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July 22, 2006

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» Stone on the Stem Cell Veto from PrawfsBlawg
One often sees examples of laypeople expansively assuming that any religiously motivated action by a legislator or other public official is, in some way, an undermining of the separation of church and state. But such views are, it seems to me, increasi... [Read More]

» President Bush's Stem Cell Veto and Separation of Chruch and State: from The Volokh Conspiracy
Chicago lawprof Geof Stone criticizes the veto on church-state grounds, saying that it shows "a reckless disregard for the fundamental America... [Read More]

» Pigs, Horses, Religion, and Morality: from The Volokh Conspiracy
Geof Stone, who argues that it's improper for a government official to make a decision based on "his own, sectarian religious belief" (see [Read More]

» Religious Reasons and State Power from Brian Leiter's Law School Reports
Against my better judgment--but since folks have been e-mailing me their comments in this debate--I'm going to say something about the rather unsatisfying discussion going on at several law-related blogs prompted by Geoffrey Stone's comments about Pres... [Read More]

» Stem cell veto, continued from Believe and Profess
My last post and the following discussion touched upon whether or not acting to restrict or ban the destruction of embrionic human beings is somehow an abandonment of science and reason for religion. University of Chicago law school professor Geoffre... [Read More]

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Kimball Corson

Law Fairy writes, "You have to admit, in addition, there is something inherently offensive about the notion that a young female student "couldn't possibly" obtain a higher GPA than Professor Stone on her own merit. Just because he is older and male does not mean he has a monopoly on legal intelligence."

I respond: I do admit that, but be fair now; that is not what I said. I said, given Geof's credentials, it would be impossible to find someone a billion times smart than he. I was not implying or intending to imply any thing regarding women. In fact on the gpa point, I hedged because I did not know if anyone coming along later did better. My "Harumph, gradeflation" comment was not intended to target women. I would have made the same comment, were the new star a man. I like women in every way imaginable and do not at all subscribe to the view of one of my friends that "their bottoms, brains and emotions are messy, at best." I believe in them as people and professionals and I have actually mentored and trained a few myself.

Kimball Corson

George W. Bush wrote, quote me initially: “‘Each, in one or another of these handicap categories, has the capacity "to live" perfectly well in the other noted dimensions of life, although they maybe particularly handicapped in one of them.’ Embryos participate in the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Under your test, they are as valuable as crippled retards, and so should not be destroyed. Your argument is either inconsistent, or you support the euthanasia of crippled retards.

Now, Mr. President, if that really is you, shouldn’t you be getting your rest in order to better deal with the mess in the Middle East, instead of listening to our drivel? As you correctly suggest, embryos do participate in a limited physical aspect of life, but it is not living as we know, cherish and remember it, aside from the exceedingly rare comment of “Wouldn’t it be nice to be back in the womb today” or maybe less consciously, “Let’s go swimming.” As to a spiritual dimension, we really don’t know. If Nietzsche is right that God as we understand him is dead and a failed creation of our own minds, then an embryo probably has no notion yet of a deity. In fact, in the first trimester, it is hard to know if an embryo thinks or has brain processes like ours, but with the relative lack of informational input, it should be hard to do much thinking.

Now, to argue against myself, if you believe as I do that individual consciouses inhabit bodies and have preexisting or concurrent lives, as the Seth books explain, then perhaps you are right on both counts here. But again, we don’t know and new borns have to learn an awful lot to get up to speed with us as adults. What we do know is that once we live it, most of us come to value life for the reasons or dimensions I explained. The vitality of our lives in those dimensions matters much more I think that the mere fact of being alive. That some people commit suicide confirms that. When one has nothing fairly deemed to be of interest or worthy in all dimensions of life they are most likely brain dead and the question then arises of do we believe in euthanasia in that situation, if there is no hope of recovery. That last phrase is the kicker. Fortunately, I don’t have to decide such matters and so I suspend judgment on those situations, as a bystander probably should.

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy,

I am also not too sure how grades generally necessarily translate into creative productivity. Many with high grades tend to be too sycophantic. Camil Paglia, has called such sycophants, "toadie moders." I remember talking once with Milton Friedman about where really good, creative students come from and he said they are very hard to find. His observation was that many with high grades and scores do well enough as expected, but too often were not the source of really thoughtful break throughs. Such break throughs often come from more eccentric individuals who have odd or different ways of looking at things and that capacity is very hard to measure and find. The same idea applies in the sciences and, I suspect, to law as well, but to a lesser degree. The kudos will always go to the usefully creative because that is our ultimate value. Creativity expands our consciousness the most.

The Law Fairy

Kimball, I never said that you said she couldn't have done as well because she was female -- I just noted the inherent troublesomeness of the remark. "Would have" isn't the same as "did" -- I'm not accusing you of being sexist, I'm just pointing out that it is troubling that your immediate reaction was to dismiss this young lady's accomplishments, even though you presumably have never even met her. I don't know if there is or is not someone a billion times smarter than Professor Stone, and I don't think it's possible to make a measurement like that, regardless. So in that sense it would be "impossible," because it would be impossible to prove that someone was a billion times smarter than him. However, it is hardly "impossible" to find someone like that -- come now, you're a devotee of science. Presumably someday we'll advance to a level of understanding where Professor Stone is an intellectual toddler, no?

