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April 20, 2007


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"So, [] exponents of both sides: do you think that we can work out a compromise at 20 weeks ...?"

apparently not. here is an article by Robert P. George, one of prof beckwith's "most sophisticated defenders of the prolife position" (an assessment with which, based on the article, I wouldn't disagree) arguing in essence that abortion at any point after conception is "unjustified homicide".


more evidence suggesting that the abortion debate is hopeless (at least as typically framed) since you either believe in the "sanctity of human life per se" or you don't, which pretty much dictates your position. (although I'm not sure how many pro-choicers would forthrightly admit to the latter belief since it doesn't play well in peoria.)



Erasmussimo - I don't think you quite got my point on "ickiness". If a minor bit of ickiness like urban blight may lead to the seizure of property and the dislocation of people legitimately, why is a major level of "ickiness" somehow illegitimate when it is a matter of the specific technique of an abortion? If one were to draw a "ickiness permissibility scale" I think one would logically proscribe the more "icky" behavior while lesser crimes to our sensibilities would be tolerated by the law as permissible eccentricity but you're going about things in the exact opposite manner with minor violations (zoning/blight) being legitimately prohibited while major ones must be permitted. I can't for the life of me figure out why unless you're backfilling your arguments to justify the results you a priori want.

There is no theoretical or practical requirement that a criminal know the method or timing of his execution so your assertion that the fetus does not know of his/her impending death but the criminal does can be easily corrected (though I'd oppose that correction). Injecting morphine and putting a criminal to sleep then upping the dose to a level that stops respiration is neither painful nor something that the criminal would be aware of at the time.

Finally, the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century were scientific atheists who killed 100M people outside of war under the red banner of communism because others had different beliefs. Even they didn't usually dehumanize their victims to the level that you have embarked on in your "sack of chemicals" theory. We reasonably worry about dehumanization because it eases the decision to kill irrespective of the belief system of the killer. You embrace this dehumanization to a level that is astounding. This is to your own, and society's, peril. Did you not know that scientific atheism has such a bloody track record in the recent past or were you conveniently editing that inconvenient truth out of your anti-religious attacks?


"Did you not know that scientific atheism has such a bloody track record in the recent past or were you conveniently editing that inconvenient truth out of your anti-religious attacks?"

Did you not know that this shibboleth has been repeatedly refuted or were you conveniently editing that inconvenient truth out of your anti-atheist attack?

and do you not know that altho one of the worst mass murders arguably wasn't an atheist and another arguably wasn't insane, both had moustaches which suggests that as the true source of their perversion?

trying to understand how the world works and accepting the philosophical consequences of what is discovered is in no meaningful sense dehumanizing. not doing so is simply willful ignorance.



Mr. Lutas, I acknowledge that you have a point here. However, I think it reasonable to insist that the legal restrictions that society place upon its members be founded upon some rational basis. We could, for example, ban the sale of pork on the grounds that it is not kosher. However, I think it appropriate to demand that any such law pass some minimum test of relative utility. I emphasize the use of the term 'relative' here. This test would prevent a law against pork unaccompanied by a ban on beef. In the same fashion, I think it absurd to ban one medical procedure when another medical procedure accomplishing exactly the same result remains.

Applying this reasoning to your urban blight example, we get the following result: it would be wrong to ban old ugly wooden buildings but permit old ugly brick buildings.

Let me apply this to an even better example: laws against animal cruelty. If somebody wants to breed cats and dogs and then torture the kittens and puppies to death, we have no formal utilitarian case against them, but we find the action so morally repugnant that we proscribe such behavior. I have no objections to such laws; they are an expression of the moral sensibilities of the majority. I would object, however, to a law that permits strangling puppies but prohibits burning them alive. Such a law would address the ickiness factor without addressing the end result.

I agree that execution by lethal injection is far less painful than other methods of execution. My point was that the fetal perception of pain is very different from the adult perception of pain. If we want to apply a pain and suffering argument to the process of abortion, we should bear in mind this difference.

Charles has already devastated your arguments about the evils of atheism. I'll add a few points: Hitler was a Catholic, not an atheist. And it's arbitrary to restrict your catalog of atrocities to the 20th century. If we want to catalog atrocities, we should list the Mulsim Turkish genocide of the Christian Armenians, the Christian Spanish treatment of the heathen American Indians, the Christian American treatment of the heathen American Indians, behavior of the Catholic Spanish armies against the Protestant Netherlanders, the whole 30 Years War, the Albigensian Crusade, and so on. Christians who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Or, more pointedly, let he whose religion is without sin cast the first stone at atheism.

