5.07.2017

Inmates, Self-Defense, and Escape

I wrote this piece a couple years ago, while I was still a probationary officer. I was, thus, afraid to allow it to see the light of day, just in case someone without an appreciation for philosophical nuance read it and decided they should fire me. I'm not quite as worried about that now, so here it is. Note: the argument really only matters to someone who accepts natural rights theory. I'm on the fence about it, myself, so I don't even know if the argument is relevant to me. That being said, I think the case should be persuasive to any self-respecting natural rights theorist.

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Any reflective person should give serious thought to her chosen profession. After all, one's profession occupies a large percentage of her life; it (usually) takes up about a quarter each week. One can ask if her profession is ethical, if life lessons can be learned from her job, how her job impacts her worldview, etc. As a Detention Officer in a jail, I feel my profession is positively ripe with opportunities for reflection. My job has, in varying degrees, informed my thoughts on everything from human depravity to the nature of teamwork to the war on drugs.

One such opportunity for reflection arose a couple years ago when a colleague of mine was forced to tase an inmate that was attempting to escape his custody. While walking amongst the inmates one day, I began thinking of what ethical issues may be raised by this incident. I have no doubt that the tasing was both ethically and legally justified. That was never at issue in my mind and I certainly would have acted similarly to the officer involved. The more interesting philosophical question is whether or not the inmate did anything wrong by attempting to escape. The law, of course, would give a resounding “no” as the answer. Inmates that attempt escape are charged for it just as quickly as they are charged with resisting arrest. These are felony charges. So the law is clear: there is no legal right to escape or resist arrest. For the record, I think laws that make attempted escape illegal are entirely just. I do not, however, think they find their justification in the fact that escape is an ethical wrong on the part of the escapee. I think their justification comes ultimately in their roles as deterrents against those attempting escape and upholding the public's right to be safe from those who have demonstrated that they pose a risk to the public. So I'm in favor of the laws against attempted escape/resisting arrest. I think the ethical answer, however, is a little trickier than the legal one.

When I was at Bethel, I did my senior thesis on finding a ground to the right to self-defense. One peculiar note on natural rights is in the area of forfeiture. Many would say, for instance, that when one commits a murder (and thus violates her victim's right to life), she in turn forfeits her own right to life. Some natural rights theorists, however, would disagree. Thomas Hobbes is one of them. Hobbes maintained that it was impossible to forfeit one's right to life, going as far as to claim that even a murderer retains the right to defend her life against her would-be executioner. I'm inclined to agree with Hobbes. This conclusion may or may not say anything about the topic of capital punishment. That's not the purpose of this little essay and I have no desire to broach that topic here. In what follows, I'm going to try my best to make the case that it is possible inmates are justified in some cases to attempt escape, regardless of whether or not the state is justified in holding them captive.

My first claim is just that occasionally rights conflict. Judith Jarvis Thompson, in making the case that the right to self-defense holds even against innocent non-aggressors, gives the following example:

...you are lying in the sun on your deck. Up in the cliff-top park above your house, a fat man is sitting on a bench, eating a picnic lunch. A villain now pushes the fat man off the cliff down toward you. If you do nothing, the fat man will fall on you, and be safe. But he is very fat, so if he falls on you, he will squash you flat and thereby kill you.”

If you shift positions it will mean certain death for the fat man, since you will be taking away his soft landing, thus causing him to land on the hard deck and die. Obviously you have the right to move, so you must have the right to self-defense against even innocent non-aggressors.

Let's modify this slightly. Say your deck is also very narrow, so you don't really have room to just move out of the way. Your only defense against the fat man is to kick him away from you, over the railing on your deck, and down into the ravine below, where he will surely die. Here you are actively performing an action that results in his death, rather than simply moving out of the way and passively allowing his death. You would surely still be justified in kicking him over. Now let's look at this from the perspective of the fat man. Does the fat man still have a right to self-defense? Sure! He's certainly done nothing to forfeit it. If the fat man has a chance to push your kick away to ensure his landing on and killing you to preserve his own life, then he retains the right to do so. Two rights are then in conflict here. Neither trumps the other and both are retained in the conflict. Neither participant would be acting unethically by enacting his own right over against the other's.

I think it is reasonable to ask if the inmate, like the fat man, retains all his rights even while incarcerated, despite the fact that the state also has the right to imprison him. Maybe this is another case where rights are simply in conflict while both parties' rights are all still being retained. In the state/criminal relationship, perhaps whichever party is able to exercise its rights is simply a matter of power rather than forfeiture/possession of rights. I think this way of looking at it is at least plausible given the immense difficulties that come about with forfeiture theory (if there are questions about why I think forfeiture theory is implausible, I'll happily deal with them later. For now, though, that discussion is just beyond the scope of this essay).

If the inmate does not forfeit her rights by committing crimes, then the next question is exactly what rights she has and what rights the state has. I think a pretty common inclination would be to say that at the very least we can follow Locke in saying we all have the natural rights to “life, health, liberty, [and] possessions.” If there are such things as “natural rights,” and if inmates do not forfeit them by the commission of their crimes, they at least retain these rights. Note that liberty is one of them and they are being deprived of it by the state when incarcerated.

The state, of course, must act for the public good. If we are still following the classical social contract theorists at all, we should be viewing the state as the natural result of the social contract whose primary role is to order society for its general well-being. Crime, of course, is a violation of that contract, is contrary to society's well-being, and is thus subject to punitive action by the state. The state then has the right and even the obligation to punish the contract-breakers (criminals/inmates) by limiting their ability to act in ways contrary to society's well-being.

