Friday, September 26, 2008

More Orthodox Christians Who "Get It"

This time from the White Horse Inn. These orthodox Christians of the evangelical bent are well informed on the American Founding. They entitle the program "American Deism" and term Founders like Jefferson and J. Adams "Deists." I might disagree with them terming these Founders "Deists," but they recognize the "Christian-Deism" (as David L. Holmes terms it) of the key Founders confuses modern evangelical Christians in a way that the non-Christian Deism of Thomas Paine does not. The hard Deists like Paine wanted little if anything to do with Christianity and Jesus, so you tend not to see them saying nice things about the Christian Religion. Men like Washington, J. Adams and yes, Jefferson and Franklin, on the other hand appreciated Christianity for its moral teachings only and either bitterly rejected orthodox Trinitarian doctrines (like Jefferson and Adams did) or otherwise totally ignored them (like Washington and Madison did). So when we see these key Founders saying nice things about the Christian religion, it's always in the context of the morality that it engenders and never about the need for Christ as a personal savior or as One who makes a blood Atonement. Many evangelicals therefore mistakenly conclude these Founders were real orthodox Christians when they weren't. And figures like David Barton, Peter Marshall, the late D. James Kennedy, William Federer, and Worldview Weekend are primarily to blame for the confusion.

The program also notes, rightly so, that building a "cult" around the supposed Christianity of these Founding Fathers isn't good for the purity of the orthodox evangelical religion.

Finally the program mentions the phenomenon of moralistically therapeutic Deism which surveys show is the dominant religion among the younger folks in Christian Churches. MTD is not all that different than the theistic rationalism of America's key Founders, except the modern version doesn't have the thought out philosophical underpinnings that Jefferson and Adams attached to it. This is important to note because many conclude that the "Deism" of the Founding disappeared when it never really did. It's alive and well in the nominal Christianity of the 80% of Americans who define themselves as "Christian."

47 comments:

Phil Johnson said...

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There are several messages a person can take away from that White Horse Inn episode referenced in the beginning of your paper--depending on your frame of reference.
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Just to name one:
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These guys expose their connections to the doctrines of Dominionism quite often. For example, they do it as they relate the idea that the Founders did God's will whether any of them were actually true Christians or not.
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You don't have to be a Dominionist to accept much of what the doctrine holds to be true.
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Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Jonathan,
I enjoy this blog and your comments, and will try to remember to direct any Bartonizers here should I run across some.
Best, Ed

Edward T. Babinski (author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists)

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Morally Theraputic Deism": The casual "whatever" that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes--adolescent and otherwise--is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism.

Fortunately, this is a survey of teenagers. We all grow up, at least most of us. I have found lately that even in comments sections like ours, thinking adults find relativism increasingly indefensible, as they see the hollowness of their own words in front of them and hit "delete." And the current currents in "continental philosophy" [read: French] are finding postmodernism, um, passé .

The essential difference between MTD and the Founding era's "American deism" or whatever insufficiently descriptive new term that seeks to obviate the "Judeo" part---and certainly the "Christian," as Adams and Jefferson tried---is that the Founding was completely on board with the notion of "natural law."

Relativism, of course, does not recognize a "natural law," as relativism is completely subjective.

Whatever.

[Mr. Johnson makes an interesting comment:You don't have to be a Dominionist to accept much of what the doctrine holds to be true.

I'm not sure exactly what he means here, but a baseline agreement simply on the existence of a "natural law" is plenty enough agreement to found a nation upon. The problem with relativism, of course, is what can you agree on if everything's subjective?]

Publius said...

Here's another orthodox who 'get's it':

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1183

Tim

bpabbott said...

Tom: Relativism, of course, does not recognize a "natural law," as relativism is completely subjective.

Myself, I've never encountered anyone who takes that position.

I have encountered many who see morality of some issues relative. It all depends upon what you value.

Personally, if morality is not grounded in reason then there can be no universally available manner to judge it.

If it is founded in reason, the conclusion is relative to the aptitude of the individual(s).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Natural law, Ben. Address it, accept it, negate it or ignore it, whatever.

