morality

This tag is associated with 17 posts

Natural Law, human morality, and self-interest in Leland vs. Bolingbroke: A centuries-old discussion that remains relevant today

leland-viewJohn Leland’s (1691-1766) epic takedown of Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke’s (1678-1751) argument for natural law from a deistic perspective as found in Leland’s A View of the Principal Deistical Writers That Have Appeared in England in the Last and Present Century (available free online) is a wonder to behold. Leland’s work is a massive 2-Volume tome that basically surveys the entire field of the deistic controversy in the 18th century and provides not just an overview of the deists’ writings, but also response to them and extensive commentary on other written responses. In other words, the book is probably the single most valuable contemporary account of the deistic controversy that was written.

Leland deals extensively with Bolingbroke and engages nearly every part of Bolingbroke’s argument for deism. Here, I want to highlight one passage from Leland’s account:

Those may justly regard universal benevolence as a fundamental law of our nature, who suppose a social principle, and a benevolent disposition, distinct from self-love, to be an original disposition, natural to the human heart, and implanted by the Author of our beings; but if self-love be, as [Lord Bolingbroke] represents it, the only original spring of human actions, and the centre of the whole system, universal benevolence cannot be properly represented as the fundamental law of our nature. Upon this scheme the private interest of the individual, whenever it happens to come in competition with the public good, ought to be preferred.

The relevance of this very argument to modern debates over morality, particularly on atheistic schema, is immediately apparent. Without God, in a universe sans not just creation but also sans design, sans lawgiver, etc., it seems self-interest is really the only possible “ought” to be found. But if that is the case, why not acknowledge that morality in the best interest of “all” or “the group” is at best a fiction? Let’s not be mistaken; many atheists do acknowledge exactly that. But there remain holdouts, certain that a framework for discovering morality.

As Leland notes, however, it would be very difficult to get around the notion that without some kind of divine law or lawgiver, self-interest seemingly must become the basis for morality. Indeed, though Leland lived before Darwin, it would seem that non-theistic evolution would suggest this as well: self-preservation and the passing on of one’s genes as the greatest good. But if that is the case, it becomes clear that no matter how lofty our expectations or claims about morality become, when it comes down to it, self-interest will be the final arbiter of morality. If that is the case, then it becomes difficult to maintain that universal benevolence or some other good could be actually attainable on such a system.

Perhaps a counter-argument could be that we could set the goal at universal benevolence, but acknowledge the failings of the system. But if that is the case, it seems the failings of the system itself–allowing self-preservation/interest to be the true ultimate arbiter of morality–decries the system. The goal would become “universal benevolence, so long as it does not impede my self-interest” and that seems to be a very problematic way to view morality. Of course, one could simply bite the bullet and acknowledge this as the best possible moral system to offer without God. So be it.

Links

Historical Apologetics– Check out all my posts on historical apologetics.

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Man of Steel” – A Christian look at themes in the film

man-of-steelEvery movie has a worldview. “Man of Steel,” the latest iteration of Superman, is no different. In fact, many explicit questions of worldview come up. Here, we’ll take a look at some major themes found in the movie. There will, of course, be SPOILERS below.

Morality

The question of morality looms large throughout the film. What does it mean to seek to do good in our world? At one point, Faora Ul, a commander in General Zod’s army, discusses how the fact that they have moved beyond morality has become an “evolutionary advantage” and that “evolution” always wins. I was struck by this brief aside for a few reasons. First, would moving apart from morality really be an advantage? Surely, it may lead to no self-sacrifice, but that self-sacrifice itself is something which preserves a race. In fact, the whole thrust of the film centered around the notion of self-sacrifice by Superman giving up those things which he liked or wanted in order to save others. The fact that Superman overcomes the moral nihilist is significant.

Second, does evolution always win? This is a question to consider for a different time and place, but surely I think one must wonder whether it is the case that having an advantage would guarantee victory in the race to survive. Any kind of random fluke could happen to eliminate a better-suited creature. Again, these are questions for another time, but in context of the movie, the whole notion was again overthrown, because Superman, with a stringent morality, overcame.

But at what cost? The climactic scene in which Superman confronts General Zod ends with Superman snapping Zod’s neck to prevent him from killing even more people. Superman’s self-made (but unmentioned in the movie) ethos of avoiding killing is thus itself overthrown. What does this say about objective morality? Is such a killing ever justified? Or, might it mean that Superman abandoned morality in order to confront the moral nihilist? Perhaps, instead, there are shades of virtue ethics found throughout, which confront Superman with a choice and allow him to carve out his own moral sphere?

These are questions suitable for reflection, and I think the movie does a great job asking the questions without spoon-feeding any answers.

Shades of a Savior?

Superman is, of course, readily seen as a savior-stand in. Superman is 33 years old, which is also the generally accepted age of Jesus at death. One scene depicts Superman in a church, and his face is set against a backdrop of a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scenery is surely intentional–Superman is seeking to give himself up for the sake of humanity, just as Jesus did. But the way in which they go about this self-giving are radically different. Superman’s ultimate sacrifice is compromising his moral code in order to save people, while Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice–taking on death and becoming sin for our sake.

