Saturday, January 24, 2009

When life begins and ends with a woman's decision

David Boonin was written the standard, academic defense of abortion: A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge 2005). According to one admiring reviewer:

“This is a very impressive book. I think Boonin has largely succeeded in what he sets out to do. The outcome is a very exhaustive treatment of the subject of the moral permissibility of abortion, which also makes it a very exhausting and demanding read. It is hard to imagine that Boonin has left any deserving stone unturned on the subject. Boonin's treatment of the arguments of the critics of abortion is thorough, judicious, and careful. His refutation is typically decisive and often very insightful. If there is any fault in his treatment of the critics' arguments, it is probably that he has bent over backwards to be charitable in some cases. Boonin's book is definitely an important contribution to the philosophical debate on abortion.”

Boonin’s work is useful for illustrating just how much moral capital an abortionist must consign to the flames to justify abortion. For this reason, I’ll quote and interact with some of his principle arguments.

Boonin’s work also illustrates the limitations of natural law theory. Among other things, natural law theory appeals to our innate moral intuitions.

However, a writer like Boonin spends much of his time questioning our innate moral intuitions. And when you’re as radical as Boonin, you can simply deny that you find something morally compelling or morally repellent.

Boonin’s work is largely an extended defense of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s notorious illustration. Boonin uses that hypothetical as his own frame of reference for much of the book, and tries to rebut prolife arguments by rebutting objections to her thought-experiment. Of course, this artificially narrows the pros and cons of the debate.

To understand what Boonin is saying, it’s necessary to present her original thought-experiment:

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. But now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.,Fall02/thomson.htm

An obvious problem with this hypothetical is that it’s quite artificial. It posits an analogy between the violinist and the unborn baby. But that very comparison is prejudicial. Are the two cases relevantly parallel?

Having set the stage, let’s review some of Boonin’s arguments:

“Even if the ‘adoption’ is really a kidnapping, as in the case where a woman steals a baby from the hospital and takes it home to raise as her own, we still presumably believe that her duty to care for the infant is as strong as the duty of any parent to care for her child, and this would again favor (a) [tacit consent] over (b),” ibid. 183n36.

This illustration is quite misleading.

i) Yes, a kidnapper has a duty to provide for the child. Having made the child dependent on the kidnapper, she assumes responsibility for the survival of the child.

ii) Of course, this doesn’t mean she has a right to the child. She has violated the rights, both of the parents, and the child. She has a duty to return the child to the custody of the parents. Ironically, her duty to provide for the child is predicated on the prior violation of another overriding duty.

iii) Tacit consent is not the issue. Suppose the child was a founding. A newborn baby is left on your doorstep. No one else will care for the child.

You didn’t consent to this responsibility. But you still have an obligation to care for the child rather than letting it die of exposure.

However, a secularist like Boonin might deny that intuition. There are no prior limits on what he’s prepared to deny.

“Consider the case of Laverne and Shirley, each of whom declines to make a substantial sacrifice on behalf of a three-year-old child who is in need of her assistance. In Shirley’s case, the child is a stranger, but in Laverne’s case the child is her daughter. Surely this will make a difference in our moral assessments of the two cases…The first thing to say is that it does not follow from the fact that there is a morally relevant difference between what Laverne does and what Shirley does that there is a difference in terms of the moral permissibility of what they do. For consider the case of Thelma and Louse, each of whom murders a third-year-old child in order to collect payment from someone who wants the child dead. The child Louse kills is a stranger, but the child Thelma kills is her own daughter. Surely this will make a difference in our moral assessments of the two cases here, too, just as it did in the case of Laverne and Shirley. Our moral intuitions almost invariably judge that as horrible as both acts are, Thelma’s is worse. But it is clear in this case that we do not really believe that Louise’s victim had any less of a right not to be killed than Thelma’s…And this suggests that at least a good deal of our intuitive response to the case of Laverne and Shirley can be accounted for by saying that Laverne is a worse person than Shirley, rather than by saying that Laverne does something she has no right to do while Shirley does something she has a right to do,” ibid. 227-28.

i) Laverne may well be a worse person, but that’s not the issue. It’s a worse deed. And it’s precisely the parental bond that makes it a worse deed.

ii) Boonin is also blurring the distinction between killing someone and letting him die, where the child in Shirley’s case stands for the violinist.

Now, there are cases in which letting someone die is morally equivalent to murder. If I let a child drown in swimming pool when it was within my power to rescue him, that’s morally equivalent to murder.

But there are other cases in which there is a morally significant difference. Where I’m not responsible for someone else’s self-destructive behavior (to take one example). If someone is committing slow-motion suicide through drug addiction, I could prevent his self-inflicted demise by kidnapping him and keeping him in a holding cell, where I restrict his diet. But that’s hardly a moral obligation on my part. Indeed, that would be overstepping my duties.

In the hypothetical case of the patient, we’re letting him die. In the case of abortion, we’re killing the infant.

It’s one thing to let a dying patient die. It’s another thing to euthanize a patient who’d recover (which is more analogous to an unborn baby). It’s not morally permissible to do this to a patient, regardless of biological affinity, or the lack thereof.

iii) At the same time, I do have a higher responsibility for the wellbeing of a drug addict who is my very own son or brother or best friend.

iv) And that doesn’t mean I have no obligations regarding the welfare of a perfect stranger.

“But there are several difficulties with this account of the difference between the cases of Laverne and Shirley. The first is simply that it seems to be utterly mysterious how the mere fact of biological relatedness could, in and of itself, generate such a difference in moral obligations…In addition, the claim that it is the biological difference that makes the difference in terms of permissibility in the case of Laverne and Shirley produces extremely counterintuitive results if we consider variations on the violinist and pregnancy cases that differ from the original cases in terms of biological relatedness only. Consider first the following case: You are about to unplug yourself from the stranger-violinist, as Thompson’s critic concedes you are permitted to do. At the last moment, a DNA test reveals that the violinist is actually a son of yours who you never knew existed. Many years go you had contributed to a study in which people donated sperm and egg samples for fertility research, and without your knowledge and against our expressed wishes someone had stolen some of what you had donated and created a zygote in vitro, which was then implanted in a woman, the result of which now lies on the bed next to you. If one objects to Thomson’s violinist analogy on the grounds that it ignores the morally relevant distinction between biological relatedness and biological nonrelatedness, then one will have to insist that in this modified case, it would be morally impermissible for you to unplug yourself from the violinist. But this is likely to strike most people as highly implausible. It is not difficult to imagine that this discovery would have some effect on your. Even though you have had no personal relationship or interaction with the violinist, the fact that he is your biological offspring might well make it more difficult for you to decide to unplug yourself. And it is not difficult to imagine that others might criticize you for deciding to unplug yourself in a way that they would not have done had the violinist been biologic ally unrelated to you. Still, it is extremely difficult to believe that while you have the right to unplug yourself from the violinist in Thomson’s version you do not have such a right in this version,” ibid. 229-31.

i) But Boonin is simply begging the question at this point. And a bioethicist has no right to beg the question at this point. He can’t take that conclusion for granted. He needs to defend his conclusion.

ii) I’d say a parent has no right to let his child die under those circumstances. The fact that he doesn’t know it was his own child until now is irrelevant. Having made this discovery, he has an obligation to get to know his child. And, yes, he has an obligation to save his life.

iii) Boonin also makes breezy claims about how most people would react. Does he have any statistical data to back that up? What’s his sample group, if any?

iv) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that most folks agree with him? So what? They might agree with him because they share certain assumptions in common. They might believe they have a right to let their son die in that situation because the alternative would violate their personal autonomy. But, of course, that’s another one of those assumptions that needs to be defended, and not taken for granted.

v) Suppose my dad has an affair. As a result of this illicit union, he fathers a son. Years later, my half-brother tracks me down. By now, both of us are grown men.

But he wants to get to know me. Become part of the family. How should I react?

Incidentally, this is a far more realistic scenario than Thomson’s hypothetical violinist.

a) At one level, my half-brother is a perfect stranger to me. I never met him before. We never communicated. I had no idea I even had a half-brother.

b) But does that mean I should treat him like a perfect stranger? No. We share a common, preexisting bond, even if we were unaware of our bond before now.

