bookmark_borderExtraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence (ECREE), Part 5: Is ECREE False? A Reply to Greg Koukl and Melinda Penner

In my first post in this series, I offered a Bayesian interpretation of the principle, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE). Greg Koukl, however, disagrees with ECREE. He recently explained why on his radio show (click here for audio); also, Melinda Penner, a member of Koukl’s staff, has written on the issue here and here. In this post, I want to explain why I think Koukl’s and Penner’s objections to ECREE, like those of William Lane Craig and T. Kurt Jaros, are misguided.

Penner’s First Rebuttal: “The nature of the “extraordinary evidence” required can be understood in two ways: extraordinary with respect to quality or extraordinary with respect to quantity.” So how should “extraordinary evidence” be understood in ECREE?
This statement is a perfect example of why a formal, Bayesian interpretation of ECREE can be helpful. Please bear with me as I review some basic probabilistic notation.
B: background evidence
E: the evidence to be explained
H: an explanatory hypothesis
~Hi: the rival explanatory hypotheses to H
Pr(x): the probability of x Pr(x | y): the probability of x conditional upon y
Next, let us define the following conditional probabilities.
Pr(H |B)= the prior probability of H with respect to B—a measure of how likely H is to occur at all, whether or not E is true.
Pr(~Hi | B) = the prior probability of ~Hi with respect to B—a measure of how likely ~Hi is to occur at all, whether or not E is true.
Pr(E | H & B) = the explanatory power of H—a measure of the degree to which the hypothesis H predicts the data E given B.
Pr(E | ~Hi & B ) = the explanatory power of ~Hi —a measure of the degree to which ~Hi predicts E given B.
Pr(H | E & B) = the final probability that H is true conditional upon the total evidence B and E.
As I explained elsewhere, an “extraordinary claim” can be interpreted as Pr(H|B ) <<< 0.5. And “extraordinary evidence” can be interpreted as the requirement that a hypothesis’s explanatory power is proportionally high enough to offset its prior improbability (the “extraordinary claim”). This could be due to a single item of evidence which has an extremely high degree of explanatory power, i.e., Pr(E | B & H). In Penner’s terms, this would be”extraordinary with respect to quality.” This could also be due to multiple, independent items of evidence which, taken together, have an extremely high degree of explanatory power, i.e., Pr(E1 | B & H) x Pr(E2 | B & H) x … x Pr(En | B & H).[1] In Penner’s terms, this would be “extraordinary with respect to quantity.”
Let us now return to Penner’s first objection. What is the problem?

If the former (quality), then the evidence produced is itself extraordinary, and it will also need to meet the requirement of having extraordinary evidence, and a vicious regress ensues.

And perhaps that is the point of the requirement because it presupposes naturalism, precluding the possibility of offering evidence that will justify a supernatural claim.
If the requirement is for an extraordinary quantity of evidence, then the next question is, how much ordinary evidence is necessary for the total quantity to be considered extraordinary?  This is perhaps a “problem of heaps” – how much is enough?  There is no determinate solution (at least epistemically, if not metaphysically determinate).  So once again, it’s begging the question to ask for extraordinary evidence.
I think it will be easiest to sort through this by considering a specific example of an extraordinary claim, the alleged resurrection of Jesus. Let R be the hypothesis that God resurrected Jesus from the dead. Let ~R be the hypothesis that God did not resurrect Jesus from the dead. Finally, let us define B, the relevant background evidence, as containing the following propositions.
B1: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived.
B2: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).
For simplicity, let us round down the number in B1 to 100 billion, i.e., 1011. Then the prior probability of R may be defined as follows.

Pr(R | B) <= 0.00000000001, i.e., 10-11.[2]

Thus, the alleged resurrection of Jesus is an “extraordinary claim” in the sense that it has an extremely low prior probability, i.e., Pr(R | B) <= 10-11. In other words, even if God exists, R has an extremely low prior probability for the simple reason that God has an extremely weak tendency to resurrect people from the dead.[3] To be precise, He resurrects from the dead less than one human in every 100 billion.
With this context in mind, let us now review Penner’s objections in detail.