So there definitely are conflicting rights at play here: the inmates' right to liberty (and, in some cases, life) versus the state's right to punish/incarcerate. Hobbes would not find this dueling-rights case persuasive, since he thinks all rights save for the right to life are, in fact, ceded to the state upon the instantiation of the social contract. I would respond in this way: many sentences are either long enough, at a point late enough in an inmate's life, or during a time of harsh enough illness that despite not actually being a “death sentence” qua capital punishment, they may in fact be a “death sentence” qua lifespan. At the very least, the inmate may believe it to be a sentence likely to last the rest of her life. Despite the fact that the state is not actively killing the inmate, it may nevertheless be taking the rest of the inmate's life away from her. If the inmate believes this to be the case, she may believe it is not only her liberty being taken, but her life. At that point, perhaps she has the right to attempt escape by enacting her right to self-defense. Other cases where an inmate could make a plausible case for enacting self-defense may not even be life-threatening, just as most self-defense invocations outside the jail setting are not life-threatening situations. Maybe she does not feel safe in prison. Maybe she is in constant pain and is denied pain medication (and could thereby make the case that the state is causing her undue pain). There are any number of reasons incarceration could be cause for an inmate to enact self-defense. My general belief is that the inmate retains her rights to self-defense even while incarcerated, and thus has an ethical right to attempt escape if the above conditions are met.


Now that I've made my case, I feel this final paragraph is very much in order, if for no other reason than that I don't want to be misinterpreted if my employer were to read this, and lose my job as a result. I cannot possibly stress enough that I believe the state is within its rights to incarcerate criminals in order to provide for the overall good of society! This is a piece of political philosophy, not a political opinion statement. I'm glad criminals are in jail and I'm glad I work in a place where I help keep them there. I love my job. As I said above, in any case of competing rights, it comes down to which party has the power to enact its rights, and the state has more power. I'm glad the state has that power, I'm glad I contribute to that power, and I think the state should continue to use that power. The case I'm making is simply that when an inmate tries (and hopefully fails) to escape, that inmate has not acted wrongly in an ethical way, though she has still acted wrongly in a legal way.

5.26.2015

Responses to a Few Really Bad Pro-Choice Arguments

As most of you know, I try not to speak up too terribly often on political topics, even if I care about them. Today a friend of mine "liked" this article on Facebook. I've read a number of articles from Everyday Feminism that have been posted on Facebook from one friend or another, and each one is worse than the next in terms of allowing shallow rhetoric to overshadow the need for actual argumentation. This is the first one that was so bad I actually felt it warranted wasting my time with a response. Let me be clear: I do think there are some good (but ultimately unsuccessful) pro-choice arguments out there...unfortunately none of them are used in this article. I would expect a higher standard on a feminist website, but apparently they wouldn't.

I'm debating whether or not I want to respond to the whole article, since to do so would take a ton of time and cause me to write a book. For now, I'll just respond to “Myth #1”. If it turns out people want me to respond to other points, then perhaps I will. I just don't want to get myself in another position where I start a gigantic project I don't have time to finish.

For now, though, I'll just bother with Myth #1.

Myth #1 - Abortion is baby killing. Ms. Erin McKelle begins her article with a couple definitions offered to support this claim:

Fetus: "a developing mammal; in humans, a fetus develops at the
end of the second month of gestation."

Baby: "a human offspring who has already been born."

Dictionary.com is linked for the definition of "fetus." No source whatsoever is given for the definition of "baby."

I thought it was interesting that the very same source wasn't used to provide a definition for "baby" since Dictionary.com is apparently so authoritative. I wonder...why...that...is...

Perhaps...


Yeah, that's probably the reason. Well at least we know how paramount intellectual honesty is in Ms. McKelle's book of virtues.

Next on Myth #1 we're told, "a zygote...that has implanted in the uterus just two days ago is not the same thing as a human life that has already come into being." Turns out this is a pretty big, bold claim. In fact, it's pretty much the claim that this entire section is built on, so we should expect a healthy degree of argumentation for it, right? Apparently we'd be wrong if we expected that. In fact, not a single sentence of argumentation for this claim exists after this sentence. How can you call something "debunked" if you don't actually make arguments against it? Let's examine the claim anyway.

First, what would constitute being "the same thing"? Here are some options:
Possessing all the same physical features
Being of the same "type" (whatever that may mean)
Being comprised of the same physical elements
Possessing the same mental properties
Possessing mental properties derived from an unbroken chain of mental properties
Being recognized by the human community as being "the same thing"

I have no idea what is meant here. Say it's "physical features." Well, in that case a 3 yr. old child is not "the same thing" as a 20 yr. old. Near as I can tell, this doesn't typically count against the 3 yr. old's personhood.

Being of the same "type" or "kind"? Well, does this mean "human"? If so, then it would come down to DNA. Clearly the zygote already has human DNA, so its kind never changes. I'm open to other suggestions in this category if anyone has them.

Being comprised of the same physical elements. Obviously this won't work...as we age, we gain, exchange, and lose cells and consequently are never comprised of the same physical elements as at prior stages of development.

Possessing the same mental properties: maybe we're getting somewhere with this, only because it'll lead us to the next option. This option clearly won't work because everyone's mental properties change over time, and none of these changes disqualify the earlier version from being a person.

Possessing mental properties derived from an unbroken chain of mental properties: This is probably the most promising. A couple issues with it. First, it doesn't do what the pro-choicer wants it to do since fetuses develop mental properties as early as 40 days. Surely Ms. McKelle won't make the case that a 40 day old zygote is as much a person as a 40 yr. old adult. Of course, the other problem is that it fails to handle adults who have traumatic brain injuries whose thoughts don't follow from prior brain states. These adults are clearly just as human as they were prior to the injury and I think most people would say they are "the same thing" as well.