Your creativity point is interesting, but has an obvious response. People aren't creative because creativity is not rewarded. Rote memorization and robotic efficiency are. You reward risk-taking creative behavior and you'll see more of it. But you can't exactly fault people for choosing the security of a basic mortgage for the .01% chance of a 10-million-dollar mansion. Also interesting to me is that your contention regarding creativity almost seems an endorsement of religion. Rather than accept the facts as they appear to us (the religion, I would argue, of science), creative people strive to find new and different ideas, some of which seem crazy to the average person. You seem to think this is laudable. As a religious person, I absolutely agree with you -- but I was under the impression you thought "Christianists" and others were a bunch of nutcases. Perhaps being a nutcase isn't so bad after all?

Anonymous

Kimball, you *really* need to find a hobby. You've written more words on this blog than all the faculty authors combined.

LAK

"Professor Stone, makes the logical fallacy of assuming that because someone holds certain religious beliefs, any other beliefs (which may affect policy)are automatically suspect."

Bullshi*t that is what Stone's argument is, LF. You should read more closely. That is not what he is saying at all. The issue is whetehr GWB can make this policy argument without resorting to religious faith as the basis of his policy decision, especially in light of the fact that the public and congress overwhelmingly support it. ANY policy decision made by our government that cannot be grounded in ethics rather than religion is an should be criticized from a constitutional perspective.

Embryos are not human beings yet, they do not feel, they do not think, and most importantly they are not self-conscious. There is no way to justify this policy decision without resorting to religious dogma.

"But in what sense is it “ethical” for Mr. Bush – acting as President of the United States -- to place his own sectarian, religious belief above the convictions of a majority of the American people and a substantial majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate? In my judgment, this is no different from the President vetoing a law providing a subsidy to pork producers because eating pork offends his religious faith. Such a veto is an unethical and illegitimate usurpation of state authority designed to impose on all of society a particular religious faith."

Agreed. GWB is simply enforcing his sectarian morals on the rest of us, whereas governeing should be inmformed only by universalizable ethics.

You say:
"If you can throw your beliefs out the window the second they have any meaning, then you don't really hold them."

Lawfairy, you're smoking crack. Of course you can have religious beliefs and not enforce them on others in your role as public servant. That is the whole point. Keep religion and state separate. It isn't that hard to do, to distinguish ones policy views based on religious faith and ones views based on reason and ethics. I would never want or apporve of having an abortion because I believe in a religious sancitity of life, but I would certainly never enforce my beliefs on others if I was in power, unless I had a legitimate reason and argument founded in something other than relious faith.

That is the bright line, and contrary to what Larry says, the ethics overwhelmingly support doing research on stem cells to save lives of already living breathing self-concious humans with memory and identity. you can't make an ethical argument for the other side without resorting to God, and if you can, I challenge you to do so.

People really need to distinguish between potential consciouness and actualy consciousness in their ethical decsion making. religion has clouded your thinking, and I'm teribly dissapointed that so many of my peers think so poorly about the distinction between the ethical and the moral.

I'm dissapointed, LF in you analysis and yoru wiccan example. It is completely inapposite.

p.s. I enjoy reading Kimball's comments so F you all who whine about his posting so much. You should humble yourselevs and try to learn something.


LAK

And it goes to show what a disservice it is not to require basic ethics and political philosophy courses before one goes to law school. First year law school is a joke compared to what it could and should be, especially at the home of Mortimer Adler. People think so poorly about philisophical and ethical issues, it is shocking. But memorizing case law and regurgitating it in neat paragraphs seems to be admirable. If you haevn't notied, good grades in law school is 10 parts effort and grunt work and 1 part intelligence, so I fail to see how one's GPA maps to anything other than one's willinginess to subjugate themselevs to grunt institutional busywork. The real intelligence is generally too smart to whore themselves for law school grades, so arguing about who is smarter based on GPA is a bit ridiculous. Many of the people who graduated at the top of my class were dull grunts who did nothing but study, and did not think very well - but they sure wrote clearly and in an organized fashion! Alas, as a group, lawyers have not to be the smartest bunch of people I've ever been sourrounded by in the end, especialy compared to the physicists, chemists biologists and philosphers I know.

Again though, if anyone wants to attempt to make the ethcial argument against embryonic stem cell research, without resorting to religious faith/morality/dogma, be my guest, and good luck! Larry? Or are you too busy praying to Jebus?

The Law Fairy

"Bullshi*t that is what Stone's argument is, LF. You should read more closely. That is not what he is saying at all. The issue is whetehr [sic] GWB can make this policy argument without resorting to religious faith as the basis of his policy decision, especially in light of the fact that the public and congress overwhelmingly support it. ANY policy decision made by our government that cannot be grounded in ethics rather than religion is an [sic] should be criticized from a constitutional perspective."

Actually, LAK, *you* need to read more closely. Stone doesn't offer up a quote of President Bush saying, "we shouldn't do stem cell research on embryos because it makes Jesus cry" or anything akin to that. You yourself quote the relevant passage from Stone's post, noting that Bush makes reference to *ethics*, which you say yourself is a valid basis.

