Under His eye or The Harrowing of Farron

On Facebook, I ran across a couple of Christian responses to the recent resignation of Tim “Nice-but-Evangelical” Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

A worrying sign

A post by John Stevens, Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, argues that Farron’s resignation is a worrying sign: Farron’s actions as a friend to LGBT people were not sufficient, people were worried about “what Tim thinks” and wouldn’t leave him alone about it.

As Nick Spencer writes, there are two sorts of liberalism. Farron was an example of liberalism as a way of living (or modus vivendi, as we say in the New Statesman) in a pluralist society, but fell victim to people who saw liberalism as a system which itself provides the right answers to moral questions. But taking liberalism as such as system, as Stevens says, opens its followers to the same sorts of criticism that Farron got: can a follower of a system fairly represent the interests of those who disagree with it?

(Unfortunately, Stevens does get dangerously close to using the phrase “virtue signalling”, which should worry him, for is it not written whosoever shall say to his brother, “thou art virtue signalling”, shall be in danger of being a huge arsehole, and that goes double for “snowflake”.?)

The burning of Latimer and Ridley at OxfordStevens has an interesting argument for liberalism as a way of living: if idolatry is the greatest sin, yet Christians do not want religion imposed by the government as this has historically not ended well (pic related), how much more so (or a fortiori, as we probably say in the New Statesman) ought Christians to allow freedom in law for people to commit lesser sins?

Public reason

With his mention of a “substantive, even comprehensive” liberalism, Nick Spencer in the New Stateman is gesturing at Rawl’s ideas of public reason. From what I read of this, a liberalism which is what Rawls calls a comprehensive doctrine can’t legitimately be the sole basis for arguments in favour of a fundamental right (such as gay marriage), any more than the religious comprehensive system can be the sole basis for an argument against. As Mariel Johns’s summary puts it,

It is important to remember that secular comprehensive doctrines are not allowed – the same way that philosophical and religious comprehensive doctrines are not allowed. These fall outside the domain of the political. This can be seen if we consider what each type of doctrine might ask with regard to making homosexual relations among citizens a criminal offense. A secular doctrine might ask, “Is it precluded by a worthy idea of the full human good?” A religious doctrine might ask, “Is it a sin?” A political conception would ask, “Will legislative statues forbidding those relations infringe on the civil rights of free and equal democratic citizens?”

I’m not an expert in political philosophy, but this seems to get something important right, namely that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. “What Tim thinks” can only be of political concern if we’re reasoning from a comprehensive doctrine which says our thoughts can be wrong in and of themselves (such as Christianity, or liberalism of the second sort), or if we can show that what he thinks is somehow relevant in reasoning which is not unique to any such doctrine. Only the latter is legitimate, if I’m reading Rawls right.

So, what should Farron have said? Perhaps “What I think is What The Bible Says1, but look at my voting record and see that I don’t seek to impose my views on others, because (insert Stevens’s a fortiori argument here)”. Note that Rawls doesn’t think people cannot bring forward religious reasons (in fact, he thinks they should, in a “cards on the table” sort of way), only that they should then be backed by public reasons (such as “enforcing religion infringes on the civil rights of citizens”, presumably).

This is easy to say in hindsight, of course.

Shearer

G J Shearer writes that “Arguing that Christians shouldn’t ‘impose’ their views on society is simply a tacit way of saying that someone else should.” But this ignores the distinction between liberalism of the first, Rawlsian, sort, and liberalism of the second, comprehensive, sort. Perhaps Shearer thinks that such a distinction can’t be maintained, and everything must collapse into a fight between competing comprehensive doctrines. But why think that? It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if nobody makes the effort to maintain it, it certainly won’t be maintained. Farron’s pursuers harmed our political life by making it harder to maintain it.

Shearer argues that secular liberalism is illogical:

What, in effect, is the logic of secular liberalism? We live in a world heading towards extinction, our consciousness created by blind physical laws and driven by a ruthless will to reproduce and survive, therefore… What? Love each other? Look after the poor, the lame, the vulnerable? A moment’s consideration shows that these conclusions do not flow from the premise.

Hume lives! But his guillotine is a multi-purpose tool (it slices! it dices! it cuts both ways!). Suppose the facts are these: we live in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, therefore… what? What conclusions about morality follow from these premises? You need to add some other premise (like “we ought to do what God wants/commands of us”), and if you need that, why fault secular philosophers for needing to add theirs (like “we ought to do that which leads to human flourishing” or “the greatest good of the greatest number” or whatever)? All moral systems, including theistic ones, are “illogical” by these lights.

He also wonders whether atheist politicians could explain how “their belief that human life is merely ‘an accidental collocation of atoms’, to use Bertrand Russell’s phrase, fits with the various moral imperatives that drive their politics”. Probably not, because politicians, unlike Hume, are generally crap at philosophy. But, as we’ve just seen, Shearer hasn’t explained why his premises about God lead to his moral conclusions, either.

Offred from a Handmaid's Tale, with the caption "But her emails"Shearer ends with a call to Christians to get more involved getting Christian values into law: “it is time that Christians began to unapologetically argue that society is best served by Christian, rather than secular, values shaping the public sphere.” This doesn’t seem likely to end any better than it did historically (pic related).

