Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Consolations

Jim Lazarus and I are having a discussion over a couple of objections to Christian theism.

Here is his reply to me:

http://consolatione.blogspot.com/2006/10/partial-response-to-steven-hays.html

I’ll confine myself to what I regard as the most important elements of his reply:

“Put in other way, the answer to the problem of suffering must accord with our ethical intuitions…I want to tie it in, however, with the earlier discussion about a sensible theodicy having to be in accord with our ethical intuitions.”

Several issues:

1.Let’s remember that the problem of evil is, at best, an indirect argument for the nonexistence of God.

The veracity of most existential propositions (i.e. factual claims) is irrespective of their moral consequences.

Stalin was evil, but he was a real person.

2.So we could have many lines of evidence for the existence of God. Even if we had no answer to the problem of evil, our ethical intuitions are not prescriptive for what is possible or actual.

3.So the atheological problem of evil is more complicated than that. It takes the form of a dilemma. Ultimately, it’s an internal critique.

4. I don’t know anything about Jim’s background, but he’s obviously a student of philosophy.

I agree with him that intuition can be a valid starting point. However, our intuitions must be scrutinized. Even if we begin with intuition, we don’t necessarily end there.

Some of our intuitions are culturally conditioned. Some of our intuitions are one-sided.

The plausibility of a moral intuition largely depends on the particular illustration.

Many moral intuitions are plausible only because they overlook certain counterexamples which are equally plausible.

As a student of philosophy, whether formally or informally, Jim is aware of the fact that ethics is one area in which we are often confronted with conflicting intuitions.

Victor Reppert recently came up with an illustration of what I mean:

***QUOTE***

God may have broadly similar obligations that humans have, but at the same time be in a different situation with respect to his knowledge of the consequences of what he does. If I am a doctor and a sick child is brought to me, I have an obligation to do what I can to get her better. However, if I had the knowledge of God, I might be in a position to conclude that I am morally obligated to let her die, because the consequences of making her well would be that her grandson would grow up to start a nuclear war and incinerate the human race. The ordinary human doctor and the doctor with God-like knowledge would be working from the same moral standard, but the doctor with the God-like knowledge would perform an act that looked bad but really saved the human race from incineration.

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2006/10/replies-to-comments-on-problem-of-evil.html

***END-QUOTE***

The unspoken assumption of Jim’s appeal to moral intuition is that if God had a good reason for allowing evil (or, as I’d put it, foreordaining the fall), then we would be privy to this purpose.

But is that a reasonable expectation? What is the supporting argument for that expectation?

Now, I happen to think that we can present a positive theodicy. But I’m also discussing the weaker thesis—as it relates to his above-stated objection.

Continuing:

***QUOTE***

Problem #1: Applications of Justice and Mercy

What are we saying when we say that God is just and merciful? Since justice and mercy can only apply as responses to the actions carried out by living beings, we must be referring to God's responses to the actions of people, and we are saying that his responses are always just and always merciful.

A problem then, is how suffering caused by natural evils can fit within the scope of this theodicy. We gain experiential knowledge of God's justice and mercy by his responses to our good and evil actions. However, natural disasters are not human good or evil actions. Their source is the natural environment, and not human volition.

At the same time, Hays might respond back that the occurrence of natural disasters is due to the Fall. However, Hays has already told us that the Fall was foreordained by God for the purposes of our discovering his just and merciful nature. Since we gain knowledge of this sort by his responses to us, and since it is hard to conceive how natural disasters could give us any experiential knowledge of God's justice and mercy (again, these are things that it seems we can recognize only by the way that God responds to our personal and/or collective actions or conduct), then it seems to follow that there is still evil in the world that remains unaccounted for given this theodicy. This is the case because God would seemingly have no reason to set up the Fall in such a way that it results in natural disasters. Since it does not seem to lead to discoveries about God's nature (our discoveries occurring in another way), God would not have brought it about that such things could happen.

***END-QUOTE***

Several issues here:

1.I don’t regard natural disasters as natural evils, per se. They are only evil in relation to the victim.

Natural disasters are actually natural goods inasmuch as they are various ways in which the ecosystem restores a natural imbalance. Natural disasters are not disastrous for the ecosystem. Not over the long haul.

Now, if I happen to be a victim of a natural disaster, then it’s evil to me. But that’s a relative evil rather than an absolute evil. I just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The primary function of natural disaster is not punitive in character. Although death by natural disaster may be an evil, it is generally an incidental consequence of a natural good.

Fire warms and fire burns. Too little or too much water is destructive, but the absence of water is also destructive.

2.Apropos (1), I also don’t assume that all natural disasters represent the judgment for God for the sin of any particular victim.

3.However, I do believe that, as a result of the fall, human beings are liable to natural disasters.

Although death by natural disaster does not necessarily, or even ordinarily, represent a one-to-one correspondence between the event and the sin of the victim, yet the fact that most victims are sinners (in the sense of actual sin) does remove an immunity to death by natural disaster to which they would otherwise be exempt in an unfallen world.

4.I’d add that even if we treat children as innocent, the parent is a sinner. And in cases where the event is punitive, the child cannot be altogether isolated from the actions of the parent.

