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Thursday, November 22, 2007

God's Little Object Lessons

Within theistic worldviews, birth defects present a particularly troubling example of the Problem of Evil- the obvious question being, "if God is so loving, why would he cause children to be born physically deformed or developmentally disabled?"

John Wilson addresses this question, and points out that claiming these children to be the recipients of God's 'cruelty' or 'curse' is an insult to them and demonstrates ignorance of God's 'higher purpose.'

I don't think any parent of a disabled child would like the idea that their child is a curse to them. I'm sure there are difficulties but does that mean the child is useless? Does that mean that the parents can't learn anything from the child? Does the child not love?

...

This is another one of those arguments that is supposed to defend some people group from the likes of people who think God is loving. If I have a special needs child, the Lord would certainly be showing Grace by teaching me to love and be patient and understanding and allowing my heart to be changed to pour love on a child who, in the arms of some proponent of that argument, would apparently be hated.
The desire to see meaning and purpose in adverse circumstances is natural human psychology, and not something that I would normally take issue with. But John raises some interesting points that I think deserve robust commentary. Firstly, I would agree that no parent would want to see their child, no matter how disabled, as a 'curse' that exists for no other purpose than to demonstrate God's anger, and I would echo his sentiment that labeling such a child with that label is both dehumanizing and immoral.

The problem is that this is an explicitly Christian label, not one that stems from naturalism. The root of this can be found in Genesis 3, where Yahweh speaks curses into existence after he discovers that Adam and Eve have eaten from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Especially astute readers will note that only two curses are given in this passage: one to the serpent, and one to the soil. Neither Adam nor Eve are specifically 'cursed' by Yahweh, and in fact the only threat of death comes from Yahweh's removal of the two proto-humans from the Tree of Life, which it must be presumed could have sustained them otherwise. Later, as Jewish theology evolved, the concept that any physical disability or deformity was the province of Yahweh became more explicit:

Exodus 4: 'Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?'
Strangely enough, even though such physical handicaps were the result of Yahweh's whim, they were clearly negative attributes, and any person burdened with such a condition was prohibited from partaking in many sacred activities:

Leviticus 21: Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 'Speak to Aaron and say: "None of your descendants, for all time, may come forward to offer the food of his God if he has any infirmity, for non may come forward if he has an infirmity, be he blind or lame, disfigured or deformed, or with an injured foot or arm, a hunchback, someone with rickets or opthalmia or the scab or running sores, or a eunuch. No descendant of the priest Aaron may come forward to offer the food burnt for Yahweh if he has any infirmity; if he has an infirmity, he will not come forward to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, things especially holy and things holy, but he will not go near the curtain or approach the altar, since he has an infirmity and must not profane my holy things; for I, Yahweh, have sanctified them"'
More recent Jewish religious tradition reflected in the story of Job introduces the concept that not only is suffering and pain due to God's sovereignty, but it also reflects some kind of sin or impiety in the life of the person who receives it. As Job's friend Zophar tells him, in an effort to prompt confession and repentance:

Job 11: Come, reconsider your attitude, stretch out your hands towards him! If you repudiate the sin which you have doubtless committed and do not allow wickedness to live on in your tents, you will be able to raise an unsullied face, unwavering and free of fear, for you will forget about your misery, thinking of it only as a flood that passed long ago.
By the time of Paul the concept had progressed to the point where not only was the human condition the result of God's curse, and not only were physical hardships divinely mandated, and not only were they deserved as a response to sin, but in fact the continued existence of death and any suffering was directly due to the 'original sin,' which, though not literally supported, was at that point obscured by enough layers of tradition to be a plausible explanation when Paul needed a motivation for his casting of Jesus as the ultimate salvific agent:

Romans 5: Therefore, just as sin gained entry into the world through a single individual, with death arriving on sin's coat tails, death permeated all mankind since all sinned.
And thus, we can see that this concept, albeit perhaps not self-conscious of its own theological ontogeny, is thoroughly Christian in every way. Whether Christians like it or not, their own theology holds children with hydrocephalic skulls or spina bifida up as examples of the curse of God, leveled against mankind for the crime of eating a piece of fruit.

Lest I be accused of wrangling Christian theology without assessing the teachings of Jesus, his words in the Gospel of John are consistent with the preceding Jewish understanding, but plays down the causal impact of sin, instead introducing a novel spin on suffering as an opportunity for divine action:

John 9: And passing by, he noticed a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this poor wretch or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that the mighty works of God might be displayed through him."
And thus we reach the second point that John presents: that of handicapped or disabled children existing explicitly as educational tools, whether to demonstrate the power of God as with the blind man in John 9, or serving to bestow a lesson of Grace as John posits on his blog. While, as I said above, I can't find fault with parents wanting to find purpose in their child's misfortune, at the same time I can't help but see it as the most hollow purpose imaginable.

