"It is a cheap zeal that reserves its passions to combat only the sins and temptations of others."

- D.A. Carson
This is Too Real

Aborted baby's head left inside woman.

Unreal. Surreal.

"At midnight, my ex-partner knocked on the door to check if I was all right. ... I went to the bathroom and as I was sitting there, I just felt something slip out of me as if I had just given birth. I looked in the toilet and saw this lump that seemed to have a bone in it. So I showed it to my former partner."

The couple realized they were looking at the face of their unborn child, seeing the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. The tiny head measured no more than 4 centimeters.

"We just broke down and cried at what we were seeing. We couldn't believe it," Chambers sobbed to the paper.

"I phoned an ambulance and they took me to the hospital to make sure that no other parts were left inside of me. They said I could have died if it had stayed inside me."

She was able to discuss the situation with the doctor who had performed her abortion.

"He leaned over my bedside and said, 'I am so sorry. In all the procedures I've done, I've never come across this,'" she said. "He even tried to take the head away, but I said I wanted to keep it because we wanted to have a proper burial."

Here's a weird question: Why would you want to give a "blob of tissue" a proper burial? I mean, the notion of a proper burial usually applies to a life which has ended. And if this couple believed their unborn baby deserved a proper burial, why did it not affect their initial decision to terminate the baby?
Is this like John Kerry's unconscionable position that life begins at conception, but people should have the freedom to end that life if they so choose?

Sensitive surfers beware: The article linked above includes a small photo of the baby's recovered face. It is cleaned up, of course, but it is unmistakably the face of a child, and the sight of it is both powerful and heartbreaking. This is the face of abortion.

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Comments on "This is Too Real":
1. Manders - 08/19/2004 11:49 am CDT

Oh my God. And I mean that reverently. Jesus, draw that couple to yourself, and call this nation to repentance...

2. Shrode - 08/19/2004 11:53 am CDT

I should be weeping. The fact that I'm not troubles me. God help us all.

3. Jared - 08/19/2004 12:05 pm CDT

This incident occurred in England, but, Manders, your sentiment is nonetheless true and necessary.
We in the "civilized" West will have a lot to answer for, not the least of which is this culture of death we have sanitized and celebrated, this invisible Holocaust to which hundreds of bodies are added each day.

4. John - 08/19/2004 12:08 pm CDT

Seeing the baby's head probably made them realize, in a way they hadn't before, that it was more than just a "blob of tissue," and that's why the decided to give it a burial. It sounds to me like they felt a lot of remorse after seeing the baby's head.

5. Hobo - 08/19/2004 1:37 pm CDT

Centuries ago, everyone - including the kiddies - would turn out to the square to watch one of many atrocities committed in the name of jutice to some poor schmoe. Beheadings, whippings, flayings, etc. Then they went home and ate dinner.

These days, seeing a still photo of something similar would have most westernized adults fleeing to their psychologist do find ways to handle their emotional scarring.

I find this to be encouraging. To me this means as we move forward we are becoming more and more sane, more and more empathetic and less and less barbaric.

Hopefully someday everyone will naturally be horrified at the idea of having an abortion. By that time birth control and sex-ed will be such that people will have sex without fear of unwanted pregnancy.

In the meantime, hopefully the failed from-the-top "solution" of making it illegal (controlling these things from congress never works - remember homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, mixed marriages, etc) will not come back to haunt us.

6. jez - 08/19/2004 2:20 pm CDT

the article doesn't go into too much detail, but it is mentioned that the lady has an autoimmune liver disfunction, which she is on serious medication for and undergoing frequent scans. I'm not a medical doctor, but it might be that the abortion was decided upon because of the risks her regime of drugs and radiation would pose to the developing child.

Let's not get into a heated argument about it, but I want to point out that a "blob of tissue" (to use your caricature of the opposing argument) is capable of taking the shape of a head with a face. Do you remember the human ear grown on the back of a mouse? It wasn't a real, functioning ear, it was just the cartiledge, the familiar sticky-out part of the ear. Casually examining the mouse, it was easy to believe that it was endowed with super-hearing, purely because of the powerful visual cue.
So of course the sight of it is still heart-breaking, and it always will be because of the nurturing instinct hard-wired into us all, but remember that you might not be looking at what you think you are looking at.
Finally, I don't think Kerry's position is unconscionable. He has his belief (life begins at conception), but recognises it as a belief rather than insisting it is knowledge. Understanding that he might be wrong, it is quite conscionable for him to offer to preside over his country without legislating according it. Officials are not elected on the understanding that they impose all their personal convictions while in office.
Jared, do you really think that abortion is comparable to the holocaust? You're thinking about the numbers, aren't you? I'm thinking about the humiliation, torture and abuse that the victims of the real holocaust endured before final extermination, and I think the comparison is unhelpful. I'm much more concerned about the way the "civilised" West exploits third world countries for cheap commodities, twisting the knife for real kids who are absolutely definitely alive, no question, but who sew footballs all day instead of going to school and struggle to get enough clean water. We'll have to answer for that, too, and for me it's definitely the priority.

7. susan b. - 08/19/2004 2:24 pm CDT

How horrible! I feel sad for the couple -- they probably didn't realize what an abortion really was until they saw that little face.