To take a human example, if a parent commits murder, we can’t acquit the parent of murder for the sake of his dependents, even though they will suffer when justice is exacted upon the parent.

***QUOTE***

Problem #2: The Fall

Secondly, the sensibility of Hays's theodicy seems to depend on how he interprets the Fall. Does Hays view the Fall as a literal event as depicted in Genesis? If so, then historical research suggests to us that the Fall never occurred. If the Fall never occurred, then this is a problem that Hay's theodicy must overcome.

Hays may respond back, as some other Reformed theologians have done, and say that we can disregard historical research because these historians do not operate under the presumption that Christianity is true. However, it seems to me that this response is seriously inadequate. Unbiased historical research strongly suggests that a literal Fall and subsequent events found in a literal interpretation of Genesis did not occur. We're faced with the option that either we throw out history as a research enterprise, or we have to come up with an alternative understanding of the Fall in Genesis.

***END-QUOTE***

1.I assume that Jim is alluding to evolution. That is a separate dispute. There are many highly credentialed men and women in the field of science, mathematics, and philosophy who regard evolutionary theory as a blind alley.

2.I also don’t know what he means by “unbiased” historical research. No one is more biased than the likes of Dennett, Dawkins, or Lewontin—to name a few.

12 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. thegreatpumpkin10/19/2006 6:12 AM

    Steve,

    Regarding the last point:

    We can look at human history, without looking at biology, and conclude that the outline of a literal Genesis is false. The existence of civilizations and structures that would somehow pre-date the global flood (which supposedly rearranged global strata, but left structures and artefacts located in proximity to their civilizations), and are spread throughout the globe is a historical fact, not a biological one. The idea that people were spread only through the Persian area at the beginning of history, and then were spread via Babel, is completely contradicted by evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thegreatpumpkin said...
    Steve,

    Regarding the last point:

    We can look at human history, without looking at biology, and conclude that the outline of a literal Genesis is false. The existence of civilizations and structures that would somehow pre-date the global flood (which supposedly rearranged global strata, but left structures and artefacts located in proximity to their civilizations), and are spread throughout the globe is a historical fact, not a biological one. The idea that people were spread only through the Persian area at the beginning of history, and then were spread via Babel, is completely contradicted by evidence.

    ************************************

    A few brief points:

    1. What chronometric techniques do you rely on to date ANE civilization?

    2. The flood account is silent on the extent of human geographical distribution before the flood.

    3. You're relying on a specific model of flood geology.

    Up to a point there's nothing wrong with that, but any flood-geological model is going to be underdetermined by the rather scant literary clues in Genesis, and in my opinion, the more drastic models probably overinterpret the text.

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  4. thegreatpumpkin10/19/2006 12:43 PM

    Re: 1--

    Accepted standards in archeology and historical research.

    Re: 2--

    What technological inventions could have allowed ANE peoples to reach the New World before the flood? How could they have developed complex civilizations within the time frame we're discussing?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I know!!! I know!!!

    there was an angel with a big flaming sword standing watch over a magical garden, and then a big tower to the sky that upset God, and then, BAM!!!

    People all over the frickin' place.

    Case closed.

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  6. Oh dear. I think someone left Sunday school too early (KJV1611).

    Oh, and Pumpkin-features, I suspect the technological invention in question was called a boat. You know, big thing with oars and sails. Floats.

    As for complex civilisations, I'd note that a few Europeans haven't done too badly in less than half a millenium.

    ReplyDelete
  7. :::YAWN!!!:::

    Steve...my fine feathered friend....you're killing me here.

    Every time I check out your articles, its like I'm taking the off ramp to "Boring City."

    I must be a glutton...

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's a wonder why "yawn-boy" finds so much satisfaction in, what is to him, self-torture.

    I'm sure there is a ten-letter psychological name for this.

    But I just like to call it truth-suppressing unbelief.

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  9. Evan, there's a shorter word for it. Idiocy.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Says the pot to the kettle...

    Talking plants and donkeys!

    Magic gardens!

    People transforming into SALT!

    Fascinating tales of events that REALLY HAPPENED!

    ReplyDelete
  11. thegreatpumpkin said:
    Re: 1--

    Accepted standards in archeology and historical research.

    Re: 2--

    What technological inventions could have allowed ANE peoples to reach the New World before the flood? How could they have developed complex civilizations within the time frame we're discussing?

    ***********************

    Hiraeth has already beaten me to the punch on #2.

    Re #1, I've already posted a fair amount about chronometry from time to time (pardon the pun), so I don't plan to go over the same ground right at the moment unless you have a challenge to what I've already said on the subject.

    ReplyDelete
  12. KJV 1611,

    You said,

    "Says the pot to the kettle...

    Talking plants and donkeys!

    Magic gardens!

    People transforming into SALT!

    Fascinating tales of events that REALLY HAPPENED!"


    My reply:

    No, apes transforming into people, non-life turning into life, non-intelligent turning into the intelligent, cell-dividing turning into the copulating, selfish turning into the altruistic, and two-way reptillian lungs becoming one-way avian lungs is what REALLY HAPPENED.

    We'll beat you all day long with this kind of stuff, you alchemist! Led into gold, hip hip, hurray!

    ReplyDelete