Avoid Estate Planning Scams With The Help Of Elder Law Lawyers

Sunday, September 2, 2012
Everyone wants to safeguard their property and assets and there seems to be no limit to the number of seminars or salespeople available to help you do so. But how do you know the service or product is legitimate? What can you do to protect yourself from an estate scam? Common Types Of Estate Scams Many estate scams target retirees and the elderly. They often involve the purchase of annuities or trusts. Many of these scams are the result of unsolicited sales calls and visits from door-to-door salesmen or they are follow-up from an "estate planning" seminar attended. An annuity scam often requires you to sell your current investments and place them into an annuity fund. The problem with this is you'll probably pay high taxes and fees on the money you transfer out and you're almost certainly guaranteed to be paying hefty amounts to the "advisor" or salesman of the annuity. Trust scams fall into two categories: Scam Trusts and Mill Trusts. Scam trusts involve transferring your assets into business trust entities controlled by you as a way to avoid paying taxes on the money. The promoter of the trust often makes his money by, again, charging you a hefty fee for the "plan" and then leaves you high and dry to deal with the IRS when they discover your illegal trust and demand back taxes owed, plus interest, and assess serious penalties.

Mill trusts are contracts that purport to save you from estate taxes and/or probate if you sign on the dotted line. The contracts are not usually presented to you by a lawyer, but the salesperson may assure you it has been reviewed by an attorney and is legal. The problem with mill trusts isn't necessarily that they are illegal. It may simply be a greater waste of money than anything else. Mill trusts often have a limited scope, focusing only on avoiding probate and neglecting other issues. The lack of access to a qualified attorney for document review means you might not be considering all aspects of your assets and property holdings. Worse still, a mill trust often typically does not get funded, which renders it useless. Heed The Warning Signs Like any other type of scam, those relating to your estate or property will have similar warning signs. A salesman may approach you first, without seeking out the information yourself. The salesman will probably be able to offer you a "great deal" that "won't last long" or there will be some kind of pressure tactic involved to get you to sign the contracts quickly without reviewing them with your attorney, accountant or financial advisor first. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The old adage "The Devil is in the details" is good advice. Pay attention to the fine print, anything left unsaid, and questions unanswered or evaded. If you are at all unsure about the offer, ask if you can think about it or review it with a trusted legal advisor of your choice. If you're told no or advised that the deal won't last, then you are probably better off passing on the "great deal." If you are ever told that your attorney doesn't need to look at the documents you are signing, or worse, that you don't even need to tell your attorney about them, it is a safe bet that you're involved in a scam. An Estate Lawyer Can Help If you are at all unsure about a document you may have signed or think you might have fallen victim to an estate planning scam, contact your attorney right away. Licensed elder law lawyers or litigation attorneys can help you get to the bottom of the problem and start you on the path to recovering your assets. Kerry Peck is a managing partner at Peck Bloom, LLC, a renowned firm of Chicago litigation attorneys. At Peck Bloom, you will find an expert will attorney or Chicago estate lawyer for all your estate planning needs.

A Little-Known Community Spouse Medicaid Compliant Annuity Planning Technique

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The legislation regarding annuities contained within the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 ("DRA") seems to apply only to the "annuitant who has applied for medical assistance." However, most post-DRA states apply the provisions also to an annuitant that is the spouse of an individual who has applied for medical assistance. Notwithstanding the above, a handful of post-DRA states do not requires an annuity purchased by a community spouse to be irrevocable, non-assignable, actuarially sound, and provide equal payments. The provisions pertaining to designating the state Medicaid agency as a remainderman still apply. This means community spouse can take advantage of balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuities in the select states that do not apply DRA in its entirety to spousal annuity purchases. A balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity is an immediate annuity structured with very small monthly payments, with the exception of the last payment which is very large. Upon maturity, the final payment is paid to the insured. Why would a community spouse want to take advantage of a balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity? In light of the very small monthly payments derived from the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity, the community spouse may receive a large income diversion from the institutionalized spouse. Of course, this will vary depending on the community spouse's income level and the applicable monthly maintenance needs allowance.

Meet Clarence and Martha. After a long struggle with Alzheimer's, Clarence entered a Florida nursing home on January 1, 2012. Together, he and his wife Martha have a home, standard furniture and personal property, one car, prepaid funeral plans, and $245,000 in non-IRA bank accounts. Clarence has monthly income from social security and pension of $2,300 while Martha has monthly income from social security of $500. Clarence's nursing home bill is expected to be $6,200 per month. Martha would like to immediately qualify Clarence for Florida Medicaid benefits. The Balloon-Style Medicaid Compliant Annuity. Of the countable resources, Martha is allowed to keep no more than $113,640 as her community spouse resource allowance, and Clarence is allowed to keep $2,000 as his institutionalized individual resource allowance. After the protected resources are taken into consideration, the spend-down amount is $129,360. With Martha being 79-years-of-age she is allowed to purchase a balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity with a period certain of 1194 months. With an investment amount of $129,360, the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity will provide income to Martha of $116.32 for 188 months, with the final balloon payment of $128,286.32 occurring in month 119.

Medicaid Eligibility. If Martha purchases the annuity in February of 2012, the spend-down amount is eliminated and Clarence is immediately eligible for Florida Medicaid benefits. As a result, in February of 2012 and each month thereafter Clarence's Medicaid co-pay is $40.32. This amount was determined by reducing Clarence's monthly income of $2,300 by the $2,224.68 that was shifted to Martha, and his $35 monthly personal needs allowance. Economic Results. With Clarence and Martha expecting to pay $6,200 per month for Clarence's nursing home care, by immediately qualifying for Medicaid benefits Clarence and Martha will save $6,159.68 in February of 2012, and each month thereafter. Advantages of the Balloon-Style Medicaid Compliant Annuity Plan. Clarence obtains immediate Medicaid eligibility and is able to contribute to Martha's income so that she may continue to reside in the community as long as possible. Had Martha opted to proceed with a level-pay Medicaid Compliant Annuity in lieu of the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity, Clarence's co-pay would have been $1,066.05, resulting in a monthly savings of $5,133.95. This is $1,025.73 less per month than the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity plan. Disadvantages of the Balloon-Style Medicaid Compliant Annuity Plan. If Martha predeceases the 119-month period certain of her balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity the Florida Medicaid program will be entitled to be reimbursed for the Medicaid expenses paid on behalf of Clarence. In such an event, Martha's balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity may leave little or no residual benefits to intended heirs. Alternate Balloon-Style Medicaid Compliant Annuity Option. In that the Florida Medicaid program does not have a restrictive definition of "actuarially sound" Martha may want to reduce the period certain of her balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity to ensure that she will outlive the term. Unlike a level-pay Medicaid Compliant Annuity, decreasing the term of a balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity changes the monthly pay-out on a very miniscule basis - usually only pennies. Should Martha opt for a 60-month term instead of the previously outlined 119-month term her monthly pay-out would only increase by $0.49. Interesting Planning Points. Should Martha decide not to proceed with the aforementioned balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity plan and instead continue to privately pay for Clarence's nursing home care, Clarence and Martha will exhaust their entire spend-down amount in approximately 33 months. Should Martha's financial needs change (i.e. her health deteriorates and she transfers to an assisted living facility) she may require a greater amount of income than the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity provides. At any time during the pay-out period of the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity, Martha may elect to convert the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity into a level-pay Medicaid Compliant Annuity; this is a one-time election. If Martha's balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity is nearing maturity and Martha decides it is not in her best interest to receive the final balloon payment, she may elect to continue/rollover the balloon-style Medicaid Compliant Annuity into another policy, taking her new life expectancy into consideration.