8. Jared - 08/19/2004 2:38 pm CDT

Hobo, using your logic, we shoud just go ahead and decriminalize murder because, you know, the law doesn't curtail the act.

Jez, I'm not even going to get into it with you. If our being appalled at the murder of millions of unborn children confuses, confounds, or otherwise bothers you, so be it.
I'm getting tired of your constant need to rebut EVERYTHING. You don't get it, and this post isn't designed to make you do so.

9. Alan - 08/19/2004 3:35 pm CDT

Jez:

The point is limited. A doctor's mistake made a girl totally change how she looked at her abortion.

The circumstances surrounding the decision are better left to the side. This scenario seems to leave almost everyone with an adamantine impression that this head belongs to a person-- in contrast to the more frequent discussions about abortion cloaked in sterile abstractions.

That was the point, not to re-invent the wheel by starting a discussion on the morality of abortion. I think I probably speak for most of us here that abortion is not even an interesting topic for us to discuss because it is a non-negotiable issue, hacked to death in debate, about which further discussion does nothing more than raise our respective blood pressures over its continued legal sanction.

If you want give the Triune God the finger and refuse to worship him, that's your call. I'm more than happy to spar with you about that. But if you want to give the Triune God the finger, and then come to talk about morality, then I'm afraid any discussion is probably a non-starter. We have no neutral ground together on which to begin our discussion.

I mean, from your end, this all comes down to evolutionary mechanisms, right? What's the point of you asking Jared about the morality of sweat shops versus abortion if by "morality" you mean evolutionary survival mechanisms and Jared means divinely ordained laws which ought to result in temporal punishment and do result in eternal hellfire?

Along those lines, objecting to the sentiment of this post on the notion that another moral issue is more compelling is silly and trivial. There are plenty of moral issues out there, and this post has nothing to do with prioritizing them.

Last, that whole mouse-ear part was just too weird. Really now-- we all agree that this was actually the head of an aborted fetus. It wasn't an illusion. Under no credible theory would the fact that I am capable of being mistaken or confused about what I see undermine my moral evaluation of what I really did see.

10. judyh - 08/19/2004 3:38 pm CDT

Those of us who have miscarried, know. We've seen.

Too sad, but thanks for posting it.

11. Vick - 08/19/2004 5:45 pm CDT

I will never understand those who continue to question whether an unborn child is really a life. We see them every day here at the hospital. We do ultrasounds and watch children in the womb respond to touch, sound, and even heat and cold. We have saved babies as young 20 weeks gestation. We still have a young couple visit us with their now 3 year old to say "thanks again" for saving their premature baby...now a normal bouncing toddler.

There is absolutely no question that these are children. Trying to justify their deaths by calling them "blobs of tissue" makes it no less murder...

Jareds holocaust comparison is a good one...

Manders is right...God help us...

12. Hobo - 08/19/2004 7:00 pm CDT

Hobo, using your logic, we shoud just go ahead and decriminalize murder because, you know, the law doesn't curtail the act.

Actually, I think laws against murder help. But laws against alcohol, drugs, mixed marriages, segregated schools, homosexual acts...and abortion... these laws not only don't work, they actually hurt the situation for a variety of reasons.

Sitting at the keyboard here I am unable to articulate the difference, but some things become worse when we make them illegal and all of these have this in common. Is this apparent, or just in my head?

13. jez - 08/20/2004 12:28 am CDT

Alan: A doctor's mistake made a girl totally change how she looked at her abortion.
Well the article doesn't explicitly say that. It is your assumption that the abortion was decided upon lightly to begin with. The way I read it, I think she was upset that it had been carried out badly, causing her and perhaps her child to suffer. But I'm not adament about it, except to say that the article is not specific.

The circumstances surrounding the decision are better left to the side.

Maybe, but then plenty of other things weren't left to the side (the "blob of tissue" remark, the Kerry comment); but the comments thread was throwing mud at Miss Chambers, even charging her with being part of a holocaust death-squad, which I don't think is charitable given her circumstances, nor wise given our ignorance. The extravagent language used in the comments made me interested in your wider perspective. If abortion is tantamount to holocaust, then what are sweat-shops tantamount to? Do you have an even worse extreme to compare them with, or is that problem less morally pressing?

Jared: If our being appalled at the murder of millions of unborn children confuses, confounds, or otherwise bothers you, so be it.

Actually, it doesn't. Of course I understand, I've read your article. Like I said in 6, I don't want to get into the abortion debate with you, we've been there before. Having had that debate, I have an improved appreciation of your view. But your comment about Kerry did pique my interest.

Alan: But if you want to give the Triune God the finger, and then come to talk about morality, then I'm afraid any discussion is probably a non-starter. We have no neutral ground together on which to begin our discussion.

I want to give the Triune God the finger about as much as I want to give a unicorn or father christmas the finger. If they're real, then the unicorn is a noble beast and i've nothing but respect for father christmas, but probably they aren't. Either way, no reason to give the finger.

But we live in the same world, and are subject to many of the same laws. It is perfectly legitimate, even necessary for us to bring our different moral standards to the table and discuss what laws to make.