The question which all of this begs, then, is whether Superman might be envisioned as an interesting Jesus-parallel, a kind of allegory to be utilized to discuss the real Savior, or whether Superman is instead a kind of rival savior figure intentionally subverting the narrative of an incarnate deity. Support for the latter might be drawn from the notion that Superman would be “viewed as a god” simply because he came from a different world and the atmosphere/sun of Earth strengthened him to superhuman (groaner, I know) levels. Is this a subversive way to describe Christ? Well, really only if one wants to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of alien and that a radical deception has gone on for two millenia. Of course, some people would like to suggest just that, but how grounded in truth might it be?

Conclusion

It seems to me that the film, then, is a useful way to juxtapose saviors. What does it mean to be a savior? How does one bring that about? There are parallels between Jesus and the story of Superman, but the most important things are perhaps the contradictions in their stories and lives. Many interesting questions about morality are raised in the film as well, and it would be hard to argue that the story of the movie is not compelling. “Man of Steel,” it seems, is another way to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of life. What are your thoughts on the movie? What other themes might be discussed (like this post on Platonic thought)? Let me know in the comments below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa– Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Virtue Ethics and the Man of Steel– Check out this interesting post on the Platonic thought found throughout the movie.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

“The Masterpiece Society”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Genetics, Eugenics, and Ethical Quandaries

the-masterpiece-society

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife from the beginning and recently watched “The Mastepiece Society” from Season 5. The episode is a fascinating look into the moral issues of a society that wishes to control breeding. Here, we will examine some of these questions. For a plot summary, see here. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Eugenics/Genetics

The “Masterpiece” society is one in which they have actively worked to use genetic enhancement and therapy [see my post on genetic enhancement and therapy to get some background into this debate; see a differing opinion here] to try to create a perfect society. Diseases are genetically selected against; other alleged defects are also screened before birth (euphemistically referencing the termination of pregnancy); and other methods are hinted at.

One of the most poignant scenes is when Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer, is sitting down with Hannah Bates and they talk about his blindness. He challenges her on the notion that he would have been terminated before birth:

“It was the wish of our founders that no one have to suffer a life of disabilities.” – Bates
“Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I might have something to contribute?” – La Forge

After this brief discussion, it turns out in an ironic twist that Geordi’s visor that helps him see actually is the solution to saving the colony. This emphasizes his point: he does have much to contribute.

One can’t help but wonder about the echo that those unborn who are killed each and every day through abortion would raise. What contributions have we stolen from our society through the desire for convenience or other reasons for abortions?

Free Will

Suppose we were able to create a society in which we could select genetically the features we deemed best-suited for specific roles. What would this due to free will and the right to choose one’s own destiny? Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise, asks this very question.

It sounds like something wonderful: we can have sure and certain knowledge of what we’re going to do. There is no uncertainty; no worrying about a job. The society has been built around having you in the exact place you are to occupy based on your genetics.

Is there, in any sense, a right for children to not have their genetic qualities selected for them? I’ve discussed this very issue elsewhere, but I think this episode raises it fairly poignantly. Suppose someone was bred to be a leader in the society, but they felt they would rather be a construction worker? The society, it seems, would suffer in the sense that they now lack a leader; but perhaps someone else who would want to be a leader could step up to the task. Of course, as in the episode, one fears a kind of cascade effect in which people who would be perfect, allegedly, for the tasks they are destined to be assigned instead opt for tasks they can only “imperfectly” perform.

This, then, leads to questions of what it means to be “perfect” for a task. Are we merely genetically determined creatures, or does our freedom to choose transcend the genetic history we have been dealt? What benefits or costs might there be to a society in which you are trained from birth to occupy a specific role?

Conclusion

Star Trek frequently raises ethical issues, and “The Masterpiece Society” was particularly thoughtful. I’d recommend watching it and then reflecting on the worldview-level issues it raises. How much are we currently missing out on because of the system we have in place? What might we do ethically to improve our society without restricting the freedom of the individual? Is this latter question even important?

From a Christian perspective, it seems clear that it is impermissible to terminate humans simply because they are blind or have some genetic impairment. Here, it seems, the Christian perspective can also demonstrate its practical utility, for as Geordi demonstrated, we may miss out on quite a bit if we decide to allow such things to occur.

Regarding genetic enhancement, however, the issue is much more difficult. My perspective has shifted a bit, but I am still fairly wary of the notion. I admit this might purely be some kind of bias on my part that doesn’t have as much a rational foundation as I’d like to think. The post I shared earlier from a friend has some pretty strong arguments in the direction of genetic enhancement even from a Christian perspective. I recommend reading his post, and checking out my older post (about 2 years old) that I edited as I wrote this one.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I go over a number of key ethical issues related to genetic enhancement and therapy.

“The Measure of a Man”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood– I discuss matters of “personhood,” using the character Data from Star Trek as a foil.

Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children– An argument that differs from my perspective on genetic enhancement. What are your thoughts on this post in favor of it?

