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Book Review: “Divine Motivation Theory” by Linda Zagzebski

Linda Zagzebski is rightfully becoming a well-known figure in philosophy of religion. Her book, Divine Motivation Theory (hereafter DMT) offers a metaethical theory intended to overcome some of the disadvantages of Divine Command Theory and Christian Platonism.

The thrust of Zagzebski’s work is focused around two ideas: 1) exemplarism; 2) motivation. Together, these formulate the foundation for the rest of her discussion. The book is divided into three parts. The first explores “Motivation Theory” from a perspective which could be held even by those who are not theists. The second part explores “Motivation Theory” from within a theistic perspective. The third part deals with ethical pluralism.

One of the most important concepts in DMT is that of an exemplar. An exemplar is exactly what one would expect: a figure who demonstrates a “good life” by living it. Zagzebski writes of exemplars: “The particular judgments to which a moral theory must conform include judgments about the identity of paradigmatically good persons [exemplars]” (41). The thrust of Motivation Theory is a refocusing of metaethics. Rather than examining what is good and then evaluating judgments in light of that (as in Platonism, including theistic Platonism in many ways), and rather than focusing upon virtue (as in virtue theory), motivation theory focuses upon persons who are good. These persons formulate the basis for judging what is good, based upon motivation and emotion (40-50). A good action, motivation, or emotion, argues Zagzebski, is one which an exemplar would perform, have, or entertain.

Initially I admit I was a bit put off by this because it seemed quite arbitrary. Could we not define as exemplars people who are vicious and evil. Could not an exemplarist focus on ethics lead to Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot as exemplars?

Zagzebski counters this within DMT by focusing in part 2 upon the “divine.” Rather than arbitrarily choosing whomever one wishes as the exemplar, Zagzebski endorses God as the primary exemplar. This provides an alternative to Christian Platonism and Divine Command Theory by arguing instead that “God is essential to morality, not because it comes from either his intellect or his will, but because it comes from his motives. God’s motive dispositions, like ours, are components of his virtues, and all moral value derives from God’s motives” (185). The upshot of this is that God, being a perfect being (granting traditional theism), would have perfect motivations. Whatever God does, must be perfectly motivated.

The theistic focus on motivation within DMT provides several advantages. One among them is the fact that it solves many of the “problems” related to perfect goodness. For example, regarding what makes something God does good, DMT offers the solution that “God is good in the same way that the standard meter stick is one meter long. God is the standard of goodness” (185). Regarding the problem of evil, Zagzebski points out that her theory successfully solves the issue if it is metaphysically possible (313). The reason is that DMT’s focus upon motivation can be used analogically with human parents. “If we can understand,” she writes, “how the motivation of love of a human parent for her child might not involve any considerations of good and evil and yet still be a good motive, we must conclude that promoting good and preventing (or eliminating or not permitting) evil is not necessarily part of the motivational structure of a good being… even a perfect being might love in such [a] way that he would be willing to permit any amount of evil, not for the sake of some good, but out of love for persons” (317). These are oversimplifications of what Zagzebski writes on these problems, but I encourage the interested reader to read her work for a fuller explication.

There are so many things to discuss about DMT that remain, but I feel a full explanation would drag this review on unnecessarily. I would like to note a couple other very interesting arguments Zagzebski makes. She argues that there can be truth values with emotions (75ff). She points out that motivation is extremely important in moral judgments–if someone is doing something just to be hailed as a hero, they are much less praiseworthy than if they are doing it merely out of goodness (see 100ff). Elsewhere, Zagzebski and discusses several principles for dealing with pluralism (369ff). There are important points like these throughout the book. DMT challenges readers to rethink aspects of metaethical theory which they have unreflectively ignored. Yet in doing so, Zagzebski articulates a metaethic for theists which seems to have just as much (or more) plausibility as the alternatives.

Divine Motivation Theory deserves a reading by anyone interested in theistic metaethics. Linda Zagzebski offers a theory that has advantages over both Christian Platonism and Divine Command Theory. I highly recommend this work to any philosopher of religion. I cannot emphasize how much I think readers should get their hands on this work.

Source (and link to Amazon):

Linda Zagzebski Divine Motivation Theory (New York, NY: 2004, Cambridge).



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. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: Thoughts and Links

The debate I’ve been hyping to friends and family happened tonight: Sam Harris, one of the “New Atheists” and author of the books The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith went up against William Lane Craig, one of my favorite living philosophers. Craig has a PhD in philosophy, as well as a ThD. He’s written extensively on philosophy of religion, apologetics, and time. He’s the author and editor of too many books to list, but they include The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Reasonable Faith, and Time and Eternity. The topic of the debate was “Is Good from God?”

I wanted to share some links for all of you, along with my thoughts about the debate.


Audio of debate here.

