Friday, October 08, 2004

I "respect" your belief...

Are beliefs no more than feelings that can change with one's disposition? Is our morality simply a byproduct of said feelings? If so, then does respect for someone elses feelings or beliefs really matter? Consider a rapist who might express to his soon to be victim, "I really respect your belief that rape is wrong, but..." During the debate tonight there was a question from one Elizabeth Long to John Kerry:
LONG: Senator Kerry, thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells or umbilical cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn't it be wide to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo? KERRY: You know, Elizabeth, I really respect your -- the feeling that's in your question. I understand it. I know the morality that's prompting that question, and I respect it enormously. But... - (emphasis added)
Then another question for Kerry from Sarah Degenhart:
DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person? KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now. First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today. But... - (emphasis added)
John "But..." Kerry

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

After he said how much he “respects” their view he also informed them that he would have to “respect” all of views in America! Huh? Since when is THAT leadership? Bush should have knocked this series of questions out of the ballpark. Like I’ve said on our site, that view comes in real handy. You never know when the majority of Americans will desire blood sports, slavery, or cannibalism. So he sure has a good grasp on what the right thing is…he’s just not going to do anything, after all, you gotta stay elected!
-Dogman
www.theroughwoodsman.com

DarkSyde said...

Rusty the view on ESC seems to me problematic not just from a logical standpoint, but form the standpoint of absolute morality as well.
I've seen a number of folks on the religious right defend the War in Iraq on the grounds that. even though Saddam did not have WMD's capability, he might have acquired it down the road if the sanctions were lifted. I'm not talking about you specifically as you have raised some reasonable criticism of the War from time-to-time.
The argument justifying Iraq has now shifted from a grave and present threat to a future benefit of known degree. I.e. he would potentially kill more people and maybe even sell those agents to Al Qaeada to be used against US interests. Now we know that there are going to be civilian causalities in any war. So the rightwingers who endorse the War on that basis are making the case that it's acceptable, not desirable of course and indeed regrettable, that Iraqi children, babies, etc., would most likely die, for a potentially greater good down the road.

But at the same time, the right-to-lifers are opposed to ESC research because they feel that ESC's are 'people' and it's an absolute moral evil to kill people no matter what the potential benefit.

These two views appear to me in diamateric opposition. I could be wrong, but seems to me the only way to reconcile them both as being moral will involve a healthy dose of apologetics and the invocation of relative morality.

Macht said...

DarkSyde,

Of those who defend the war on Iraq, not all defend it on utilitarian grounds. Many people I would say defend it on the grounds that SH has a long history of doing evil things and the war is justified if freedom is brought to Iraq.

Second, you say:

"But at the same time, the right-to-lifers are opposed to ESC research because they feel that ESC's are 'people' and it's an absolute moral evil to kill people no matter what the potential benefit."

I would say that most people who find ESC research ethically suspect, don't believe what you've stated above. I would say most people would say that there are just reasons for killing people (e.g., self-defense) but that the intentional creation of human life for the sole purpose of destroying it is wrong. (Bush would seem to be one of these people since he did allow funding on the already existing lines but didn't allow it on new lines.)

Bonnie said...

Kerry not only "butted," he avoided answering Ms. Long's question directly. And then he went on to cite Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox as his experts on embryonic stem cell research!!

In response to Degenhart, Kerry says, "But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that..."

Oh yes you can, Sen. Kerry, because legislators do it all the time.

This statement gives Kerry away: he's not stating what he truly thinks is best for the country, he stating what he thinks/hopes is the majority opinion (so he can get elected).

Later in his response to Degehart, he says, "But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment."

Yes, but you're not President yet, Sen Kerry. You're not representing the country yet. Don't put the cart before the horse.

DarkSyde said...

Well, let's take Iraq out of the picture as that's too loaded a political issue right now for my purpose.
Let's say we have a jumbo jet that's turned off its transponder and is off its flight path on a straight line to New York City. It won't respond to hails, a few confusing brief calls from the passengers on cell phones indicate that the plane has been hijacked by what might be Islamic Militants. Worse still, one of the militants claims to have a load of nerve gas onboard.
Now the argument could be made that that jet has to be shot down. That allowing it to continue would probably mean a bunch of people being killed in NYC. Of course the hijackers might loose their nerve, or our information could be wrong, or the passengers and crew might retake the plane, or the pilot might suck and miss his target or go into a flat spin on the way. So we can't state with 100% certainty that the suspected terrorists will succeed. But I could understand why we might conclude that shooting it down and killing every innocent person on board was necessary to protect an unknown number of possible victims in NYC. I bet most right-to-lifers would agree with that regretabble decsion as would I.