You betray your illogic when you substitute the term 'dehumanization' for materialism. There is no logical connection between my claim that homo sapiens is not spiritually special and your conclusion that homo sapiens is devoid of value. You assume that, because I refuse to assign some magically special property to homo sapiens, I must therefore devalue human life.

I would recommend to you some advise offered by a wise man whose thinking you appear to be unfamiliar with. He said that we must keep the secular and the spiritual entirely separate. The secular is objective reality, obeying the laws of science and logic. The spiritual is subjective reality, the realm of beliefs and perceptions. You are welcome to whatever subjective reality you desire, and so is every other person on this planet. But you attempt to impose your subjective perceptions upon objective reality, and there you violate the precept of the man you claim to revere.

Francis Beckwith

"You are welcome to whatever subjective reality you desire, and so is every other person on this planet. But you attempt to impose your subjective perceptions upon objective reality, and there you violate the precept of the man you claim to revere."

Where do you place this claim: one ought not to impose one's subjective perceptions upon objective reality. Since this claim is neither a deliverance of science--for it is a normative and not a descriptive claim--nor a deliverance of logic--for it could be false and thus is not true by definition--you should reject it. But you don't. So, apparently, there is a third category of thought that is neither science nor logic that you think ought to be imposed on others.

Also, some subjective perceptions are objectively true. For example, your self-awareness that you are a being who has personal continuity over time is not something you believe as a result of sense experience. It is an incorrigible belief that sense experience presupposes that you simply cannot deny without affirming it. It is "subjective" insofar that you know it by introspection. But it is objective in the sense that it is undeniably true.

For these reasons your view is deeply flawed.


Mr. Beckwith, I cite as the basis for my claim the precept of Jesus Christ, who said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." You are welcome to deny the wisdom of his statement, but I find it compelling.


I find it irrational when "non-religious" people decry the horrors of religious people's evil behavior throughout history. "A world without religion would obviously be a better one: just look at all the bad stuff religion has perpetrated" is a stupid position not so much because it ignores the existence of "non-religious" people's religious beliefs as to the good and bad, but more because the reason most evil in history (and probably most good) has been done by religious people is simply because most people in history have been religious… We have never experienced a world without religion.

So how can one assert that a completely secular world would be better than this semi-religious world, when one cannot possibly have any idea of what a world like that would look like? It's nonsensical if one is really secular. Nor can you separate the positive influence of religious ideas on your own life from your secular sensibilities since you belong to this world and have inevitably been influenced by religious ideas while growing up in culture and society historically religious.

It's amusing when certain people who believe they have no religious beliefs dream about a world without the influence of theistic religion; for it seems they really have no idea what they're asking for, in more ways than one.

It's not possible to know whether a secular world would be better than a religious one--unless one has religious beliefs as to that possibility. "Non-religious" people therefore cannot know, though religious people can know by virtue of religion; of course, the reason "non-religious" people believe they can know that a world without theistic religion would be better is simply because they are in denial of their religiosity.

Secondly, Erasmussimo's secular materialistic position will inevitably evolve into Nietzsche's Will To Power ideology. There is no objective right and wrong, only equally valid and, thus, equally invalid subjective choices of morality. No victims can appeal to objective notions of justice because there are none, and so all are at the mercy of the Nietzschean superhuman who realizes objective morality is an illusion and has the Will To Power to dominate all others and impose his subjective choices. If all moral choices are equal: the only thing that matters is the Power to subject as many as possible to one's subjective whims, that is, to be god.

Nietzsche was the closest person in modern history to understand what a world without theistic religious influence would be like because he consciously and systematically rejected theistic religion in his life, and was brilliant and courageous enough to understand where that would lead in the end. A denial of objective moral reality must eventually lead to the Will To Power; if all moralities are equal, then life is only domination.

Wake up.



You say:
"First, self-consciousness is not an empirically observable trait. It is the result of introspection, which is not something known through the senses. My self-awareness is a necessary condition for empirical knowledge and thus not the result of it."

I would dispute that. You can't have one without the other. Identity, consiousness of the self outside of pure agency of the mind does require empirical observation. Self consiousness would be meaningless without the ability to observe yourself in the world. Sensing your body, the sound of your voice, body and observing oneslef as having locomotion and physical autonomy. Being in Itself goes with Being for Itself. While self consiousness is necessary for empirical knowledge (though some might argue lesser animals that learn from observation and experience have a kind of empirical knowledge without having consiousness of self), empirical knowledge is necessary for defining and being consious of the self as well.