Video of the debate here.

Craig rebuts Harris’ allegation of misquotations here.

Craig’s brief post-debate impressions here.

Craig’s thoughts on his strategy in the debate here.

Another analysis of the debate here.

See Wintery Knight’s summary of the debate here.

More links will be posted as I find them.

Analysis of Debate

It is important to note that the topic of the debate is “Is Good from God?” The topic is not “Does God exist?” Nor is it “Is the God of the Old Testament Evil?” Remember this. Also, my apologies in advance for my tense shift throughout. It’s almost 2AM and I’m tired.

Craig Opening

Craig’s opening statement started with him asserting he’d maintain two propositions

I. If God exists, then we have a solid foundation for objective moral values.

He backed this contention up by saying that it is true even if God does not exist, because it is a conditional statement (“If God exists…”). Further, he argued that God’s nature provides the standard against which all moral vales are measured. Important: Note that here Craig is not arguing that objective moral values are grounded in arbitrary commands from God, rather, Craig argues that God is the standard against which morals are judged. It would be true to say God is good simpliciter.

As far as moral duties are concerned, it is these which are constituted by God’s commands, however that does not mean the commands are arbitrary, but rather grounded in the essential nature of God.

Craig’s second contention was:

II. If God does not exist, then there is no strong foundation for objective moral values.

He argued:

1) Why think that human beings have objective moral worth? On atheism, humans are merely “accidental byproducts” of naturalistic evolution. What therefore would mean that humans are more valuable than hyenas, other primates, rocks, etc.?

2) He quotes Michael Ruse, an atheistic philosopher, who points out that morality is, on atheism, illusory. It is a mere socio-biological convention. And to think that morality is objective is simply false. He also quotes Dawkins as saying that we are just machines for propagating DNA. On such a view, how can we be objectively valuable?

3) Craig argues that Harris simply redefines good in nonmoral terms. He argues by stipulation that “well-being” = good, which is to beg the question. Craig argues that Harris has provided no reason to equate the two, and in fact has no grounds from which to do so.

4) Natural science only shows what “is” not what “ought” to be. It can only describe actions, not prescribe them.

5) Harris explicitly denies free will within his writing and so it seems impossible for there to be any culpability for actions. How can someone have “ought” applied to them if they are not free to make choices about their actions?

Harris Opening

Harris begins by noting, as did Craig, the areas of agreement. He agrees that to deny objective morality can lead to some horrific views, and he uses anecdotes to support this claim. Craig and Harris seem to agree that objective morality is something necessary for meaning in the universe. I find no contention with this part of Harris’ discussion.

He goes on to argue that there are “facts” and there are “values.” He argues that science can move from the subjective facts to objective values, although I found his argument here unclear.

Finally, he gets to the point where he specifically outlines his view, which is based upon the well-being of conscious creatures.

Harris argues that “If the word ‘bad’ applies, it is ‘wrong.'” Further, “The minimum standard of moral goodness is to avoid the most possible misery for everyone.” Harris asks us to envision a world in which every conscious being was suffering to the maximum possible extent. He says that this is obviously bad (= wrong) and so we can scientifically determine what is good by working towards the well-being of conscious creatures.

At this point in my notes I wrote “Why?” next to the quotes from Harris. And I think that is exactly the problem. Thus far, Harris has done a good job outlining what he thinks is wrong, but he hasn’t done anything to say why it is wrong, other than by stipulating that it is wrong.

Harris goes on to argue that

1) Questions of right and wrong depend upon minds

2) Minds are natural phenomena

3) Therefore, morality can be understood by science because we can study minds

Against Harris, I would note that each of these premises are contentious, and he doesn’t argue within the debate to support any of them. First, premise 1) is questionable because it actually goes against the nature of objective morality. If something is objectively wrong, even were  there no minds in the universe, the action would still be wrong. Here Harris makes the mistake of thinking that because minds make moral judgments, moral judgments are dependent upon minds. I think that is false, and it needs argumentation to support.

Second, premise 2) assumes physicalism, which is the position that our minds are wholly composed of matter, and there is no non-physical property of mind. I’ve argued against this position elsewhere (see for example, my posts here and here). But the thing is that Harris simply takes 2) as given. To be fair to Harris, this is a debate so he hardly has the time to make a substantive case for physicalism. My point here is that Harris’ argument hardly establishes his conclusion–there is a lot of footwork to be done to establish 1) or 2). I think that both have serious difficulties and are generally non-starters.

Finally, Harris briefly asserts that the God of the Old Testament is evil.

Craig First Rebuttal

Craig’s first rebuttal began with him summing up his contentions I and II above. He points out that Harris didn’t attack either contention directly.

Craig points out that the debate is not about Old Testament ethics, but cites Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? for those interested in the topic.