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Renewing Moral Theology” by Daniel Westberg

rmt-westbergHow might we integrate the study of ethics and theology? In Renewing Moral Theology, Daniel Westberg takes this project head-on. He approaches it from the perspective of Thomism, the philosophical-theological framework of Saint Thomas Aquinas which is itself influenced by Aristotle. The book therefore provides a strong introduction to the Thomistic view of moral theology.

The book is not, like many, a handbook for discussing various moral issues. Some hot-button topics are raised, but they are not the focus. Westberg’s focus is, instead, much broader. He provides here a metaphysical basis for ethical reasoning, while addressing some of the main questions that come up regarding that framework. Thus, this is a book that encourages further reasoning and research rather than trying to answer some laundry list of moral questions (such as questions of sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, and the like). The focus is on giving an overarching metaphysical basis for using one’s reasoning in ethical situations, not handing the answers to such questions to the readers. This alone makes it valuable because many books on ethical reasoning unfortunately do not address the pressing metaphysical or metaethical questions that come up in thinking about morality.

Thomism has much to offer when it comes to moral theology. The system gives a framework for analyzing things like “being,” “right and wrong,” motivations, emotions, and more.

Westberg provides valuable insights into a number of key issues for ethics from a Christian perspective. Incorporating the holistic approach of Thomism into ethics, he notes that emotions do play a vital role in our practical reasoning and the way we approach moral questions. Emotions are often ignored or treated as frivolous in treatments of objective morality, and to have them incorporated into the study was a much-needed corrective.

He also gives excellent illustrations of and counters objections to the “double-effect” principle, which is the notion that moral actions can have two outcomes, one intended and one not, which allows for right action to be taken even if a wrong outcome will occur or is known to occur. Thus, for example, he treats the notion of a surgery which would kill an unborn child but save the mother. The intent of the surgery is to save the mother, not kill the child, but both are “effects” (hence double-effect) of the procedure. There are some key objections to using this principle to allow for certain moral actions, such as the apparent parsing down of moral choices into separate spheres of decision and intent, but Westberg counters them deftly. In doing so, he provides a strong defense of this critical ethical principle.

Examples are abundant throughout the book, and they constantly are used in ways that helpfully illustrate the point at hand. Some of the more obscure-seeming aspects of how an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics might impact ethics are made much more clear by Westberg’s clarifying examples.

This is inherently a work of moral theology and so Westberg spends a good amount of time outlining how theology might impact one’s moral outlook. Aquinas had much to contribute here, and again the Thomistic system is incorporated into the discussion, allowing for a robust metaphysics to back up the ethical reasoning placed herein.

Renewing Moral Theology is a great read for those who want to explore the interconnectedness of theology and morality. It provides a firm foundation to explore further issues of Thomistic ethics. For those who are not inclined towards Thomism, it can serve as a springboard for discussion and interaction with the view. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Strong Thomistic look at ethics
+Good use of examples to illustrate principles
+Excellent analysis of “double-effect” principle
+Rightly emphasizes some key areas of moral decision-making

The Bad

-At times it skips too quickly to conclusions

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not asked to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Daniel Westberg, Renewing Moral Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 8/29/14- Eschatology, Creationism, Morality, and more!

postThere is a lot of good reading to be found in this round of Really Recommended Posts. Be sure to leave comments on those you enjoyed and let me know what you thought here! The topics include eschatology, creationism, morality, Star Trek, and more!

Hitchens’ Challenge: Name one moral act that a religious person can do that an atheist cannot– Jason Wisdom takes on Christopher Hitchens’ challenge to name a moral act that is exclusive to a religious person. He challenges the core assumptions behind the argument, along with the notion of what it means to be “moral.” This is a great read.

Coexist? – A Pox On Both Bumper Stickers-This post is about more than you may think, so be sure to read it. Philosopher David Marshall takes on the “bumper sticker” mentality of both the “Coexist” bumper sticker and its negation.

Exceptional Dinosaur Tracksite in Denali National Park Reveals Herd of Hadrosaurs– Who doesn’t love to read about dinosaurs and creationism? Put your hand down, you, you’re lying! Check out this post which talks about how a rather awesome find of dinosaur tracks presents a challenge for a young earth paradigm.

What does the Bible say about “End Times”? Three Historic Perspectives– Eschatology is something of a side interest for me, and I found this post by J. Warner Wallace to be a pretty solid summary of a few major positions Christians hold regarding end times.

Some Tips on Research– The title pretty much says it all. These are some handy things to keep in mind while doing research.

Make It So- Parody of “Let it Go”– It’s no secret that I love Star Trek. I’ve discussed it on this site with theological/apologetic questions, and I’ve also had an ongoing series of reviews of TNG on my  “alternate interests” site. Here, there is a parody of the song “Let it Go” based on Star Trek: First Contact. I thought it’d be a fun way to round out this week’s posts.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” – A Christian Perspective

future-pastThe X-Men franchise has been my favorite of the Marvel franchises for some time, largely because of the worldview questions it brings up. Here, we’ll take a look at the themes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Evolution

Evolution continues to be at the heart of many of the questions raised by the X-Men franchise. What does it mean to say that Mutants are perhaps the next step in evolution for humanity? For some, it means that Mutants should overthrow humanity; after all, they are the lesser-evolved form of life. How should humans and Mutants interact? Are they really a step of evolution, or is it simply a different expression of humanity?

