Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nuclear pacifism

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is popular in elite Catholic circles. It's supported by the USCCB, as well as noted Catholic ethicists like John Finnis, Joseph Boyle,  Christopher Tollefsen, and Germain Grisez.  But there are several problems with nuclear pacifism:

i) It's too late to unlearn what we know. Once the technical knowhow is out there, you can't turn back the clock. You can't make people forget how to make nuclear weapons. You can't go back to a world without nuclear weapons. 

ii) If, moreover, people with the most conscience renounce nuclear weapons, then nuclear weapons will be left in the hands of people with the least conscience.

iii) It would lead to blackmail. A country that has ICBMs with nuclear warheads could dictate another country's domestic policy. It could credibly threaten to incinerate cities with impunity. There'd be no limit to the moral concessions it could extract from desperate populations.

iv) Nuclear weaponry poses a dilemma. There are no good alternatives. In a fallen world, we sometimes find ourselves backed into a corner. We face momentous hazards over which we have no ultimate control. So we must do the best we can in tough situations where the outcome is out of our hands. 

Having put us in this predicament, it's up to God, in his providence, to forestall a worse-case scenario, if he so desires. 

Dropping the bomb

I'm going to respond to two common objections to dropping the bomb on Japan.

1. Critics often say dropping the bombing was predicated on "consequentialism", viz. it would shorten the war, save lives on both sides. 

However, that objection is uninformed. Taking consequences into account as a part of moral deliberation is not equivalent to the ethical system of consequentialism. According to consequentialism:

Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. 
Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences…consequences are all that matters. 

Taking consequences into consideration is not the same thing as consequentialist ethics. 

Likewise, some critics talk as though the end never justifies the means. But that's an overstatement. 

2. Truman and his war cabinet weren't ethicists, so it's quite possible that their stated justification for dropping the bomb was morally deficient. That doesn't entail that the action itself was wrong. People can think and do the right thing even if they lack the sophistication to make a philosophically solid case for their actions and beliefs. 

3. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it forfeited the right not to be attacked. It's actions made it morally liable to counterattack. So it's not just a question of consequences. There's a just cause in play.

4. What alternatives were there to not dropping the bomb?

i) We could refuse to retaliate after the Pearl Harbor attack. But only a pacifist would say that's the right response.

ii) We could try to starve the leadership into submission through a navel blockage. But that would result in mass starvation of noncombatants, as well as POWs. How can you oppose the bombing on the grounds that it violated the immunity of noncombatants if your alternative is starving millions of noncombatants?

iii) We could have chosen not to attack the main island, because the options were so onerous. However, we sustained casualties in Saipan, Leyte, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. So by that stage it was too late to give up. We were committed to finish the job. If we left Japan undefeated, our soldiers would have died in vain (not to mention the wounded). 

5. That leaves us with invasion, which would have resulted in massive casualties for American troops. 

Now, the immunity of noncombatants presupposes that killing noncombatants is worse than killing combatants. But is that a morally tenable generalization? 

Suppose you have a Marine and a Nazi scientist with the same rare blood type. Suppose both need a life-saving blood transfusion, but there's only enough donated blood on hand to transfuse one of them. Whose life should you save: the combatant (Marine) or the noncombatant (Nazi scientist)? If we are morally discriminating, there are cases in which the death of a combatant is worse than the death of a noncombatant. 

Assuming the Americans were fighting for a just case, desire to minimize death and injury to American soldiers is a morally legitimate consideration. Their combatant status doesn't automatically demote the value of their lives in relation to enemy noncombatants. Not to mention that the Japanese gov't was planning to mobilize armed civilian resistance in case of invasion. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?


Immunity of noncombatants

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

Although this post has special reference to nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the issue is more general. 

1. The basic objection to nuking Japan is that it violated the immunity of noncombatants. A mass attack on civilian population centers. 

2. As a rule of thumb, the immunity of noncombatants is a humanitarian principle. All other things being equal, I think we should avoid targeting civilians. 

My problem is that this principle is terribly crude. It fails to draw many morally salient distinctions.

3. The debate is typically framed in terms of not intentionally killing civilians. But, presumably, ethicists who advocate the immunity of noncombatants think it's wrong to intentionally harm civilians. Killing would just be a limiting case of inflicting harm. 