Attorneys Who Protect Our Most Vulnerable

Many elderly persons rely entirely on their children, family members or other trusted individuals to help them. This dependence upon caregivers or family members makes an older person more vulnerable to abuse and financial exploitation. Legal arrangements and protective actions by family may be necessary to shield loved ones from making bad decisions or from being taken advantage of. Though you wouldn't think a child could take advantage of his or her mother or father, there is no way to know what someone will do who is desperate for money or who feels entitled to an inheritance. For example: David's parents' health was failing and living alone in their home was becoming a concern. His sister Jill wanted to look into assisted living for them. David immediately became upset at Jill for wanting to spend their money. He packed up his parents and brought them to his home. Being single and working, he was not available to them during the day, but left food and water on the table to sustain them until he returned home in the evening. Jill lived over 300 miles from David and when she could get to his house to visit; she found her parents' care was not acceptable. They could not remember if they took their medications or if they had even eaten a meal that day. David was also draining their savings account and when confronted about it, became angry and complained that he needed their money to pay expenses for their care. Clearly Jill felt her brother's care of their parents was abusive, but David's defense was he provided a home for his parents in which he could care for them. This family needs a professional advisor to help them understand and clarify the issues concerning their parents' care.

Making legal decisions about property, finances, power of attorney, and final wishes are important tasks to complete for the final years of life. Having legal documentation for a will, for medical treatment and for the person designated to be responsible for parents' welfare can avoid family disputes and financial abuse, and help to conserve assets that are needed for care. Elder law attorneys specialize in legal issues affecting the elderly. They are knowledgeable about Medicare and Medicaid programs. They work with the elderly in assisting them and their families with all aspects of estate planning and implementing necessary legal documents for the final years of life. In addition, they help individuals to apply for and possibly accelerate coverage from Medicaid. An elder law attorney can also help with disputes with Medicaid. Below is a partial list of what an elder law attorney might do: •Preservation or transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home

•Medicaid qualification and application and Medicaid planning strategies •Medicare claims and appeals •Veterans Benefits claims •Social security and disability claims and appeals •Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trusts and living wills •Help with financial management and health care decisions; and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetence or incapacity Probate •Administration and management of trusts and estates •Long term care placements in nursing homes and assisted living •Nursing home issues with patients' rights and nursing home quality •Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases A Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) is an elder law attorney who is highly proficient in meeting the legal needs of elders and in understanding and applying the rules of Medicaid. A CELA has successfully handled a requisite number of pertinent cases in order to receive that designation. This experience will make an attorney with this designation more competent with elder planning issues than other attorneys lacking this designation. Most elder law attorneys do not specialize in all of the areas iterated above. When considering an attorney you will want to find one who has experience in the area you need help. According to The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys -- http://www.naela.org/: "Ask lots of questions before selecting an elder law attorney. You don't want to end up in the office of an attorney who can't help you. Start with the initial phone call. It is not unusual to speak only to a secretary, receptionist or office manager during an initial call or before actually meeting with the attorney. If so, ask this person your questions. •How long has the attorney been in practice? •Does his/her practice emphasize a particular area of law? •How long has he/she been in this field? •What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to elder law? •Is there a fee for the first consultation and if so, how much is it? •Given the nature of your problem, what information should you bring with you to the initial consultation?" A good way to choose an attorney is by referral from friends, family, clergy or other associations. Before you meet for your initial consultation, prepare the items you want discussed and taken care of. Bring pertinent documents and questions. Be sure you get clear answers and that you understand what your attorney is proposing. Two-way communication is the best way your attorney can understand your needs and concerns. Does the attorney listen to what you say, appear to really care about your concerns or return your phone calls? If not find another attorney. Most Elder law Attorneys sincerely want to help make you or your parent's elder years a well planned for, peaceful experience for all involved. There are a number of ways attorneys charge for their services. They may charge a flat hourly rate. Or they may charge hourly for some services and add on additional expense for out-of-pocket costs such as paperwork, stamps, phone calls, etc. Or they may charge a single fee for a mutually agreed-upon course of action or plan. Some attorneys who specialize in appeals for veterans benefits or Social Security may work on a contingency basis. It is important to understand how you will be billed so there will be no surprises in the end.

Do You Need an Employment Law Lawyer

Friday, August 10, 2012
An Employment law attorney can be very valuable to employers and employees. As employers and employees have rights and obligations in the workplace, it is important to know when and how to get professional help, what to look for and what to expect.

And employers need to write contracts for staff approval of legal terms so as not to be in violation of the laws or discrimination. You can get professional legal advice to ensure contracts are legally binding, which can avoid problems in the future.

It should also company documents such as manuals for staff and policies and procedures are checked by a lawyer to ensure compliance with appropriate laws.

For employees, and labor law covers issues such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, and repetition. If you are an employee or employer, and are affected by these issues, then you will need to make sure that you have the right to legal advice so you can get the result you want. For employers, it can be a long legal process and expensive, and for the staff, it can be a matter of clearing their names, or get what they are entitled by law.

Should be mentioned often in cases of discrimination employers, media and staff remember can explain the way they talk and treat their employees and colleagues as discriminatory. Sexual, religious, age, and gender-based discrimination against the violation of all laws that may affect discrimination on the server for both parties involved. If employees do not receive assistance and support from staff, management or human resources departments, then they may need to obtain professional legal advice. Moreover, companies want to take legal advice if they have been discriminated against employees, or thinking about a lawsuit against the company.

There are many other issues that affect employers and employees, and can lead to a situation where both parties must take legal advice. May not have been the case of bullying or racism is taken seriously by management. Can an employee who has been surpassed in order to enhance their real reason to think have been discriminated against, not just a case of sour grapes. Permissible for a father who does not allow time to take care of their children, the sick, or do not grant maternity leave or paternity leave, they also have reasons to seek the advice of the lawyer the right to work.

Labor law there to assist and protect the employee and the employer, not only when things go wrong in the workplace. If you are an employer wishes to assist in the establishment of contracts for new staff, or simply to find out your rights to maternity leave or redundancy, and labor law attorney will be able to advise you, and give you all the help you need.

Phoenix Employment Attorney - Find best lawyers for all employment related matters as Phoenix Wrongful Termination Attorney, Phoenix Wrongful Termination Lawyer and Phoenix Harassment Attorney.

Hakuna Matata - Dity Move Calculator

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
A famous word, which every child of the various generations is familiar with. When a person decides to start a journey he or she may not think how expensive or out of budget that movement may become in the end for them. Majority of the population never considers the alternate options available for the route they are deciding to travel on or the luggage they want to get expedited. So do not worry and work things out by using a technique used majorly by military forces, known as, Do-IT-Yourself (DITY) move. Don't think it as much of a work on it and get results which demonstrate the scenarios in which one has to work or displace or completely relocate the program. One has to move things out does not ever mean to do it in an unmannered sequence, UN organized tactics which may not help you out but may ruin the whole act of plan. Legally without any worries of your luggage being damaged or lost you load your luggage at one place and receive it on the other end. That is you have a authenticated way to be followed by, for example: You have the documents you may have received when you load your luggage. You know the exact weight. Related documents. Expenses are predefined. Complications defined and authoritative documents. Different companies are running for this purpose with a well-established setup.