Lastly we have, "Being recognized by the human community as being 'the same thing.'" When it comes right down to it, I think this is really what's meant by this statement about the zygote. It's hard to imagine how a mere zygote, so few cells and no brain, could possibly be "the same thing" as a born baby, right? Many, maybe even most, just don't think it is. So the assertion is made that it isn't. What what the hell does the human community's opinion matter for anything? At one point, the human community didn't think slaves were "the same thing" as other humans. Did that community's collective opinion mean jack squat? Nope. Doesn't here either. Make an argument that they aren't the same...don't just state it as fact because it happens to seem like it to you.

Let's ignore the "same thing" comment for now and pretend, whatever it means, it's correct. There's more to the statement. The zygote is not the same thing as "a human life that has already come into being." If anyone has ever wondered what a circular argument looks like, this is Example A. Remember the context: this statement is used to bolster the claim that the zygote is not a baby. A baby a human life that has already been born. This is is to say that it is a human life that has come into being. The zygote statement, then, is used to make the argument that a zygote is not a human life that has come into being because it is not the same thing as a human life that has come into being. So this sentence may as well be ignored.

Ok, moving on. Now we come to the first actual argument in the article, and boy is it an awful one.

In terms of the person housing the pregnancy, this difference is important: a fetus cannot survive without its mother during gestation – there is no separation. A baby, on the other hand, is an autonomous being.

Therefore, a fetus is a part of its mother. That makes its existence a part of her, making it her choice to terminate; hers, and hers only.”

Cool, let's analyze. If we lay this out in argument form, there are really two arguments here, with one unspoken premise.

  1. A fetus cannot survive without its mother during gestation. (premise)
  2. Anything that cannot survive without another being is a part of that other being. (unspoken premise)
  3. Therefore, a fetus is a part of its mother during gestation.

The second argument is used to show that the baby is not part of its mother:

  1. A baby can survive without its mother after birth.
  2. Anything that can survive without another being is not a part of that other being.
  3. Therefore, a baby is not part of its mother.

Obviously, the first argument is the one that matters here, but both rely on the same (flawed) implied premise.

I'd like to challenge both premises. On premise (1): Sandra Day O'Connor famously said that Roe v. Wade was “on a collision course with itself” due to its reliance on the idea of viability. A fetus is said to be “viable” once it can survive outside the womb. The viability criterion isn't viable, and here's why: the current state of technology becomes the determiner what is and is not a person. In the early 70's, this was about 30ish weeks. So, a fetus was a “person” at 30 weeks. But now it's in the early 20's – 22ish. So does this mean that a 24 week fetus in 1971 wasn't a person, but is now? Does it really make sense that the state of current science determines personhood? Anyway, the real point here is that the point of viability isn't really definable and is consistently changing depending on the state of medicine and a woman's proximity to world class health care. If (1) is correct, it would follow that a premie in the bush deep in the Congo is not a person distinct from its mother, while the same premie born in Rochester, MN is, in fact, a person distinct from its mother. This makes no sense, so the first premise should be rejected.

The second premise, though, fares much worse. It is simply a statement of biological falsehood. The fetus/embryo has an entirely different DNA structure from its mother. Biologically speaking, a tissue sample from a fetus while in the womb will be considered to be an entirely separate and distinct being from its mother when the tissue samples are compared against each other. Different DNA, often different blood types, etc. Many viruses and parasites cannot survive apart from their hosts. Do we imply from this that they are, in fact, part of their host? Of course not! An no doctor would tell the person suffering from pneumonia that her pneumonia is now an actual part of her. This is demonstrably a false premise. That the same person who wrote this argument can turn around and accuse pro-lifers of adhering to pseudo-science for fetal pain arguments is a laughable, rich irony.

Apart from the biological inaccuracy, though, just think about the rationale. An adult human whose kidneys are failing cannot survive apart from a dialysis machine. Does this mean that this adult human's lack of viability makes her a part of the dialysis machine? Seems a little sketchy. Or what about a thought experiment: Say the holy grail of fetal science is developed – an artificial womb. Take a 7 week old embryo that is not viable outside the womb. Move that embryo from its mother's womb into the artificial womb. It's still not viable outside the womb – which womb is the embryo a part of? Its mother or the artificially created womb? It seems as though living location is a determiner of personhood if (2) is accepted. If you live in one place (artificial womb) you're considered distinct from your mother and a viable person, but if you live in a different place (mom's womb) you're considered non-viable and to be a part of your mother, to be cut out at her whim. Again, it's just counter-intuitive to think that location can determine personhood, which is an implication of (2). It should be rejected.

Next we have a one sentence statement: “And the talk about fetal pain? That's just phony science.” Oh, well now that that's settled...

There is a link, thankfully. The link takes you here: an article from Salon.com talking about the psuedo-science relied on by pro-lifers in the fetal pain discussion. Look at what the article actually says! It doesn't even support the claim that the “talk about fetal pain” is “phony science.” It just argues that the fetus feels pain later in its development than previously suspected. “When,” you might ask?

what we know in terms of the brain and the nervous system in a fetus is that the part of the brain that perceives pain is not connected to the part of the body that receives pain signals until about 26 weeks from the last menstrual period, which is about 24 weeks from conception.”

Oh...soo...that means that during pretty much the entire 3rd trimester, the fetus is able to feel pain. Soo...just so we're clear...exactly what pro-lifers claim when arguing against later term abortions. But hey, if someone were LAZY and didn't actually want to spend the time to FOLLOW LINKS and READ THEM, one may never find out that the article completely misrepresents the claims of the article/research to which it links.

Let's discuss this whole “fetal pain” thing a little further. Why is pain even relevant to the discussion? I agree that pain, in general, is not a good thing, but I think only a very strict utilitarian would make pain the sole determining factor when deciding whether an act is morally acceptable or not. I don't see an argument for utilitarianism anywhere, so this isn't all that important anyway.