Moreover, it's disputable whether killing is the worst thing you can do to a human being. Suppose a human is horribly maimed. Or suppose they lose all their loved ones. Arguably, this can be just as harmful in a different way.

4. One thing which critics like Elizabeth Anscombe typically overlook is how the death of combatants can be harmful to noncombatants. A standard argument for nuking Japan is that invasion was the alternative, and that would have resulted in massive casualties for American soldiers. But if you think about it, that's not just harm to the soldier. His death harms his parents, siblings, wife, or fiancée. Not only does that inflict tremendous emotional harm on the surviving loved ones, but it may leave parents without a grown child to care for them if they become incapacitated in old age. Oftentimes, the death of a combatant indirectly and severely harms one or more noncombatants. 

Critics like Anscombe artificially compartmentalize the issue. But humans are related to other humans. Injury to one may injury several. 

5. Combatants are not all of a kind. The way critics like Anscombe lump combatants into one group lacks moral finesse. Some combatants fight for a just cause while others fight for an unjust cause. Some combatants are volunteers while others are conscripts. 

i) Volunteers fighting for a just cause

ii) Conscripts fighting for a just cause

iii) Conscripts fighting for an unjust cause

iv) Volunteers fighting for an unjust cause

It's unclear why the lives of civilians should always count for more than the lives of soldiers. Shouldn't that depend in part on whose side the soldier is on and whose side the civilian is on?

To take a comparison, a policeman is a combatant. He's armed. And he's authorized to use lethal force under certain circumstances.

Compare that to a child pornographer. Suppose he's unarmed. If it was a choice between saving the policeman's life and saving the pornographer's life, which takes precedence? 

There are situations where a soldier is risking his life in a noble cause. What he's doing is brave and honorable. What if the civilian is a degenerate? What makes the civilian's life sacrosanct compared to the soldier's life? If the soldier is virtuous while the civilian is vicious, whose life should we value more? 

6. Critics like Anscombe fixate on the right of civilians not to be killed by soldiers. But what about the right of soldiers not to be killed? Don't soldiers have a prima facie right to life? Morally speaking, what makes the life of a Nazi scientist sacrosanct but the life of a Marine expendable?

7. Critics like Anscombe belabor the distinction between causing harm and permitting harm. But morally speaking, that's often a false dichotomy. There are situations in which doing harm is sometimes obligatory. Conversely, there are situations in which allowing harm is sometimes culpable. 

Suppose we refused to defeat Japan because we couldn't do so without violating the immunity of noncombatants. That would permit Japan to remain an aggressive and oppressive military dictatorship. How is allowing Japan to periodically inflict massive harm on innocent victims (e.g. women, children, sick, elderly) morally preferable to our temporarily harming Japanese civilians for the benefit of posterity? What makes allowing malevolent harm ipso facto better than doing harm for benevolent reasons? 

8. I'd add that there's a tension between the traditional immunity of noncombatants and appeal to the "dignity of every human being" among contemporary Catholic ethicists like Germain Grisez and Christopher Tollefsen. 

9. My immediate point is not to say whether we should have nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'm simply framing the issue from an ethical standpoint. Assessing the moral merits of the nuclear strike also depends on factual and counterfactual considerations. My objective is to question the moral superficiality of how objections to dropping the bomb are typically cast. 

Medved on Obama's Hiroshima speech

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Was Truman wrong?

1. A friend asked me to comment on nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The question raises two issues: 

(i) The ethics of war generally. The criteria for morally licit warfare. And (ii) whether nuking Japan met these criteria. 

So I'm going to begin by discussing the ethics of war, then say somethings about the bombing in particular. 

2. This raises roughly two issues: 

(i) Facts, and (ii) morality. To some extent these are interrelated. The facts include the circumstances and options. The predicted outcomes of each alternative. That, in turn, feeds into the question of which options were morally permissible.

Both of these are subject to dispute. The facts are contested. For instance, critics of the bombing say Japan was on the verge of surrender. However, defenders dispute that. 

In addition, there are ethicists who consider the circumstances to be irrelevant insofar as they rule out certain actions under any circumstances whatsoever. 