These questions are obviously speculative, but I think the most poignant of them center around the notion of an evolutionary morality. If all we see is merely the product of naturalistic evolution without any sort of grounding for objective morality, who is to say that those Mutants and humans who say that there is a fundamental war between Mutants and humanity are wrong? It seems as though they are exactly right: it is a competition for resources, pure and simple. Yet the questions the movie brings up go beyond such simplistic reasoning. After all, it seems, there is right and wrong that goes beyond the reasoning centered around survival-of-the-fittest. Again, we must wonder: why? Moreover: how is it grounded? These questions get at the heart of worldview questions, and viewers who are left thinking that it is wrong to perpetuate a war between Mutant and human should wonder what grounds they have for thinking it is wrong.

The Heart of Hum…utant? 

Many strands of Christian expression view humanity as depraved. That is, humans are sinful at heart, rather than being generally good. “Days of Future Past” aligns with this vision of humanity in a number of ways, but it also, interestingly, portrays mutants as just as frequently evil-leaning as humankind.

The inherent fear of the “Other” was felt throughout, as both Mutant and human worked to destroy each other. However, Mystique’s quest for revenge was a deeper look at aspects of character and worldview. Her quest, despite it being a futile gesture, was telling: she sought revenge despite the possibility that it could destroy all of her own kind. Professor X’s words, however, echoed through time: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever.” Mystique, through her choice to refuse to pursue the way of violence into oblivion, ultimately plays a kind of figure of reconciliation. The theme of darkness in the heart which may be redeemed is one which resonates powerfully with the Christian worldview.

A Spectrum of Morality

I think one area that is not explored frequently enough is the notion that there really is a spectum when it comes to that which is moral. I’m not advocating any kind of relativism, but rather the notion that there aren’t always (or even often) black and white moral choices. “Days of Future Past” brings this to the forefront as viewers are confronted with various ways to approach the question of the Mutant. Does one opt for a warfare model which is put forth by Magneto and Dr. Trask, a model which allows for coexistence with separation/secrecy as was generally being followed in the 1970s of the film, or perhaps even cooperation as Dr. X seeks? Perhaps instead, one should forge one’s own way like Mystique or (old) Wolverine, seeking a personal agenda in order to follow one’s own ends.

These aspects are front-and-center throughout the film, as viewers most likely will unconsciously lean towards a certain expression themselves. We discussed above the aspects of evolutionary morality, but I think the movie goes even deeper, trying to get at more basic questions like “What is truth?” and “What is moral/right?” The way viewers answer these questions may lead to further conversations. It seems to me the film clearly favored the kind of mediation road in which Mutant and Human could coexist. But what does that mean for those who favored evolutionary morality or a warfare model? Perhaps such notions are themselves outdated and put to rest because they are of a “Future Past.”

Conclusion

The latest X-Men movie has received much critical acclaim and box-office success. I think that’s for a good reason. It has a compelling plot, great action, and excellent pacing. Our analysis of various themes throughout the movie shows there is thoughtfulness behind it as well. Issues of morality are front and center, though many other themes are worth discussing as well. This is a movie that could be used to start discussions about the faith from many different aspects.

There are many more issues which could be explored in the movie. What are some that resonated with you? Let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies– Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/17/13

postI have searched the ‘net far and wide to bring you this lineup of really recommended posts. Check out posts on morality, abortion, archaeology, Carl Jung’s theology, and more.

As always, if you liked something, drop a comment!

Does the Future Have Moral Authority– It is common in debates about morality related to Christianity to see someone appeal to the moral progress we have made and to argue that in the future we won’t think x, y, or z are wrong, or we’ll think a, b, and c are right. What authority do such arguments have? Read this great post on the topic.

Abortion Methods: An Overview– A disturbing look (with pictures) at the methods used for abortions. This is a truly horrifying thing we are allowing in our country and across the world.

The Gobekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion– An archaeological discovery may be turning what some thought about the origins of religion on its head. It’s also informing us about early religion.

Interpreting Similarities between Christian Doctrine and Pagan Mythology– An interesting look at how to think about the alleged similarities between Christianity and pagan mystery religions.

Jung’s Therapeutic Gnosticism– A fascinating (lengthy) read about Carl Jung’s theology. I really enjoyed this one.

The Powerful Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards– Think you were awesome with your New Year’s resolution? Check out this list from Jonathan Edwards.

The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

 Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Objective Moral Truths

Louise Anthony and William Lane Craig agree that there are objective moral truths. Now, this is important because many theists take the existence of objective morality to demonstrate–or at least strongly suggest–the existence of God. Interestingly, other humanist/secular scholars have agreed with Anthony, claiming there are objective truths (another example is Sam Harris–see my analysis of his position contrasted with theism here). The question, of course, is “How?” Consider the following:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

Another devastating objection can be found with a simple thought experiment. Let’s say Anthony didn’t exist. In such a world, there can be no one complaining that her children matter “to me!” Instead, her children just exist as brute facts. How then can we ground their significance? Well, it seems the answer for people like Anthony would be to point to the children’s other family say “Those children matter to them!” We could continue this process almost endlessly. As we eliminate the children’s family, friends, etc. and literally make them just exist on their own, we find Anthony’s answer about allegedly objective morality supervenes on fewer and fewer alleged moral facts. Suddenly “Those children matter to themselves!” is the answer. But then what if we eliminate them? Do humans still have value? The whole time, Anthony has grounded the significance of her children and other humans in the beliefs, goals, and purposes of humans. But without humans, suddenly there is no significance. That’s what is meant by objective morality. If those children matter even without humans, then objective morality is the case. But Anthony has done nothing to make this the case; she’s merely complained that her children matter to her.