One last thing on fetal pain's irrelevance in the abortion discussion. Is it the pro-choice position to say, “abortion is always morally permissible if the fetus doesn't feel pain?” If not, then why bother with the argument? If so, then I would ask, why stop when the fetus is born? What, with regards to pain, changes about a fetus when it happens to exit a vagina? Not a whole lot, from what I can tell. Was it unable to feel pain one minute, then 30 seconds later (post-exit) able to feel pain? Of course not. So if “pain” is a determining factor in whether or not the life can be ended, then why not end the lives of, say, comatose patients who aren't feeling pain, or babies that have been sedated, or anyone at any age who was born with Congenital Analgesia? In my mind, the existence of pain should not be a determining factor for parties on either side of this debate if they're not committed to utilitarianism. In order for the non-existence of pain to be relevant, there must be a prior commitment to the view that outside of the ability to feel pain the fetus has no moral value. It's exactly that claim that is no where defended in this article.

One last thing before I'm done...for now. At the end of the first section, we find this claim: “a baby can survive without using its mother as a life-source; a fetus cannot.” The subject of late-term abortions is not discussed in this article, but I think the following point is very relevant in the late-term abortion discussion. A late-term fetus is not in a position where it “cannot” survive “without using its mother as a life-source.” A late-term fetus is in a position where it IS NOT CURRENTLY surviving without using its mother as a life-source. There is an enormous difference between the two. The mere fact that it is still living inside its mother should in no way be thought to imply that it could not possibly be living elsewhere. It could. If it “could” then it “can” and, according to Ms. McKelle's definition, is thus a baby.

10.13.2014

What About Purgatory?

I never, even for a moment, entertained the notion that the doctrine of Purgatory may be true for the first 30+ years of my life. The only thought I ever gave to the doctrine was for about 20 minutes in high school when a Catholic girl spoke about the doctrine at Youth Alive. It was an awful experience for everyone involved. It was awful for her because she really didn't have a strong enough grasp on the doctrine to speak about it, much less defend it, in front of a hostile and more-or-less biblically knowledgeable crowd. It was awful for the rest of us because a few of us who had less than zero tact went on the offensive and ended up making her cry. I didn't feel so bad about it at the time, but in retrospect it was an instance severely lacking in Christlikeness.

Now that I've come to terms with the fact that doctrinally I'm more traditionally orthodox than I previously suspected, I've decided it's probably time to start thinking more seriously about Purgatory. This post will be a bit of an outline of why I'm considering giving this doctrine an endorsement. I'm not ready to commit just yet, don't get me wrong. I think, though, that if I were really forced to hazard a guess, my guess would be in the affirmative.

I think the primary source of my skepticism of Purgatory has been an almost complete lack of understanding of some basics about the doctrine. Before moving on to my argument, then, I want to make two points.

First, it is often claimed that Purgatory is a figment of the Catholic Church's imagination, designed primarily for the purpose of collecting indulgences (in fact, when I mentioned Purgatory to my roommates, the first thing one of them said was, "didn't the Catholic Church just make that up?").  In reality, though, it's not clear that this doctrine was ever in doubt at any point prior to the Reformation. References to the doctrine go all the way back to the second century C.E. (Origen, Hippolytus) and it appears from Augustine and Gregory I to have been widespread by the fourth and fifth centuries.  Further, a fairly rich tradition of belief in a Purgatorial state exists in ancient Jewish literature (Talmud and Apocrypha for sure, and possibly Josephus), which lends credence to the idea that early Christians received the belief as part of the Jewish tradition from which Christianity arose.

Next, I think the basic definition of the doctrine needs to be established, since it is commonly misunderstood by outsiders to Catholicism/Orthodoxy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the doctrine in this way:

1030 "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned."

St. Gregory is then quoted as giving the following argument:

"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come."

The supposed efficacy of prayers for the dead is also listed as justification for the doctrine, but since I am skeptical of said efficacy, I won't bother quoting this section.

Purgatory is not, as is the common misconception, a place where souls who narrowly missed the cut will go to earn the rest of their salvation by suffering for their sins. It is a place where those who are already saved will go for purification.

I'm not going to spend a bunch of space here defending the doctrine against all comers. If objections come later (and I hope they do), I'll try to deal with them then. For now I want to try to reason through why I believe Purgatory may be exactly the kind of place we would expect an omni-benevolent God to create.  

In the argument that follows, I assume the following controversial beliefs to be true and will not offer independent arguments for them here: Christian orthodoxy, some sort of mind/body dualism, inclusivism, progressive sanctification, and theosis.  I'm sure I've missed some, but these are the ones that come to mind for now.

I think that if God is omni-benevolent, He would provide a possibility for the salvation of the unchurched. Otherwise, He creates certain people (a great many people, in fact) without any possibility of avoiding damnation, then holds them accountable for it. I doubt this can be reconciled with a loving creator. The great theologian Karl Rahner spoke of “anonymous Christians.” This term refers to non-Christians who are saved by the grace of Christ. The view that anonymous Christians exist is called “inclusivism.” Again, I have no intention of defending inclusivism here. Suffice it to say that for the purposes of this argument I'm assuming the truth of inclusivism. This is to say that I believe many who have never heard the gospel, have only heard a distorted version of it, lack the mental capacity to grasp it, etc. may nevertheless be saved by God's grace. This is a pretty widespread intuition in many, if not most, Christians I know.

So under the assumption that anonymous Christians exist, here is my argument.

As a first premise, we'll simply state what we know about anonymous Christians: they will have had no opportunity to undergo any real process of sanctification in their earthly life. After all, how can one undergo a process of becoming more Christlike or of conforming her will to Christ's if she has never heard of Christ or been introduced to His teachings? So my first premise is just that anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.

