Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Treating people as means

I'll respond to a statement by a commenter on my blog:

A related objection that you (and others) might want to respond to is the claim that Christianity (and especially Calvinism) is evil because its God accepts the principle that "the ends justify the means" and that therefore the Christian God apparently practices a consequentialist morality. Finally, it seems to me that as Calvinists we can't evade the conclusion that God purposes to ultimately bless the elect at the expense of the non-elect/reprobate…How can we Calvinists respond to the charge made by atheists and Arminians (et al.) that that's immoral for God to do that?

i) Since many atheists subscribe to consequentialism, it's hard to see how an atheist is in any position to say Calvinism is evil because it (allegedly) operates with a consequentialist ethic. Consequentialism is compatible with atheism. Those are not opposing positions. Peter Singer is a secular consequentialist. Indeed, the most influential secular bioethicist of his generation. Even if an atheist rejects consequentialism, that's independent of atheism. So that goes to an intramural debate within atheism.

ii) Consider some standard definitions of consequentialism:

Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences [IEP].  
Whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences (as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act) [SEP].

A critic has to show that according to Calvinism, God's actions are solely justified by the consequences. The fact that Calvinism has a teleological component doesn't make that the only consideration in Reformed theodicy. 

iii) The onus is on the critic to defend Kantian deontologism. We can reject the proposition that the end always justifies the means without taking the polar opposite position that the end never justifies the means. That's a false dichotomy. Surely we can stake out a mediating position between those two extremes, viz. some ends justify some means.

For instance, suppose I'm morbidly obese. That's detrimental to my health, so I go on a diet. Doesn't the goal of lowering the risk to my health justify dieting as a means to that end? 

iv) Perhaps, though, a critic will say he's not objecting to the principle in general, but to the specific case of using people as means rather than ends. But even on that restriction, is there something inherently wrong with using people as means? If I break my ankle skateboarding and go to the doctor for medical treatment, my aim is to repair the damage and receive painkillers, and I'm using the physician as a means to that end. But surely that's not immoral. So the critic will have to present a much narrower objection. 

v) Perhaps his objection is that we should refrain from using people merely as means. Or we shouldn't use people without their consent. 

If so, why should I accept that claim? For instance, even if (ex hypothesi) it's wrong to use innocent people as a means to an end, what about evil people? What if, by their evil, they have forfeited their prima facie immunity from harm? For instance, suppose a terror master uses couriers to send and receive messages. Suppose, unbeknownst to the courier, a counterterrorist organization plants a remote-control bomb on the courier so that when he visits the terror master, the bomb is detonated, killing the terrorist and thereby saving hundreds or thousands of innocent lives. That's using the courier as a means to an end, but so what? The courier is culpable for working with the notorious terrorist. 

Likewise, what if a country is dominated by two drug cartels. The authorities lack the wherewithal to defeat the cartels directly. Instead, they stage a hit on one cartel to make it look like it was attacked by the other cartel. That foments a war between the two cartels. They destroy each other. Although that's a ruthless tactic, since both cartels are evil, what's wrong with using them against each other to destroy each other?

vi) Finally, freewill theists like Jerry Walls and William Lane Craig resort to an end-justifies-the-means theodicy, in which God creates a minority of hellbound humans as a means of producing a majority of heavenbound humans. The salvation of the many comes on the backs of the damned. So they're in no position to attack Calvinism for utilizing a principle which they themselves utilize: 

Indeed, God did not have to create and in doing so he clearly thought it was “worth it.” So if my view entails that God did not do all he could have done to prevent the damnation of the lost simply because he did not refrain from creating at all, I plead guilty…Given that God does not control the counterfactuals of freedom, perhaps there are no actualizable worlds in which he can save all free persons. Indeed, if part of our freedom includes the freedom to choose whom to marry, and with whom to procreate, perhaps we play a significant role in determining which persons will be born, and thus which persons God can actualize. In that case, God actualizes the world in which he can save many people while minimizing the number of the damned. Perhaps God was faced with the choice between this sort of world and none at all, and he judged it “worth it” to create. I think this is not merely possible, but plausible.  
Moreover, it is far from obvious that God's being all-loving compels Him to prefer a world in which no one goes to hell over a world in which some people do. Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them! Does God's being all-loving compel Him to prefer one of these underpopulated worlds over a world in which multitudes are saved, even though some people freely go to hell? I don't think so. God's being all-loving implies that in any world He creates He desires and strives for the salvation of every person in that world. But people who would freely reject God's every effort to save them shouldn't be allowed to have some sort of veto power over what worlds God is free to create. Why should the joy and the blessedness of those who would freely accept God's salvation be precluded because of those who would stubbornly and freely reject it? It seems to me that God's being all-loving would at the very most require Him to create a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, a world where as many as possible freely accept salvation and as few as possible freely reject it. 
Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate#ixzz4FXAqTPTD


  1. The special pleading charge also misses the creator-creature distinction, that God is special. God alone creates ex nihilo, so God alone determines the natures of things, of course including our subordinate moral accountability and whatnot.

  2. I read this from John Frame's Systematic Theology recently (Chapter 14: The Problem of Evil):

    “Does the greater-good defense presuppose that the end justifies the means? It does say that God’s good purposes justify his use of evil. When we criticize someone for holding that “the end justifies the means,” we mean that he thinks a noble end will justify means that would otherwise be accounted wicked. But that is precisely the question before us: is God’s act to bring about evil normally a wicked action, which God justifies ad hoc because of his noble purpose? But how would we judge in this context what is “normally” the case? If God brought about moral evil in some sense, that act was unique. Ultimately, evil came into the world only once. Other “hardenings” of people’s hearts in history are actions that only God can perform. Who are we to say that such actions are “normally” wicked, rather than to confess that they are a unique divine prerogative? When a man kills an innocent person, his act is normally murder. But when God takes human life, he acts within the proper authority of his lordship. Why should we not say the same thing about his agency in bringing evil to pass? At least, we must say again that the burden of proof is on the objector.”

    And later in the same chapter:

    “God’s relationship to free agents is like the relationship of an author to his character. . . . The difference between levels, then, may have moral significance as well as metaphysical. It may illumine why the biblical writers, who do not hesitate to say that God brings about sin and evil, are not tempted to accuse him of wrongdoing. The relation between God and ourselves, of course, is different in some respects from that between an author and his characters. Most significantly: we are real; Macbeth is not. But between God and ourselves there is a vast difference in the kind of reality and in relative status. God is the absolute controller and authority, the most present fact of nature and history. He is the Lawgiver, we the law receivers. He is the head of the covenant; we are the servants. He has devised the creation for his own glory; we seek his glory, rather than our own. He makes us as the potter makes pots, for his own purposes. Do these differences not put God in a different moral category as well?”

    Excerpt From: John Frame. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/3YdJW.l

  3. Great post Steve. I've bookmarked and saved an html copy for further reflection. Thanks!

  4. Craig wrote: Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!

    I suppose someone could ask Craig why God couldn't create many worlds via a multiverse in which only one person exists and is saved in that single world. By so doing God could have ensured every created person is saved AND have Trillions of them saved.

    As a Calvinist (whether a World Ensemble exists or not) I think God has a providential story to tell that includes all the evils and suffering in the world(s) that do occur. A story or stories that will glorify God for all eternity as well as generating grateful awe, reverence and love toward God among the elect.

    1. Admittedly, Craig doesn't believe it's likely that a multiverse exists. Though, he doesn't think the concept of a multiverse necessarily undermines theism. In fact, he believes that theism is the best hope for the possibility of the existence of a multiverse.