What this argument says, in essence, is that God purposefully gave these children malformed bodies in order to teach their parents a lesson. It may have been the case that the parents desperately needed such a lesson, and that their lives may be immensely improved because of their child's struggles, but I find it horribly immoral to cripple a person simply as an educational strategy. Surely we can expect that an all-good, all-powerful deity such as that posited by Christianity could come up with an alternative lesson plan for any subject that doesn't require causing babies pain.

Within my naturalistic worldview, of course, the idea that painful birth defects serve some divine purpose is absolutely nauseating. In my worldview, such events are what everyone recognizes them to be according to common sense: horrendous tragedies. This approach does not diminish the humanity of the afflicted, but provides a rational and visceral basis for human empathy, which is the very foundation of morality. We all may not be born with physical deformities, but we all come to know tragic circumstances throughout our lives, and approaching our fellow humans with real empathy is approaching them as equals, not embodied object lessons handed down from on high.

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33 Comments:

At 11/24/2007 1:21 PM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

I can make the Philosophical Problem of Evil tolerable. The Emotional Problem of Evil is intolerable. The former is that God may have good reasons for allowing evil. The latter is that it still hurts like hell!

I would personally rank the following atrocities in order:

1). Profound birth defects in babies.

2). People burned at the stake in the Middle ages often taking four days to die.

3). Some stroke victims being "body locked" - completely paralyzed but mentally aware.

These are not exhaustive, but represent some worst-case scenarios that plague mankind. It is not easy to resolve for the Christian.

First, I would offer that children, including those in the womb, who die go to be with God. There are at least six verses that support this. This does not mean we should kill our children to insure them heaven. God does not give that right.

Second, any character-building is a byproduct in the process of the defeat of evil. God is allowing the drama to play out and building love and character is a fringe benefit. Note that positive things can also build character so this is not the exclusive domain of tribulation.

Third, the extremities of the theocracy under Mosaic law showed there is little or no grace under law - even in regard to the handicapped. This pointed forward to the necessity of grace.

Fourth, Paul emphasizes an eternal perspective. He encourages that any trial endured cannot be compared with the eternal joy in God's presence. This does not negate tragedy but broadens its significance.

Dying from burns for four days in a time prior to morphine is horrible beyond belief. But four days, or four weeks, or four decades, is not even a grain of sand on a universal beach. (Discussion of Hell is for another day).

Now, knowing all this does little to aid the Emotional POE. That requires the comfort and love of friends.

 
At 11/24/2007 2:40 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Yea, too bad that Heaven and Hell are fairy tales designed to give you a reward that you can't complain about if you don't get it. Otherwise your comment might have made some sense (it would still be disgusting, but at least it would make some sense).

 
At 11/24/2007 3:50 PM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

Francois, it is rather simplistic to define heaven and hell as reward and punishment concocted to produce adherence. That is what your post unpacks to.

Heaven is a description of what man was originally destined for, i.e. union with one's creator. Hell is the forfeiture of that.

If you don't like the idea, then don't work for the betterment of society. Nor should you care whether justice prevails.

 
At 11/24/2007 4:24 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Exodus 4: 'Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?'

Who controls the British Crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
Yahweh, Yahweh.
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
Yahweh, Yahweh.
Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
Yahweh, Yahweh.
Who robs cave fish of their sight?
Who rigs every Oscar night?
Yahweh, Yahweh!

How does the ID crowd handle birth defects? If it's on purpose, that's not very intelligent, and if it's by mistake, that's not very intelligent either.

The Spina Bifida baby was particularly disturbing to me since I was born with a mild Scoliosis. A miss is as good as a mile in that case, but "OW!" just looking at it!

 
At 11/24/2007 4:39 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

kevin h:

"If you don't like the idea, then don't work for the betterment of society. Nor should you care whether justice prevails."

I have never understood this attitude, except from a standpoint of religious propaganda. To me, it makes as much sense as "If you don't want to walk to school (believe in the Creator/Happyland afterlife myth) don't carry your lunch (make the only life you believe in worth living from an ethical standpoint).

 
At 11/24/2007 9:17 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Heaven is a description of what man was originally destined for, i.e. union with one's creator. Hell is the forfeiture of that."

That's great, but it's all made up. Sorry.


"If you don't like the idea, then don't work for the betterment of society. Nor should you care whether justice prevails."

Why not? Give me one good reason.

 
At 11/24/2007 10:06 PM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

The question of God and evil is largely an internal (to theism) question. That God allowed evil is one thing, why is another question.

It is very telling that we all recognize evil. I take evil defined as a departure from the way things ought to be. That we all fight for the "betterment" of society indicates we know that.

Since things are not the way they ought to be, that indicates a design plan. We seem to know intuitively there is a designer.

I can't think of a reason why we should not fight for the betterment of mankind. But I also can't think of an objective standard for "better" and "best" apart from God.

Also, heaven and hell are certainly not far fetched in light of man's striving for utopia and disdain for dystopia.

 
At 11/24/2007 10:15 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"It is very telling that we all recognize evil. I take evil defined as a departure from the way things ought to be. That we all fight for the "betterment" of society indicates we know that."