Then you say:

"Second, you are assuming that empiricism is the correct view of knowledge. But that can't be, since you are defending a right to abortion, which by its very nature is not empirical. Rights are not observed and thus do not depend on observation. For example, the claim that a person has a right not to be tortured for fun is a universal claim applicable to all persons. If it were an empirical claim it would be the sort of thing that could be disproven by some empirical evidence, like the claim "there is milk in the refrigirator.""

Well empiricism combine with reason is the foundation or "correct view" of knowledge that is for sure. That is what the scientific method is all about. I'm all for pure reason too, as the results of pure thought can be tested an verified much of the time (ah Newton and Kepler).

And while rights are not directly observable, they certainly depend on observation of the species and oneself. Rights flow from observable human traits and potentials and capacities. What else could they be based on? We have bodies minds and hearts. We all need nutrition, we all can move about, we can think freely and experience pain and joy, we can love and hate, we socialize, we think. These observed traits are the foundations for how society and law define what rights are.

And of course you can test the right not to be tortured and verify this quite easily. I'll be happy to torture you a bit or show you some torture video, then based on your personal experience (do you not consider the sight of your own blood or the experience of pain empricial knowledge?) and the empirical evidence of witnessing what it does to you and your body and what it does to other humans, you then come up with and justify that legal right. Shared experience in the object world is all we have that is meaningful to discuss when it comes to rights. Invoking any sources of authority for righst other than terms and proposition that can be verified by others is completely meaningless.

Then you write:

"That I am conscious of my own existence is an incorrigible belief. Empirical beliefs are not incorrigible, since they can always be wrong. I can mistaken as to whether my wife is standing behind me, but I cannot be mistaken that I am self-aware that I could be mistaken about my empirical beliefs."

I have no idea what you are saying here.

Ok moving on you say:

"Third, the fact that a claim cannot be justified empirically does not mean that it is "faith" or cannot be defended rationally. Your equating of empiricism with rationality has not been demonstrated. In fact, if you were to demonstrate it, you would, ironically, be sawing off the limb you're sitting on. For to offer an argument that shows that rationality and empiricism are conceptually equivalent is to demonstrate a non-empirical truth about the relationship between two concepts."

This is true. However, empricism and logic are the limitations to useful universal knowledge. But aren't you the one using a naked and unexplained observation about how most people react to the thought harvesting organs from a brain dead clone, without actually trying to ground that moral distress in any reason? You seem to be arguing that because some human beings have moral inclinations one way or another, that makes a prima facie case that all human beings should be bound by those inclinations that are not justified by reason and observation (I promise you there are many people out there who would have no distress and breeding and harvesting brainless clones, just as there are plenty of people out there whohave no problem evacuating a unborn 20 week old fetus from their uterus). It is a completely empty argument, if that is your argument. Is that your argument? It is true on its face becasue some people (not all) would have a problem harvesting organs from brain dead clones?

You write:

"I think you're missing my point. I am not arguing from an emotive reaction to brainless children to the moral wrongness of purposely creating them. I am arguing that our moral repugnance (which need not be emotional) is best accounted for by an understanding of human persons that entails that abortion is prima facie unjustified homicide."

Whose moral repugnance? Do you think the moral repugnance you cite about harevsting organs from braindead clones is universally held?

And "is best accounted for" is not an logical argument, nor is declaringof some activity "prima facie" wrong. That is not an argument either.

An that is the point. I'm with you. I feel that abortion is wrong, so is harvesting organs, but I can't justify it based on reason and observation. I need t appeal to mirky feeling about order in the Universe and res[ect for human life as unique in the universe. These are matters of hunch, of faith, of wanting to be true rather than knowing to be true. However, you are missing the point about the civil law. You need more than just a hunch or anicdotal evidence that people value life to impose such values on others who may not have the same understanding.

Ok, then you write:

"You are appealing to your own lack of knowledge as justification for permitting pregnant women to destroy human beings"

No no my friend. I'm appealing to my affirmative knowledge an adult human woman, not to my lack of knowledge about the consciousness, status and value of a fetus. The woman is a fully developed human being, with identity, physical autonomy, and self-consiousness. Her rights as an adult and her interests in controlling her own body and destinty are known to me as someone who also has an interest in his physical autonomy, equality and privacy. So while I may discourage abortion, I would never be justified in wanting to ban it or interfere in the decisions of a woman with respect to her health and body.