If the former (quality), then the evidence produced is itself extraordinary, and it will also need to meet the requirement of having extraordinary evidence, and a vicious regress ensues.(italics mine)

Why should anyone believe that the evidence produced must itself be extraordinary?  Not only is there no reason to think this is true, but it seems to me that this is obviously false. For the sake of argument, let us assume the following statement (about evidence) is true.
E1. Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers three days after His death and burial.
Let us further assume that E1 is evidence for the resurrection in the following sense:

Pr(E1 | R & B) > Pr(E1 | ~R & B).

With those assumptions, why would E1 have to be extraordinary? As we’ve seen, an extraordinary claim can be interpreted as any claim where Pr(H|B ) <<< 0.5. So E1 would be “extraordinary” just in case Pr(E1 | B) <<< 0.5. But there is no way to go from this alone:

Pr(E1 | R & B) > Pr(E1 | ~R & B)

to this:

Pr(E1 | B) <<< 0.5.

Thus, there is no reason to think that the evidence produced must itself be extraordinary.
Let us now move onto the next part of Penner’s comments regarding her first rebuttal.

And perhaps that is the point of the requirement [ECREE] because it presupposes naturalism, precluding the possibility of offering evidence that will justify a supernatural claim.

Let us define “metaphysical naturalism” (N) as the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.
The definition of N should make it obvious that ECREE does not “presuppose naturalism.” It is impossible to show, by substituting synonyms for synonyms, that ECREE implies N. In fact, I’ve already given an example (B2) that is logically compatible with both theism and ~N. This example alone proves that ECREE does not presuppose naturalism.
Penner’s Second Rebuttal: “If the requirement is for an extraordinary quantity of evidence, then the next question is, how much ordinary evidence is necessary for the total quantity to be considered extraordinary?”
The Bayesian interpretation of ECREE illustrates why this objection is false. It follows from Bayes’s Theorem that the final probability of any hypothesis (extraordinary or not) is a function of both its prior probability and its explanatory power.  If we are able to quantify the prior probability of a hypothesis, Pr(R|B), it is trivial to calculate the minimum explanatory power, Pr(E|R&B;), required to show that the hypothesis is probably true. All we need is the value of the explanatory power of R’s denial. Just for the sake of argument, let’s set Pr(E|~R&B;) equal to 0.1. If Pr(R|E&B;) > 0.5, it follows from Bayes’s Theorem that

Pr(E|R&B;) > ((1-10-11) x 0.1) / 10-11

Thus,

Pr(E|R&B;) > 1010

Just to avoid any misunderstandings, the point of this example is not in any way dependent upon assigning Pr(E|~R&B;) a value of 0.1. If you don’t like that value, feel free to substitute whatever value seems appropriate to you. The point is that Bayes’s Theorem makes it trivial to quantify the amount of explanatory power needed to show that an extraordinary claim is probably true.
Finally, Penner writes:

… So once again, it’s begging the question to ask for extraordinary evidence.

This is false. As we’ve seen, the request for extraordinary evidence is logically compatible with both the denial of N and with the truth of theism.
(to be continued in a future post)
Notes
[1] Another possibility would be to show that the evidence constitutes a cumulative case. (See here for an analysis of cumulative cases.)
[2] I believe this over-estimates the  value of Pr(R | B) even for theists, but I won’t argue for that point here.
[3] I owe this point to Greg Cavin.

bookmark_borderOn the Idea of Doing Something “in the Name of Atheism”

Over at Dangerous Idea, Victor Reppert asks, “Why couldn’t there be mass killings in the name of atheism?

I suppose there could be, just as I suppose there could be mass killings in the name of theism, but then I suppose there could be mass killings in the name of… a lot of things. It depends on what it means to do something “in the name of” something else. So it would be most helpful if Reppert were to clarify this: what does it mean to perform an action A “in the name of” X?

Does it mean the agent shouts the words, “In the name of X!”, and then does A? Does it mean the agent believes X and does A? Does it mean A is logically required by X? Or that it is impossible to condemn A if one believes X? Or that it is impossible to condemn A, if one believes X, on the basis of X only (and not on some other, independent grounds)? Does it mean that performing A somehow benefits those who believe X? Or something else?