What's the point of you asking Jared about the morality of sweat shops versus abortion if by "morality" you mean evolutionary survival mechanisms and Jared means divinely ordained laws which ought to result in temporal punishment and do result in eternal hellfire?

Well, if I'm right then Jared's morals are determined through an evolutionary process and the god who ordains them and threatens eternal hellfire is Jared's projection. If Jared is right, then my morals are determined by a flawed sense of god's divine law. Either way, argument is potentially interesting, and where we agree we can coordinate attempts to improve things, and where we disagree we can arrange to interfere as little as possible with each other. or something.

we all agree that this was actually the head of an aborted fetus. It wasn't an illusion.

ah, i failed to explain properly. I simply meant to say that the shape of a face, especially a baby's face, is bound to trigger emotion in us, and we project all kinds of assumptions when we see one. Personally, I had to struggle against my instinct to project assumptions about the ear. Recent studies have demonstrated that it is easy to fool someone that a fake hand is actually their own. The researcher wiggles the fingers on the fake hand, and the subject is convinced that he has wiggled the fingers on his hand.
Why is it easy to fool the brain? Because it takes a few visual cues and fleshes out our "reality" based on them. It's almost a simulation, but one which gets periodically nudged by new cues from the real world. So when the brain recieves the visual cue of wiggling fingers on what it assumes is "its" hand, it projects sensation and even the sense of will for that wiggling to occur.
Faces are the prime target for this simulation type behaviour. We recognise friends and enemies, and read emotion from peoples' faces. We can only do that by taking a few cues, projecting a whole bag of assumptions and getting straight to the point: who is this? is he happy, angry, a threat? So when we see a head like this, we automatically project humanity onto it.
did that explain better?

Under no credible theory would the fact that I am capable of being mistaken or confused about what I see undermine my moral evaluation of what I really did see.

sure there are, because it undermines your ability to distinguish between what you really did see and what you were mistaken about seeing.

Jared: I'm getting tired of your constant need to rebut EVERYTHING

no i don't. {removes groucho's moustache and glasses} but seriously, not everything i say is a rebuttal, but you do take it that way sometimes when it's not intended. obviously, this paragraph here is a rebuttal, but i hope it's ok.

14. Jared - 08/20/2004 3:23 am CDT

I think laws against murder help. But laws against alcohol, drugs, mixed marriages, segregated schools, homosexual acts...and abortion... these laws not only don't work,

Hobo, funny how you toss abortion in with things like drugs and alcohol. If you can't think of it as murder, oh well. But you know that people of my sort do, and so surely you could see the logic in my equating it with murder of "born" persons.

Making abortion illegal (even with the caveat of "legal when mother's life is at stake") would curtail the number of abortions enormously.
No doubt opponents will say this will force women to go underground or use coathangers or what-have-you.

Okay.

The vast majority of pregnant women will still opt to bring their child to term. A minority will feel the need to risk their own lives or health to kill their baby, just as some people today risk their freedom or even lives to kill another. It's sad. But risking the health of a small number of people intent on killing their unborn child is preferable to me than the continued murder of millions of unborn children each year. At least these hypothetical mothers know the risks they take. An unborn child knows nothing until its sucked out and torn to pieces and flushed down a drain or sealed in a bag to be thrown in the trash.

15. Hobo - 08/20/2004 4:02 am CDT

Jared,

I realized this morning why I was grouping those "crimes" together. And it's not an objective reason. I do understand your point of view; and this is not meant to counter it, only to explain my ideas a little better:

For me, it's about motivation. There are some activities that I believe *good* people will *often* partake in whether they are legal or not (for a variety of reasons). Good people, for the sake of this topic, are people who are not in desperate financial situations, who are not insane and who have a normal amount of empathy for others in their day-to-day lives (they don't hurt people or resort to physical violence to solve problems, for instance).

Good people take drugs all the time. Good people marry outside their race, or have sex with the same gender. Good people drink every day. And good people seek out abortions every day.

Continuing with my completely arbitrary and subjective thought... good and decent people don't shoot or stab adults to death very day. Those crimes are usually committed by people who are deranged, evil, tend to solve problems with violence - or are in desperate poverty.

Of course, anyone could rip this apart by looking at what I mean by "good" person, etc... but maybe on some level you can see what I'm talking about.

16. jez - 08/20/2004 4:25 am CDT

hobo,
perhaps describing your good people as "good" is too vague. Would it make sense to call them "safe" or "functional"?

17. Hobo - 08/20/2004 8:26 am CDT

Jez,

I'd say yes; obviously I'm not trying to present a logical argument but an emotional observation. Even so, I do like 'safe & functional' better than 'good'. Thanks-

18. Jared - 08/20/2004 8:31 am CDT

Too hard to define "good," eh?

19. jez - 08/22/2004 7:08 am CDT

Yes. You find it hard too, that's why the bible is so long, and there is so much theology.

20. Jared - 08/22/2004 7:24 am CDT

No, actually I don't find it hard at all. It's hard to be good, but the Bible is remarkably clear on what things are right and what things are wrong.
Clever comeback, though.