But what if the plane had a container of frozen embryos from a fertility clinic on board? Now, according to the right-to-life objections to ESCR, we can't shoot it down, because killing unborn children for any future unknown benefit is morally wrong for the same reason Embryonic Stem Cell Research is always morally wrong. And if do shoot it down then we're child murderers.

The only way out of that, I think, is to invoke a relative morality. But the same group of folks who are object the most to ESCR and abortion in general maintain that they are in the possession of an absolute morality that is superior to the relative morality they routinely deride in individuals such as myself.

Macht said...

"Now, according to the right-to-life objections to ESCR, we can't shoot it down, because killing unborn children for any future unknown benefit is morally wrong for the same reason Embryonic Stem Cell Research is always morally wrong."

I just got done saying that I don't think most people who are against ESC research are against it for that reason. I'll repeat:

"I would say most people would say that there are just reasons for killing people (e.g., self-defense) but that the intentional creation of human life for the sole purpose of destroying it is wrong."

It is a fact that embryos will have to be created for the purpose of being destroyed if ESC's are ever going to be used to cure people of diseases. The amount of frozen embryo's from IVF is not nearly enough. The reason is because if I have diabetes or some other disease, I will need stem cells from an embryo that my immune system won't reject. There was an article in Scientific American in June called "The Stem Cell Challenge," which stated:

"ES cells and their derivatives carry the same likelihood of immune rejection as a transplanted organ because, like all cells, they carry the surface proteins, or antigens, by which the immune system recognizes invaders. Hundreds of combinations of different types of antigens are possible, meaning that hundreds of thousands of ES cell lines might be needed to establish a bank of cells with immune matches for most potential patients. Creating that many lines could require millions of discarded embryos from IVF clinics."

The estimate that I've seen is that there are around 400,000 frozen embryos from IVF clinics. 400,000 frozen embryos is a long ways away from "millions of discarded embryos." So, as I said, for a lot of people who find ESC research unethical, it is because the potential life-saving benefit isn't going to come from human life that is alive and going to die anyways, but it is going to have to come from human life that is created for the sole purpose of destroying it.

Rusty said...

Dark,

Regarding ESCR I would argue that you are misrepresenting the issue by framing it in a way that creates a false distinction between frozen embryos and innocent human beings. Shooting down the hijacked plane in order to deter the purposeful, albeit evil, intentions of the hijackers is not analogous to destroying human embryos in order to alleviate suffering caused by disease. One involves sacrificing innocent human life in order to prevent the wanton destruction of a greater number of lives, while the other involves the murder of innocent human life in order to increase the quality of life of specific members of society.

FYI, not all Christians agree with Dubya's August 2001 decision to allow Federal funding for limited ESCR. Check this Touchstone article.

DarkSyde said...

Rusty I realize that not all right-to-lifers agree with the ESCR decision. But for RtL's who oppose ESCR, the basis of the opposition is, in many cases, the same basis applied to abortion. They believe that embryos have a special quality, a soul if you will, that is installed by God, and that it's outside of humanity's purview to tamper with that and kill those embryos because in the eyes of God those embryos are people. They apply that standard to both ESCR and to abortion.

They believe that in the case of ESCR, the ends do not justify the means. But as in my hypothetical hijacked airliner scenario, or with the very real tragedy of civilians killed in Iraq, many of those very same people argue that the ends do justify the means.
Now what I'm asking here is; how can one call those mutually exclusive views the product of an absolute morality?

Ilona said...

Darksyde,
you said "the right-to-lifers are opposed to ESC research because they feel that ESC's are 'people' ". There are many religious views within the right to life stance, however, I think the issue is not that the stem cells are people, but that people are used for the harvest of those cells. In the case of organ transplants it wouldn't be hard to see that it is a moral evil to end a healthy persons life to harvest their organs for the sake of the sick; neither would it be considered moral to "raise" people ( in the sense of a crop) for the sake of future harvesting,

The issue is that people have a right to exist, and we ought to be very careful when we deem it necessary to abrogate that right.

In the case of terrorists hijacking a plane, who is the terrorist in your estimation.... the ones shooting down the plane (including the case of frozen embryos aboard) or the hijacker bent on destroying not only those on the plane, but others as well? Who is threatening human life in the case of ESCR? The protesters or the advocates? Not that I would call advocates terrorists, but it was your analogy..... I would say the advocates of ending a healthy life for the sake of research and medical use are on the wrong side of the moral fence.