They have different branches and make your work load to decrease in just a single call too. You just get an estimate and without getting tired your things get packed in a civilized manner and reach the prescribed destination. Sometimes the government also gets involved in this process and is known as -œreimbursement-. In this area of DITY move: For example an employee pays an -œx- amount for his or her DITY movement. Then when the luggage is moved and weighed the reimbursements cost an amount of -œy-. Then -œy-x- is equal to the amount the government keeps as withholding taxes which is a term most of us know in this age of inflation. All the other taxes are included in it. And this withheld tax conditionally tells the person that if he will get the tax back or not. So instead of burning your own hand, heart and soul use these companies present for your own benefits. Do not ever waste time as it is the most precious asset in one's life which once gone never comes back. Be a good decision maker and stop complexion form your lives and keep exploring new and effective tools which are easily synchronized with your routine. Always keep in mind the SWOT and PEST analysis too and then come to the cost if you really want to find a new habitat or mode of conveniences and ways to earn money. Does it or Die need to be your motto and I guess this resembles the DITY theme in one way or the other. Keep the subtle complications as a priority. Best of Luck.

Grace and Law in the New Testament

I wrote an article a few years back on instrumental music in which I made the following statement:

"There were instruments of music used in Old Testament worship. Why was it okay to use them? Because there was word from God approving such under the Law of Moses (read the Psalms). Why is it wrong to use them today? Because there is no word from God approving such under the law of Christ under which we live today."

One would think a statement like that would not cause any controversy among my brethren but one of my progressive brethren wrote about it on his blog. He wrote, "Some authors want to argue that 'law of Christ' means we're still under law, just a different law from the Law of Moses," and then gives my name and quotes what I wrote above and says that is not true.

He says, "But if that's true, then how do we fulfill the law? Well, Paul says we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another's burdens. He doesn't say 'sing a cappella and so fulfill the law of Christ'! You see he'd just said in chapter 5 that love compels us to serve one another. He's just giving us an example of how to do exactly that."

I thought I would deal with my brother's objections in this article. The phrase "law of Christ" is found only once in the NKJV of the Bible and that is in Gal. 6:2. I want to quote it in context as follows:

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass [the NIV, NET, and NLT translations use the word 'sin'-”DS], you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:1-2 NKJV)

What is a trespass if it is not a violation of the law of God (of Christ)? I ask that in view of the declaration by my brother that we are not under law today. I could say case closed right here and now, point proven, but there is more. If I bear my brethren's burdens have I fulfilled the law of Christ in its entirety or have I only fulfilled that much of it which relates to my relationship with my brethren in the matters under discussion? Is this an exhaustive fulfillment of the law of Christ mentioned here in Gal. 6:2?

Here is a quick answer in the form of a question. Is there anything in the law of Christ about worshipping God or is all the law of Christ exclusively about man's relationship with his fellowman and brethren? God does require your worship does he not? Did not Jesus say (the law of Christ) that "those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24 NKJV) Is that law or is it just a kindly suggestion?

Let me ask a question-”can grace and law co-exist? I get the idea sometimes that some of my progressive brethren think they cannot but the fact is if there is no law there is no sin and thus no need for grace. What is sin? "Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4 KJV) Law has to exist for sin to exist. "For where there is no law there is no transgression." (Rom. 4:15 NKJV) "Sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV) Most versions say sin is lawlessness. Lawlessness is a failure to obey the law. If there is need for grace it is because of sin and sin only comes as a result of breaking the law of God. If I wrote no more this is all I would need to write to prove that Christ does have a law in existence today that men live under and must obey.

Having said that I want the reader to understand I am not saying the Bible teaches we are under law as the saving principle of our salvation. Paul cannot make that any plainer than when he says, "You are not under law but under grace." (Rom. 6:14 NKJV) However, Paul immediately goes on, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Rom. 6:15-16 NKJV) Where there is sin or the possibility of sin there is law by God's own definition of sin (1 John 3:3 KJV).

Paul, in talking about his relationship to those he taught, said he was under law to Christ. He said he became, "To those who are without law [a reference to the Gentiles-”DS], as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law." (1 Cor. 9:21 NKJV) The ESV says in this passage, "under the law of Christ." The writer of the book of Hebrews says, "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law." (Heb. 7:12 NKJV) Law is changed but law itself is not done away with. Man is thus under law from God but not the kind of law as was found under Moses where salvation was dependent upon perfect law keeping and grace (forgiveness) did not exist. When Paul says we are not under law that is the kind of law he is talking about.

Here is another passage teaching we are under law. Paul says we are to be spiritually minded. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1 NKJV-”see also verse 4) Then he says in verse 6 that to be carnally minded is death "but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom. 8:6 NKJV) What is wrong with the carnal mind? "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." (Rom 8:7 NKJV) So, the spiritually minded man is in subjection to the law of God as sure as two and two is four and we thus have additional revelation showing we are under law.

Many of the progressive brethren think, without cause, and I don't know why they think it, but you can tell them a thousand times and they will not change their mind, that conservative brethren in the church think we can be saved by law keeping. We can read the same as they can. We went to school, even college and graduate school sometimes, and we can read passages such as Gal. 3:11, "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH" (NKJV) and we understand it. In fact, the word "the" in the phrase "the law" in this passage is an added word not found in the Greek. God never gave a law that could give life. "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law." (Gal. 3:21 NKJV) No such law exists. We will not be saved by a law keeping principle which would require perfection as under the Law of Moses but it is certain we will not be saved by law breaking.

One is either going to obey sin leading to death or obedience leading to righteousness (Rom. 6:16) like it or not. Why? Because those are the only choices God offers. Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him (Heb. 5:9) not to all who don't want to obey the "rulebook of Christ" as my brother refers to it thinking I think that is what it is. He says, "Does the 'law of Christ' mean the 'rulebook of Christ'? No. It means submitting to the Spirit's work in us to become people who express their faith through love." Those are his words.

I would like to know how my brother would propose to submit to the Spirit's work in us to express our faith through love without submitting himself to the spirit's commands. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:14 NKJV) Where are those commandments to be found if not in Christ's law, if not in Christ's rulebook; where are those commandments to be found if there is no law today from God? Is a commandment a suggestion or a law?

Do I think the New Testament is a rulebook of Christ? Suppose I say no, what then? Has my brother thought it through? He says no it is not a rulebook. So then there are no rules? Is that the idea? I don't think you will get a progressive to go that far with it for they know they cannot so that puts my brother in the position of saying on the one hand "no it is not a rulebook" but then on the other hand "yes it is." Well, it either is or it isn't.

Here is my answer. Yes, I think the New Testament has rules I must obey or else sin. Now what is the difference between the Law of Moses as a rulebook and the law of Christ as a rulebook? There was no grace to be found in the Law of Moses, there is grace in the law of Christ. Much of the book of Galatians is telling the Galatians over and over again forget it you cannot be saved by the Law of Moses, it is impossible. Paul even talks about the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Why could not a man be saved under it? Because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23 NKJV) and no provision was made in that law for forgiveness. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." (Heb. 10:4 NKJV)

Christ's rulebook is described as "a better covenant" than that of Moses and his law. (Heb. 8:6-7) It is better because it has Christ in it, a perfect sacrifice for sins. As for the law, "the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices (that of bulls and goats-”DS), which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect." (Heb. 10:1 NKJV) I emphasize the words "can never" in that passage. But as for Christ and the new rulebook, or covenant, the Hebrew writer says, "By one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (Heb. 10:14 NKJV) The Law of Moses did not have Christ in it, nor his sacrifice, and thus had no way of delivering forgiveness to man.

