Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Checking In

I have too much to say. So I will shotgun some updates to you.

• 31 weeks prego (don't call it that), finished with parenting conference, and enrolled in natural childbirth classes
• Friends and family are awesome (threw us a shower and made us feel special)
• I am a pathological intermittent jerk but I have a renewed interest in growing up
• Deliberating between M. Div. vs. MA Phil.
• Think I want to start studying for the GRE and putting together a philosophical writing sample since that will be the harder career path and I want to keep my options open and hey why not
• Been consuming a lot of atheist writings lately
• Been finding myself praying "I believe, help my unbelief" lately. I think the progression might go from "It is important to do good works." to "Works are impotent, good thing salvation is accomplished through my faith!" to "Oh shoot my faith is feeble... thank God for saving me by His grace!" to "Oh I get it, God saved me by His grace through my faith for good works." It's a cart/horse/caboose kind of thing. I think I started going through the "my faith is feeble" phase a couple weeks ago and it is a bit emotionally painful. I hope I can get to the grace part soon.
• I am eating toast made from freshly baked bread.

I wonder what tomorrow holds.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Further Against Torture

This is a reply to Derek's comment. Blogger won't allow me to post it as a comment because it is too many characters.


You’re right, JMNR’s post doesn’t put forth a formal argument for why torture can never be justified. It assumes that “torture” is evil by definition, and then wonders whether the Bush Administration tortured. He says that many of the practices used by the administration “have been widely condemned as torture prior to their use”. He says the actions don’t pass the “smell test” and that John McCain (a man with first-hand experience with torture) condemns them. Then he says that if a “bipartisan and judicious examination” of the facts (calmly and fully disclosed) finds the acts as torturous, then the acts are condemnable.

That’s a position, if not something close to an argument.

And you don’t do any better. You’ve yet to cough up an argument for why torture may be justified.


My post isn't an argument for the immorality of torture, so much as it is an argument for why we shouldn't torture (the fact that torture is immoral is just one reason why we shouldn't do it). I never meant to argue that because torture is illegal, it is therefore immoral.

Torture just happens to be one of those things that’s both illegal and immoral.


You admit that torture is harmful to the souls of the individuals carrying it out, that it is illegal, and that it is harmful to the reputation of our country.

Yet you dispute that it is always immoral.

I think the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that torture is ever morally permissible, since the majority position is that it is not (hence all the legislation against it).

But not only that, I also think you bear the burden of proof because non-violence should be our preferred default. We should be slow to conclude that intentional infliction of suffering on other human beings made in the image of God and for whom Christ died is ever warranted.

If you want to stand up for torture, you have to make your case. And it better be good.


It isn’t clear whether you admit that torture is ineffective, or whether you understand how that fact is relevant. All you gave us is a “hmmm”.

But the fact that torture is ineffective for extracting reliable information, especially when contrasted with other means of interrogation, is hugely relevant.

I agree that there are occasions for doing things that happen to be illegal and harmful to the soul and reputation. But one is hard-pressed to find a reason why such an illegal and harmful thing might be justified if it's ineffective to begin with, and if there are far more effective alternatives!


As for what you take to be the strongest case against the justification of torture is interesting, but isn’t really that much of an argument, so much as it is simply a (pretty coherent) position.

Nevertheless, you admit that it is persuasive, though you offer one counter-example (Just War).

It seems like someone wanting to maintain that torture is always evil could reject Just War theory, or, wanting to maintain a version of Just War theory, one could hold that war may only be justified as a means to self-defense (a scaled up version of shooting and regrettably killing an armed intruder in your house who obviously intends to kill you). Obviously wars run under this philosophy would look different than we might be used to.

As for Aquinas, I think he might be able to save his position as you described it, that war may be justified if declared by a legitimate authority (something I do not necessarily concede in this post), by being careful to define how an individual or group of individuals can obtain authority legitimately.

One might argue that in the case of the America Revolution, we were first justified in declaring independence and national sovereignty, which we did, and thereby obtained the legitimate authority to declare war against armed intruders, which we did.

Or, like Norman Geisler as I understand him, you can argue that violent revolution is never justified. He views America like an illegitimate child (he loves her, but not the way she was conceived).


As for whether it’s true that “Intentional killing can be justified, in the absence of a legitimate authority, if the killing is done for the sake of securing a people’s natural rights.", I’m not sure. I for one am not prepared to go to war with you for stealing one of my books and refusing to give it back (though you might argue I have a natural right to my property).

As to whether a person who endangers the lives of non-combatants gives up their right to not be tortured, I am just not convinced. Even if it’s possible to forfeit certain rights to certain degrees (a claim I am not sure about), it does not follow that torture itself may be justified. There may still be lines that one should never cross.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Against Torture (including water-boarding)

1. Most importantly, it's immoral.
2. It's ineffective.
3. It negatively affects the souls and reputations of the individuals who carry it out and the country they represent.
4. It's illegal several times over:
  • USC § 2340 defines the crime of torture as

    "an act... intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering... [meaning] the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—

    (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B) the administration... or threatened administration... of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering..."

    And I think water-boarding might easily fall into at least either the "act intended to cause... mental suffering" or the "threat of imminent death" category.
  • The Constitution, in article VI clause 2, states that

    "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

    Therefore all treaties our Congress has ratified rise to the level of being constitutional law. One such treaty is the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

    The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which originated in the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and signed by the President Ronald Reagan on April 18, 1988. Ratification by the Senate took place on October 27, 1990.

    The United Nations Convention Against Torture, in article 1.1, defines torture as

    "Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

    Notice how the definition of torture includes mental suffering for such purposes as obtaining information. This makes water-boarding quite clearly unconstitutional.
  • The military field manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations mentions "waterboarding" by name as a prohibited action (p. 5-21).

I think the military field manual for Counterinsurgency sums it up when it says "Efforts to build a legitimate government though illegitimate actions are self-defeating".

Have Evangelicals overemphasized how "personal" God is?

Evangelical Christians have revived in humanity an understanding about how personal God is. We have taught people to pray directly to God as if He were our friend, our brother, our King, our God. In fact, we even claim that salvation is found only in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

But have we gone too far? Have we overemphasized this to any harmful ends?

Have you ever run into someone who didn't believe in God because they felt that they didn't need Him? They felt like they could do just fine - they live and breathe and just don't see any real connection between life or success and a personal relationship with God.

I wonder if what these people need is a healthy dose of good theology. I wonder whether they need to be taught that God is not just another person (or three persons, as it were) with whom one can have a relationship, but the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe. That He upholds the very fabric of space-time by the word of His power. That each second is a special act of Creation, and that what we call the laws of science are in reality simply the paths that God takes through Creation. That God doesn't weary and so has the tendency to do things the same way over and over again, but reserves the right to break the rules of the "system" just as the maker of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 reserves the right to "break" the "laws" of the system and make his skater do things like, you know, fly, and do thousands of kick-flips and stuff before landing.

Perhaps then they can be shown that it is a fact that they in reality cannot do a single thing without God. That their very existence and persistence radically depend on God in a way that He deserves gratitude and respect for. God's providence isn't immediately or obviously connected to His personality (hence cometh Deism), and I wonder if we are ignoring it in favor of harping exclusively on Personality.

Surely belief in the personality of God sets Christianity - especially Evangelical Christianity - apart from many other worldviews. And surely it is important to believe in it, and to act on it by engaging God in a personal relationship.

I am just wondering if there might be a more strategic place to start when evangelizing, like Creation and Providential Sustenance.