You and Stone are *both* fallaciously and illogically forbidding Bush from even bringing "ethics" into it, just because you believe (I'll admit, probably rightly so -- but you offer no proof, it should be noted) that his ethics are based on religion.

First, why must ethics have an atheistic basis? "Separation of church and state" is meaningless as a slogan -- how do we create a workable government where people are allowed to live their lives as conscientious religious persons while keeping religion from running the country? I have yet to see a workable, sensible proposal that does not trample on religious freedom. Second, where do these ethics come from, hmm? I'm not denying that there are ethical systems that don't stem *solely* from religious belief, but there is a serious epistemological problem with trying to demonstrate *anything* on a purely rationalistic basis.

"Lawfairy, you're smoking crack."

Oh no! Who told?? Wow, you sure got me there. What a logical zinger!

LAK, holding beliefs and acting on them is not the same as "imposing" them. Imposing beliefs means, for example, forcibly directing people to go to church and pray. Making (or vetoing) laws that you believe are (un)ethical is no more imposing beliefs for a religious person than it is for a non-religious person. Why should I be forced to live in your godless regime when I don't have the same right, if elected into office, to help develop a society based on what *I* believe is ethical? Why do only atheists have the right to act on moral beliefs?? You are, once again, confusing ethics and morals with deeply held religious beliefs. The two are closely related, yes, but not the same. Government proselytizing would be unconstitutional. Religious people in government service is not. The idea that they are is frighteningly unconstitutional. LAK, maybe your beliefs are so unimportant to you that they only affect part of your life, but not all of it, but some of us have actual faith and actual beliefs that make an actual difference in our everyday lives. Your failure to understand this is not a justification for forcing us out of public life.

What's even more frustrating is when people like you force me to take up Bush's side -- as I've noted, I can't stand the man and I can't wait until we get someone more sensible in office. But he damn well has the same right as anyone to believe whatever he chooses and to live accordingly. People who proselytize against religion are just as repugnant as religious proselytes. But I guess it would take a really insightful person to see that... don't want to ask too much of you there.

"I'm dissapointed, LF in you [sic] analysis and yoru [sic] wiccan example. It is completely inapposite."

LOL. Well, LAK, you sure have shown me. Oh wait, no you haven't. *Your* entire argument is inapposite. No further explanation needed, I take it, since that "argument" seems to suffice in your world.

LAK

Ethics being grounded in reason and rational argument, empricism and the scientific method is not atheistic, nor is it relgious. Your mischaracterization speaks volumes about your sense of victimhood and your shame for believing in irrational illusions.

"Stone doesn't offer up a quote of President Bush saying, "we shouldn't do stem cell research on embryos because it makes Jesus cry" or anything akin to that. You yourself quote the relevant passage from Stone's post, noting that Bush makes reference to *ethics*, which you say yourself is a valid basis."


He doesn't need to. What GWB calls "ethics" is his religious morality. It is not ethics of the sort Hegel, Aristotle and Kant posited - universalizable norms founded in empirical analysis, logical argument and reason. That is uncontroversial no matter what GWB calls his sectarian beliefs.relying on sematics is what religious sophits do. Is that the kind of lawyer you want to be?


"how do we create a workable government where people are allowed to live their lives as conscientious religious persons while keeping religion from running the country?"

Easy! require justifications for policy decisions based on ethics, not religious morals, arguments that are universalizable and founded in *reality*, scientific method, rational argument, sound logic and empricism. Have you ever taken a philosophy or ethics course? Methinks not.


"Second, where do these ethics come from, hmm? I'm not denying that there are ethical systems that don't stem *solely* from religious belief, but there is a serious epistemological problem with trying to demonstrate *anything* on a purely rationalistic basis."

Ok, that answers my former question. Start with Aristotle, then Hegel then Kant. You NEED to read Kierkegaard too as a woman of faith, because even he grants the Hegelian project's validity, and seeks to augment it and superceded it with faith, not substitute it as an equal foundation for living one's life. It would do wonders for the credibility of your thinking.

"holding beliefs and acting on them is not the same as "imposing" them."

yes it is, if one cannot justify why they have those beliefs and are imposing them with logic and rational argument. If you have to resort to religious faith to make your argument, you lose and are imposing Plain and simple.


"Why should I be forced to live in your godless regime when I don't have the same right, if elected into office, to help develop a society based on what *I* believe is ethical?"

You are equivocating religious morality with ethical argument, AGAIN. Your "ethical" is the same as GWB's - grounded in nothing but relgious faith and irrational authority of dogma. Nothing in my system would prevent you from beliving what you do, ever. Your system would. You would, for instance, impose your beliefs about abortion on others despite the fact that the Jewish faith believes that life starts at birth. And what is worse, you would not be able to do so without resorting to religious authority.

Can you seriously not see the bright line distinction between religious mores and civic ones? You can't be that poor a thinker.

"What's even more frustrating is when people like you force me to take up Bush's side -- as I've noted, I can't stand the man and I can't wait until we get someone more sensible in office. But he damn well has the same right as anyone to believe whatever he chooses and to live accordingly."

