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Veritatis Splendor or Veritatis Peccator?

Recently I posted “Darwin at Columbine,” in which I pointed out that Eric Harris, a great fan of Charles Darwin, believed he had evolved to a higher plane of existence and that his killing of his “inferior” classmates was the work of natural selection.  I hoped to spark a debate about whether Harris’ understanding of Darwinism is an aberration with no relation to the theory, or a logical (if perhaps misguided) extension of the theory.   The debate that ensued discussed this topic at a high level and I wish to congratulate the commenters on both sides for their insights into the issue and the general civility of the discussion.

I wish to respond, however, to one commenter who suggested that by pointing out the connection between Darwin and the (up until then) worst school shooting in history I was making cheap rhetorical points.  He even said in so many words that my post was “sinful.” 

I took the accusation seriously and examined both my actions and my motives.  Had I violated one of the injunctions or proscriptions of the moral code?  If so, which one?

Certainly I did not stray from the truth.  I have first hand knowledge of the matter about which I spoke, and I know for a certainty that what I said was true.

The truth is good and it is good to speak it (Veritatis Splendor).  Yet, my accuser said I sinned when I spoke the truth.  Can the truth also be sinful (Veritatis Peccator)?

No, the truth cannot be sinful.  It is always good.  Nevertheless, one can offend in the WAY in which one speaks the truth.  The truth, which is good in itself, must nevertheless be spoken in love in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense. 

Did I give unnecessary offense in my message?  I do not think so.  I merely pointed out the facts; I do not think any reasonable person could suggest that my post was inflamatory or rude.

Was the truth offensive to some?  Undoubtedly.  But that is not the point.  Scripture tells us that the truth (and the Truth) will be an offense to many.  We are nevertheless enjoined to speak the truth even though it offends.  At the same time we must strive to ensure that it is the truth (i.e., the message) and not us (i.e., the messenger) that is the cause of the offense. 

When I deposed the killers’ parents I struggled with this issue.  The depositions dragged on for day after day after day with my clients sitting  in the same small conference room with the parents of the men who slaughtered their children.   My clients were willing to endure this ordeal because they wanted to get at the bottom of what happened.  They were seeking truth.  At the same time I was not insensitive to the Harrises’ and Klebolds’ anguish as they answered my questions.  I would be less than candid if I did not admit there were times I thought about not following up on a particularly disturbing line of questions.  It was painful for them; it was painful for me; it was painful for my clients.  But I knew that if I gave in to this temptation I would  be shirking my duty, not only to my clients but also to the cause of justice and truth.

Yes, sometimes the truth does hurt, as the cliche goes.  But we must have the courage to face it and follow it wherever it leads.  In the case of my post, the moral implications of Darwin’s theory are there for all to see.  Eric Harris was a brilliant young man (Dylan Klebold was a follower, more or less along for the ride).  Harris paid attention in class and he learned both Darwin and Nietzsche (and wrote about both in his journal). He put two and two together and got “kill everyone whom I deem to be inferior.”  In our public school system Harris was steeped in the moral darkness and nihilism of Darwin and Nietzsche.  Tragically, he was not exposed to any countervailing influences,  He took what he learned and, however misguided his actions were, he acted upon his lessons.

This is the lesson of Columbine at least insofar as our schools are concerned:  It is very dangerous to spout untempered nihilism in class, because someone just might take you seriously and act on your lesson.

Is it wrong or even sinful for me to point this out?  I don’t think so.

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94 Responses to Veritatis Splendor or Veritatis Peccator?

  1. Barry, I still do not agree with you, but I do appreciate you taking the time to examine your feelings about this. Arrogant certainty, the stepchild of too little self examination, is far too common these days. Sincere introspection is to be commended.

    I will leave this discussion with one thought. Why is this not an exposition on Nietzsche, rather than jousting against a scientific theory that seeks to address how organisms change over time. I think there is more to attack in that philosophy than there is in modern biology.

  2. specs asks: “Why is this not an exposition on Nietzsche, rather than jousting against a scientific theory that seeks to address how organisms change over time.”

    Two responses: 1. As for as moral philosophy goes (and that is my topic, not science per se), Nietzsche’s overman goes hand in glove with Darwin. Eric Harris thought he was the overman.

    2. In this particular post I was not not “jousting against a scientific theory.” I will be the first to admit that just because Darwinism has devastating moral and philosophical implications does not make it untrue. I believe the Darwinian account of origins is untrue on other grounds. That said, I think it is important to discuss not just the theories but also their moral implications.

  3. BarryA, I may be the person to whom you’re responding. But note what I wrote:

    “I say it’s a sin to try and score debate points from a tragedy while parents are still in mourning and before the children have even been buried.”

    I was referring to the Finnish case in that sentence, where Denyse (and you) were making points at an early moment with limited knowledge. Columbine only came up in order to justify the exploitation of the Finnish tragedy.

    I’m still confused, however, about what you are actually saying about Columbine. In a comment on the earlier post you wrote, (reprimanding me) that you “did not attibute Harris’ and Auvinen’s actions to Darwinism.” Yet above you write

    Harris paid attention in class and he learned both Darwin and Nietzsche (and wrote about both in his journal). He put two and two together and got “kill everyone whom I deem to be inferior.”

    That seems to attribute Harris to Darwin + Nietzsche (and later you more or less dismiss the latter as going “hand in hand with Darwin”). So are you, or are you not, blaming Darwin for Harris’s behavior? I think you’re being inconsistent.

  4. In this particular post I was not not “jousting against a scientific theory.” I will be the first to admit that just because Darwinism has devastating moral and philosophical implications does not make it untrue.

    Fair enough. But, please understand that you are posting in a milieu where honest working scientists are excoriated almost continuously for the mere reason that their scientific work doesn’t comport, however indirectly, with morality you wish to endorse.

    And, to acknowledge the obvious, I have managed to tar you with the actions of some of your confederates. Oh, the irony!

  5. getawitness, if I had any reason to believe that the Finnish boys parents or anyone remotely related to him read this blog, your accusation might have at least some force. I do not; therefore it does not.

    Let me repeat myself. I have not ever attributed Harris’ actions to the influence of Darwin and Nietzsche. The point of my post was that HARRIS studied both and HARRIS wrote that his actions were motivated by Darwin and Nietzsche.

  6. BarryA, I agree that the Finnish boy’s parents are unlikely to read UD. My concern with our response to the Finnish case was not about the damage it might do to them but with the damage it does to us. Look at those threads again: see how quickly the humanity was lost, how easily people claimed that Darwinism was “necessary but not sufficient” for Columbine (again, I’ll mention, apparently not worth a correction from you), how human beings are transformed into abstractions. Human sympathy took a back seat, and that does not reflect well on this community.

  7. getawitness, interesting response. I suppose the difference between our positions is that you seem to believe that certain questions should not be asked and certain topics should not be debated if, in your view, some of the debaters have insufficient “human sympathy,” whereas I believe error should be met with truth, not censorship, even if feathers are ruffled in the process.

  8. BarryA – who were you referring to when you wrote this:

    It is, however, clear that at least some of Darwin’s followers understand “survival of the fittest” and the attendant amorality at the bottom of Darwinism as a license to kill those whom they consider “inferior.”

    Auvinen?

    Bob

  9. Bob, from their writings is seems clear to me that both Auvinen and Harris believe this.

  10. BarryA,

    As a free-speech purist, I’m amused to be called an advocate of censorship. Far from it. I’m calling, rather, for reflection and sympathy as first responses to tragedy. I’m not saying the responses here should be censored; I’m saying they were, on the whole, ugly. I’m saying that the responses here were cold because over-philosphical: they could not wait to add one more death to Darwin’s tally.

    As for truth and error, I’m not sure what “error” you’re talking about: the fact that this kid wrote about Darwin was widely known, and all we seemed to do here was emphasize that fact. And to what end?

  11. I’m not saying the responses here should be censored; I’m saying they were, on the whole, ugly. I’m saying that the responses here were cold because over-philosphical:

    You are a very judgemental person.

  12. BarryA – so, if you think that Harris “understand “survival of the fittest” … as a license to kill those whom [he] consider[ed] “inferior.””, how can you maintain that this didn’t influence his actions?

    Bob

  13. getawitness says he objectd to the prior debate because the responses were “cold” and “ugly.” His objection was not moral but aesthetic. Once again, you and I have a different view of the purpose of speech. I say that my subjective “feeling” about a statement has nothing to do with whether it is true or false. In the words of my torts professor, “Mr. Arrington, neither your classmates nor I have any interest in the condition of your viscera. Give us reasons, not feelings.”

    This is not to say that comments should not be kept within the realm of decorum. They should. But that is not the issue here. None of the comments in the debate were insulting or rude.

    Getawitness may disagree with the statement “Darwin was necessary but not sufficient for Columbine.” But a proper response is not to accuse the commenter of sin, but to try to correct him through reason.

