Improving the pledge

Maybe you’ve seen this, or even participated in it: the occasion is a public meeting of the local PTA, school board, town council, or what have you, and someone gets up and leads everyone in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone, that is, except the local atheist/agnostic, who stands there quietly but visibly NOT reciting the pledge, in silent protest over the addition of the words “under God.” He or she might also object to the whole idea of a loyalty oath on general principles, but let me skip over that for the moment, because I want to zero in on the words “under God,” and suggest a way we can make a huge improvement.

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Who’s attacking marriage?

You hear a lot from the religious right about how marriage is under attack and how Christians need to band together to defend marriage. And yet, nobody is really attacking people’s right to get married—except people like Jayman.

I don’t view marriage as a civil right (i.e., it is not like the right to life, the right to free speech, and the like).

Pardon me whilst I attach my own Defense of Marriage Amendment to that particular argument.

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Defending bad definitions

I got a lot of good comments on yesterday’s post about the definition of marriage, but not everybody was happy with my description. In particular, Jayman777 wants to take me to task.

It makes sense, therefore, to define marriage in terms of what the relationship between those individuals is and/or should be.

Which is it? What marriage is or what marriage should be?

I think he’s missing an important point here. There are many definitions of marriage, some good and some bad, and some of those definitions describe what marriage is, and some describe what marriage ought to be. By what definition of “marriage” has Newt Gingrich had 3 wives? By the definition of what marriage is, or the definition of what marriage should be? By what definition of marriage did King Solomon have 300 wives (and 600 concubines)? Is marriage a union of one man and up to 900 women? Should it be? Well, we could talk, but the point is, if you have a definition of what marriage is, that does not preclude you from having a different definition of what marriage should be.

That’s why it’s silly to talk about anyone “changing THE definition of marriage.” There is no one, single, exclusive definition that covers all the cases. Even in purely heterosexual relationships there’s frequently (if not inevitably) a gap between what it is and what people think/want/expect it to be.

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Not all definitions of marriage are equal

The other day I was listening to yet another Christian conservative parrot the tired mantra about how liberals are trying to change the definition of marriage. My first thought was that if marriage equality changes your definition of marriage, you’ve been using a bad definition of marriage. And that got me thinking about the various definitions of marriage, and how they compare with one another.

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The apologist’s dilemma

Thanks to some articulate and well-informed comments on yesterday’s post, I now understand that there’s a lot more to it than just needing to verify your conclusions before you accept them as true. Verificationism (or at least, the strict forms of verificationism that William Lane Craig was referring to) can go so far as to say that unverifiable statements can’t even have meaning. In other words, if I can’t verify whether or not it was raining on June 12, 4BC, the proposition “It was raining on June 12, 4BC” doesn’t even mean anything. I can’t even ask whether it is true or false because there’s no way to know what those words even mean.

Ok, strict verificationism overstates its case. So far so good. The question then becomes, “So what, then?” Even granting that verificationism, or at least certain forms of strict verificationism, might have gone too far, what does that have to do with Christianity? Craig’s opening argument was that the alleged collapse of verificationism led directly to a resurgence of Christian philosophy. But why would that be the case? What is it about Christianity that benefits from such a change, and what does this mean for apologetics and natural theology?

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A few people have commented (with good reason) that my last post was guilty of quote-mining William Lane Craig. And truth to tell, I don’t think I gave enough of the context of the original quote to give people a fair idea of what Craig was trying to say, nor did I do enough to address the point he was making in the original article. I gave the full article a more thorough discussion over at my other blog, but I wanted to highlight a point or two from Craig’s argument because they’re fairly interesting on their own. Here’s the quote.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, many philosophers believed that talk about God, since it is not verifiable by the five senses, is meaningless—actual nonsense. This verificationism finally collapsed, in part because philosophers realized that verificationism itself could not be verified!

That’s an interesting disproof, because it’s somewhat paradoxical. Suppose you come to the conclusion that verificationism is false. How can you know whether or not that conclusion is really correct? If it’s correct that verificationism is false, then one of the things you can no longer verify is your conclusion that verificationism is false.

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Better late than never

So President Obama has finally come out in favor of equal civil rights for gays. About damn time, and kudos to him for having the courage to do so ahead of the election instead of waiting until it was “safe” to take a stand. He should have done so years ago, but still, credit where credit is due. This takes a fair amount of courage. He’s taking a genuine risk here by making gay marriage a campaign issue, because the right is looking for something they can use to build up a backlash, and this could be their best bet.

My advice to the Obama campaign: focus on the theme that it’s wrong to discriminate against people just because they fall in love differently than you do. The right is going to harp on the idea that he’s “changing the definition of marriage” and promoting immorality. He needs to undercut that and challenge the assumption that there’s only one “correct” way to fall in love, and that the government ought to deny equal rights to those who are different. Marriage, as an institution, belongs to everyone, and not just to those who fit the majority’s self-serving definition of what constitutes “normal.”

The cost of discipleship

The Christian faith isn’t just a story about how to get to heaven in the next life, it a way of walking by faith in all areas of your life.

“We’re going to show you how to get wealth and use it for the building of his kingdom,” [Ephren] Taylor shouted to the congregation one morning in 2009. It was all part of what he called his “Building Wealth Tour,” which crisscrossed the country touting his investments and financial advice.

It’s a popular theme in Christian circles. God actually wants you to be wealthy and successful, and people like Taylor are called by God to help share this good news. But?

But according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, what Taylor was actually peddling was a giant Ponzi scheme, one aimed to “swindle over $11 million, primarily from African-American churchgoers,” that reached into churches nationwide, from [Eddie] Long’s megachurch in Atlanta to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church congregation in Houston.

Ah. The cost of teaching yourself how to uncritically swallow whatever men tell you in the name of God. Of course, the difference between Taylor and megapastors like Long and Osteen is that the latter two don’t promise to ever give the money back. Gullibility costs you either way, but the latter way goes unpunished.

via ABC News.

Perverted Science

Writing for the Finance section of (wait, the Finance section?), Mark Baisley has great hopes for the future of science.

Galileo was a true scientist.

I like Wikipedia’s description, “He displayed a peculiar ability to ignore established authorities, most notably Aristotelianism. In broader terms, his work marked another step towards the eventual separation of science from both philosophy and religion; a major development in human thought. He was often willing to change his views in accordance with observation.”

Based on recent trends in education and politics, I predict that human thought in the 21st Century will progress even further with a new separation of science, this time from politics. Three recent, unrelated publications; a video study, a book, and a movie; give me encouragement that the contemporary version of geocentricism is about to get its comeuppance.

He bases this hope on three things: a video from Focus on the Family, a book by William Dembski, and the move Expelled.

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