Monday, November 09, 2009

We are not amused

Victor Reppert said...

The Calvinist has to say not merely that our conduct is sinful, but that our natural understanding of what is right and wrong is so badly tainted by sin that what we would ordinarily think of as bad really good if it is claimed that God has done it.

i) This is one of Reppert’s conceited blindspots. In his furry little mind he imagines that deep down, in their heart-of-hearts, all Calvinists share his moral intuitions. Yet they’ve suppressed their moral intuitions to knuckle under the brute authority of Scripture, as they understand it.

But, speaking for myself, I don’t share his moral intuitions on a wide range of issues.

ii) I’d also say that somebody who votes for Barack Obama doesn’t have a terribly firm grip on moral clarity. Not to mention his continued advocacy of Obama’s social vision. That’s a good test-case of how Reppert’s moral intuitions cash out. Has all the cash value of Confederate currency.

In ordinary human contexts, moral goodness/righteousness/holiness is centered around, among other things, the minimization of the suffering of others, or maximizing the benefit of others.

In order to preserve continuity of meaning between the conception of good as it is applied to humans and that which we apply to God…

i) Observe Reppert’s fond resort to the royal “we”–as if he’s the spokesman-at-large for the human race. I don’t recall voting for that ticket.

Moreover, I can’t help noticing that Reppert’s ethical intuitions correlate to a high degree with what we’d predict for an American academic who came of age during the Sixties. Is that intuition, or is that social conditioning camouflaged as intuition?

Suppose Reppert were born in Iran. Supposed he were sent to the local madrasah at the age of 4. What would be his “ordinary” concept of goodness in that event? What would “continuity of meaning” with respect to God and man amount to in that case?

ii) One of the fundamental differences between Reppert and me is that I’m a moral skeptic. Sure, I have moral intuitions, too. But if I were an atheist rather than a Christian, I wouldn’t put any stock in my moral intuitions. I’d chalk that up to social softwiring or evolutionary hardwiring. I might feel every so strongly about right and wrong, but as an atheist I’d consider the source. Which would be illusory. A powerful illusion, but illusory all the same. Nothing beneath the circuitry except natural selection or social brainwashing.

Reppert is (allegedly) a Christian because he’s a moralist. I’m a moralist because I’m a Christian.

iii) On a related note, I’m far more cynical than Reppert is. Always have been. To me, he’s a familiar, simpering stereotype. The softheaded dupe who never learns from experience. The kind of guy who plays the chump for every sociopath with a good sob story. If Reppert were a juror in the Menendez trial, he’d have to bring a fresh box of Kleenex to court every day.

As a result of (ii) & (iii), he and I have no common ground. He’s shouting across a chasm. The only thing he hears back is the echo of his own tinny voice.

If we can dismiss any idea that there are some actions that would render God bad if (per impossible if God is necessarily morally perfect) God were to do them, then the concept of God's goodness doesn't tell us anything about what we can expect God to do.

The acrid odor of a straw man going up in flames.

By making the claim that God primary praiseworthy characteristic is holiness rather than goodness…

Another flaming straw man. Someone should teach Reppert not to play with matches.


  1. Do you think anyone who doesn't have access to Scripture has any knowledge of what is right and wrong? What do you make of C. S. Lewis's argument that everyone recognizes a moral law which they know themselves to have violated, and that Christianity comes in not to tell us what the law is (we know that, in broad outline already) but to provide us a way of being right with God given the fact that we know ourselves to be moral failures?

  2. One could argue that if knowledge is justified true belief, then many people do not in fact have knowledge, simply true belief (or in reality, partially true belief) of right and wrong. Many people, when pressed, cannot justify their moral beliefs with any argument that holds water, and in the end it comes down to a gut feeling or general hunch. In any case, the argument is not that people have *no* sense of right and wrong apart from Scripture, but that *as Christians* we should allow our moral intuitions to be guided by Scripture, recognising that our morality is fallen and shaped by a fallen culture.

    It's also not certain that people without access to Scripture would expect the same moral standards for God as for humans, if they had a conception of a vaguely Christian God. It isn't too much of a leap to recognise that the Creator has the right to do what He pleases with the creation.

  3. Another quick note: the passage you are referencing is not a criticism of Calvinism. It is an attempt to explicate Calvinism. I have had all sorts of trouble with atheists who may know that I believe something, and therefore presume that some argument of mine is an argument for something I believe to be true, when it was never intended to establish that in the first place. So it is, for example, thought to be a telling point that the AFR doesn't establish the truth of Christianity. Well, of course it doesn't, I never said it did. Same here. Do I have to put THIS IS NOT AN ATTACK ON CALVINISM on any post of mine that talks about Calvinism but does not contain an actual criticism?

  4. You're entitled to include any phony disclaimer you please. And I'm entitled to treat it for what it's worth.

  5. That's funny, because I have been told by Calvinists that I summed up their position reasonably well. I copied that from a comment I did on another thread.