For one thing, we’re likely to share certain character traits, since we have the same father, and parents transfer some of their character traits to their offspring.

c) Unless my half-brother is a total creep, it ought to be a wonderful thing to suddenly discover a brother you never knew you had. It says something about Boonin that he treats situations like this as if they were a curse rather than a blessing. Nothing but a burden. A person who’s intruding on my “space.”

vi) One of Boonin’s standard tactics is to use borderline cases or limiting cases to challenge our moral intuitions.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that tactic. However, the fact that I might do something different in an extreme situation doesn’t mean I should do something different in a normal situation. At the very least, Boonin needs a separate argument to bridge the distance between his hypothetical scenario and a real life scenario.

On the face of it, the true analogy is not between an ordinary situation and an extraordinary situation, but between one extraordinary situation and another extraordinary situation of the same kind.

Boonin can’t simply extrapolate from a borderline case or limiting case to a normal case. On the face of it, all a borderline case would prove is that if the actual situation happens to be a borderline case, then different rules may apply. That doesn’t begin to show that different rules apply in a normal case.

Yes, we sometimes make exceptions in extreme situations. Does it therefore follow that we make the same exceptions is less extreme situations? Not at all.

I have a prima facie duty not to drive on the wrong side of the road. In a mandatory evacuation, the authorities may divert all traffic out of town. In that situation, I’m allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Does it follow, from this example, that I’m also entitled to drive on the wrong side of the road under ordinary circumstances? I don’t think so.

“There is a different and more satisfying explanation that can be given for that judgment: A woman has a stronger duty to assist her son or daughter than to assist a stranger not because she is the child’s biological parent, but because she is the child’s guardian…For as I argued in Section 4.4, it seems plausible to suppose that when a woman (or man) takes a newborn child home with her from the hospital she tacitly accepts the role of guardian for the child,” ibid. 232-233.

i) This is a very revealing example of the lengths to which Boonin is prepared to go to justify abortion. On this view, a parent has no parental duties unless he consents to care for his own child.

It’s good to pause for a moment and consider the consequences of that position. The parent/child relationship is the most fundamental of all human relationships. If even parental obligations are merely optional, then Boonin has poured a universal solvent on all social obligations.

ii) This also introduces a radical tension into his own position. You can’t speak of women’s rights, including a woman’s right to abortion, unless we have social obligations. For example, that we should oblige a woman’s right to abortion.

But if even something as natural and fundamental as parental obligations were optional, then in what sense should we oblige a woman who is a perfect stranger to us? If a child doesn’t have fundamental claims on his mother or father, then how does some anonymous woman have any claims on me?

iii) Boonin subverts the notion of moral duties in another respect. He acts as if all duties are voluntary. But that subverts the very notion of a duty. A duty may be a duty whether or not I consent to it. A duty obliges me to do something. That’s the point. What’s makes an obligation obligatory is, in many cases, that it’s morally compelling.

Of course, there are cases in which it’s possible to voluntarily assume certain duties. If I join the army, I assume certain duties which I didn’t have as a civilian.

But to treat all duties as inherently optional or voluntary denies the moral force of a moral obligation. That I’m sometimes required to do something irrespective of my personal preferences.

Suppose I’m driving to a job interview. There’s an accident ahead of me. The car ahead of me catches fire. I can drive around the scene of the accident and get to my appointment on time. Or I can rescue the driver from the burning car. If I do the latter, I’ll be late for my appointment, and blow my chance at landing the job.

What should I do? Let the driver burn to death? I don’t know how Boonin would answer that question. I do know how I’d answer that question.

iv) On a related note, Boonin doesn’t seem to think we should ever be obligated to do something if that entails personal sacrifice or hardship. Only do the right thing it if doesn’t cost you anything.

But the acid test of morality is doing the right thing even if it hurts. Even if it’s unfair.

Ask yourself this question: would you want a man like Boonin to be your friend, or father, or brother? Isn’t Boonin the kind of guy who would desert you in a crisis? Or, worse, hand you over to the enemy in exchange for certain favors?

v) Boonin has it exactly backwards. A parent is a guardian because he’s a parent. Parental duties imply guardianship, not vice versa.

Of course, Boonin can deny all this. In his disposable world, there are no moral boundaries. But that’s a price tag for that move. That move simultaneously undermines his case for a woman’s right to abortion.

“Finally, this analysis enables us to account for judgments that we would naturally make in variant cases of the story of Laverne and Shirley. Suppose, for example, that Laverne’s daughter is adopted. Does this make any difference to your assessment? I suspect that it does not. It would be difficult to deny that adoptive parents have all of the duties to the three-year-old children they have adopted that biological parents have to the three-year-old children they have raised from birth,” ibid. 233-34.

Several problems:

i) To say that some duties are voluntary doesn’t mean that all duties are voluntary. The fact that adoptive parents voluntarily assume parental duties doesn’t mean parental duties are voluntary.

ii) Moreover, to revert to my earlier example, I have an involuntary duty to the foundling.

Or, to vary the example, suppose I’m a soldier who stumbles across an orphaned child. Now, I’m in no position to care for all the orphans of the world. So, I have no obligation to care for each and every orphan.

This doesn’t mean, however, that if, in the course of providence, I cross paths with this particular orphan, whom no one else will care for him, and I’m in a position to do so, that I should leave him there to die.

Of course, if the soldier were David Boonin, the child’s prospects would be pretty dim. I expect that Boonin, for one, would abandon the child to his fate. After all, to take the child in might prevent Boonin from having the free time to write a long book on abortion rights. We mustn’t let mere human beings get in the way of human rights.

iii) In addition, even if put your child up for adoption, that doesn’t mean, morally speaking, that you thereby relinquish all parental duties to your child. Children are not commodities that we can simply trade or transfer to a second-party.

If, say, at some point in the future, your grown child tracked you down, you would still have a standing duty to be a mother or father to him. You wouldn’t have the right to treat your child like a perfect stranger, even if someone else raised him. He still has claims on you.

“In the case of the pregnant woman and the fetus, there is someone else who may be called upon to make a sacrifice if the woman agrees to bring the fetus to term: the baby’s father. The role of the father is conspicuously absent from Thomson’s story, and this threatens to create a problem for the good samaritan argument for the following reason: If there is a sense in which the father’s position is symmetric with the mother’s, and if we agree that the father has a duty to make sacrifices on behalf of the child, then there is an equally strong reason for thinking that the woman has duty to make a sacrificed for the fetus…And this, in turn, might justify the claim that you are entitled to unplug yourself from the violinist while the woman is not entitled to have an abortion,” ibid. 246.

i) This way of putting it skews the issue. It’s not as though the only reason to introduce paternal duties is to create a parallel argument, so that we can then establish maternal duties—as if the paternal duties have no independent force since all that ultimately matters is the choice of the mother. For whether the choice of the mother is the only decisive consideration is hardly something that Boonin is entitled to take for granted. That’s a key contention which he must defend, not merely assume.

Both parents have an independent duty to defend the life of their child. A father has a duty to prevent the murder of his child. A mother cannot overrule that paternal duty, any more than a father can overrule the maternal duty to protect her child.

ii) In addition, this is not a question of symmetric sacrifice, but symmetric duty.

“This objection has been pressed by Beckwith, among others, who argues as follows: consider a man who has brief sexual encounter with a woman. Since he does not wish to become a father, he insists that they use contraception, but the woman becomes pregnant despite their having taken every reasonable precaution,” ibid. 246.

Don’t you love the way unbelievers treat pregnancy as if it that were an unnatural consequence of sex? As if the natural purpose of sex had nothing to do with procreation, but sometimes, despite taking every reasonable “precaution,” you “accidentally” conceive a child.

It’s as if I said, despite every precaution to the contrary, I found food nutritious. Or despite every precaution to the contrary, breathing air oxygenated my lungs. Or despite every precaution, I found myself using my feet to walk.


“Although the man remains unaware of this fact, the woman decides to bring the pregnancy to term. After the baby is born, she tracks the man down and leads for child support. He refuses. After all, he says, even though he is partly responsible for the child’s existence, the fact that he used contraception shows that he did not wish to accept the responsibilities for being a father,” ibid. 245-47.

Of course, the obvious response to this is that, once you’re a father, you have paternal responsibilities whether or not you wish to accept your responsibilities. The duty flows from the fact. Being a father yields paternal duties.