Now, some atheists–Anthony and Sam Harris included–seem to think they have answers to these questions. They seem to think that they can ground objective morality. We’ll turn to those next.

Suffering

One of the linchpins of humanists’ claims (like Anthony and Sam Harris) is suffering. The claim is that we can know what causes suffering, and that this, in turn, can lead us to discover what is wrong. We should not cause suffering.

But why not?

Most often the response I’ve received to this question is simply that because we do not wish to suffer, we should not wish to have others suffer or cause suffering for others. But why should that be the case? Why should I care about others’ suffering, on atheism? That’s exactly the question humanism must answer in order to show that objective morality can exist in conjunction with secularism. But I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to this question.

Anthony was presented with a similar question in the Q&A segment of her debate with William Lane Craig. One person asked (paraphrased), “Why shouldn’t I base morality as ‘whatever benefits me the most’?” Anthony responded simply by simply arguing essentially that it’s not right to seek pleasure at the expense of others, because they may also want pleasure.

But of course this is exactly the point! Why in the world should we think that that isn’t right!?

The bottom line is that, other than simply asserting as a brute fact that certain things are right and wrong, atheism provides absolutely no answer to the question of moral objectivity. People like Anthony  try to smuggle it in by saying it’s objectively wrong to cause suffering [usually with some extra clauses], but then when asked why that is wrong, they either throw it back in the face of the one asking the question (i.e. “Well don’t you think it’s wrong?”) or just assert it as though it is obviously true.

And it is obviously true! But what is not so obvious is why it is obviously true, given atheism. We could have simply evolved herd morality which leads us to think it is obviously true, or perhaps we’re culturally conditioned by our close proximity to theists to think it is obviously true, etc. But there still is no reason that tells us why it is, in fact, true.

Moral Facts

Anthony (and Harris, and others with whom I’ve had personal interactions) centralize “moral facts” in their metaethical account. As a side note, what is meant by “moral fact” is a bit confusing but I don’t wish to argue against their position through semantics alone. They claim that we can figure out objective morals on the basis of moral facts. Sam Harris, for example, argues that there is a “continuum of such [moral] facts” and that “we know” we can “move along this continuum” and “We know, we know that there are right and wrong answers about how to move in this space [along the moral continuum]” (see video here).

Now it is all well and good to just talk about “facts” and make it sound all wonderful and carefully packaged, but Anthony and Harris specifically trip up when they get asked questions like, “How do we figure out what moral facts are?”

Anthony was asked “How do you determine what the objective moral facts are”, and responded by saying, “We do it by, um, testing our reactions to certain kinds of possibilities, um, thinking about the principles that those reactions might entail; testing those principles against new cases. Pretty much the way we find out about anything” (approximately 2 hours into the recorded debate).

One must just sit aghast when one hears a response like that. Really? That is the way we discover moral truths? And that is the way we “find out about anything”? Now I guess I can’t speak for Anthony herself, but when I’m trying to find out about something, I don’t test my reaction to possibilities and then try to figure out what my reaction “might entail.” That is radical subjectivism. Such a view is utterly devastating for not just morality but also science, history, and the like. If I were to try to conduct scientific inquiry in this manner, science would be some kind of hodgepodge of my “reactions” to various phenomenon. Unwittingly, perhaps, Anthony has grounded the ontology of her morality in the reactions of people. But this error isn’t restricted to Anthony. Harris also makes this confounding mistake. His basic argument in the talk linked above is simply, “Science can tell us what people think about things, so it can tell us about morality.” This is, of course patently absurd. Suppose I tried to test these humanists’ theories on groups of people by sticking them in a room and having them watch all kinds of things from murder to the rape of children to images of laughter and joy. Now suppose I randomly sifted my sample among the population of the world, but somehow, by pure chance, got a room full of child molesters. As I observe their reactions, I see they are quite joyful when they observe certain detestable images. Now, going by Anthony/Harris’ way to “find out about anything” and thinking about what these people’s reaction entails, I conclude that pedophilia is a great good. But then I get a room full of parents with young children, who react in horror at these same images. Then, as I reflect on their reactions, I discover that pedophilia is a great evil. And I repeat this process over and over. Eventually, I discover that the one group was an aberration, but it was a group nonetheless.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, it means that both Harris and Anthony haven’t made any groundbreaking theory of ethics. Rather, they’ve just made a pseudo-humanistic utilitarianism. They ground moral ontology in our “reactions” to various moral situations. The only way for them to say something is morally wrong if people have different reactions is either to go with the majority (utilitarianism) or choose one side or the other, which essentially turns into a kind of Euthyphro dilemma against atheists. Either things are wrong because enough people think they’re wrong (in which case morality is arbitrary) or things are wrong because they simply are wrong, period (in which case the humanist has yet to provide an answer for moral ontology).