Excellent! So you agree that anyone who has such a belief should want to better society. At least you're not a bigot.


"Since things are not the way they ought to be, that indicates a design plan. We seem to know intuitively there is a designer."

No, the betterment is based on our own values and the kind of society we want to live in. We are the designers.


"I can't think of a reason why we should not fight for the betterment of mankind."

Excellent, let's get going then!


"Also, heaven and hell are certainly not far fetched in light of man's striving for utopia and disdain for dystopia."

Heaven and Hell are fairy tales. So are utopias and dystopias. The only difference is that there is no possible way for Heaven and Hell to exist.

 
At 11/24/2007 11:52 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"Also, heaven and hell are certainly not far fetched in light of man's striving for utopia and disdain for dystopia."

As the real queen in the Space Child's MacBeth might say when asked about the play within the play,

"Methinks she doth extrapolate too much!"

"Ought" is either a very control-freak way of looking at things, or at least a very homocentric one. Is it possible that some "whys" exist only because they are a statistical possiblility, and therefore a statictical certainty for a measurable population? I have severely delusional friends that create their own reality. Is it possible that some of us strive so hard for meaning that we are painting our own picture, with the help of those who profit from telling us what we so desperately want to hear?

Why is "an objective standard" necessary to the equation?

How would you objectively determine one if it bit you on the ass?

Since it has, in effect, bitten you on the ass (you have been told god is a true paradigm by those that believe the veracity of their statement for much the same reason that you do - someone told them when they were too young to know better) how do you then evaluate that objectively? "If" God were a sock puppet for the ruling control-freak priest class in ancient society, it would make no difference to where the stake of rule-based moral conduct was put into the ground.

"Since things are not the way they ought to be, that indicates a design plan."

Who gets to decide? "One man's meat is another man's poison." Read Leviticus if you want a truly absurd interpretation of the way things "ought" to be.

 
At 11/25/2007 10:10 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

I meant "Hamlet" of course. I need more sleep apparently.

 
At 11/25/2007 3:20 PM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

"No, the betterment is based on our own values and the kind of society we want to live in. We are the designers."

KH> That falls prey to a host of problems. If there is no "best" then there is no way to guage "better". Your "betterment" is no better or worse than the Nazis idea of "betterment".

Values require something by which they are evaluated.


"Heaven and Hell are fairy tales. So are utopias and dystopias. The only difference is that there is no possible way for Heaven and Hell to exist."

KH> All utopian projects have failed. But I would sure like to see you demonstrate that heaven and hell are impossible.

 
At 11/25/2007 5:11 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"KH> That falls prey to a host of problems. If there is no "best" then there is no way to guage "better". Your "betterment" is no better or worse than the Nazis idea of "betterment"."

Thank you for the insult. Do you have any evidence to back it up, or were you shooting for a gratuitous Nazi reference just to be offensive?

Of course, you're a Christian, so I guess being offensive comes naturally to you...


"Values require something by which they are evaluated."

It's called rationality and reality. Look them up sometime when you're tired of reading fairy tales.


"KH> All utopian projects have failed. But I would sure like to see you demonstrate that heaven and hell are impossible."

Because they are the product of delusional minds who deeply desired for a better life after death, and "ultimate justice" for those who wronged them.

In reality, there is no supernatural dimension, and there's no god to create Heaven or Hell. They are fantasy lands, like Never Never Land, Mordor, or Nazareth circa 3BCE.

 
At 11/25/2007 6:31 PM, Blogger Alison declaimed...

Kevin's god is no better than a cruel predator that plays with its victims to prolong the pleasure of the hunt. His only defense against such a sickening cartoon-world is to cry nazi. The only thing that confuses me is why he wishes to go against the will of such a predator--unless his true motives are good--and that would be a futile fight against this unbeatable monster.

I choose a world with hope. There are no monsters, only terrors we are managing to overcome. Some are worse and harder to fight than others--one of the worst being the belief systems to which Kevin pretends to belong.

 
At 11/26/2007 10:03 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

When Francois rightly pointed out that our estimation of the progress of a society towards betterment is based on values, KH called this problematic and compared it to Nazism. It is good that he identifies himself as a foe of values in this manner, which is what I take him to be doing. I don't expect Christians to have a very good understanding of values, for their Jesus, as informed in the stories we find in the New Testament, never speaks of values. Instead, he speaks of duties: obligations we are commanded to fulfill regardless of their impact on our values. On the Christian view, values are valueless - something to be sacrificed. This is precisely what the gospel story of Jesus embracing a premature death on the cross models.

KH then issues a challenge: "I would sure like to see you demonstrate that heaven and hell are impossible."

It's not clear why he would like this, but it's this kind of "challenge" which tells us about the character of believers: they know that their heaven and hell are imaginary, and as such they are unreal. There is no need to prove that the unreal is unreal, just as there is no need to prove that the non-existent does not exist. If KH is so certain that heaven and hell exist, can he tell us where they are?