Let’s return to the specific issue of doing something “in the name of atheism.” Let’s stipulate, as Christian apologists typically want to do, that atheism means the belief that God does not exist, not just the lack of belief that God exists. So, again, I ask, “What does it mean to do something in the name of atheism, i.e., the belief that God does not exist?”

  • The “agent shouts the words, ‘In the name of atheism!’, and then does some action (A) interpretation“:  yes, on this interpretation, it is possible for there to be mass killings in the name of atheism. It’s also possible for there to be mass killings in the name of theism, secular humanism, Christianity, etc., in this sense. I doubt that this interpretation is what Reppert had in mind.
  • The “agent believes there is no God and then does some action (A) interpretation“: ditto.
  • The “performing A somehow benefits those who believe atheism” interpretation”:  Yes, it seems to me it is possible for there to be mass killings in the name of atheism in this sense, just as it is possible for there to be mass killings in the name of theism, in the sense that a theist could believe it somehow benefits theists to perform mass killings.
  • The “A is logically required by atheism interpretation“: No, on this interpretation, it is impossible for there to be mass killings in the name of atheism, since no action, including mass murder, is logically required by atheism. Ditto for theism.
  • The “it is impossible to condemn A if one believes atheism interpretation“: No, on this interpretation, it is not possible for there to be mass killings in the name of atheism, since it is possible to condemn actions and believe atheism is true. For example, it is trivial to condemn mass killings on the basis of secular humanist ethics. Ditto for theism.
  • The “it is impossible to condemn A, if one believes atheism, on the basis of atheism only (and not on some other, independent grounds)” interpretation: Yes, it is possible for there to be mass killings in the name of atheism in this sense. It is also possible for there to be mass killings in the name of theism in this sense, i.e., by excluding other, independent grounds for condemning mass killings.

    Furthermore, there is something that strikes me as very odd about this interpretation. Allow me to explain. On a theistic view of ethics, whether one ascribes to pure voluntarism (pace Ockham), Adams’s modified divine command theory, or something else, it is common among theists to regard morality as having a deep connection to God.

    What strikes me as odd–indeed, downright bizarre–is the further view that atheists must hold the parallel position, viz., that morality must have a deep connection to the non-existence of God. But this doesn’t follow at all. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one single atheist who thinks that way about morality. So, by my lights, the question, “What is there about the rejection of religion that would prevent this?” is the wrong question to ask. A much better question would be this: “On what normative basis would an atheist condemn mass killings?”

    To avoid any misunderstandings, I am not saying that atheism has no metaethical implications. In fact, I think atheism does have at least one metaethical implication: if atheism is true, then divine command theories of ethics are necessarily false. What I am saying is this. The nonexistence of God does not function for atheists as the ontological foundation for their normative ethical theories in the same way that the existence of God (or God’s commands, will, nature, etc.) functions for theists as the ontological foundation for theists’ normative ethical theories.

bookmark_borderBenjamin Netanyahu on Communists vs. Theistic Terrorists

(redated post from March 26, 2006)

Jim Still’s recent entry on this blog, “Everything is Permitted Under God,” reminded me of a Larry King interview of Benjamin Netanyahu from several years ago (2001?), in which Netanyahu made a very interesting comparison of the behavior of atheistic communists vs. the behavior of theistic terrorists. Ever since watching that interview, I have been trying to track down the exact quotation as I think it would be useful in the context of theistic complaints that if there is no God, there is no reason for someone not to behave according to pure self-interest. I just found what I was looking for. A transcript of Netanyahu’s speech used to be available at the website of the US House of Representatives, but it has been removed. (A copy may be found on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.) In that speech, Netanyahu makes basically the same point he made during the Larry King interview. Here is the relevant excerpt:

To understand the true dangers of Islamic militancy, we can compare it to another ideology which sought world domination – communism. Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the communists at least pursued theirs in a rational way.

Anytime they had to choose between ideology and their own survival, as in Cuba or Berlin, they backed off and chose survival.

Not so for the Islamic militants. They pursue an irrational ideology irrationally – with no apparent regard for human life, neither their own lives nor the lives of their enemies. The Communists seldom, if ever, produced suicide bombers, while Islamic militancy produces hordes of them, glorifying them and promising them that their dastardly deeds will earn them a glorious afterlife.

This highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so deadly for mankind.