Further I would say, for the sake of definitions, that there is no absolute morality, but that there is absolute of standard. Which is why the idea of shooting down a plane used as a weapon against people is the right thing to do and killing a new forming human life for use of its parts is wrong. Human life has value, instrinsically, which stands outside of the group value. You have value as a being, not simply on the basis of your usefulness to the group.

Yet, the individual has responsibility to the group.... that is basic to most ethics. We balance it out, but I would say that the groups value is dependent upon the individuals value in our Western way of thinking ( which is strongly informed by Christian values and morality). If we do not value human life at the individual basis, what reason do we have to vouchsafe the groups? And what reasoning would we use to say that ethnic cleansing is wrong?

It is all based in the foundational concepts that give rise to the right to life movement: the importance of a human life and its right to exist. Protected from claims of "the potential benefit" of ending that life.

Paul said...

I'd have to take DS's side on this. ESR *might* save lives, at the cost we hope of some fewer lives. The war in Iraq *might* save lives, at the cost we hope of some fewer lives. What is the difference? There is uncertainty in both, there is death in both, and there is innocence in both.

Macht said...

"But for RtL's who oppose ESCR, the basis of the opposition is, in many cases, the same basis applied to abortion. They believe that embryos have a special quality, a soul if you will, that is installed by God, and that it's outside of humanity's purview to tamper with that and kill those embryos because in the eyes of God those embryos are people. They apply that standard to both ESCR and to abortion."

This is also false. Abortion and ESC research are two separate issues. There are people who are pro-choice but against stem cell research. I realize you say "in many cases" but I'm not sure if that is even correct. The issue with abortion is generally framed as a conflict of rights between a woman and a fetus. The issue with ESC research doesn't have that conflict. And so the debate will be fought on utilitarian grounds, as you are trying to do. And often, I think it is people who do this that try to say that people who are against ESC research are also arguing on utilitarian grounds. But that isn't how their arguments are framed, no matter how many times you repeat it. Almost all arguments against ESC research use a deontological ethic (our duty to all human life) or a rights ethic (all human life has certain rights).

As far as "absolutes" go, very few people believe in them as you seem to be defining them. Very few people believe that lying is always wrong in all cases (and if they did I'd have them read "The Hiding Place"). So I'm not really sure why you are sticking with that point.

DarkSyde said...

I'll try to state it more clearly. I'm not making a case for why ESCR should be "OK". I'm pointing out that in many cases the same folks that object to ESCR on moral grounds do so for the same reason they object to abortion on moral grounds. E.G. That ESC's come from embryos and that it's morally wrong to destroy human embryos because embryos should be considered humans in the legal sense and thus protected under civil or Divine law ... and ergo; it's murder.
Anyone who wants to claim that's not the basis most religious Right-to-lifers are motivated by when they object to ESCR and support Bush's ban are, quite frankly, lying through their teeth. If you're going to lie, then I have no further need of your input because you've demonstrated you're not capable of honesty. Go to another thread or ignore my comments because I have neither the time or the inclination to coddle liars.

Now the question for the remainder who are willing to respond with honesty is not whether or not stem cell reasearch is morally justifiable. My questions is what absolute morality, the absolute morality I've seen a number of commentators on this blog claims exists and is superior to all offer forms of morality, is employed when objecting to the destruction of embryos, i.e. babies, for stem research regardless of the future, unknown benefit, but gives the go ahead on shooting down a possible hijacked aircraft chock full of people, or a war, to gain a potential, future, unknown benefit?

Macht said...

"Anyone who wants to claim that's not the basis most religious Right-to-lifers are motivated by when they object to ESCR and support Bush's ban are, quite frankly, lying through their teeth."

Now you're getting it. That's what I've said the whole time. People who are against ESC research base their objection either in the inherent value of all human beings or on the rights of all human beings.

Now all we have to do is work on your definition of "absolute" and we'll be getting somewhere. Where did you get the idea that a "moral absolute" means that, for example, lying is always wrong all the time. I've truly never met anybody who believes that people were wrong for lying to Nazi's when they were hiding Jews, yet I've met lots of people who believe in moral absolutes. I can only assume, then, that you don't understand what they mean by "absolute."

I would imagine that the answer to your question about ESC research and shooting down planes may be similar to the answer that somebody would give concerning lying in various situations.

(By the way, there is no ban on stem cell research in this country.)

Bonnie said...

DS -- in my view, the difference is that in the case of the embryos, no perpetrator is involved. In the case of a hijacked plane, however, there is a perpetrator: the hijacker(s). Likewise, in the case of going to war, someone is wronging someone else and must be stopped.

Paul said...