21. J.C. - 08/22/2004 9:52 am CDT

In the movie "K-Pax," Kevin Spacey's character had a particularly poignant line. When pressed about laws and morality on his planet, he responded, "Every intelligent being in the universe knows right from wrong."
I don't know if the line came from the book or not, but I thought it was right on, especially in light of postmodern thought.

22. jez - 08/22/2004 4:32 pm CDT

oh, come on guys.
people disagree about right and wrong and attempts to codify right and wrong in the past have all been long, complicated and eventually appear out of date. -- why is this? If the text was correct then the truth is hard to recognise; if the text was wrong then the truth is hard to pin down.

if it was all that easy, why haven't you gone ahead and defined it instead of saying "what? you mean you don't know? you must be really thick!"?
"Postmodern thought" gets a dissed quite a lot here. Which postmodern texts have you read?

23. Jared - 08/22/2004 4:56 pm CDT

Jez, would it be wrong for someone to kill one of your loved ones?
If so, why?

24. jez - 08/22/2004 5:17 pm CDT

An example is not the same thing as a definition.
You might sanction killing my loved ones if they themselves committed a serious enough crime.
To answer your questions: I don't think so; because it would upset me and their surviving loved ones. Also economic reasons, it's a waste of good bullets. :)

25. Jared - 08/23/2004 3:09 am CDT

Wow. I'd hate to be one of your loved ones if all you can muster up is "I don't think it'd be right" to kill me.

Why is it wrong to upset you?

I have a "definition" for right and wrong, but I know that off the bat it would be unacceptable for you. All I'm trying to prove is that we need some source outside of ourselves for right and wrong. If we don't, you've basically said it's okay to kill someone provided they're loved ones don't mind (and, I guess, if I don't use bullets).

26. jez - 08/23/2004 5:19 am CDT

Well, i would naturally go a long way to protect my loved ones from being killed; philosophical caution does not make me passive.
It is wrong to upset me because confucius say, don't do to others as you would not have them do to you. You know that I'm a big fan of evolutionary theory, right? I believe that explains why you and I, as members of successful and stable societies, are equipped with an aversion to murder; and why a law against it is a good idea.

I don't see how the external source improves matters in these regards. Firstly, I assume your definition of "good" makes reference to "god" -- so this supposedly simple answer begs a very hard question? Secondly, you would say that it's ok to kill my loved ones provided god doesn't mind.

27. Jared - 08/23/2004 7:39 am CDT

Evolutionary theory is helpless to explain why you should care if someone murders your loved one. For one thing, isn't the force behind evolution "survival of the fittest"? Or something similar.
In your view, right and wrong aren't really concrete concepts but really just illusions. Feelings. The present state of the way our synapses are firing. So what if someone murdered your loved one and said they were on the verge of the next stage of evolution; you know, the one where killing innocent persons isn't "wrong."

Evolutionary theory was at least partly a motivation behind the Holocaust. But you've made it clear already you consider the Holocaust wrong. Why? How can you? Because people got upset about it?

you would say that it's ok to kill my loved ones provided god doesn't mind.

Yes, but this doesn't rebut anything. If the source of right and wrong comes from outside ourselves -- eg. God -- it would make sense that He would be where we get our "okays" from.
What you seem to be referencing, though, is that I'd be okay now with killing a loved one so long as God approved. But its not a fluid morality, subject to my individual interpretation as time passes. It's not like I can justify things God called murder from the beginning by saying "God okayed it this time."

He's already said murder is a sin. And since He already said it when he set the rules, it would be wrong morally today and tomorrow for me to kill an innocent person. (I'm trying at this point to skirt the issues of capital punishment, self defense, and war. For the matters of discussion surely we can agree on person-to-person violence provided none of those issues are a factor.)

28. jez - 08/23/2004 9:24 am CDT

Evolutionary theory is helpless to explain why you should care if someone murders your loved one. For one thing, isn't the force behind evolution "survival of the fittest"? Or something similar.

not so. Evolution of life on earth is driven by the twin forces of adaptation and natural selection. One way to succeed in natural selection is to out-compete your neighbours (survival of the fittest, as you say), but there are other ways it can happen.
We benefit (in terms of evolution) from living in a safe society, in which eg. murder is illegal. I don't have to worry day to day that my colleagues in my office will kill me, so I can get on with my work. However, evolution doesn't write legislation directly; instead it equips (most of) us with an aversion to murder, which moves us to legislate (and perhaps project an external morality to give our laws a moral authority).

So what if someone murdered your loved one and said they were on the verge of the next stage of evolution; you know, the one where killing innocent persons isn't "wrong."

That doesn't matter to me, personally. I'm still at the stage where I get upset when my friends die. I'm not using evolution to explain why I should feel a certain way, I'm simply using it as a way to explain why I do feel that way. Incidentally, if that is the next stage of evolution, I'd wager that the following stage would be extinction.

Evolutionary theory was at least partly a motivation behind the Holocaust.

In the same way that Christianity was the motivation for the crusades and the inquisition. Any theory can be abused.

But you've made it clear already you consider the Holocaust wrong. Why? Because people got upset about it?

It's an upsetting subject, as is abortion of course.
But I distinguish between labelling something as wrong (or rather, expressing my disapproval of it) and making something illegal.

If the source of right and wrong comes from outside ourselves -- eg. God -- it would make sense that He would be where we get our "okays" from.