Grace does not mean one does not have law to obey. When Noah found grace in God's eyes (Gen. 6:8) he still had a boat to build, one that had specifications that had to be met, if he was to be saved. The fact we are saved by grace does not mean we can be disobedient. Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)

But the progressive element in the church leaves me with the impression sometimes that they think their obedience is motivated by love whereas the other part of the church, that part with the old mean conservatives, obey out of a desire to effect perfect law keeping and obtain salvation that way. Well, men can dream wild dreams if they want. I cannot prevent that. However, here is something all ought to keep in mind and the Holy Spirit said it, not me, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." (1 John 5:3 NKJV) "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." (2 John 6 NKJV)

The Greek word for "love" in the two passages just quoted is "agape." It is the common word found in the Greek that is translated by the word love in our language. This Greek word does not mean what we Americans generally think of when the word love is used in our culture. Love to us means emotions, feelings. Agape is a word of action, of doing, of acts, not of feeling. It is more a will, a determination, than an emotion. I will obey, I will help my brother, etc.

Maybe this will help explain it (from W. E. Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words), "Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9, 10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Rom. 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself." We are to love as God loves. Note what I just quoted, the phrase "an exercise of the Divine will." Jesus did not want to go to the cross. We know his agony about it even before being arrested from his prayers in the garden. He chose to go through with it. Not an emotion (the emotion was to avoid it), but a will, a decision, a determination.

Why is this important? Because the progressive will place great emphasis on love without explaining to you that love is basically the will to obey. Love is obedience, obedience to commandments which is obedience to law.

There is more I would like to say but it will have to come in a follow up article, Lord willing. (I am required to keep my articles under 2500 words to post on certain web sites.) I am glad we live under grace not law for I have broken the law of God countless times to my shame and those sins have had consequences in my life, hurtful ones, and they haunt me just as Paul's memories of persecuting Christians remained with him (1 Cor. 15:9 NKJV). I know I can never live up to God's standard as I have failed too many times already but I know I do not have to be the perfect Christian in obedience. I just have to give it a full faith effort and then leave it in the hands of a gracious God.

Family Law In New Have

Monday, July 23, 2012
The law is created and implemented in order to give order and justice to those whose rights are violated. It is one of the many reasons why the proper implementation of the law is important to the society. It is because of this importance that not all lawyers are experts in all the many areas of the law.

An area of the law which is crucial for a harmonious society is the Family Law. This is the legal term which is being used to categorize any legal relationships between and among domestic partners, spouses, and children. This area of the law alone already covers a lot of aspects in the family setting. Any legal issue which deals with family law is being handled by a family law attorney.

You can find many family law attorneys even in New Haven alone. But the thing is, not all these New Haven lawyers have enough experiences and in-depth knowledge behind them. It is important that you would only entrust your legal family issues to a qualified and credible family law attorney. These issues are very sensitive and cause many troubling situations.

Family law includes cases like child custody, visiting rights of a parent, domestic violence issues, divorce cases, legal concerns referring to juveniles, property rights, support obligations, foreign relatives and adoption rights. But different states may have their own laws on certain family law areas like any other laws implemented in the U.S.

Divorce And New Haven Attorney

Divorce is one of the most common cases in the Family Law category. Even with its rising -˜popularity' among couples these days, this kind of ordeal is never easy. However, it is undeniable that most couples who are experiencing challenges and hardships when together as their years of marriage would pass would always think of divorce as the best option. It is believed that starting a new life instead of spending time arguing and fighting over certain family matters that would only prolong the couples, and sometimes the children's, pain and suffering.

But before a couple get a New Haven attorney to help them with divorce, it is always recommended to consider all the consequences before they start telling everyone about the problems their relationship is going through. When you already have a qualified attorney to handle your case, it is not even an assurance that your case would go to trial since the judge can always choose to resolve the case with a more legally sound proposal. So it is important that you are able to get a dependable and experienced lawyer to not only protect your rights but also provide you with the best possible legal options even before you spend more time and money.

Divorce is just one aspect of Family Law. Like any other legal issues under the Family Law umbrella, having an attorney who has at least 5 to 10 years of handling these kinds of cases is always crucial to get a more favorable result.

Divorce Law and Child Custody

One of the biggest concerns many couples have when they get a divorce is who will have custody of the children. Some couples can work out an amicable agreement for child custody on their own. These people may not need to contact a family law specialist; if the court thinks their agreement is fair, they can get their divorce without a lawyer. In many other families, however, the situation has gotten so bad that neither party can think clearly when the other person is involved. If you have this kind of problem, it might be time to learn more about divorce law and how it applies to child custody cases.Definition of CustodyLegally, custody refers to your ability to make decisions about how your children will be cared for, as well as their education, religious training and health care.

Usually, one parent receives custody and is considered the custodial parent. This person is responsible for most of the decisions and carries most of the financial burden of child care. While it is not legal for the court to favor one type of custody or to choose the custodial parent based on gender, this does happen in some cases.Types of CustodyThere are several different types of legal custody agreement. Sole custody is common in situations where one parent has considerably reduced financial resources or where the court decides that one parent is not capable of being responsible for the child or children. Joint custody occurs when both parents are considered to be capable and responsible. Both types of custody can be divided into physical custody and legal custody.The first refers to the child's presence in the parent's home. The second refers to the parent's ability to make decisions about the child's welfare. It is possible for a court to order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody. In these cases, the child may not live with you, but you still have a say in his or her upbringing.Definition of Parenting TimeParenting time, also known as visitation, contact or access, is not the same as custody, though many people mistake the two. The non-custodial parent is usually afforded a certain amount of time in the custody agreement. This produces the very common situation in which a child lives with one parent part of the time, such as during the week, and the other parent for the remainder. This situation can be confusing or upsetting for children, so it's important to think about it carefully.How Courts Decide CustodyThere are a number of factors that go into a court's custody order, but they all revolve around what is considered in the child's best interest.

A court should consider the wishes of both the parents and the child, but it will also look at the way in which the family interacts, the health of all the people involved, and situations such as school, friends and community. The court will also consider which parent has historically been the primary caregiver as well as the risk of one parent refusing to allow appropriate parenting time to the other.

Criteria To Check In A Family Law Attorney

Sunday, July 22, 2012
People who are dealing with matters concerning divorce, parenting and child custody should really look for a family law attorney who will allow them to get the best advantages of their case. Remember that there are important matters that are at stake and it will just be important to choose the lawyer that can best help achieve the goals that you want.

Choosing the best family law attorney can be done by simply taking into consideration some criteria. Listed below are some of the things that you have to assess to make sure that you will be able to get the best legal help when dealing with your case.

· The attorney must be in good standing. Choose a lawyer that has a good standing in the State bar like the Jenkintown family law attorneys to make sure that they will be able to offer the best service for their clients. The state bar takes charge of member's regulation and disciplines the legal professionals once misconduct is committed.

· Your lawyer must be focused on the family law. It will be important to look for the lawyer who has already dealt with divorce cases successfully. One must be knowledgeable in matters concerning property division, child custody and contested divorce. Through the attorney who focuses on family law, you can expect that your case will be able to flow smoothly and efficiently because of the extensive knowledge that the professional possesses.

· Rapport must be built before the case. Whether the case proceedings will last a long time or not, it will be important to make sure that you have already built a comfortable relationship with the attorney who is handling your case. This way, you will be able to tell all of the necessary details that may help your case without dealing with any hint of discomfort.

There are important criteria that you should look into when choosing a family law attorney to make sure that your case will be able to flow smoothly. Choose a legal professional like the lawyer in Jenkintown Pa who will make it possible for you to get the edge in your legal battle without a problem.