Alison rightly points out that, even on the Christian's own premises, his god's torturous schemes are purely for its own pleasure. Psalms 115:3 makes this unmistakably clear: "our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." Its "pleasure" is its only standard. According to Christianity, the only conclusion can be: we suffer for its god's pleasure, for it takes pleasure in what it has done. When the Nazis send Jews into furnaces, the Christian god is pleased. When tsunamis wash away seaside fishing villages, the Christian god is pleased. Can KH prove that his god is not pleased by these things, when the bible itself tells us that it has done what it is pleased to do?

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 11/26/2007 1:39 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Excellent and rigorous post as usual, Dawson.

 
At 11/27/2007 8:44 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

I think any critical reader will not construe my post as being insulting. "Betterment" assumes a "best" and values are the result of evaluation. I think our recognition of this shows there must be objective moral standards.

"Reason and rationality" are merely subjective if there are no objective standards. The butchers of the world have their reasons and rationale for what they do as well.

Moral duties and obligations do indeed press themselves upon us from outside us. And to say that Jesus only taught obligation is ignorant. He valued humility, children, integrity, peacemaking, faithfulness, wisdom, knowledge, fellowship, weddings, parables, and history, for starters. Only the most hard-hearted can demean Christ.

As to my challenge, it is one thing to discuss the evidence for heaven or hell, it is another to say they are impossible. That assertion caries a heavy burden of proof.

Finally, Psalm 115 is speaking of God's sovreignty, not necessarily what he approves. Jesus is the God who weeps over his city and friends.

 
At 11/27/2007 1:24 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

If your comments are not offensive, then why do you refuse to justify comparing me with the Nazis?


""Reason and rationality" are merely subjective if there are no objective standards."

So you admit Christians (such as yourself) can only have subjective rationality? What does that even mean?


"Only the most hard-hearted can demean Christ."

Christ was a faggot. Seriously.


"Jesus is the God who weeps over his city and friends.'"

How about he do something about it instead of weeping? He's OMNIPOTENT! Since when is Jesus prevented from doing things?

 
At 11/27/2007 5:17 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

KH: "Betterment" assumes a "best" and values are the result of evaluation. I think our recognition of this shows there must be objective moral standards.

Since the New Testament, which records what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus and provides the definitive statement of the Christian worldview, does not seem to speak directly about value theory, I really have no idea what a Christian today might mean when he uses the word ‘value’ to begin with. Also, since Christianity predominantly condemns selfishness, and I understand values to be supremely selfish (when rationally understood), it makes no sense to me when Christians speak of values. It’s like proclaiming the validity of plane geometry while repudiating basic arithmetic. Can you give a specifically Christian understanding of the concept ‘value’?

KH: "Reason and rationality" are merely subjective if there are no objective standards.

It is true that reason and rationality assume an objective standard. It is called the primacy of existence. It is this fundamental principle which religious worldviews (such as Christianity) deny, either overtly or implicitly. If your concern is for objective standards, I don’t see how you can endorse the religious view of the world, unless of course you don’t have a good understanding of the principle of objectivity. Christianity, for instance, teaches that the universe is the creation of a supernatural consciousness and that the objects within it conform to its will. You can’t get more subjective than this. I certainly don’t find any passages in the bible speaking about the principle of objectivity. Today’s apologists have borrowed this word and applied it without understanding its meaning.

KH: The butchers of the world have their reasons and rationale for what they do as well.

One thing that is common to “the butchers of the world” is their willingness to abrogate individual rights. But if one endorses a worldview which nowhere recognizes individual rights to begin with (such as the primitive desert religions we find today masquerading as bastions of high morality), it’s no surprise to me that “the butchers of the world” have always either hidden under the cloak of religion, or borrowed the essence of their worldview from the fundamentals of religion.

KH: Moral duties and obligations do indeed press themselves upon us from outside us.

There are no “duties” pressing down on me; any responsibility I accept, I do so voluntarily and according to my own judgment. Deities who resent this can go pound sand. I have known many people throughout my life who have told me that I have a duty to sacrifice myself, either to other human beings, or to some invisible magic being which would have no use for anything I could offer it in the first place. They can pound sand too. At any rate, I do not govern my choices and actions by appealing to “duties.” Instead, I guide my choices and actions by a rationally informed code of values. I really don’t see how anyone can rationally object to this. Do you?

KH: And to say that Jesus only taught obligation is ignorant. He valued humility, children, integrity, peacemaking, faithfulness, wisdom, knowledge, fellowship, weddings, parables, and history, for starters. Only the most hard-hearted can demean Christ.

In terms of the general type of 'morality' (to the extent that it could be called this) that we find in the New Testament, it is definitely deontological. It is informed by commandments which men are supposed to follow no matter what. It is not a values-based conception of morality; anyone who says it is does not know what a values-based conception of morality is. Many Christians erroneously assume that moral values presume the Christian worldview in some way. They're either ignorant or simply fooling themselves. To them I ask: where did Jesus speak of a theory of values? And how can an immortal, indestructible being which lacks nothing and faces no fundamental alternatives value anything to begin with? Again, we have another instance of a concept being used while ignoring or denying its genetic roots.

