Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Channeling the dark side

Victor Reppert said...
“It seems that the Calvinistic God comes across a little bit like a hypocritical parent, who says ‘Don't do as I do, do as I say’ and ’That's different’, two responses I think I've managed to avoid using with our kids.”

In reading Victor Reppert, you must make a forcible attempt to remind yourself that he’s supposed to be a philosopher. It’s trivially easy to come up with examples in which what is right for one person may be wrong for another.

i) It’s wrong for an alcoholic to consume booze. That doesn’t mean it’s also wrong for someone who can hold his liquor.

ii) It’s wrong for Typhoid Mary to attend a baseball game. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you and me attend a baseball game.

iii) It’s wrong for a two-year-old to handle a loaded pistol. That doesn’t make it wrong for a policeman or soldier to handle a loaded pistol.

“In my view moral obligation is created by the fact that God creates us with an intended purpose which is identical to our good, and is acts in a way that is consistent with the pursuit of that good for all his creatures.”

So when the rattlesnake eats the groundhog, that’s good for the groundho? When the shark eats the seal, that’s good for the seal?

Somehow I doubt the seal and the groundhog would share Reppert’s Panglossian outlook. Admittedly, they can’t be reached for comment–inside the tummy of the shark and the rattlesnake.

“On Calvinist theory there is a large gap between what makes God's character good, and what makes us good, a gap that cannot be explained in terms of a difference in God's wisdom or knowledge.”

Well, what do you expect? To take one obvious example, humans reproduce sexually. This creates a whole network of natural social obligations, between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, as well as unrelated age-mates, &c.

As such, there are both analogies and disanalogies between divine and human goodness.

“A native may believe that men in white coats bearing long needles are mean to little kids because he lacks knowledge that the men in the white coats possess, but the standard of goodness for natives and for missionary doctors is the same. Both the native and the doctor want the child to be well, and for the child not to suffer, but they have different ideas as to how to go about it.”

Note the incorrigible irony: Reppert is trying to define goodness, yet he invariably defines goodness in amoral terms. For Reppert, the difference between guilt and innocence never figures in his definition of goodness.

Of course, that’s the way I’d expect the Old Horny to define goodness. To define it amorally, so as to avoid incriminating distinctions between good and evil.

So often, Reppert seems to be channeling the dark side. Listening to Reppert is like overhearing the speech a certain archangel must have given to his comrades to make recruits for his “cause.”

“Piper seems concerned to respond to the charge that God's interest in his glory makes him selfish, since selfishness is a vice amongst humans. If I were to read on someone's tombstone ‘He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life’ I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known. Glory hogs in basketball don't help the team win.”

i) God is the benefactor, not the beneficiary. God has nothing to gain. It’s for the good of the elect.

ii) God is the summum bonum. The infinite good from which all finite goods derive. Our human self-fulfillment relies on the various ways in which God communicates his goodness to human beings. That’s the opposite of selfishness.

Reppert is a study in spiteful, hellish ingratitude.

“It seems to me that when you say God gives commands based on his nature, it is pretty clear that we don't have obligations to reflect all aspects of God's moral nature in our own conduct. We might be rightly wrathful when someone we love is raped, but we aren't supposed to be looking for or artifically creating opportunities for us to exercise our attribute of being wrathful at evil, (maybe by creating androids who commit crimes so that we can punish them for those crimes)…”

As a general proposition, human beings constantly look for or create artificial opportunities to exercise their attributes, viz., art, literature, music, sports.

So Reppert needs to explain which it’s wrong to “artificially” manifest some attributes, but not others.

Remember, Reppert is the one who’s accentuating the commonalities between God and man.

“As if there was some aspect of us that is going to go unfulfilled if we are fortunate enough never to be in a position where that sort of wrath is called for.”

Once again, this is a spiteful caricature of the Reformed position. The question is not whether God is unfulfilled, but whether creatures are unfulfilled unless they exemplify the exemplar.

That, of course, doesn’t mean every creature is entitled to achieve self-fulfillment. If, for example, a suicide-bomber kills a pizzeria full of Jewish teenagers to get his 70 virgins in Paradise, it’s a fit punishment if, in fact, his eternal destiny deprives him of the very thing he sought through murderous means.

“So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God, and there are actions on the part of God which are deemed right which, if parallel actions are performed by humans, they would contravene the commands of God.”

Reppert doesn’t state what he’s referring to. For example, God sometimes visits direct judgment on the wicked (e.g. raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah), but sometimes he delegates the judicial action to second parties (commanding the Israelites to execute the Canaanites).


  1. Hey Steve, I know it's off-topic, but could you blog on an issue that's been on my mind lately? I'd like to know the kind of responses you'd give to someone who makes this claim:

    "Bruce Russell writes it this way:

    "The problem with these arguments that claim we are too ignorant for our judgments about gratuitous evil to be justified is that they can be used to show that we are in no position to judge that the earth is more than 100-years-old. Perhaps God wants us to think that the world is older because he wants us to believe that natural disasters, wars, slavery and other horrible things have happened but also to have some idea of how they, or their consequences, can be overcome by examples of what we think are actual cases were they have been overcome. But it is better for us to have this information without, rather than with, the relevant suffering and injustice. So, for all we know, God deceives us about the age of the earth for own good. So we are in no position to judge that the earth is over 100-years old. We should remain agnostic about whether it is.

    Of course, this conclusion is absurd. But the arguments that conclude that we are too ignorant to be in a position to judge that there is gratuitous evil are the basis of this parallel argument with this absurd conclusion. Hence, we should reject arguments that conclude we are too ignorant to judge whether there is gratuitous evil."