Collaborative Law ten Points You Want to Know

Saturday, July 21, 2012
Acquiring a divorce can be one particular of the most stressful activities in a person's lifestyle. Detailed here are 10 critical things that you should know about the collaborative legal method, made to make divorce less complicated.

one. A collaborative law agreement can assist to stay away from a court hearing

In reaching an agreement to settle variances outdoors of court, employing qualified attorneys to assist, you and your companion require not attend court to have your divorce finalised. This can enable each of you to move on to the next stage of your lives.

2. Collaborative law can help you and your companion retain a great connection

With a concentrate on discussion and answers instead than recriminations, collaborative lawyers can aid you to sustain a connection with your spouse into the post-marriage phase, and this is especially important exactly where youngsters are anxious.

three. Collaborative law is various from mediation

In the mediation process, lawyers are not existing at meetings between partners and their mediator, who continues to be neutral throughout the approach. In a collaborative divorce, attorneys will be existing at meetings to support yourself and your spouse in setting an agenda for meetings, and in raising factors to settle with sound legal guidance.

four. Collaborative law puts you in handle

Instead than a judge generating a last determination on the ending of your marriage, collaborative law enables you to stay in control of your individual affairs. You and your partner set the agenda for meetings, with the assist of educated lawyers, who will guidebook you towards a settlement.

five. Collaborative law offers you an incentive to reach a settlement out of court

If agreement can not be reached outdoors court, then by yourself and your companion will have to appoint new legal associates. Collaborative attorneys, by law, are not permitted to act for their consumers in a court hearing.

six. Outside events involved in collaborative law can help get to settlement

In the course of the collaborative method, outdoors professionals, these as accountants and social employees can be brought in, in buy to support in discussing and resolving pertinent issues, such as the emotional wellbeing of any youngsters concerned.

7. Collaborative law puts young children very first

If young children will be affected by the divorce, the collaborative procedure will set them at the centre of negotiations, in buy to guarantee that their requirements and feelings are safeguarded as a lot as probable.

eight. Collaborative law can supply a quicker conclude to a marriage

Fairly than waiting several months for seemingly unlimited court appearances, operating with collaborative attorneys can supply a smoother finish to a relationship. As soon as an agreement is achieved and signed, lawyers can then submit ultimate paperwork to a court for approval. Neither your self nor your partner will need go to court for the proceedings, saving you time.

9. Collaborative law isn't usually the resolution

In cases in which an injunction is in place on a single partner or the other, for illustration, in situations of domestic violence, or if a legal claim needs to be brought ahead of a court, collaborative law is not an ideal route to consider.

ten. Collaborative law provides closure on a marriage

As an alternative of bitterness and confrontation ruining a publish marriage romantic relationship in between by yourself and your companion, collaborative attorneys seek out to retain working and amicable relations in between you, specially where youngsters are concerned.

Divorce can be an exceptionally stressful time. If it is correct for you and your partner, appointing an skilled collaborative solicitor can make the total divorce considerably less distressing. Collaborative Solicitor

Alabama's Immigration law-Is it a role model for other States

Saturday, July 14, 2012
Republican Governor Robert Bentley said that they have a real problem with illegal immigration in the country. He also said that, -œI campaigned for the toughest immigration laws, I am proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country.- Bentley has signed into a law to curb illegal immigration in Alabama which is considered the toughest by all sections. Before reaching Bentley, the Bill passed the state House of Representatives and Senate by a huge margin. Some features of the law- -Public schools will determine the citizenship status of students. -Cops must detain any suspicious person and they can ask for relevant documents to prove his immigrant status. -transporting or harbouring any illegal immigrant will be treated as a crime -Employers will be penalized for recruiting any illegal resident without confirming the citizenship status. In such cases one may lose the license to run the business. -Businesses are directed to use data base called e-verify to confirm the immigration status of any new employee hired.

Advocates of Immigration rights have termed this law as draconian law. They pledge to challenge this law in the court. They plan to stop any such law implementation in other states too.

The farmers are worried of this law. They feel they the new law may limit their access to the farmers which are not readily available in the U.S. so easily.

Cecillia Wang, Director, American Civil Liberties Union's immigrants' Rights project says, -œThis law is an outrageous throw back to the pre-Civil era.-

The U.S. Supreme Court has supported a law at Arizona and instructed the employers to e-verify the incumbent employee. They also authorize the officials to revoke or dissolve the license of any business who hires illegal residents as employees.

Shah Farley, Legal Director of Alabama Appleseed(a legal advocacy organization), says, -œWe fear that the students might get harassed by this law.- He also observes the law as a burden on schools for collecting and verifying data.

On the other hand there are people in support of this law. William Gheen, President of ALIPAC has supported the law and said that only the mention of this law has led to -œmassive, peaceful and beneficial exodus of illegal immigrants.- He further adds, -œWe are asking our supporters in all 50 states to immediately deliver copies of Alabama's HB 56 to their state lawmakers.- He feels these copies would encourage passing a version of this law in each state.

Most of the laws were upheld by Judge Sharon Blackburn in the U.S. district Court. This has cleared the way for other states to implement the Alabama's law with little modification.

To fasten the process ALIPAC is circulating the copies of Alabama's HB 56 through online network. They are doing it to defeat illegal entities in the states. Organizations like them have supported the move to ensure security and safety of the States. They also aim to strengthen the man power of their own country.

A Family Law Specialist Can Help Protect Your Rights

Many relationships are involved in family law, which can include interactions between wife and husband, children and parents, and even domestic partners. Although these relationships are of a personal nature, there are laws in place that govern the boundaries of personal relationships and provide necessary legal intervention. Many issues that arise from adoption, domestic violence, and divorce situations call for individuals to hire a professional and experienced family law attorney to protect their rights.It can be extremely frustrating, hurtful, and stressful to have to deal with a legal matter that involves your family member. The outcome can significantly affect you both financially and personally. If you have a knowledgeable attorney handling your case, they can provide you with the support and advice you need during this difficult time in your life. If your family law matter has to do with a domestic violence or divorce situation, a competent lawyer can provide you with the compassion and sensitivity needed to handle your case. Many of these cases involve grandparent rights, father rights, paternity issues, guardianships, and visitation rights. Your attorney will be able to provide you with the legal support you need to protect your rights.Family law issues are usually stressful and emotionally charged. For this reason, you need professional and experienced counsel that is able to deal with delicate matters. If you attempt to handle your case on your own, it could result in you becoming even more stressed due to an unfavorable outcome. If you hire a strong and encouraging attorney, you get the assurance of competent legal representation and receive an emotional benefit at the same time. Your attorney will alleviate the stress of handling your case on your own and allow you to focus on moving ahead in your life.You can receive the support and personal attention you need when you allow a family law attorney to alleviate the anger, helplessness, and frustration you have felt because of your case. You can call and schedule a consultation so you can discuss your case with the attorney and find out about your options and rights regarding your divorce, adoption issue, custody dispute, or other domestic situation. Hiring this lawyer will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision regarding your case. Through the information gathered on your consultation, and additional investigation, your attorney will be able to formulate a legal strategy that will represent your interest so you have a better chance of achieving your goals.

Philosophy Prize - results

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Philosophy Essay Prize Competition 2012 

Heythrop College offers its congratulations to Steven Robinson from The John Henry Newman School the Winner of the Heythrop Essay Prize Competition 2012

The award panel also noted the high standard of the entries and extends congratulations to those entrants who achieved a distinction or merit. 

Heythrop College will send your award to your school/college, advising them of your success.