Bonnie - I can't imagine that a perpatrator is the deciding factor. If we had a cure for AIDS, but it involved killing one person for every million saved, would you say that we shouldn't kill the unlucky one? There's no perpetrator involved, after all.

Bonnie said...

If we had a cure for AIDS, but it involved killing one person for every million saved, would you say that we shouldn't kill the unlucky one?Absolutely. But that said, I don't care much for hypothetical situations; I'd much rather deal with real ones.

I stand by what I said.

Paul said...

Interesting. So if somebody is harming someone else we must go to war? Regardless of the cost in life?

Bonnie said...

C’mon Paul...

Obviously it's not prudent to go to war if the cost would be too great in proportion to the losses or injustices being committed by the perpetrator. Yes I realize such a decision may be complicated and that not everyone may agree on cost/loss assessment.

Maybe I can answer your question better this way: what is the motive in the heart for declaring war in any particular instance? This is where final judgment will be called. And of course there is only One who can fully see this; even an individual who is attempting to live honestly before God and the world can have blind spots as to their own motives. BUT that’s not to say that there is never an honest and upright reason to go to war.

Should Hitler not have been stopped?

Paul said...

Naturally I think Hitler should have been stopped. I think that there are times when innocent lives should be traded for other innocent lives (and even for non-innocent ones). But the war in Iraq and WWII were utterly different - for Britain at least the choice was literally to fight or give up our nationhood in WWII. For a nation pretty much any cost is worth that. In Iraq the choice was to go and defend some Kurds against an abhorrent dictator, at unknown cost financially or in loss of life, or indeed at unknown cost to the world in terms of a growth or decline in terrorism.

Bonnie said...

Well, as I said, Paul, not everyone may agree on cost/loss assessment of a particular campaign. But that does not affect my initial distinction between destroying lives for ESCR and stopping a lethally dangerous perpetrator.

Bonnie said...

Well, as I said, Paul, not everyone may agree on cost/loss assessment of a particular campaign. But that does not affect my initial distinction between destroying lives for ESCR and stopping a lethally dangerous perpetrator.

Ilona said...

Human life has inherent value, not static value or given value ...as in being a base commodity. Human life has varying fragility, no one can really guarantee the life of an embryo, too many things can happen. One can't make static statements about the decision to go to war, too many issues have to weighed.

The one thing that defines our humanity is that there is an inherent value for each life, if that is compromised you lose the whole meaning of the terms humane, humanitarian, and -finally- the basic one of human. Something has to give meaning to those terms, and that extends to all of human life.

It is not a matter of the contrived arguments of imputing number values or category values to people, it is a matter of recognizing that if we allow that one human has important value we have to allow it for all. Not always equally, but with a basic respect for human life.

This is where those who advocate dismissing the rights of unborn children, or elderly or handicapped people, to existance are failing in their responsibilities to their fellow humans.... there is an emphasis on contrived "benefits" that are utilitarian and often commercial in basis.

The respect is for the life, not the accomplishments or even the potential, and the idea that certain trade-offs are not acceptable.

Otherwise the rights of the individual will always be swallowed up in the demands of the group.

And then where is the freedom of man in concept?

And we fight that grand battle in the smaller skirmishes of "what is an embryo", "who has the right to end a life" and under what circumstances, " "what are the outlines of a justified war", " what is our responsibility to the environment"...

Many of the detailed questions of ethical behaviors rests on what we define as the basic rights of individual humans.

It is one of the big questions.

Paul said...

Bonnie - I'm sorry, I don't see where the cost/loss differences come in. In both ESR and Iraq we have an unknown cost and an unknown benefit. In what way do the benefits or costs differ?

Bonnie said...

Paul, I'd refer you one comment up. Ilona made some very good points.

It goes beyond the utilitarian. It's a matter of who has authority to offer whose life as sacrifice to protect the life of another/others.

Paul said...

Sorry, I'm still not getting it. If you gave me an unknown number of your work hours, and I gave you an unknown number of dollars in return, would that be a good deal? I'd suggest that the answer is, well, unknowable.

As to the authority - I guess this refers back to your belief that God imbues government with extra authority? So why do we have the authority to overthrow the Iraqi government - it would have answered to God in time, and until then it was given authority by God by definition.

Bonnie said...

Paul, you seem to be chopping the issues up into single considerations, and trying to imagine each of these in abstract conceptualizations. The reality is that these issues are complex and involve many intertwined considerations. It's a "worldview" thing.

But, that said, the ESCR issue isn't about "unknowables"...it's about the knowable fact that human life, in and of itself, from the moment of its beginning, is sacred.