    I for one have recently blogged on a few responses I would give. Also, I think the skeptical theist route (that we can't think of reasons for God allowing some evil event E doesn't mean that God has no reasons) is obviously true. But who knows.

    Thanks if you take the time to do this!

  2. Steven,
    I think your question highlights the importance and usefulness of a presuppositional approach to apologetics. Since, if one believes there's neutral ground and raw facts out there that you share in common with non-Christians, along with a shared epistemology, then anything is possible.

    But if you're comparing worldviews and looking for internal contradictions, arbitrariness (etc), then the unbeliever would have to make a case for why we as Christians should doubt that the age of world is less than 100 years old. That's because we have Biblical statements that would deny the possibility.

    Scripture teaches that when Christ came into the world, the world was already at least two millennia old (being an Old Earth Creationist, I suspect it's closer to billions). Moreover, Scripture teaches the general reliability of sense perception (under normal circumstances), God's general providence (and therefore the law-like and predictable character of nature), and the reality and investigability (heh, is that even a word?) of history. In which case, though scientific, historical, archaeological, traditional, textual investigation, we can document that the world is millennia old both before and after the coming of Christ (whose incarnation was the focal point of history).

    If the earth/world were only 100 years old, then the incarnation didn't happen, Christ didn't make atonement for our sins, wasn't resurrected and your whole Christian faith is a fraud.

    In essence, he's asking you to renounce your Christian worldview, and renounce your Christian epistemology in order to THEN consider maybe that the world is only 100 years old. All that so that he can then argue that the argument from ignorance isn't sufficient to render the argument from gratuitious evil null.

    As the Christian, you should be the one who's calling the non-Christian to account for his epistemology and why HE (the non-Christian) thinks anything he sees (whether good or evil) or remembers (whether 101 years ago or 101 seconds ago) is real and actually happened.

    Also, if he's a non-Christian he's got to make sense of good and evil in his own worldview before he can use the argument from gratuitious evil as an external critique of Christianity. If gonna do an internal critique, then he's got to present the Christian position more accurately rather than a strawman.

  3. typo correction:

    I said
    But if you're comparing worldviews and looking for internal contradictions, arbitrariness (etc), then the unbeliever would have to make a case for why we as Christians should doubt that the age of world is less than 100 years old.

    It should be "...for why we as Christians should doubt that the age of the world is greater than 100 years old."

    Especially since he's asking us to doubt the empirical evidence for the world being over 100 years old, as well as the perceptions and memories of both Christian and non-Christian Centenarians or

    Also, asking you to doubt what there's (subjective AND objective) evidence for, he's trying to build a case for you to believe what there isn't (objective) evidence for (namely, that there's too much evil in the world). I presume he was arguing inductively from the existence of gratuitious evil to the non-existence of God. But how do you objectively demonstrate that? It's a subjective judgment that could only be based on the perspective of the omniscient and omnisapient divine mind. If he cannot with omnisciently and omnisapiently, then he cannot determine/tell whether there's "too much" evil in this world. Or that there's not a morally sufficient reason for God to allow as much evil in the world as He has.

    Btw, many philosophers (both theistic and atheist) have pretty much concluded that the deductive case for the non-existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil (gratuitous or not) fails.

  4. I said:
    Btw, many philosophers (both theistic and atheist) have pretty much concluded that the deductive case for the non-existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil (gratuitous or not) fails.

    That's why those trying to disprove the existence of God now focus on the inductive case from gratuitious evil (whether moral evil and/or natural evil). Because 1. it doesn't need to be as logically rigorous as a deductive case, and 2. it can sometimes boil down to an appeal to emotion. They know that most people are emotionally oriented rather than logically oriented when it comes to thinking about theological issues.

  5. Steven,

    1. I've already given a partial answer to this objection:

    2. Russell also acts as though the fact that God doesn’t disclose his reasons is equivalent to divine deception. That’s quite fallacious. It’s a commonplace in human experience that we frequently feel no obligation to explain to others why we do what we do. Much of the time, it’s none of their business.

    And that’s hardly equivalent to deception. If Russell is going to press that charge, then he needs to provide a supporting argument.

    3. The age of the earth is also a poor comparison. That’s really an argument from analogy minus the analogy. Why think that withholding information on why God allows evil to happen is equivalent to God deceiving us about the age of the earth?

    i) To begin with, God could have good reason to keep his reasons to himself regarding the overarching purpose of this or that evil. And I’ve discussed that in the post I reference.

    Russell’s parallel would only hold if God had comparable reasons for withholding information about the age of the earth. The reasons that Russell gives in his imaginary parallel are quite contrived.

    ii) Moreover, there’s generally a difference between not offering an explanation, and offering a false explanation. Now, there are some situations in which keeping silence can be misleading. But one can hardly say, as a rule, that the two are synonymous. That isn’t even probable. So Russell would need to show that they are interchangeable in this particular case.

    iii) I’d also add that the natural processes we cite to infer the age of the earth were not designed to tell us the age of the earth. So even if we were mistaken about the age of the earth, that’s scarcely equivalent to divine deception.

    You might as well say that God is guilty of murder if I electrocute myself when my boombox falls into the bathtub. The fact that I harness electricity to power a radio doesn’t mean electricity was specifically designed to perform that function. That’s just a secondary, human application of a natural force.

    What we take to be evidence for the age of the earth may or may not be reliable evidence. Its chronological evidentiary value is not inherent in the nature of the process. That’s simply an incidental inference which we happen to draw, based on circular presuppositions regarding the uniformity of nature.