Perhaps that should give you deep, deep pause, LF. You need to think long and hard about how similar your thinking is to GWBs.

You are missing the point completely. Of course he can believe whatever he wants, and of course he can serve in office and of course he can live HIS life according to HIS religious beliefs. But qua president, he cannot and should not impose his religious morals on the rest of us, unless he had an ETHICAL basis, that is a rational empirial logical universalizable basis, for doing so. Otherwise, he is ESTABLISHING his RELIGION as the law of the land. And I shouldn't have to argue to you or any law school graduate why that is problematic and worthy of scrutiny.

My argument is plain and simple and I'll spell it out for you again - unless you can justify your policy decision based on ethical arguments, and by ethics I mean logical arguments based on observation and empiricism and evidence and knowledge, you know, Hegel and Kant and Aristotle, - not religious faith based on nothing other than acceptance of dogma, you are establishing your religion as the law of the land. If you can't argue for your position without appealing to faith, you are viloating at least the spirit of the establishment clause. (epistemolical uncertainty aside - I think we can both agree that fundamnetal uncertainty that the sun will rise tomorrow and the the sky will turn yellow isn't exactly important for this discussion. You seem to fall back on the epsitemolical problems of empiracism to justify your arguments - I wonder how you get through the day being frightened that graity could stop in the next second, or that your left foot might not appear in front of your right foot while you are walking.)

The Law Fairy

"Have you ever taken a philosophy or ethics course? Methinks not."

Lol. It was one of my two majors in college -- the other was political science, and my minor was in economics. I graduated summa cum laude with distinguished honors in both departments.

But, clearly, I can't possibly know what I'm talking about, because I disagree with you. Lol. LAK, you need to learn a bit about debate, *methinks* -- never disrespect your opponent. It's childish and belies the weakness of your own position.

LAK

Nice answer. Summa Cum indeed!

OK, LF, then please do justify George's "ethics" without resorting to religion. Go for it. I beg of you. And if you can't do it without resorting to GOD, you lose, right?

I can't believe you were a philosophy major if you pose the question , "where do these ethics come from, hmm?" You must have missed *everything* post enlightenment and Continental. Studying analytic english dudes just seemed to have confused you, if you resort to espitemological problems as the foundation for equivocating civic ethics with religious morality. Or perhaps your were summa cum in philosophy at Liberty U?

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy writes” “ . . .I'm just pointing out that it is troubling that your immediate reaction was to dismiss this young lady's accomplishments, even though you presumably have never even met her. I don't know if there is or is not someone a billion times smarter than Professor Stone, and I don't think it's possible to make a measurement like that, regardless.

I respond: My immediate reaction was to be protective of Geof’s position as king of the hill, regardless of the sex of any challenger. As I said, Tracy could have been a man, a woman or now even a hermaphrodite and I would have reacted the same way, knowing what I do about university grading systems.

Law Fairy: “. . . [It] would be impossible to prove that someone was a billion times smarter than [Geof Stone]. However, it is hardly "impossible" to find someone like that -- come now, you're a devotee of science. Presumably someday we'll advance to a level of understanding where Professor Stone is an intellectual toddler, no?

I respond: Don’t hold your breath there. History teaches us that we slip and slide around a lot over the generations. Just as today, has any of us surpassed the philosophical intellects of Socrates, Plato, and Nietzsche, the oratory skills of Cicero, the human perceptions of Jesus, the music of Bach, the literature of Shakespeare, the art of Van Gogh, etc. etc. It seems we are the toddlers, going through a bad dry patch, outside of progress in science, which is now more of a communal endeavor with many looking for puzzle pieces. Why did Athens, a tiny little city state, create so much? And look at the Dark Ages that followed. Why were the Enlightenment and the Renaissance such great periods too. Why didn’t they last? What about our world wars of the last century? Creative progress certainly is not monotonic, that is for sure.

Law Fairy: “Your creativity point is interesting, but has an obvious response. People aren't creative because creativity is not rewarded. Rote memorization and robotic efficiency are. You reward risk-taking creative behavior and you'll see more of it.”

I respond: I would argue that outside of law and accountancy and in America’s top graduate schools useful creativity is the paramount value. American capitalism rewards creativity very well. Witness Bill Gates and what he did with DOS or the recipients of Noble Prizes and what they have done. Look too at all the new and successful products we have and want. Good risk taking behavior is highly rewarded. That is why engineering students at Stanford have their senior theses set to go as their initial business plans and that is largely how Silicon Valley was created beginning after World War II. No University in the world has that kind of proven track record for fostering creative scientific endeavor in the real world. Not Harvard, not MIT, not Chicago.

Law rewards creativity less because its stock and trade is the understanding and application of standards and conventions (although good litigators and law faculty are manipulatively creative). Accountants tag along and count the beans, using another set of standards and conventions. Law and accounting are the only real areas I know where research means going out and finding something someone else has already written, instead of surveying what s known and coming up with something new. Medical doctors not involved in research are similar and I won’t talk about dentists.