KH: As to my challenge, it is one thing to discuss the evidence for heaven or hell, it is another to say they are impossible. That assertion caries a heavy burden of proof.

What “evidence for heaven and hell” do you have in mind? Please, be specific here. As for proving that heaven and hell are impossible, this is a non-issue if there ever were one. If heaven and hell do not exist, that settles the matter once and for all. Besides, one can rationally measure the possibility of a claim only on the basis of an objective standard. That’s the primacy of existence. It allows no deities or magic kingdoms. Do we need to prove that Valhalla is “impossible”? Like heaven and hell, Valhalla is a fiction. Christians get the ideas of heaven and hell from a storybook whose content was informed by some very wild imaginations. If you think there’s actual evidence for the existence of either heaven or hell (or both), I would really like to know what it is (for amusement purposes, at least). Hopefully you know of something better than “It says so right here in the gospel of Matthew...” That would simply be pointing to the claim which needs defending.

KH: Finally, Psalm 115 is speaking of God's sovreignty, not necessarily what he approves.

Psalm 115:3 identifies the Christian god’s final standard: whatever happens to please it. Its pleasure is its only standard of judgment. What would compel a sovereign god to act against its pleasure?

KH: Jesus is the God who weeps over his city and friends.

If your Jesus is sovereign, and he can do whatsoever he pleases (as Psalms 115:3 clearly indicates), I don’t see why he would weep. Everything is his own doing. He created the earth and its inhabitants, according to Christianity. He governs all of history’s events according to his own plan. He “controls whatsoever comes to pass” according to Van Til (DoF, p. 160). If Jesus is weeping, he does so only because he wants to. But this only shows how incoherent the Christian god is to begin with.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 11/29/2007 8:40 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

Dawson,
As I said, values are the result of evaluation. Values tend to reflect one's priorities. Morally, that entails evaluation of what one ought to do. Christ set the priority as love of God first and love of others second. The former empowers the latter.

As to selfishness, there is the good and the bad kind. Christianity denounces the bad, i.e. the devotion to one's self to the exclusion of others, which amounts to loving things and using people rather than the reverse.

By objective moral values and duties I mean that they are true and binding on all persons despite what they believe about them. Applied Ethics studies how we often subjectively apply moral values.

For example, it is objectively wrong to physically torture babies merely for the pleasure of seeing them in pain. If you fail to see this, I am truly "casting my pearls before swine".

The atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said the person who says it is okay to rape little children is just as wrong as the person who says 2+2=5.

I see that you think individual rights ought not be abrogated. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to protect individual rights.

At any rate, I see that you have a thing for interacting with presups - and since I ain't one I doubt we would have a very interesting dialogue.

K

 
At 11/29/2007 8:53 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Kevin,

I was hoping (as I had asked) that you would give the Christian understanding of the concept 'value'. You haven't. You used the word a couple times, but you didn't give a definition, nor did you cite the biblical text.

As for selfishness, you wrote:

As to selfishness, there is the good and the bad kind. Christianity denounces the bad, i.e. the devotion to one's self to the exclusion of others, which amounts to loving things and using people rather than the reverse.

Would you say that it is wrong to seek benefit at the expense of another?

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 11/29/2007 9:20 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

"I was hoping (as I had asked) that you would give the Christian understanding of the concept 'value'. You haven't. You used the word a couple times, but you didn't give a definition, nor did you cite the biblical text".

KH> I tried, let me try again. Values are priorities which are determined (evaluated) in light of standards. Morally/relationally, Christ said the order was 1) Love God, 2) love others.

"Would you say that it is wrong to seek benefit at the expense of another?"

KH> To the extent that it demeans or otherwise unjustifiably harms another person, yes.

 
At 11/29/2007 3:41 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Values are priorities which are determined (evaluated) in light of standards. Morally/relationally, Christ said the order was 1) Love God, 2) love others."

So Christians are not supposed to eat, sleep, seek shelter, or pursue any other non-emotional values?

 
At 11/29/2007 5:16 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

KH: Values are priorities which are determined (evaluated) in light of standards. Morally/relationally, Christ said the order was 1) Love God, 2) love others.

