Wednesday, April 08, 2015

High-risk parenting

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently interviewed Oliver Crisp on Deviant Calvinism. Towards the end of the interview, Tuggy alluded to a thought-experiment by open theist William Hasker. Tuggy recast this in terms of a magic potion or love pill. 

I will quote and then comment on Hasker's hypothetical:

Imagine yourself, then, as a prospective parent shortly before the birth of your first child. And suppose that someone has offered you the following choice. On the one hand, the child will be one that, without any effort on your part, will always and automatically do and be exactly what you want it to do and be, no more and no less. The child will have no feeling of being constrained or controlled; nevertheless, it will spontaneously carry out your wishes on any and every occasion. Or, on the other hand, you can choose to have a child in the normal fashion, a child that is fully capable of having a will of its own and of resisting your wishes for it, and even of acting against its own best interest. You will have to invest a great deal of effort in the child's education, with good hopes to be sure, but without any advance guarantee of success. And there is the risk, indeed the near-certainty, that the child will inflict on your considerable pain and suffering, as you strive to help the child become all that he or she can be and ought to be. Which would you choose? 
It is my hope that many readers–perhaps even a strong majority–will agree with me in saying that it is far better to accept the challenge of parenting a child with a will of its own, even at the price of pain and possible heartbreak, than to opt for an arrangement in which the child's choices will all really be my choices made for it, its life a pale reflection of mine lived through the child. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, M. Peterson & R. VanArragon, eds. (Blackwell 2004), 222-23. 

i) To a great extent, the intuitive appeal of that illustration depends on how we cash out the dire alternative. To say "possible heartbreak" or "acting against its own best interests" is very vague. A safe abstraction.  

What if you knew that by not administering the love potion, your daughter would grow up to be a hopeless drug addict? Or that your teenage son would shoot another teenager in the head, causing irreparable brain damage and disability. Not only is there your own heartbreak, but the other set of heartbroken parents–based on what your son did to their son. 

Likewise, if you foreknew that by conceiving a child at that particular moment, you child would become a hopeless drug addict, would you contracept on that occasion? If you foreknew that this is how your son was going to turn out, by ravaging the future of someone else's son, would you even conceive him in the first place? 

ii) Admittedly, Hasker is an open theist. He doesn't believe God knows the future. That, however, complicates the hypothetical. It's not a straightforward comparison between two different outcomes, because in one (crucial) case the outcome is unknown. You can't make a risk assessment. Maybe it will turn out for the best, but maybe it will turn out for the worst. If, with the benefit of hindsight, you could do it all over again, would you? Clearly that depends on how the scenario plays out.  

Parents assume the risk because they don't know how things will work out. For them, it's a choice between parenting or not parenting. If, however, they could foresaw the catastrophic consequences of having that particular child, I expect most of them would opt out. So Hasker's hypothetical is misleading.

iii) Another problem with the comparison, which Crisp touches upon, is the radical disanalogy between the Creator/creature relation and the human parent/child relation. The later distinction is relative and temporary. Human children are supposed to become their parents' equal. Grow up. Become adults. Become physically and psychologically independent of their parents. Human children are, in a significant sense, expected to outgrow their parents. That's a necessary part of the maturation process.

I agree with Hasker that your (grown) child's choices shouldn't really be the choices you made for him. His life shouldn't be a pale reflection of yours lived through him. But that's in large part because a parent's plan for his child's life isn't ipso facto superior to a grown child's plan for his own life. Parents aren't necessarily or even probably wiser than grown children. Their priorities may be askew. At that point we're comparing adults to adults. In both cases, these are short-sighted creatures. 

That's completely different from Calvinism, where God's plan for your life is for the best. Infallibly wise and good.

Admittedly, God doesn't act in the best interests of the reprobate. But in freewill theism (or open theism in particular), a free agent may make the same disastrous choices as the reprobate.  

iv) The theological analogue would be paganism, viz. Apollo the son of Zeus and Leto. Gods begetting gods. 

Mind you, it might be prudent for mother and father gods to give their kids a love pill. That forestalls the danger of their grown children deposing them! No battle of the Titans!  

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