Law Fairy: “. . . Also interesting to me is that your contention regarding creativity almost seems an endorsement of religion. Rather than accept the facts as they appear to us (the religion, I would argue, of science), creative people strive to find new and different ideas, some of which seem crazy to the average person. You seem to think this is laudable. As a religious person, I absolutely agree with you -- but I was under the impression you thought "Christianists" and others were a bunch of nutcases. Perhaps being a nutcase isn't so bad after all?

I respond: We are up to our eyeballs in religious nut cases, and as Schwartznegger
told Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, “But they [are] all bad.” The Christian, the Arab or the whatever fundamentalist is anathema. They seldom get their own religions right, they look for trouble and they try to coerce others to their way of thinking or lack of it. Not all quirky thinking is good or creative. Sometimes it is just quirky or worse. However, I think Saul or Saint Paul was as about as creative as can be. He built a mythic religious system around Jesus who became Christ that was salable to Hellenistic Romans and Peter got to establish the Catholic Church around it. The mindset of the Church is now far removed, in tone and substance from Jesus’ thinking in far to many regards, I think. (Jesus would not, I am sure, even approve of the Pope’s ceremonial hat.) But then, the Church had a flight of creative enthusiasm all on its own when it came up with the Doctrine of the Trinity and fraudulently slipped a single mention of it into the New Testament, a crime now admitted by the Church, but quickly attributed to an over zealous scriber confused about marginalia -- the old Abu Grav approach of placing blame well down in the ranks, I say That escapade was as creative as the Church’s egocentric view that earth was the center of the universe, instead of being far out on a long spiral of one galaxy and not even a big one, nor at the center of anything.

More reflectively, I don’t really think creativity is an endorsement of religion. To the contrary, there has been a strong but historical sentiment among Christians and especially Jews that creativity is the business of God and their lot is to obey, obey and obey, without question and without thought. It took the Enlightenment and the Renaissance to get us out from under those views and get humans moving down creative paths. It has always amazed me that Jews, being as intelligent as they are, with a mean IQ one standard deviation above the white mean, have had so little to do with creative endeavor historically, until more recently when, as many became more secular, they began stepping to the forefront in those regards. Jewish custom to obey out did even Christian custom to obey. Religious codes of obedience and loyalty have done much to stifle creativity. However, freed by temperament, aided by the Enlightenment and the Renaissance or both, religion came to be a very great source of inspiration in the arts and literature, but that is less true now as our understanding of religions has markedly improved thanks to Nietzsche and others, and the postmodernistic problems predicted by Nietzsche have taken hold of us.

Historically, Christianity and Judaism have sought uniformity of thought, the antithesis of creativity, although some people have compartmentalized their brains to toe the line with their religious beliefs, but be creative in their work. However, this takes considerable physic energy, I believe, and is why I think American and Europeans have so many blind spots. Islam too mandates much conformity and the creative elements of the Arab world have never again risen to the heights of the Moors in Spain. Too, I would not be surprised to learn that growing up, you were already questioning and wondering about the restraints of your family’s religion just as you now pursue a more independent course, albeit without letting go, perhaps because of intellectual inertia or perhaps for want of something else to believe in more securely. But I would take your inquisitive intellect any day and in a heartbeat over a system of religious beliefs. I would trust it more to work toward correct and useful answers in ways that religion cannot.

Now, what we really need is a very creative reading of the First Amendment to separate Church and Family.

Kimball Corson

Anonymous,

I have more hobbies than I know what to do with. I am presently sailing around the world and in La Paz, Mexico just now. Today alone, I have been kayaking, went to breakfast this morning with someone in a dingy and am going to go sailing this afternoon and for a road bike ride tonight. Then I will read. If you get too many of my comments here, the solution is easy: skip over them. I am not required reading and you do not have to agree with me on anything.

LAK

And LF, if you do equivocate a belief in the scientific method with other religious beliefs, how do you get in your car, or take antibiotics, or turn on the radio or flush the toilet or watch the bombs fall without feeling like a complete and total hypocrite? How do you even get up in the morning? We know how to fuse atoms and split them, and if that doesn't mean anything to you, agian I suggest you take a look at some pictures of Nagasaki, and go tell a survivor about the relativism of science.

Moreover, I would suggest, in all seriousness, that you take a primer on quantum mechanics, as science has identified fundamental uncertainty in the universe and has begun to described it, and has done an ok job so far. Your armchair citations of epitemological problems as a foundation for equivocating religious belief with science are laughable, and I beg you to stop selectively using reason whenever it is convenient and doesn't upset your sense of cultural identity. Just wrapping your mind around the idea that matter exists in states of pure potential and uncertainty until it encounters consciouness taking a measruement (or other matter, as the case may be) will do wonders for your adolescent understanding of scientific "relativism."

LAK

Seriously, Kimball can and should post all he wants. I like reading his thoughts. Don't try to stifle thought. It is a sad day at the virtual U of C when people fault others for posting their thoughts, no matter what they are. We all should be able to agree on that. If you don't want to read his posts, don't. Don't try to shut him up, that is a cowardly thing to do.

BAC

Suppose Congress decided not to provide funding to embryonic stem cell research because the majority of its members found such research to be unethical for religious reasons. Perhaps Prof. Stone would consider this "an unethical and illegitimate usurpation of state authority," but what recourse could be taken against Congress?