When you write:

I have encountered many who see morality of some issues relative. It all depends upon what you value.

That would be somewhat accurate. How, why, and by what reasonable means or process is quite what is at issue here. Values are not facts, and we contemplate a "natural law" or we reject it the entire concept.

We have made a good first step, you and I, and I'm very happy to see you join the discussion at last and that our time together hasn't bee wasted, since I've invested so much of mine in you.

Because if your proposal is to revert to the teenage "Whatever," then all is lost, for all of us.

Phil Johnson said...

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"I'm not sure exactly what [Johnson] means here, but a baseline agreement simply on the existence of a "natural law" is plenty enough agreement to found a nation upon."
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I only meant that Dominionism teaches that God has a definite plan and that "He" has both "His" hands on the controls and that whatever transpires will serve God's purposes. That is the Particularity of most Theo-Conservatives. And, it relates to the deep drive they express to prove America was Founded to be a Christian Nation.
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Dave2 said...

Tom, I am skeptical about claims that this phenomenon (if it's even real in the first place) involves moral relativism.

I mean, at the very beginning of the piece, the following is presented as a central tenet of the MTDers: "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." No relativist could ever accept that. According to relativism, if one's surrounding culture says to be aggressive and hateful, then that's the way to be. I doubt the MTDers would agree that killing Jews was the right thing to do for the Nazis.

Dave2 said...

bpabbot wrote:
I have encountered many who see morality of some issues relative. It all depends upon what you value.

If you're merely saying that some issues are so complicated that the correct moral answers cannot be reached simply by applying very simple rules, then that's not relativism. Any reasonable defender of objective morality will agree that sometimes a lot of different moral factors come into play, and there's no simple answer. But "[i]t all depends on what you value" is a different story. That claim seems to suggest that if you value suffering and cruelty, then there's nothing morally wrong with that. And that would be relativism at its most absurd.

Personally, if morality is not grounded in reason then there can be no universally available manner to judge it.

If it is founded in reason, the conclusion is relative to the aptitude of the individual(s).


It looks like your claim is that, if morality is founded in reason, then morality is relative. But that would be an absurd thing to say. To see how absurd it is, notice that the same thing can be said about mathematics: "If it is founded in reason, the conclusion is relative to the aptitude of the individual(s)."

All that really follows in the case of math is that some people are better than others at using their reason to reach the mathematical truth of the matter. And, likewise, all that follows in the case of morality is that some people are better than other when it comes to moral reasoning.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "How, why, and by what reasonable means or process is quite what is at issue here. Values are not facts, and we contemplate a "natural law" or we reject it the entire concept."

Values *are* facts, even if they are not universally agreed upon.

Regarding "natural law", I agree that much of morality descends from that sentiment/reality. However, it is quite a different thing to call something "moral" and to demonstrate it is part of "natural law"

bpabbott said...

Dave: >>But "[i]t all depends on what you value" is a different story. That claim seems to suggest that if you value suffering and cruelty, then there's nothing morally wrong with that. And that would be relativism at its most absurd.<<

Personally, I agree.

However, I note that there are many who do see value in suffering and cruelty. For example many value the suffering and cruelty endured by Jesus. Others value punishments of suffering an cruelty upon others (there is an uncomfortable parallel in those examples).

Dave: >>It looks like your claim is that, if morality is founded in reason, then morality is relative. But that would be an absurd thing to say. To see how absurd it is, notice that the same thing can be said about mathematics: "If it is founded in reason, the conclusion is relative to the aptitude of the individual(s)."<<

Dave, your parallel is certainly absurd. My point was not that morality is founded in reason, but that our grasp of it is limited by our aptitude.

Dave: >>All that really follows in the case of math is that some people are better than others at using their reason to reach the mathematical truth of the matter. And, likewise, all that follows in the case of morality is that some people are better than other when it comes to moral reasoning.<<

ok! ... we are in agreement on this! :-)

Dave2 said...

bpabbott,

Perhaps I was too sloppy. I intended my example to be someone who values suffering and cruelty for its own sake. I doubt many people who think that suffering and cruelty can be valuable because it sometimes leads to something else that is good would say that suffering and cruelty are valuable in and of themselves.

