Wednesday, 18 April 2007


Be careful how you describe the Virginia Tech killer. I’ve seen him described as a maniac, as deranged, as mentally ill, as crazy, as insane, as disturbed, as psychopathic, as irrational, and as nutty. Each of these terms diminishes his responsibility for his behavior. I’m not saying that he wasn’t mad; maybe he was. But logically, he can’t be both bad and mad. If you want to leave open the possibility that he was bad, then don’t use terms that imply that he was mad.


Is anyone surprised that progressives want to control the media? See here. They can’t persuade, which is the only respectful mode of influence, so they resort to disrespectful modes such as coercion and manipulation.

Richard Swinburne on Salvation

In the history of Christian theology there have been different views about the fate of men of good conscience with false religious beliefs. The view which seems finally to have prevailed is that a man who has tried to pursue the good but through ignorance has failed to do so, has implicit faith, fides in voto in Catholic terminology, which suffices for salvation. Where the Christian Gospel has not impinged on a man’s conscience, such faith is enough. The slogan, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (‘outside the Church there is no salvation’) must be understood so as to include those of implicit faith as members of the Church.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 150 [footnote omitted])


Paul Krugman won’t like this.

Best of the Web Today


Common Sense About Guns

Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. InstaPundit) nails it. I have a question for my readers. Suppose Virginia (or the United States, for that matter) had a ban on private ownership and possession of firearms. (Leave the unconstitutionality of such a statute aside.) What would the Virginia Tech mass murderer have done? Progressives think he would have refrained from killing. Is that plausible? First, a ban on private ownership of firearms doesn’t make firearms go away. It just means that anyone who has a gun is violating the law. There will be plenty of guns out there on the black market, accessible to anyone who is bent on killing, robbing, kidnapping, or raping. Second, there are other ways to commit mass murder besides firing a gun. Given what we know about the mass murderer in this case, it’s vanishingly unlikely that he would have abandoned his plan had he been unable to acquire a gun. He would have killed in a different way (e.g., by using an explosive device), or perhaps at a different time. In criminal-justice lingo, he was undeterrable, but that doesn’t mean he was incapable of being incapacitated. One way to incapacitate a person is to decapitate him, i.e., to blow his head off before he does any damage (or before he does all the damage he intends to do). For this to happen, law-abiding citizens must be able to own and possess firearms.

Addendum: John’s comment made me realize that there are two claims, rather than one, that might be made by the defender of gun ownership. Here they are:

1. Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will not prevent murder.

2. Not taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will prevent murder.

These are different claims. The second is stronger than the first. The second implies that those with guns will use them to incapacitate (or deter) would-be murderers. The first does not have this implication. It might be thought that I’m committed to the stronger claim, but I’m not. Progressives deny the weaker claim, so I engage them by affirming it. My argument would be that individuals have a right to own guns. Since taking their guns away will not prevent murder, there is nothing to be set against the right. (I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that the right is not absolute.) Hence, taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is unjust (i.e., a violation, and not merely an infringement, of the right to own guns).

Veal Is Back

See here.

God Debate

I sometimes link to things before I read them. Did anyone read this? Forgive my bluntness, but it is one of the most insipid and unedifying things I’ve ever read. First, what are the rules of the “debate”? Debates have rules. If there are no rules, then it’s not a debate, and if it’s not a debate, then it shouldn’t be called a debate. Second, the authors seldom engage one another (except to swap insults). Sam Harris—the atheist—is eager to reject theism, but Rick Warren—the theist—is concerned primarily to defend Christianity. If the debate is about theism, then there should be no mention of Jesus or anything else that is particular to Christianity. If the debate is about Christianity, then Harris needs to stop making sweeping pronouncements about theism or “religion.” Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the exchange (I refuse to call it a debate) is that key terms are never clarified and relevant distinctions never drawn.

For example, there is a big difference between an evidential argument for the existence of God and a beneficial argument for the existence of God. The former says that belief in God is rational because based on evidence or reasons, and that this would be so even if the belief had no benefits to the believer. The latter says that belief in God is beneficial to the believer, even if there is insufficient evidence for it. At one point, Harris says, “There’s no evidence for . . . God.” He can’t possibly mean that. Every flower is evidence for God. If an evil deed is evidence against God’s existence, as atheists such as Harris believe, then every good deed is evidence for God’s existence. What he must mean is that there is insufficient evidence for belief in God. But why didn’t he say that? Why the exaggeration? And what is his evidentiary standard? Certainty? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Clear and convincing evidence? Preponderance of the evidence? The reader is left wondering.