    Slinging around accusations of sinfulness is not helpful.

  14. Bob, you misunderstand. I keep trying to make it clear that my personal view about whether Columbine or the Finnish shootings were caused by belief in Darwinism is beside the point of my post. The issue is the shooters’ self understanding. Both of them say they were influenced by Darwinism. Whether I also believe this may be an interesting topic for another day, but it is not the topic of the post. Why is this so difficult to understand?

  15. “In our public school system Harris was steeped in the moral darkness and nihilism of Darwin and Nietzsche. Tragically, he was not exposed to any countervailing influences, He took what he learned and, however misguided his actions were, he acted upon his lessons.”

    Is this supposed to mean that his teachers exposed him to Darwin or to Nietzsche, or that he read them on his own within the social context of public high school?

    When I teach Nietzsche in my introduction to philosophy classes, I do it right after Emerson, and tell my students that Nietzsche is basically a very angry Emerson.

    I don’t know if this is significant, but I read Darwin and Nietzsche while in a public high school, and I didn’t kill anyone. I did have a lot of inexplicable rage, but it was self-directed, not other-directed, and in any event the proximate cause is the social context of public high school itself. Darwin and Nietzsche just gave him the excuse, not the reason.

    Oh, and on a slightly different point: Nietzsche once wrote that anyone who confused the Ubermensch with Darwinian ideas was a “scholarly oxen.”

  16. As far as I am concerned, all this talk about Barry A’s “sin” is a bunch of politically correct nonsense. And political correctness it is. Notice how his critics also just happen to believe the following:

    The Founding Fathers established a “secular” government.

    There is no objective morality.

    Christians are not persecuted in our culture.

    Schools should be neutral about morality.

    Cassie Bernall was not singled out because she was a Christian.

    The constitution has nothing to do with God.

    Darwinism doesn’t devalue life.

    Christianity does devalue life in some cases.

    People have a right “not to be offended.”

    Hector Avalas is a credible source.

    Barry A should shut up, because he made an “insensitive comment.”

    Let’s shift the focus away from his argument and speculate about his motives.

    Let’s move beyond speculation and accuse him of the sin of exploitation.

    Please stop the motive mongering and return to good faith dialogue.

  17. Furthermore:

    The self-understanding of the killers is interesting if we have good reason to believe that they were reasonable, sane people with reliable self-insight and a sober, mature realization as to who they are and how they do (and don’t) fit into the larger society.

    This is hardly true of any teenagers! I would invite any of the posters on this board to ask themselves, how well did they know themselves when they were adolescents, compared to how well they know themselves now?

  18. Also, why are you holding Barry A accountable for my statement that Darwin was “necessary but not sufficient” for Columbine. Are you going to add an indictment of “guilt by association” to all of your other reckless chanrges.

  19. The issue is the shooters’ self understanding. Both of them say they were influenced by Darwinism. Whether I also believe this may be an interesting topic for another day, but it is not the topic of the post. Why is this so difficult to understand?

    Because it doesn’t fit the venue you chose to advance it in.

    Examining the casus belli that a sick mind latches onto is certainly fair game for analysis. Doing so on blogs that exist to advance a new paradigm in modern biology inexorably leads the reader to the very implications that you are trying so hard to disavow. Your (and Denyse’s) posts are not labelled as “off-topic”, so what else are we to believe other than this is another front of the cause that UD seeks to advance, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding?

  20. StephenB wrote:
    “As far as I am concerned, all this talk about Barry A’s “sin” is a bunch of politically correct nonsense. And political correctness it is.”

    Yup, you said it. All I’ve seen is the same old darwinist apologetics I’ve seen for years.

  21. StephenB,

    I have put forward some, but by no means all, of the positions you claim. Who’s claiming “guilt by association”?

    As for your ludicrous comment that Darwin was “necessary but not sufficient,” I was observing a pattern. That pattern is simple: Comments questioning the link between Darwin and berzerk behavior are immediately jumped on by the front-pagers. Comments supporting such a link, no matter how wild or unsupported, are either praised or accepted without comment.

    As to the your summary of positions:

    The Founding Fathers established a “secular” government.
    They certainly did, and tribune7 said nobody here disagreed with that. Oh well: I guess he’s wrong.

    There is no objective morality.
    I’ve never said that. I have said that actual moral decisions are always made in relative contexts.

    Christians are not persecuted in our culture.
    Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. Mainly I’d say they aren’t very much.

    Schools should be neutral about morality.
    Depends.

    Cassie Bernall was not singled out because she was a Christian.
    The historical record is, at best, ambiguous on this.

    The constitution has nothing to do with God.
    I’ve never said that. I’ve said it doesn’t mention God. In fact it has a lot to do with God: that’s why it has the establishment clause and prohibits a religious test for office.

    Darwinism doesn’t devalue life.
    This is such a huge statement I don’t know what it means.

    Christianity does devalue life in some cases.
    I’ve never said that.

    People have a right “not to be offended.”
    I’ve never said that either.

    Hector Avalas is a credible source.
    Nope, not me.

  22. Carl Sachs writes:
    “Is this supposed to mean that his teachers exposed him to Darwin or to Nietzsche, or that he read them on his own within the social context of public high school?”

    The former. While reading Harris’ journals I was stunned by his references to one teacher in particular who apparently delighted (like, unfortunately, so many teachers) in shocking his students with transgressive ideas. This teacher was playing with philosophical matches and he started a fire. How much of the blood at Columbine is on his hands? This is not for me to judge, but his story should be a caution to all teachers who would uncork the genie of nihilism.

    “I don’t know if this is significant, but I read Darwin and Nietzsche while in a public high school, and I didn’t kill anyone.”

    Is your point that not everyone who reads Darwin and Nietzsche goes off and kills their classmates. I’ll grant you that if you’ll grant me that not every kid who plays with matches starts a fire.

    “Oh, and on a slightly different point: Nietzsche once wrote that anyone who confused the Ubermensch with Darwinian ideas was a ‘scholarly oxen.’”

    Which proves that Nietzsche either did not understand his own philosophy (unlikely) or that he wrote some really stupid things.

    “The self-understanding of the killers is interesting if we have good reason to believe that they were reasonable, sane people with reliable self-insight and a sober, mature realization as to who they are and how they do (and don’t) fit into the larger society.”

    Exactly. The point of my post was to discuss the which of the following statements is true:

    1. The killers’ understanding of the philosophical implications of Darwin was an aberration that can be safely dismissed as the workings of deranged or misguided minds.

    2. The killers’ understanding of the philosophical implications of Darwin was horrific but not illogical.

  23. Barry, the answer to your question is (1). Thanks for asking.

  24. getawitness, an assertion is not an argument.

  25. BarryA, true dat. I was impetuous, for which I apologize. But I don’t think for a moment you were poosing the question in those terms: “the venue you chose to advance it in,” as specs notes above, already establishes what can be considered a reasonable answer to this question. And in this forum, (1) is ruled out as unreasonable from the get-go.

  26. Did the Constitution established a secular state? Of course not.

    The problem with all of the comments on this subject, both pro and con, is that they view a late 18th century document through early 21st century eyes. What do I mean by that? I mean that it is very difficult for us today to understand just how insignificant the question we are debating was at the time of the founding.

    The founders established a federal government of limited and enumerated powers. They really did hope that most of the heavy lifting of government in the nation would be done at the state and local level. The federal government’s role as “defend the shores and deliver the mail” might be oversimplifying it a some, but not much. Obviously, intervening events, primarily the Civil War and the New Deal radically changed our view of the federal government’s role. The other day Nancy Pelosi held a press conference in which she said it is the federal government’s duty (not right, not option, but duty) to make sure everyone has health insurance. Even the most radical centralists in 1789 would have been astonished at such a statement.

    What does all of that have to do with whether the constitution established a secular state? Everything. While it is certainly true that the constitution established a federal government that had no power to establish a national religion, by no means did it establish a “secular state.” First, even at the federal level the founders did not believe that the prohibition on establishing a national religion operated to prevent the promotion of religion generally. The same Congress that referred the First Amendment passed the Northwest Ordinance, which states: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

    Much more importantly, however, as I mentioned, the Constitution established a polity in which most of the important questions would be decided at the state and local level. The First Amendment did absolutely nothing to prevent states from promoting religion, even particular sects, and it is a historical fact that several of the states had established churches. Whether it was a good idea for the states to have established churches is another question. The point is that the constitution did not prevent them from favoring religion as much as they desired. Therefore, it is simply silly to suggest that the constitution established a “secular state” when several of the states in question had established religions. The constitution prevented the federal government from establishing a national religion. It plainly did not establish a secular nation.

  27. Getawitness, “But I don’t think for a moment you were poosing the question in those terms: “the venue you chose to advance it in,” as specs notes above, already establishes what can be considered a reasonable answer to this question. And in this forum, (1) is ruled out as unreasonable from the get-go.”