Harris in particular did not argue against contention I at all, so Craig turns his guns against Harris’ assertions about objective morality on atheism.

First, Craig asks “If atheism is true, what makes flourishing of conscious creatures objectively good?” He goes on to say “They might like to flourish” but that does not provide an objective reason to ground morality in their well-being.

Second, Harris admits that it is possible for rapists/murderers to be happy (in a state of well-being) to the point of being a “peak” in his “moral landscape.” But if that is the case, then an objectively evil entity, on Harris’ account, could occupy the peak of the moral landscape, which would entail a contradiction, because an objectively bad person was viewed as an objectively good thing/state of affairs. I found this particularly powerful to refute Harris, and I liked how the camera shifted to him almost immediately after this statement by Craig. Harris did not look happy.

Finally, Craig argued that because Harris denies freedom of the will, he can’t actually hold that humans have any obligations whatsoever.

Harris Rebuttal 1

Harris started off by saying “that was very interesting.” Fair enough.

Then he says, “Ask yourselves what is wrong with spending eternity in hell”. As he continued along this line of reasoning, I wrote “Harris is curiously arguing against hell…?”

Basically, rather than trying to defend his view whatsoever from Craig’s lucid attacks, Harris turned to the problem of evil. It was here that any doubt in my mind about this debate faded away. Harris made no attempt to defend his position, but rather argued that we have no way to know that Islam is not the true religion, on Craig’s argument, and that the God of the Old Testament is evil. In other words, he abandoned the attempt to defend his position immediately upon the gaping holes Craig’s rebuttal blew through it.

He also seems to have missed Craig’s point that God is essentially good and instead argues against a straw man by asserting that God is not bound by duties, which Craig had already explicitly denied. Then Harris made some offhand remark about psycopathy and religion. He says that he can’t think of a less moral framework than that of the God of the Old Testament.

Craig Rebuttal 2

Craig starts his response by saying, “The less moral framework is atheism!” because it is “not a framework!” Craig seems as baffled as I am that Harris didn’t actually respond to any argument he had leveled against Harris’ “landscape.” Further, he points out that Harris is resorting to red herrings–Sam is trying to derail the debate into a discussion of the problem of evil and Old Testament ethics rather than a debate about whether atheism or theism can better ground objective morality.

Further, Craig notes Harris is totally wrong when he argues the goal of theism is to avoid hell. Rather, theism worships God because He, as the greatest possible being and source of our existence, etc., etc. is worthy of worship, not because of the desire to avoid hell. That is a simple misrepresentation of theism!

Interestingly, Craig also notes that all theists can utilize his contention I, whether they be Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian (etc.). Remember this.

Harris Rebuttal 2

Harris finally attempts to defend his position by saying his position is defended because we “need only assume that the worst possible suffering” for every conscious being would be an objectively bad state of affairs. He says “My argument entails that we can speak objectively about a certain class of subjective facts” namely, moral values. So basically, his argument boils down to “Just believe that x is objectively bad, and my view works!”

Unfortunately, Harris once more gets sidetracked in trying to argue against the existence of God by asserting that the pluralistic nature of religions experience disproves religions. As I’ve noted elsewhere, a mere plurality of opinions does not entail the falsity of all.

Craig Closing Statement

Craig notes that God is the greatest conceivable being, so to ask “Why should we think God is good?” is like asking “Why are bachelors unmarried?”

Further, he points out that Harris has yet to answer the schoolyard question, “Why?” Why, on atheism, should we think that the worst possible state of affairs is objectively bad? We might not like it, but that doesn’t ground it objectively.He closes by saying “All together now, ‘says who?'”

Harris Closing

Again, Harris leads with an argument from religious diversity. He also complains that Craig’s argument for a theistic ground of morality could equally be used by the Muslim, which is exactly correct. Craig said earlier that any theist could ground their morality on God.

Finally, Harris notes that just as we aren’t losing any sleep over the fact that Muslims think we (Christians) are going to hell, he isn’t losing any sleep over Christians thinking he is going to hell. But what kind of argument is this? Someone is unconcerned about a rival hypothesis, so we should think the rival is false? I mean, I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that Harris thinks the basis of my religion is psychosis, because I think it is ridiculous!

Q and A

I simply can’t ignore the Q and A from this one. Some of the questions were just silly, but the two that struck me were both asked of Harris. The first question was from someone who basically asked “If a God were proposed that would meet your [Harris’] definitions of objective morality, would you grant that he could ground morality?” Harris answered very well by saying yes, but then there would be no reason to propose God as the grounds for the morality, for one would have to grant Harris’ account worked.

The second question was the kicker. The person asked, basically “You base objective morality on the an assumption that the worse possible world is bad, why think that is not subjective [based upon an arbitrary assumption]?” Harris answered the only way he could. He said we have to take it as axiomatic that it is objectively bad.