Your god, if it were real, would be quite disappointed with me. I love my self first (for it is in my self that I live, move and have my being), and it is only in relation to my self that I can value anything. I notice that your response gives no indication as to why man might need values. But I can answer this from my position: man needs values because, as a biological organism, he faces a fundamental alternative: to live or die. Man's need for values, then, stems directly and fundamentally from his nature as a biological organism. That's why I value things like food, clothing, shelter from the elements, warmth in the winter time, watermelon in the summer, vitamin pills, dental care, virtually all the things I pay for. My actions in relation to what I consider values are consistent with my philosophy of values. I am the primary beneficiary of my own actions. I think everyone should be (rather than trying to benefit at the expense of others). I certainly do not act in order to serve an omnipotent, eternal being which lacks nothing; such a being would have no use for anything I could give it to begin with, so it would be utterly futile to try to. Such a being would have no capacity to value for it wouldn't face the fundamental alternative that values (or "priorities") assume. For instance, what would cause an omnipotent, eternal being which lacks nothing to hold preserving the earth a priority over destroying it? Whether the earth exists or not would be irrelevant to its existence. If the earth suddenly vanished, for instance, the omnipotent, eternal being which lacks nothing would be unmoved, unchanged, unaffected. This is part of the problem for theists who want to link morality to their god-belief: the god which they describe could have nothing to do with morality, because there is no relationship between the concept value and the notion of said god to begin with.

I asked: "Would you say that it is wrong to seek benefit at the expense of another?"

KH answered: To the extent that it demeans or otherwise unjustifiably harms another person, yes.

So, in your view, there are ways to benefit at the expense of others that do not demean or otherwise unjustifiably harm them? Also, would you say there are justifiable ways to harm another person? Does the bible give any principles guiding your understanding of this? For instance, the bible offers a lot of prohibitions. Does the bible anywhere prohibit the initiation of force, for instance?

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 11/29/2007 8:12 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

I think Kevin died because he forgot to value his own survival first... I guess we won't see him again!

 
At 11/29/2007 9:29 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Perhaps, like Muslim suicide bombers and Jesus - willingly embracing a premature death. It's so unnecessary, and always results in the destruction of values.

 
At 11/30/2007 8:37 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

Dawson, if Naturalism/atheism is true, then Darwinian evolution is indeed the best explanation for why people act morally. In that case, morality is an illusion - a development of survival mechanisms. Because, DE would only describe why people act a certain way, but it would not prescribe what we ought to do. Morality is prescriptive. You showed this yourself by saying:

"I think everyone should be (rather than trying to benefit at the expense of others)".

You're using a "moral should" (ought) here. You are prescribing what one ought to do.

But on your view, there are no prescriptions, only descriptions. So you are not consistent.

Why ought I care to preserve the herd? I might desire to kill the herd to get them out of my way! Why ought I obey my genetic proclivities? Why ought I obey one instinct over another? Again, positing that survival is desirable is just descriptive.

As to God's desires, you are correct to point out that God lacks nothing and therefore has no needs. But this does not mean that God cannot have desires on the basis of his creativity, freedom, and as an expression of his nature and will. Even in humanity, there is a distinction between needs and desires.

We should, as this point, just go to the comment section of Zach's video of William Lane Craig for the Moral Argument for God.

You said:

"So, in your view, there are ways to benefit at the expense of others that do not demean or otherwise unjustifiably harm them?

KH> Yes, of course! I am benefiting from you at the expense of your time and effort right now! And if you freely bought my lunch, I would benefit from that and the conversation I'm sure.


Also, would you say there are justifiable ways to harm another person?

KH> Yes. I would allow the doctor to plunge a sharp needle into my little girl in order to help her get well.

Does the bible give any principles guiding your understanding of this? For instance, the bible offers a lot of prohibitions. Does the bible anywhere prohibit the initiation of force, for instance?"

KH> Yes. For starters, check the Proverbs and the Sermon on the Mount.

 
At 11/30/2007 10:19 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

KH: Dawson, if Naturalism/atheism is true, then Darwinian evolution is indeed the best explanation for why people act morally.

Completely wrong. People act morally because they choose to. Evolution only explains the distribution of the various species. Evolution no longer applies to us. If a child is born with a cleft lip, for instance, we don’t just live with it; we fix it. If someone is born with Type I diabetes, we don’t just let this weakness kill him, we find ways to overcome it.

KH: In that case, morality is an illusion - a development of survival mechanisms.

If morality is “a development of survival mechanisms,” how can you say in the same breath that “morality is an illusion”?

How about this: morality is a code of values which guides an individual’s choices and actions. What definition of morality to you propose in opposition to this? Come on, Kevin, state your terms.

KH: Because, DE would only describe why people act a certain way, but it would not prescribe what we ought to do.

But you already implicitly granted more than this by characterizing morality as “a development of survival mechanisms.” Essentially, you concede in this description that *if survival is the goal*, then certain actions which make survival possible are the proper actions to take. There’s your “should” right there. It’s not in the form of an invisible magic being issuing irrelevant commandments from the clouds, but it would be naïve to expect a non-theistic conception of morality to conceive as “shoulds” in such a manner.

KH: Morality is prescriptive. You showed this yourself by saying:

"I think everyone should be (rather than trying to benefit at the expense of others)".

KH: You're using a "moral should" (ought) here. You are prescribing what one ought to do. But on your view, there are no prescriptions, only descriptions. So you are not consistent.