Second premise: some degree of sanctification is required to be in communion with God (I know “communion with God” is a loaded term. When I use this term I'm thinking about remaining in the presence of God post-judgment). This belief is firmly entrenched in the history of Christian thought, and is a part of any version of the ordo salutis. I won't do any exegesis, so if anyone wants to dispute this interpretation of the verses that follow they are welcome to do so. Here's a little rundown of texts I think support this claim: Lev. 11:44, Rom. 6:22, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 12:14, and Rev. 3:15-20. Interestingly, Rev. 3:15-20 was the text used in the incident I referenced above to make the poor Catholic girl cry. I thought for sure it created an air-tight case against Purgatory. Now I think actually creates a case for this premise. If God spews the luke-warm out of his mouth, does this not demonstrate that one must have undergone some degree of sanctification in order to be in communion with Him?

So the argument thus far is this:

1.  Anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.
2.  Sanctification is required to be in communion with God.

Now let's add one more:

3.  Anonymous Christians will eventually be in communion with God. I take this to be obvious. The definition of an “anonymous Christian” is just someone who is not a “Christian” by creed, but who is, in fact, saved. If one is saved, she will eventually be in communion with God.

So:

4.  Anonymous Christians will end this life without having undergone that which is  required to be in communion with God. (1,2)

5.  Those who will eventually be in communion with God will end this life without having undergone that which is required to be in communion with God. (3,4)

The conclusion must be that that which is required for communion with God (sanctification) will happen at some point other than this earthly life. Continued sanctification, especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is the primary purpose of Purgatory. It also meets the qualification of not being part of this earthly life. I think, then, that if one shares my intuitions about anonymous Christians/inclusivism and the benevolence of God, she should very seriously consider the doctrine of Purgatory to be a live option in her theology.

Though my argument above is specific to inclusivists like me, please don't make the mistake of thinking Purgatory is only an option for inclusivists.  It isn't.  The example that comes to mind is the thief on the cross with Jesus.  Surely the thief will have no time to undergo sanctification prior to his death.  Should we say he will never undergo sanctification and will thereby skip an important step in the ordo?  Perhaps purgation is a simple theological solution even for exclusivists who want to retain strong notions of the necessity of sanctification for communion with God.

Project Abandoned

I need to apologize that I was unable (or too lazy...take your pick) to finish my project on creation.  I know a number of people were reading, interested in, and even open-minded to what I was writing.  However, the project just got too big for me at a time when I was busy with a career change and just got busy with life in general.  So, rather than leave an unfinished project on the blog, I just deleted the whole thing.  If any of you are interested in hearing more on the topic or would like to discuss it, just let me know.  I'd be happy to talk about it any time outside the context of the blog.

2.24.2014

Christians and Creation: My Take

I abandoned this little series I had planned on "Christians and Creation" quite a while ago. When I did, I deleted this post. But, since I later found out that quite a few people had been reading, interested in, and enjoying it, I've decided to go ahead and let this one entry stay up on the blog.

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A couple things have made the creation issue a popular one right now.  On February 4, famous creationist, Ken Ham, had a public and widely watched debate against Bill Nye the Science Guy.  You can watch the debate here, though this post is not necessarily responding to stuff that happened in the debate.  Quite a lot of discussion popped up after that, with virtually every news outletChristian magazine or ministry, and internet message board having something to say about it.  Also, on March 8, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson will be starring in a movie called "Noah," an account of the Genesis story of a catastrophic worldwide flood.  For the record, I think the movie looks great and have every intention of seeing it.  I suspect even more discussion on these issues will pop up upon the movie's release.

As I discussed the debate on Facebook and pondered putting my views on my blog, I thought back to my time as a believer in Young-Earth Creationism (also known as Fiat Creationism, but hereafter, simply "YEC") during my high school and early college years.  
I was quite staunch.  I argued with my science teachers in high school, watched all kinds of videos, and read books by guys like Duane GishHenry and John Morris, Ken Ham, and Kent Hovind.  Over time I realized I was wrong for a lot of reasons, some of which will be discussed below.  I've come to the conclusion that the two biggest factors in my staunchness with regards to that belief were (a) an inability or unwillingness to think critically about or to criticize those Christians who had persuaded me of their/my views, and (b) an inability or unwillingness to research and understand, in their strongest forms, the views of other Christians offered in opposition to mine.  I really want to emphasize "in their strongest forms."  At least with me, when I believed YEC I was only familiar with opposing arguments by way of second-hand knowledge.  That is, I was familiar with caricatures of opposing arguments as presented by people who disagree with them (whichever creationist teacher that happened to be).  Here you're getting the views of a Christian who has a high view of scripture's authority who believes in a universe that is about 14 billion years old and an earth that is about 4.6 billion years old.

With this in mind, I would ask that if you believe in YEC you would do two things.  First, I would greatly appreciate it if you read all the posts I make on this topic.  I know it'll be very long by the end, though, so I won't fault you too much if you don't.  Please be willing to think critically about both your own views and the views I present.  Second, I would ask that as you read you do not take any preconceptions about my views with you into reading the arguments.  

So why address the topic?  As I watched that debate, it was quite obvious to me that the men debating were so far apart on the issues that they had nothing to say to each other.  Ham's views are based on his interpretation of scripture first, then he fits his understanding of science to meet his interpretation of scripture.  Nye, on the other hand, made it quite clear that he has a very low view of scripture.  I really think that the opposition to Ham on the stage should have been from a Christian who views scripture (and science) differently from him.  Then there are things to talk about!  In this debate, Ham got to use Genesis however he wanted, with Nye unable to respond (and uninterested in doing so, anyway).  Those of us who deny both YEC and naturalism had no representation.  I'd like to represent, as best I can, the views of those of us who are somewhere in-between.