Mr. Nietzsche, you are correct in asserting that we have no data on purely secular societies from which to extrapolate a conclusion that a secular society would be more desirable than a religious society. However, extrapolation is not the only basis for logical analysis. We have other sources of information on which to base our reasoning.

One is the well-established truth that the most extremely religious societies have been oppressive societies. This can be counterbalanced by the observation that the Soviet Union and Red China were overtly anti-religious societies that were also very oppressive. Still, I think that the great imbalance here gives an edge to the anti-religious case.

A more useful observation comes from the Enlightenment, Western civilization's reaction to the horrors of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Enlightenment was certainly anti-clerical, and whether it was anti-religious is obscured by the fact that overtly anti-religious positions were politically dangerous. But there's no question that the Enlightenment pushed Western civilization in a more secular direction.

But the best support for a preference for a secular society is the fact that secularism is founded on reason, and reason is the best way to handle real-world problems. Religion is profoundly conservative. Let's face it, anybody who tries to solve modern-day problems by relying on the social mores of societies that are three thousand years old is going to have some problems in areas where science and technology have changed the social context in ways completely inconceivable to the ancient society.

The central error you make is the assumption that rationalism leads to a valueless society. Rationalism is itself valueless, but people are not valueless. Rationalists have values just like everybody else. The fact that you base your values on religion does not mean that my values are baseless. The very essence of rationalism is the recognition that values are subjective and that therefore there is no objective basis for establishing the values that we assert as law. Since there is no objective basis for such values, the rationalist concludes that the only only way to determine values is by a statistical procedure that combines the values of most people. That procedure is called "democracy". Rationalism leads inevitably to democracy. Since religion derives its values from divine authority, religion must insist upon divine authority as the basis for legislation -- and that is profoundly anti-democratic.


Eras, why you respond to 10th grade thinking is beyond me.


prof beckwith has introduced multiple avatars of what I perceive to be two general ideas. maybe we can address them once and for all.

first, he challenges various "truth" claims made by some commenters. if commenters assert "X is true" and really mean it in some absolute sense, prof B's subtle implication that they probably need to read something like Simon Blackburn's "Truth: a Guide" is correct. but my guess is that commenters often are simply following the pragmatic social convention that we don't express our opinion on the truth value of X by saying something like "based on my evaluation of evidence available to me [logic of the arguments of which I am aware], my estimate of the probability that X is true is sufficiently high to induce me to act as if it is". we abbreviate that to "IMO", or even to simply asserting "X". the "truth" is, in blog commenting one doesn't often encounter a professional philosopher who is parsing one's casual ramblings for epistemological coherence.

note that I substituted "opinion" for "subjective perception". this leads to prof B's second general idea, which I think is essentially the issue of what constitutes perceived "reality". this gets us into cognitive science, an area on which I bet no one here can speak authoritatively, least of all me. but based on the smattering of reading I've done on that subject my impression is that Prof B may be falling into his own trap and asserting unequivocally things about self-awareness that are actually not well understood, are therefore debatable, and in fact are hotly debated. (eg, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19510)

so maybe we can get back to asserting our ignorant opinions without prof B acting as a spoil-sport by suggesting - however accurately - that we don't really know what we're talking about.



The central error you make is the assumption that rationalism leads to a valueless society. Rationalism is itself valueless, but people are not valueless. Rationalists have values just like everybody else. The fact that you base your values on religion does not mean that my values are baseless. The very essence of rationalism is the recognition that values are subjective and that therefore there is no objective basis for establishing the values that we assert as law. Since there is no objective basis for such values, the rationalist concludes that the only only way to determine values is by a statistical procedure that combines the values of most people. That procedure is called "democracy". Rationalism leads inevitably to democracy. Since religion derives its values from divine authority, religion must insist upon divine authority as the basis for legislation -- and that is profoundly anti-democratic.

Excellent, you show you did not read or understand my comment. Where did I write that your values are baseless, or that rationalists don't have values?

Read it again if you want. I clearly state that you and other "non-religious" people do have values based on particular religious beliefs.

Therefore, rationalists have values and have a basis for those values. How did you miss that?

Eras, why you respond to 10th grade thinking is beyond me.