It seems that the only recourse against Congress is to replace them in the next election. So, Prof. Stone's passionate argument is a political one, not a legal one. He disagrees with the values underlying Pres. Bush's decision -- but certainly Pres. Bush has the power to make decisions based on his values.

Maybe I'm wrong -- but if so, please cite to me the Establishment Clause case that would require Congress to fund embryonic stem cell research. Pres. Bush's veto is pure politics, and the only recourse for expressing your displeasure is the ballot box.

As for the other two points about the pledge and parks -- I think they clearly raise separation of powers and Establishment Clause issues. But, interestingly, they both involve Congress (the same Congress that supposedly imbued the stem cell bill with so much legitimacy) and not Pres. Bush.

Jim

Kimball - What firm in Phoenix did you practice with? My parents are both lawyers in town and I work there now. I'd be interested to hear your background. Would have emailed but your name just links to another website...

The Law Fairy

"Now, what we really need is a very creative reading of the First Amendment to separate Church and Family."

I'm not even sure what you mean by that. That parents shouldn't be allowed to take their kids to church? Surely looking over comments like that, you must understand why posts like Stone's make me feel so threatened, as a religious person.

Something that troubles me continually about this line of discussion is that it is so very personal. I prefer, in general, not to drag my personal self into arguments, because it detracts from my objective point of view (though arguably, and as others like Rousseau and, more recently, MacKinnon, have argued, objectivity may not be the best approach for debate. But I digress). It also opens me up to a lot more personal attacks, of which LAK has been good enough to give us a glowing demonstration.

My family and my past are irrelevant. I've changed a lot since I was child, and I hope that everyone here also has.

I, too, have LOTS of problems with the religious right. I think they get plenty wrong, including the words of Christ, as you note. There are many reasons to condemn them -- the fact that they are religious is not one of them. Blaming religion for logical and moral failings is intellectual laziness, plain and simple. But we've had this discussion before and I'm too exhausted to rehash it.

As to creativity, I agree that organized religion does not encourage creativity. But it takes creativity, particularly in times like this, to open one's mind enough to see the value in religion. That's the sort of creativity I'm talking about. I guess it's almost a sort of revised postmodernism; both the Enlightenment and religion have good things to offer -- to me it seems foolish to wholly discount one or the other because each has its share of imperfect or harmful followers. One could disparrage Nietzsche, for example, on the basis that his views were bastardized to lead to the birth of National Socialism and facism. But I think we can both agree that's an offensive and cheap shot at Nietzsche, no? Facism is no longer a serious threat because we were fortunate enough to win World War II -- but it could easily still exist, just as prevalent as violent fundamentalism. Yet this is no reason to criticize the good things Nietzsche has to offer.

LAK, throwing around names like Hegel and Kierkegaard doesn't make you smart. You accuse me of conflating morals and ethics and yet you yourself conflate morality and religion. You also refuse to recognize that any ethical system that holds any value will derive from a moral system, which will derive from a basic worldview, or religion (by the way, everyone has a religion, even atheists -- and now that I've made this point I'm sure you'll focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Nothing upsets anti-religionists like pointing out that they rely on faith just as much as anyone else). Your definition of ethical is so devoid of meaning as to render it almost positivist. Be that as it may, I'll take a shot at coming up with an "ethical" basis to oppose stem-cell research. Before I do, though, I predict that I will be accused of employing, as it were, a "CYA" tactic, or hiding behind a reason I don't believe, to uphold beliefs that are inherently religious. This is precisely what would happen if President Bush gave a more specific basis for his opposition to stem cell research. You'd engage in amateur psychoanalysis to "prove" that he was still basing it on "religious" reasons and determine that he could therefore not hold that position. That is to say, if you're religious, you're not allowed to disagree with scientists. Not a very fair position to hold, or a very constitutional one.

Note, as well, I'm an avid supporter of women's right to choose, and don't presume to know what I think just because I am religious. I still have not decided with certainty where I stand on the stem cell issue. Far from what you would accuse me of, LAK, I don't jump into positions or hold them strongly without first engaging in deep consideration.

There's a fair argument against stem cell research that it cheapens life (note: this is similar to arguments against organ donation from the very old, non-religious position that bodily integrity is important). Deconstructing humanity into a mass of DNA destroys whatever meaning it might have. Interfering with the natural decomposition of human life makes human life less precious and therefore less valuable. It turns humanity into a race of robots. This argument can be used against many forms of scientific and medical progress -- this may be a reason to dislike or argue against it, but it requires no appeal to God. It requires appeal only to the importance of humanity, whatever humanity may be. It also has strong undertones of the importance of nature -- one might even, conceivably, make the argument that interfering with natural human evolution will cause mutations that are less apt to flourish than they might otherwise be, were things left to sort themselves out free of human blundering.

One could also make the simple, risk-averse argument that splicing human genes is simply too risky an endeavor. This kind of irresponsible experimentation has (by some accounts) brought us diseases like AIDS. Better to deal with our problems in other ways than face the risk of creating an even worse, more contagious fatal virus.

Note, you may not like any of these positions. But none of them requires an appeal to God. And none of them is wholly unreasonable.