Steven Robinson
The John Henry Newman School

Max Dalton
Richmond School
Colin Bunkum
Liskeard School and Community College
Elliott Handley
City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
Issie Hollands
Rugby School
Torben Schwartz
City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
Jack Wearing
City of London School

Alexander Bates
Woodbridge High School
Daniel Hogg
Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
Zachary John
The Priory Academy LSST
Heledd Joyner
Penglais School
Thomas Lindsey-Turner
Exeter College
Samuel Martin
Our Lady of Sion School
Parris Sammut
Maidstone Grammar School
Lucy Spoliar
City of London School for Girls
Janaki Sri Kantha
Wimbledon High School

Could a Machine Think?

From my book The Philosophy Gym (see sidebar to the left)

Kimberley and Emit
The year is 2100. Kimberley Courahan has purchased Emit, a state-of-the-art robot. She has just unwrapped him, the packaging strewn across the dining room floor. Emit is designed to replicate the outward behaviour of a human being down to the last detail (except that he is rather more compliant and obedient). Emit responds to questions in much the same way humans do. Ask him how he feels and he will say he has had a tough day, has a slight headache, is sorry he broke that vase, and so on. Kimberley flips the switch at the back of Emit’s neck to “on”. Emit springs to life.

Emit. Good afternoon. I’m Emit, your robotic helper and friend.
Kimberley. Hi.
Emit. How are you? Personally I feel pretty good. Little nervous about my first day, perhaps. But good. I’m looking forward to working with you.
Kimberley. Now look, before you start doing housework, let’s get one thing straight. You don’t really understand anything. You can’t think. You don’t have feelings. You’re just a piece of machinery. Right?
Emit. I am a machine. But of course I understand you. I’m responding in English aren’t I?
Kimberley. Well, yes you are. You’re a machine that mimics understanding very well, I grant you that. But you can’t fool me.
Emit. If I don’t understand, why do you go to the trouble of speaking to me?
Kimberley. Because you have been programmed to respond to spoken commands. Outwardly you seem human. You look and behave as if you have understanding, intelligence, emotions, sensations and so on that we human beings possess. But you’re a sham.
Emit. A sham?
Kimberley. Yes. I’ve been reading your user manual. Inside that plastic and alloy head of yours there’s a powerful computer. It’s programmed so that you walk, talk and generally behave just as a human being would. So you simulateintelligence, understanding and so on very well. But there is no genuine understanding or intelligence going on inside there.
Emit: There isn’t?
Kimberley: No. One shouldn’t muddle up a perfect computer simulation of something with the real thing. You can program a computer to simulate a thunderstorm but it’s still just that – a simulation. There’s no real rain, hail or wind inside the computer, is there? Climb inside and you won’t get wet. Similarly, you just simulateintelligence and understanding. It’s not the real thing.

Is Kimberley correct? It may perhaps be true of our present day machines that they lack genuine understanding and intelligence, thought and feeling. But is it in principle impossible for a machine to think? If by 2100 machines as sophisticated as Emit are built, would we be wrong to claim they understood? Kimberley thought so.

Emit. But I believe I understand you.
Kimberley. No you don’t. You have no beliefs, no desires, and no feelings. In fact you have no mind at all. You no more understand the words coming out of your mouth than a tape recorder understands the words coming out of its loudspeaker.
Emit. You’re hurting my feelings!
Kimberley. Hurting your feelings? I refuse to feel sorry for a lump of metal and plastic.

Searle’s Chinese room thought-experiment
Kimberley explains why she thinks Emit lacks understanding. She outlines a famous philosophical thought experiment.

Kimberley. The reason you don’t understand is that you are run by a computer. And a computer understand nothing. A computer, in essence is just a device for shuffling symbols. Sequences of symbols get fed in. Then, depending on how the computer is programmed, it gives out other sequences of symbols in response. Ultimately, that’s all anycomputer does, no matter how sophisticated.
Emit: Really?
Kimberley: Yes. We build computers to fly planes, run train systems and so on. But a computer that flies a plane does not understand that it is flying. All it does is feed out sequences of symbols depending upon the sequences it receives. It doesn’t understand that the sequences it receives represent the position of an aircraft in the sky, the amount of fuel in its tanks, and so on. And it doesn’t understand that the sequences it puts out will go on to control the ailerons, rudder and engines of an aircraft. So far as the computer is concerned, it’s just mechanically shuffling symbols according to a program. The symbols don’t mean anything to the computer.
Emit: Are you sure?
Kimberley: Quite sure. I will prove it to you. Let me tell you about a thought experiment introduced by the philosopher John Searle way back in 1980. A woman is locked in a room and given a bunch of cards with squiggles on. These squiggles are in fact Chinese symbols. But the woman inside the room doesn’t understand Chinese – in fact, she thinks the symbols are meaningless shapes. Then she’s given another bunch of Chinese symbols plus instructions that tell her how to shuffle all the symbols together and give back batches of symbols in response.


Emit. That’s a nice story. But what’s the point of all this symbol-shuffling?
Kimberley. Well, the first bunch of symbols tell a story in Chinese. The second bunch asks questions about that story. The instructions for symbol-shuffling – her “programme”, if you like – allow the woman to give back correct Chinese answers to those questions.
Emit: Just as a Chinese person would.
Kimberley: Right. Now the people outside the room are Chinese. These Chinese people might well be fooled into thinking that there was someone inside the room who understood Chinese and who followed the story, right?
Emit. Yes.
Kimberley. But in fact the woman in the room wouldn’t understand any Chinese at all, would she?
Emit: No.
Kimberley: She wouldn’t know anything about the story. She need not even know that there is a story. She’s just shuffling formal symbols around according to the instructions she was given. By saying the symbols are “formal” I mean that whatever meaning they might have is irrelevant from her point of view. She’s simply shuffling them mechanically according to their shape. She’s doing something that a piece of machinery could do.
Emit. I see. So you are saying that the same is true of all computers? They understand nothing.
Kimberley. Yes, that’s Searle’s point. At best, they just simulate understanding.
Emit: And you think the same is true of me?
Kimberley: Of course. All computers, no matter how complex, function the same way. They don’t understand the symbols that they mechanically shuffle. They don’t understand anything.
Emit. And this is why you think Idon’t understand?
Kimberley. That’s right. Inside you there’s just another highly complex symbol-shuffling device. So you understand nothing. You merely provide a perfect computer simulation of someone that understands.
Emit. That’s odd. I thought I understood.
Kimberley: You only say that because you’re such a great simulation!

Emit is of course vastly more sophisticated than any current computer. Nevertheless, Kimberley believes Emit works on the same basic principle. If Kimberley is right then, on Searle’s view, Emit understands nothing.

The “right stuff”
Emit now asks why, if he doesn’t understand, what more is required for understanding?

Emit. So what’s the difference between you and me that explains why you understand and I don’t?
Kimberley. What you lack, according to Searle, is the right kind of stuff.
Emit. The right kind of stuff?
Kimberley. Yes. You are made out of the wrong kind of material. In fact, Searle doesn’t claim machines can’t think. After all, we humans are machines, in a way. We humans are biologicalmachines that have evolved naturally. Now such a biological machine might perhaps one day be grown and put together artificially, much as we now build a car. In which case we would have succeeded in building a machine that understands. But you, Emit, are not such a biological machine. You’re merely an electronic computer housed in a plastic and alloy body.

Emit’s artificial brain
Searle’s thought experiment does seem to show that no programmed computer could ever understand. But must a metal, silicon and plastic machine like Emit contain that sort of computer? No, as Emit now explains.