So basically, Harris admits that on his view, we must simply have faith that some things are objectively bad and that the well-being of conscious creatures is objectively good. We must simply assume that something is true, and that is to be our grounds for belief. As Harris put it, it is axiomatic, so it doesn’t have to be justified. On such an account, then, belief in objective morals is, on atheism, a leap of faith–an ungrounded, unjustified (epistemically) leap. I’ll have to be forgiven for thinking Harris failed to adequately defend his position.

Overall, I’d say Harris seemed to fare better than Lawrence Krauss in his debate with Craig (my analysis here), but upon thinking about it, I think Harris may have done far worse. The bottom line is Harris lined up atheism’s best attempt to ground objective morality like a house made of building blocks. Craig came along and knocked them over. Then he laughed.



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. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sam Harris on Morality, Again. Ugh.

I noticed Sam Harris had a new book out. He’s still trying to make that argument that science can somehow determine objective morality. Ugh. I’ve already talked about his ideas here. I found this site (and some of its own links to other pages) fairly interesting. It seems as though we can decide what objective morality is, according to Sam Harris.

Maryann Spikes, of the San Francisco Apologetics Examiner, wrote, “In answer to the question, ‘Who decides what is a successful life?’ Harris proclaims, ‘The answer is:  ‘we do.”  In other words, Harris says we determine objective morality, but this is a contradiction, because objective morality, if it exists, is discovered–not created.”

Unfortunately, it seems he has no idea what “objective” means in that case. Anyway, check out the comments here.

Problems With Evolutionary Morality

Recently, i discussed the problems atheism has with establishing a base for moral discussions (see here). Now it is time to delve into the problems with one of the most commonly used ethical theories of non-theists–evolutionary morality (or, to use a phrase coined by Koukl, “monkey morality”).

Evolutionary Morality generally argues that our moral beliefs arose by some kind of naturally-selected process. Notably, ethical judgments which benefited the survival of the species tended to be favored (thus, murder was frowned upon), while those judgments which prevented the spread of one’s genes tended to be disfavored (hence the reason rape is not permitted, for now it makes one stigmatized socially, thus leading to difficulties propagating genes).

Without much further ado, I find numerous problems with this ethical theory. Here, I shall present only a few.

1) How can we get an “ought” from matter in motion? Ultimately, evolutionary moralists assert that all there is in the universe is the physical realm. As such, a “person” is reducible to matter in motion. But then how exactly is it that there can be a moral “ought” if everything is matter in motion. Evolutionary morality reduces ethical decisions to the point of being mere wishes at best. There is no “ought” or “should” in evolutionary morality, for there cannot be. Ought’s can only be issued from sources to which one has obligations. It is hard to see how a person owes obligation to one’s species or matter.

2) Evolutionary Morality assumes that what is best for a being is the survival of the species. How is it that we can say what is best for an individual being is to insure survival of the species? What is it that makes it “good” or “right” to propagate genes? Furthermore, what if an individual does not wish to help insure survival of his/her species. Suppose there is a species of sentient beings, the Plargons, who are in all ways horrible. They travel the galaxies, taking over lush worlds, burning them to the ground and using every available resource until it is depleted, and then move to the next planet. Suppose now that Judy, a Plargon woman, decides it would be better for her species to be eradicated from the galaxy, for they are without capacity for reform. She therefore manages to destroy all other Plargons, and then retires to a corner of the galaxy alone until she dies, exterminating the Plargon race. Would this be a good or bad thing? Such a hard question should take much consideration from any thinking person, but evolutionary morality circumvents the hard question and simply delcares that Judy has done the greatest evil imaginable, for she has gone against the survival of her own species.

3) Evolutionary Morality assumes that all beings “should” desire the continuity of the species, yet this assumes a higher morality. Again, what makes it “good” or “right” to do things for the survival of our species. Humanism suffers from this glaring problem. It’s all well and good to say that what is good for humanity is what we should strive for. But whence does this “should” come?

4) Evolutionary Morality destroys altruism. Altruism, on evolutionary morality, is generally stupid. For to sacrifice oneself to save another (or several others) is to destroy one’s own place in the gene pool, thus eradicating one’s very reason for existence. Yet it seems intuitively as though altruism is a great good. Evolutionary morality therefore goes against our common sense notions of morality.

5) Evolutionary Morality is arbitrary. That which is good for the species may change over time. Recall the case of rape. I have heard it said that at one time rape was considered “okay” or “good” because it was one way to ensure the survival of the human race. Now, however, due to societal constraints, rape is “bad” or at least “stigmatized” and therefore is viewed negatively. But it seems intuitively that rape is a great horror, no matter what the circumstances! This is another case of Evolutionary Morality violating our moral senses. Furthermore, suppose the nuclear apocalypse happens, leaving only a few hundred humans alive. Evolutionary Morality could allow for rape to once more be a great good, for after all, we would need to repopulate the earth! Why should the feelings of some women or men get in the way of the survival of the species!? Again, the bankruptcy of Evolutionary Morality shines through.