    How uncharitable of you to assume I was being disingenuous. Your and specs’ statement that the forum in which the question is posed dictates the range of reasonable answers must depend upon a principle of polemics with which I am unfamiliar. I for one do not see this forum as a place where I can merely preach to the choir. I welcome respectful,decorous debate and dissent. Preaching to the choir is boring.

  28. getawitness, the list I offered was comprehensive, which included a summary of your comments and those of two other bloggers. The fact that you personally don’t qualify on every count does not change the overall texture of what is going on. You are not the only critic. When I use the accusatory “you” I was using in the plural sense.

    One additional problem we have here is that you don’t define your terms when you use them. “Secular government,” and “Christian nation” are meaningless phrases. “Christian nation,” for example, could mean Theocracy or it can mean significant christian influence. The only reason I included those phrases was because you and others use them.

    In fact, most of the freedom oriented ideas of the enlightenment were borrowed from the Church, an assertion I will be happy to back up. So all this talk about secular nation is not only meaningless, it is also misleading.

  29. BarryA, All I’m saying is that that frame around two propositions, introduced at this late date, seems not to have been the point of the original posts. I think that’s clear to anybody who reads through the original discussions. Framing it this way now need not be disingenuous or revisionist: it could simply be that you didn’t express the original point very well.

    My broader objections have not been aesthetic but but ethical. The responses were “ugly” in the way that my fifth-grade teacher meant when I called her a bad name and she said “that’s an ugly thing to say.” Her objections were not aesthetic :-) Nor was she scandalized or feeling badly for herself. She was, rather, rightly concerned about how that kind of talk might deform me over time.

  30. The First Amendment did absolutely nothing to prevent states from promoting religion, even particular sects, and it is a historical fact that several of the states had established churches.

    Hi, Barry. It seems we can’t stop talking. I think I need to be disagreeable again here. But, first, I think we need to make sure we have a common understanding on a couple points, so please forgive me for employing the Socratic method. As a lawyer, I am sure you have had your fill of it, no?

    1. Do you agree that the Founders viewed the freedom of conscience as a natural right endowed by God?

    2. Do you agree that this freedom of conscience includes the right to choose any system of religious belief or even no system of religious belief?

  31. Oops.

    3. Do you agree that the Founders believed that The Founders believed that, because it was a natural (God-given right, if you will) right, the federal government could not infringe upon it?

  32. StephenB, you’re right of course that the terms need defining. We have been and remain a “Christian nation” in the sense that Christians have and continue to have a lot of influence in society. When I say that the government is and should be “secular,” I mean that it should be vigorously neutral with respect to specific religions and with respect to religion vs. atheism. So that means Christians should get treated exactly the same as Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, agnostics, atheists, etc. with respect to rights and responsibilities. Institutions including schools should not prefer one religion, nor should they favor irreligion. (This should mean, for example, that “faith-based” government programs, which now support Christians groups overwhelmingly, should give money on the same terms to Mormons, Wiccans, Muslims, etc. I imagine that Christian support for faith-based programs is now predicated on the understanding that Christian and Jewish groups are favored.)

  33. specs, I take it that we are discussing a point of constitutional law. Accordingly, none of your questions is germane. What the founders, or any of them, thought in their heart of hearts about the moral questions you raise is utterly beside the point. The question is, “What does the text of the constitution mean?” The text of the constitution meant what I said it meant: The federal government may not establish a national church. Nothing in the federal constitution, as understood by those who proposed and ratified it, means that the federal government may not aid religion generally; nor, more importantly, does it prevent the most important organic unit of government in the federal system at the time – i.e., the individual states – from aiding religion as much as they wanted or even establishiing an official religion.

  34. “The point of my post was that HARRIS studied both and HARRIS wrote that his actions were motivated by Darwin and Nietzsche.”

    What has that got to do with it Barry ? :P

    I thought your point was really well made Barry, and frankly if people get upset by it, perhaps they should examine why they get upset by it.

    You are not making the connection as you noted but just reporting that the killers in question made the connections.

    Perhaps what is really at issue is that people are simply annoyed at you for daring to point out the elephant in the room that some wish to make sure nobody notices.

  35. Jason writes: “frankly if people get upset by it, perhaps they should examine why they get upset by it.”

    Exactly. Thank you Jason.

  36. In re: (22)

    I prefer (1) over (2), on the grounds that killing other people is an example of artificial selection, not natural selection.

    However, there is this to consider: Nietzsche was not entirely wrong when he worried about the nihilistic consequences of Darwinism and other discoveries of 19th-century science.

    Now, what exactly do I mean by “nihilism” in this context? I mean a condition of being unable to find meaning or significance in a set of established values, while at the same time being unable to feel or imagine one’s way into any other mode of valuation. To be a nihilist, in this sense, is to feel that all value has been drained from experience — or that an unbridgeable abyss has opened up between the only things that could count as value and the world as it is actually experienced.

    I apologize if that sounds too ‘academic,’ but it’s important to be precise — esp. with a concept as emotionally and semantically charged as “nihilism.”

    It’s been pointed out — not least of all by Heidegger — that Nietzsche’s proposed “solution” to “the problem of nihilism”, namely, the willful creation of new values, is no less nihilistic than the situation it was meant to overcome.

    (Lest anyone wonder where I’m coming from on this particular issue, my doctoral thesis was The Collapse of Transcendence in Nietzsche’s Middle Period (UCSD, 2005).)

  37. specs, I take it that we are discussing a point of constitutional law. Accordingly, none of your questions is germane. What the founders, or any of them, thought in their heart of hearts about the moral questions you raise is utterly beside the point.

    It is for the moment, a point of Enlightenment philosophy that is germane to the constitutional question. But, perhaps I over-reached in trying to determine were we might have common ground with which to start the discussion. My bad. I will withdraw the second and third questions, while stipulating that I may re-introduce them later, and replace them with a new question.

    So, again attempting to see where we have a common understanding:

    1. Do you agree that the Founders viewed the freedom of conscience as a natural right endowed by God?

    2. Do you agree that the Founders philosophy informed their construction of the Constitution?

  38. specs, I think we are going around in circles. I will answer this one more time. The issue is not what some amorphous group we call “the founders” thought about certain philosophical questions. The issue is the meaning of a text. The text in question is this:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    We don’t have to guess about what the founders thought this provision meant. I have already elucidated the unambiguous historical facts. They believed the believed the text prevented the federal government from establishing a national church, but it did not prevent the federal government from promoting religion generally. They believed the text had absolutely no application to the states, which could do pretty much what they wanted with respect to religion, including establishing an official state church.

    Why do you want to talk about the philosophical beliefs of the “founders?” Even if we could identify the members of this amorphous group, surely they did not speak with one voice on these philosophical questions. And even we could identify them and even if we could identify a consensus among them on these philosophical questions, what difference would it make with respect to the meaning of the text? I can see none.

  39. ellazimm, I’m not sure what your point is. Are you suggesting that in 1797 the United States Senate agreed that the United States in not a Christian theocracy? Who could argue with that? What that has to do with the point we are discussing is not clear to me.

  40. Why do you want to talk about the philosophical beliefs of the “founders?”

    I gather from your posts that you are something of an constitutional originalist and are not inclined to defer (philosophically, at least) to the more recent case law on the subject. To that end, I am attempting to build a basis of common understanding as to the conditions that informed the original intent. Within that context we can start to discuss the meaning of the 2nd amendment.

    However, your point regarding the ambiguous nature of the term “founders” is a good one. Once again, my bad. It does make sense to focus in a little more. So, let me substitute two new questions, while again stipulating that I intend to reintroduce my previous questions later.

    A. Do you agree that the religious freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights are modeled after those found in the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom?

    B. Would it make sense then to focus our attention on Thomas Jefferson, the statute’s author, and James Madison, it’s champion?

    Would it make sense to focus on Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute of Religious

  41. specs:

    What is it about the phrase “We are endowed by Our Creator” that fails to resonate with you.

    Also, what is it about the phrase “congress shall pass no law,” that does not register? Does it matter what comes after that phrase? What if it said, congress shall pass no law with respect to “x?” Does it matter what “x” is? No. It means the governent will keep its meddlesome selfs out of the equation entirely. It will do nothing!

    That means it will say nothing about school prayer, nothing about intelligent design, nothing about religious displays, nothing about posting the Ten Commandments, nothing about preventing muslims and atheists from being offended. NOTHING-NOTHING-NOTHING.

  42. I prefer (1) over (2), on the grounds that killing other people is an example of artificial selection, not natural selection.

    If humanity is simply a natural product of the the natural world, why are his activities less natural than, say, carpenter ants? Is it a difference in quality, not just quantity?

    BTW, I’m still waiting for an answer to my questions from earlier threads.

    If “the objectivity of morality is found in human social relations, practices, and institutions”, how can these things progress? If society is what objectifies morality, it cannot progress, since there is no goal, nor can it obtain new knowledge about what is moral, since ther is no moral knowledge outside of it. And, by the way, what makes you say that ending slavery was progress, rather than a step backwards?