As Netanyahu shows, sometimes it will be in the self-interest of some theists to sacrifice their own life while committing evil acts. As Netanyahu says, when the Communists had to choose between ideology and their own survival, they chose survival. In contrast, Islamic terrorists do not have to choose between ideology and survival; they are able to consistently act as suicide bombers in support of their irrational ideology.

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science, Part 4: Reply to ‘cl’

Introduction

Theists hold that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe. Metaphysical naturalists, on the other hand, hold that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. Metaphysical naturalism (N) denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. Therefore, N entails that any true scientific explanations must be naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones.

In my post, “Evidential Argument from the History of Science,” I appeal to evidence (E) regarding the nature of scientific explanations. E1 states the overwhelming  number of plausible scientific explanations for physical phenomena which do not appeal to supernatural agency. While readers may think of the topics that are standard fare for “science and religion” discussions (such as biological evolution, mind-brain dependence, etc.), the scope of E is much broader than that. To put the point somewhat crudely or simplistically, imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, medicine, etc. Suppose that the textbooks summarize all currently plausible scientific explanations for those fields. The percentage of such explanations which make no appeal to supernatural agency is extremely high, while the percentage of such explanations which do appeal to supernatural agency is, at best, very small.

Furthermore, E2 states that the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones. Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But that in no way denies the point that there have been numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.

The central claim of the evidential argument from the history of science (AHS) is its premise (2), which states E is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism (T) is true. In symbols:

(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).

And, for convenience, here again is the entire structure of AHS in its logical form.

(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false.

CL’s Objections

cl does not find AHS in the least bit convincing. In his words, “there is so much wrong with this argument he does not where to start.” As I read his reply, his entire response to AHS is based upon his denial of (2), which he supports with three objections.

First, he presents a dilemma: natural explanations “work” either because of their utility or because they allow us to get the job done. This is a weak objection. Natural explanations “work” in the sense that they are plausible scientific explanations for physical phenomena which do not appeal to supernatural agency.[1] The sheer quantity of such naturalistic explanations is much more probable on N than on T. N entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations, whereas T is compatible both with true non-supernatural scientific explanations and with true supernatural scientific explanations.

Second, he correctly observes that I reject what he calls “intrinsic methodological naturalism” (IMN) and instead accept something like what he calls “provisional methodological naturalism” (PMN).[2] What, then, is the problem?

Lowder defines a “supernatural” person or cause as one who exists outside of “the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.” Well, science can’t investigate anything outside the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities! At most, a scientist could posit a “supernatural” explanation for hitherto unexplained phenomena—then get beat over the head with God of the gaps retorts. So Lowder’s PMN seems to lead directly to fallacious thinking.

This objection presupposes that the only way a supernatural explanation could be justified is by appealing to a “God of the gaps” strategy, but that’s false. cl seems to be completely unaware of abductive inference, inference to the best explanation, and Bayesian or explanatory arguments, none of which need to appeal to our ignorance. To cite just one example, I recently blogged about Paul Draper’s argument from moral agency against naturalism. That argument appeals to scientific data about cosmology to support its claim about the improbability of moral agency on naturalism. Furthermore, that argument is a model of how a supernatural explanation for scientific phenomena could be justified without using a “God of the gaps” approach.

Third, cl argues that AHS begs the question. How, precisely, does AHS beg the question? According to cl, AHS claims that

the history of science is evidence for naturalism / atheism because natural explanations replace supernatural ones, but that premise presupposes that the explanations are ultimately natural (read: godless).

The word “ultimately” is key here. Suppose we have data about some scientific phenomena, which we call our evidence E. Assume that current scientific wisdom says that hypothesis H1 is the best explanation for E and that H1 does not make any appeal to supernatural agency. For example, E could be, “objects dropped from the roof of a house fall to the ground,” and H1 could be gravitational attraction. H1 could have an “ultimate” supernatural explanation just in case H1 is best explained by another hypothesis (call it H2), which does appeal to supernatural agency. For example, a theist might say, “H1 is true because God wills it to be true.” Let us call H1 an example of a primary explanation and H2 an example of an ultimate explanation, i.e., an explanation for one or more non-ultimate explanations.