I suppose you also approve of misrepresenting others. Or perhaps only those with 10th grade thinking easily dismissed?


Mr. Neitzsche, I was responding to your statements:

"secular materialistic position will inevitably evolve into Nietzsche's Will To Power ideology"


"if all moralities are equal, then life is only domination."

And I was demonstrating that you have it profoundly wrong, that rationalism leads directly to democracy, not tyranny.


Both of which are 10th grade thinking at best.

Pick ups some Marx, or Hegel, or Kant, or Rawls, and then get back to me Mr. Will to Power. To claim that secular rationalssm necessarily leads to moral relativism is nothing short of profound ignorance.

Jerome Morrow


You're a despicable person, a glib, amoral shell of a man, who uses specious and empty sophistry to dispute contrary opinions because there is no substance to you whatsoever.


I say, chaps -- what say we talk about 'faith-based justices'?



Shall I call the waaaaambulance for you?

The specious arguments are: 1. because some of us have a moral problem with the idea of creating brain dead clones and harvesting organs from them, that is a prima facie case for rolling back the contstitutional rights of women and protecting the interests (albeit in very limted, strange and irrational manner) of fetuses.

and 2. that something other than a religious faith motivates the 5 male Catholic Supreme Court Justices who just rolled back, in a very small but symbolic way, the right of women to control their own body and health with the consultation of a doctor in the interest of the fetus attached to those woman.

and 3. That religion is necessary for an ethical society to exist and that a society based on secular laws and reason alone would somehow necessarily result in anarchy or moral relativism. (perhaps the dumbest thing I have read on a University of Chicago blog. For God's Sake Martha Nussbaum is a professor here)

Indeed, I have offered in argument the human capabilities and charatceristics that most political philosphers identify when discussing the origins of rights. I am the one who pointed out that fetuses do not have these characteristics (sensitivity to needle pricks and light granted) and have identified the desire to protect these potential human beings as a fundamentally faith based one and therfore the stuff of personal morality, not law.

What substance have you brought to the table Jerome?

TM Lutas

ctw - For sheer scope of body count, nobody beat the communists in the 20th century and thus they are collectively the greatest mass murderers of that era. This has simply not been debunked at all. That you choose to twist my words to mean something they do not does not a debunking make. As an aside, atheists don't seem to rise to power much in history and they do seem to run excessively bloody regimes as a rule.

Erasmussimo - A partial birth abortion ban is an effort at incrementalism. If I understand you correctly your objection is now revealed that an insufficient level of restrictiveness was imposed on abortion. I'm sure you'll be happy to find out that this flaw in the law is being corrected and new test cases are winging their way to the USSC to increase abortion restrictions. I hope this news renders you satisfied that your objection is being corrected.

Percentage-wise I suspect that the number of inoffensive religious governments is significantly higher than the % of inoffensive atheist regimes. As atheism as a societal organizing principle is of relatively recent duration and historically we've been dropping our levels of violence over time, some sort of correction should be applied as global raw numbers simply aren't the way to go.

If you try method A to solve a problem 10,000 times and it works 8,000 times and fails 2,000 times while you try method B 100 times and 100 failures result it is not a legitimate criticism of method A to note that Method B has 1/20th the number of failures. To persist in doing so is not very functional thinking.

Furthermore, the idea that secularism is necessarily objective is simply hogwash as any study of lysenkoism would quickly demonstrate quite a lot of claptrap travels under the secular label.

Joseph Stong

Oh dear, how many folk have degrees behind their names but no intellect "in the sum of their chemical processes"! If an individual member of the species homo sapiens isn't a "human being" from the moment of conception, then there's no magic moment afterwards - other than OUR arbitrary imposition of "ickiness" or "OK-ness" feelngs that would make that individual "human".

Certainly, there's no analogous moment in the 9 month development process from conception to birth where the fetus "suddenly" becomes human; he or she simply continues to develop right up to and past birth.

As for not being aware; the fetus has skin, so can perceive extension and ears, so can perceive tempo, most particularly, the regular tempo of her mother's heart beat. Between space and time the fetus' brain can work out quite a lot about reality.

But what do we have here? Secularists so proud of "science" until it reveals more about the evident humanity of the unborn child - in which case they become Luddites running into mysticism about "not knowing when humanity starts".