    Just to clarify – I am not trying to argue that an objective morality would not be subject to change. I am arguing that the objective foundation of morality cannot ‘progress’ or ‘improve’ since these are moral judgments. What could you possibly use to judge the morality of a change in what things are moral?

  43. aleezimm: Let me clue you in on something. Wikipedia is a politically correct website. You cannot allow your education on matters of constitutional law to rest there. If you had read the Federalist papers, and all the other founding documents, indeed if you had read the constitutions of all the various states, you would not be asking these questions. Wikipedia can’t even discuss intelligent design without resorting to heavy-handed criticism. On the other hand, it treats the theory of evolution as if it was Sacred Scripture. Wise up!

  44. It will say nothing about school prayer, nothing about intelligent design, nothing about religious displays, nothing about posting the Ten Commandments, nothing about preventing muslims and atheists from being offended. NOTHING-NOTHING-NOTHING.

    I thought intelligent design was a scientific issue, not a religious one.

  45. “I thought intelligent design was a scientific issue, not a religious one.”

    Glad to see another person admit as much. =)

  46. Specs states:
    “I gather from your posts that you are something of an constitutional originalist and are not inclined to defer (philosophically, at least) to the more recent case law on the subject.”

    Well yes and no. I understood the question we were discussing to be: “Did the drafters and ratifiers of the 1789 Constitution and the Bill of Rights understand that the text they enacted as the fundamental law of the nation established a secular nation?” Of course, that is a completely different question from “What is the state of Supreme Court Religion Clause jurisprudence?” My discussion up until now has focused on the first question. Obviously, when I am arguing a constitutional case in court, I “defer” as, as you say, to more recent case law.

    Now to your questions. Once again they are not germane. The only important issue is “What does the text mean?” Before we can answer that question we must answer a more basic question: What does it mean to mean? There are two possible answers to this question. I call them the “Humpty Answer” and the “Ludwig Answer.” First the Humpty Answer:

    From “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” Lewis Carroll, chapter VI, Humpty Dumpty

    “You’re holding it upside down!” Alice interrupted.

    “To be sure I was!” Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. “I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right – though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now – and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents –”

    “Certainly,” said Alice.

    “And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

    “Would you tell me, please,” said Alice “what that means?”

    “Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

    “That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

    “Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    “Ah, you should see `em come round me of a Saturday night,” Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: “for to get their wages, you know.”

    (Alice didn’t venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can’t tell you.)

    Then there is the Ludwig Answer, which is much easier to explain. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said: “the meaning of a word is its use in a language.” Note that while Wittgenstein was a 20th century philosopher, his insight is timeless.

    So, then, what does the text of the Establishment Clause mean? The words of the text have the common everyday meaning of those who used them at the time they were proposed, debated and ratified. In the case of the Establishment Clause, finding this meaning is not difficult. Again, the clause says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .”

    “Congress” means the federal legislative branch.

    “shall make no law” means that the federal legislative branch is prohibited from enacting a certain class of laws.

    “respecting” means “concerning” or “having to do with.”

    “an establishment of religion” means creating a national church such as the national church in England (i.e., the Church of England).

    Putting it all together we see that the the clause means that the federal government is prohibited from passing any law that would tend to establish a particular religion as the official religion of the country.

    Now, having established the meaning of the text, we can test our conclusions by reference to what the founders actually did after they passed the Establishment Clause. And sure enough, we find that the first Congress did not establish a national church. It did, however, support religion generally, as, for example, when it passed the Northwest Ordinance, established paid chaplains in the armed forces, provided for prayer at legislative sessions, established days of prayer and fasting, etc. etc. Moreover, everyone understood that the Establishment Clause did not apply to the states. Indeed, on its face it applies only to Congress. During the various state disestablisment debates no one argued that the federal Constitution required states to disestablish their churches.

    Summary: The federal constitution did not establish a strictly secular system of government.

  47. BTW, in my previous post I jumped past the issue of which is to be preferred as a means of finding meaning in a text as between the Humpty Answer and the Ludwig Answer. It is so obvious as to be almost a truism that the Ludwig Answer must be preferred.

  48. “If “the objectivity of morality is found in human social relations, practices, and institutions”, how can these things progress? If society is what objectifies morality, it cannot progress, since there is no goal, nor can it obtain new knowledge about what is moral, since ther is no moral knowledge outside of it. And, by the way, what makes you say that ending slavery was progress, rather than a step backwards?”

    Actually Stephen it is even worse that you suggest.

    It is certianly true that is society is the ultimate standard of right and wrong that moral progress becomes essentially impossible (what do you measure it against ?), but the problem is even worse than that and has an even more counter intuitive result.

    If society is the final arbiter of right and wrong, then it means that someone like Martin Luther King that worked for moral reform in the South, was actually doing a moral wrong by going against the societal understanding of what is right.

    Are people really willing to bite the bullet and contend that Martin Luther King was doing a grave moral evil by pushing for civil rights changes and action ?

    If society is the ultimate standard then he was.

  49. “Summary: The federal constitution did not establish a strictly secular system of government.”

    The real irony, especially for people making a big deal out of it, is that historically if you look at Europe, the one thing most likely to kill and reduce the church to irrelevance is the establishment of a state church.

    If atheists really wanted to see religion off, then they would argue for the establishment of a state church and the suppression of all non-state churches. It is those non-state sponsored churches that are independent and run off their own back that cause all the trouble ;)

    But who expects the noisy idiots in question to know any history. It isn’t like they know any philosophy or theology either ;)

  50. Jason, what you say is true, and that is one of the arguments that carried the day in the disestablishment debates. The important thing to keep in mind from a constitutional perspective is that all of the states with established churches disestablished them on policy grounds, not constitutional grounds. In other words, they disestablishyed their churches because, as you say, an established church is a stupid idea, not becuase they thought the First Amendment required them to do so.

  51. Thanks Barry. I guess we shouldn’t be giving the clown brigade ideas though.

  52. In one sense of course killing is a natural act. So is a rock falling off a hilltop. That’s not the point. The point is that a scientific theory about the causes of biological change tells us nothing — nothing at all — about what we may or may not do to each other.

    Darwinism may pose an interesting sort of challenge insofar as it invites questions about how morality came into existence; it says nothing at all about why we should be moral, or what morality consists in.

    You see, although I am a Darwinist, Darwinism is not a “world-view,” and where we’re disagreeing, perhaps, is that you want to inflate it into one. Darwinism is of course consistent with my world-view, but it is not the basis of it.

    A more subtle point, but an even more important one, concerns the location of norms and values in the natural world. There is a temptation to reason as follows: there is no room for anything like norms or values within a purely naturalistic conception of the world; therefore, either there are norms and values but they are non-natural, or there are no norms and values at all. Taking the first option yields a tradition that runs from Platonism to Christianity and beyond, etc. Taking the second option yields nihilism.

    But this opposition — Christianity vs nihilism — takes place only on the basis of an assumption that norms and values have no place within the natural world. On this assumption, the natural and the normative exclude one another.

    Whereas what I am interested in doing is rejecting that assumption. This is why I’ve become so fascinated lately with John Dewey: because Dewey argues for a naturalistic metaphysics in which values are ‘built in’, so to speak. They are not ‘absolutes,’ of course — they couldn’t be. In one remarkable sentence, Dewey writes, “values are as unstable as the forms of clouds.” As unstable — yes — but also as real and as natural as “the forms of clouds”.

    In terms of progress: I would say that progress is measured by the increase or decrease of the sphere of human recognition. We today recognize the humanity of African-Americans — a recognition that was denied to their ancestors. It is contrast between the present and the past, not between the present and an imagined future, that indicates whether or not progress has occurred. Although such recognition still has some ways to go, as measures go, it’s not a bad one.

    Now, is there a standard? As I’ve said a few times before, I think there is: the exercise and cultivation of human capabilities. Human beings are not “merely” animals; we’re brilliant, creative, passionate, needy, destructive, fascinating animals. Some societies provide better and more opportunities for the realization of our capacities — capacities for love, for play, for community, for individual development, for knowledge, for art — than others.

    As objective standards go, that’s good enough for me. The question “but how do you know that it’s the right standard?” leaves me as unmoved as does the question “how do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?” We’re all pragmatists at some level; the differences concern where we draw the line and say that some questions just aren’t interesting to us anymore.

  53. “Darwinism may pose an interesting sort of challenge insofar as it invites questions about how morality came into existence; it says nothing at all about why we should be moral, or what morality consists in.”

    Not quite. The fact that you don’t look to darwinism for any moral cues doesn’t mean that no one can do exactly that. Saying ‘darwinism is not a worldview’ doesn’t automatically remove everyone who does claim to take their philosophy from darwinism.

