Thursday, August 26, 2010

In the cross of Christ I glory

Ken Pulliam said...

“So the blogger admits that in both cases ‘the party is not receiving his just deserts.’ If someone does not receive their just deserts, that means they are receiving unjust treatment. So he admits my point.”

Pulliam evidently lacks the intellectual aptitude to follow the argument. As I’ve repeatedly indicated, I’m presenting a tu quoque argument from analogy in response to JD Walters.

This doesn’t mean I admit JD’s premise. Rather, I accept his premise for the sake of argument, then construct a parallel case to create a dilemma for JD.

“There is still a difference between an innocent party suffering as a consequence of actions that were not designed specifically to punis him and an innocent party suffering treatment that was specifically designed to punish him. In the former case, it is an unfortunate consequence not an intended consequence. For example, if the US decides to bomb a building that is housing Al-Qaeda terrorists, and innocent civilians that live nearby are killed, the treatment of the terrorists and the treatment of the civilians is distinguished by the intent of the one causing the suffering. Now in human cases this is understandable because we humans are not omniscient and omnipotent. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we cannot design the punishment in such a way that eliminates the possibility of innocents dying. But there is an obvious moral difference between killing innocents as collateral damage and targeting innocents to kill as terrorists often do.”

i) The question is not whether there are differences, but morally relevant differences–given the nature of JD’s objection to penal substitution.

ii) In collective divine judgments, the “unfortunate consequences” are divinely intended. That innocent parties like Ezekiel and Daniel suffer as a result of the Babylonian exile is a divinely intended outcome of divine judgment.

“It is correct that punishment is a special type of consequence. It is special in the sense that it designed to recompense the wrong-doer for his wrong act.”

That doesn’t follow from the concept of punishment, per se. For that doesn’t follow from utilitarian concepts of punishment (i.e. deterrence, remediation).

“To attempt to recompense an innocent for a wrong-act is non-sensical because the innocent by definition has not committed the wrong act. So to follow through with ‘punishment’ of an innocent is to commit an unjust and immoral act.”

If he’s going to say that “by definition,” only the guilty party can be “punished,” then, by definition, there’s no such thing as unjust punishment.

In that case, he can’t say penal substitution is unjust punishment, for the use of the word “punishment” in that connection is “nonsensical.”

“This assumes that all laws and all application of laws reflects justice. In Muslim countries, for example, there are many laws that are patently unjust. Are they legal? Yes. Are they morally just? No.”

i) Unfortunately, Pulliam is unable to follow his own argument. He’s the one who said judicial concepts like “guilt,” “innocence,” and “punishment” are what they are by definition. It’s simply a question of how the law defines those concepts.

Now he’s adding a caveat which he didn’t include in his original statement. And that caveat will vitiate his argument. For if laws and legal applications must reflect justice, then he can’t say that penal substitution is unjust “by definition.” In that event, the fact that something is defined by law doesn’t make it so.

ii) Since, moreover, Pulliam is a moral relativist, there is no objective standard of justice which just laws must exemplify.

“True but the Bible clearly teaches retributive justice. So when the God of the Bible executes punishment, he is executing it according to retributive justice.”

It’s true that Scripture uses retributive language. However, this doesn’t mean that Pulliam can begin with an extrabiblical definition of retributive justice, then say that Biblical penology is at odds with retributive justice. Rather, we’d have to begin with the Biblical concept of retributive justice.

Otherwise, Pulliam is using an extrabiblical definition of retributive justice to attribute retributive justice to Scripture, then alleging that Biblical penology isn’t properly retributive after all. The entire exercise is circular and incoherent.

“I agree and this is one of its many contradictions. The fact is the Bible was written (and edited) by many different authors and there are actually competing or contradictory views presented on this topic as well as many others.”

And Pulliam needs to demonstrate, without begging the question, that Scripture presents contradictory views of just punishment. All he’s done is to posit that Scripture is self-contradictory in this regard.

He can’t very well show that Scripture is self-contradictory by quoting extrascriptural definitions of retributive justice, then show that Scripture is (allegedly) inconsistent with extrascriptural concepts. For that wouldn’t begin to demonstrate the internal inconsistency of Scripture.

How does he determined, on its own grounds, that Biblical retribution is at odds with Biblical imputation or substitution? Unless he can do so on its own grounds, he can’t show that it’s self-contradictory.