In any case, the example isn't too important. My point is just that the only really relativist thing hinted at in your post is the idea that, because different people value different things, therefore there's nothing better or worse about valuing one thing as opposed to another. In that case anything goes, and the cruelest and most hateful set of values is on all fours with the wisest and most good-hearted set of values.

Phil Johnson said...

The statement that is made above, "... if morality is not grounded in reason then there can be no universally available manner to judge it."
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In other words, Ben, are you trying to say that there is a single and universal morality that all people must adhere to? I'm not sure of your intention here.

bpabbott said...

Dave: [...]different people value different things, therefore there's nothing better or worse about valuing one thing as opposed to another.[...]"

Dave, I don't think you'll find the majority of those who consider morality relative embracing such a false dichotomy.

What I think you will find is that better and worse are well correlated across large numbers of people and societies.

The claim that relative morality is commensurate with a free for all is a false dichotomy (imo).

bpabbott said...

Phil: "Ben, are you trying to say that there is a single and universal morality that all people must adhere to? I'm not sure of your intention here."

Phil,

That is a good question. Although, that is not what I'm claiming. Rather, what I'm claiming is that each individual's view of morality is relative to their predisposition, experience, and aptitude.

Hence, morality of the individual and society is relative.

I take no issue with the claim that a universal moral truth exists in each instance. Only that such is beyond our knowledge and that our best hope of approximating such lies with our ability of reason .

Dave2 said...

bpabbott,

Maybe you could tell me what exactly you consider to be the false dichotomy. What are the two items constituting the dichotomy, and what is an example of a third item that shows the dichotomy to be false? Because right now, I'm not following.

In any case, moral relativism is typically defined as the view that there are no objective moral facts, and that the moral status of things is determined by and relative to individual or cultural standards. Thus, according to relativism, if everyone thinks it's okay to torture animals, then it is okay to torture animals. Or if one culture thinks it's okay and another culture thinks it's morally wrong, then it is okay for the one culture and it is morally wrong for the other culture, and there's no objective fact of the matter. This is all Ethics 101 stuff, and there should be nothing controversial about it.

Phil Johnson said...

Thanks for your clarification on the idea of universal morality, Ben.
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Phil Johnson said...

With respect for Dave2 who writes, "...moral relativism is typically defined as the view that there are no objective moral facts, and that the moral status of things is determined by and relative to individual or cultural standards."
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Are you saying that moral relativism puts values up for the personal grabs of every individual within any culture?
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Charles said...

"moral relativism is typically defined as the view that there are no objective moral facts"

I think a big part of the problem is that there is no "typical" definition. I used to refer to myself as a "relativist" - meaning roughly what you say - before I actually looked it up on wiki and in the SEP and learned that it's a Baskin-Robbins word - dozens of flavors. So, like many "isms", the term doesn't seem actually to be useful without an accompanying definition of what one means by it, in which case it doesn't matter what somebody else means by the term. And for this reason, I think it's a bit unfair to express disdain for those who self-label as "relativist" based on one's own worst-case definition - which often seems to be exemplified by:

"if everyone thinks it's okay to torture animals, then it is okay to torture animals."

and

"if one culture thinks it's okay and another culture thinks it's morally wrong, then it is okay for the one culture and it is morally wrong for the other culture"

["and there's no objective fact of the matter" intentionally deleted to make the quotes into good "bad examples"]

These are logically incoherent if one means by "relativism" (as I do) either that there are no absolute moral "facts", or that if there are we have no way of knowing them, since under that definition, "it is okay" and "it is morally wrong" have no meaning for the relativist.