    Darwinism certainly -can- say something about why we should be moral, or what constitutes morality. As a matter of fact, that idea has a rather popular social history. Say they’re wrong, perhaps. Argue why. But pretending that this doesn’t happen (and, frankly, won’t happen again) is intentionally ignoring reality.

  54. “That means it will say nothing about school prayer, nothing about intelligent design, nothing about religious displays, nothing about posting the Ten Commandments, nothing about preventing muslims and atheists from being offended. NOTHING- NOTHING-NOTHING.”

    This sounds like an argument against tax breaks for churches.

  55. Carl wrote, “I thought intelligent design was a scientific issue, not a religious one.”

    It is a scientific issue, but we must contend with judges who want to characterize it as a religious issue, now don’t we? Beyond that failed attempt at a “gotcha,” do you have anything relevant to say about the main point of my post? Do you dispute my interpretation of the establishment clause and, if so, what is your rationale.

  56. StephenB, in [44] above, are you arguing that Wikipedia has its facts wrong regarding the Treaty of Tripoli? If not, I fail to see your point.

    Also, nobody has taken up my notion that government support of faith-based charities must support Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist etc. charities on the same terms as they support Christian and Jewish charities now. I guess everybody’s ok with that, just like we’re all ok with Wiccan chaplains in the armed services.

  57. “Also, nobody has taken up my notion that government support of faith-based charities must support Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist etc. charities on the same terms as they support Christian and Jewish charities now.”

    I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, obviously. But have you noticed that the Intelligent Design issue is one that has muslims, protestants, Catholics, mormons, and even to a degree buddhists, shintoists, hindus, (and naturally, some agnostics) jointly considering the subject, without trying to exclude each other?

    As far as wiccan chaplains go – are you against them being in the armed services? Personally, I’m no fan of wicca (I don’t believe it’s ‘evil’, just.. let’s leave it at ‘no fan’), but if a soldier claims to be a wiccan, what am I expected to say? “No”?

  58. The best information I could find suggests there are about 50,000 Wiccans in the United States, surely only a tiny fraction (perhaps at most a few hundred) of those are in the armed forces. And those few hundred are spread over an armed forces population of a couple million.

    I’m not sure I’m oppossed to Wiccan chaplains in principle. But I don’t think they can be justified on a cost/benefit/prudential analysis.

  59. nullasalus and BarryA, Thanks for those straightforward and generous answers. All I want is for everybody to be treated the same.

    (FWIW, I have heard that Wiccans may be overrepresented in the armed services, mainly because of demographic issues.)

  60. For those who think that the Establishment Clause forbids the FedGov from fostering religion or churches in general, conside the fact that the government does not tax churches and all religious organizations. Is that “respecting religion” or not?

    Not according the SCOTUS.

    Granted, the SCOTUS does not have a consistent track record on this issue, overall. But it’s a fact that religious organizations are “respected” with regards to taxation. No churches are respected above anothing. They are all treated alike, christian, jewis, muslin, wicca, zoroastrian, and voudin, in contradistinction to non-religion entities.

    Congress most certain has respected religion in the general sense, and they’ve been “getting away with it” since the beginning.

    This is the true index of the nature of the Establishment Clause. It’s purpose was to prohibit a national church. When the SCOTUS bans prayers from occuring in congress every morning, I’ll start taking seriously the argument that the founders really wanted to BAN religion in general from public institutions.

  61. Carl wrote, “I thought intelligent design was a scientific issue, not a religious one.”

    It’s both. It’s scientific idea with “religious” implications, perhaps, but not necessarily.

    At any rate, it’s irrelevent with respect the Constitution. Whatever ID is it is not an “establishment of religion” in any way that would require its banning from public schools. ID is not a religion.

  62. Carl Saches, “I prefer (1) over (2), on the grounds that killing other people is an example of artificial selection, not natural selection.”

    But humans are natural entities, just like lions and wolves. What is the difference between “artificial” and “natural” in your mind except so say that “artificial” means “something that humans do”?

  63. Christmas is one of the 4 original holidays established by the Federal government for all the land in 1870. Another is Thanksgiving which has religious overtones. Who are we thanking? Mother nature?

  64. getawitness wrote, “StephenB, in [44] above, are you arguing that Wikipedia has its facts wrong regarding the Treaty of Tripoli? If not, I fail to see your point.”

    My point is that this is just more of the politically correct nonsense thast I have been complaining about. The statement in question was to assure a radically religious (Muslim) government that America would not depose that government and impose Christianity by force.

    From Gary Demar:

    ‘A survey of the state constitutions, charters, national pronouncements, and official declarations of the thirteen state governments would convince any representative from Tripoli that America was a Christian nation by law. The Constitution itself states that it was drafted, as noted above, “In the year of our Lord.” The American consul in Algiers had to construct a treaty that would assure the ruler of Tripoli that troops would not be used to impose Christianity on a Muslim people. A study of later treaties with Muslim nations seems to support this conclusion. The 1816 “Treaty of Peace and Amity with Algiers” is a case in point: “It is declared by the contracting parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony between the two nations; and the Consuls and the Agents of both nations shall have liberty to celebrate the rights of their prospective religions in their own houses”

    It’s obvious that by 1805 the United States had greater bargaining power and did not have to bow to the demands of this Muslim stronghold. A strong navy and a contingent of Marines also helped. But it wasn’t until Madison’s presidency that hostilities finally stopped when he declared war against Algiers.

    More from Demar:

    “Those who use the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli as a defense against the Christian America thesis are silent on the 1805 treaty. For example, Alan Dershowitz cites the 1797 Treaty as “the best contemporaneous evidence” against claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation,15 but he makes no mention of the 1805 treaty and other treaties that are specifically Trinitarian.”

    “If treaties are going to be used to establish the religious foundation of America, then it’s essential that we look at more than one treaty. In 1783, at the close of the war with Great Britain, a peace treaty was ratified that began with these words: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain. . . .”16 The treaty was signed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay. Keep in mind that it was Adams who signed the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli.”

    In 1822, the United States, along with Great Britain and Ireland, ratified a “Convention for Indemnity Under Award of Emperor of Russia as to the True Construction of the First Article of the Treaty of December 24, 1814.” It begins with the same words found in the Preamble to the 1783 treaty: “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” Only Christianity teaches a Trinitarian view of God. The 1848 Treaty with Mexico begins with “In the name of Almighty God.” The treaty also states that both countries are “under the protection of Almighty God, the author of peace. . . .”

    If one line in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli turns America into a secular State (which it does not), then what can we say of the treaties of 1783, 1822, 1805, and 1848 and the state constitutions?

    So, does that answer you question about how trustworthiness of Wikipedia as a resource for American History.

  65. “So, does that answer you [sic] question about how trustworthiness of Wikipedia as a resource for American History.”

    Um, no, since I don’t know who Gary DeMar is or why I should consider anything he writes as trustworthy or unbiased. (Not that Wikipedia is necessarily either.) I was asking a simple question about factual accuracy.

  66. Um, no, since I don’t know who Gary DeMar is or why I should consider anything he writes as trustworthy or unbiased. (Not that Wikipedia is necessarily either.) I was asking a simple question about factual accuracy.

    Are you suggesting that the issue was raised for no reason at all? The discussion was about whether the US was once (I’ll go ahead and use the undefinedd term)a Christian nation. Out of nowhere comes this out of context quote that purports to refute that argument. Since I knew that the information was misleading, it seemed reasonable to say so.

    You wanted to know if it the information was accurate. You do not ask me why the information is misleading, or if the context is misplaced, or any other question that would indicate that you are interested in the complete truth of the matter. Having said that, I will give you a straight answer to a straight question. Yes, to the best of my knowledge, the facts were accurate.

  67. The first paragraph in #67 was written by getawitness. I apologize for omitting the quotation marks.

  68. In terms of progress: I would say that progress is measured by the increase or decrease of the sphere of human recognition. We today recognize the humanity of African-Americans — a recognition that was denied to their ancestors. It is contrast between the present and the past, not between the present and an imagined future, that indicates whether or not progress has occurred. Although such recognition still has some ways to go, as measures go, it’s not a bad one.

    What makes you say that this contrast is a good thing? Without a goal it is simply change, not progress.

    And how far back in the past do we go for the contrast? What if we went back to recognizing the humanity of the unborn? Which past do we contrast with?

  69. “Darwinism may pose an interesting sort of challenge insofar as it invites questions about how morality came into existence; it says nothing at all about why we should be moral, or what morality consists in.”

    Actually Carl you are mistaken on this point. If the moral compass is nothing more than a set of survival oriented suggestions from our deep evolutionary past then this has radical implications for what to make of them.

    We might adopt them for reasons of prudence, but we might just as well seek to minimize the harm caused by ignoring these suggestions.

    If they are a moral law written on the heart though, that we are expected to obey, and not just survival oriented suggestions then we are not free to ignore them and the harms we seek to minimize while attempting to ignore them is not the right way to go about dealing with the problem.