“As a result of his refusal, the woman takes legal action against him. As Beckwith points out, ‘according to nearly all child-support laws in the United States he would still be obligated to pay support precisely because of his relationship to this child’ (1994: 164)…There are several problems with this objection based on obligation to pay child support. The first is that it conflates moral obligations with legal obligations,” 247.

Speaking for myself, I agree with Boonin that morality and legality are distinct issues. However, Boonin himself is not entitled to draw such a facile disjunction. After all, Boonin often cites popular opinion (or what he alleges to be popular opinion) to corroborate his moral intuitions. So child-support laws would furnish prima facie evidence of normal moral intuition on the issue at hand.

“The relationship that underwrites this obligation, Beckwith emphasizes, is not the mere fact that he is the biological father of the child. That would imply that sperm donors are also ‘morally responsible for children conceived with their semen, and Beckwith takes it that this is plainly implausible,” ibid. 247.

I disagree. Once again, Boonin is begging the question. And it’s a key question.

In fact, one of the stock objections to anonymous sperm donation is that men don’t have a right to donate their sperm in this no-strings-attached fashion. That’s a serious issue in bioethics. Not something that Boonin can hurry past without further ado. Men are responsible for what they do with their semen when they give it away to produce a child—their child.

Maybe Boonin thinks he can get away with this because he’s summarizing the position of an opponent. But that won’t do. He is critiquing what he takes to be the faulty reasoning of his opponent. That requires him, in intellectual honesty, to critique their faulty reasoning even when they concede a point to his position which is a faulty concession!

“Even if we agree that laws requiring such men to pay child support are morally proper, it still does not follow that such men stand under any moral obligation to pay such support that is independent of their obligation to obey the law generally?” ibid. 248.

i) Is that his actual position? That fathers have no inherent obligation to provide for their children?

If men have no special obligations to their children, then men have no special obligations to women—be it their wife or mother or sister or girlfriend—much less perfect strangers. No obligation to save a woman from a rapist. No obligation to help a woman whose car broke down on a deserted stretch of road, on a dark, rainy night.

It’s a very Hobbesean view of the world. Every man for himself.

ii) Incidentally, it trivializes fatherhood to reduce paternal duties to child support payments. Indeed, some fathers duck child support because this is all that’s required of them. They don’t have custody or visitation rights. They’re expected to write checks while being excluded from the life of their son or daughter. They would like to be more involved, but the system doesn’t let them.

“Or suppose instead, more mundanely, that in order for the child to survive, the father would have to undergo a painful series of bone marrow transplants, or have one of his kidneys removed. Again, the law would surely not compel him to undergo such procedures…But now suppose that instead of needing money to pay the medical bills, what the child needs is a new kidney or a bond marrow transplant. Again, the law clearly does not and clearly would not require a woman under such circumstances to make such a sacrifice and, again, virtually everyone would regard it as outrageous if it did…Unless Pavlischek is willing to endorse laws compelling people to donate needed bone marrow or organs to their children, for example, he must also agree that the legitimacy of laws imposing financial burdens on unwilling parents provides no support for the legitimacy of laws imposing physical burdens on unwilling parents that would violate their bodily autonomy,” ibid. 250-54.

Several problems:

i) Is he claiming that (a) there should be no legal requirement to that effect because there is no moral requirement to that effect? Or is he claiming that (b) even though there is a moral requirement to that effect, that’s insufficient to justify a legal requirement?

If (a), then his claim is question-begging. Why would it not be parental duty to donate a spare organ or bone marrow to your ailing child? If that is Boonin’s contention, then he needs to defend that contention, not treat it as a given.

If so, then that also illustrates just how much he’s prepared to surrender in order to uphold the right to an abortion. To repeat myself, the parent/child relationship is the most fundamental human relationship there is. If the price we must pay to defend abortion is to devalue such an elemental, social commitment, then abortion comes at an astronomical cost.

If (b), then that is still a major concession.

ii) If you don’t want to suffer any infringement on your “bodily autonomy,” then don’t have sex in the first place. And don’t have children.

iii) Invoking “bodily autonomy” is just another case of Boonin begging a key question. Notice how often he does that. He needs to defend that tendentious criterion.

iv) Although it shouldn’t be necessary to legally mandate that parents donate spare organs or bone marrow to their ailing children, I don’t see why it would be wrong to pass such a law—in the case of selfish parents.

Once more, Boonin needs to argue his position, not assert it.

v) The question at issue is not whether some parents are unwilling, but whether they have a right to be unwilling. Are they shirking their duties?

vi) And this is another instance in which he uses an extreme scenario to justify a parallel position on a less extreme scenario.

vii) Yes, there’s a sense in which pregnancy is a physical burden. But it’s not as if women are doing a favor for others. They are doing themselves a favor as well. After all, this is the natural process by which women as well as men come to exist.

Moreover, prolifers don’t think that mothers should have to bear children or rear children on their own.

viii) He has a double standard where the law is concerned. If the law implicitly supports the prolife argument, then he discounts the relevance of the law by distinguishing between morality and legality.

But if the law implicitly supports his own position, the state of the law suddenly becomes relevant to the discussion.

There’s a point beyond which you can’t argue for a moral intuition. In fact, we never argue for the intuition directly. Rather, we use lots of different examples to illustrate our moral intuitions. These enable us to draw some useful distinctions. To avoid overstating or understating our case.

But, at the end of the day, if someone like Boonin says parents have no parental duties unless they consent to parental duties, or that parents have no moral obligation to donate a spare organ to an ailing child, you can’t force him to say otherwise.

It’s like a man who says Catherine Deneuve is ugly. If that’s his reaction, then there’s nothing I can do to talk him out of it. I might question his manhood. I might suspect that, under the surface, he’s not quite human. Maybe he’s a Martian in disguise. A pod person.

That’s one advantage of biblical ethics. While someone like Boonin would also reject biblical ethics, it’s possible to argue for the Scripture on objective grounds. We’re not limited to mere intuition.

At the same time, I think liberals are often dissembling. They can get away with it because no one is forcing them to suffer the consequences of their stated position.

For example, I notice that Judith Jarvis Thomson is now on YouTube. And she looks the way you’d expect a woman to look who was born about 80 years ago.

Well, “bodily autonomy” in 2009 ain’t what it was in 1971, when she published her infamous article. She is far more vulnerable than she was back then. It’s only a matter of time before she is hospitalized. Before she is dependent on the kindness of strangers. Before she becomes the violinist.

What if her doctors and nurses measured patient Thomson by Prof. Thomson’s yardstick? She would find herself in the dumpster, alongside the aborted baby. If we began to hold liberals to the practical consequences of their liberal theories and policies, there’s be far fewer liberals.

Incidentally, Francis Beckwith has written a long, trenchant review of Boonin’s book:

An Underwhelming Response

Dan responds...

Paul cites two books written by libertarian philosophers to demonstrate that choice doesn’t demand a libertarian understanding of the term.

In response, first off quoting philosophers is helpful, but the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common sensical understanding of terms. So the response doesn’t make contact with the objection. Second, it doesn’t seem that the quotes Mantra provides support his position.
1. "Mantra?"

2. It is well known that the dictionary is horrible in discussions like this. The dictionary is not normative. It simply reports how words have been used. But as long as this game is being played:


S: (n) choice, pick, selection (the person or thing chosen or selected) "he was my pick for mayor"

S: (n) choice, selection, option, pick (the act of choosing or selecting) "your choice of colors was unfortunate"; "you can take your pick"


"Choice consists of the mental process of thinking involved with the process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them for action."


i. An option; a decision; an opportunity to choose or select something.
ii. One selection or preference; that which is chosen or decided; the outcome of a decision.
iii. The ice cream sundae is a popular choice for dessert.
iv. Anything that can be chosen.


1: the act of choosing : selection
2: power of choosing : option

Cambridge Dictionary:

Choice - an act or the possibility of choosing:

Choose - to decide what you want from a range of things or possibilities" (note, the possibilitites do not need to be able to be chosen.)


Choice - noun 1 an act of choosing. 2 the right or ability to choose. 3 a range from which to choose. 4 something chosen

Yeah, so now what, Dan? Got beat by your own method. Intellectual integrity demands that you now issue a statement to the effect that "choice" doesn't necessitate a libertarian understanding going off the dictionary alone; sola Designo.

Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro in their book Naturalism say choice is an undetermined mental action and when we make choices we typically explain our making them in terms of reasons, where a reason is a purpose, end, or goal for choosing. Paul’s quote omits the word “undetermined”1, so contrary to Paul’s conclusion, Goetz and Taliaferro were teaching a libertarian understanding of the term “choice”.
And of course this was admitted in my post. Dan is acting like he's making a point my post didn't make. Furthermore, I argued for the exclusion of that term, Dan failed to grapple with that argument. Thus, he doesn't move the discussion foreword and seems to bank on the laziness of his Arminian readers such that they will not read what I wrote but think he scored a point by pointing out something that I concealed which is detrimental to my argument.

Next Paul quotes Kane’s essay in Four Views on Free Will: A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do. (Kane, For Views on Free Will, ed. Sosa, Blackwell, 2008, p33)

While Kane certainly adds a lot of insight into the discussion about determinism and freewill, his theory is somewhat exotic, so I have to come back to the point that perhaps this is not the best way to establish the common sense understanding of choice.
1. Scales: Dan/Kane. Um...., next question

2. In fact, Kane speaks directly to guys like Dan and his introspective argument when he writes: "The point is that introspective evidence does not give us the whole story about free will. If we stay on the surface and just consider what our immediate experience tells us, free will, I believe, is bound to appear mysterious, as it has appeared to so many people through the centuries" (Kane, Four Views, 34).

3. So, Kane says that your common sense understanding is confused, and anyone who thinks about it would see that. At best, Dan argues for the confusion or shallowness of the layman to function as putative evidence against Calvinism. Is that the reed Arminianism wants to hang much of their rhetorical argument on? Slender indeed.

4. As a side note, I wasn't trying to offer a "layman's" understanding of choice. The "layman" part of the post had to do with the equally intuitive notion that many have to the effect that indeterminism limits control, and thus responsibility. That was my "layman" point. Dan failed to grasp the subtleties.

In short, Kane’s theory is that while we are simultaneously making efforts to choose two different things, indeterministic chaos in the neural networks of the brain hinders both efforts. The “winner” is the choice. For Kane, the indeterminism isn’t in the source of the choice, but rather it’s an obstacle to making choices. (35)
And of course this is only half true. Kane allows for a determinism later on in life, so long as the agent formed her will by a will-setting action. Kane would admit that these already-formed agents choose deterministically. So, Kane knows that "choice" doesn't "always" imply "libertarianism." The point about the indeterminism kicked up in the neural networks and the choice the agent makes is that the agent tries for some action A, succeeds in hitting A despite the indeterministic element of chance involved, and thus can be held responsible for A, and, if this choice was will-setting, the agent is ultimately responsible for all the choices made down the line, even the deterministic ones. This too was discussed in footnote two of my post. Dan seems to have failed to grasp both Kane and myself here.

Kane’s explanation is overly physical as opposed to relying on an immaterial soul. (25) But Christians hold that man’s will is part of his immaterial soul.
What's ironic about this is that Kane is a Christian!

I mean, has Dan been living under a rock for over a decade? Has he heard of constitutionalists? Christian physicalists? Corcoran, Merricks, Murphy, van Inwagen, &c.? Does he think man is justified by faith and belief in dualism alone? But Arminians always tell us they don't add works to salvation. (I couldn't resist.)

The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. (similar definitions available here and here) Determinism includes the idea that preceding causal forces render all our actions necessary such that they cannot be otherwise. So a “predetermined choice” implies an “impossible possibility” and an “inalternate alternative”. Since the bible states that we have wills and choose, determinism isn’t consistent with the bible.
1. I've already discussed the distinction between having and making choices. Given this, the above definition is vague. I do make choices out of a pile of things - the alternatives. But, this does not mean that all the alternatives are possibilities I have, where 'have' means each is a genuine alternative possibility I could instantiate.

2. Though I have no problem dissing "can do otherwise," Dan should know that classical compatibilists would take issue with his question begging epithet here.

3. Dan would have to make clear what verses he is thinking about. But at the very least, I highly doubt the Hebrews had the American Heritage College Dictionary at their disposal.

4. Since "A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do" (Kane, Four Views 33), and this is consistent with determinism, and the Bible says we choose, therefore, determinism is consistent with the Bible.

At any rate, in closing, it seems Dan just needed to get something off by way of response. If not, then I don't understand the time spent on his response as it offered nothing substantive which would move the discussion foreword. Thus, the response seemed underwhelming. To recap my initial argument:

[1] Top libertarian theorists do not define choice as necessiating libertarianism.

[2] Top libertarians have noted counter-intuitive aspects of their theory, things the ordinary, man on the street thinks about indeterminate or uncaused happenings.

[3] Therefore, choice doesn't necessitate a libertarian understanding and libertarianism has its own elements that run contrary to "common sense."

Theological noncognitivism

“I will now turn my attention to theological noncognitivism. This is the view that theological terms (such as ‘God’ and ‘the supernatural’) are non-sensical, and cannot even be entertained as concepts. I will focus here on the term ‘God’ as defined and used by Steve Hays, one of the Triabloggers….But what is mind? By taking the human mind to be aspatial, Steve is refusing to locate it in the human brain. Yet, Steve says that neuroscientists, by studying the brain, can study ‘manifestations’ of the human mind. This implies that the human mind is at least in some way spatial.”

i) It implies nothing of the kind. Abstract objects like numbers can be manifested in time and space. This doesn’t imply that numbers are spatial or temporal.

ii) Keep in mind that this isn’t a dividing point between theist and atheist. For example, Platonic realism is a live option in mathematics. Many mathematicians, even if they reject Platonic realism, would never say that Platonic realism is nonsensical. That abstract objects can’t even be entertained as concepts.

A number of secular philosophers have argued for the existence of abstract objects. Can these philosophers not even form a concept of their own position?

Streitfeld’s argument is not simply with me, the Christian, at this point, but with any thinker, theistic or atheistic, who believes in timeless and/or spaceless entities.

iii) Incidentally, there’s nothing extraordinary about the experience of remote awareness. By Streitfeld’s logic, if I stub my big toe, then my consciousness must reside in my toe since I feel pain in my toe.

iv) Apropos (iii), case studies in parapsychology furnish more dramatic examples of remote awareness.

“Generally, when we think of the mind, we think of thought. Minds are thinking things. But thought takes time. That is presumably why Steve says that the human mind is temporal.”

No, I say the human mind is temporal because successive mental states are a feature of human cognition.

“Yet, this would preclude the possibility of there being an atemporal mind.”

That begs the question of whether temporal succession is an essential feature of mentality, rather than an incidental feature of finite minds.

“Steve also says that God does not interact with or respond to the physical world, which is both spatial and temporal. (We may pause to note that the Bible offers many examples of God interacting with spatio-temporal events; e.g., God is depicted as engaging Job in conversation. This runs contrary to Steve’s usage.)”

Of course, I’ve already discussed this issue in relation to open theism. The fact that God effects a conversation with Job doesn’t mean the divine agent must enter into time to cause a temporal effect.

If you play computer chess, you are, in a roundabout sense, playing chess with the computer programmer. Yet you’re not directly interacting with the computer programmer when you play computer chess. He doesn’t occupy your time and space at the time you play chess. He’s not sitting across the table from you. He’s not waiting for you to make a move before he makes a countermove. Indeed, he may be dead by the time you play computer chess.

Streitfeld has such a simpleminded grasp of elementary issues.

“Steve also says that God ‘can instantiate any compossible state of affairs.’ Steve is here coupling the term ‘God’ with the verb ‘instantiate.’ Like all dynamic verbs (as opposed to stative verbs), ‘instantiate’ denotes an action. To instantiate something is to do something. Actions are events. Thus, God cannot instantiate anything. This is a contradiction in Steve’s usage.”

i) Streitfeld fails to distinguish between cause and effect. The fact that the effect is temporal doesn’t entail the temporality of the cause. A cause is not necessarily an event. Rather, the cause is a cause of an event. Some causes are prior events, but it doesn’t follow that every cause is, itself, an event.

ii) For one thing, that depends on your theory of causation. A counterfactual theory of causation doesn’t require temporal precedence.

iii) The secular philosopher and physicist Quentin Smith has argued that time itself is the temporal effect of a timeless cause. Ironically, Streitfeld won’t even allow a fellow atheist like Smith to present an atheistic cosmology. That would be “nonsensical.”