By the same token, if the source of right and wrong is not external, it makes sense to get our "okays" from ourselves.

When I made my remark about getting okays from God, I was worrying about the possibility of an evil god; also the possibility of god as a projection. But, granting all of your worldview, these possibilities can be ignored, so I withdraw that remark.

Incidentally, if a person himself wants to die, and his loved ones don't mind, then I'd be ok with him being humanely killed -- I've no objection to certain kinds of euthanasia. I'm certainly more sympathetic to it than I am to some of the capital punishment taught in the bible. (I know this touches on an issue you wanted to skirt, but this is an example of love ones being upset vs judeo-christian god okaying a killing).

29. Jared - 08/23/2004 9:44 am CDT

instead it equips (most of) us with an aversion to murder

So murder isn't wrong so much as it is "inconvenient."

But I distinguish between labelling something as wrong (or rather, expressing my disapproval of it) and making something illegal.

You've yet to say the Holocaust was wrong. Do you believe it was wrong?
And your citing the Inquisition and the Crusades implies you believe those acts were wrong, as well. Why?
Most of those acts were very convenient to the ones perpetrating them (the ones "legislating") and were done for the common "good." Indeed, many people in the societies in question approved of these actions.

By the same token, if the source of right and wrong is not external, it makes sense to get our "okays" from ourselves.

No, it doesn't, and that's my point. If my self tells me it's okay to kill someone's loved one against their okay, whose okay is right? Some cultures don't have the same internal okays as others. Is cannibalism wrong? Is forced circumcision of women wrong? Was the Holocaust wrong? Or just unfortunate or inconvenient or emotionally bothersome?

I find it odd that you'd even mention the capital punishment in the Bible, because then, as now, the culture was largely in favor of it. It bothers you, which seems to me your version of thinking capital punishment wrong (and I think in another thread you stated that conviction more strongly). But if most of the culture is for it and finds it within ourselves "okay," on what basis do you personally think it not okay?

30. J.C. - 08/23/2004 11:14 am CDT

Jez, the arguments you're giving seem to resonate close to Rousseau and some of the French Enlightenment thinkers. To be brief, what is your view of the French Revolution, and why do you think that experiment failed?

31. jez - 08/24/2004 3:10 am CDT

Murder is often convenient; however, most of us have an aversion to it, which we naturally act upon. The "wrongness" of it needn't come into the matter, however it's a useful shorthand. There's little point using the word here because we both know that we mean different things by it. Thus I'm using words which sound less impressive and definite than your moral language.

whose okay is right?

That's a tough question, but I don't think it's one which believers in a moral God have side-stepped. You reference this dialogue in another post, the one about murderer in Iran, presumably as an example of non-biblical morality failing to meet your standards of good and evil. The Iranian judicial system however believes in external morality and adhering to the will of God as much as you do. The question for you is only slightly different, not whose okay is right? but whose God is right?

In the secular world, we can argue about whose okay is right. We can use use reason, analyse risk, talk about axiomatic principles, balance rights etc. For example, my axiomatic principles are to do with being constructive instead of destructive, minimising suffering and maximising freedom. We can be democratic about it, we can consult experts, or we can resort to warfare (gang or official).

In the theocratic world, peoples' views on God tend to be non-negotiable, and make no intuitive sense to anyone outside any given religion. What happened in Iran makes no sense to you, but there's nothing you can do to explain your difficulties with it, or appeal any decisions, to the Iranian government. It must be awkward to be a Christian in Iran.

32. jez - 08/24/2004 3:23 am CDT

JC, i've only read a tiny amount of rousseau. Seems to me like most philosophers were the gangsta rappers of their day, they preface all their books by bigging themselves up and dissing other philosophers past and present.

There were plenty of neat ideas associated with the French enlightenment, but my ignorant opinion is that the revolution was just too violent. Further-more, it had more to do with rejecting monarchical rule than with moral philosophy. But I'm not an expert.

33. Jared - 08/24/2004 3:31 am CDT

Answer the question: Was the Holocaust morally wrong?

34. jez - 08/24/2004 3:53 am CDT

I think so :)

35. Jared - 08/24/2004 4:02 am CDT

Funny. But I translate that as "I don't know."

What's interesting about your view -- besides my finding it disturbing that you are unable to unequivocally say the Holocaust was wrong -- is that it doesn't really support your reasons for it. The vast majority of persons would have no trouble saying the Holocaust was morally wrong. They have a natural aversion to saying it was just inconvenient or unfortunate. So, really, as far as built-in aversions to murder go, you stand in the minority of understandings of those aversions. But it can be a powerful minority, no doubt, as the perpetrators of the Holocaust can attest.

36. jez - 08/24/2004 4:58 am CDT

I'm sorry you translated it that way. That's not what it means.

You strike me as the kind of guy who likes to have an opinion, and take comfort in absolute certainty that your opinion is the right one. I just don't roll that way. I've no problem with acknowledging subjectivity and the admitting the possibility that there is no authority to back up my opinions.