Conclusion

Given the discussion herein, one can see that those atheists, humanists, and/or secularists who desire to ground objective morality still have a lot of work to do. Louise Anthony’s best attempt to ground morality boils down into radical subjectivism. Sam Harris’ account fares no better. Those who are trying to ground objective morality within an atheistic universe will just have to keep searching. The solutions Anthony and Harris have attempted to offer are vacuous.

Image Source:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SecularHumanismLogo3DGoldCropped.png

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Moral Argument: Mistakes to Avoid and Practical Advice

The moral argument has experienced a resurgence of discussion and popularity of late. Some of this may be due to the increased popularity of apologetics. Philosophical discussions about metaethics also seem to have contributed to the discussions about the moral argument. Regardless, the argument, in its many and varied forms, has regained some of the spotlight in the arena of argumentation between theism and atheism. [See Glenn Peoples’ post on the topic for more historical background.]

That said, it is an unfortunate truth that many misunderstandings of the argument are perpetuated. Before turning to these, however, I’ll lay out a basic version of the argument:

P1: If there are objective moral values, then God exists.

P2: There are objective moral values.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

It is not my purpose here to offer a comprehensive defense of the argument. Instead, I seek to lay out some objections to it along with some responses. I also hope to caution my fellow theists against making certain errors as they put the argument forward.

Objections

Objection 1: Objective moral values can’t exist, because there are possible worlds in which there are no agents.

The objection has been raised by comments on my site (see the comment from “SERIOUSLY?” here), but I’ve also heard it in person. Basically, the objection goes: Imagine a world in which all that existed was a rock. There would clearly be no morality in such a universe, which means that P2 must be false. Why? Because in order for there to be objective moral values, those values must be true in all possible worlds. But the world we just imagined has no morality, therefore there are no objective moral values!

The objection as outlined in italics above is just a more nuanced form of this type of argument. What is wrong with it? At the most basic level, the theist could object to the thought experiment. According to classical theism, God is a necessary being, so in every possible world, God exists. Thus, for any possible world, God exists. Thus, to say “imagine a world in which just a rock exists” begs the question against theism from the start.

But there is a more fundamental problem with this objection. Namely, the one making this objection has confused the existence of objective morals with their obtaining in a universe. In other words, it may be true that moral truths are never “activated” or never used as a judgment in a world in which only a rock exists, but that doesn’t mean such truths do not exist in that universe.

To see how this is true, consider a parallel situation. The statement “2+2=4” is a paradigm statement for a necessary truth. Whether in this world or in any other world, it will be the case that when we add two and two, we get four. Now consider again a world in which all that exists is a rock. In fact, take it back a step further and say that all that exists is the most basic particle possible–it is indivisible and as simple as physically possible. In this universe, just one thing exists. The truth, “2+2=4” therefore never will obtain in such a world. But does that mean “2+2=4” is false or doesn’t exist in this world? Absolutely not. The truth is a necessary truth, and so regardless of whether there are enough objects in existence to allow it to obtain does not effect its truth value.

Similarly, if objective moral values exist, then it does not matter whether or not they obtain. They are true in every possible world, regardless of whether or not there are agents.

Objection 2: Euthyphro Dilemma- If things are good because God commands them, ‘morality’ is arbitrary. If God commands things because they are good, the standard of good is outside of God. This undermines the moral argument because it calls into question P1.

Here my response to the objection would be more like a deflection. This objection only serves as an attack on divine command theory mixed with a view of God which is not like that of classical theism. Thus, there are two immediate responses the theist can offer.

First, the theist can ascribe to a metaethical theory other than divine command ethics. For example, one might adhere to a modified virtue theory or perhaps something like divine motivation theory. Further, one could integrate divine command ethics into a different metaethic in order to preserve the driving force of divine commands in theistic metaethics while removing the difficulties of basing one’s whole system upon commands. In this way, one could simply defeat the dilemma head-on, by showing there is a third option the theist can consistently embrace.

Second, one could point out that the dilemma doesn’t actually challenge P1 at all. All it challenges is the grounds for objective morals. Certainly, if the theist embraced the horn of the dilemma in which that which is “good” is grounded outside of God, there would be a problem, but very few theists do this (and for them it seems unlikely the moral argument would be convincing). If the theist embraces the other horn–that what God commands is good/arbitrary–then that would not defeat objective morals anyway, because one could hold that even were God’s decisions arbitrary, they were still binding in all possible worlds. While this would be a bit unorthodox, it would undermine the concern that the Euthyphro dilemma serves to defeat P1. Combined with the first point, it seems this dilemma offers little to concern the theist.