Contrary to what cl claims, E1 and E2 do not claim that plausible scientific explanations are ultimate explanations. In fact, to avoid any misunderstandings, we can make this explicit with alternative wordings of E1 and E2.

E1′. The percentage of pla
usible scientific explanations for natural phenomena which have naturalistic primary or non-ultimate explanations is extremely high.

E2′. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic primary or non-ultimate explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural primary or non-ultimate explanations replacing naturalistic ones. 

Not only are E1′ and E2′ logically compatible with theism, but E1′ and E2′ are also compatible with all of these primary or non-ultimate explanations having a further, ultimate explanation which appeals to supernatural agency. Thus, this objection, like the two before it, fails.

Using the alternative wording provided by E1′ and E2′, it should now become even more clear why (2) is true. N entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations; if N is true and a primary scientific explanation has a deeper ultimate explanation, that ultimate explanation is also non-supernatural. In contrast, T is compatible with both true non-supernatural explanations and with true supernatural explanations (primary, ultimate, or otherwise). In other words, if N is true, true scientific explanations have to be naturalistic, whereas if T is true, true primary scientific explanations could have directly appealed to supernatural agency. Thus, E1′ is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true, and hence strong evidence favoring N over T.

Notes

[1]  By “plausible,” I mean “has a high epistemic probability.”

[2]  Earlier in this series, following Draper, I used the expression, “modest methodological naturalism.”

bookmark_borderJehovah is a Sexist – Part 5

Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are sexist pigs who show a complete lack of fairness and compassion towards women.  They represent well the sexist conservative Christians who are now driving the Republican party.  The sexist views that they have tried to turn into federal laws have a long history, a history that can be traced back to the Old Testament, and to Jehovah, the god who supposedly inspired the Old Testament.

If you are interested in the question ‘Is Jehovah a sexist?’, then I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of the book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael Coogan (hereafter, I will refer to this book as GAS).  I just stumbled upon the book last week, and have skimmed through most of it in a few days.  The hardback was published in 2010, and a paperback edition came out in November of 2011.  


From ‘About The Author’ in the back of the book:

Michael Coogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College, Lecturer on Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School, and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semetic Museum.  He is editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and has edited and written several books on the Bible and its interpretation, including The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. 

Coogan was also co-editor, along with Bruce Metzger, of The Oxford Companion to the Bible, a fine reference book that I use on a regular basis.

Coogan knows the Bible well, and his specialty is in the Old Testament.  Unlike millions of Evangelical bible-thumping Christians, Coogan sees clearly the sexism and patriarchy of the Old Testament, and rejects this sexism as morally repugnant.  His general attitude can be seen in an anecdote that he relates at the end of Chapter 2:

After six decades as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, former President Jimmy Carter announced in 2009 that he was leaving it.  He did so because of the church’s insistence that women are inferior to men and should be subservient to them–after all, the Bible says so. …Carter…is appealing to a higher principle underlying the specific texts of scripture that clearly reinforce men’s domination of women.  Those texts, he correctly recognizes, “owe more to time and place–and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence–than eternal truths.” (GAS, paperback ed., p.60)

Sexism is a matter of unfairness and injustice, and it is also a matter of a lack of compassion.  I have no doubt that the Old Testament scriptures sometimes advocate fairness and justice and the virtue of compassion  as basic components of morality.  However, I also have no doubt that the Old Testament advocates and promotes sexism, contrary to the “higher principle” of fairness and justice, and contrary to the virtue of compassion.  The Old Testament contains contradictions, and this contradiction is huge, pervasive, and unacceptable to morally upright and clear thinking human beings.  Jehovah is a sexist, so Jehovah is a false god, and if Jehovah is a false god, then Jesus was a false prophet and Christianity is a false religion. The reason Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the reasons that I left Christianity.

There are so many excellent examples of sexism and analysis of sexist Old Testament passages in God and Sex that if I quoted all of the good stuff here, I would probably violate copyright laws, so I will have to select just a few passages to quote, and hope that this wets your appetite enough to get you to buy the book or find a library with a copy.

I already knew that women were considered and treated as property in ancient Israel and that the “inspired” Old Testament approves of and promotes beliefs and practices in which women are treated as property of men.  But Coogan lays out a strong case for this understanding of the Old Testament, and comes up with some points that I had not previously noticed.  For example, you probably believe, as I did, that the Old Testament prohibits incest.  But Coogan shows that this is not the case, at least not in terms of the many and various sexual activities prohibited in the book of Leviticus.  