3. Some critics deny the legitimacy of national defense in principle. National sovereignty isn't worth defending.

i) To some extent I agree. I don't think we should kill to defend an abstract principle ("national sovereignty"). Some evil regimes hide behind national sovereignty. But these are illegitimate regimes. They are not entitled to take refuge in that principle. 

ii) But in many cases, national defense is a logical extension of self-defense. Humans are social creatures. We live in communities. In order to secure our human rights and liberties, it's often necessary to pool our collective resources. These are like internal military alliances. 

By the same token, humans who live in the same area for generations develop an infrastructure. That's not something you can replace overnight. That's worth defending. 

4. Many critics suffer from an irrational, knee-jerk aversion to nuclear weaponry. They act as if there's something intrinsically evil about nuclear weaponry, in contrast to conventional weaponry. But at most it's a difference of degree, not of kind. Was nuking Hiroshima inherently worse than firebombing Tokyo? 

What about the use of napalm and flamethrowers? Although that kills on a smaller scale, is it better to die that way?

The moral objection to nuclear weaponry strikes me as generally ad hoc. 

5. Another arbitrary distinction is indignation when many people are killed at the same time and place, but absence of indignation when the same numbers are killed at several times and places. The totals are the same. The difference is that one is more dramatic while the other is cumulative.

6. The objection to nuking Japan isn't isolated to that event, but involves a larger objection to weapons of mass destruction. Bombing civilian populations. Failure to even attempt to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants.

Carried to its logical conclusion, this led to calls for unilateral nuclear disarmament during the Cold War. The deterrent of mutually assured destruction was deemed to be immoral. Of course, that amounts to preemptive surrender. An invitation to be conquered by the enemy. 

7. I'd add that this isn't all that new. Siege warfare starved the inhabitants into submission. It resulted in death (by starvation) of many noncombatants.

8. Ironically, pacifists erase the distinction between combatants and noncombatants when they erase the distinction between killing and murder. For pacifists, all killing is murder. There is no category of justified killing. 

9. In modern Western civilization, just-war theory is the traditional framework for assessing the ethics of warfare, both in theory and practice. For some ethicists, that's an argument from authority. They treat just-war criteria as an unquestionable standard and starting-point. However, for a Protestant like myself, just-war criteria need to be scrutinized. 

10. Just-war criteria include:

• proportionality

• just cause

• last resort

• immunity of noncombatants

• reasonable prospect of success 

I think these are valid considerations. However, there's often a gap between criteria and reality. Concrete circumstances dictate our actual options. Circumstances force choices on us. Sometimes the criteria make sense, but sometimes the criteria are artificial or infeasible. 

I think the criteria can be useful up to a point, but they shouldn't be universalized. The criteria can be arbitrary on their own grounds. And one criterion may conflict with another. For instance:

i) Last resort may conflict with proportionality. What if a first strike saves more lives?

ii) Likewise, immunity of noncombatants may conflict with proportionality. What if a decapitation strike saves more lives? 

iii) Reasonable prospect of success may be prudent if you can predict the outcome. But that can lead to the conundrum of making decisions before you know the results. 

That criterion is more germane to offensive wars than defensive wars. Don't start a fight you can't win. But what if you didn't start the fight?

Likewise, what if the cost of losing is so onerous that it's better to fight even if the odds of winning are low?

11. A further complication is the relationship between just-war criteria and the double effect principle. Does the double effect principle sometimes warrant actions that just-war criteria deem to be unwarranted? Take the immunity of noncombatants. Does the double effect principle justify civilian casualties as a necessary side-effect of achieving the strategic objective? 

Critics like Elizabeth Anscombe balance just-war criteria with the double effect principle. But is that truly consistent, or is that a makeshift accommodation that redefines one or both sides? 

12. For critics like Anscombe, the priority is to avoid evil rather than prevent evil. Even if nuking Japan saved more lives (on both sides) than the alternatives, they'd still oppose nuking Japan. 

For other ethicists, the priority is to prevent evil rather than avoid evil. So that's a basic dividing line when we assess the ethics of warfare. And that's not confined to debates over nuking Japan.

