Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Former Fundy's latest failure

According to Ken Pulliam:

“A certain blogger, in an attempt to defend the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement, has sought to justify God's punishment of the innocent with the following two arguments.”

Of course, that’s a prejudicial way of framing the issue. “Innocent” in what sense?

“What is wrong with this argument? There is a logical distinction between suffering as a consequence (or ‘collateral damage’) and being singled out specifically for ‘punishment.’”

i) The “logical” distinction is morally irrelevant to the issue at hand, for the core objection to penal substitution is that the condemned party did nothing to deserve this treatment. Whether you call that treatment “punishment” or “collateral damage” does nothing to differentiate the underlying principle, for in both cases the party is not receiving his just deserts. Unmerited suffering raises the same moral or theodicean issue as unmerited punishment.

ii) Moreover, it’s artificial to distinguish between “punishment” and “consequences,” for a punishment is simply a special type of consequence.

“The reason for the distinction is that "punishment" is a legal term.”

Of course, if punishment is merely a legal term, then guilt can be assigned by law. By definition, a party is guilty if the law assigns guilt in that situation. By definition, the punishment is legally just.

“Punishment is the application of retributive justice.”

That hardly follows even on its own terms. You can have utilitarian (e.g. deterrence, remediation) as well as retributive theories of punishment.

“According to one source, retribution ‘is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society.’”

The fringe benefits of punishment are secondary to retributive punishment.

“There are two necessary requirements for just punishment according to retributive justice: 1) the person be guilty of the crime; 2) the punishment be proportionate to the crime committed. Without these two components, there is no retributive justice.”

i) It isn’t clear if Pulliam is attempting to mount an internal critique or external critique of penal substitution.

ii) Clearly the Bible itself doesn’t regard penal substitution as incompatible with Biblical canons of justice.

iii) Perhaps Pulliam would say that Scripture codifies conflicting traditions regarding just punishment. But it would be difficult to argue that point without begging the question.

iv) Or does he contend that penal substitution is incompatible with extrabiblical definitions of retributive justice? But even if that were the case, what’s the force of that objection?

a) Is he simply treating the definition of retributive justice as a social convention or analytical truth, like “bachelors are unmarried men?” But that wouldn’t begin to show that penal substitution is objectively wrong.

b) Or is he grounding retributive justice in objective moral norms? Yet Pulliam appeals to evolutionary psychology to explain our moral sensibilities regarding retributive justice. But even if we went along with that etiology, this would only account for the origin our moral beliefs. It wouldn’t begin to demonstrate that our moral sensibilities map onto objective moral facts. Indeed, if our moral sensibilities are the byproduct of an amoral process like naturalistic evolution, then that would undercut their normative force.

“Obviously the most important element is the establishment of guilt and that is why we have judges and courtrooms.”

Actually, that’s not the priority in modern jurisprudence. The priority is to see to it that the accused receives full due process rights. Even if he’s flagrantly guilty, he must be acquitted on legal technicalities.

“Punishment, therefore, as a judicial sentence, is only justified by guilt. If the person is not guilty of the crime but is punished anyway for it, the act of punishment is itself an unjust act.”

Once again, does he mean “unjust” by definition, as a social construct?

“This argument fails to understand the relation of "justice" to the holiness of God. Christians believe that God is perfectly holy. Thus, he cannot do anything that it is unrighteous or unjust…Furthermore, man's moral code, according to Christians, is based on the absolute of God's nature (thus morality according to them is absolute). Laws that reflect the moral nature of God are just laws and those that do not are unjust. God's nature is the standard by which man is supposed to measure his conduct. Thus, if it is wrong for man to punish an innocent, then it must be because somehow the punishment of an innocent contradicts or violates the perfectly just nature of God.”

Unfortunately, Pulliam didn’t pay attention to what I actually said. I didn’t say anything about “man’s moral code.” Rather, I distinguished between the divine “administration” of justice and the human “administration” of justice.

The human administration of justice is necessarily imperfect inasmuch as human judges aren’t privy to all of the relevant factors–unlike God. And, of course, human judges are biased in varying degrees. Therefore, an inspired law code might include certain precautionary measures to constrain human judicial authority which are altogether unnecessary in the case of God.

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