It seems to me that the problems with moral systems which do not include God are endless. Without a lawgiver, anything can be right. Without a lawgiver, there are no “oughts”. Morality therefore dies.


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.

Sam Harris on Morality: A Critique

I watched a video of Sam Harris talking about morality in February this year (here) and was quite interested in what he had to say on morality.

I was excited to see what  Sam Harris had to say. He is one of the so-called “New Atheists”, and thus I expect him to be on the absolute cutting edge of the philosophical debate between theism and atheism. My excitement built because the video was called “Science Can Answer Moral Questions.” I think there are insurmountable problems with such a claim, but this video claims Sam Harris answers this very question.

After some initial comments in which Harris remarked that people often think science doesn’t have much to say about values, Harris did not wait very long to show how it is that science can indeed interact with values and morality. He states, “Values are a certain kind of fact [sic]; they are facts about the well-being of conscious creatures.”

This is literally his argument. I’ve watched the  video twice, trying to see if I missed anything, but I haven’t. This is what he says “Values are… fact[s]…”

I read the comments underneath and I noted that one commenter said “I do not see how the speaker used science to understand morality.” The next commenter replied, “I agree that his current argument is unscientific, and that his examples were somewhat extreme and not well presented.” Okay, so I don’t think I missed anything.

One commenter did say that Harris made (sort of) the following argument:

“-science can tell us what makes people happy
“-a moral decision will increase happiness
“-therefore, we can use science to determine if a decision is good or not”

Now obviously these comments are not authoritative on what Harris was saying, but from this video I see no actual argument. Harris managed to prove nothing. What does it mean to say a moral value is a fact? This is something that most (I’d say all, but there are always exceptions) theists would absolutely agree with. Moral values are facts. So what?

How is it that suddenly declaring moral values facts means that science can now discover moral values? It seems to me as though this is impossible. Construct an empirical test that demonstrates “Rape is wrong” or “Murdering people for one’s own pleasure is wrong.” It seems to me as though this cannot be done. Perhaps the one comment did make some headway, however. On atheistic naturalistic science, consciousness is reducible to brain states. These can be detected by science. Throw in the assumption that what makes people feel good is right and what makes them feel bad is wrong, and we now have a way to determine objective morality!

Well, not so much. One immediate objection is that murder or rape, it could be argued, make the perpetrators quite happy. Who decides which happiness trumps which happiness? Is it a group effort? Gather enough test subjects around when a murder happens, measure their brain waves to determine how many people are happy or sad, check off a box “right” or “wrong” depending on the happiness levels. Repeat as many times as needed for empirical validation, and now we have an objective moral values? I think this view is utterly bankrupt. How can we determine morality by mob?

Not only that, but isn’t it possible that at different time periods in history (or the future) such measurements would come up differently? Suppose that in the future the majority of people believe murder is a happy thing, or at least it is acceptable. Well, on this same test, there would be completely different results. Suddenly, objective morality has changed its mind!

There are other problems, however. How exactly can a moral value even be testable. We can do as above and simply measure happiness in various moral situations, but that doesn’t do anything to test the moral value itself. Instead, it tests how people feel about the moral value. How do we test the value with science? I don’t see any possible way to do so.

One final problem is that Harris, on this argument, seems to take what is “right” to be what people like. This is a huge assumption. How fortuitous it would be that naturalistic evolution managed to line us up exactly with the self-existent moral values such that we would like what is “right”! No, the problem with this is that equating “right” with “pleasure” allows for things like the Nazis. Get enough people who take pleasure in exterminating a populace that is a huge minority, and you have suddenly changed “objective” “right” to be exterminating that populace. Say there are 1,000,000,000 people who each get +1 happiness to exterminate a population of 10 people, who would each get -100 happiness (the maximum!) for being exterminated. Clearly, +1,000,000,000 is better than -100. But is it objectively right to say that exterminating people for +1 happiness is right?

Speaking of the well being of children, Harris says: “Is there any doubt that this question has an answer and that it matters?” Indeed not. I am absolutely astounded that someone like Sam Harris seems to be arguing that there are objective moral values. He has nothing on which he can base them. Dawkins states that “there is at bottom no… evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” In contrast, Harris states that moral values are fact! But he has no grounds to do so. Science cannot show objective morality. It can show the feelings of individuals. These feelings are not objective.

At best, all the atheist can do is distill the feelings of the mob into a general recommendation for morality one way or another. I’m not saying atheists cannot be moral people (indeed, I think often many atheists are extremely moral individuals, with much to commend them in this regard), rather, I would argue that atheists have no basis for their morality. Such morality can be based on the feelings of the majority, but it can never be stated that these are objectively right or wrong.