13. Critics like Anscombe say you should never use evil means to achieve a good outcome. I agree. But that begs the question of whether the means in question are evil. Yet that's the very issue in dispute. 

By the same token, it equivocates over "evil". By definition, we should not commit evil. But doing harm is not equivalent to doing evil. Killing is not equivalent to doing evil. 

14. Critics like Anscombe say killing the innocent as a means to an end is always murder. But it's unclear why we should accept that maxim. For instance, why is it murder to kill the innocent as a means to an end, but not murder to kill the innocent so long as that's not a means to an end? What makes the means-ends relation rather than innocence the moral differential factor? 

15. Critics typically focus on the immunity of noncombatants. But that's a complex issue:

i) On the face of it, it's arbitrary to say naval ports and munitions plants are off-limits. Likewise, military technology may depend on a handful of innovative scientists. If you can assassinate the scientists, you may save hundreds of thousands (or millions) of enemy combatants–not to mention your own soldiers. What makes that tradeoff morally illicit?

By the same token, a military dictator is not a combatant. He just gives the orders. But if he's assassinated, it may spare the lives of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of enemy combatants–not to mention your own soldiers. What makes that tradeoff morally illicit?

ii) What if you attack a soft target because that's the most effective way of achieving the strategic objective? Your aim is to defeat the enemy and end the war. You attack the enemy at his point of weakness, not his point of strength. You attack him indirectly by going after supply lines or support services. You do that both because it's easier and more expeditious. 

iii) I don't think that the immunity of noncombatants is a worthless principle. But the arguments for making noncombatants a protected class overgeneralize. Here's a better way to frame the distinction:

a) It's prima facie wrong to target noncombatants. It's wrong to target noncombatants if more selective methods are available.

b) As a rule, combatants are more dangerous than noncombatants. They generally pose a more immediate threat. But that's not absolute.

c) We should distinguish between wartime activities (e.g. munitions plants) and peacetime activities (e.g. farming). Even though many peacetime activities incidentally support the war effort, these activities would take place apart from war. 

d) I'd recast just-war criteria like proportionality and immunity of noncombatants in terms of avoiding gratuitous harm. That's a sounder principle. In situations where targeting noncombatants or disproportionate force inflicts gratuitous harm, that is morally illicit. 

There are, however, situations where targeting noncombatants and using disproportionate force does not inflict gratuitous harm. Rather, that's a rational tactic in the absence of superior alternatives. 

16. One objection that Anscombe raised to nuking Japan is that we didn't give the inhabitants advance notice. But a problem with that objection is that warning them would give Japanese combatants an opportunity to evacuate and regroup. 

17. I've read that in Nagasaki, military production was in part a cottage industry. That makes it harder to maintain the combatant/noncombatant distinction. 

18. The strongest objection I've seen to nuking Nagasaki is that this was the center of Christianity in Japan. Christianity only had a toehold in Japan to begin with, and nuking Nagasaki decimated what little Christian presence there was in Japan. 

That, per se, is not an objection to nuking Japanese cities, but that particular city. 

19. Many war historians defend Truman's action. I find their arguments persuasive. However, my primary objective in this post has been on how to frame the ethics of warfare. I'm less committed to defending our action in Japan, although I think that's reasonable. For instance:


The Suffering Servant Prophecy As Evidence For Christianity

Here's something I just posted on the subject on Facebook.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

God and the problem of evil

Has a focus on the soul-making theodicy:


Yesterday's liberal orthodoxy is today's liberal heresy

Because secular ethics is relativistic, it changes on a dime. The instability of secular ethics makes it a threat to everyone. No one is safe.


Owen's dilemma

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
  1. All the sins of all men.
  2. All the sins of some men, or
  3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
  1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
  2. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
  3. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, "Because of unbelief."
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

– John Owen

i) Is Owen's dilemma sound? Critics object that Owen makes too much of the debt metaphor in Scripture. By the same token, they say he operates with a "commercial" or quantitative model of the atonement: Jesus atones for specific sins. 

