Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The cosmic roulette table

To forestall possible misunderstanding, permit me to say at the outset that this post is not a counterattack on Reppert’s (non-)attack on Calvinism. Rather, my post is non-counterattack on Reppert’s non-attack on Calvinism. Any resemblance to a real counterattack, living or dead, explicit or implicit, is purely coincidental.

“Steve Hays seems to have thought that my most recent posts about Calvinism are implicit attacks, and that my disclaimers are phony. Even though most people know that I don't accept Calvinism, my project was descriptive rather than argumentative.”

Victor Reppert seems to have thought that my most recent posts in response to his most recent posts about Calvinism are implicit counterattacks. Even though most people know that I accept Calvinism, my response to Reppert was descriptive rather than argumentative.

“I think choosing a world in which some people suffer eternally over a world in which they don't would appear wrong in most human contexts, and the only thing that can save the Calvinist is a greater good which is a function of God's unique status.”

But, as a libertarian, Reppert also believes in different possible worlds. Or so I assume.

If he thinks the ability to do otherwise is a necessary precondition of praise or blame, then there must be one or more possible worlds in which human agents freely and invariably do right.

If he doesn’t think that human agents have that freedom, then I don’t know what on basis he can object to compatibilism.

If he imputes such freedom to human beings, then God was presumably in a position to choose a world in which no one suffers eternality.

Of course, Reppert is quite sympathetic to open theism. And he once suggested that God can’t foreknow the counterfactuals of freedom.

So perhaps his position is that while there is at least one possible world in which human agents always do right, God can’t predict which world that is. If that’s his position, then the plurality of possible worlds resembles the layout of a roulette table.

God doesn’t foreknow which pocket is a winning pocket or a losing pocket. Our world may be a losing bet.

This raises the question of whether a God who gambles with the eternal fate of human beings would appear to be a wrongdoer in most human contexts.

Perhaps, though, Reppert is a closet annilationist. If so, then this raises the question of how a God who annihilates one or more of your loved ones would be viewed in most human contexts.

Offhand, those are the only remaining alternatives I can thinkof, after Reppert eliminates Calvinism, universalism, and eternal retribution. But perhaps I’ve overlooked something.

“If I had the power to prevent the Holocaust and could do so in a way that was perfectly consonant with the all parties involved having free will in whatever sense of free will you are willing to recognize, then I would be considered acting wrongly if I failed to prevent it.”

i) Of course, the Holocaust is a tremendously complex event with enormous ramifications. So that gives Reppert plenty of escape routes.

ii) Suppose, then, we take something less ambitious. Does Reppert think that God had the power to prevent just one less Jewish family from dying in the Holocaust? Does the value of libertarian freedom outweigh the value of saving just one Jewish family?

Keep in mind that Reppert is a deontologist. As he often reminds us, it’s wrong to use people as means rather than ends.

If so, then what inhibits God from saving at least one Jewish family who perished in the Holocaust? Would that conflict with some higher divine priority? If so, then isn’t God treating that family as a means rather than an end? Can God be said to be acting in the best interests of the victims?

iii) As we know, some Christians, at great risk to themselves, tried to shelter some Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. And I assume Reppert regards their action as morally commendable.

If so, then why does he think it’s proper for human beings to shelter Jews from the Nazis, but improper for God to shelter Jews from the Nazis?

Remember, Reppert is accentuating the commonality between divine and human duties. According to him, Calvinism is dubious because it distances the two.

“And the claim that God's chief praiseworthy characteristic is holiness rather than goodness was taken straight from Bnonn.”

Well, Bnonn can speak for himself. And he can more than hold his own. But, of course, one preliminary question is whether you’re both defining the same terms the same way.

“What you seem to deny is that human beings ordinarily know how to apply the term ‘good,’ and that the statement ‘God is good’ means something based on some kind of commensurability between goodness as we apply it in human contexts and goodness as we apply it in theological contexts.”

To reiterate two things I deny:

i) Report is invoking the putative existence of a universal neutral moral norm. By “neutral,” I mean that he views this norm as noncommittal on the existence or nonexistence of God. The norm must neutral in that respect inasmuch as Reppert is using that norm to evaluate the veracity of Christianity or other theistic claimants.

And I deny the possibility of any such norm for reasons I gave in my previous response. Morality can never validate or invalidate the existence of God, since God is the exemplar of morality. As such, only God can validate the existence of morality.

Atheism has no basis for moral absolutes. And I can readily quote a number of secular thinkers who admit that.

If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes to be known.

ii) Due to natural revelation and common grace, I believe it’s possible for human beings to have some innate sense of right and wrong.

However, human beings also have a well-developed capacity for moral self-deception. And that’s more developed in some individuals or cultures or subcultures than others.

As such, we require an extrinsic standard of right and wrong to confirm or correct our intrinsic sensibilities.

“Most moral theories, and even most moral codes, seem to include some requirement on our part to promote the happiness of others, although some put some people in the ‘not my neighbor’ class.”

i) Of course, the “not my neighbor” exception is no small exception. Indeed, that’s pretty prevalent throughout human history, from what I’ve seen and read.

ii) Moreover, it’s ironic and all too typical of Reppert to cast a moral issue in such an amoral fashion. Moral discrimination requires us to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.

There is no obligation on our part to promote the happiness of the wicked.

“It seems to me that you a moral skeptic can get rid of 1 by saying that we don't have the kind of moral knowledge to identify gratuitous evils, either in this life or in eternity.”

I don’t have to be a moral skeptic to deny that. What may appear to be an unmitigated evil in the short term may be mitigated in the long term–if only we could see that far into the future. It’s easy to come up with both real and hypothetical examples.

“We may dislike the fact that certain people are damned, especially if they are near and dear to us, but we can't use that as a reason to doubt God. This is what I mean by claiming that Calvinism invariably leads to the problem of evil being treated as a pseudoproblem.”

i) That takes for granted a particular epistemology of Christian faith. Reppert is apparently treating Christianity as a type of hypothesis. Inference to the best explanation, or something along those lines. Christianity has some explanatory power, but for all we know it may also be false.

Now, I don’t necessary object to using that framework as an apologetic strategy. But I don’t regard Christianity as a hypothesis. As such, I don’t regard Christian faith as potentially doubtful or defeasible in that sense.

Psychologically speaking, it is, of course, possible for Christians to suffer from doubts. But I don’t regard that as a criterion or truth-condition.

ii) In addition, your objection generates a peculiar conundrum. For you seem to think a successful theodicy reduces the problem of evil to a pseudoproblem. If so, then you repudiate the very possibility of a successful theodicy. But, in that event, you have no counterargument to the argument from evil.

“Not every Calvinist is the moral skeptic you are.”

I have no polling data on that question. What I will say is that every intelligent Calvinist I know of regards God as the source and standard of morality. While a Calvinist might well grant the existence of “general moral concepts,” he would not oppose those to the existence of God–as if the distinction of good and evil were indifferent to the existence or nonexistence of God.

Moral norms are not autonomous, free-floating platonic universals. Moral obligations presuppose the existence of a person or persons who can obligate us. And our Creator is the personal absolute in whom moral absolutes inhere. At best, our moral concepts exemplify the exemplary character of God. For God is the infinite property-bearer of finitely good property-instances.

“It seems to me that almost every time you sit down to your word processor you want to make some polemical point.”

That’s because I’m responding to polemical fire from the other side. I’m returning fire.

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