If there is no external morality, then even if everybody in the world links hands and chants "the holocaust was wrong" in unison, it still doesn't add up to more than lots of peoples' opinions.
Given that I don't presume the existence of external morality, I can't presume that everybody is "correct" (though they may be factually correct in that their opinion of the holocaust is consistent with the rest of their ethics).
Also, my training as a mathematician makes my standard of what constitutes fact and what constitutes belief is squewed a little from the population's norm.

stand in the minority of understandings of those aversions

I have no problem with being in a minority.

But it can be a powerful minority, no doubt, as the perpetrators of the Holocaust can attest.

This is some of the worst and most offensive kind of ad hominem I've seen for a while. Good work. (You are implying that the holocaust was perpetrated by people like me, I take it, as I'm sure you realised I would)
But it's also inaccurate. Hitler and his party was surely full of absolutists who were convinced that their own opinion was entirely correct; quite the opposite of people like me who admit their own fallibility. I feel sure that Hitler would argue for the existence of external morality (although his "morality" would have a lot to do with the primary importance of attaining and maintaining power). Hitler earnestly believed in god.

37. Jared - 08/24/2004 5:10 am CDT

I knew you would react that way, but I'm not sure why. All I asked is if the Holocaust was wrong. You are basically saying you can't say it is. Obviously the perpetrators of the Holocaust couldn't say it was wrong either. And the idea of wiping out an "inferior race" sounds a lot like evolutionary theory to me.

In short, your objections to my characterization don't amount to a hill of beans, because you can't really say why you should care if I characterize your thinking that way. Why is it offensive to you? If you can't say the Holocaust was morally wrong, what difference does it make to you if I say that type of amoral thinking led to the Holocaust? I mean, if it wasn't wrong, what difference does it make?

Your getting upset is disingenuous. Unless, that is, you're willing to admit the Holocaust was actually, morally wrong and not just an unfortunate emotional inconvenience.

38. jez - 08/24/2004 5:29 am CDT

All I asked is if the Holocaust was wrong. You are basically saying you can't say it is.

No i'm not, i'm saying I think it is. You are interpreting it weirdly.
Would it help you to understand if I asserted that I am certain of my opinion?
I reserve facts for things I can prove. I can't prove the holocaust was wrong.

All I asked is if the Holocaust was wrong. You are basically saying you can't say it is.

What evolutionary theories are you comparing it to to reach that conclusion? cos it doesn't sound anything like one to me.

Why is it offensive to you?

Two reasons: firstly, I think it was wrong and it would disgust me to be involved in it; secondly the way you've linked my kind of "amorality" to it offends my sense of reason, and since I know the kind of rigour you are capable of when you wish to apply yourself in that way, I suspect that you are being obtuse deliberately.

Your getting upset is disingenuous.

I'm not upset, I'm just disappointed.

Unless, that is, you're willing to admit the Holocaust was actually, morally wrong and not just an unfortunate emotional inconvenience.

The inconvenience thing is a straw man. I've explained myself a few times already.

39. Jared - 08/24/2004 6:19 am CDT

You are interpreting it weirdly.

How so? You said you only "think" it is wrong; that's not the same thing as saying it's wrong. You are unwilling to say the Holocaust was wrong. Why are you "disappointed" that I'm just reading what you're saying?

I suspect that you are being obtuse deliberately.

No, I'm just trying to follow your logic and subject yourself to it. I know full well that you find the Holocaust abhorrent. I'm trying to get you to recognize you have no real justification for thinking it so. All you have is your feeling.

I'm not upset, I'm just disappointed.

You said what I said was "offensive." That's not disappointment; that's an adjective people use to describe moral objection. If all you were was disappointed -- in what? my logic? my failure to grasp your nuance? -- why were you offended?

The inconvenience thing is a straw man. I've explained myself a few times already.

It's not a straw man! You are talking in terms of balancing rights, emotional aversion, evolution, etc. I think "murder is inconvenient" is a suitable way to sum up your view of it. Inconvenient to progress, inconvenient emotionally -- whatever. You admit you can't use definite words to explain why something is wrong. All you have is a hunch. And if that's all you've got -- and you've already admitted it's impossible to prove one person's hunch is better than another's -- than you have no real grounds upon which to even think the Holocaust is wrong. And certainly no grounds upon which to be "offended" if I point out that the perpetrators of it also had a hunch what they were doing couldn't be classified as morally wrong.

I can't prove the holocaust was wrong.

This is your view in a nutshell to me. I won't keep piling on, because I know the language and reference points I use are insufficient for your reference points.
But, honestly -- this doesn't bother you? It doesn't bother you even just a little bit that you can't prove the Holocaust was wrong?

I know you wouldn't think moral relativism a bad thing -- indeed, that seems to be what you're promoting -- but surely you see the inadequacy of moral relativism to deal honestly, and even emotionally, with great evils like the Holocaust, the ongoing genocide in other parts of the world today, etc.
By admitting you can't prove the Holocaust wrong, you give me and others no reason to even listen to you when you argue against the War in Iraq or any other thing you find objectionable.

Because if everybody's hunch or feeling or inconvenience or logic is equal, so is every action in the grand scheme of things. There then is no good or evil. I know you probably don't care if there is or not, or at least don't suspect there is, but that's a chilling thought to the woman in the gas chamber or the villager in Rwanda or even the prisoner at Abu Ghraib. They'd all be thrilled to know that you "think" what's happening to them is wrong.