Of the dozens of sexual relationships and activities prohibited in Leviticus, there is one very important category of incest that is missing: a father having sex with his daughter.  So, although Leviticus prohibits some sorts of incestuous relations, there is no prohibition against a father having sex with his own daughter!  This is because the OT was written by sexist patriarchal men, who documented and proclaimed their disgusting sexist beliefs and practices as if those beliefs and practices were of divine origin, when the origin was actually their own teeny-tiny unjust, selfish and ignorant minds.  If one insists that Jehovah inspired and guided the writing of the OT, then one must conclude that Jehovah was a sexist.

Coogan provides several examples supporting the view that most of the sexual prohibitions in the OT are based on the view that women were property of men.  A girl is the property of her father, and her father may either choose to sell his daughter as a slave (Exodus 21:7-11, see GAS, p.25) or else choose to sell her into a marriage (see Exodus 22:16-17):

…essentially the woman is entirely subject to the men in her life, who have the legal right to dispose of her as they wish.
     For a woman, marriage was not all that different from being sold as a slave wife.  A daughter was given to a prospective husband in return for a bride-price paid to her father.  …Until she was married, the daughter was her father’s property… (GAS, p.25-26)

So, when a girl was raped, the girl was not considered to be the victim, the victim was the father whose property had been damaged by the rapist.  And if a man paid the ‘bride price’ to obtain another man’s daughter as a future wife,  and if that engaged girl was raped, the victim was, again, not the girl, but the man who had purchased the girl as a virgin
; his property was damaged by the rapist.  


However,  there is no prohibition in Leviticus against a father having sex with his own daughter.  Why not? Because she was already his property, so she was his to use as he wished:

Not all of these prohibitions concern what we would call incest, sex between close relatives.  As with the seventh commandment, they have to do with property: one man in an extended family expropriating the property of another man in the same family, a woman under the latter’s control.  That is why the list is incomplete according to our definition of incest: sex between a father and his daughter is not mentioned, because the daughter was the father’s property, as the law permitting a man to sell his daughter as a slave shows.  If a man had sex with his daughter, there was no one he could prosecute for her loss of value. (GAS, p.109)

If a father had sex with his daughter, then she would be damaged goods, and he would not be able to sell her as a virgin for marriage and collect the higher bride-price for virgins, so there was an economic incentive for a father not to have sex with his daughter:

Virginity before marriage was prized–a man had a right to expect his wife to be a virgin, and a father had a compelling interest in making sure that she was, for the bride-price for daughters who were virgins was much higher than that for those who were not. (GAS, p.28) 

However, if a father had enough wealth from other sources, the money or goods obtainable by selling his daughter into marriage might not be that important to his economic survival or well-being, in which case having sex with his daughter might be worth the economic impact.  There would be no punishment based on the laws in the book of Leviticus for such an act of incest.

Based on this knowledge of the Old Testament, I would like to interview Paul Ryan and ask him the following question:  

According to Jehovah, the god of the Old Testament, your daughter is your property.  So, given the following options, which would you choose?

(A) sell your daughter into slavery
(B) sell your daughter into a marriage with a stranger for the high bride-price 
      (for a virgin)
(C) have sex with your daughter and then sell her into a marriage with a stranger 
       for the low bride-price (for a non-virgin)

After that question, he would probably long to be asked this much easier question: 

Is ‘forcible rape’ the only kind of rape that is ‘legitimate’?




bookmark_borderWhat Is a Hate Group?

After hearing (or being reminded, I’m not sure which) that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classified the Family Research Council (FRC) as a hate group in 2010, that got me wondering. What is the definition of a “hate group,” anyway?

It’s unclear how, precisely, the SPLC defines “hate group.” While searching their website, I found the following statement on their “Hate Map” page.

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

I was unable to find another statement on the SPLC which might further clarify their definition of “hate group.” (If you find one, please let me know and I will gladly revise this page as needed.) Mobathorne has pointed out to me that this statement may simply express what the SPLC considers a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, for a group to be a hate group.