Then we get their little conceits about what secular regimes would be like in some vague wishful thinking of the future. No need for speculation my dear sirs and madams, we've already experienced the wonders of secularist regimes in the 20th century and they weren't full of peaceful, noble, rational folk willing to live and let live. 100 million deaths (of post-birth people) is the minimum casaulty count - most died from internal repression not war.

That's a far cry from 100,000 people tried in the four different "inquisitions" over a 400 year period, only 2% of whom were convicted for capital offenses. Even the casualty numbers from the great "wars of religion" pale in comparison with the numbers killed by Napoleon and other "forces of the enlightenment" - by most estimates well over 1 million died in Europe from his wars - and he only ruled for a dozen or so years.

Thus, apples to apples, secular regimes - priding themselves on being "reason based" have killed far more people than Christian regimes, and in less time.

Finally we come to the basis of ethics; comparing a religiously motivated person with a secularist one can't help notice that while the religious chap believes his actions will be rewarded or punished in this life AND the next, the secularist has no such compunction - indeed what restrains his vices other than sheer power - either the lack thereof or opposing people of power? If that's not a recipe for police states what is?

If your moral authority is whatever appetite and shifting whim you happen to have then "law and order" are maintainable only with enourmous effort and alot of police. For all the claims of religion's ills to society, it remains a sociological fact that religion, especially Christianity results in less crime and less need for police than our 200 year experience with secularist regimes.



"Certainly, there's no analogous moment in the 9 month development process from conception to birth where the fetus "suddenly" becomes human; he or she simply continues to develop right up to and past birth."

Uh, yea there is - it's even got a special name: "BIRTH," you know, when the fetus becomes an autonomous human being? When it is actually physically independent from its mother, where it creates its own energy and has to eat and breath on its own for the first time, where for the frist time all of its organ systems are working?



Oh, and moral and ethical authority based in reason is a hell of a lot less "shifty" than the whimsical declarations of a unaccountable religious institution.

Man oh man. You fucking people are so stupid you can't even conceive of having morals and ethics outside of being told how to behave. Unes your fucking brains you monkeys. Go read some Kant or rawls or Hegel. Hell take your pick. You say Utilitarian, I say Rawlsian. But anyway you pick, the results are going to be a hell of a lot more consistent than the diversity of "morality" the exist by virtue of religious institution.

Though I suppose ritual gential mutilation and beating of women is a desirable morality.

Why even bother dealing with people who are so stupid they can't even understand that ethics can be derived from reason. I mean where doo you think the fools who wrote your religious texts got their ideas? Word of god?



I'd like to address three notions here:

1.That secularist regimes in the past have proven to be worse than religious regimes in the past.

2. That secularism is amoral.

3. That the lack of a clear dividing line between human and zygote makes it necessary to extend the definition of humanity backwards to zygote.

On the first point: there is no such thing as an absolutely secular regime nor an absolutely theocratic regime. There is instead a range of regimes falling between the two theoretical extremes. The Soviet Union fell very far towards the secularist end, while some of the Islamic regimes fell very far to towards the theocratic end of the scale. Moreover, there are a number of distinctions that must be made. The Napoleonic regime was most certainly not secularist, although the regime preceding it was anti-clerical. Napoleon himself attended Mass often.

Yes, the Soviet Union was especially destructive of human life, and it was secularist. Of course, there were other factors contributing to its destructiveness, but I'm happy to chalk up the USSR as a bloodthirsty secularist regime.

Red China is somewhat different. It's difficult to assign the concept of either secularism or theocracy to Sinic civilization. Confucianism is not the same thing as secularism. Nevertheless, for purposes of this discussion, I'll accept the claim that, since they weren't theocratic, we should chalk them up as secular.

On the other hand, the third great destructive state in the 20th century was Nazi Germany, which was definitely NOT a secular state. The Nazi government took no action against Christianity (although they did persecute opponents, some of whom where Christian prelates) and Hitler was an avowed Catholic.

So, if we want to consider the three great horrors of the 20th century, we come up with two secular states and one religious state.

Now, let's look to another secular state: the USA. I hear some sputtering of indignation here, so I want to be precise in my wording: the government of the USA is secular, but the population is religious. Let's make sure we keep that distinction in mind. And the government of the USA can definitely be chalked up as one of the overall good guys.

The French nation is similar to the American government: secular in government but religious in population. And I think we can say that, since that distinction developed in the 19th century, the French government has been one of the good guys.

I can't recall any other explicitly secular states in history; most had some sort of association with religion. I'm sure that I've overlooked a few; please feel free to add any I have overlooked.