40. jez - 08/24/2004 8:26 am CDT

Just so you know, i'm not harbouring any hard feelings, and I hope you're not getting harrassed by my constant rebuttals.

How so? You said you only "think" it is wrong; that's not the same thing as saying it's wrong

But you went further than that, you said

Funny. But I translate that as "I don't know."

which is a lossy translation. It doesn't contradict "I think so", but it is not complete. "I don't know" often implies "I have no opinion", which I clearly do.

I'm trying to get you to recognize you have no real justification for thinking it so. All you have is your feeling.

That's not quite true. There are principles behind my feelings, but there does come an end to the stream of "why"s that explain my behaviour, just as your string of "why"s ends up with faith in the Christian God (which, for some Christians I've known, can be described well as "only a feeling"). I've talked before about balancing rights, avoiding suffering and so on. These are the principles by which I find the holocaust abhorrent. I mention evolution only to admit that I am not objective or above being a human animal and part of a society, and that these things affect my values.

If all you were was disappointed -- in what?

I guess it's the tactic of suggesting "unless you agree to moral objectivism, you are no better than someone who masterminds genocide. It is possible I overinterpreted your comment.

I think "murder is inconvenient" is a suitable way to sum up your view of it. Inconvenient to progress, inconvenient emotionally -- whatever.

Alright, but I could say that your view is that murder is inconvenient to God's plan. It's spin.

it's impossible to prove one person's hunch is better than another's

Careful now -- I can prove that some ethics systems are inconsistent or fail to uphold the values they are based on or will tend to wipe out whatever society adopts it. But some ethics systems cannot be proved to be worse than mine.

Not only do I disagree with Hitler's core values (the sovereignty of will to power, the supremacy of the strong), his system of ethics was demonstrably poor, based on a misreading of Nietsche.

It doesn't bother you even just a little bit that you can't prove the Holocaust was wrong?

I can prove it is wrong given my principles and values.
You can prove it is wrong given your faith in God.
But I cannot prove my principles and values are absolutely correct, and you cannot prove that God is real and as you believe Him to be.

This does bother me, or it used to. But us being bothered isn't evidence for moral objectivism.

I know you wouldn't think moral relativism a bad thing -- indeed, that seems to be what you're promoting

Well, I hesitate to promote it because I only have a tenuous grasp of what it really means. However, it is not quite the anything goes, you do your thing and i'll do mine idea that gets thrown around a lot. It tends to be understood as a negative thesis, existing only to challenge moral objectivists; but it is also a positive notion where some judgements are granted moral authority realtive to a group of persons -- for some judgements that might be all of humanity. A judgement on an activity such as cannibalism and polygamy seems to apply to a narrower audience.

A while ago in thinkling land there was some discussion of extra-terrestrial life, and whether or not those hypothetical alien creatures would be involved in God's plan. If I remember right, some commentors allowed that they need not be as they weren't created in God's image and Jesus hadn't saved them and so on. If that is the case, moral statements that you make are local to people living on earth, who are part of God's covenant and were offered Jesus' gift of salvation. To those aliens outside the Covenant, God's moral law is not supreme.
Kind of a whacky example, but it just occured to me on the fly. It may not convey any meaning, being maybe I could modify it to talk about gentiles in old testament times who were not included in Moses' covenant. The reems of moral instructions to the Jews did not apply to them. Is that an example of moral relativism from the pages of the bible?

But to conclude: I can prove things but only down to the axiomatic level -- that's all anyone can do. In mathematics, we get to choose the axioms; in ethics axioms are thrust upon us (by evolution and culture, or by God through some imperfect sense) and we can refine them through argument or exegesis but it's not possible to prove them.

As for what a woman in a gas chamber thinks about all this... I think it's all equal to her as long as there are troops approaching to save her. I strongly support action to prevent genocide, and it shocks me that we did so little in Rwanda.

41. jez - 08/25/2004 2:49 pm CDT

Is God's old testament covenant with the Jews an example of moral relativism?
Can you prove that God is real and as described in the bible? If not, then you can no more prove the holocaust was wrong than I can.

42. jez - 08/25/2004 2:58 pm CDT

Here are some questions this conversation has left me with, I won't be offended if no-one answers.
Can you prove that God is real and as described in the bible? If you can't you can no more prove the holocaust was wrong than I can.
Is the old testament agreement between God and the Jews a biblical example of moral relativism?
Do you agree that the crazy murder decision in Iran is a result of moral objectivism? How can such disputes be best resolved?

43. jez - 08/25/2004 3:02 pm CDT

this conversation has left me with some questions. I won't be offended if no-one answers.
Can you prove God is real and as described in the bible? If not, you can no more "prove" the holocaust was wrong than I can.
Is the old teststament agreement between God and the Jews a biblical example of moral relativism?
Do you agree that the crazy decision in the Iranian murder case is a consequence of moral objectivism? What is the best way to resolve disputes with such a government?

44. Jared - 08/25/2004 3:04 pm CDT

Jez, I'm out of energy at this point. I don't think it would matter how I answer.
But I'll post these questions in an honest-to-goodness blog, because I think they are good ones. Or at least honest ones, anyway.
We'll see if anyone bites.