“It is as incoherent to talk about punishing an innocent as it is to say that bachelors are married. It is non-sensical. So what one calls ‘punishment’ when inflicted on an innocent is not really ‘punishment’ but the infliction of unjust hard treatment upon one who does not deserve it.”

i) So by his own admission, Pulliam can’t say that penal substitution constitutes unjust punishment.

ii) Instead, it’s “unjust treatment.” Yet when I mounted an argument from analogy in response to Walters, in which I drew that very distinction (i.e. between punitive and non-punitive unmerited suffering suffering), Pulliam objected (see above).

iii) Notice, too, that he’s now falling back on legal conventions, where “punishment” is reducible to how punishment is defined by law. But in that event, it would be just to punish an agent who had nothing to do with the commission of the crime as long as his guilt is legally assigned.

“I don't agree. Evolution has provided us with instincts that are necessary to our survival as a species. Are these instincts true? Yes, I would say so. There are a few moral instincts that we also possess. Precisely how we came to have them, I am not certain but the fact that they are universally or nearly universally agreed upon tells me that they are true.”

i) That’s a category mistake. Instincts can’t be true for false. You might as well say the color red is true. At best you can formulate true or false propositions about instincts.

ii) Is the biological imperative a moral imperative? Doesn’t that commit the naturalistic fallacy? Even if these “instinctual” moral intuitions are necessary for our survival, why should the human race survive?

iii) From a secular standpoint, why does the survival of the many (our “species”) trump the survival of the one? In a lifeboat setting, why should I sacrifice my life for the sake of my fellow passengers? Given atheism, what obligates me to value their life more highly than my own?

iv) It’s ironic that Pulliam tries to ground true moral intuitions in evolutionary psychology when Michael Ruse, for one, regards that etiology as an argument for moral nihilism:

I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.

Continuing with Pulliam:

“Some define objective as something that is true whether anyone believes it or not but I would prefer to define it as something that is true because everyone believes it.”

No amount of consensus can ever make a naturalistic fallacy true.

“That does not mean that everything that man has universally believed in history has proven to be correct but when one comes to moral instincts there has been a universal agreement among men that certain things are wrong, for example, rape, killing an innocent, and so on. Someone might argue that some societies have condoned these practices but I would disagree. Sometimes societies have enforced different standards for the treatment of those within their group versus the treatment of those apart from their group. For example, cannibalistic societies would prohibit eating people of their own tribe but people of other tribes could be eaten.”

Of course that’s special pleading. The only evidence for unanimity would be unanimity. Once you have to begin carving out deep exceptions, then you’re no longer going by the evidence.

“Or one might say that millions of Christians have seen no problem with Jesus dying as the penal substitute for man's sin even though he was innocent. However, the fact is that Christian theologians who believe in the PST have attempted ways to justify the punishment of an innocent in the case of Jesus. They have taken a number of different approaches but if it was not commonly believed that it is wrong to punish an innocent, then why would they attempt to rationalized and justify it in the case of Jesus?”

That doesn’t follow. They defend it in response to outside critics like the Socinians.

“But according to the Christian the administration of human justice if it is to be truly just should be a reflection of God's nature which is the perfect standard (according to them) of justice.”

That’s deeply confused:

i) The very existence of a judicial system in Scripture presupposes the fall. All parties to the transaction are sinners. The judge. The accused. The accuser. The witnesses. There’s no biblical expectation that the human administration of justice will mirror the divine administration of justice. That’s one reason we have a final judgment.

ii) OT law establishes some basic boundaries for what the Israelites were required, permitted, or forbidden to do. It doesn’t attempt to set an absolute ideal. For one thing, law can only regulate conduct, not attitudes. You can’t legislate faith, love, wisdom, &c.

iii) Moreover, laws are inherently general. They deal with certain types of situations. But it would be up to an OT judge (for better or worse) to exercise judicial discretion in any particular case, by taking into account the unique features of each individual situation.


  1. Hey Steve,
    I have not had time to read all of your posts on Ken Pulliam and Penal Substitution Atonement -

    I noticed you have been interacting with Ken Pulliam, right after I first saw this by the "Grandverbalizer19"

    It seems to be that Ken Pulliam did not read J. I. Packer's paper very well (some 39 pages after I copied it onto my Word software.) (or he used parts of two sentences and ignored the rest of that 39 page paper, that actually answers the objections.

    I thought J.I. Packer's 1973 article was very good; and answered the objections people bring to this issue.

    What do you think?

    This was long before Packer's recent years friendliness toward Roman Catholicism.

  2. I forgot to link to Packer's article, that Pulliam picks from.