"Authority" as I refer to it in this instance is not merely governmental; there are other forms of it, such as individual, spousal, and parental.

But regarding the Iraqi war, I think it's been made clear that if there is a dire threat, then authority exists to protect those one has charge of, in whatever regard. The Iraqi government has authority over its own constituents but not over other nations; it therefore has no authority to encroach upon them. Imagine applying your argument to Hitler.

Paul said...

If human life is sacred (not just important, but sacred) then isn't it wrong to command soldiers to die in Iraq?

I'd rather apply your argument first to Hitler - he had authority over his own constituents, so does that mean it was OK for him to kill the Jews and other 'undesirables' there? Any more than it was OK for Hussein to kill Kurds and other of his 'undesirables'? The difference is that Hitler overstepped his national borders in a radical fashion. Hussein did it once, got beaten back, and hadn't overstepped them since. Presumably then we didn't have authority to attack him (given that there was no 'clear and present danger')?

It seems the more I look into your position, the more contradictory it gets. That's interesting, because that's what the naturalistc position keeps being attacked for on these pages.

Bonnie said...

Paul, I'll respond more in-depth later when I have time, but regarding your last paragraph I can offer the following:

As I've said before, to seriously "look into" Christianity, especially from a completely different worldview, is a great undertaking. I commend you for it. But willingness and openness is the basic first step, and will take any seeker a long way. And BTW, I'm still a seeker :-)

I would suggest going to the source: ask God to reveal Himself to you and answer your questions. Read the New Testament, using a good study bible (I like the NAS Open Bible).

I would also refer you to the writings of C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and individuals listed in Joe Carter's "Know Your Evangelicals" series.

Paul said...

An interesting thought, Bonnie. One initial clarification - is the New Testament a more concentrated source of God's word than the Old Testament? Or is there another reason to start with that? That sounds flippant, and perhaps it is, but it's a serious question too. Do the two books not refer to the same god?

Bonnie said...

Paul, I always appreciate an honest question :-) And you ask some good ones! I appreciate the challenge and opportunity to try to answer them. Yet as I alluded to before, there are others far more capable than I. That's my disclaimer :-) I am well aware of my own limitations.

That said, the reason I recommend the NT over the OT is: the NT tells the story of Jesus and of the early church under the new covenant (Matthew 26:20-35 esp. 28), which is that Jesus' death, shed blood, and rising again supercedes the old covenant of animal sacrifice and law. The letter to the Hebrews chapters 8-10 explains this.

I think it is much easier to get a picture of who God is and how he relates to us today, and how we may relate to him, from the NT first. Then read the OT once you have that context.

Yes, the God of both the OT and the NT is the same God, but the Bible chronicles the history of the relationship between God and man. This relationship has not been static by any means; it has changed as man has changed. I would liken it to this: imagine several different people you know. Do you relate to all of them the same? No, I'm sure you relate to each one differently, as they have differences as people and differing relationships to you. Yet you are still the same person no matter to whom you're relating. Likewise, a parent will adapt their way of relating to a child as that child grows, age-appropriately (assuming they themselves don't changed much :-) ).

Hope that helps, Paul.

Rusty (or anyone else), please feel free to help out :-)

Paul said...

Thanks for the information Bonnie. Your answer suggests that the NT is more true than the OT, not necessarily in an historical sense, but as a more accurate reflection of what a relationship with god should be like. Can you tell me how much more accurate it is, and how much innacuracy remains? How should I determine (how could anyone determine) which bits are really, really true, and which are merely steps along a path that could end up absolutely anywhere?

Rusty said...

Paul,

I won't presume to speak for Bonnie, but I think she would agree with me when I state that it isn't that the NT is more true than the OT, but that the NT fulfills the OT. Jesus himself said that he did not come to do away with the Law (from the OT) but to fulfill it. In other words, the NT completes the plan that God had arranged from the beginning.

While the NT is much easier for us to understand, a comprehensive understanding of it should involve a deep study of the OT. Christians in the 21st century West tend to paint the OT as being too archaic, yet we completely miss the point of the NT Gospels in that they were intended to present Jesus as the Messiah. To completely understand what "the Messiah" means we must study the OT - and in so doing, we see that the OT is chock full of pointers towards the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant. The issue isn't whether the NT is more accurate than the OT, but how the two relate and complement each other and, more importantly, how they present the complete plan of God.

Bonnie said...

Well said, Rusty, thanks. I definitely agree that the OT is as relevant as the NT.

My concern for Paul was, for someone coming from an atheistic mindset and no concept of how the OT relates to the NT, reading the Bible piecemeal can be awfully confusing. (I remember those days :-) )