“For example, the sentence ‘God loves mankind’ indicates that God maintains some feelings about mankind. The maintaining of feelings requires time. God thus cannot maintain any feelings, or any state of affairs whatsoever.”

Streitfeld fails to distinguish between popular usage and technical usage. In ordinary language we use tensed verbs to express God’s attitude towards humanity.

However, if we wish to express ourselves with greater theological or philosophical precision, we can eliminate tense from our description. For a timeless God, there was never a time when he didn’t love the elect. But this isn’t synonymous with the claim that God loves the elect at all the times or all of the time. Rather, time is not a factor. God’s love is literally timeless.

Non-Christian Miracle Accounts In A Christian Worldview

Chris Price recently wrote an article on Luke's census. In the comments section, an anonymous poster responded with some claims about the alleged gullibility of ancient people and supposed parallels between ancient non-Christian miracle accounts and the miracle accounts of the New Testament.

There are too many bad arguments in his posts to address all of them here. He's far too vague. If two documents make miracle claims, and we're to compare the two, we have to make distinctions like the ones Chris Price refers to. How early are the sources who report the miracle? In what genre did they write? What reasons did they have to lie or to tell the truth? How did other sources respond to the miracle claim? Etc. The anonymous poster is far too vague in the comparisons he makes between non-Christian and Christian sources. Christians have explained in depth why their miracle reports, like the early Christians' claims surrounding Jesus' resurrection, are credible. And they give higher priority to miracles that are better evidenced. Paralleling other Christian miracle accounts with pagan accounts, without addressing issues like the ones mentioned above, is insufficient. What knowledgeable Christian argues for Christianity primarily on the basis of something like Jesus' healing of a blind man in John 9? Different miracle claims have different degrees of evidence. Knowledgeable Christians will proportion their arguments accordingly. And even the miracles with less evidence are better attested than the anonymous poster suggests.

Regarding the alleged gullibility of ancient people, see here. It was common for ancient sources to express skepticism of miracle accounts, such as stories about the gods. For example, both Celsus, a second-century critic of Christianity, and Origen, a third-century Christian critic of Celsus, referred to the tendency of pagans to disbelieve the accounts that circulated among them. They would often allegorize the accounts, unlike the early Christians, who interpreted documents like the gospels in a highly historical manner. Origen repeatedly contrasts the evidence for Christian claims with the lack of such evidence for pagan accounts. See, for examples of the above, Origen's Against Celsus 2:55, 8:3, 8:45. Ancient writers often attempted to debunk miracle accounts (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], p. 134). The gospels themselves refer to early naturalistic theories proposed by both the early Christians and their enemies (a gardener moved Jesus' body, Jesus' disciples stole the body, etc.).

It's not as though an enemy of Christianity like Saul of Tarsus would want to accept Christian miracle claims just because he supposedly was gullible about the supernatural. One supernaturalist will oppose the claims of another. Christians oppose Muslims, Jews oppose Christians, etc. Belief in one miracle doesn't necessarily imply a likelihood that another miracle account will be believed.

Some ancient people were gullible. But the gullibility of some in general doesn't establish the gullibility of the Christian sources in particular. And even gullible people can be credible. A court witness can be credible in reporting a murder he saw even if he carries a good luck charm in his pocket, reads his horoscope in the newspaper every day, or believes in UFOs. Some people are less gullible than others, and an individual can be gullible to differing degrees in different circumstances. The anonymous poster's vague references to general gullibility among ancient people are insufficient to dismiss the Christian miracle accounts in particular.

A Christian worldview allows for the acceptance of non-Christian accounts of the supernatural (demon possession, near-death experiences, etc.). Christianity doesn't require that only Christian miracle claims be true. The Bible refers to the healing of Naaman, who had participated in pagan religion and intended to keep doing so even after being healed (2 Kings 5:18). See, also, John 11:49-52, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, Revelation 13:13-14, etc. If Josephus, Tacitus, or some other historical source gives us a credible non-Christian miracle account, there are multiple plausible ways to reconcile a non-Christian miracle with a Christian worldview. We don't begin with the assumption that all miracle claims, or non-Christian miracle claims in particular, must be false.

And it's not as though a miracle associated with Vespasian, for example, would be comparable to the far larger quantity and quality of miracles associated with Jesus. If a Jewish man living 50 years before Jesus' birth claims to receive a miraculous answer to prayer, a naturalist may want to dismiss the claim, but a Christian has no need to dismiss it. And if a Hindu claims to heal a man, a Christian may want to disprove that claim, but he still has reason to maintain his faith in Christ if the healing is authentic. If God is the most powerful being in the universe, then we should look for the miracle worker who carries the biggest stick. A miraculous answer to the prayer of a pre-Christian Jew or a healing associated with Vespasian wouldn't put that Jew or Vespasian in the same category as Jesus. If Christianity has a nuclear arsenal, it doesn't accomplish much to argue that another religion, like Islam, or an individual, like Vespasian, has a few swords and a couple of bows and arrows.

But do the non-Christian miracle accounts in question even amount to that much? For an example of how to compare Christian and non-Christian miracle accounts, see the articles on the alleged miracles of Vespasian here and here. Concerning Apollonius of Tyana, see here and here. On alleged pagan parallels in general, see the relevant material in Steve Hays' e-book on the resurrection, This Joyful Eastertide, and here. The anonymous poster in Chris Price's thread doesn't discuss some other parallels that are often cited by skeptics, such as Sabbati Sevi and Marian apparitions. On those, see here, here, and here.

I suspect that these parallels drawn between Christian and non-Christian sources are often an unintended compliment to Christianity. The critics who draw these parallels don't know how to argue against the Christian accounts on their own merits, since those accounts hold up well by normal historical standards, so they try to dismiss the accounts by comparing them to other accounts that they assume would be rejected by Christians. Often, an inability to dismiss the Christian sources by normal historical standards is what's motivating the shift to a focus on parallels in non-Christian sources.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"How can I call myself a Christian and vote for a Democrat?!"

“How can you call yourself a Christian and vote for a Democrat, knowing that their platform is pro-choice when it comes to abortion?”

Of course, that’s caricature—as if the only reason to oppose the Democrat party is due to the isolated issue of abortion.

“In addition, there are many other issues that are sensitive to the hearts of God’s people also. Many of us are just as passionate about the economy, energy, international affairs, the war in Iraq, immigration, healthcare, education, and social security to name a few.”

Of course, this is code language for claiming that the Democrat party is right on all these other issues. It’s only wrong on the isolate issue of abortion. Therefore, all these other issues outweigh its position on abortion.

“This is why God tells us to speak up for ones who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9), but He also tells us that the righteous care about justice for the poor (Proverbs 29:7).”

Are the poor all of a kind in Proverbs? Doesn’t Proverbs say that some people are poor due to their lifestyle choices? Doesn’t Proverbs say that some people are poor because they are sluggards? Is Proverbs sympathetic to the plight of the sluggard? Does it mandate a welfare program to provide for the needs of the sluggard?

Pastor Williamson is assuming that some Americans are popr because of social injustice. Is that accurate? Aren’t some Americans poor because of single-motherhood and out-of-wedlock birth? Aren’t some Americans poor because of drug addiction? Aren’t some Americans poor because they’re college dropouts?

Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, welfare programs create a culture of dependency. They don’t solve poverty. They exacerbate poverty.

“God is concerned for the unborn and as He is concerned for the poor born. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus explained how people who ministered to the hungry, the thirsty, the alien, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned were true believers and they would one day be welcomed into His kingdom. He went on to say that people who didn’t have those kinds of priorities for the disenfranchised would be cast into everlasting punishment. This tells us that God is upset over how we neglect, mishandle, mistreat, and even chastise the poor in this country.”

Of course, this is a classic misinterpretation of Mt 25. The “disenfranchised” in this pericope are persecuted Christians.

“We must keep in mind that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed primarily for mistreating the poor in her midst (Ezekiel 16:49).”

i) This assumes that poverty in America is a result of oppression. What’s the basis for that comparison?

ii) Moreover, there are obvious differences between attempts to reduce abortion and attempts to reduce poverty.

