Friday, June 22, 2012

"Permissive theism"

I’m going to comment on this post:

Jeff Lowder quotes the following statement by Adolf Grünbaum:

One vital lesson of that analysis will be that, contrary to the widespread claims of moral asymmetry between theism and atheism, neither theism nor atheism as such permit the logical deduction of any judgments of moral value or of any ethical rules of conduct. Moral codes turn out to be logically extraneous to each of these competing philosophical theories alike. And if such a code is to be integrated with either of them in a wider system, the ethical component must be imported from elsewhere.

In the case of theism, it will emerge that neither the attribution of omnibenevolence to God nor the invocation of divine commandments enables its theology to give a cogent justification for any particular actionable moral code. Theism, no less than atheism, is itself morally sterile: Concrete ethical codes are autonomous with respect to either of them.

i) That’s long on assertion and short on argument.

ii) It’s true that you can’t “deduce” rules of conduct from a bare proposition regarding God’s “omnibenevolence.” But that just means Grünbaum is operating at the wrong level of abstraction. Even at that level, the existence and nature of God is still a way of grounding moral norms. That’s a distinct metaphysical issue from what specific norms are thus grounded.

iii) Apropos (ii), divine creation introduces teleology into nature. Atheism banishes teleology from nature.

But the introduction of teleology into nature means that there will be a way in which creatures ought to function or ought to behave, consistent with their design specifications.

…a suitably articulated form of secular humanism can rule out some modes of conduct while enjoining others, no less than a religious code in which concrete ethical injunctions have been externally adjoined to theism (e.g., "do not covet thy neighbor's wife").

That’s an assertion bereft of argument. Many secular philosophers are admitted moral relativists or moral nihilists.

Grünbaum then discusses the moral permissiveness of theism with respect to the problem of evil.

That’s funny. Atheists typically slam Christianity for its doctrine of everlasting punishment. That’s too harsh, too stern, too unforgiving–we’re told. But now we’re also told that Christian theism is too permissive!

Quoting Grünbaum again:

It is scandalous that Judaism is sufficiently permissive morally to enable some world-renowned rabbis to offer a Holocaust-theodicy at all with theological impunity: It attests to the moral bankruptcy of the notion of a theological foundation of Jewish ethics.

How does merely offering a Holocaust-theodicy attest the moral bankruptcy of theism? Grünbaum gives no reason to grant his contention. If successful, a Holocaust-theodicy would demonstrate the moral resources of theism.

Cain (and other apologists for Judaism) ought to be deeply embarrassed by this situation…


Clearly, I submit, precisely the statistics on the depth of the cleavage among the moral verdicts of Jewish theologians on so over-arching an occurrence as the Holocaust bespeaks the ethical bankruptcy of their theology.

I don’t agree with the particular Holocaust-theodicy offered by Jacobovitz and Schneerson. However, you’d expect Jews to have a variety of different reactions to the theological ramifications of the Holocaust. Judaism is far from monolithic. How does mere “depth of cleavage” on this issue bespeak the moral bankruptcy of their theology? Grünbaum keeps expressing his personal disapproval, as if that’s self-evidently true. He isn’t reasoning for his conclusions.

Jeff then says:

In other words, if theism requires us to believe that no matter what evils occur in the actual world, God still exists and has some reason for allowing them, this empties all content from a theological foundation of ethics and shows how bankrupt the entire enterprise of theistic ethics really is.

If God has some reason for allowing them, then how does that expose the bankrupt of the entire enterprise of theistic ethics really is–much less empties all content from a theological foundation of ethics (whatever that means)? That’s an impressive string of words, but where’s the argument? How does the conclusion follow from the premise? Not having a reason would be morally bankrupt. Not having a reason would be morally vacuous.

Grünbaum and Lowder are asserting and emoting rather than reasoning for their position.

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