Why, precisely, does the SPC allege that the FRC is a hate group (so defined)?

According to the SPLC’s “intelligence file” on the FRC, the FRC is an “anti-gay” hate group. It seems intuitively obvious to me that it is, at least, possible that a Religious Right organization can be “anti-gay,” in the sense of morally condemning homosexual behavior, but without hating people who experience same-sex attractions and without “attacking or maligning an entire class of people.” In other words, I think it’s at least possible that someone could sincerely “hate the sin [of homosexuality], but love the sinner,” i.e., the homosexual. This is true, even if many of the people and groups who have espoused that line have been insincere when uttering it. Indeed, the SPLC itself acknowledges that “Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

So why does the SPLC’s summary of why it classifies FRC as not just an anti-gay group, but an anti-gay hate group? In their words:

The Family Research Council (FRC) bills itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power,” but its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of “policy experts” whose “research” has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors in an effort to “transform the culture.” (emphasis mine)

If you follow the link to the SPLC’s intelligence file, you can read several quotations of the FRC which SPLC cites to justify its designation of FRC as a hate group.

In one of its initial responses to the SPLC’s designation, the FRC argued that the designation is “character assassination,” not a discussion, consideration of the issues, or a debate about the merits of the FRC’s position.

“The surest sign one is losing a debate is to resort to character assassination. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal fundraising machine whose tactics have been condemned by observers across the political spectrum, is doing just that. The group, which was once known for combating racial bigotry, is now attacking several groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
“How does the SPLC attack? By labeling its opponents ‘hate groups.’ No discussion. No consideration of the issues. No engagement. No debate! These types of slanderous tactics have been used against voters who signed petitions and voted for marriage amendments in all thirty states that have considered them, as well as against the millions of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement. Some on the Left have even impugned the Manhattan Declaration – which upholds the sanctity of life, the value of traditional marriage and the fundamental right of religious freedom – as an anti-gay document and have forced its removal from general communications networks.
“This is intolerance pure and simple. Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts. Tell the radical Left it is time to stop spreading hateful rhetoric attacking individuals and organizations merely for expressing ideas with which they disagree. Our debates can and must remain civil – but they must never be suppressed through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent’s character.
“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women of America, National Organization for Marriage, Liberty Counsel and other pro-family organizations that are working to protect and promote natural marriage and family. We support the vigorous but responsible exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty that are the birthright of all Americans.”

In its rebuttal, the SPLC provided evidence that the FRC (and affiliated groups) have propagated “known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and [engaged in] repeated, groundless name-calling.” SPLC’s examples include the following.

  • FRC claimed that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.” 
  • The American Family Association claimed that “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” 
  • Various right-wring groups have claimed that homosexuals “are essentially pedophiles who molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals.”

On the basis of that evidence, it seems to me that the SPLC has provided a prima facie case that the FRC is a “hate group,” insofar as that case is consistent with the SPLC’s statement regarding hate groups. But is it fair for the SPLC to refer to the FRC as a “hate group” for that reason? I need to think about this more, but I’m not so sure because it’s unclear precisely how the SPLC defines a hate group.

One worry I have about the SPLC’s statement is that it might be (?) overly broad. Again, the SPLC writes, “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people….” I think all or virtually all law abiding citizens have beliefs that “attack or malign” the entire class of con
victed felons. According to that statement, that would mean that all or virtually law abiding citizens (as an informal group) would constitute a “hate group.” That seems neither accurate nor what the SPLC intended. But, again, it’s not clear that the SPLC believes that merely having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people” is a sufficient condition for an organization to be a hate group. It would most helpful if the SPLC were to offer an explicit definition of “hate group” to clear this up.

Another worry I have is this. Assume that organization O is spreading false information about group G. If O knows the information is false, then O is lying. If O sincerely believes the information is true, then O is either self-deceived or ignorant.

It intuitively seems to me there is an additional step missing here that would enable us to move from “FRC is spreading false information about homosexuals” to “FRC is a hate group.” Can that additional step be justified? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. Let me know what you think!

Update (19-Aug-12): Added link for the quotation I attributed to SPLC as their definition of “hate group,” discussed whether that definition states the sufficient conditions for a hate group or merely a necessary condition.