I think what's usually missed in discussions of relativism is that just because some group think's it "okay" to torture animals doesn't mean that a relativist not in that group thinks it's "okay". The relativist may take a laissez faire posture but instead may (hopefully does) think it horrible, have reasoned arguments why, and even engage in activities to change that situation. It's just that the relativist has no illusions of having the absolutely "right" position (ie, roughly the position stated in the deleted part of the quote).

All, of course, IMO.

- Charles

bpabbott said...

Dave asked: "Maybe you could tell me what exactly you consider to be the false dichotomy."

Sorry, I should have been more clear ... and perhaps my qualification is not as appropriate as I had thought. In any event, regarding your comment below;

Dave: "[...] different people value different things, therefore there's nothing better or worse about valuing one thing as opposed to another.[...]"

As my original line of thought escapes me at the moment, I'll improvise ;-)

That individuals value different things does not imply that there is nothing better or worse. While there are different opinions does not mean that all opinions are created equal and that values are arbitrary.

Phil Johnson said...

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Time to cut to the chase.
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Where is it that any of you think your values come from?
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bpabbott said...

Phil asked: "Where is it that any of you think your values come from?"

I'll steer clear of that question. I find it substantially less significant that what our moral values are, and "value" the thought of avoiding a divisive debate ;-)

Phil Johnson said...

Then, let me put it to you another way, Ben.
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What is it that can possibly be the source of your values?
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The answer should be easy.
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But, maybe the answer is the dichotomy Dave2 was asking about?

Charles said...

"I ... 'value' the thought of avoiding a divisive debate"

Interesting. I would have suspected that independent of subtle philosophical differences, most readers of this blog would answer much the same:

directly: family, friends, teachers, authors, artists, etc, filtered through one's "reason" (God-given or not), plus some still mostly hypothetical (unless I'm behind the times) evolutionary influences

directly for "believers", indirectly otherwise: (presumably for most, mainly) western cultural tradition, including religious

Am I missing some subtleties or trivializing the question?

- Charles

Tom Van Dyke said...

"if everyone thinks it's okay to torture animals, then it is okay to torture animals."

It's not OK to torture animals? Why not, if the animal is my property?

Aren't you interfering with my rights? Legislating morality?

Phil Johnson said...

If you want to learn the morality of our culture and fast?
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Take an animal you own to a public place and start torturing it so others can see what you're doing.
..
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Brian Tubbs said...

Phil asks where our values come from. I would like to offer the Apostle Paul's answer to this question found in Romans 1-2. Accoridng to Paul, God has written the law "in our hearts." And yet, we have a sin nature. So, we are born with a divine imprint of moral law, but also with the corruption of a sin nature. From there, we are of course shaped by our culture, parents, peers, etc.

Phil Johnson said...

Ah, Brian.
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You show us the other side of the dichotomy.
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And, it is what we struggle with as America evolves to be what it is coming to be.
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The secular and the sectarian.
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And, the sparks fly.
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heh heh heh

Dave2 said...

Charles,

I recognize that the textbook definition of relativism leaves a lot open. But I think the stuff left open can be safely set aside for the purposes of most discussions.

If I'm not mistaken, the stuff you're interested in is this: does relativism take moral claims at face value, accepting them as full-blooded 'ought' claims, and merely seeking to provide a relativist/anthropological supervenience base for the moral status of things? or does relativism say that moral claims border on nonsensical unless we understand them as merely high-flown versions of flat-footed anthropological claims about the standards subscribed to by different cultures? (I take it that's why you objected to the statements of mine you quoted, because they seem to lean too much in the former direction)

I think this can be set aside, because both varieties agree that there aren't any objective moral facts holding independently of cultural/individual standards. And I think that's the question most people are interested in.

Dave2 said...

Tom,

I'm not sure what exactly you're playing at, but for the record, it's wrong to torture your pets. Even if we say that pets are your property, and thus that there's no injustice or rights-violation in torturing them, it's still terribly wrong (since there's more to morality than justice and rights).

Tom Van Dyke said...

You seem to be asserting an objective moral fact here, Dave.

Your call.

