Episode 65 – The Death Penalty

This weeks episode features the three of us talking about the death penalty.  Pretty serious topic for a comedy podcast, huh?  We talk about whether or not being an atheist changes one’s view of the moral questions surrounding putting a criminal to death.  We also ask whether or not religion is an influence on support or opposition to the death penalty.  We also explore euthinasia as it relates to opinions about the Death Penalty. And, of course, we talk about when we think it is OK to kill someone.  Then we get to read five answers from a listener in Canada (who is also a former Mormon)!

Show notes below the fold:

Here’s a link to a whole lot of articles about the cost of the death penalty vs. lifetime incarceration.

Here’s a link to a decidedly anti death penalty web site.

Hey, Fox news is actually against the death penalty because of the cost.

Info about the character Morigan from Dragon age.

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15 Responses to Episode 65 – The Death Penalty

  1. Charles says:

    A while back I read a book by the man who is often credited with inventing the modern practice of criminal profiling. I found his opinion kind of interesting. He said he was against capital punishment. He claimed that most the real practice of profiling has been learned by interviewing/studying criminals in prison and if we execute them we lose that opportunity to study them and learn how to cut short the careers of future criminals.

  2. Molly… Would you be like Gerard Butler’s character in Law Abiding Citizen?

  3. Whatever you do, Molly, DO NOT watch the movie to answer this question! Read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia if you have to but DO NOT watch the movie!

  4. Nothing quite like a death penalty podcast to remind me that you’re American. Or possibly Saudi, I haven’t checked.

    • That’s a pretty loaded comment. Care to explain further?

      • Well, any discussion of capital punishment that doesn’t start and end with “that horrible thing we got rid of decades ago” can only come from a few places, mostly middle eastern or south asian.

        • Fair enough, you caught us. We are Americans. Personally, I think there’s more to capital punishment/the death penalty than “that horrible thing” regardless of what country from which one hails.

  5. I was reminded of a quote today, it seemed fitting.

    “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Gandalf the Grey

  6. Molly, I have been a huge fan of GWG since its beginning (and I’ve even come to your shows in Minneapolis several times), and this episode is the first time in the history of GWG that I actually disagreed with you about something, and I was hoping you could clarify/expand upon something.

    Regarding the topic of pedophile sex offenders who’ve preyed upon children: We are definitely in total agreement that the execution of these monsters is justified and legit. I’m with you there. My question is about people who are pedophiles who have *not yet committed any crime*. Pedophilia is a mental disorder — nobody disputes this. But there are multitudes of people with this disorder who know damn well that their feelings and desires are *very wrong*, and who thus do not act on them at all. These people go through intensive therapy to deal with the fact that their lives are miserable. Imagine living every day, being attracted to kids, knowing that it’s wrong and disgusting, and that society would hate you for it, but being completely powerless over this fact. These people don’t want to hurt anyone, and they try to get help for their disorder. My question is this: In this episode, were you advocating the execution of these people as well? Or just the pedophiles who have actually *acted* on their deviant impulses? I hope you were only suggesting that the actual criminals be executed, because there are thousands of pedophiles out there who have never, and will never, hurt anyone…

    The other item I disagreed with you about was your belief that sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated. This is completely incorrect. The process is intensive, rigorous, and lengthy, and it certainly doesn’t work for *every* offender out there, but the fact remains that like many other criminals, sex offenders can certainly be rehabilitated through intensive therapy by skilled mental health professionals. Just like chemical addicts or people with anger management issues, sex offenders are people with emotional problems that can maybe be fixed, with the right help. There are plenty of statistical data readily available to back this up.

    Now, I’m not saying that this automatically means that they all *deserve* that chance. The question of whether or not we *should* be expending the time and resources to rehabilitate these offenders a completely separate issue. But it’s inaccurate to imply that it’s not possible…

    Keep up the awesome work! The show is great… :)

    • Hello Jim! Thanks for such kind words!

      I do not think that having pedophilic thoughts and raping children are the same thing, no. Just like thinking about cheating on your wife is not the same as having sex outside your marriage. If someone has not acted on those thoughts, and wants to be rehabilitated, I can see how that might work. Might.

      I remain adamant in my opinion that if you ACT on those thoughts, if you have sexual contact or are involved in a sexual situation with a child, you are beyond help. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I will not be swayed from this. We always say one cannot help to whom one is sexually attracted. If you like men, you like men. If you like women, you like women. If you like both, you like both. And if what gets you turned on is children, I don’t see how that can be changed any more than someone can get therapy to “fix” their homosexuality.

      It can be dampened. It can be muted. It can be held still by Depo Provera and other psych medications. But it will never go away, and chances are they’ll eventually act on it. And I don’t think it’s fair to put even ONE kid in danger of being damaged for life, of having something as beautiful as sex and love ruined because we were worried we were judging the poor pedophile.

      Obviously, and I said this pretty clearly on the episode, obviously I don’t *actually think they should just be killed outright, because that’s not how our justice system works nor is the death penalty reasonable. However, I think that touching a child sexually (or making a porn with children, or whatever the hell involves someone making any contact with a child that is of a sexual nature) should be a mandatory life imprisonment.

      (I’m not talking about statutory rape, either. Let me make that clear.)

      Can you imagine how many more children would feel safe to come forward and tell on their abusers if they knew that said abuser would be locked away forever? Not just shot up with hormones and sent back out into their world after some therapy?