Summarizing, then, we have four states that I'll call mostly secular: the USSR, Red China, the USA, and France. From this sample I draw the conclusion that a secular state can be profoundly evil or profoundly noble. Certainly the claim that secularism causes evil is belied by this data.

Another line of analysis is possible: how does a single state change its behavior as it moves in the direction of greater or less secularism? We must look past the short-term issues arising from abrupt social change and consider the slower shifts. It's pretty clear that most of the Western European countries have undergone a steady shift in the direction of increasing secularism in the last fifty years, and that shift has been accompanied by an increasingly higher standard of ethical behavior, most clearly seen in proclivity towards violence, which has been steadily diminishing as secularism has increased.

Now let me turn to the quaint notion that secularism is amoral. This is a supposition on the part of theists that has no evidence supporting it. The flaw in the reasoning is the belief that morality must be externally imposed rather than internally determined. The theist takes his moral guidelines from whatever source he takes to be sacred. The atheist determines his own moral standards. The atheist's freedom to embrace evil standards is no different from the theist's freedom to sin. Anybody who wants to can be evil, regardless of their spiritual beliefs, and surely the history of mankind demonstrates the ease with which theists can sin. The fact that atheists establish their moral compass internally does not mean that they have no moral compass.

Lastly, I'd like to address the notion that there is no clear dividing line between zygote and infant. Only the crudest of boolean thinking permits us to use this fact to declare zygotes to be human. The more precise analysis observes that a fertilized egg has 0% humanity, and the degree of humanity increases steadily through gestation until it reaches 100% at birth. Therefore, an early stage embryo has some small degree of humanity. But does not a chimpanzee also possess some degree of the same qualities that we associate with humanity? Should not a chimpanzee be granted the same rights as an embryo at some stage of development?

Lastly, the silliness of Lysenkoism is far outweighed by the silliness of creationism.

Kimball Corson

I want to go back here to the factually false reasons that were clearly established to be so of record in Carhart II which had been used by Congress to support the statute that the Supreme Court upheld in ruling as it did.

Deference to congressional fact finding does not and should not reach so far. Some integrity to that congressional process must obtain and be required by the judicial system. Otherwise, we too readily loose our moorings in reality and the courts abdicate an important aspect of their review function. Deference is inappropriate in such cases where the record establishes the underlying key facts to be false. Courts in the exercise of their review function should address and repudiate findings, where they are clearly established of record to be false – as here -- and, if such findings are central to the statute, courts should overturn that statute as well, especially where it ostensibly contravenes an established Constitutional right.

A majority of the Supreme Court should not, as here -- implicitly accept those false findings contrary to the record under a doctrine of deference and then gerrymand the constitutional issue in order to uphold a statute because it is in accord with their own personal religious beliefs.

I do not see that Stone has missed the mark here at all, but then those who admonish him do not address these points, preferring to simply rant instead.



Your accusation that the Court relied on deference to Congress to "implicitly accept those false findings contrary to the record," is entirely off the mark.

Contrary to your naked assertions, the majority opinion expressly notes that "some recitations of the Act are factually incorrect," and that "some of the important findings have been superseded."

There is nothing "implicit" or nefarious about what the Court did, and it absolutely did not lean on deference to "accept false findings" as you assert.

Of course you could prove me wrong by pointing to one, just one, Congressional finding that the Court relied upon that was false (with appropriate citations to the record, please). Otherwise, I'll file your last post under "Rant" and move on to more important issues.

Richard H. Escobales,Jr.

Geoffrey Stone’ s blog of April 20, 2007 and subsequent article in the April 30, 2007 Chicago Tribune, “Our faith-based justices,” offer truly wonderful examples of the classical logical fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc”(after the fact, hence on account of the fact).

Stone suggests that because the five justices who voted to uphold the constitutionality of the law banning partial- birth abortions in Gonzales v. Carhart were Catholic, their reason for deciding the case was “faith based.” Absent from Stone’s commentary is any mention of the fact that the jurisprudential underpinnings of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that effectively legalized abortion on demand were excoriated by pro-choice legal scholars like the late John Hart Ely. Like many pro-choice people, Professor Stone chose to exclude views like Ely’s under his “traditional legal analysis” umbrella.

It is heartening that this kind of specious reasoning is alive and well in the nation’s law schools. Logicians at the University of Chicago and elsewhere can rejoice. Their services are needed more than ever- especially by many in the pro-choice legal community.

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