It is telling, further, that someone like Harris admits that there are indeed objective values such as right and wrong. It is quite unfortunate, however, to have to watch him fumbling to try to explain them. The atheistic universe is exactly as Dawkins portrays it, “there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Thankfully, theists have something on which to base objective morality: God. The universe, on theism, has such things as objective moral values, it has design, it has purpose, it has good and evil, and instead of blind, pitiless indifference, it has a God who cares specifically about each creature in this universe.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from cited material which is the property of its respective owner[s]) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Abortion: The Holocaust of our Day

Abortion is an issue that goes beyond faith and into simple ethics and morality. Note that these arguments can also be used in a debate with a Christian.

Arguments against abortion must be divided into two categories to insure usefulness in discussion.

The first category is made up of arguments that can be used against abortion with the non-believer.

The second category consists of arguments that can be used against abortion with the Christian. These include Biblical proofs that non-believers would not find convincing, but the believer must accept and submit to.

Arguments against abortion used when talking to non-believers include:

1. An unborn child is clearly a human

2. An unborn child must be defined as a “person,” for there is no clear line where personhood begins

3. Abortion leads logically to infanticide and beyond

4. Although abortion is seen as for women’s rights, it actually (ironically) is destroying women.

Arguments against abortion from a believer’s perspective:

1. Biblical Passages

2. Appeal to Christian Authorities

Before we delve more deeply into the arguments against abortion, let us observe some facts about abortion. In the United States, approximately one in every four pregnancies ends in an abortion (Feinberg, 47). Abortion is often seen as a method of birth control (47). Estimates in developing countries alone state that thirty million to forty-five million women have abortions every year. 125,000 to 250,000 of these women die from botched procedures (48). This is unacceptable. It is the holocaust of our time. Now, some facts of human development. Only 18 days into pregnancy, the baby’s heart is forming. 20 days into the pregnancy, the groundwork of the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord is being laid. 43 days into pregnancy, the baby’s brain waves can be recorded (Feinberg, 54). That’s less than a month and a half. Can the baby feel pain? Is abortion really a simple procedure that does no harm to the fetus [note that the use of the word fetus is often used to dehumanize the subject, which again brings painful memories of the holocaust to mind]?

The conditions necessary for pain are known to exist in the fetus. These are “1) functioning neurological structures to sense pain; 2) overt behavior expressive of pain; and 3) a cause for pain [abortion] (Feinberg, 55).” Tests have been done that show a child in utero feels pain when pricked by a needle. “Contrary to what proponents of abortion claim, when a mother aborts her baby, most likely the baby feels pain (56).”

Now the arguments against abortion shall be explored in greater detail. The fundamental issue at hand is whether or not the fetus is a human. However, once the pro-choice individual has been persuaded of the fact that the fetus is a human [which we will find out shortly is much easier to prove than one might think], he/she often falls back on the term “personhood.” If the fetus is not a “person,” then it doesn’t have the rights that we “persons” have. These points must be made perfectly clear in order to overcome the evil of abortion.

It should first be noted that the idea of the fetus not being human is quite ridiculous upon examination. The fertilized egg is not going to develop into a bird, a fish, or a railroad train. The only natural possibility this fertilized egg has as it grows is to become a human. This alone is enough evidence to show that the fetus is human, just an undeveloped one. But we must also delve into the scientific aspects here. Norman Ford states that “The union of male and female chromosomes at syngamy [fertilization] ‘gives rise to a single cell with a set of twenty-three pairs of maternal and paternal chromosomes into one genetically new individual cell.’ This process is completed approximately twenty-four hours after fertilization, and yields a cell that is ready to replicate itself (Feinberg, 57).” Thus, it is clear that this zygote is human in nature. Further, before these first 24 hours, there is no way for the fertilized egg to become anything else. Thus, throughout the entirety of pregnancy, a human life is indeed present. The question must then turn to whether or not this human is indeed a “person” with the rights granted to those who have “achieved” personhood.

First, note that the fetus within the mother is an independent organism. This directly refutes the biological view of personhood. The fetus is genetically unique from its mother (Craig, 116). Yes, it lives within its mother, but it is not indeed a vestigial organ or part of its mother. No one can accurately claim that a fetus is the same genetically as its mother (Feinberg, 61). Second, one view of pro-choice advocates is that personhood is something that a fetus only has potential for, it is not indeed a person yet. The most obvious problem with this view is that it begs the question of “What is the definition of a person?” What must one “achieve” in order to be a person? This makes the definition wholly subjective.