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  1. This is an evangelical term of art, so should be taken with the usual caveat 

Link blog: euthypro-dilemma, good, philosophy, Euthyphro

CAN GOD’S GOODNESS SAVE THE DIVINE COMMAND THEORY FROM EUTHYPHRO?
Koon’s paper in response to Alston’s response to the Euthyphro dilemma. tl;dr: if God is the exemplar of goodness, his goodness is not explained by his virtues (rather, vice versa). But, bracketing the virtues, why would we then say he was good?
(tags: Euthyphro euthypro-dilemma philosophy good religion)
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Link blog: politics, brexit, trump, nuclear

Why Stop Funding Hate deserves answers – Creative Review
“The Stop Funding Hate campaign is gaining traction and giving brands difficult decisions to make.” If you want something you can do, this is something you can do.
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Why the economy can’t explain Trump or Brexit – OpenLearn – Open University
Authoritarian social attitudes and the rate of change of minority population in an area are better predictors of Trump/Brexit voting than poverty.
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Responding to Tim Keller’s “Making Sense of God” Talk
A shorter and better version than my own rebuttal of the book the talk was based on.
(tags: tim-keller Religion philosophy Atheism)
The President and the bomb | Restricted Data
The US military won’t stop a president from using nuclear weapons, the system is designed to make sure they can do so, not to prevent them.
(tags: politics military nuclear president)
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Link blog: basic-income, google, sealioning, Christianity

We only hire the trendiest
More efficient hiring and better tools are cheaper than competing for candidates from the top universities.
(tags: tech programming hiring recruiters google)
Critically Examining the doctrine of gender identity – YouTube
A presentation by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper for Coventry Skeptics. The Q&A; (linked from the description) is interesting too.

A concept of gender identity which is entirely exhausted by “I am what I say I am” doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a professional philosopher like Reilly-Cooper, and I hadn’t realised that people were saying things like “my penis is a female sex organ, because I am female” (as opposed to saying “it’s a woman’s, because I am a woman”).

I do wonder how much harm is being done by people believing wacky things in this case, though: is it common for males to cynically claiming to be women in order to harass women?
(tags: gender sex feminism identity identity-politics biology philosophy)

Libertarian Social Justice Warrior: A Surprisingly Coherent Position | Thing of Things
“As far as I am aware, “libertarian social justice warrior” is a niche very rarely filled. This is annoying to me, because a really good case can be made for the social justice libertarian.”
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Infographic: Taking Easter Seriously – Jericho Brisance
“Many Christians read the Easter stories year upon year, as I did for several decades, yet we never compare them in detail. As a consequence, we often do not realize that they are not telling the same story. There are indeed contradictions in the texts, but it is very important to move beyond “mere contradiction” – the issues with our gospels are far more extensive than that. Comparison against the historical record and assessing the gospels for trends of legend development are probably far more crucial. As with many non-believers, I left Christianity specifically because of the Bible, and because I considered and examined its content very seriously indeed.”
(tags: bible easter crucifixion contradictions history Christianity Religion)
Sealioning
Not quite the original comic. Makes a good point though. Via andrewducker.
(tags: comic sealioning)
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Link blog: emotion, computers, mindfulness, sudo

What We Can Learn from the Paris Attacks (Without Ignoring the Elephant in the Room)
Yep, this is more or less what I think.
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What is emotional labor?
A term that once described jobs where being friendly and cheerful was seen as part of the job has apparently been co-opted to mean “someone expects me to do something”.
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Guide to software developer job advertisements: andrewducker
Seems legit.
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Not *my* retreat. Some bloke’s. It’s an interesting article about the experience though.
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An alias for when you really need it done…
I’m totally setting this up.
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The Deadlock Empire
A nice little web game where you try to break a threaded program by executing a critical section in two threads at once. It’s pretty neat.
(tags: programming threads concurrency locks game)
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Link blog: stephen-law, belief, philosophy, atheism

Just why can’t we atheists see that religious belief is reasonable? Some religious answers
“Why do we atheists reject religious belief, and consider it irrational? Here is a survey of some of the explanations that have been offered by the religious. They’re not good. “
(tags: atheism religion philosophy stephen-law belief rationality)
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Link blog: islamism, terrorism, islam, isis

ISIS Is Just One of a Full-Blown Global Jihadist Insurgency – The Daily Beast
“By failing to name the ideology and isolate it from everyday Islam, we deprive these reforming voices of a lexicon, a language to deploy against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. We prevent a conversation around ending Islamism’s appeal while also reforming traditional Islam. If it has “nothing to do with Islam,” there is nothing to discuss within Islamic communities. In this way, we surrender the debate to the extremists, who meanwhile are discussing Islam with impunity.”
(tags: islam islamism religion terrorism jihad isis isil)
What We Can Learn from the Paris Attacks (Without Ignoring the Elephant in the Room)
Yep, this is more or less what I think.
(tags: paris terrorism islam islamism religion politics)
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Link blog: radicalisation, isis, teleology, twitter

ISIS and the Lonely Young American – The New York Times
The NYT has a story about radical Muslims attempting to convert an American Christian and convince her to travel to join them in Syria, all done via the Internet, mainly Twitter and Skype.
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Start-up Costs: ‘Silicon Valley,’ ‘Halt and Catch Fire,’ and How Microserfdom Ate the World «
It’s 20 years since “Microserfs” was published. Here’s an article looking at the changing portrayals of the tech industry in fiction, from Microserf’s optimism to a more cynical view today.
(tags: microserfs douglas-coupland technology silicon-valley programming)
A Quite Long Review of Edward Feser’s Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide | Thing of Things
Ozy reads Edward Feser so you don’t have to.
(tags: aquinas thomist edward-feser metaphysics teleology causality)
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