Declining to Vaccinate

At a recent hospital visit for ongoing tests I was greeted by a masked man – not the Lone Ranger – but a technician who was wearing a mask (sort of) because he refused to have the flu vaccine.

We had a chat. My position, expressed in my usual way, was non-threatening: “People who don’t believe in science should be fired.”

I said this after he had completed the test.

The Brights sent this:

Learn more about vaccines here.

Looking back: Letter from a friend

f_rA few years ago after I had retired I received a phone call from a young woman who wanted to talk with me about doing a second degree in philosophy. She already had a degree in business administration and was looking for a discipline that would help her to deal with the “big” questions. My wife and I met her for a meal at a local White Spot. She turned out to be a sharp, inquisitive, well-centered young woman who had a keen intellect and who was serious about further studies. We talked about the department at Vancouver Island University and about the best way to pursue a second degree with the idea in mind of going on to graduate school. She taught Spanish to English speaking Canadians who wanted a tutor. She worked hard.

She indeed enrolled. She excelled in her studies. She was accepted to graduate school at SFU. Over the years she kept in touch with me. Last night [2012] I received a moving letter from her. She has given me permission to post its contents.

Dear Bob,

I lost my catholic faith. I acknowledge that the unwillingness to give it up was about tradition and the fact that my mother holds a very strong faith in the Christian God; in other words, tradition. But now that I came back to live in Colombia, in my town of Socorro (dominated by a spectacular cathedral in the main park and two more big churches in the other parks) I realized I cannot follow this tradition anymore.

One Sunday around two months ago we went to mass as we usually did on Sunday morning. I don’t remember exactly what the priest was talking about but all of a sudden he started talking about a famous TV host here in Colombia; his nickname is “Pacheco”. He was very popular in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Now he is old and retired. The priest said that because Pacheco was an atheist he had been forgotten and was out of the TV business. That revolted my stomach quite a bit and gave me the excuse I needed to tell my mother I cannot take it anymore, I cannot go to these masses where they utter stupidity. She agreed because for a long time she had felt the same way but never able to take a stand and at least stop going to these gatherings. She had questioned many things from the church before. She also studied a little bit of philosophy! She tells me that when asked by a priest whether the catholic church was absolute or relative (what a question eh?!?) she said “well, it is relative as any other church”. Ouch! The father was not happy and they had to change topic. She also hates every time the priests call other catholic churches “garage churches”. She always questioned (in her mind) the actions and doctrine of the church but only now that I am here she is being strong about it. Her friends are realizing she is not going back to church. They keep calling her. These same friends inundate her email with messages that are supposed to be revelations from god or the virgin Mary to whoever is writing the original message telling them what to do to protect themselves from the devil and “the end of times”. The things to do are, for example, leave a little bit of olive oil with two teaspoons of salt in a little plate, and then place the image of some saint above and the same image hanged behind the doors in your house and some other silly craziness. The devil won’t take you when “the end of times” comes. What a joke. We laugh and that is great.

It is very unfortunate that almost every small town in Colombia (and I say South America) was built in such way that Catholicism dominates and will do so for many years. The town is built around a main plaza which is dominated by a big church. They ring the bells loud and clear every time there is mass (one mass each day at least, not counting the funerals, and 4 masses at least on Sunday in every church. Yes, they have customers all right). They burn firecrackers even at 4 in the morning to announce religious holidays. I wrote a petition that I will deliver this week to ask the priests to stop the practice of burning firecrackers.

But if it took me this long; me, a person who studied philosophy, tried to defend religious faith and lost arguments in class and out of class, how long is it going to be for people who are bombarded by church stuff? The truth is this town needs to get rid of this faith, question its history.

My mother still has her faith in God, Jesus, Virgin Mary. But she does not feel she can be part of the catholic institution anymore. I am proud of her.

I remember when I started philosophy at VIU, religious faith was not a problem for me. I had never given it much thought. Since I was a kid I had thought that it was strange that god had created us knowing we would be sinners and then having to punish us, but I never pursued that question. Well, what a strange thing to have never done so!! I cannot believe it. But it takes someone, a teacher, someone to ask a good question, pursue that question and faith is on the line. Philosophy is a beauty. I am happy for this journey.

I wanted to share this event of my life with you. Every day I look forward to your blog postings.

Laura.

Look “Two paradoxes” – republished from 6 years ago

I’ve got two new paradoxes (at least, I think they’re new!) that I hope to write an article about this coming week. Here’s a preview. Remember, folks, you saw ’em first here on Episyllogism!

A note of clarification: ‘paradox’ can mean several different things. Logicians generally use it to mean a statement that cannot consistently be true or false, and English lit. people often use it to mean something surprising. I mean something weaker than what logicians mean and stronger than what literary critics mean. In calling these ‘paradoxes’, I’m saying that they are problems whose obvious solutions seem counterintuitive in one way or another.

The first paradox has to do with morality. I accept all the following claims, and take it that others do as well:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the moral principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own moral principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain a moral principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our moral principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our moral principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our moral principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down a moral principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.

It is difficult to see how 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9 could plausibly be incorrect, and 6 and 8 follow logically from the rest. But clearly, 8 and 9 are in tension.

So what should we do? Maybe we just have to give up on 4 or 5: maybe, that is, maintaining a moral principle that one has excellent reason to believe one will never follow is OK.

Well, suppose you go that way. Then it seems that you should not feel so bad when you fail to live up to your moral principles. But doesn’t this seem worrisome? If you don’t feel bad about violating your own moral principles, then a) it’s not entirely clear what is meant by their being your moral principles and b) regardless, it’s not difficult to see that your commitment to your moral principles will become weaker by your no longer caring as much about failing to live by them, and that certainly would be morally irresponsible on your part.

The second paradox is very similar, but this time the principles in question are epistemic ones. Epistemic principles are the principles that determine whether it’s right or wrong to believe something. If you see that the sun is up, people are awake and walking or driving to work, and your clock says 8:30am, etc., then it would be a violation of basic epistemological principles or norms to think that it’s 11pm. If you know that Nanaimo is part of BC and that BC is part of Canada, it would be irrational for you to believe that BC is not a part of Canada. Those are examples of epistemic norms or principles. But sometimes, we have a difficult time following our epistemic principles. We tend to believe we’re much smarter, more ethical, better at sex, funnier, more reasonable, etc. than most or all of our peers. We tend to remember confirmations of our religious, political, etc. beliefs but forget the problems with them. Psychologists have shown this in study after study. And while we can improve on our epistemic conduct, these problems seem extremely difficult (and probably impossible) to eliminate entirely. So:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the epistemic principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own epistemic principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain an epistemic principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our epistemic principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our epistemic principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our epistemic principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down an epistemic principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.

 

And here we are again!

What’s going wrong in these paradoxes? How can the matter be resolved?

Bart Ehrman is a bible scholar with an interesting conversion experience. He was an active Christian as a high school and early university student, but then began to wonder about the accuracy of the New Testament gospels. He studied NT Greek and tried to answer the question, “Are the Gospels reliable?”

His lifetime of study led to his conversion experience. Watch him debate Craig Evans, another NT scholar.

Sunday’s Sermon