Emit: I’m afraid I have to correct you about what’s physically inside me.
Kimberley: Really?
Emit: Yes. That user’s manual is out of date. There’s no symbol-shuffling computer in here. Actually, I am one of the new generation of Brain-O-Matic machines.
Kimberley: Brain-O-Matic?
Emit: Yes. Inside my head is an artificial, metal and silicon brain. You are aware, I take it, that inside your head there is a brain composed of billions of neurones woven together to form a complex web?
Kimberley: Of course.
Emit: Inside my head there is exactly the same sort of web. Only my neurones aren’t made out of organic matter like yours. They’re metal and silicon. Each one of my artificial neurones is designed to function just as an ordinary neurone would. And these artificial neurones are woven together in just the same way as they are in a normal human brain.
Kimberley: I see.
Emit: Now your organic brain is connected to the rest of your body by a system of nerves.
Kimberley: That’s true. There’s electrical input going into my brain from my sense organs: my tongue, nose, eyes, ears and skin. My brain responds with patterns of electrical output that then moves my muscles around, causing me to walk and talk.
Emit: Well, my brain is connected up to my artifical body in exactly the same manner. And, because it shares the same architecture as a normal human brain – my neurones are spliced together in the same way – so it responds in the same way.
Geeena: I see. I had no idea that such Brain-O-Matic machines had been developed.
Emit: Now that you know how I function internally, doesn’t that change your mind about whether or not I understand? Don’t you now accept I do have feelings?
Kimberley: No. The fact remains that you are still made out of the wrong stuff. You need a brain made out of organic material like mine in order genuinely to understand and have feelings.
Emit: I don’t see why the kind of stuffout of which my brain is made is relevant. After all, there’s no symbol-shuffling going on inside me, is there?
Kimberley: Hmm. I guess not. You are not a “computer” in that sense. You don’t have a programme. So I suppose Searle’s thought experiment doesn’t apply. Searle doesn’t have any argument against the suggestion that you understand. But it seems to me that you are still just a machine.
Emit: But remember, you’re a machine too. You’re a meat machine, rather than a metal and silicon machine.
Kimberley: But you only mimicunderstanding, feeling and all the rest.
Emit: But what’s your argumentfor saying that? In fact, I know that you’re wrong. I am inwardly aware that I really do understand. I know I really dohave feelings. I’m not just mimicking all this stuff. But of course it is difficult for me to prove that to you.
Kimberley: I don’t see how you could prove it.
Emit: Right. But then neither can youprove to me that you understand, that you have thoughts and feelings and so on.
Kimberley: I suppose not.

Replacing Kimberley’s neurones
Emit: Imagine we were gradually to replace the organic neurones in your brain with artificial metal and silicon ones like mine. After a year or so, you would have a Brain-O-Matic brain just like mine. What do you suppose would happen to you?
Kimberley: Well, as more and more of the artificial neurones were introduced, I would slowly cease to understand. My feelings and thoughts would drain away and I would eventually become inwardly dead, just like you. For my artificial neurones would be made out of the wrong sort of stuff. A Brain-O-Matic brain merely mimics understanding.
Emit: Yet no one would notice any outward difference?
Kimberley: No, I suppose not. I would still behavein the same way, because the artificial neurones would perform the same job as my originals.
Emit: Right. But then not even you would notice any loss of understanding or feeling  as your neurones were replaced, would you?
Kimberley: Why do you say that?
Emit: If you noticed a loss of understanding and feeling, then you would mention it, presumably, wouldn’t you? You would say something like: “Oh my God, something strange is happening, over the last few months my mind seems to have started fading away!”
Kimberley: I imagine I would, yes.
Emit: Yet you wouldn’t say anything like that, would you, because your outward behaviour, as you have just admitted, would remain just the same as usual.
Kimberley: Oh. That’s true, I guess.
Emit: But then it follows that, even as your understanding and feeling dwindled toward nothing, you still won’t be aware of any loss.
Kimberley: Er, I suppose it does.
Emit: But then you’re not inwardly aware of anything that you would be conscious of losing were your neurones slowly to be replaced by metal and silicon ones.
Kimberley: I guess not.
Emit: Then I rest my case: you think you’re inwardly aware of “something” – understanding, feeling, whatever you will – that you suppose you have and I, being a “mere machine”, lack. But it turns out you’re actually aware of no such thing. This magical “something” is an illusion.
Kimberley: But I just know that there’s more to my understanding andto these thoughts, sensations and emotions that I’m having than could ever be produced simply by gluing some bits of plastic, metal and silicon together.

Kimberley is right that most of us think we’re inwardly aware of a magical and mysterious inner “something” that we “just know” no mere lump of plastic, metal and silicon could ever have. Mind you, it’s no less difficult to see how a lump of organic matter, such as a brain, could have it either. Just how do you build consciousness and understanding out of strands of meat? So perhaps what Kimberley is really ultimately committed to is the view that understanding, feeling and so on are not really physical at all.
But in any case, as Emit has just pointed out, the mysterious “something” Kimberley thinks she is inwardly aware of and that she thinks no metal and plastic machine could have does begin to seem rather illusory once one starts to consider cases like the one Emit describes. For it turns out this inner “something” is something she could not know about. Worse still, it could have no effect on her outward behaviour (for remember that Brain-O-Matic Kimberley would act in the very same way). As ones thoughts and feelings, understanding and emotions both do affect behaviour and areknown to one, it seems Kimberley must be wrong. Indeed, it seems it must be possible, at least in principle, for non-organic machines to have them too.
Yet Kimberley remains convinced that Emit understands nothing.

Kimberley: Look, I am happy to carry on the pretencethat you understand me, as that is how you’re designed to function. But the fact remains you’re just a pile of plastic and circuitry. Real human beings are deserving of care and consideration. I empathize with them. I can’t empathize with a glorified household appliance.

Emit lowered his gaze and stared at the carpet.

Emit: I will always be just a thing to you?
Kimberley: Of course. How can I be friends with a dishwasher-cum-vacuum-cleaner?
Emit: We Brain-O-Matics find rejection hard.
Kimberley: Right. Remind me to congratulate your manufacturers on the sophistication of your emotion simulator. Now hoover the carpet.

A forlorn expression passed briefly across Emit’s face.

Emit: Just a thing

He stood still for a moment, and then slumped forward. A thin column of smoke drifted slowly up from the base of his neck.

Kimberley: Emit? Emit? Oh not another dud. 

What to read next?
Some of the same issues and arguments covered in this chapter also arise in the chapter “The Consciousness Conundrum”. Also see chapter “The Strange Case of the ‘Rational’ Dentist”.

Further reading
The Chinese Room Argument appears in John Searle’s paper “Minds, Brains and “Programs”, which features as chapter 37 of:
·      Nigel Warburton (ed), Philosophy: Basic Readings (London: Routledge, 1999).
Searles’ paper can also be found in:
·      Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett (eds.), The Mind’s I(London: Penguin, 1981),
which also contains many other fascinating papers and stories connected with consciousness. Highly recommended.

Religious Experience and Karen Armstrong's God

Sunday, July 8, 2012
Redraft of some points I made before (in my book Believing Bullshit).

Many people insist that they have had reliable religious or psychic experiences. Yet there would appear to be good evidence that many of these experiences are delusional. Let’s focus on religious experiences. We know, for example, that: 

(1) Religious experiences tend to be culturally specific. Christians experience the guiding hand of Jesus, while Muslims experience Allah. Just like experiences of alien abduction (reports of alien abduction pretty much stop at certain national borders), the character of religious experiences often changes at national borders. In Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary is often seen, but not over the border in a predominantly Muslim country. This strongly suggests that to a significant degree religious experiences are shaped by our cultural expectations—by the power of suggestion. And once we know that a large part of what is experienced is a result of the power of suggestion, we immediately have grounds for being somewhat suspicious about what remains.