At another point, Harris says, “You don’t have to invoke an intelligent designer to explain the complexity we see.” “Have to” in what sense? It doesn’t follow from the fact that there is a naturalistic explanation of things that there is no supernaturalistic explanation of things, much less that the naturalistic explanation is superior to the supernaturalistic explanation. This needs argument. Unfortunately, Harris doesn’t supply it. One wonders whether he has the intellect to supply it. At one point, Harris and Warren discuss whether Harris is “angry.” By this time, I had lost patience with these jokers, but I persevered to the end. I’m glad I did, because I got to see Warren insist that, since he had allowed Harris to “caricature Christianity,” he had a right to caricature atheism. Newsweek‘s editors should be ashamed of themselves for publishing such pabulum. No wonder our public discourse is so shallow and uninformed.

Addendum: In case you’re wondering, I’ve never read (or heard) a high-quality debate between a theist and an atheist. Here are three debates I’ve read:

Flew, Antony G. N., and Thomas B. Warren. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1977.

Miethe, Terry L., and Antony G. N. Flew. Does God Exist? A Believer and an Atheist Debate. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Craig, William Lane, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

All three books are terrible—so much so that I cannot in good conscience recommend them, even to students. I have one other published debate, but I have not yet read it:

Smart, J. J. C., and J. J. Haldane. Atheism and Theism. Great Debates in Philosophy, ed. Ernest Sosa. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

I think very highly of both Smart and Haldane, so I’m hoping that this book is worth the money I paid for it.

Hall of Fame?

Lou Whitaker. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

The Blank Slate

Here is George Jochnowitz’s review of Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002). Pinker is that rare bird: an intellectually honest scientist. Imagine letting truth get in the way of politics!

Just War

I posted an interesting letter on my Ethics of War blog. You will note that I rarely post to this blog anymore. I do, however, continue to update the bibliography in the sidebar. I hope that people doing research on the ethics of war find it useful.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

How many mass shootings, how much loss, how much grief will it take before our legislators are finally willing to stand up to the National Rifle Association and pass meaningful gun control legislation?

The University of Texas shooting more than 40 years ago, Columbine High School in 1999 and now Virginia Tech.

Isn’t that enough tragedy to impel action?

The majority of Americans support gun control. What do we have to do to make it happen?

Eileen B. Entin
Lexington, Mass., April 17, 2007

To the Editor:

In “Eight Years After Columbine” (editorial, April 17), you call for more gun control. With 40 states permitting law-abiding citizens to carry handguns for protection, the evidence teaches that prohibiting carrying such weapons leads to tragedy.

Virginia Tech is one of the “gun free” zones in Virginia where gun possession is prohibited—a place criminals know that they need not fear an armed response. The prohibition did not stop the gunman, but it did prevent anyone on that campus from stopping his murder spree.

Daniel Schmutter
West Orange, N.J., April 17, 2007

A Year Ago



Michelle Malkin posted her latest column on her blog. I couldn’t agree with her more. If college administrators were really concerned about campus safety, as they profess to be, they would not rule out any means to that end. Common sense says that allowing professors and students to carry weapons would prevent incidents such as that at Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, administrators have a phobia about guns. They think of guns as evil. No. A gun is a piece of technology. Like fire, it can be used for good or ill. The more good people who have guns, the better off everyone is. Administrators want only bad people to have guns. See what a Ph.D. degree will get you?

Gonzales v. Carhart

The United States Supreme Court has upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The vote was five to four, with Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia in the majority. (Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.) Justices Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, and Stevens dissented. The ruling is a huge defeat for the abortion industry, even though the Court did not overrule Roe v. Wade (1973). Some of you will remember that I made a prediction several months ago. I was right about six of the justices. I was wrong about three: Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas. I thought they would strike down the statute on Commerce Clause grounds—and, frankly, they should have. Instead, they upheld it. I’ll have more to say later, after I’ve read the opinions. All I’ve done so far is read the Court’s syllabus.

Addendum: Here is a New York Times story about the case. I can’t wait to read Linda Greenhouse’s “report.” She is an agenda-driven journalist, which is to say, not a journalist at all.

Addendum 2: The abortion industry will use the ruling as a way to make money. Count on it. Here is Planned Parenthood’s first response. Note that there is no mention of the babies whose skulls are crushed as they emerge from the womb. Why do you suppose this is?

Addendum 3: Here is Justice Kennedy’s description of partial-birth abortion:

In an intact D&E procedure the doctor extracts the fetus in a way conducive to pulling out its entire body, instead of ripping it apart. One doctor, for example, testified:

“If I know I have good dilation and I reach in and the fetus starts to come out and I think I can accomplish it, the abortion with an intact delivery, then I use my forceps a little bit differently. I don’t close them quite so much, and I just gently draw the tissue out attempting to have an intact delivery, if possible.” App. in No. 05–1382, at 74.