    Sorry you are dead wrong when you say the origin of our moral capacities has no effect on how we should think about how we reason morally. It makes a crucial difference. In fact it is the difference between Nietzsche and Aristotle.

  70. StephenB,

    You quote the Paris Peace Treaty (1783) as follows:

    “It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain. . . .”

    But after the ellipsis we find:

    “. . . France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, arch- treasurer and prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire etc.,”

    So the treaty acknowledges King George as the “defender of the faith.” Why found a country against a monarchy if the king is the “defender of the faith”? Or is it ok that that’s convention?

  71. Examining the casus belli that a sick mind latches onto is certainly fair game for analysis.

    As I began to point out in the other threads minds do not really get “sick” unless you want to argue that there are brain lesions and so on which correlate to the actions of the sick individuals in questions. If they are really sick then what is the physical, pathological and clinical evidence? It seems that given the evidence, there is literally no evidence with respect to a disease of the brain causing people to engage in highly complex planning and activity. This observation comports with ID theory and has been incorporated in the way it is used to detect design. At any rate, if sickness is not meant literally then what is at issue is a metaphoric “sickness” of the mind and so the argument of: “Some people are just insane in the membrane just like berserkers of old, it just happens no matter what mentality they get from their culture.” has no merit. Ironically berserkers didn’t “just happen” to be insane, instead they emerged from a pagan culture driven by a mentality which would emerge in the “insanity” of Nazism again.

    Karl Kraus pointed out the pattern before it happened and other students of language also warned of it:

    It is to the great merit of Christianity that it has somewhat attenuated the brutal German lust for battle. But it could not destroy it entirely. And should ever that taming talisman break the Cross then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors of whom our Nordic poets speak and sing, with all their insane Berserker rage. That talisman is now already crumbling, and the day is not far off when it shall break apart entirely. On that day the old stone gods will rise from long-forgotten wreckage, and rub from their eyes the dust of a thousand-year sleep.

    (The Works of Heinrich Heine. vol. V
    (London:William Heinemann. 1892) :207-9)

    Metaphorically speaking the “blonde beast” became all too literal:

    ‘It is impossible not to recognize at the core of all these aristocratic races the beast of prey; the magnificent blonde brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory; this hidden core needed an outlet from time to time—the Roman, Arabic, German, and Japanese nobility…
    The profound, icy mistrust which the German provokes as soon as he arrives at power, even at the present time, is always still an aftermath of that inextinguishable horror with which for whole centuries Europe has regarded the wrath of the blonde Teuton beast.’
    Nietzsche affords passages still closer to what the Germans today mean by Rassenhygiene. Europe is degenerating because of the shocking mixture of blood modern times have brought about: ‘Europe, the scene of a senseless, precipitate attempt at a radical blending of classes, and consequently of races, is therefore skeptical in all its heights and depths, sick unto death of its will.’

    (The National Socialists’ Use of Nietzsche
    by Crane Brinton
    Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 2.(Apr., 1940), pp. 131-150)

    As someone who believed in representing patterns of ideas symbolically said:

    “As the Christian view of the world loses its authority,the more menacingly will the ‘blonde beast’ be heard prowling about in its underground prison, ready at any moment to burst out with devastating consequences.When this happens in the individual it brings about a psychological revolution, but it can also take a social form.

    (C.G. Jung. “Wotan” Civilization in Transition
    Collected Works. vol. 10 (Princeton: University Press, 1918) :13)

    A more literal expression of the metaphor, unfortunately:

    The ‘Blonde Beast,’ who controlled the sole intelligence service after1935, specialized in devious methods of blackmail along side weapons of open terror and persecution. …..The most satanic consequence of this accumulation of power was revealed in Heydrich’s implementation of the order for the wholesale extermination of European Jewry.

    (Who’s Who in Nazi Germany
    by Robert Wistrich :134f)

    Look at those threads again: see how quickly the humanity was lost…how human beings are transformed into abstractions.

    It seems to me that you’d condemn people who try to warn others about a dangerous pattern of ideas no matter how they did it.

    Perhaps you should take a look at your own mind and its apparent rebellion against any form of transcendence having a bearing on the transformation of immanent things.

    Human sympathy took a back seat, and that does not reflect well on this community.

    Reflect on this:

    I can imagine that an ugly woman who looks in the mirror is convinced that it is her mirror image, and not she, that is ugly. Thus society sees the mirror image of its meanness and is stupid enough to believe that I am the mean fellow.

    (Karl Kraus, Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half-Truths :30)

    If it helps your state of reflection, I sometimes cry a little tear when people are mean.

  72. Karl Kraus on Uncommon Descent! Who would have thunk it? In response I give more Kraus aphorisms:

    The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people meaner.

    And also:

    The real truths are those that can be invented.

  73. The point is that a scientific theory about the causes of biological change tells us nothing — nothing at all — about what we may or may not do to each other.

    There is something often woven into Darwinism, the notion that life intrinsically will struggle to survive. Given this basic assumption, which isn’t without support, theories of biological change become laden with the values typical to life which guide what we may or may not do to each other. For instance, if there was a scientific consensus that one group of people was diseased or like a disease that would bring death then one might naturally be engaged in a Darwinian struggle against them. Perhaps if one were to write a bit of text about such a struggle one might call it: “My fight” and so on. One could pose it as an issue of science, how things really are and not just some idea or philosophy dealing with nonsensical “why” questions. It would be, after all, a simple brute fact.

    Darwinism may pose an interesting sort of challenge insofar as it invites questions about how morality came into existence; it says nothing at all about why we should be moral, or what morality consists in.

    Of course, it’s all just about how things are given your biological brain events. As those who believed that used to say:

    “And they were all doctors like me, who tried to think biologically, biology as the foundation of medical thought. . . . We didn’t want politics—we were critical of politics—but [concerned} with the way human beings really are—not just an idea or philosophy.”
    National Socialism as Applied Biology
    The nation would now be run according to what Johann S. and his cohorts considered biological truth, “the way human beings really are.”

    (The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the
    Psychology of Genocide
    by Robert Jay Lifton :129)

    It seems like they’re saying that they focused on how things really are divorced from why they are. Why do you suppose that is?

    Now, is there a standard? As I’ve said a few times before, I think there is: the exercise and cultivation of human capabilities. Human beings are not “merely” animals; we’re brilliant, creative, passionate, needy, destructive, fascinating animals.

    That seems to have been Neitzche’s standard as well, as some form of creativity results in the supposed transvaluation of values and so on. Of course, it seems that he went insane in the membrane in the end.

    Why do you suppose that is?

  74. Karl Kraus on Uncommon Descent!

    Unfortunately his dissent from the mentality of his day was too uncommon:The superman is a premature ideal, one that presupposes man.(Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half-Truths :107)

    Progress makes purses out of human skin. (ib :122)

    Not only skeletons but human skins were collected by the masters of the New Order though in the latter case the pretense could not be made that the cause of scientific research was being served. The skins of concentration camp prisoners, especially executed for this ghoulish purpose, had merely decorative value.

    (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
    by William Shirer :983)

    Sometimes it seems that how scientific progress comes about is important. Why do you suppose that is?

  75. getawitness, “So the treaty acknowledges King George as the “defender of the faith.” Why found a country against a monarchy if the king is the “defender of the faith”? Or is it ok that that’s convention?”

    Treaties are not the place to air out old greivances. With what language would you have them approach this treaty, “Oh former tyrant from whom we have become liberated?”

    Anyway, you seem to have forgotten once again the subject matter under discussion. Religious references are in abundance and, as is most cases, consistent with the Trinitarian (Christian) God.

  76. Now to your questions. Once again they are not germane.

    The questions were intended to get our conversation started from a common point of understanding. That you don’t answer them is unfortunate, as the political philosophy of Jefferson and Madison is an interesting topic. But, I understand now that you are approaching this as a matter of what was in force rather than what was would have been a more logical derivative of the natural right of conscience.

  77. On moral progress: certainly I’m no relativist (cf. Jason Rennie’s point about MLK). But, to answer Stephen’s question, how is progress to be defined? I don’t (yet) see what’s wrong with defining it retrospectively — i.e. “see how far we’ve come.” After all, that’s how we conceptualize technological progress, progress with respect to public health (sanitation, disease control, nutrition). We don’t need an abstract, a-historical standard of perfect health in order to recognize that we’ve made significant progress in public health. Now you might insist that technological progress is one thing, and moral progress is quite another. Whereas the core of my proposal is, why should one think that? Why should the two cases be thought of as so different?

    As for criteria: to continue with this analogy, our criteria of technological progress are internal to our understanding of what technology is and why it’s good. We’ve come to value efficiency, and prefer more efficient systems over less efficient ones. But efficiency is not a Platonic Idea — our commitment to that ideal is itself something that evolved over the course of human history. And of course it can be contested, and criticized, insofar as it conflicts with other ideals and values.