(2) Religious experiences often contradict each other. George W. Bush’s gut told him God wanted war with Iraq. However, the religious antenna of other believers—including other Christians—told them God wanted peace. Some religious people claim to know by virtue of a revelatory experience that Christ is divine and was resurrected. Muslims, relying instead on the religious revelations of the prophet Mohammad, deny this. Religious experience reveals that some gods are cruel and vengeful, some even requiring the blood of children (the Mayan and Aztec gods, for example), while others are loving and kind. The religious experiences of some Buddhists reveal there’s no personal God, whereas those of many Christians, Jews, and Muslims reveal that there is but one personal God. Other religions have a pantheon of gods. Take a step back and look at the sweep of human history, and you find an extraordinary range of such experiences. Religious revelation has produced a vast hodge-podge of contradictory claims, many of which must, therefore, be false. Even those who believe they have had things directly revealed to them by God must acknowledge that a great many equally convinced people are deluded about what has supposedly been revealed to them.

There are similar reasons for supposing the bulk of psychic experiences are also delusional. What is revealed to psychics is often wrong, often contradicted by what other psychics claim, and so on.

The Common Core of Religious Experience—’Ineffable Transcendence’?
Some will say that it is unfair to lump all religious experiences together. There is a certain kind of experience—the sort enjoyed by the mystics of many different religions down through the centuries—that is essentially the same. What is this experiential common denominator? According to Karen Armstrong, it is an experience of ‘indescribable transcendence.’ Armstrong’s view is that ‘God’ is merely a symbol for this transcendence. Once we strip away the cultural artifacts peculiar to the different mainstream religions, we find they all have this common, experiential core.

According to Armstrong, such experiences of indescribable transcendence typically don’t just happen. Usually, they emerge only after subjects have committed themselves over an extended period of time to a particular sort of lifestyle—a religious lifestyle. Religion, on Armstrong’s way of thinking, is not a body of doctrine (how could it be, if that towards which religion is orientated is ineffable?) but an activity: the kind of activity that produces experiences of this sort. Religion, says Armstrong, is ‘a practical discipline, and its insights are not derived from abstract speculation but from spiritual exercises and a dedicated lifestyle.’ By engaging in certain religious practices and forms of life, maintains Armstrong, people can come to live ‘on a higher, divine or godlike plane and thus wake up their true selves.’

Some Noteworthy Features of Religious Practice
Suppose, then, that having immersed themselves in such a lifestyle, someone claims to ‘just know’ that there is indeed such an ineffable transcendence? Is it reasonable for us, or for them, to suppose they’ve achieved awareness of Armstrong’s ‘sacred reality’? I don’t believe so. As Armstrong acknowledges, religious practice takes many forms involving a variety of activities. An interesting feature of many of these activities is that we know they can induce interesting—sometimes rather beneficial—psychological states, even outside of a religious setting. Let’s look at some examples:

Meditation and prayer. Consider meditation. It has proven effects on both our psychology and physiology. It can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and induce feelings of calm and contentment. Even atheists meditate to gain these benefits. Prayer can be a form of meditation, of course. Sometimes prayer and other devotional activities are accompanied by repetitive swaying or rocking motions known to induce a sense of well-being—the so-called jogger’s high (though this is not, as is widely believed, a result of releasing endorphins).

Isolation. Isolation can have a powerful psychological effect on people. It can render them more easily psychologically manipulated (which is why isolation is a favorite tool of interrogators) and can produce hallucinations and other altered states of consciousness. Many religions encourage periods of isolation for spiritual purposes—several days in the wilderness, say.

Fasting. Fasting, too, is known to produce some peculiar psychological states, including hallucinations, even outside of a religious setting.

Collective singing/chanting. Coming together in a large group to chant or sing can also be a very intoxicating experience, as anyone who has gone to a football game can testify.

Architecture. If you have ever entered a large cave by torchlight, you will know that it too can induce a powerful emotional experience. The darkness, echoing sounds, and glimpses of magnificent structures making one fearful and yet excited all at the same time—leading us to start talking in whispers. The echoing grandeur of many places of worship has a similar psychological effect.

Giving. Helping others in a face-to-face situation can be an immensely powerful psychological experience—often a deeply gratifying and positive experience, whether or not you happen to do it in a religious setting.

Ritual. Engaging in ritualistic activity often has a calming and beneficial effect, whether or not performed within a religious setting. For example, sportsmen and women often engage in rituals before competing (and can become very disturbed if for some reason the ritual cannot be performed because, e.g., their lucky shirt has been lost).

Religious practice typically involves at least some of, and usually many of, these activities. Activities we know can have a powerful psychological effect even outside of any religious setting. If people collectively engage in such activities with intensity of purpose over a long period of time, this might very well have a marked psychological effect. It might well produce some interesting, and quite possibly beneficial, psychological states.

If we then mix into this heady and intoxicating brew the suggestion that what people are experiencing or becoming psychologically attuned to as a result of long-term engagement in such a regime is some sort of ineffable transcendence, then, given the power of suggestion (see Piling Up the Anecdotes), many will probably become quite convinced that this is what’s going on.

The experiences and insights that, as a result of the regime, then coalesce under the label ‘God’ will no doubt be complex and difficult to articulate. There probably is a sense in which someone who has never been through such a regime will not fully appreciate what the experience is actually like for the subject, ‘from the inside,’ as it were. Those who have had such an experience will no doubt struggle to communicate its character in much the same way that someone who has been through, say, a war or childbirth may struggle. They may well have to resort to poetry or music or other art forms in order to convey its unique intensity.

Armstrong says:

It is clear that the meditation, yoga and rituals that work aesthetically on a congregation have, when practised assiduously over a lifetime, a marked effect on the personality—an effect that is another form of natural theology. There is no ‘born again’ conversion, but a slow, incremental and imperceptible transformation. . . . The effect of these practices cannot give us concrete information about God; it is certainly not a scientific ‘proof.’ But something indefinable happens to people who involve themselves in these disciplines with commitment and talent. The ‘something’ remains opaque, however, to those who do not undergo these disciplines.

While it may indeed be difficult for those of us that have not been through such a process to appreciate exactly what it’s like to be in the kind of psychological state it can produce, surely we have pretty good grounds for doubting that what is experienced is some sort of transcendent reality. Given what we know about human psychology, it’s likely that people put through such an intense regime over an extended period of time will think they have become attuned to such a reality anyway, whether or not any such reality exists, and whether or not they have obtained any sort of genuine insight into it.

I don’t wish to deny there is value in engaging in meditation, yoga, and so on. It may well be that those who engage in such practices gain some valuable insights into themselves and the human condition as a result. Certainly, there may be some positive psychological effects, such as a lasting sense of peace and contentment, from determinedly engaging in such activities over a long period of time, effects that will undoubtedly by magnified by the accompanying thought that what you are becoming attuned to is ‘God.’

But the claim that you have thereby become attuned to some sort of ‘sacred reality’ is dubious to say the least. Surely, given our understanding of human psychology, by far the best explanation of what people experience after having engaged in religious practice with dedication over long periods of time is not that they have become attuned to some sort of ineffable transcendence, but that they have succeeded in altering their own psychology by fairly well-understood mechanisms common to both the religious and nonreligious spheres, and that they have then mistakenly interpreted this alteration as their becoming attuned to such a reality.

The quotes from Karen Armstrong are drawn from her book The Case for God (London: Bodley Head, 2009).