Critics counter this with a qualitative or categorical model of atonement. As one 4-point Calvinist put it: "the way federal headship works is not by imputing specific sins, but by imputing guilt. Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, which means that his atonement is applicable to any human being in principle."

ii) I don't think the conventional objections to Owen's dilemma succeed. Whether he operates with a commercial theory of the atonement had been disputed. 

iii) More to the point, his dilemma doesn't rely on Owen's theory of the atonement, but the theory of his opponents. So long as his opponents subscribe to penal substitution, the argument goes through. 

iv) Historically, many Arminians reject penal substitution because they concede Owen's dilemma. They admit that if you combine penal substitution with universal atonement, that entails universal salvation. The way to relieve the dilemma is to ditch penal substitution. So the argument does not depend on Owen's theory of the atonement (whatever that may be).

v) I don't see how framing the issue in terms of a qualitative atonement salvages the Arminian/Amyraldin position. It's trivially easy to recast Owen's dilemma in those terms. Is  refusal to believe in Jesus culpable? That's a premise that Arminians and Amyraldians typically grant. Indeed, that's a premise they deploy in attempting to argue for unlimited atonement: how can refusal to believe in Jesus blameworthy if Christ never died for the reprobate?

If, however, Jesus died to make atonement for generic guilt, for human guilt in general, then culpable unbelief is covered by the atonement. So I don't see how a qualitative paradigm circumvents the force of Owen's dilemma. If refusing to believe in Jesus is culpable, and Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, then culpable unbelief is included in the atonement. The category of guilt includes all instances thereof. 

vi) Speaking for myself, I doubt human guilt is a conglomerate entity that's separable from the specific sins of specific sinners. I don't think Christ atones for guilt in that sense, as if guilt can be detached from guilty agents, to become a free-floating mass of guilt. Guilt is personal. Jesus didn't die for an abstraction. Rather, Jesus died for sinners. He makes atonement for particular sinners. The sinner is prior to the sin. Guilt is just a property of sinners.

The qualitative paradigm reminds me of the treasury of merit, where the supererogatory deeds of the saints produce so many pints of merit, which go into a general reservoir of merit. The pope plunges a big dipper into the reservoir when he needs to dole out so many gallons of merit. I don't think of merit and demerit in such anonymous terms. I don't view one sinner's guilt and another sinner's guilt blending into a generic human guilt, like adding drops of water to a bucket.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Boy-friendly education



Goin' to the dawgs

The latest frontier in social justice and trans [fill in the blank]:


Poisoning the well

A violent pestilence which ravaged Europe between March, 1348, and the spring of 1351, and is said to have carried off nearly half the population. It was brought by sailors to Genoa from south Russia, whither it had come from central Asia. During March and April, 1348, it spread through Italy, Spain, and southern France; and by May of that year it had reached southwest England. Though the Jews appear to have suffered quite as much as their Christian neighbors (Höniger, "Der Schwarze Tod in Deutschland," 1882; Häser, "Lehrbuch der Gesch. der Medizin," iii. 156), a myth arose, especially in Germany, that the spread of the disease was due to a plot of the Jews to destroy Christians by poisoning the wells from which they obtained water for drinking purposes. This absurd theory had been started in 1319 in Franconia (Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniæ," xii. 416). On that occasion punishment had fallen upon the lepers, by whose means the Jews, it was alleged, had poisoned the wells. Two years later, in the Dauphiné, the same charge had been brought against the Jews. In 1348, once the accusation was raised, it was spread with amazing rapidity from town to town. 

Although the Jew-baiting was scurrilous, irrational, and hateful, it's revealing in another respect. How many times have you read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute natural events to God's direct action? How often have your read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute plagues to divine judgment? 

Yet these medieval Christians did not attribute the plague to divine judgment or direct divine action. Rather, they suspected the plague had a natural cause. 

Moreover, although they were mistaken about the transmission of this particular pathogen, there's nothing irrational about considering the public drinking water supply as a possible source of contagion. Some epidemics have a common point of origin. Indeed, infected drinking water is a source of cholera. It can be reasonable to trace some epidemics back to common source. 

So the notion, popularized by atheists, that prescientific Jews and Christians (as well as pagans) automatically ascribed natural events to direct divine action, or divine judgment, in the case of epidemics, is a simplistic and ignorant urban legend.