All morality is relative

I prefer Greg Koukl’s tongue-in-cheek response to this type of argument: steal their stereo! If someone really argues that there is no such thing as right and wrong, test them on it! Don’t literally steal their things, but do point out inconsistencies. Everyone thinks there are things that are wrong in the world and should be prevented. If someone continues to press that these are merely illusory ideas–that things like rape, domestic abuse, murder, slavery, genocide are in fact amoral (without any moral status)–then one may simply point out the next time they complain about a moral situation. Such is the thrust of Koukl’s remark–everyone will object if you steal their stereo. Why? Because it is wrong, and we know it.

Advice to other Christians

The moral argument brings up some extremely complex metaethical discourse. While it is, in my opinion, one of the best tools in the apologist’s kit for talking to the average nonbeliever/believer to share reasons to believe, one should familiarize oneself with the complexities facing a fuller defense of the argument so they do not come up empty on a question or objection someone might raise. As always, do not be afraid to acknowledge a great question. For example, one might reply to something one hasn’t researched enough to feel comfortable answering by saying: “Great question! That’s one I haven’t thought about. Could I get back to you in a few days?”

As with any philosophical topic, the more one researches, the more questions will arise, the more interesting branches in the path one will approach, and the more one realizes that philosophy is an astoundingly complex topic. For those theists who wish to use the moral argument, I suggest doing so with a courteous, humble manner. The argument is an attempt to answer some of the hardest questions facing anyone: does God exist? is God good? what does it mean for something to be good? do objective morals exist?

Thus, theists using this argument should be prepared for some serious study. Be ready to answer some hard questions. Be open to great discussion. Above all, always have a reason.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Jephthah, Human Sacrifice, and God: What should we make of Judges 11:29-40?

The story of Jephthah is one of the most difficult stories in the Bible. For those who don’t know it, Jephthah, an Israelite, is about to go to war against Israel’s enemies. He vows that if God grants him victory, he will sacrifice whatever comes from his door to greet him first. He wins the battle, and when he returns, his daughter runs out to meet him. She asks one last wish–that she may mourn her lack of marriage for two months. The story ends explaining that this is the reason Israelites (at the time of the writing of Judges) commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.

Understandably, the narrative raises many questions. I view the image  here, a gorgeous painting by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, and it wrenches at my heart. Think of Jephthah’s anguish! The language in the Bible stirs the emotions:

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.” (Judges 11:34-35)

The questions, as I noted, are many. Foremost of those which come to mind: “Why would God let this happen?” Another common question about this passage are “Does God allow human sacrifice?”

I’ve written on the passage before, but I think my responses were inadequate. Therefore, I have decided to reexamine this story and see what we can glean from it. Part of these thoughts are due to a conversation I had with an old friend.

Human Sacrifice

First, the question of human sacrifice. Throughout the Bible, God specifically condemns human sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Lev. 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10). One point some make is to try to draw the near-sacrifice of Isaac into the mix, but it is contextually clear that God did not intend for Isaac to be sacrificed (see Paul Copan’s excellent work on this story in his Is God a Moral Monster?). Furthermore, it is important to note that the book of Judges is a historical book, and it therefore is not prescribing the actions described therein, any more than other historical texts are prescribing the historical accounts depicted in them (see my “Description is not Prescription”). Yet those passages which are prescriptive all expressly forbid human sacrifice (again, see Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5, Dt. 18:10). Therefore, God forbade human sacrifice, He did not condone it.

Why Not Prevent It?- Context

It is therefore clear that God does not condone human sacrifice. Why, then, does God not intervene in the case of Jepthah and prevent this horrific event from occurring? As a friend noted, it would be quite simple for God to cause one of Jephtah’s servants or, indeed, anything else alive to have come from the door first. Why, then, does God not do this?

There is no simple response to this question. Instead, it is important to note several important points before I offer a possible answer. First, God has given humans free will. The nature of libertarian free will is such that it cannot be undone. Think of it this way: If God were to give us free will only until we tried to do something wrong, and in such cases God intervened and overcame our freedom to cause us to do good, we would not have genuine freedom. We’d really have a kind of pseudo-freedom. As long as we only chose what is good, we would be free, but we could not choose otherwise.

Second, think of what Jepthah had done to begin with. When he vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing to come out to meet him, it seems quite apparent that he had in mind human sacrifice, for a few reasons. It doesn’t seem likely that, for example, a cow walking through his doorway would count as coming to meet him. He specified that his sacrifice would be the first to come meet him. In fact, one might surmise he could have guessed it might be his own daughter–who is more likely to go running out to see him after a battle than his beloved child? There was no shortage of local cultures in the area who offered their children as sacrifices, and indeed the practice had corrupted Israel itself at a few points in history, so Jephthah may have been thinking of such a practice in order to bring about victory.

Third, Jephthah was an outcast. He had been driven from the land before because of his questionable parentage (Judges 11:1-3). The Israelites turned to him only in the time of their dire need, and Jephthah was clearly tempted by their offer to be their leader (Judges 11:4-11). Even given the small amount of context we have for this narrative, we can see that Jephthah desired greatly to be given headship over Israel. It is possible that, in his lust for power, foolishly made a vow to offer one of his household in exchange for the victory.

Fourth, we’ve already seen that it is expressly forbidden to offer human sacrifices. Yet Jephthah makes his vow with full knowledge of the likely consequences.