45. jez - 08/25/2004 3:05 pm CDT

sorry for the repetition, my computer's behaving a little oddly. I shall have to threaten to replace it with a slide-rule.

46. jez - 08/25/2004 3:08 pm CDT

thanks jared. the old testament thing is an idea that occured during the exchange, and it's really tickled my curiosity. In the meanwhile I'll consult google.

47. Jared - 08/25/2004 3:25 pm CDT

No problem.
So as not to cop out completely, though, I guess I could give you my short answers to the questions (minus detailed defenses and explanations). But they're likely to only raise more questions. I'll let whoever gives it a go in the new post elaborate (provided their answers are similar to mine).

1. Can you prove God is real and as described in the bible?
Probably not to your satisfaction, no. My faith is my proof. We could, on the other hand, debate the evidence for the existence of God, which I think is rather strong. We could also debate philosophically and logically about the existence of God, which I also leans in favor of His existence. But if you want the "floating Jesus" Hobo wanted in another thread as proof, more than likely you won't get it.
On the other hand, if we both believe the Holocaust is wrong -- that is, if we both "feel" it is wrong -- my view is more equipped to explain why and is more consistent logically. (My reasons for saying that should be evident in previous comments.)

2. Is the old teststament agreement between God and the Jews a biblical example of moral relativism?
Not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean because capital punishment was instituted for offenses then that they aren't now?
In any event, my answer is no. The Old Testament law was an example of God's setting the rules of the road for the Israelites based on the objective truths He has laid out. In other words, adultery, murder, homosexuality, etc. were wrong then and they're wrong now. Nothing relative there.

3a. Do you agree that the crazy decision in the Iranian murder case is a consequence of moral objectivism?

Kinda sorta, not really, maybe.
Not all objectivism is the same, and obviously I believe in the absolute truths of the Christian tradition, not the Islamic.
The idea is not whether "objectivism" is True. I do believe that "objectivism" is truer than "relativism." But within "objectivism," I believe that there are one sets of truths that True and others which are not. To believe all modes of objectivisms are true is not objectivism at all, but relativism.
The debate then would be to which religion or philosophy's truth claims hold up to scrutiny best.

3b. What is the best way to resolve disputes with such a government?

Can you clarify this? Do you mean how should the West respond to such practices? Or do you mean how should the people within that nation respond to this? Or the people involved in such court cases?

For what it's worth . . .

48. jez - 08/26/2004 5:18 am CDT

Ta.
I just have some comments to make on this, and I've clarified where you've asked for it, so I thought you might be interested to read my response. But I respect that you have better things to do than reply. So do I, but I procrastinate :)

1) My faith is my proof
Faith is not proof, they are contradictary concepts. If something is proven, there is not faith required.
evidence for the existence of God, which I think is rather strong.
This is a better idea. I admit that my values and principles are adhoc (within the bounds set on them by evolution and cultural history) or else pragmatic. If there are grounds for belief (a lesser standard than proof) in the specific biblical God, then you're beating me I think!
The best I could do is balance them with evidence for the universe being Godless, or evidence for any God being different from the Biblical God.
my view is more equipped to explain why and is more consistent logically.
I disagree with this. If you're right, then your view carries more moral authority than mine, but that's not the same thing. And of course, if the source of your authority is in question, then your whole ethics system might collapse.

2) Not sure what you mean by that
OK. There are several instructions given by the old testament books which have no relevence to how anybody, christian or not, behaves now. The examples I've given in the thread for the other post are
i) male circumcision,
ii) clothing of mixed fibers, and
iii) the license given to Jews to take slaves from the gentiles.
During OT times, I take it these instructions and the moral truths at their basis did not apply gentiles; also I take it they do not apply to anyone today.
You've given only examples of things you consider wrong today and were considered wrong by the Jews back in antiquity. It takes only one example which does not fit objectivism to prove relativism. If you consider slavery to be wrong today, do you consider it to have been wrong in ancient times? I might be wrong, but it seems to me like you must choose between some degree of moral relativism and the historical/moral accuracy of the bible.
If I were you, I'd go for the relativism. There are really trivial examples of it which I'm quite sure you approve of, such as x,y being right for men, but wrong for women etc.
Anyway, relativism isn't the demon you tend to think it is, only when taken to whacky extremes does it render all actions meaningless.
It's just occured to me, it may be possible to prove the holocaust it wrong under a certain class of ethical systems, say, all consistent, non-masochistic, self-sustaining ethical systems. That would be fun, an ethics based on hard-core set theory. :=)

3a) The debate then would be to which religion or philosophy's truth claims hold up to scrutiny best.
Actually, I see no reason why the universe should make sense. Really. It surprises me that physics works, wherever we look; it's like star trek landing on an alien planet every week where everyone speaks English. (this is an argument for a designer God, I realise)
But the same applies to morality. No reason why the external standard of good and evil (if there is one) should make sense to us. It's not which religion's truth claims hold up to scrutiny, it is simply which religion is true. Anything else is pragmatism. (not a problem for me, but something which you might be trying to avoid).

3b) For a Christian living in Iran, how should he argue against a judicial decision which apalls him?

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