Initially I wanted to do kind of a "what strategy Christians should take when approaching creation issues" type of post.  Then I realized that would be worthless and would benefit no one (not that this will be any different).  I may as well actually give real thoughts and conclusions instead of wasting everyone's time saying nothing and taking essentially a neutral stance.  The reality is that I'm not neutral, so I may as well tell people why.  I think this post is of benefit to two or three groups.  First, the young earther, by giving her insight into the mind of a non-YEC Christian.  Second, the non-Christian, by giving her real reasons not to think all Christians who are honest about the Christian faith tradition are or should be young earthers.  Finally, perhaps there are a couple non-YEC Christians out there who aren't familiar with the theological arguments against YEC.  This is a good opportunity for all parties who aren't already familiar with these issues to familiarize themselves.

There are a lot of Christians who believe in an old universe who nevertheless deny the theory of evolution, endorsing a view of Old Earth Creationism.  Others endorse macro-evolution, but claim that God guided it in order to produce his end goal of creating humans (theistic evolution).  I'm not going to defend macro-evolution, nor am I going to argue against it, though as a bonus I may say a word about it at the end.  My primary concern here will be with the Genesis account and with universe/earth age.  In what follows, I'm only defending the idea that Christians should prefer the universe and earth age estimates of modern science  (14 billion and 4.6 billion yrs respectively) to those of Young Earth Creationists (6000-10,000 yrs) for both theological and scientific reasons.  

I've decided that if I want to do the issue justice I can't fit it all into one post.  What I'm going to post is a list of the ten best reasons Christians should opt for an old-age view of the universe both for theological and scientific reasons.  I will break these reasons up into ten different posts, which I will post a few days apart for several weeks.  I'll just add each subsequent point on to the end of this same post, so at the end it will just be one post which will compete for the longest in the history of the internet.  This is a blog, so I won't be posting detailed footnotes or a bibliography.  Where possible, though, I will include links from the great interweb.  If you're really curious, you're more than welcome to ask me about good, non-internet sources and I'll be happy to provide them.

Since I know the theological aspect of this debate takes priority for most Christians, my first six reasons will all be theological, my next three will be scientific, and my final one will be kind of a combination of the two.  It also makes more sense for me to do it in this order because I have no expertise in any scientific field, while I do have at least some in theology.  So with that all said, here are what I believe to be the top ten reasons Christians should not be young-earth creationists.

1. Many great thinkers with high views of scripture who are almost universally respected by modern Christians, denied a literal interpretation of Genesis even before the advent of modern science.

common retort from Creationists on this is that these people are simply accommodating modern science, and are making a mockery of the Bible by doing so. This is simply false. This article from ICR claims that the first mentions in science of an ancient earth are from 1779.  I'm no historian of science, so I'll just take their dates for the present purposes.  If it can be shown that Bible believers denied a literal interpretation of Genesis prior to 1779, it should be considered good evidence against the idea that the only reason to interpret Genesis in this way is to twist it to conform to modern science.

First, what did Jewish thinkers have to say?  Surely they had an extraordinarily high view of the Hebrew Bible in general and the Torah in particular.  One should even say that their view of the Torah was considerably higher than the view of it taken by early Christians.  Well, first let's consider Philo of Alexandria, who was a 1st century Jewish philosopher, and held views similar to those of Augustine a few centuries later. He said, "we must think of God as doing all things simultaneously, remembering that 'all' includes with the commands which he issues the thought behind them.  Six days are mentioned because for the things coming into existence there was need for order." (quoted in Hugh Ross, "A Matter of Days")  Philo even cites other examples from antiquity where writers (Hippocrates and Solon) use sequences of seven as a means to communicate entirety and completeness rather than an exact, literal number of events.

Of course, Philo isn't the only important Jewish thinker to deny that this aspect of Torah should be taken literally. In fact two of the three most important rabbis of the medieval period, Maimonides and Nahmanides, agreed that the narrative should not be read as a literal account (the other being Rashi, who apparently interpreted it exclusively literally).  Maimonides preferred the view that the purpose of the creation story was as cosmology rather than cosmogony (that is an explanation for creation rather than a story about how creation happened).  Nahmanides is often even cited as having drawn Big Bang cosmology from the Hebrew text around 800 years ago.  Based on grammatical differences he noticed between the description of the first day and each subsequent day, he said:

"At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard.  The matter at this time was very thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance.  It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter.  From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so.  As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred.  This initially thin, non-corporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it.  From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudosubstance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed." (Ramban [Nahmanides] on Genesis 1 as quoted by Gerald Schroeder in "Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible")

Again, in case you missed it above - this is from an extraordinarily famous orthodox Jewish rabbi, extrapolating from the grammar of Genesis 1, roughly 800 years ago.  Feel free to read that again.

Incidentally, there were also some rabbis from the Talmud who recognized the grammatical difference in Genesis 1 between the first day (Hebrew literally: "Day one" [yom echad]) and each subsequent day (Hebrew literally: "an x day").  In Genesis Rabbah XII.4, R. Nehemiah claims that all things were created simultaneously on the first day.  He also uses Gen. 2:4 to bolster this claim, since it says, "these are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven." (From Cohen's "Everyman's Talmud")

I'm sure some of you have no interest in Jewish theologians, though, so let's move on to what pre-scientific Christians had to say on the matter.  Let's start with Origen, one of the ante-Nicene church fathers, who lived in the late 2nd to early 3rd centuries. Speaking of the creation days and the God/Adam narrative in the garden, he claimed, “I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”  Similarly, St. Irenaeus, the great 2nd century church father, said that Adam's having died on the same day in which he was born made sense because he lived less than 1000 years and to God "a day is to 1000 years as 1000 years is to a day."  St. Justin agreed in his "Dialogue with Trypho" that the "day" could mean an "epoch."  Clement of Alexandria wrote that he agreed with Philo that the purpose of the seven day week was to establish an order and priority within creation, not to communicate an actual duration of time.  Other fathers like EusebiusSt. Basil, and St. Ambrose all agreed. (Again, Hugh Ross discusses these in more length in "A Matter of Days")

More importantly, though, we move on to St. Augustine who, in the 400's AD, was
committed to the view that God created everything with one creative act.  In "The City of God," Augustine says, "what kind of days these were is extremely difficult, if not impossible for us to conceive."  In his work, "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis," he notes that separating the single creative act into six distinct pieces made no sense for God to have done since God is timeless and all his actions happen at once.  This led him to say, “at least we know that it is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar.”  He even cites St. Paul in defense of his position that the days are allegorical, since Paul points to the fact that the two becoming one flesh should be seen as an allegory for Christ's relationship with the church.  Further, Augustine proposes that it was not God specifically who spoke the words, "let there be light."  Instead he says that since by this time God had already "created the heavens," and heavenly beings were likely considered part of the heavens, God must have used a created being to utter the words (this was part of Augustine's effort to uphold his philosophy of time and God's relationship to it.  If God had uttered the words himself, they would have been said in time and thus "subject to change."  But God's words are unchangeable, so he must have had a heavenly creature do the talking).

Next is probably the most important thinker in Christian history – St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century. In his Summa Theologica  he says:

On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth, He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but 'before it sprung up in the earth,' that is, potentially...All things were not distinguished and adorned together, not from a want of power on God's part, as requiring time in which to work, but that due order might be observed in the instituting of the world.”  

He remarked that Augustine's view that all creation was simultaneous is, "more conformed to reason and better adapted to preserve Sacred Scripture from the mockery of infidels," and that Augustine's view, though in the minority, had his preference.

I think, then, that it is quite clear that it did not take some desire to conform theology to meet scientific opinion in order to lead one to a non-literal reading of Genesis.  But anyway, let's move on to the modern world. I've yet to meet a Christian who doesn't possess a healthy respect and even love for C.S. Lewis. We love to quote Lewis and it often seems that any opinion of his is given reverence just shy of scripture. Apparently, though, not when it comes to creation issues.  Lewis certainly would have disagreed with the likes if ICR and AiG in regards to both the nature of creation and the issue's importance among the various Christian doctrines. He makes it clear in  “The Problem of Pain,” “Miracles,” and a number of other works that he has no problem with an ancient universe and doesn't indicate that he sees a problem with it being juxtaposed with his Christian faith. In “The Problem of Pain,” for instance, he says, “the origin of animal suffering could be traced, by earlier generations, to the fall of man – the whole world was infected by the uncreating rebellion of Adam. This is now impossible, for we have good reason to believe that animals existed long before men.” Again in "The Problem of Pain," he says:

"that man physically descended from animals, I have no objection...For centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself...The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man...[I]n the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism...a new kind of consciousness which could say 'I' and 'me,'...which knew God...[and] could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness..."

In “Miracles” when Lewis is discussing our ability to reason and infer certain facts from data, he casually mentions that “all sorts of special trains of inference lead us to more detailed conclusions. We infer evolution from fossils: we infer the existence of our own brains from what we find inside the skulls of other creatures like ourselves in the dissecting room.” So Lewis clearly had no problem with modern science's claims about the age of the universe.

Many of the heroes of Evangelicals like Billy GrahamCarl F.H. HenryFrancis
Schaeffer, G.K. ChestertonB.B. WarfieldBill BrightWalter Kaiser, Chuck ColsonChuck SwindollJames DobsonRavi Zacharias, and R.C. Sproul have all openly admitted that they see no need for a literal interpretation of Genesis. Other Christians - theologians, pastors, and leaders like Alister McGrathBernard RammN.T. WrightJ.I. PackerTim KellerJohn PiperJohn R.W.StottLee StrobelJack HayfordHank HannegraffPat Robertson, and Dinesh D'Souza all agree as well. Almost every Evangelical leader (nevermind Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline protestant, which are even more univocal on this) you can think of (that isn't a member of a creationist ministry or named John MacArthur or Josh McDowell) denies the necessity of interpreting the Genesis days literally (here's a list of a few more). There are many, many that I simply don't have the time to list.  I love theology of all kinds, but the variety I'm most familiar with is philosophical theology.  I will say that while it is possible that a few Christian philosophers believe YEC, I'm not familiar with any of them and they are few and far enough in-between as to say that the community is virtually unanimous in its rejection of YEC.

Am I saying that all the people above are right simply because they all agree? No. I'm saying that the average creationist has read or listened to a sermon by at least one (but probably many) of the above.  They probably even agreed with it and respect whoever it was. With that in mind, I hope it should inspire any creationist reading this to approach points 2-10 with an open mind.


2. The early chapters of Genesis should be interpreted as poetic literature rather than historical narrative.

Why does this matter? When approaching any piece of literature, essential to understanding the text is reading it in the way it was meant by its author to be read. If I pick up “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton and read it an historical narrative, I will not be impressed by how riddled with historical inaccuracy it is (such a park does not, after all, exist). Similarly, if I pick up an historical text like, say, Shirer's “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and read it as poetry, I'll be disappointed by how emotionally unmoved I remain (not to mention the complete lack of rhyme or meter). All literature needs to read as the genre the author intended. The YEC camp has been quite consistent in its claim that the early chapters of Genesis should be read as history. I believe this is mistaken.  If I am right, then it should be read as poetry.  This would give the reader no need to draw scientific conclusions from the text and would leave allegory as a possible alternative.