A pro-choice party may choose to define personhood to exclude unborn children, but a pro-life party would obviously define it as the opposite. This argument is subjective and cannot be used as grounds to destroy human life. Indeed, it leads to a horrifying slippery slope where personhood could be defined by the majority to destroy the minority—targets could include race, age, etc. Indeed, one of the definitions often used by pro-choice parties includes the “ability to interact with the environment in a meaningful way.” This would then mean that the severely mentally handicapped, babies, and even Joe Shmoe while he is asleep (and therefore unable to interact with the environment in a meaningful way), are not persons. One could kill any of these without any moral repercussions. Personhood is not something that should be determined by a subjective definition.

Thus we see that neither the biological nor the sociological view of personhood can suffice. Neither is a basis upon which one can rationally make a moral judgment. Further, where could one draw the line between person and non-person? A life is a smooth process that, if uninterrupted by unnatural means, will lead to a natural death. The development hypothesis used by those who are pro-choice when determining personhood could be applied at any stage along the path of life (Craig, 116). Infants are clearly not fully developed “persons.” Neither are adolescents or late teenagers. Is 30 years a good point to draw the line where a human has finally earned personhood? What about 50? Should any line like this really be arbitrarily drawn? In the same way, should the line be drawn simply because we cannot see the life?

A baby is clearly going to result from the pregnancy [this is obvious, given that this is the reason abortions are performed]. But if we choose to arbitrarily cut off life at 6 months into development, who says we can’t expand that into infanthood or childhood? How does expulsion through the birth canal magically transform an inhuman, impersonal fetus into a human person (Craig, 119)? There is no clear stage where a human immediately gains personhood, unless one accepts the proposal that each human life is a person.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing and ironic topics in abortion is the fact that with all their gusto to defend the rights of women, pro-choice individuals have contributed to the destruction of females around the world. It was previously stated that abortions in developing nations account for 125,000 to 250,000 deaths of women because of botched pregnancies. Further, in places like India and China where it is preferable to a family to have a male child than a female one, abortion is often used to control the gender of the child. This has lead to an ominous massacre of females across the globe. There is no feasible way that one could argue for women’s rights in order to advocate abortion when it [abortion] is used to destroy the rights for a woman to life.

Finally, there are arguments from a believer’s perspective. The most obvious argument against abortion for the Christian is to cite the Bible. No, there is no verse that states explicitly that one should not have an abortion, but the commandment “Thou shall not murder” combined with other verses leads to undeniable evidence against abortion. Psalm 139:13ff (ESV) “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” The Christian can’t possibly argue against this with any validity. The most telling verse here is verse 16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Or, if one prefers NIV, “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”God has plans laid out for our lives before we even came into existence. God clearly sees unborn life as having worth. Not only that, but He makes plans for each and every one of us before we are even in existence. There is no way for a believer to wriggle around that.

Another passage that can be offered in support is also from Psalms (51:5): “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” How can something that is not a human person be sinful? One cannot be sinful if one doesn’t exist.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of abortion, “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder (Bonhoeffer, 174).”

Finally, we must examine a Bible passage that pro-choice Christians often use to attempt to back up their pro-choice stance, Exodus 21:22-25. “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Some believers use this passage to state that it shows the unborn fetus has a lesser status of personhood. They state that verse 22 shows that though the woman loses the child, she sustains no injury, and the penalty is but a fine. They say that this, then, shows that the fetus does not demand the same repercussions as hurting a fellow human (Feinberg 63). There are several problems with this interpretation, however. First, it must be stated that even if one is to concede this interpretation [which is incorrect], it does not authorize abortion. The baby is not intentionally harmed in any manner, but only unintentionally hurt. Second, just the fact that there is a penalty shows that there is wrongdoing here. If the fetus something that may be discarded at will, why is there even a fine for its destruction? Third, the reason the fetus’ death does not require the death penalty is in keeping with the Mosaic exception to the death penalty in cases of accidental death (Exodus 21:13-14, 20-21, Numbers 35:10-34, Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Thus, the fact that there is “merely” a fine does not show that the fetus is less valued. Finally, it absolutely must be noted that Exodus 21 states various penalties for the killing of individuals that cannot be explained away with personhood. For example, verses 20-21 show that one who kills a slave unintentionally has no penalty. No one could argue that the slave is not a “person” (Feinberg, 64).

Further, the correct interpretation of this passage must be seen as the woman giving premature live birth, not a miscarriage. Thus, the implication is quite clear. If the mother gives a premature live birth because of the fight, there is merely a fine (despite no serious injury to anyone), but if either the mother or the fetus is injured, the law of retaliation (eye for an eye) is invoked. Thus, if the fetus is killed, the man causing harm is to be killed. This is remarkable, because it is the only place in Scripture where death is required for accidental homicide. It shows the extreme value placed on the life of the fetus (Feinberg, 65). This interpretation is based on the Hebrew verbs and nouns used in this passage, but that would be tedious to explain here. For further exploration, note the citation.

