Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

What is Intelligent Design Theory?

It seems to me that there are at least four different ways we might characterize Intelligent Design theory.

1. As an alternative to Evolution. On this view ID folks would bear more or less the same relationship to Evolutionary biologists as Copernicans did to Aristotelian astronomers in the Sixteenth century.

The problem with this characterization is that Intelligent Design theory of itself seems too vague and minimalistic to constitute a real alternative to evolution. All ID folks will say is that life on this planet is a result (at least in part) of some intelligent force or being(s). They deliberately will not say what the nature of this force is (God? aliens? time-travelers?), nor do they have much as a group to say about how this force accomplished its task (was it done ex nihilo? did it happen instantaneously or over time, and if so how much time? was it done directly or via some mechanism, and if the latter, what is the mechanism?) Some ID advocates are willing to accept large swaths of evolutionary theory (Michael Behe, for example, is willing to accept the common ancestry of all living things) others aren’t. Without saying more, it’s hard to see why ID theory couldn’t even be compatible with Evolution. Continue reading

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Evolution, Philosophy, Science | 3 Comments

The Principle of Reparations

During his now famous sermon at Trinity United, Father Michael Pfleger said the following:

We must be honest enough to address the one who says, “Don’t hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.” But you have enjoyed the benefits of what your ancestors did. And unless you are ready to give up the benefits, throw away your 401 fund, throw away your trust fund, throw away all the money that’s been put away in the company that you walked into cause your Daddy, and your Granddaddy, and your Great-Grandaddy… Unless you are willing to give up the benefits, then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation, cause you are the beneficiary of this insurance policy.

This comment, among others, has brought Father Pfleger in for a great deal of criticism. Yet while his statement was more than a little intemperate, at the core of his argument is a perfectly respectable philosophical principle, which for lack of a better term I shall call the principle of reparations. According to the principle, if a given act of injustice X results in A being better off than he would have been absent X, and B being worse off than he would have been absent X, then A owes reparations to B, regardless of whether A was in any way responsible for X. The advantage of the principle of reparations is that it allows us to explain how members of one group might have special obligations to members of another group based on historical injustices without having to invoke some notion of “sins of the father” or collective guilt which would be morally problematic to say the least. Continue reading

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Morality, Philosophy, Race | 2 Comments

Regrets, I Have A Few

What does an economist get his dad for Father’s Day? If you’re Bryan Caplan, the answer would seem to be: you get him a philosophical argument against regret:

1. Basic biology: A man produces hundreds of millions of sperm every day. Each of these sperm contains (half of) the genetic blueprint for a different person. The slightest physical movement changes the position of sperm.

2. Therefore, any change in my life prior to my children’s conception would have led my children not to exist. If I had crossed my legs differently, or walked to the frig, or even chuckled an extra time, the sperm would have been rearranged, negating my children’s existence. I might have had different children, of course, but they wouldn’t be the ones I have.

3. Like most parents, I have a massive endowment effect vis-a-vis my children. I love them greatly simply because they exist and they’re mine. If you offered to replace one of my sons with another biological child who was better in every objective way, I’d definitely refuse.

4. Therefore, if you offered me a “do-over” on any aspect of my life prior to my children’s conception, I would refuse, for it would mean that these specific children would never have been born. Continue reading

June 15, 2008 Posted by | Children, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man?

The headline was certainly arresting. “Pregnant Man Tells Oprah: It’s a miracle.” Yet the details of the story paint a slightly different picture:

A transgendered man who is six months pregnant said in an interview aired by Oprah Winfrey on Thursday that he always wanted to have a child and considers it a miracle.

“It’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human desire,” a thinly bearded Thomas Beatie said. “I have a very stable male identity,” he added, saying that pregnancy neither defines him nor makes him feel feminine.

Beatie, 34, who lives in Oregon, was born a woman but decided to become a man 10 years ago. He began taking testosterone treatments and had breast surgery to remove glands and flatten his chest.

“I opted not to do anything with my reproductive organs because I wanted to have a child one day,” he told the talk show host.

There’s nothing particularly miraculous about the story. Women get pregnant all the time, and despite any claims to the contrary Beatie is still a woman. She clearly does not like to think of herself that way, and has taken various steps to make herself appear that way (though from the story it does not appear that she has undergone sex-reassignment surgery), but neither thinking of oneself as male nor looking male is sufficient to actually be male. Continue reading

April 8, 2008 Posted by | Identity, Philosophy | 3 Comments

The Conversion of Robert C. Koons

During college, I had two professors whose mix of Christian witness and philosophical rigor served as an inspiration to me and helped to rejuvenate my at that time rather lax and limpid faith. Neither of these professors were Catholic at the time, though both have since become so. One of the two, Prof. Rob Koons, recently appeared on the EWTN program The Journey Home and explained the course of his conversion from Missouri Synod Lutheranism to Catholicism. Audio of his appearance can be found here. (Thanks to Francis Beckwith of What’s Wrong With the World for the link). Prof. Koons also wrote a sort of philosophical journal during his conversion titled A Lutheran’s Case for Roman Catholicism, which is available here.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Philosophy | Leave a comment

No God But God

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The answer to the question is controversial. Most Muslims answer yes, following a passage in the Koran that appears to say that both groups do worship the same God. Many Christians, on the other hand, vigorously dispute this claim. Yet it is not clear what exactly this denial is based on. After all, Christians do not dispute that Muslims worship God, after all, and since there is, in fact, only one God, it would seem to follow that Christians (who worship God) and Muslims (who worship God) must be worshiping the same entity, no matter how different their conceptions of Him may be.

I used to think that the above argument was sufficient to show that Muslims and Christians did worship the same God. Since then, however, I have come to think the matter a bit more complicated. As I now see it, whether the claim “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is true will depend on two things: 1) whether the statement is being made de dicto or de re, and 2) whether the word “God” is taken to be a name or a description. Continue reading

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Islam, Philosophy, Theology | Leave a comment