Charles said...

dave -

I should have made it clear that I was neither responding to nor challenging your comment per se but merely using selections from it as vehicles for a broadcast comment. Eg, I deleted the phrase about "objective facts" that was appended to the other quotes from your comment (and acknowledged doing so) because although IMO the remaining quotes standing alone are good examples of "bad definitions of relativism", I thought the overall passage - with that key phrase appended - was fine.

Sorry for the confusion caused by my poor judgment in structuring it that way.

It's always a little hard to tell with a topic this fuzzy, but my impression is that you and I aren't very far apart, if at all.

- Charles

Dave2 said...

Tom,

Yes, I intended to assert an objective moral fact. I'm no relativist.

And neither is Peter Singer, so I'm not sure what the link was about.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dave, I look at Peter Singer's perfectly logical arguments, and I see the future. I've been searching high and low outside the religious community for someone to tell me what stands in its way.

When Mr. Johnson writes that technology and "understanding" will cause us to "adjust" our values, I fear he's quite correct.

[I also wanted to slip in that despite the oft-used and mindless cliche, we certainly do legislate morality.]

Charles said...

"I've been searching high and low outside the religious community for someone to tell me what stands in its way" ["it" presumably being a future generally in accord with PS's essay, hereinafter called a PSF]

But Tom, implicit in this are several assumptions:

- the religious community is uniform in its vision of what the future should (or perhaps more relevantly, shouldn't) look like

- that vision is better than others, especially a PSF

- in the absence of inhibitors based in religion, a PSF is inevitable

- if religion-based inhibitors aren't abandoned, a PSF will be avoided

The first seems unlikely to be correct in the US given the diversity of religions.

The second may or may not be true depending on how far down the specifics of a PSF society. I infer that you assume movement toward a PSF is a slippery slope inevitably ending in total disregard for human life.

I don't, since I doubt that the third assumption is correct. Even we heathens think society should be careful about who gets killed and why. We just don't think taking absolute positions that ignore all relevant consequences but one makes any sense.

The fourth seems challenged not only by history but by current events. The hugely religious US is directly or indirectly responsible for various atrocities, including some recent and continuing. The latter are uncommented on in arguably our most important policy setting event, a presidential election cycle. Why aren't those religion-based inhibitors working when the suffering and dying happen to be primarily non-Americans? (On the other hand, the current outcry when the suffering is in their pocketbooks is near historic - and hysteric.)

- Charles

Dave2 said...

Tom,

Well, I don't do medical ethics, but a couple of seconds on Google Scholar gave me a critique of Singer by Suzanne Uniacke and H. J. McCloskey called "Peter Singer and Non-Voluntary 'Euthanasia': tripping down the slippery slope". My suggestion is to contact a philosophy professor who does medical ethics.

Or if you want nonreligious criticisms of utilitarianism (the ethical theory on which a good deal of Singer's argumentation rests), frankly, you'd die before you were finished reading all that's been written on the topic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hey, if y'all don't have any replies, that's cool. I didn't expect any. But this is unhelpful. In case you haven't noticed, we, the people of the United States, are already doing medical ethics.

And Charles, if you had a point in there, it was lost once you wrote "The hugely religious US is directly or indirectly responsible for various atrocities." Even if so, it's completely irrelevant. I merely brought up the religious community as the only thing standing in the way of Peter Singer's vision, and you have written nothing to persuade me otherwise.

But thanks for trying. But I do not believe "reason" will be sufficient to stop Peter Singer's dystopia. In fact, I think it'll help it along if by nothing by its own impotence, which is quite on display here. You fellows have voiced no objections at all. You are the future, The Abolition of Man.

Phil Johnson said...

Brian writes, "I would like to offer the Apostle Paul's answer to this question found in Romans 1-2. Accordng to Paul, God has written the law 'in our hearts.'"
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And, that is the central thesis that motivates the argument we're having.
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America's Founding was based on the idea "... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
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In order to bolster that idea, our Constitution with its Bill of Rights was ratified. And, primary among the Rights as they were enumerated were the first four every one of which inures to the equality highlighted in the Declaration of Independence.
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THIS IS the liberating idea of America's pluralism--that we are free to pursue what makes us develop our happiness without the imposition of some universal good. It is the basis of our so-called multi-culturalism. And, it points to the higher good of our and belies the particularity of any specific cultural value over all other cultures.
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I don't think the argument is going to go away any time soon. It is at the root of what the Neo-Conservatives are all about--the imposition of a single authority on all humanity.
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Phil Johnson said...