Abortion is a direct act of homicide. There are fairly straightforward legal means of lowering the abortion rate. You use the same methods you use to crack down on homicide generally. You severely penalize it as a deterrent.

There’s no straightforward means of reducing poverty where poverty is a result of an individual’s lifestyle choice. How is Pastor Williamson going to prevent promiscuous men and women from conceiving children out-of-wedlock, who will thereby lack the stability of a two-parent home?

“With that being said, it’s fair to ask another question also: How can we call ourselves Christians and not care about the poor?”

What about people who don’t care about themselves? Who don’t care about their own children?

What makes Pastor Williamson think we have all that much control over the behavior of consenting adults?

“We must assess and address the systems that help produce and perpetuate poverty in this nation.”

Of course, this is just warmed over Marxism, and it turns a blind eye to actual sources of poverty within his own community.

“Therefore when voting it’s up to each individual Christian to determine how God would have him or her to vote. How God leads one to vote will be different from how He leads another person to vote.”

I see. Does he lead people to vote for David Duke and George Wallace?

“God knows we all have different experiences and perspectives that factor into our decisions.”

If that’s the basis on which God leads us, then God isn’t leading us—he’s following us.

“This means we are not permitted to judge our brothers on their political choices because that leads to self-righteousness and contempt (Romans 14:1-12).”

i) If some of his parishioners were skinheads and Neonazis, I wonder if he’d be so tolerant. What if his associate pastor was a Kleagle for the KKK?

ii) More to the point, the NT can be quite judgmental of professing believers whose conduct is out of step with their Christian profession.

“We will vote our choice for President but we must bear in mind that God Himself has already elected the next President in eternity past (Psalm 75:6-7)! Therefore, let us stop fretting, fighting and judging and trust God’s wisdom and eternal plan.”

If he’s going to retreat into fatalism or hyper-Calvinism, then he can spare us the social gospel. Wasn’t Jim Crow part of God’s eternal plan?

Divine repentance

layman said...

Steve, would you mind walking me through how a passage such as Genesis 6:6 should be understood? Thanks:

Genesis 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (NKJV)

Let’s discuss some general issues, then apply those considerations to the case at hand.

1.Does the Bible sometimes employ anthropomorphic depictions of God? I’d say yes. For example:

i) It uses certain human social roles to depict God, viz. father, son, farmer, potter, husband, shepherd.

ii) It assigns body parts to God, viz., arms, hands, mouth, eyes.

iii) It also employs inanimate and bestial depictions of God, viz. rock, wind, water, fire, light, lion, eagle, hen.

iv) In fact, God himself, in some theophanies, simulates a human role—complete with all the trappings (e.g. Isa 6:1ff.).

v) Of course, a pagan—with his pantheon of corporeal or metamorphic gods—might take all of these theistic metaphors literally. However, the Bible also goes out of its way to contrast the true God with heathen divinities.

v) This, of itself, doesn’t prove that we should interpret Gen 6:6 anthropomorphically. However, it eliminates any presumption in favor of a literal interpretation. The anthropomorphic interpretation is a live exegetical option.

2.We’d also expect anthropomorphic metaphors to be more common in certain literary genres, like poetry and historical narrative.

For example, God is the main actor or lead character in many Biblical narratives. So we’d expect the narrator to represent God in ways similar to the human players. The story is written in a common universe of discourse.

3.Certain human emotions are either contingent on the limitations of human experience, or amplified by the limitations of human experience. Unless God shares the same limitations, he won’t experience the same emotions. The anthropomorphic interpretation is a live exegetical option.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can automatically discount all emotive depictions of God as anthropomorphic. But it eliminates any presumption that such a depiction must be literal.

God and man share some things in common. But if a particular emotion is clearly contingent on the vicissitudes of human finitude, then we would treat that depiction as anthropomorphic.

Keep in mind that there’s also a certain amount of hyperbole in the way Bible writers depict human beings. You can find that in the Psalms, for example. This is not a clinical diagnosis of David’s physical or mental state at the time.

4.Apropos (3), the Bible ascribes certain properties to God, such as omnipotence and omniscience, which are incompatible with certain human emotions or reactions:

5.This raises a question of theological method. Some Christians don’t think we should harmonize Scripture. They think we should leave all these disparate descriptions in a state of tension.

However, Paul was a very logical thinker. And Dallas Willard has written on article on “Jesus the Logician”:

We can cite other examples of Bible writers who use logic to make a point (i.e. Isaiah’s satirical attack on heathen idolatry). Likewise, when Jesus and the Apostles debate their Jewish opponents, the question at issue is which side is consistent with the OT scriptures.

So I think it’s unscriptural to avoid harmonizing Scripture.

6. It’s easy to see why, for purposes of communication, a transcendent God would sometimes be depicted in humanoid terms. That helps the reader identify with God.

It’s not so easy to see why a humanoid God would be depicted in transcendent terms. In what possible sense are attributes like omniscience and omnipotence metaphorical?

7. Returning to the verse at issue, I think the language is metaphorical. I think it’s designed to express God’s literal disapproval of sin in vivid terms which a human audience could relate to.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A life of intellectual and moral virtue

“A serious and thoughtful objection against metaphysical naturalism is that it cannot provide a basis for some of our deepest and most intuitive moral judgments…The argument is clearly stated by Alvin Plantinga. He first notes that there seem to be instances of real and objectively horrifying evil in the world (Plantinga, The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 326). The real and objectively horrifying acts that Plantinga means are those that are purposely and maliciously committed, like the hideous tortures and genocidal atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, Stalin, the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.”

And what is Parsons’ alternative?
“Nature has designed the human organism to fulfill a characteristic function, just as other organisms are adapted to the performance of their roles in the economy of nature.”
Notice how he personifies the natural process—attributing goal-oriented behavior to the natural process. But from a secular standpoint, this is literal nonsense.

So, if we remove the teleological ascriptions, what, exactly, does his claim amount to? Hard to see what’s left, really.
“Humans are naturally adapted to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue in society with other human beings.”
How could he possibly arrive at that conclusion from naturalistic evolution? How does evolution select for a life of intellectual and moral virtue?

Moreover, if his claim is true, then how does that explanation account for the atrocities of Stalin, Hitler, Hussein, Pol Pot, &c.? If human “organisms” are naturally “designed” or naturally “adapted” to live a life of intellectual and moral virtue, then how come so many human “organisms” fail to fulfill that very role that nature has assigned to them?

Put another way, what would count as evidence against his claim? Given the evidence of human barbarity, what evidence does he appeal to prove that this is just an aberration? What natural evidence supplies the norm?

Black on black genocide

"Roe v. Wade has played a big role in the devastation of the African-American community."

Prominent Arminian Blogger Denies that Jesus is Human

Beowoof2k8 said...

Prominent Calvinist bloggers deny that Jesus is God
The great Calvinist super geniuses over at Triablogue have posted what is possibly their most idiotic post to date. Their title is "Why Jesus is a sinner" and here is the content of their post:

i) "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory" (Rom 3:23).
ii) All means all.
iii) Ergo, Jesus sinned and fell short of God's glory.

The reason their argument fails is that when it is said "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory," God Himself (and God alone) is clearly exempted from the statement. Not to mention that God obviously can't fall short of His own glory. Hence, Jesus, being God, cannot be included in the statement "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory." This is nothing but a classic example of Calvinists denying that Jesus is God. The only way to use this verse as proof that all doesn't mean all is to deny the divinity of Christ! So there you have it: Triablogue is run by Arians.

Prominent Arminian blogger denies that Jesus is human!

Jesus, being man, can be included in the Apostle's statement. It does say all after all. Man is not exempted from the statement. Not to mention that man obviously can fall short of God's glory. Hence, Jesus, being man, can be included in the statement "All have sinned." (That is, assuming the natural, common sense understanding of "all.") This is nothing but a classic example of Arminians denying that Jesus is human. The only way to use this verse as proof that all always means all is to deny the humanity of Christ! So there you have it: To the glory of Christ's grace blog is run by Docetists.

Why freewill theism makes God the author of evil

The great Calvinist super geniuses over at Triablogue have posted what is possibly their most idiotic post to date. Their title is "Why Jesus is a sinner" and here is the content of their post:

i) "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory" (Rom 3:23).
ii) All means all.
iii) Ergo, Jesus sinned and fell short of God's glory.

