Monday, November 19, 2007

Joe Carter on Waterboarding

As a contribution to the ongoing debate on torture and waterboarding Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost offers up a couple of posts. In the first he asserts, amidst some disappointingly insulting rhetoric, that torture should never be legal. In the second he seeks to clarify his position, but his clarification seems a little muddled.

He says this:

I have almost no reservations when it comes to opposing torture or saying that it is immoral in almost all circumstances. But because I am neither a utilitarian nor a deontologist (my ethical view could best be described as a form of virtue ethics), I cannot say that there are no situations where these actions would not be morally justifiable. But torture should always be illegal and the price of breaking this law should be so high that we can expect that it will be used only in the most absolutely urgent of circumstances.

Because the torture victim must bear the cost of incredible pain and even death, the benefits to the torturer must be worth bearing some of the costs. Torture must not be cheap. But if the "ticking-time bomb" scenario is real, the interrogator should be willing to pay the price--even if it means his own death--to protect the lives of the innocent.

There are at least two things wrong with what Joe says. The first is that it is a confusion. If there are circumstances in which torture should be carried out then torture in those circumstances is, as Carter acknowledges, morally justifiable. This means that it may, under those circumstances, be the right thing to do, and it is folly to say that the right thing to do should nevertheless be illegal and that the person who does the right thing and perhaps saves thousands of lives thereby should be punished and perhaps even executed.

In his first post he had claimed that "As Christians we must never condone the use of methods that threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the person created in the image of God." Now he is saying that a man who uses torture against a terrorist to save thousands of innocent lives might himself be legally put to death. This is an odd thing for one to say who has just insisted that we should never do anything to undermine the dignity of someone created in the image of God. Nothing undermines someone's dignity like taking his life away.

What Carter should say is that the torturer bears the responsibility of knowing that he must never resort to torture unless extraordinary circumstances obtain. To do otherwise would be to incur the risk of punishment, but, given those extraordinary circumstances, torture may be considered not only justifiable but perhaps even morally obligatory.

The second thing that's wrong with his clarification is that it seems that Carter has been arguing all along for a position he himself doesn't really hold. After excoriating Christians who refuse to adopt an absolutist position against torture he admits that he doesn't take an absolutist position either. He admits that there may be times when torture should be used and that's all anyone in the debate has ever said.

No one, certainly no Christian, thinks that torture should be undertaken lightly. Everyone agrees that torture should never be used as punishment, revenge, amusement, or as an ordinary interrogation tool. But neither should someone be guilty of a capital crime if, in order to save thousands or millions, he employs a technique like waterboarding which induces panic in someone who has the information needed to save those lives.

After many words and much insult Carter's argument seems to reduce to the truism that torture is wrong except when it isn't. But if that's all he's saying why does he bother to say it?


New Stem Cell Source

Amazing news out of Japan, via England, offers real hope for developing stem cells which can be used to heal numerous diseases without destroying human embryos. The technique is so promising that the scientist who developed the first cloned sheep, Ian Wilmut, has decided to adopt it for his own work.

Here are the basics:

Prof Yamanaka has shown in mice how to turn skin cells into what look like versatile stem cells potentially capable of overcoming the effects of disease.

This pioneering work to revert adult cells to an embryonic state has been reproduced by a team in America and Prof Yamanaka is, according to one British stem cell scientist, thought to have achieved the same feat in human cells.

This work has profound significance because it suggests that after a heart attack, for example, skin cells from a patient might one day be manipulated by adding a cocktail of small molecules to form muscle cells to repair damage to the heart, or brain cells to repair the effects of Parkinson's. Because they are the patient's own cells, they would not be rejected.

In theory, these reprogrammed cells could be converted into any of the 200 other type in the body, even the collections of different cell types that make up tissues and, in the very long term, organs too. Prof Wilmut said it was "extremely exciting and astonishing" and that he now plans to do research in this area.

This approach, he says, represents, the future for stem cell research...

There's much more about this development at the link.


What's That Smell?

Hard on the heels of the Norman Hsu campaign contribution scandal comes word that three of the people pardoned by Bill Clinton as he was on his way out the White House door have contributed thousands of dollars to his wife's presidential campaign.

Why is it that scandal and impropriety cling to the Clintons like a bad odor? Do we really want four, or eight, more years of all that all over again?