And as to this: "Perhaps that should give you deep, deep pause, LF. You need to think long and hard about how similar your thinking is to GWBs."

Do I even need to name this logical fallacy? It doesn't take even a high-school education to understand that guilt by association doesn't cut it as an argument.

LAK

Jesus LF,

You are the one who identified your association with GWB and noted how you don't like it. Don't blame me. I was just pointing out it should give you pause.

"LAK, throwing around names like Hegel and Kierkegaard doesn't make you smart." Thanks I didnt think it did. You asked where you derive ethics if not from religious faith, and I answered with some names you should be familiar with - people who derive ethics from observation of the species, consciouness, and the world we find ourselves in. And I'm not just throwing them out, I point out how Kierkegaard recognizes the the fundamental importance of Hegelian ethics, and then attempts to go beyond, not substitute, by positing the existential necessity of a teleological suspension of the ethical - not claiming that civic ethics don't really exist, as you do.


"Nothing upsets anti-religionists like pointing out that they rely on faith just as much as anyone else" B.S. I have plenty of faith, and you should know that by now. it is just not faith that contradicts accepted scientific truths or basic, fundamental empirical obeservation. Science w/o religion is certainly lame and leaves the physicist hanging in the wind. Faith plays a huge part in my life. People who believe in 2000 year old cults don't have a monopoly on faith, dear, just faith in blind irrational authority.

Buck up LF, my tongue in cheek insults at your desperate clinging to cultural institutions shouldn't upset you so much. You're a litigator for God's sake, no?

OK, the good stuff:

A general note, you do NO balancing on the other side. You simply point out the arguments on the side of not disturbing embryos, without doing any hard lifting with the cost-benefit analysis of disease irradication on the other side.

"There's a fair argument against stem cell research that it cheapens life"

How so? And if so, more than allowing disease to destroy an actual living human life when you have the chance to stop it?


"Deconstructing humanity into a mass of DNA destroys whatever meaning it might have."

It does? knowledge of the how things works destroys meaning? I'd argue the exact opposite - it enhances the meaning of life with knowledge. Humanity is just as mysterious even if we've mapped the whole genome. We still are at the very tip of the iceberg in ur understanding of genetics.

"Interfering with the natural decomposition of human life makes human life less precious and therefore less valuable. It turns humanity into a race of robots. This argument can be used against many forms of scientific and medical progress "

I take it you mean fighting disease somehow cheapens human life?
It is dificult to understand what you mean or where you get "less precious" and "less valuable." You seem to be arguing that should you use antibiotics to stop an infection from spreading all over your body, you are somehow making your life less precious and valuable. I think that is patently absurd, and I think you do too. Everyone in the world seems to think that if you hold human life precious, you try to preserve it in the face of "natural decomposition" like an infection or early onset parkinsons.
So antibiotics are out? Why are you not a Christian scientist?
Robots? You mean we risk immortality or something? Your understanding of the limits of medical science needs some work.

"It also has strong undertones of the importance of nature -- one might even, conceivably, make the argument that interfering with natural human evolution will cause mutations that are less apt to flourish than they might otherwise be, were things left to sort themselves out free of human blundering."

I think you need to clarify what you mean my "natural" and "natural evolution." You seem to suggest that human reasoning and human ability to manipulate and control our environments is somehow "unnatural" and not part of "natural evolution." I think actual naturalists and geneticists would be very qucik to correct you there.

"One could also make the simple, risk-averse argument that splicing human genes is simply too risky an endeavor. This kind of irresponsible experimentation has (by some accounts) brought us diseases like AIDS. Better to deal with our problems in other ways than face the risk of creating an even worse, more contagious fatal virus."

OMG. By which accounts are those? Who thinks gene splicing resulted in AIDS???? Do tell. I'll let you take this one back because you sound a bit ridiculous here, and I know you are a bright woman.

Again though, you fail in your obligation to weigh these potential justifications against the other side of curing terrible diseases that harm actual living human beings, with identity and actual thoughts, feelings and senses, and consciouness thereof.

LF, I proud of your for trying though. A- for effort (it was a tough task) D+ for content.

Cheers. And I hope the next time you scrape your knee and it gets infected you don't let the natural cours of human deterioration take its course. Use that neosporin, take that penicillin, and apply that bandaid. Please. And be sure to get your kids vaccinated too, it would be a shame to see a child die due to tetnis, wouldn't it?

My work is done here and I go back to my brief with even more smug self satisfaction than I started with. Love ya Lawfairy.

-the secular scientific devil.


Kimball Corson

LF,
I have got to run. I have someone waiting for me. But I just wanted to say this for now. The true value of religion is for personal spiritual enlightenment and growth and I see next to none of that these days. It is all political, institutional, factionalized, both a sword and a shield, but above all it is for social control. Religion these days has all the worst aspects Nietzsche railed against. It should not be but is a political organizing principal. As such, religion should be taken out and shot.

