Sunday, July 06, 2008

ApostAZ podcast #5

The fifth ApostAZ podcast (MP3) is out:
Episode 005 Atheism and Freethought in Phoenix- "Every Sperm is Sacred" from Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life'. Group Events. Phoenix, Billboards! Suckics hone in on Autism. Astromnology. Us vs Them? Phelps Hallucinations. Gay marriage, still an issue, still a tax money black-hole! Greydon Square, "Dream" from 'The Compton Effect' album.
I didn't get my contribution in on time, but I'll have a science and skepticism segment in episode 006.

My comments on this episode:

While McCain opposes gay marriage and pays lip service to the idea of same-sex civil unions, Obama also opposes gay marriage (though says he'd like to repeal DOMA and institute a federal law supporting same-sex civil unions, even in front of audiences that oppose gay rights, so he is somewhat better than McCain on that issue). They also both support faith-based government programs--neither is a strict separationist on church and state. (But again, I think Obama is slightly better than McCain on that subject in terms of what he says--at least he opposes giving federal funding to groups that discriminate or proselytize, though it's unclear he'll take action to stop it.)

On abortion, there can certainly be secular moral arguments for restrictions on late-term abortion, just as there can be secular moral arguments against infanticide. Arguments that abortion involves killing a person, a being with a right to life, need to come to terms with Judith Jarvis-Thomson's violinist argument, which argues that even if a fetus has a right to life, it doesn't have the right to be supported by its mother's body if the mother did not consent. This has further implication that if the fetus could be transplanted or removed and survive on its own (e.g., it's already reached the point of viability, which is the standard applied by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade), then that's immoral and criminalizable. But it also implies, it seems to me, that there is a reasonable range of actions which could constitute consent to supporting a fetus--such as voluntarily engaging in sex without contraception, which any reasonable person should know has a reasonably high probability of producing a child.

My own view is that abortion is immoral to the point of justifying legal prohibition in any case where (a) there's such at least tacit consent to carry a child and (b) the fetus has reached a point of brain development where there's a reasonable case to be made for personhood. I'm not convinced that (b) ever happens in reality, since I think there's a strong argument that personhood requires a capacity for self-awareness, which doesn't seem to occur until about six months after birth, but I can certainly conceive of empirical evidence that would change my mind about when that point is reached. There may be other cases where abortion is immoral, e.g., intentionally waiting until late in the pregnancy, and then terminating for a trivial reason of convenience.

On the Biblical justification for opposition to medical treatment: Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions on the grounds of Old Testament prohibitions on consuming blood (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11-14, and Acts 15:20, 29), even though those all refer to consuming animal blood and have nothing to do with transfusions of human blood. Christian Scientists oppose medical treatment not on the basis of anything in the Bible, but based on the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. Their view is that everything good and holy is spiritual, while everything physical or material is evil, yet is also illusory or at least a distortion of the spiritual world. This has some resemblance to Buddhist views of "maya," and also to the early Christian heresy known as Docetism, which was the view that Jesus' humanity was an illusion, because the physical cannot be holy. Thus, under this view, engaging in physical repair (medicine) of what is an illusory distortion of the underlying spiritual reality is not only a waste of time, but sinful--the only real repair possible is spiritual, through prayer. (And further, illness itself is of the physical, and thus illusory.)

The ApostAZ website is here.


Shannon said...

Thanks for the comments Jim! We should probably prepare our topics more carefully so we can back up our statements a bit more.

I agree with you that there are secular moral arguments against abortion, and I for one am not opposed to taking them into consideration in the creation of public policy; but I feel that due to the affects of forcing women (young and old) to have unwanted children, there need to be additional social programs to supplement the newly formed lack of choice.

Religious driven "Abstinence Programs" that fail to teach children and teens about safe sex are worthless and should be banned unless there can be statistical/experimental data proving they work. Contraceptives (including the "Morning After" pill) should be readily available for when people inevitably make mistakes. Also, there would need to be a reformation of the adoption/foster care system to provide these young people with options, so simply outlawing abortions would not be at all benificial in my opinion.

As for the Jehovah's Witnesses' opposition to blood transfusions because they are not to drink blood.. I am assuming then that they strongly oppose the idea behind the Catholic communion and transubstation? I will admit I know little of their belief system...

Oh, and Christian Scientists...if they believe that everything physical or material is evil... then do they believe that Jesus was evil when he was a material man? Or if they believe that he wasn't at all material, how did he sacrifice himself for the sins of mankind??? I'm sure I am talking to those that already see the fallacy of such an argument, but still... do these people refuse to think at all?

Anyways, I cannot wait for your portion for #6, and if you can make it to the Meetup at Rock Bottom in Chandler on 7/13, we will be recording the Podcast live from there!

Jim Lippard said...

Shannon: Most health insurance programs already cover contraception, but I agree that access to and promotion of contraception is the best way to prevent the need for abortion. I don't agree that abstinence programs should be *banned*, only that government should not be wasting any money on them--you're right that they demonstrably don't work. At best, they slightly defer the time of initial sexual experience but also decrease the likelihood that contraception will be used when it happens, with the result of increasing the propagation of STDs and the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy.

Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches believe in transsubstantiation. Some Protestants believe in "consubstantiation" (the bread and wine do not transform, but are magically fully the body and blood of Christ while also fully continuing to be bread and wine), which is similar to the view that Jesus was simultaneously both fully human and fully divine (and perhaps also the way that the three members of the trinity are supposed to all be one and the same substance, homoousios, rather than merely similar but distinct, or homoiousios, the theological debate that gave us the phrase "not an iota of difference"). Some other Protestants believe that there is a "real presence" of Jesus in the host, but most treat it as strictly symbolic, and that includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, who also only celebrate communion once per year.

I'm no expert on Christian Science, but they say that the Christ was entirely spiritual and divine, not physical, but I think they do also say that Jesus was a physical being. Also, I think I've misconstrued their position on evil--they apparently consider evil, like sickness and even death, to be illusory. So they aren't like the gnostics in that regard--their solution to the problem of evil is to deny that it actually exists.

I'm planning to be at Rock Bottom on the 13th.

Shannon said...

Oh man... you have to twist your brain around and make it ignore so many things that it will scream at you "THIS DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!!" just to start to get into the mindset of these people...

Jodie said...

Hi guys, it's great to read your thoughts. I just wanted to chime in here as a Christian Scientist. I completely admire the dedication and commitment of people within the medical profession, it’s just that I choose to experience healing in a different manner. You know, my mother, was not a Christian Scientist. She suffered for many many years with many different health problems and was always in hospital. In the end she was told her there was nothing more that could be done for her and she passed away. I also have a sister who is a trained medical sister working in a private hospital. So it’s not about thinking that medicine is “evil” or that Christian Scientists don’t have a choice, or that the physical is "evil" etc. it’s just that when you’ve found what works for you why would you choose any differently? I’ve had healings of eating disorders, chicken pox, influenza and numerous other problems and the healings have all come entirely without medicine. You can read about my healings and many others on

So it’s not so much that Christian Scientists “choose not to see a doctor” or that anything physical is evil etc. It’s just that they have a different understanding of how healing occurs and also because they’ve experienced healing so consistently this way.
Thanks for the opportunity to share!

Jim Lippard said...

Jodie: Thanks for stopping by to present the Christian Scientist view first-hand. Would you say that it's accurate to describe your view by saying that disease is illusory, and medicine is treating the wrong thing?

Empirically, I think the evidence is very strongly against you--modern medicine clearly prevents, treats, and often cures illnesses, while there are numerous cases of children of Christian Scientists dying from ailments that are easily treatable. While there is a clear and not-fully-understood placebo effect, studies of prayer don't show any effect over the placebo effect.

Einzige said...

Re: placebo effect...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the placebo effect only applies in cases of pain management.

I can't imagine there's a placebo effect for, e.g., the elimination of a tapeworm from the gut.

Jim Lippard said...

There have been claims for placebo effect far beyond pain relief (link is to FDA Consumer magazine), but there have also been criticisms of placebo studies (link to the Skeptic's Dictionary). The consensus seems to me to be that it has objective effects beyond the merely psychological (even the SkepDic link concludes that).

You're surely right about tapeworm, though. (BTW, just watched the first two episodes of "House" last night, the first of which involved a tapeworm.)

Einzige said...

Excellent SkepDic article.

The key sentences from it:

"In fact, Martina Amanzio et al. (2001) demonstrated that "at least part of the physiological basis for the placebo effect is opioid in nature" (Bausell 2007: 160). We can be conditioned to release such chemical substances as endorphins, catecholamines, cortisol, and adrenaline."

As such, it seems highly likely that any condition not treatable via internally producible hormones will see no genuine placebo effect. I say "genuine" because, as the SkepDic points out, it's possible to attribute "placebo" to many other causes (Regression to the mean, observer bias, answers of politeness, etc.).

Jodie said...

Hi Jim
Great to hear from you. I really appreciate your kind reply. The issue about Christian Science and children is always very sensitive, understandably. Commonsense and wisdom must prevail. You know, from my point of view, I've seen my own sister's baby (my sister is a medical nurse, not into Christian Science) die in hospital. Her baby only lived three days and she was told by the hospital they could not do anything about it.

Re your question on disease - Healing in Christian Science results from a change in thinking. And disease is seen as an externalised condition of thought. So because disease originates in thought, it can be healed without medicine. So Christian Science treatment treats the "inside" (our thinking) which determines the "outside".

Hope I answered your questions okay, feel free to ask me anything else. It's great to be able to have this dialogue.

Jodie said...

Hey Jim
To give you an idea of how all that plays out - here's an article I wrote about a healing I had. It may explain the process of healing in Christian Science a little better. Just copy and past the link below:

Alternatively, type in "Beauty from the Inside Out" (inverted commas included) in the search box of

Thanks. :)

Jodie said...

Hey Jim

I forgot to quickly mention,(which I didn't in my article) that when I was sick, my mum who wasn't a Christian Scientist, insist I go to hospital. They diagnosed me with adult chickenpox and told me that it would last at least two weeks.

Okay, sorry for hogging the post!
Take care, Jodie.

Brad said...

Damn, I wish you'd do more segments for our show, especially segments commenting on and/or correcting previous shows.

Wish in one hand, pray in the other though, I guess. ;-D