Rotating the fetus as it is being pulled decreases the odds of dismemberment. Carhart, supra, at 868–869; App. in No. 05–380, pp. 40–41; 5 Appellant’s App. in No. 04–3379 (CA8), p. 1469. A doctor also “may use forceps to grasp a fetal part, pull it down, and re-grasp the fetus at a higher level—sometimes using both his hand and a forceps—to exert traction to retrieve the fetus intact until the head is lodged in the [cervix].” Carhart, 331 F. Supp. 2d, at 886–887.

Intact D&E gained public notoriety when, in 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell gave a presentation describing his method of performing the operation. Dilation and Extraction 110–111. In the usual intact D&E the fetus’ head lodges in the cervix, and dilation is insufficient to allow it to pass. See, e.g., ibid.; App. in No. 05–380, at 577; App. in No. 05–1382, at 74, 282. Haskell explained the next step as follows:

“‘At this point, the right-handed surgeon slides the fingers of the left [hand] along the back of the fetus and “hooks” the shoulders of the fetus with the index and ring fingers (palm down).

“‘While maintaining this tension, lifting the cervix and applying traction to the shoulders with the fingers of the left hand, the surgeon takes a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors in the right hand. He carefully advances the tip, curved down, along the spine and under his middle finger until he feels it contact the base of the skull under the tip of his middle finger.

“‘[T]he surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening.

“‘The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents. With the catheter still in place, he applies traction to the fetus, removing it completely from the patient.’” H. R. Rep. No. 108–58, p. 3 (2003).

This is an abortion doctor’s clinical description. Here is another description from a nurse who witnessed the same method performed on a 26-week fetus and who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“‘Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby’s legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby’s body and the arms—everything but the head. The doctor kept the head right inside the uterus… .

“‘The baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.

“‘The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp… .

“‘He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used.’” Ibid.

Dr. Haskell’s approach is not the only method of killing the fetus once its head lodges in the cervix, and “the process has evolved” since his presentation. Planned Parenthood, 320 F. Supp. 2d, at 965. Another doctor, for example, squeezes the skull after it has been pierced “so that enough brain tissue exudes to allow the head to pass through.” App. in No. 05–380, at 41; see also Carhart, supra, at 866–867, 874. Still other physicians reach into the cervix with their forceps and crush the fetus’ skull. Carhart, supra, at 858, 881. Others continue to pull the fetus out of the woman until it disarticulates at the neck, in effect decapitating it. These doctors then grasp the head with forceps, crush it, and remove it. Id., at 864, 878; see also Planned Parenthood, supra, at 965.

Some doctors performing an intact D&E attempt to remove the fetus without collapsing the skull. See Carhart, supra, at 866, 869. Yet one doctor would not allow delivery of a live fetus younger than 24 weeks because “the objective of [his] procedure is to perform an abortion,” not a birth. App. in No. 05–1382, at 408–409. The doctor thus answered in the affirmative when asked whether he would “hold the fetus’ head on the internal side of the [cervix] in order to collapse the skull” and kill the fetus before it is born. Id., at 409; see also Carhart, supra, at 862, 878. Another doctor testified he crushes a fetus’ skull not only to reduce its size but also to ensure the fetus is dead before it is removed. For the staff to have to deal with a fetus that has “some viability to it, some movement of limbs,” according to this doctor, “[is] always a difficult situation.” App. in No. 05–380, at 94; see Carhart, supra, at 858.

I’m sorry to ruin your day, but you need to know what the abortion industry is defending.

Addendum 4: NARAL says today’s ruling is a “setback for women’s health and privacy.” That it is—in the same way in which the prohibition of murder is a setback to murderers’ liberty. The press release doesn’t mention whether the ruling benefits babies.

Addendum 5: Many of the 2008 presidential candidates have commented on the Court’s ruling. See here. By the way, has it ever struck you as incoherent for a politician to say, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I support a woman’s legal right to choose.” Let’s unpack this. On what basis, other than the fact that it’s murder, would the politician oppose abortion? That it’s messy? That it’s offensive? That it’s costly? But if it’s murder, why would one support a legal right to commit it? Are some murders acceptable, whereas others are not?

Addendum 6: To my surprise, Linda Greenhouse wrote a fair and balanced report. Would I have written it differently? Yes. Is it obviously biased? No.