You err by not knowing my position. Value is a type of fact. Because of this, there is no dichotomy between “is” and “ought.” So I am consistent with my position in using “moral shoulds”. Morality does in fact begin with certain identifications, such as: we face a fundamental alternative (live vs. death) and we have the capacity to choose between the two (I do this everyday; I suspect you do, too). Rational morality simply applies the principle of final causation to this fact which no human being can escape: if X is our goal, course of action Y is the proper action to achieve goal X. A rational morality trades in teleological imperatives (goal-oriented, values-based objectives), while a deontological conception of morality trades in categorical imperatives (e.g., commandments from invisible magic beings which are of no value to human beings to begin with). I suspect, Kevin, that you borrow from my goal-oriented, values-based conception of morality all the time, but you probably don’t realize it. It’s time to come out of the closet.

KH: Why ought I care to preserve the herd?

Who told you that you “ought... to preserve the herd”? I didn’t.

KH: I might desire to kill the herd to get them out of my way!

You might. But is merely desiring your ethical guide? I doubt it. It’s not mine, either. There's a fundamental distinction between desire and choice. I desire to stay home and write music on the piano everyday, but instead of this I choose to go to a boring day job. I caution you not to confuse desires with choices when trying to understand my position.

KH: Why ought I obey my genetic proclivities?

What “genetic proclivities,” and who said you “ought... [to] obey” them? I didn’t. Ask the person who told you this, not me.

KH: Why ought I obey one instinct over another?

What instincts? Who says you have instincts to begin with? I didn’t.

KH: Again, positing that survival is desirable is just descriptive.

Of course, I never said anything about mere “survival” either. I spoke about values. You seem not to have grasped this point. It’s crucial. It’s what morality is all about. You seem anxious to attribute to my view positions which I have not affirmed. Why not interact with what I have affirmed?

Moreover, if survival is one alternative as opposed to another (such as death), then we have the basis for prescription given a goal-oriented capacity for selecting between alternatives, which human beings in fact possess. Life is by nature goal-oriented, and it is because of this fact that purpose is concurrent with biology. A moral code which fails to integrate these facts would be unfit for human life.

KH: As to God's desires, you are correct to point out that God lacks nothing and therefore has no needs. But this does not mean that God cannot have desires on the basis of his creativity, freedom, and as an expression of his nature and will.

This is all incoherent, Kevin. Nothing you state here succeeds in reconciling the internal tensions that I have identified in religion's association of morality with its god. You use concepts without understanding their roots. This leads to the fallacy of the stolen concept. It’s all over the place in theism.

KH: Even in humanity, there is a distinction between needs and desires.

This only plays to my position. Remember how you equated values with priorities? Your god could have no objective basis for prioritizing one outcome as opposed to another. In fact, no outcomes would be needed to begin with, because it wouldn’t need one outcome as opposed to another. All it has are mere desires. It has already been established that its only guide to choices and actions would be its pleasure. And as I pointed out above, there is a fundamental distinction between desires and choices. Merely desiring something does not constitute a basis for moral values, Kevin. It would be profitable for you to begin to understand this.

I asked:

"So, in your view, there are ways to benefit at the expense of others that do not demean or otherwise unjustifiably harm them?"

KH> Yes, of course! I am benefiting from you at the expense of your time and effort right now!

Perhaps you’re unclear on the principle here, Kevin. My time and effort have been volunteered on my part; I engage this because I enjoy it. I'm getting out of it what I want out of it. You benefit, not at my expense, but because you choose to engage as well. See how this exemplifies my point? We’re both here for selfish reasons. I don’t need to sacrifice in order for you to gain; and you don't need me to sacrifice in order for you to gain. You gain at your own expense (e.g., your time, your effort), not from my losses. Consider the burglar breaking into someone’s house: he can only gain if his victim loses values. He seeks to gain at his victim’s expense. That’s not happening here. But would you say that’s moral – to seek to gain at someone else’s expense? Put it this way: do you think it’s ever morally justified to seek gain at the expense of another’s life?

KH: And if you freely bought my lunch, I would benefit from that and the conversation I'm sure.

If I bought your lunch, it would not be free. If I bought you lunch, you’d only be able to enjoy it under my terms (such as sitting there and eating it with me). Were you to abrogate those terms, I wouldn’t buy you lunch again. And I can assure you, you would benefit from conversation with me. Don’t you see how your stock objections above fell right on their face? You’re not used to dealing with someone like me.

I asked:

"Also, would you say there are justifiable ways to harm another person?"

KH: Yes. I would allow the doctor to plunge a sharp needle into my little girl in order to help her get well.

It’s bizarre to me that you would categorize this as an instance of harm. Harm is action against the welfare of an individual. When I had my knee surgery some dozen years ago, I never considered the procedure to be harmful in any way. It did result in some pain, swelling and tenderness for a few weeks, but that’s not harm. The procedure was in my interest, and my choice to undergo it was for purely selfish reasons (my torn meniscus was excruciatingly painful). And the doctor performing the surgery was not doing it at his own expense: although I benefited from his actions, his motivation was for his own profit. The efforts among rationally selfish individuals results in a win-win: we both come out ahead in the end.