    In much the same way, I urge that we see our commitment to ideals such as equality, liberty, and solidarity as ideals that are arrived at as we experiment with different social arrangements. They’re good ideals to have, and if push came to shove, I’d defend them with my life. That’s no guarantee that our descendants won’t develop better ones — better by their criteria, of course!

    So it can’t be ruled out that our descendants, or even contemporaries, might come to view liberal democracy as a terrible mistake, and to think that totalitarianism is far preferable. We can hope that this does not happen, and do what we can to prevent it from happening, but there are no guarantees.

    It can be seen, then, that I think the distinction between morality and prudence is usually over-drawn. On the other hand, I tend to see much of morality — such as a sense of fairness, insistence on social norms, and compassion for others — among some other highly intelligent, emotionally complicated social animals. (The primatologist De Waal has written about experiments with captive bonobos; the philosopher MacIntyre has written about dolphins.) So it does not seem outrageous to me to think that some aspects of morality, at least, are part of our primate inheritance. We can and have modified that inheritance in some remarkable ways, and hopefully we’ll continue to do so.

    In any event I find the contrast between Nietzsche and Aristotle forced. Nietzsche and Aristotle have a great deal in common. Both were naturalists, steeped in biological knowledge. Both were virtue ethicists. There are two crucial differences, though. The first is that Nietzsche lacked Aristotle’s teleological cosmology. The second is that Nietzsche lacked a substantial theory of, or even understanding of, society.

    Most people in this forum who have been discussing Nietzsche have assumed, it seems to me, that the heart of the problem with Nietzsche lies in the acceptance of Darwinism and rejection of teleology/”natural law.”

    By contrast, I think that’s fine, and the real problem with Nietzsche is that the absence of social theory or even a pre-theoretical understanding of social reality, of the reality of other people.

    Nietzsche excels as a psychologically sensitive interpreter of cultural products (including philosophical texts, his own no less than those of others), but he rather clumsily grafts this onto a crude biology he inherits, without questioning too much, from Herbert Spencer. What’s missing between culture and biology is society, and without this term, all Nietzsche can offer as response to nihilism is “triumph of the will,” which is no less nihilistic, and which opens itself to all sorts of abuses, as we’ve been discussing.

    In short, the real problem with Nietzsche isn’t his biology (though that’s not unproblematic, either), but his inability to comprehend the reality of other people — the existential fact of being-with-others. And, I suspect, that the moral failure of the Columbine killers can also be approached in terms of their inability to perceive the reality of others.

  78. Bob, you misunderstand. I keep trying to make it clear that my personal view about whether Columbine or the Finnish shootings were caused by belief in Darwinism is beside the point of my post. The issue is the shooters’ self understanding. Both of them say they were influenced by Darwinism. Whether I also believe this may be an interesting topic for another day, but it is not the topic of the post. Why is this so difficult to understand?

    Because you contradict yourself. If you don’t believe that Harris’ actions were “caused by belief in Darwinism”, then don’t write “It is, however, clear that at least some of Darwin’s followers [and you've acknowledged that you meant Harris] understand “survival of the fittest” and the attendant amorality at the bottom of Darwinism as a license to kill those whom they consider “inferior.””.

    Bob

  79. “I don’t (yet) see what’s wrong with defining it retrospectively — i.e. “see how far we’ve come.””

    The main problem I see is working out what counts as “moral progress”.

    I’m not inclined to think the “right” of a woman to kill her unborn off spring because it is inconvenient is moral progress. I don’t think the “right” for the neglected to kill themselves is moral progress either. I could enumerate plenty of other examples, but these will no doubt suffice to illustrate the point.

    “In any event I find the contrast between Nietzsche and Aristotle forced.”

    Well I was going to say Nietzsche and Aquinas, but I think there is a similar resonance between Nietzsche and Aristotle (although not as strong).

    “There are two crucial differences, though. The first is that Nietzsche lacked Aristotle’s teleological cosmology. The second is that Nietzsche lacked a substantial theory of, or even understanding of, society.”

    Well I wont pretend to know enough to comment on the second, but the first one is probably the most critical difference between the two. And also a deeply significant one. Whatever the differences between a pagan like Aristotle and a Christian like Aquinas were, they had much more in common than the differences between Nietzsche and Aristotle.

    The denial of teleology is such a significant difference. That one change produces radically different conceptions of the universe we inhabit.

    Certian clueless atheists joke about theists being atheists except for 1 god in particular, but this so fundamentally misses the point. The difference between teleology and purpose in the universe and its absence is the difference between the deepest darkness and the heart of the sun. (Or perhaps I should say the undiluted presence of God himself ;) ).

    “Most people in this forum who have been discussing Nietzsche have assumed, it seems to me, that the heart of the problem with Nietzsche lies in the acceptance of Darwinism and rejection of teleology/”natural law.””

    Although I do think that is true. I think the main problem with Nietzsche is that he took what he said seriously and followed through to where those ideas led. He is like Peter Singer in that regard.

    The problem is that he reaches conclusions that should make him rethink the correctness of his premises, but he is committed to those and so presses on when he should turn back.

    “And, I suspect, that the moral failure of the Columbine killers can also be approached in terms of their inability to perceive the reality of others.”

    I’m not sure there is anything in the ethic he put forward that requires that he pay attention to such things.

    The central problem IMO, is that the bad fruit are unavoidable because they are grown from bad roots and in bad soil.

    The problem is not the fruit ultimately (such as the columbine shootings) but the bad soil the produces such thinking in those who take it seriously.

    If I can offer an observation, the problem with the columbine shooters et al, is not that they failed to learn the lessons they were taught by those around them, but quite the opposite, they learned them, understood them and took them to heart.

  80. Carl said,

    “I urge that we see our commitment to ideals such as equality, liberty, and solidarity as ideals that are arrived at as we experiment with different social arrangements”

    Sounds like a paraphrase of the French Revolution slogan that produced all those beheadings. While sounding noble, it might be interesting to debate if equality and liberty are at opposite ends of the spectrum and each time you push for one, you must move away from the other. Socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried except for Israeli kibbutzs and then it was dropped after one generation. Equality is one of those nice sounding words that nobody peaks behind to see what it really means. Nobody really wants equality. They want the opportunity to be better. The US definition of equality is different from the socialism definition that flowed from the French revolution.

    I am not sure what solidarity means. I get very wary of this term because it sounds like homogenization. What are we in solidaritying to?

    Different social arrangements reminds me of what was just attempted at the University of Delaware and is prevalent all across the US in many if not most of its universities.

    Not quite 1984 but traipsing that way.

    It must be tough for intellectuals these days to beholden to such doctrines as neo Darwinism and stringently enforced equality. They are contradictory and neither has any empirical support in reality. Will the honest intellectual please stand up.

  81. Carl,

    I doubt if many will die for what you propose. Those who seek what you are proposing only envision heaven on earth and if they are dead, well they are dead.

    And with no chance at that elusive heaven.

  82. Folks:

    Excellent discussion!

    Give us more!

    GEM of TKI

  83. ellazimm,

    Your post indicated why I am suspicious of perspectives like Gary DeMar’s. I was especially struck by this quote (in your post):

    America’s foundation can be restored when we teach Americans to believe the whole Bible from cover to cover and apply it to ALL areas of life.

    Apparently DeMar thinks that America’s “foundation can be restored” only when we’re all inerrantist Christians. This is wrong on at least two counts: first, American never was such a nation; and second, American foundations do not depend on religious unity. In fact, the establishment clause assumes that there will be religious diversity. Seems to me that anyone who looks at history that ideologically is going to see whatever he wants to see.

  84. ellazimm,

    you said

    “my day is filled with the love of my family, my work, and the world around me. I’d bet most of us would agree that it is worthwhile and noble to try and make the world a better place because we care about people even more than we want a reward afterwards. Live your life, fully and completely.”

    Do you actually believe this? What utter nonsense. You are truly deluded. As you indicated by believing the Gregory S. Paul nonsense. As I said you seem to be susceptible to certain types of misinformation.

    My experience is that those who try to create the heaven on earth actually create hell.

    Socialism of various types has racked up 125-million dead in the 20th century. Have you gone to the workers paradises in North Korea and Cuba?

    Environmentalism in its ban of DDT can add another 30-50 million dead and many more living a hellish life,

    AIDS resulting from a certain advocated life style can add another 30-40 million. Does this life style flow from religious beliefs or the lack of?

    Aid to Dependent Children and the Great Society essentially created a permanent underclass here in the US with 70% born to single mothers who have no idea how to raise their children. There is no place in society for the males born in these situations because there are no fathers to show them where to go. In order to try and stop this devastation, welfare reform had to be rammed down the liberal’s throats which is where most of the heaven on earth people reside.