The Law Fairy

LAK, once again you've completely ignored the content of my post to go for the real zingers ("Why are you not a Christian scientist?" Ooo, *ouch*, did they teach you that in debate school?). You asked for a non-religious ethical argument. I never said I believed these things, and I made them up off the top of my head. In fact, I *EXCPLICITLY STATED* before the arguments that I had not yet made up my mind one way or another about stem cell research. Truth be told, I have not had the time to read up on it. I'm too busy worrying about what our erstwhile commander in chief is doing to violate the Constitution -- I would hope that supposedly thoughtful people would be more concerned about things like "executive statements" that amount to executive legislation, but hey, why go for the actual problems with the president when we can crucify him for being religious, right? (No pun intended)

I gave you non-religious arguments, and they're hardly the ridiculous ideas you try to claim they are. You want to argue with them, fine. But don't pretend I didn't do exactly what you asked for. This is why there's no point in debating people like you.

I didn't say gene splicing caused AIDS. Jeebus, did you even read what I wrote? I said "this kind of irresponsible experimentation" -- science run amok. Ahh, but with your religion of science, I'm sure it can do no wrong.

Please stop referring to me in a diminutive manner, both here and on my blog. It's offensive and sexist. If you do it again on my blog, I will delete your comment for that reason and that reason alone. I am not a child and I do not exist for you to objectify as such. I'm done talking to you here as well -- you don't listen to a thing anyone says beyond a soundbite you can use to springboard to your next insult.

The Law Fairy

"Religion these days has all the worst aspects Nietzsche railed against. It should not be but is a political organizing principal. As such, religion should be taken out and shot."

Sigh... well, I tried. Done here, too.

LAK

Sniffle.

This is not ridiculous???:

"One could also make the simple, risk-averse argument that splicing human genes is simply too risky an endeavor. This kind of irresponsible experimentation has (by some accounts) brought us diseases like AIDS."

I have no idea what you are talking about, and apparently either do you.

You tried to groud gWB's decisions in ostensible ethics, but failed. It's ok and I admired that. You just came off sounding like a lunatic who argued that to respect human life you have to let it be destroyed if that is what nature has in store, as if curing disease is somehow not respecting life.

Your sense of victimhood is profound lawfairy, and pressing your buttons too easy. If you post things that are crazy, expect to be called out. If you defend GWB basing policy decisions on religion alone, expect to be called out. If you attack professor stone for pointing out GWB deems ethics and his religion to be one and the same, expect to be challenged. Your cowardice is palpable. The meek shall inheret nothing but whining and self pity, like you certainly have.

LAK

"I didn't say gene splicing caused AIDS. Jeebus, did you even read what I wrote? I said "this kind of irresponsible experimentation" -- science run amok. Ahh, but with your religion of science, I'm sure it can do no wrong."

Ok, do tell how "science run amok" might have caused AIDS. I'm VERY curious.

Kimball Corson

Rereading back through this thread, I am dumb struck by the extent to which religion and one or another often misunderstood ethical system manages to muddy up, confuse or diflect the positivistic aspects of the science, issue or social policy under discussion. All of us, from Geof Stone, to LAK, to me, to Law Fairy, to Geo. W. Bush and to others do so much better in our thinking when we set this sludge aside and directly consider what is at issue and then directly discuss the pros and cons involved in a neutral, deliberate and focused way, bringing good judgment to bear where called for. Religion and one or another identified ethical perspective only confuses the issue and slights its positivistic aspects. It too often even blocks getting the simple pros and cons squarely on the table for discussion and weighing them.

Beyond muddling our brains and roiling the issues, religions and their most erstwhile advocates also break off rational discussion and put us at war, a new crusades if you will, where the Arabs want a world theocracy and we want a world democracy, whatever those concepts might happen to mean in some particular instance and someone’s particular mind and we are prepared to kill each other over these ill-identified issues and do, without even the slightest debate over the systems involved or their pros and cons. My deity is God and yours is Allah, their names don't sound similar so let's have at it. I exaggerate, but not by much. Then, once something is blown up, even this shabby discourse is interrupted and all discussion is off. We are like bands of marauding chimps, voiced in full roar, but actually saying much too little. A monkey theory for our specie, if you will, is too easily and credibly posited here, where the real substrata at issue in our brains is our capacity to control and mind the business and thinking of each other, both internal to our boarders and internationally, with religion and theories of government as the transparent pretexts and cloaks of our endeavors. What a colossal bore and what a horrific price tag our folly has: the 21st century man or woman as the new and improved tactical chimp. Is there a useful way to resign from this folly or have us all do so and get on with something more interesting and useful?

I am sorry, but from the discussion on this blog and more broadly elsewhere I see no positive role for religion as we understand, manipulate and use that concept. Spirituality, its putative target, is almost wholly absent and is never discussed. It is like a strawberry sundae without the strawberries -- a mere shadow or parody of itself, which makes its deployers true intentions all the more transparent. I am sorry Law Fairy and George W. Bush, but what you cling to died a proper death well over a hundred years ago, with thoughtful authors explaining why. You hold a corpse with the life gone out of it, taken by better understanding, but you do not realize or want to realize that. In the meantime, the remnants of these destroyed constructs clutter up the landscape of our thinking almost to the point of disabling our cognitive powers and pushing us hard in the direction of being mere marauding chimps at each others throats, both literally and figuratively. We are put on edge by the process.

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