But there are people who tell me that I am wrong to act for selfish reasons. Accordingly, they must mean that I should have foregone the surgery on my knee (they could have characterized it as “harm,” for instance), and should suffer with a painful knee that will never repair itself for the rest of my life. They could even say it this was “God’s desire” that I suffer in this manner (since its “desires” are thought to trump our needs anyway). With a theistic worldview, any scenario is plausible, for such a worldview elevates the wishes of an invisible magic being above the affairs of reality, even going so far as to say that the current state of affairs is as it is due to said invisible magic being’s wishes. It “controls whatsoever comes to pass” as Christians believe.

Now that I have awoken from the mystical stupor of my ignorant youth, it’s all most bizarre to me.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 12/01/2007 1:46 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Hey, I'd have lunch with Dawson too! In fact we should all have lunch with Dawson.

 
At 12/01/2007 8:05 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Thank you, Francois! I'll consider that an open invitation. The next time I'm in Montreal, we can definitely do lunch! I'm well overdue - haven't been there since '76!

 
At 12/01/2007 8:08 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Too bad I don't live in Montreal any more...

 
At 12/04/2007 8:39 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

KH: Dawson, if Naturalism/atheism is true, then Darwinian evolution is indeed the best explanation for why people act morally.

Completely wrong. People act morally because they choose to. Evolution only explains the distribution of the various species. Evolution no longer applies to us. If a child is born with a cleft lip, for instance, we don’t just live with it; we fix it. If someone is born with Type I diabetes, we don’t just let this weakness kill him, we find ways to overcome it.

KH> I think the original post deals mostly with the Problem of Evil yet we've gotten into the nature of moral values and duties.

Again, I suggest we go to Zach's video of William Lane Craig's lecture on the subject (which I introduce) and discuss there.

I will briefly address this:

"This is all incoherent, Kevin. Nothing you state here succeeds in reconciling the internal tensions that I have identified in religion's association of morality with its god. You use concepts without understanding their roots. This leads to the fallacy of the stolen concept. It’s all over the place in theism".

KH> In other words, many desires or expressions are from a position of strength and fulfillment - not weakness and neediness. Your accusation boils down to Euthyphro's Dilemma and we can take that to the Craig post.

K

 
At 12/05/2007 8:39 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

KH: I think the original post deals mostly with the Problem of Evil yet we've gotten into the nature of moral values and duties.

I don’t know how one can speak intelligently about moral issues like good and evil when they don’t have a good understanding of values. But I see Christians attempt this all the time.

I wrote: "This is all incoherent, Kevin. Nothing you state here succeeds in reconciling the internal tensions that I have identified in religion's association of morality with its god. You use concepts without understanding their roots. This leads to the fallacy of the stolen concept. It’s all over the place in theism".

KH: In other words, many desires or expressions are from a position of strength and fulfillment - not weakness and neediness.

It’s not clear to me what you’re trying to say here. Is this statement of yours supposed to be an interpretation of what I wrote?

KH: Your accusation boils down to Euthyphro's Dilemma...

No, it doesn’t. Re-read what I wrote. I was simply pointing out that an immortal, eternal and indestructible being which lacks nothing faces no fundamental alternative (as man does), and is thus irrelevant to any intelligent discussion of moral values. There’s no dilemma here, just a simple fact.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 12/08/2007 12:30 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Thank you all for another interesting and informative read. I have lost my taste for arguing with crazy (delusional) people, but it's nice to see that some have the patience that I lack.

It seems to me that those who buy into the religious/superstitious scam are so secure in their delusion that they are incapable of seeing the very contradictions that one would point out. Once one understands that gods are all make-believe, one begins to see that they are the ultimate sock puppets for the religious and political hierarchy. This is why immoral acts can be justified by a mouthful of rationalizations any time that it's convenient. How else do you explain the actions of supposedly moral, religious societies? Specifically, acts like the carnage of war, and the justification thereof, giving smallpox infested blankets to the Ottowa, and destroying less advanced societies in general to take what they had.

There is a fundamental problem with an allegedly moral society that derives its morals from a dictatorial source that is alleged to be outside the realm of basic and universally applied human values. Those that control said society by means of alleged derived authority take on the aspect of social alphas. They bluster, they attempt to dominate, and they ooze their own sense of entitlement. Their "morality" is conditional, and quickly devolves to any means being justified by their desired ends.

I think I disagree with Dawson about instincts. Any time one is discussing a construct such as religion which can be expressed in terms of crowd (or mob) psychology, or mass hypnosis, there is a basic instinct that is being played upon. The human race is composed of social animals. We learned early in our history that there is strength in numbers. The concepts of group obedience in religious congregations, and the constructs of heaven and hell are extensions of the innate racial fear of ostracism. Anyone who has experienced the inhibition against "speaking out of turn" while being squired through a religious ceremony has experienced this fear, without necessarily being aware of it.

 

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