The reason their argument fails is that when it is said "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory," God Himself (and God alone) is clearly exempted from the statement. Not to mention that God obviously can't fall short of His own glory. Hence, Jesus, being God, cannot be included in the statement "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory." This is nothing but a classic example of Calvinists denying that Jesus is God. The only way to use this verse as proof that all doesn't mean all is to deny the divinity of Christ! So there you have it: Triablogue is run by Arians.

Posted by beowulf2k8 at 8:06 PM

Three quick comments before I proceed to my primary observation:

i) I’m merely applying Arminian hermeneutics to a text of scripture. It’s very revealing how agitated they become when you consistently apply their hermeneutical principles to the Bible.

ii) I already have stated views on the deity and impeccability of Christ.

iii) I’ve already responded to beowulf.

iv) Now I’m going to make a larger point:

a) The suppressed premise of his argument is that if Jesus is divine, then Jesus can do no wrong.

However, that’s an invalid inference for freewill theism to draw. If God discarnate (the Father, the Holy Spirit) or God incarnate (the Son) is a free agent, in the libertarian sense, then it’s possible for God to do wrong.

b) Not only is that implicit in freewill theism, but open theism makes that implication explicit. Take the flood. According to open theism, God really did regret sending the flood. God makes many mistakes, of which this is one.

On this view, God was wrong to kill all the antediluvians. Indeed, by his very own admission, God was wrong to kill the antediluvians.

So libertarian theism makes God the author of evil in the most direct sense imaginable. God is the actual agent of wrongdoing.

Hence, Jesus could, indeed, be in the wrong. Jesus could, indeed, be a sinner.

There are two ways that Arminians can try to weasel out of this unwelcome result:

c) They might concede that while it’s possible for God/Christ to do wrong, this possibility is never realized. Scripture assures us that God can do no evil, that Jesus was sinless.

Of course, that answer fails to address the logical ramifications of their position.

What is more, the teaching of Scripture has never posed much of an obstacle to Arminian theology. This would hardly be the first time that Arminians repudiated the teaching of Scripture. Arminians reject a number of biblical doctrines. So why not reject the sinlessness of Jesus? Why not be consistently unscriptural?

d) Arminians like to deny that open theists are “true” Arminians on the grounds that open theism is at odds with the theology of Arminius. But that objection is obviously fallacious.

There’s such a thing as an Arminian tradition. It is subject to historical development. It evolves over time. A number of theologians have contributed to the Arminian tradition. It’s silly to accuse someone of misrepresenting Arminian theology unless he reproduces the theology of Arminius.

The covenant of works

A preliminary comment before I proceed. PaulSceptic is a card-carrying member of the lunatic fringe. He makes John Spong look like a fundamentalist.

He’s a newbie blogger who’s tried to call attention to himself by picking a fight with an established, high-volume blog. Pursuant to that end, he will use a post of mine (or another T-blogger) as a pretext to affix his irrelevant, off-topic comments.

I’m not going to make an open-ended commitment to responding to his irrelevancies. I will only respond if, and when, it serves my agenda, not his. As a rule, if he adds irrelevant, off-topic comments to my post, I’ll delete them.

I’m only responding to this comment because it raises some rather routine objections to Gen 2-3, and so it’s a topic of general interest.


“Total inherited depravity is the reverse of the Genesis story whether it is fair or unfair.”

Is that a fact?

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).

“For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

Moving along:

“Calvinists say that Adam knew good and evil, that God gave him a ‘covenant of works’ consisting of the moral law (at least the 10 commandments) and said ‘If you keep these Laws, if you do all these works, you will earn heaven,’ but say the Calvinists, Adam blew it, and as a result none of us knows good and evil anymore and thus we need revelation to tell us good and evil.”

i) Notice how many different claims he bundles into one sentence. Even if just one of these claims happened to be correct, the sentence as a whole might still be false on several counts.

ii) For purposes of Gen 2-3, and Adam’s probationary status, Calvinism doesn’t have to ascribe to Adam a general knowledge of good and evil. It only has to ascribe to Adam a specific knowledge of good and evil with respect to the prohibition against consuming the forbidden fruit. Adam knew that this particular action was evil, since God forbad it.

The extent of Adam’s ethical discernment, beyond that specific issue, while an interesting question to pursue in its own right, is irrelevant to Gen 2-3.

iii) Calvinism in general doesn’t say that God entered into a covenant of works with Adam. Rather, that’s the position of the Westminster Confession—along with many traditional Divines. But this is a controversial issue in 20C Reformed theology.

So your claim is clearly overstated. It’s the closest thing to a true statement you make in the course of your attack on Calvinism. The only thing you say that even comes within hailing distance of the truth.
And even that’s inaccurate—reflecting your ignorance of 20C intramural debates within Calvinism.

BTW, I personally have no problem with the covenant of works, as long as we carefully define our terms.

iv) Feel free to quote 5 or 6 Reformed theologians who say that God revealed the Decalogue to Adam.

v) Does Calvinism in general say that Adam was in a position to “earn heaven”?

You’re confusing reward with merit. For example, children have a filial duty to obey the reasonable commands of their parents. As an incentive, parents may choose to reward filial obedience, but that doesn’t mean the child earned it. If it’s obligatory, it can’t be meritorious.

Adam and Eve had a duty to obey God. Even if God chose to reward their obedience, that doesn’t mean they earned it.

vi) Calvinism doesn’t say no one knows good and evil any more. Rather, it says no one does good—apart from God's redeeming grace.

viii) Calvinism also has a natural law tradition according to which even the reprobate enjoy some degree of innate, ethical discernment.

ix) A revealed law code doesn’t mean we have no innate knowledge of good and evil. Rather, it means:

a) Our innate knowledge of good and evil can be corrupted by sin.

b) Our innate knowledge of good and evil is limited. It needs to be supplemented by more specific ethical guidelines.

“The Biblical story is quite the opposite, God creates Adam and Eve with zero concept of good and evil, places a tree in the garden that can give them that knowledge, tells them not to eat its fruit or they will die, the devil tricks them into eating the fruit, and now because they disobeyed God they have the knowledge of good and evil and pass it down to all their descendants. Fact is, the Calvinists have it backwards from the Bible. Adam was totally disabled before the fall, and now we are enabled to do good only since the fall because the fall is what made us know what is good! Adam could not have had any concept of moral law prior to eating the fruit, otherwise the whole fruit fiasco would be no big deal. If Adam already knew good and evil why command him not to eat the fruit that would give him redundant knowledge?”

Your little tirade commits several basic blunders:

i) Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that Adam and Eve had no innate knowledge of good and evil, that is irrelevant to the terms of their probation. What they undoubtedly had was an acquired (prelapsarian) knowledge of good and evil with respect to the prohibition. And within the narrative framework of Gen 2-3, that’s all they need to know to be morally responsible agents.

ii) You also fail to draw an elementary distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. While Adam and Eve had no experience of evil prior to the fall, they knew it was evil to consume the forbidden fruit. They knew that by divine revelation. God gave them a law—in reference to the tree of knowledge.

iii) You also assume, without benefit of exegesis, that you know what 2:9 means. Your argument flounders on a misinterpretation of the key verse. Victor Hamilton, in his commentary (1:162-66) devotes several pages to the correct interpretation of his verse. By process of elimination, this is the way he construes the text:

“Finally, we mention the view that ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ indicates moral autonomy. This view appeals to many OT passages where ‘good and evil’ is essentially a legal idiom meaning to formulate and articulate a judicial decision…It is our position that this interpretation best fits with the knowledge of good and evil in Gen 2-3. What is forbidden to man is the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not. This is a decision God has not delegated to the earthling. This interpretation also has the benefit of according well with 3:22, ‘the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’ Man has indeed become a god whenever he makes his own self the center, the springboard, and the only frame of reference for moral guidelines. When man attempts to act autonomously he is indeed attempting to be godlike. It is quite apparent why man may have access to all the trees in the garden except this one,” ibid. 165-66.

iv) Calvinism also allows the NT to interpret the OT. Paul makes some statements which carry certain implications for the moral status of Adam and Eve before the Fall, due to the imago Dei (Eph 4:22; Col 3:10).