From this discussion, it can be clear that there is no ground upon which the pro-choice individual can stand.He or she must concede that 1) the fetus is human, 2) the fetus is a person, 3) persons have intrinsic value, and 4) killing a person is murder.

The believer must stand on even shiftier sands, forced to grasp at straws in the face of Biblical and philosophical arguments against abortion. We must pray that God would use His power to overcome the evils of our time. We must pray that God will use us to fight against this atrocity. When we stand at the throne of Christ on judgment day, having fought for the lives of the unborn, those children we did not know and that “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).’”


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York. Touchstone,1995.

Craig, William Lane. Hard Questions, Real Answers. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.

Feinberg, John. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993.

The arguments contained in this post were derived heavily from the sources cited. Of particular help was Feinberg’s Ethics for a Brave New World.

The Suffering God: Christianity, Evil, and God

Christianity is confronted with many questions in this era.

What is it that makes Christianity different?

Aren’t all religions the same?

Are not all the gods people worship really just the same god?

I (and many before me) suggest, however, that there is an answer to all of these questions. One of my professors, the Reverend Dr. Richard J. Shuta, told a story in our class. He was on the way back home, waiting for a cab. A man was waiting with him. Rev. Dr. Shuta is a theologian, and the man, who would be travelling in the cab with him, was a professor of philosophy. The man cut to the chaise and said, “I have just one question. If I stand on a street corner and I see a church, a mosque, a hindu temple, a buddhist temple, etc… why should I enter the church instead of any other?”

Dr. Shuta’s answer was simple, but profound. “Suffering.”

It is remarkable, in my opinion, that suffering, which is often used as a weapon against theism (see my post on this topic), can be such a remarkable explanatory tool for Christianity. For it is suffering itself which sets Christianity apart.

If a list of all the things that united all humanity were compiled, I am sure that suffering would be near the top of the list. Suffering is something each and every individual experiences on some level. It is how we make sense of this suffering that is different.

The God of Christianity understands this universal concept. The God Christianity worships is symbolized by a Cross, the image of suffering. Other religions demand that humanity approaches god. They demand that humanity make oneself better, purify oneself, become nothing, etc. Christianity has God do it for us. God came to us, God suffered, God took the burden on Himself so we may live in eternity.

The Suffering God is the God of Christianity. The Loving God is the God of Christianity. What is it that makes Christianity different? The God of Christianity knows pain, and understands it, and experienced it.

Again, it is the Cross that defines Christianity. What do Christians believe? Christ crucified for all.

Ravi Zacharias states, in Can Man Live Without God? “It is the cross that invites us to die to self that the life of Christ may live in us fully. Without the cross there is no glory in man. The difference between man-made utopias and a God-made heaven is the cross (178).” [Emphasis his]. It is the cross. It is this symbol of suffering Christ. The symbol of our Suffering God. Suffering unites humanity, and God knows this suffering intimately.

Modern theism, according to N.T. Wright, seems to tend towards Enlightenment Deism. I’d tend to agree. Even Christians tend to think of God as some far away being that “loves us” but doesn’t really interact with us. It’s a concept that must be abolished from Christianity, for our God is the God who is Here. Our God is Immanuel, literally “God with us.” This God of Christianity is the one which we have too often abandoned and modified with our philosophical meanderings, allowing worldly concepts to permeate a personal, truly loving God.

The Cross is suffering. The symbol with which we refer to Christ is a symbol of suffering. It is this idea that is vastly important when thinking of Christianity. Christianity acknowledges suffering. Its symbol is one of suffering. Christianity explains suffering in human terms, rather than reducing it to naturalistic accounts, trying to explain it away, and the like. Christianity realizes there is real suffering in the world, and worships the God who suffered Himself that we be reconciled to Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that great German pastor, martyred for his faith by Hitler, wrote in Ethics, “It is with the Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in His Church that justice, truth, humanity, and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary… (61).”

Christ’s suffering is our shelter.

I’d like to conclude that there is therefore a kind of argument because of evil, not a problem or argument of evil that can be presented in defense for Christianity, rather than as an offense against it. I haven’t fully developed this argument, so I don’t have a formal layout yet. Instead, I’ll present it in informal fashion:

There is a universal suffering which leads to a universal need for comfort. This universal need seems to imply that there is comfort to be had. There is, in fact, some comfort to be had. If there is comfort to be had, it further seems that this comfort must be, possibly, universal. Comfort can only be transferred on a personal, rather than an impersonal level. Thus, the universal comfort must interact on a personal level. A universal comforter that is personal tends to point towards theism rather than any other worldview.

This is only the bare-bones of an argument I’ve only recently started to develop, and I’d be happy to receive feedback, positive or negative.

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