ERATA
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This sentence in my prior post, "And, it points to the higher good of our and belies the particularity of any specific cultural value over all other cultures.", should have read, "And, it points to the higher good of our American system and it belies the particularity of any specific cultural value over all other cultures.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

That's multiculturalism in a nutshell. It is nonsense.

As far as "the imposition of a single authority on all humanity," that corresponds to the concept of "natural law," specifically the "law of nature and of Nature's God," which all the Founders regardless of orthodoxy they each subscribed to.

The concept of natural law is at odds with multiculturalism, which is relativism. America certainly was founded on a specific set of values, not the bland mediocrity of all values being interchangable.

Phil Johnson said...

Tom writes, "The concept of natural law is at odds with multiculturalism, which is relativism."
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It is difficult to understand your leap from Natural Law to multiculturalism and your further claim that it is relativism.
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What is it you mean to say is relativism?
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Then you write, "America certainly was founded on a specific set of values, not the bland mediocrity of all values being interchangeable.
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I think you might be able to explain yourself; so, you have the benefit of the doubt as long as you will do two things: (a) list the "specific set of values" you claim America was founded on and (b) explain what it is to which you are applying this phraseology, "the bland mediocrity of all values being interchangeable". How does that cliche' get brought in to this conversation? I don't get it.
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Maybe I'm stupid; but, in going back over your post, it looks like you're using a special definition of multiculturalism. It's more than an ad hominem, you must know that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ad hom? Moi?

Since you seem to repeat the same theme often enough, Phil [and that's not to say I don't repeat mine---not an ad hom here], I suppose we'll get to the nub of it in time. I admit I'm skipping over a number of letters in the syllogism that leads from A>Z, as comments sections require this kind of shorthand.

We'll fill in the missing letters, I'm sure. Perhaps occasionally, we'll even treat ourselves and buy a vowel.

;-[D>

Dave2 said...

Tom, it's silly to expect me to spell out every (nonreligious) objection to every view endorsed by Peter Singer. Especially given that Peter Singer has endorsed views that you and I would both agree with. There are countless books and articles written from a secular perspective on the issues discussed by Singer (i.e., nearly everything written in the field of medical ethics), and even taxonomizing it all is a huge chore. So I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

Phil Johnson said...

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Above, Tom makes the comment, "The concept of natural law is at odds with multiculturalism, which is relativism. America certainly was founded on a specific set of values, not the bland mediocrity of all values being interchangeable."
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While Tom makes the claim of "a specific set of values" upon which America "certainly was founded", he has been unwilling--or is it unable--to enumerate those "values".
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Wassup, Tom?
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Charles said...

"it's silly to expect me to spell out every (nonreligious) objection to every view endorsed by Peter Singer"

That is precisely the problem I was trying to avoid by addressing Tom's question at a meta-level, since IMO the question is ill-formed. To summarize my previous comment, the question assumes that:

- in the absence of something beyond "mere reason" (a "something" undefined by Tom, but I assume having to do with religious tradition - otherwise, why the reference to "the religious community"), a PSF (which I infer from the reference to Singer's essay is essentially a future in which human life has been dramatically devalued) is inevitable

- a PSF will be disastrous

- if we retain or (readopt) that "something", a PSF will be avoided, which will result in a future better than a PSF

I then disputed each of these assumptions.

Not the answer Tom wants, but an answer one could address as opposed to complaining about the absence of any answers - an inevitability if the question is ill-formed, as I (and, I infer, Dave) consider it to be.

- Charles.

Phil Johnson said...

Where does one find an accurate synopsis on this Pete Singer fellow?
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Charles said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer