(The Wikipedia has an article on moral agency, but the Wikipedia, itself, claims that the article has some serious weaknesses.)

Four arguments for giving rights to nonhuman animals and nature
1. Ecological. If something is part of the living world, it has a right to exist.
Watson disagrees with this, and with Leopold's Land Ethic, because it is deriving value from fact, ought from is.
2. Prudential. We should treat animals as if they had rights, so that we won't treat humans like we treat animals.
Watson says that this just says treat animals as if they had rights, which is not the same thing as saying that they do.
3. Sentimental. Sentience (conscious of sense impressions) imparts rights.
Watson says "why?" The animal rights movement, he says, hasn't really proved anything. They are asking us to help animals avoid unnecessary suffering. He agrees, but doesn't agree that animals have rights. We have a duty not to cause needless suffering.
4. Contractual. Human beings should treat the property of other human beings as if it had rights.
Corporations are not responsible, he says. Humans are, and one of their duties may be to treat a corporation, or an animal, as if it had rights, but that is not the same as saying that they do have rights.

Self-Consciousness and Moral Agency
The author says that some chimpanzees (and presumably bonobos-that species wasn't recognized when the article was written), gorillas (probably orangutans and perhaps gibbons), dolphins, (probably whales), elephants, dogs, pigs, and maybe cats and some other animals are sometimes moral agents. That is, there is adequate behavioral evidence that they have self-consciousness, capability of understanding moral principles, free will, understanding of specific duties, physical capability, and sometimes the intent to act with respect to moral principles. Frans de Waal has argued, here, and in his books, such as Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, that there is evidence that non-human primates have a moral sense.

Moral Considerability
An article by Kenneth Goodpaster in the Journal of Philosophy, 75:308-325, 1978, "On Being Morally Considerable," examines the question "What sort of entities must be taken into account in making moral decisions?" Goodpaster's answer, in brief, is "living things."
Why? Because, he says, they have interests, that is, things that they need. He includes water for plants as an example. Goodpaster does not claim that we cannot kill plants, or even animals, for food, or that we can't do research on them, or that we can't protect ourselves against harm from them (for example by pulling weeds from a garden) but says that we must consider the interests of other living things when we are making decisions that would affect them.
W Murray Hunt criticized Goodpaster in an article in Environmental Ethics (2:59-65, 1980) "Are Mere Things Morally Considerable?" Hunt suggested that inanimate objects might also be given moral considerability. Goodpaster replied, in part as follows: "I continue to believe that "being alive" is the only plausible and nonarbitrary criterion of moral considerability." Kenneth E. Goodpaster, "On Stopping at Everything: A Reply to W. M. Hunt," Environmental Ethics 3:281-284, Fall 1980. Quote is from p. 284. He also quoted Joel Feinberg ("The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations," in William T. Blackstone, Ed., Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978, p. 51) as saying that "a being without interests is a being that is incapable of being harmed or benefited, having no good or 'sake' or its own . . . a being without interests has no 'behalf' to act in, and no 'sake to act for." (quoted on p. 282 of Goodpaster)

Thanks for reading. I hope this may be useful to someone.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

No Old Navy or Shoe Carnival.

Deuteronomy 29:5 I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. (ESV)

Not only could they not go get new clothes and shoes, but they didn't have to. Could I live like that? I don't know. I get tired of some of my garments, and my wife gets tired of some of them before I do. (They also wear out, or don't fit any more.)

God clearly performed many miracles during the trek through the desert by the Israelites. I recently referred to one of them, namely a long fast by Moses.

God can supply our need! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Bone Magician by F. E. Higgins

I recently read The Bone Magician by F. E. Higgins. (Neither the author nor the book have a Wikipedia article. Higgins is female, lives in the UK, and appears to be no more than, say, 40, based on a couple of photos I've seen. Google Books has some extracts from the book, here.)

The book is a mystery novel, aimed at young readers, I suppose. It is fantastic, in that it is set in a fictitious town, with an extraordinary river running through it. The river smells badly, and breathing water from the river will wake up the main character, Pin Carpue, who is a boy, probably a young teenager.

Although there are a lot of shady, bizarre, and even definitely evil characters, and some faked magic, there doesn't seem to be any real magic -- no wizards, no witches.

Higgins does consider religious matters a little, although I would not say that the book is mostly religious.

On p. 51, a minor character considers a particularly ugly beast, caged and exhibited as a way of making money. He indicates that he believes that God put such creatures on earth for our amusement.

On p. 239, a character is described as believing that there is no God, that life is just meaningless. This character, clearly intelligent, has had a hard life. He is also a serial killer, it develops. The attachment of such a description to him seems to indicate, by implication, that there is a God.

There is not a soul in this city who would ever accept that they might be to blame for something. It is not in their nature! p.263. Pin Carpue, the main character, to his diary.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Golden Rule song for children

I have created, I believe with God's help, a very simple song, based on the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12, which is:

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (ESV)

Here are the words:

Do to other people,
Do to other people,
Do to other people,
As they should do to you. 

These words may be sung to the tune of the chorus portion of "Jesus Loves Me." That music is in the public domain. See here for more on "Jesus Loves Me."

If these words are useful to you, help yourself.
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