Terrence Malik’s 1998 film, The Thin Red Line, is considered one of the greatest contemporary war films, and is at once deeply moving and deeply theological. In this recent sermon delivered to the Oriel College Chapel, Nigel Biggar reflects on some of the film’s theological questions.
In January 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a controversial article suggesting that the reasons that support legalized abortion should also be invoked to permit infanticide, something the authors refer to as after-birth abortion. More recently, an American physician was convicted of murder, and now faces the death penalty, for infanticides that he defended as abortions.
The original Journal of Medical Ethics article generated an outcry of opposition from physicians, philosophers, and even on the floor of the United States Congress. The journal’s editor, Julian Savulescu, issued a statement defending the article’s publication, while also affirming his own opposition to infanticide. Now, the journal has released a special edition on the debate, which includes both pro-choice and pro-life responses. For the next month, access to the special edition is free.
Also available is a brief but engaging interview with Nigel Biggar on the topic, conducted by the BBC’s David Edmunds. Download directly from the JME or listen here:
Finally, the issue includes an exchange between Charles Camosy, former McDonald Visiting Fellow, and Princeton’s Robert George—both of whom oppose abortion under any circumstances, but who disagree about how best to engage those who differ. The question of how best to make the public case for or against abortion waspreviously addressed on this site by the McDonald Centre’s John Perry.
For centuries, atheism was suppressed because of its supposed amorality. Now, New Atheists such as A.C. Grayling and Sam Harris argue that decent, liberal morality is perfectly possible without religious belief—indeed, that it is only possible without it. Others, such as Jürgen Habermas, acknowledge that Christianity has had a peculiar capacity to articulate humanist values and norms, but that these can be extracted without loss from their theological roots. This May, the McDonald Centre, together with the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter, gather ten philosophers and theologians—both believers and unbelievers—from the UK, the USA, and New Zealand to address questions such as these:
Even if morality in general does not need religion, might specific moralities nonetheless need it?
Might morality be better off without religion? Is it better off without any religion or only certain kinds?
When notions of human dignity or rights are extracted from theological language, is anything important lost in translation? Are such notions really sustainable apart from a theological worldview?
Are religious believers more, or less, moral than others? Or are such questions philosophically irrelevant?
Speakers include: David Baggett (Liberty), Julian Baggini (ThePhilosophers’ Magazine), Nigel Biggar (Oxford), John Cottingham (Reading), John Hare (Yale), Terence Irwin (Oxford), Michael Hauskeller (Exeter), Tim Mulgan (Auckland), Keith Ward (Oxford), Mark Wynn (Leeds).
In recent years the rise of the Scottish National Party has called into question the 300 year-old Union of England and Scotland. Nationalists argue that the Scots would be better off with an independent state, and that the Anglo-Scottish Union has had its day. This might be true: after all, nation-states wax and wane, and none is the Kingdom of God—neither the USSR, nor the USA or UK.
In order to test the truth of the SNP’s claim, the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life held a colloquium at Christ Church on 26 February, in which interested parties from north and south, Left and Right, gathered to consider answers to the question, “What’s the Good of the Union?” Participants included the theologians Nigel Biggar and Iain Torrance, the historians Alvin Jackson and Chris Whatley, the journalists Martin Kettle and John Lloyd, and others. View the complete programme and list of speakers.
The Fourth Chatham House-McDonald Centre Colloquium on Issues in International Affairs was held on 1 February 2013.
There is growing interest in the potential of cyber capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and ‘autonomous’ weapons to revolutionise the way we wage war. As parts of a military arsenal these capabilities can be deployed to deter, to make pre-emptive strikes, and to reduce the need for large armed forces. However, these remarkable developments in military technology raise novel and difficult ethical questions, for which traditional just war thinking lacks ready answers:
When does cyber-aggression constitute ‘war’? What kinds of retaliation are proportionate?
Does the mere presence of a terrorist change a peaceful territory into a war-zone and justify the aggressive use of UAVs across the borders of a sovereign state?
When may we use UAVs to carry out assassinations?
Is remote warfare ‘unchivalrous’?
Are military personnel safely removed from the battlefield more likely to take disproportionate risks?
What does it do to the moral characters of military personnel to conduct warfare in a manner virtually indistinguishable from playing a video-game?
How ‘autonomous’ are programmed weapons? Can they
Who is responsible for their operation?
Under the Chatham House Rule, the identities of those present may not be revealed, but participants included scholars of international relations, politics, philosophy, and theology, as well as leaders in the intelligence community.