Poetic literature has a few defining characteristics, some of which we are all familiar with, such as identifiable stanzas or repetition of words or phrases for emphasis.  Ancient poetry, though, had some more unique defining characteristics, the most common of which is called parallelism, where there is a repetition of phrases, sentences, or paragraphs that give the same meaning but say it in different ways (Proverbs is riddled with this, probably the most famous being “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”). Some creationists have bewilderingly claimed that none of these aspects are present in the narrative of Genesis 1. For instance, James J.S. Johnson, writing for ICR, says:

There is no poetic parallelism anywhere in Genesis 4, with the possible exception of the wicked 'song' of Lamech the polygamist recorded in Genesis 4:23-24. Nor is there any poetic parallelism in Genesis 1, 2, 3, or any other chapter in Genesis. Why? Because Genesis is history. Virtually all of Genesis illustrates what we expect from historical narrative: careful attention to sequenced events (this occurred, then this occurred, then this occurred, etc.), as well as inclusion of time-and-space context information (when such is relevant to the narrative) and a noticeable absence of Hebrew parallelism.”

Well, it's one thing to simply assert this, but a casual look at the text tells you immediately just how false this claim is. How immediately? Well, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Immediately in v.3 God begins creating...again. Didn't he just create the heavens and the earth in v.1? Why is the next chapter simply a more detailed repetition of v.1 if not serving the purpose of parallelism? Moving on, Genesis 2:4 begins yet a third account of how God created the world. V.5-7 are a complete recounting of everything that had been made in ch.1 (twice). If this doesn't count as parallelism, I don't know what would.

But traditional poetic forms are also present in the narrative. Many works of poetry, both ancient and modern, use the repetition of phrases as a poetic tool. Here are a few examples from other biblical poetry: Psalm 4, repeats the question “How long will you...” back to back. Isaiah 24:16, “I pine away, I pine away...treacherous betray...treacherous betray.” Isaiah 51:9, “awake, awake...awake”. Song of Solomon 1:15, “Behold, how beautiful...behold, how beautiful...” It should be no surprise, then, that Genesis 1 possesses this very characteristic. Each stanza of creation begins with, “and God said, 'Let...” Each stanza of creation ends with “and there was evening and there was morning, the Xth day.”

Verse 27 has the most obvious poetic form of the chapter. “So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

This verse very clearly demonstrates two distinct poetic tools. First, the repetition is quite apparent with the phrases “God created...he created them...he created them” back-to-back-to-back. The second is a tool called “chiasmus.” Chiasmus is the reversal of the order of words or phrases in parallel literary structures. A couple examples are Psalm 22:9 and Psalm 19:1:

1 “Indeed, you are the one who drew me from the belly;
2 you made me secure on my mother's breasts.
3 I was cast on you from the womb;
4 from the belly of my mother you have been my God.”

1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God;
2 and proclaims his handiwork, the firmament.”

In 22:9 above, notice line 1 has the form of “you” (speaking of God) then “from the belly.” Line 2 has an “on” phrase. This is exactly reversed in the second half of the stanza. Line 3 has an “on” phrase, then line 4 has “from the belly” followed by “you.”

Similarly, in 19:1 line 1 has “The Heavens” followed by “the glory of God.” This is reversed in line 2 by starting with the glory of God, this time called “his handiwork,” then ending with the heaven, this time referred to as “the firmament.”


You get the point. Again, this is a common poetic structure found in the Bible. Now let's look at Genesis 1:27.

1 So God created mankind in His image,
2 in the image of God He created them

Here we have line 1 beginning with “God created” followed by “in His image.” Line 2 then reverses this by beginning with “the image of God,” followed by “He created them.” This is an obvious chiastic structure within Genesis 1.

I think the case for Genesis 1 being poetic in nature, then, is fairly clear. But for a moment, let's suppose it is not, in fact, poetic (after all, the case for ch.2 being poetic is not nearly as strong). I think there can be so much discussion on what genre the creation narrative fits into that a very obvious question can be missed: suppose Genesis 1 is standard historical narrative. Would the YEC interpretation be obviously correct in this case? My answer is no. Many places in ancient near eastern literature (including the Bible) statements are made in historical narratives that are not intended by the author to be interpreted literally. I'll give a couple examples of this, then explain why I think Genesis 1 would qualify as such a narrative even if one does not accept the poetry arguments above.

The book of Joshua is certainly historical narrative. But we see statements that are clearly in the context of historical narrative that are obviously not meant to be interpreted exactly literally. Speaking the destruction of the Canaanites, Joshua 10:40 says:

So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.”

But even within the same book we can see that the literal interpretation of this text is not intended, rather Joshua was speaking in hyperbole. Thus Joshua goes on in 23:7 to warn the Israelites against bowing down to the gods of the Canaanites who still dwell among them. Above it says, “Joshua subdued the whole region,” but in 18:3 Joshua asks, “how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD...has given you?” How could this question be asked if 10:40 was a literal historical statement?

The same situation can be seen in the story of Israel's destruction of the Amalekites. 1
Sam. 15 tells us that Saul's army completely destroyed the Amalekites (with the exception of king Agag) according to God's command. But 1 Sam. 27:8 shows David doing battle against none other than the Amalekites again. How could this happen if they were made extinct via Saul's genocide?

Should we call the texts claiming obliteration wrong? Are they contradictions? Of course not – remember, the verses showing us they aren't meant literally are from within the same books and written by the same authors from which we get the initial accounts. The author, though writing history, never intended for the statements to be read literally and it was expected that the readers in that day would recognize that this was intentional exaggeration used to convey victory.

So “historical” does not automatically guarantee “literal.” There may be other factors (cultural or otherwise) that indicate that a non-literal interpretation of an historical text should be preferred.  The rest of the data should tell us which way the text is to be read. That “rest of the data” includes both what Aquinas called “special revelation” (that is exegesis of the text itself and other biblical texts) and “general revelation” (that is truths God reveals to us through reason and the senses; science). The next three points will concern special revelation and the final five will concern general revelation.


Scheduled for next week: discussions of translating “yom” in Genesis 1 and antediluvian death.

***I will be adding each successive point on to the end of this same post over the next couple weeks.  Please check back or watch for updates on Facebook for the rest!