    Ah yes, the delusion that you have lived your life better than those who believe in God, work hard, raise their children responsively, volunteer to help others, give to charity and by the way are as rich or richer than those who share you folly and are mostly making the world a better place. It is largely the religious of the US who are disproportionally driving most of the progress in the world while the intellectuals sit about dreaming of ways to create the heaven on earth and ending up creating hells.

    My experience is that the religious lead their lives more fully and completely. I see the emptiness in those who have rejected God because for the most part they have nothing to replace it and hand on to their children. They in turn are having fewer and fewer children because they see no future. The world is only about them.

  85. Jason Rennie writes: “I thought your point was really well made Barry, and frankly if people get upset by it, perhaps they should examine why they get upset by it.

    You are not making the connection as you noted but just reporting that the killers in question made the connections.”

    Denyse responds: Perhaps I can help explain that, Jason.

    Barry’s offence (and mine) is to report accurately that people have used social Darwinism as a justification for murder. Murder of Holocaust proportions in the case of the Nazis, and community tragedy proportions in the case of Harris and Auvinen.

    Fact: Social Darwinism is a persistent occasional theme in the world of the terrorist.

    The Darwinist is at war with that very fact itself. Presumably because he has no other way of dealing with the fact, he must question why anyone ever reports it or brings it up – and asperse the characters of anyone who does. He engages in long, rambling, pettifogging quibbles about everything under the sun. He simply cannot admit the problem and move on.

    I am not offering a theory of why the Darwinist has no other way of dealing with the menace of social Darwinism; I am pointing to a behaviour pattern that shows that he does not. If he could, this thread would have petered out long ago, and I would not have had to shut off the thread at the Post-D for time management reasons. (And the comments there represent only a sampling of opinion, with the fantically repetitive stuff removed.)

    As I pointed out in my own recent post here, most communities hit by scandal must learn to deal with it. As a Christian journalist, I have considerable acquaintance with the problem of “bad news” stories for religious or pro-life groups of just the sort that Harris and Auvinen represent for Darwinists.

    The Darwinists have behaved throughout this episode like people who are used to fudging the truth. Unfortunately for them, in this case, the events took place not in prehistory but in recent or current historical time. So everyone knows that social Darwinism led to mass murder.

    Now I wonder more than ever about Darwinism and the old bones. Talk about skeletons in the closet!

  86. getawitness,

    Have you dealt with the information in the treaties yet? Or do you want to pick on the messenger to undermine it in the hope it will support your position. Was Gary DeMar wrong about the treaties? If not, then give up the attack on him. It is not the issue.

    I certainly don’t share his position on the bible but that has nothing to do with what was in treaties 150-200 years ago.

  87. Jerry,

    I dealt with some of the language of the treaties in [71] above. I still do not see what is relevant to the fundamentally secular structure and function of American government. What the treaties seem to show is this: the government will proclaim Christian allegiance when convenient, disclaim Christian allegiance when convenient, refer to a monarch it rebelled against as “keeper of the faith,” etc. etc. as convenient. This has squat to do with the structure of our government.

    I have never denied that Christian faith was one of the formative influences on American society at the time of government. Of course it was! It seems both pointless and historically inept to suggest that that Christian belief somehow trumps all the other influences also at play.

    All the language of those treaties does not change the secular structure of government under the Constitution. Nor — to answer a question posed by someone a while ago — does the reference to the “Creator” in the DoI. The foundation of government in America is the Constitution. The Constituition is a secular document.

    As for DeMar, he was used to attack the supposed bias of Wikipedia. I thought it was silly to use one source with an obvious agenda to attack another source for being agenda-driven. I merely pointed that out.

  88. Denyse,

    “Fact: Social Darwinism is a persistent occasional theme in the world of the terrorist.”

    Fact: religious commitment is a persistent occasional theme in the world of the terrorist. For recent examples see 9-11, the North of Ireland, bombings and train fires in India and Pakistan, the Bali nightclub bombing, Eric Rudolph, Paul Hill, James Kopp, John Salvi. All recent history. This proves what exactly?

    “So everyone knows that social Darwinism led to mass murder.”

    This is more than BarryA has been willing to claim, at least with regard to the Finnish kid. With regard to Eric Harris, he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

  89. The notion of linking Nietzsche to Aristotle is truly hair-raising. Aristotle not only believed in Supreme Being but asserted that Supreme Being is “life itself.” Aristotle had a reverence for life which is entirely absent in Nietzsche.

    Nietzsche did not eschew nihilism; he embraced it as the inevitable annihilation of Europe’s Christian past and its concepts of “the good.” Those who claim that he repudiated it are simply affirming the tactical advantage he gained by pretending to repudiate it. In reality, he invoked nihilism and then claimed the mantle of prophet for himself and the power to discern a new path that goes “beyond good and evil.”

    Just how difficult is it to understand that there can be no goodness in such a path? That the annihilation of the good leads to evil? Nietzsche adamantly rejected the value of life. Our concepts of goodness are based on this value—on the golden rule, which reflects it. What goodness is still possible if the golden rule is annihilated? Global warmism? SETI? The Third Reich with its thousand-year jubilee of the blond-haired and the blue-eyed?

    Nietzsche was kin to Plato, not Aristotle. His “unhappy consciousness” caused him to long for the annihilation of all existent values, including the value of life. But the same problem that plagued Idealism is also quite evident in Nietzsche and Nihilism. It is impossible to put forward any substantial concept of value after the annihilation of everything that exists. All that remains is nothingness and the vanity of the Zarathustras in our midst, who presume to save us from ourselves (when they’re not killing us).

  90. getawitness,

    I am not quite sure what you are trying to prove. That the country is growing more and more secular is a given. However, it was not always that way. It was never religious in the sense that it promoted a religion explicitly but it fostered religion. That is certainly disappearing through court actions and for no really good legal argument. Prayer is a part of Congress and the Supreme Court and Presidency and has been since the beginning. As I said above, Christmas is an official holiday of the US. And some of the states actually had a state religion at one time.

    Separation of Church and State is the result of Hugo Black who was a Christian but anti-Catholic. The interpretation that led to less support of religion and specifically Christianity because that is what most were and still are in the US was to reduce support for Catholic education but it had the side effect of the hysteria we see about the display of the 10 commandments or religious displays at various times of the year on public property.

    Support of religious education in the sense of vouchers was commonly accepted just 60 years ago. After World War II no one had any problem with vets using their GI bill money in religious schools. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of vets used the money to become ministers, priests and rabbis. Such a program probably wouldn’t pass muster today under the bogus rulings because of Justice Black.

    To keep up the pretense that the US government was secular from the start is nonsense. Not promoting a specific religion is the not the same as secular. To say it is now is very close to the truth but the reasons it is are based on bogus legal interpretations. I would bet that if there were significant number of Protestant schools in the 1950′s we would have a significantly different interpretation of the law today. But Protestants knew the teachers in the public schools were going to provide an education that was compatible with their religion including prayer in school.

  91. Prayer is allowed in school. I prayed all the time. :-) I also read the Bible, which I brought every day during my junior and senior years of high school.

    It’s true that Protestant private schools sprung up a lot in the late 50s and early 60s. They were especially prevalent in the South, where they opened as a response to forced integration.

  92. “I’d bet most of us would agree that it is worthwhile and noble to try and make the world a better place because we care about people even more than we want a reward afterwards”

    The problem (leaving aside observations about the reality of trying to immanentize the eschaton as you suggest) is that at best your suggestion is questionably coherent.

    What does it even mean to “make the world a better place” in a materialist worldview ? What is this standard of “better” you refer too ? You can’t be pointing to the internal moral compass that lets us tell right from wrong, good from evil, the is not, in a materialist worldview, something that reflects an external reality, but it instead just a set of survival aiding prudential suggestions.

    So what does “better” even mean ?

    Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to be able to answer. If you are consistent with your materialism then you need to deny that any such “better” as an external objective reality exists.

  93. getawitness wrote

    It’s true that Protestant private schools sprung up a lot in the late 50s and early 60s. They were especially prevalent in the South, where they opened as a response to forced integration.

    From a 1979 article:

    Currently there are approximately 5.6 million students enrolled in private elementary and high schools — with two-thirds of them in Christian schools.

    The wave of new Christian schools is largely unrelated to the issue of racial segregation, which prompted the opening of many Christian schools in the south between 1967 and 1976. The present wave is a unique phenomenon, highly visible in the north and west and especially pronounced in such states as New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Oregon, Kansas and California. One of the basic differences between this new movement and the segregationist academies of a few years ago is that the all-white schools were especially concerned to avoid racial integration at the junior high and senior high levels. The current boom in Christian day schools is concentrated more heavily on the young child, and many of these new schools operate on the assumption that the children will transfer to public schools after completing third or fourth grade.

    Another factor is that many of the most determined advocates of this new wave of Christian day schools are upwardly mobile black parents who are willing to make major sacrifices in order to enroll their children. Some of the fathers are ministers, and many of these parents are employed in the public schools.

  94. angryoldfatman, I stand corrected. Thanks for the history lesson.

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