Monday, June 30, 2014

Vaccination is NOT a "Personal Decision"

I have seen many times recently where someone posts an article, a comment, or whatever about how vaccination of children is the moral thing to do and then all sorts of people chime in with bad science and bad reasoning.  It drives me crazy and, frankly, makes me a bit angry at all the innocent people, especially kids, who will get horrible diseases as a result of the perpetuation of this latest bit of American gullibility, scientific ignorance and anti-intellectualism.  (So apologies if this post comes across more strongly worded than usual) But what irks me the most (well, one of the things at least) is when people trivialize or dismiss the issue by saying things like "it's a personal decision" or "every family must decide for themselves", etc. 

Now, let's back up for a second.  There are five basic groups (here's where I'll probably get in trouble!) of which I think most anti-vaccine folks fall into at least one (often more): 1) Charlatans; 2) quacks; 3) people with poor reasoning skills; 4) people who, as a result of poor reasoning skills (thus making this a subset of 3), think that faith in God is incompatible with modern medicine; 5) people who have been deceived by any or all of the above.  It's really a very similar phenomena to snake oil, superstitions, and all manner of popularly spread falsehoods that have polluted society from its very beginning.  It's really all in the same boat.

So when people say the sorts of things I listed at the end of the first paragraph, I can't stand it. Seriously, it's only a personal decision in the same sense in which it is a personal decision whether to fire a gun into a crowded room is a personal decision.  And every family must decide for themselves, yes, but in the same sense in which every family must decide for themselves whether to commit murder (thankfully, most choose not to).  These attempts to sidestep the issue or ward off the ethical duties associated with it are perilously close to a lapse into utter ethical or even factual relativism - the whole vaccine thing might be true for you, but not for me! Such attempts make it seem like it's a matter of taste whether we ought to vaccinate or how safe vaccines are, rather than a matter of objective fact.  They make it seem like the issue is unclear in some way or that reasonable people, reasoning well, with the same facts available, would disagree with each other.  But, of course, none of that is remotely true.  Nor is it true that it is strictly personal, since the effects of such decisions affect others and society as a whole.

I think it is telling that the issue is often spoken of in terms of "my beliefs" or "personal beliefs" and other language usually reserved for matters of taste, "philosophies of life", or weakly-held religious convictions, as opposed to the language of scientific fact, evidence, or objective ethical realities.  The latter kind of language is appropriate here, not the former.  Yet I think the former actually does capture how this opposition to vaccines actually functions in many people, even though it shouldn't.  It is a quasi-religious belief held dogmatically and immune to actual evidence or reasoning (and not based on any good evidence or reasoning and certainly anti-scientific authority).  Whereas I think religious beliefs can in fact be justified, being responsive to evidence and reasons, and, if true, can have adequate epistemic grounding, this anti-vaccine position does not have the benefit of being a central node in a foundational world view or being even supposedly divinely revealed. Whereas religious beliefs, for instance, can at least make claims to divine authority, anti-vaccine positions do not have anything close going for them - there is no real claim to authority here and hence no reason to treat it in the way it gets treated by its proponents.

Ultimately, there should not be "sides" as to whether most children should be vaccinated - any more than there should be sides over whether we should let toddlers play alone in a pool with a live handgrenade and a family of water moccasins.  And, what's more, these "sides" matter - lives, health, and economy are all on the line here - but people do not think properly about them; they do not actually look at the evidence objectively and without resorting to logical fallacy.  People should stop merely "feeling strongly" about the issue and start thinking strongly (and, more importantly, thinking well).  Perhaps critical thinking classes or classes on scientific reasoning would be useful, assuming people would pay attention or actually absorb what they were taught.  At the end of the day, I would make vaccinations mandatory for everyone for whom there was no special health risk associated with them.  That way, people can be ignorant, deluded, and so on all they want without it hurting others. But then, that's why, in America, I'd probably never be elected for office in the first place!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Favored: Joshua and Caleb Notes

Some notes on my contribution to the sermon prep study group - a bit shorter than usual and missing some of the Hebrew stuff I discussed, but I thought I'd throw this up anyway.  It's obviously geared toward the theme of God's favor for the "Favored" sermon series:

Numbers 13-14: Only Joshua and Caleb end up confident in the Lord. Out of the 12 spies (and ultimately the Israelites at large), only they trust completely in God’s promises. Joshua and Caleb accept the trustworthiness of God and his Word and his ability to do what was promised. What makes Joshua and Caleb unique is that they expect and trust in God’s favor and see everything through that lens - everything is interpreted in terms of God’s favor expressed in his Word to them. They choose to see God’s favor both in present circumstances and in the future. By contrast, the others experience only fear and the imminent danger of failure and death. They choose to see things through a different filter than faith and favor. This lack of faith in God and lack of seeing things in terms of God’s favor leads to disobedience and utter lack of faithfulness towards God, bringing God’s project with Israel almost to a screeching halt.

Joshua and Caleb, however, see God’s favor in what others would see as disaster. In the face of the seemingly dire report of 13:28-29, Caleb, for instance, sees only the certainty of success in 13:30. As a result, only Joshua and Caleb will be allowed to enter the promised land since only they see God’s favor there. For those who decided that the land did not represent God’s favor to them and thereby rejected God’s favor, God honored that decision and reserved that favor for Joshua and Caleb alone, as can be seen especially in 14:39-45.

After Moses’ death, Joshua and Caleb continue to see things in terms of God’s favor throughout the rest of their lives as they move in to the land to claim what God had promised. In Joshua 14:6-15, Caleb still expects God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises in bringing that favor in the context of the possession of land. And he gets it. Joshua, meanwhile, in places like Joshua 3-4 and Joshua 24, reacts to God’s favor by acts of remembrance and the institution of future remembrances, choosing to serve God and, by his example and calling to mind God’s past and present favor in the taking of and current possession of the land, encouraging both his and future generations to not take that favor for granted, to abandon it, or to scorn it in any way.