Finally, Jephthah’s vow offers a dilemma of sorts to a God who acts in history. If God wishes to prevent the human sacrifice, he must cause the defeat of Israel. This would not be just the destruction of Israel, but it would force God to go back on His promise to bring salvation through Israel, which it is impossible for God to do (Numbers 23:19). Not only that, but it would prevent God’s plan of redemption to take place. Yet if God does grant the Israelites victory, He knows that Jephthah will offer a sacrifice of whoever first steps from his house.

Why not prevent it? -Solutions

From these quick thoughts we can see a number of possible answers. First, Jephthah made a vow which he would choose to fulfill in full knowledge that it would almost certainly be a human member of his household whom he would sacrifice. His vow was contingent upon the victory of Israel, whose defeat would have prevented God’s plan of salvation for all humankind. Therefore, Jephthah, by freely making this sinful vow, forced its conclusion. God did not prevent it from occurring because to do so would either destroy free will or prevent the Redemption.

Furthermore, some have argued that Jephthah’s vow to God superseded all else. (I myself made this argument in the original post.) I think this is wrong. God’s eternal moral commands would have superseded the vow. In fact, Jesus Himself commands His followers not to make vows, but rather to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:33-37). Jesus actually says that those who believe that a vow to God would supersede all else are wrong–they should not be making the vow in the first place! Thus, Jephthah’s vow was doubly sinful, because it essentially guaranteed a heinous act (human sacrifice) and because he should not have made such a vow to begin with. In fact, it should be noted that if Jephthah had acted in accordance with the Bible, he should have broken the vow! God expressly forbade human sacrifice, and when Jephthah saw that it was his daughter–or had it been any other human–who came to meet him, he should have realized his vow was made foolishly. One could even argue that God did indeed act in such a way as to try to get Jephthah to realize his error. The fact that it was Jephthah’s daughter who greeted him should not have only horrified him but made him realize that his vow was sinful to begin with, and so should not be upheld. Upon the realization that keeping his vow would cause him to break God’s Law, Jephthah should not have said “I must keep this vow” and therefore increase his sin–rather he should have said “I will break this vow, and prevent a horrific sin.” But again, with his freedom, he chose not to.

Jephthah’s story is, in fact, just the kind of story typified throughout Judges, and indeed throughout human history–that of God using sinful people to bring about His ends. Samson, another judge, was a violent and lustful man, yet God used him to save the Israelites on a number of occasions. In the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37ff), God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring about a great good (Gen. 50:20). Similarly, Jephthah’s greed lead him to make a vow which he should not have kept which condemned at least one human to death.

Jephthah’s free decisions brought about the death of his daughter. That is why the Bible reports this stirring story–it teaches us that our free will has consequences. That is why the painting of Jephthah is so striking–we can relate to the horror of Jephthah’s realization of his own sinfulness. We’ve each committed our own sins and had to deal with the consequences. God is not a divine vending machine who will intervene when we make mistakes, or when we choose horrifying acts. He has already provided us with an objective reality–the discernment to tell what is right from wrong. Not only that, but He has also provided a Savior, His Son Jesus, to rescue us from all evil–even death itself. God has provided an infinite good to all human persons by providing a means for their salvation. Whosoever will be saved shall be saved.

The story also teaches us once more that God works through imperfect people. Although Jephthah was a sinful man with greedy intentions, he was still used by God to bring about a great good–the preservation of Israel, which itself paved the way for God’s redemptive act.

A Final, Philosophical Note

Those who may desire to press the objection still should investigate the philosophical basis of their claim. Presumably, they are arguing that:

P1- God is obligated to prevent evil (or some certain types of evil).

What justifies that claim? If God has given us free will, there are evils God cannot prevent–those which we choose to bring about. Further, what justifies the claim that God must intervene in every situation with x amount of evil? More specifically, why is God obligated to prevent Jephthah’s daughter from being the first to leave the house (again, I think that it was a series of free choices which brought Jephthah to this unfortunate event, and I disagree with those who think that God could just supersede free will whenever necessary, but I’ll grant it for a moment)? Is God obligated to prevent every evil?

I’m sure there are arguments that could be made to try to support the premise that “God is morally obligated to prevent all (or certain types of) evils” but I don’t think they would be more plausible than P2: “God has created free creatures” and P3: “Freedom cannot be limited.” I would accept a more restricted sense of:

P1′- God is morally obligated to prevent all evils which He is able to prevent and which do not provide for some greater good and which, if prevented, do not lead to other evils with similar or greater impact, etc.

Those who would seek to continue objecting that God, in the Jephthah narrative, should have intervened, must defend their restricted sense of P1, while rebutting P2 and P3, and showing that P1 is more plausible than P1′. It therefore seems that philosophically, exegetically, and theologically, the Jephthah narrative, while poignant, does not threaten God’s character. God works through human history to bring about the Redemption, using imperfect, sinful people to bring about an infinite good. Furthermore, God has given us the good of freedom, but we choose too often to abuse it. Jephthah illustrates this misuse in a heart-rending fashion which serves as a definitive reminder to those who read it that they should heed God’s word and use their freedom not for greed or gain but for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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