      • Thanks for responding. If I may clarify something, when I was mentioning psychological treatment for pedophiles, I wasn’t trying to imply that it’s possible to make them somehow *stop* being attracted to kids. That is, without a doubt, impossible. The treatment I was referring to is the intensive, rigorous therapy that pedophiles can undergo to learn how to *deal with* the fact that their urges are abhorrent and unacceptable. I can speak with professional authority about these programs, and I assure you they are extremely intense, and last anywhere from a couple years to over a decade. In these programs, pedophiles learn how to cope with their unhealthy thoughts and feelings, and they gain the tools to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.

        You are correct when you say that the attraction to children “will never go away”, but it’s inaccurate to say “chances are they’ll eventually act on it”. By “chances”, I can only assume you mean *statistical likelihood*, and the empirical data on this are pretty conclusive: The recidivism (repeat offense) rate for sex offenders who have undergone and successfully *completed* one of these intensive therapy programs is incredibly small (compared with the public’s perception): less than 10% according to most sources.

        I can’t say that I disagree with you regarding life sentences for pedophiles. But that wasn’t the point of this comment. I was trying to shed some light for you on the facts of the genuine, empirical effectiveness of sex offender treatment programs. You said in your comment you “would not be swayed” from your position that pedophiles are beyond help. I hope that you would be willing to reexamine that position in the face of clear data and empirical evidence. Because refusing to change one’s point of view when presented with clear evidence isn’t exactly the type of attitude that you and your co-hosts promote on GWG. In fact, you often criticize religious people for that exact type of thinking. We atheists and lovers of science tend to pride ourselves on our ability and willingness to *change* our position based upon the introduction of new data and facts, so I hope that you will adopt that stance, and recognize that pedophiles, as repulsive and evil as their actions may be, are still people with a mental disorder who *can* be helped. It doesn’t *always* work, and it’s not easy, but the evidence overwhelmingly shows that’s it’s quite *possible*.

        Here are some links with info about treatment and recidivism rates:







        • Thank you for all those links, that was enlightening. I rescind my statement that “chances are they’ll eventually act on it,” mostly because it’s inaccurate at best and was off-the-cuff and based on no statistical data. But I still maintain that a 10% chance of relapse is not something I feel is worth risking. What message does it send to the abused when they know their attacker is on the street, living a free life, with a chance (albeit slight) that he or she might abuse another child? If they’re both from a small town, and the abuser is seen every day? If the abuser is a family member?

          I understand where you’re coming from when you say this, but I resent your implication that to have a strong opinion from which I will not be swayed is the same as religious devotion. Furthermore, when I said “I will not be swayed from this,” I was speaking specifically about those individuals who act on their desires and make sexual contact with children; moreover, I was speaking to their ability to be completely rehabilitated and to therefore earn the right to be free within our society. We agree they will never stop being attracted to children as that cannot be changed, and that that is the reason I feel life imprisonment should be a mandatory sentence for such acts. You said you don’t disagree with me about life imprisonment for those who have sexual contact with children; why then do you compare my firm belief that they deserve to be imprisoned for these crimes with the blind faith of the religious?

          It’s true that we, as atheists/skeptics/scientists, pride ourselves on our ability to receive new data and evidence and therefore change our opinions accordingly. However, I do not believe that a 10% recidivism rate negates my heretofore held stance on the subject, though I appreciate the data, as always.

          Thank you for this conversation, and thank you for your work in the fields of mental health.

          • Thanks again for your responses, Molly.

            I really appreciate your clarification on these items, since this is a really complex issue, and I think I was probably overlapping your stance on one facet with your stance on other facets.

            I cannot and will not argue with your opinion about a 10% recidivism rate being too high, and I agree with the point you were making in the latter half of your first paragraph. Also, thank you for clarifying what you meant by “not being swayed”. I interpreted your sentence as meaning “I will not be swayed from the idea that these people cannot be helped at all,” and I was making the point that they *can* be helped. You were saying that they can’t always be “cured” *completely*, and I agree that it’s an important distinction.

            Also, I apologize if it sounded like I was comparing your stance on life imprisonment with the blind devotion of religious people. That was not my intent at all. My comparison was based on my misinterpretation of your “I will not be swayed” words (as explained above). Refusing to acknowledge new data *would* be that kind of blind devotion, and you have clearly been very receptive to new data, and you’ve also clarified the opinion you won’t be swayed from, so I think we’re pretty much all in agreement at this point.

            Again, I really appreciate the dialogue, and I look forward to more great episodes! Thanks!

  7. Albatross says:

    I disagree with capital punishment for several reasons:

    1) Molly’s point that we can’t undo it if we’re wrong, and our justice system certainly is both frequently wrong and intensely racist.

    2) It harms the society that does it. We’re a lesser nation because we do such a barbaric thing.

    3) It’s wrong for the State to kill an individual. The State is an composite entity, it has no right or justification in murdering someone, just as gods, if they existed, would have any right or justification in murdering an individual. A State, like a deity, is an alien entity which cannot itself understand or encompass what it is to be a mortal human. While both have sufficient power to kill individuals, neither can ever fully understand what it is to be a mortal human faced with death.

    3a) If anyone should have the right to carry out capital punishment, it would be the victims including the survivors of the perpetratpr. Not the State. If we had a capital punishment practice that somehow overcame my point 1), and which then carried out execution by having the victims of the perpetrator all have to push a button to end the convict’s life, one of which worked and the rest of which were dummies, then I’d say we would be CLOSER to a just system, although I’d still think it’s harmful and wrong.

    4) It’s too easy on the convict.

    That having been said, there are MANY times when I’d be willing to do the job. Given the opportunity to do so, I’d kill Aaron Schaffhausen myself. But that’s why I want my justice system to be BETTER than me.

  8. Albatross says:

    Gah! I got a shout out at the end and I’d already posted my opinion. You guys know me too well.
    I probably repeated myself from some prior comment. No, I probably contradicted myself…