“And how is it that he has the epiphany that public nudity is wrong only after eating the fruit, if the fruit took away his knowledge of morality rather than bestowed it on him?”

i) Since Adam and Eve were the only two human beings at the time of the Fall, the distinction between public and private nudity is meaningless.

ii) The narrative doesn’t say that nudity is wrong. It describes the subjective reaction of Adam and Eve. What Adam and Eve may have felt after they sinned is not the criterion of right and wrong. Scripture doesn’t object to nudity between man and wife.

You’re confusing the viewpoint of the characters with the viewpoint of the narrator. These are two quite distinct issues. The viewpoint of a biblical narrative is often at odds with the narrative events. It will often record an event to furnish a cautionary object lesson on what not to do in the same situation.

iii) Even at the level of their subjective reaction, they don’t have a problem with nudity, per se. The text doesn’t say they were embarrassed to be seen by each other in their natural state. Rather, they are now ashamed to appear before God in their natural state (3:8.10). So the action in v7 foreshadows the fear of divine retribution in vv8ff.

“I love who you guys always claim you are being misrepresented when you are caught in twisting scripture, just like the Catholics when you catch them worshiping Mary. The CoW (covenant of works) might not represent Baptist Calvinists (I don't know), but it clearly does Presbyterians. Go read all the past posts on You're the one who's uneducated, or just obfuscating (and I'm sure its the later). Go get your own Reformer quotes - its your doctrine, not mine.”

You stated a half-truth about the covenant of works. Everything else you said was false.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama, original sin, and vicarious atonement

Original sin strikes many people as unfair. To be accountable for what a second party did. For the same reason, many people also reject penal substitution.

On the other hand, it’s quite easy to cite real life illustrations in which many people, a number of whom would repudiate original sin or penal substitution, embrace the vicarious principle in another context.

Consider the way in which Obamatons identify with the One. I tried my best yesterday to avoid coverage of his coronation…I mean…inauguration, but I caught glimpses of the event despite of my evasive maneuvers. Scenes of worshipful followers, with tears streaming down their cheeks.

The Obamatons have a profound personal investment in the One. Whatever happens to him, for good or ill, might as well be happening to them—collectively and individually. They take any criticism of the One as if it were a personal slight to their one person.

Likewise, they fervently believe that Americans in general are somehow tainted by the Adamic sin of slave-owners who died a century ago, and the only way to atone for our corporate complicity is to elevate a racial token to the highest office in the land.

As one pundit pointed out last summer, this is utterly confused—even at the purely symbolic level: “Apologists for preferences explain these policies as a remedy for long family histories of discrimination, but Obama’s background features no such legacy of oppression. His mother was white and his father’s family, in Kenya, had never been enslaved or subjected to American ‘Jim Crow’ laws or segregation.”

But black supporters project their own stories onto the One while Caucasian supporters project their white guilt onto the One, seeking vicarious absolution at the ballot box. The political Redeemer acts on behalf of, and instead of, the body politic. His biography becomes their very own. It’s a secular parody of federal headship, from Adam to Christ.

So long, and thanks for all the fish

John A. Van Devender reviews The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:
The HitchHiker is 20th century satire, probably at its best, which is an implicit condemnation of all other competitors to that title. Adams has a few quotes in these books that rank right up there with the best of them. I particularly liked his description of humankind as - ape descended life forms (who) are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. We humans are prone to be so distracted by novel and neat ideas that we never quite get around to assigning them a value that really reflects their place in the wider scheme of things. This is Adams at his best.

The problem with the Hitchiker is that its message is delivered through farce and farce wears extremely thin after about an hour. After two hours all hope of entertainment is lost and all that remains is gold-mining, sifting through endless grains of sand, in the hopes of finding another nugget that makes the whole enterprise worth while.

Adam's primary message is that the universe is absurd, having no sense or purpose to it at all. He cannot quite break away from his humanist roots and there is within his writing, a certain nostalgic longing for the days when truth and virtue actually meant something to people. But Adams is way too far gone to ever grant his characters any real contact with virtue and truth. The one character who comes closest is probably Trillian, the woman who left earth before it was destroyed in search of ... something. Even here, we see Adams lampooning the idea of virtue as a guide to wisdom. Virtue is too easily mislead to be a strength. It's not a bad point. But it is tiresome to have it endlessly repeated through pie-in-the-face slapstick, even if it is imaginatively done.

There is power in the argument that the world is absurd. But it is the power that lives in the world of impressions, not the world of realism. A fellow called "The Preacher" wrote about that 3500 years ago in a book called Ecclesiastes. He makes the same point a lot more clearly and, quite frankly, with far more zeal.

Live life, enjoy what you get out of it, take pleasure in doing the work God has given you to do and contentment is possible.

But thanks for all the fish anyway.

"The meaningless flicker of life"

Jennie Yabroff
Aug. 18-25, 2008 issue

At 72, a superstitious Woody Allen is still working hard, but is terrified of the void, the 'meaningless flicker' of life.

Despite the odd superstition (he also avoids haircuts while shooting a movie), Allen has devoted his career to making films that consistently assert the randomness of life. That they do so in a variety of genres— comedy, drama, suspense, satire, even, once, a musical—only partially obscures the fact that, in Allen's eyes, they're all tragedies, since, as he says, "to live is to suffer." If there were a persistence-of-vision award for life philosophy, Allen would be a shoo-in.

On the surface, his latest film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a breezy romance strewn with picnics in the country and Gaudí architecture and flamenco guitar, would suggest a softening of his world view…But go to meet the director in hopes of a "Tuesdays With Woody"-style affirmation of late-life contentment, and you will be quickly disabused of that illusion. At 72, he says he still lies awake at night, terrified of the void. He cannot reconcile his strident atheism with his superstition about the banana, but he knows why he makes movies: not because he has any grand statement to offer, but simply to take his mind off the existential horror of being alive. Movies are a great diversion, he says, "because it's much more pleasant to be obsessed over how the hero gets out of his predicament than it is over how I get out of mine."

Allen says the indifference of the universe has obsessed him since he was a child. "My mother always said I was a very cheerful kid until I was 5 years old, and then I turned gloomy." He can only attribute that shift to an awareness of death, which he claims to remember from the crib. "Now, maybe I stayed in the crib longer than other kids," he adds, with the well-timed cough of a former stand-up comedian. And there it is, that little spark of wryness, suggesting that the nihilism is just shtik. But it soon becomes apparent that when he says he agrees with Sophocles' suggestion that to never have been born may be the greatest boon, he means it. He is, however, cautious not to infect his loved ones with his pessimism. "I don't prattle on about this at all to my daughters," he says. "I bend over backwards to be very positive and not in any way express this to them."

So why go on? "I can't really come up with a good argument to choose life over death," he says. "Except that I'm too scared." Making films offers no reward beyond distracting him from his plight…When it is suggested that others may get a great deal out of his films—that there are fans for whom an afternoon watching "Love and Death" or "Manhattan" provides solace in the way a Marx Brothers film soothes a depressed character in "Hannah and Her Sisters"—he resists the compliment. "This can happen, and this is a nice thing, but when you leave the theater, you're still going back out into a very cruel world."

As a filmmaker, he knows that audiences need a respite from the darkness of his vision—he wanted to end "Hannah and Her Sisters" with his character alone, having been dumped by Hannah's sister, but thought viewers wouldn't go for such a bleak conclusion. In real life, however, he believes there are no happy endings. "It's like the beginning of 'Stardust Memories.' The trains all go to the same place," he says. (And no, that place is not "jazz heaven," as a character in that film hopes.) "They all go to the dump."

Death may be especially on Allen's mind at the moment—his idol, Ingmar Bergman, died while he was shooting "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as did director Michelangelo Antonioni. His longtime producer, Charles Joffe, passed away recently as well. "Your perception of time changes as you get older, because you see how brief everything is," he says. "You see how meaningless … I don't want to depress you, but it's a meaningless little flicker."

It's not that Allen is unable to enjoy himself (though he did want to title "Annie Hall" "Anhedonia," which means the inability to experience pleasure); it's that he's convinced the moments don't add up to redemption. "You have a meal, or you listen to a piece of music, and it's a pleasurable thing," he says. "But it doesn't accrue to anything."

Homosexual parenting

The American College of Pediatricians on homosexual parenting.

We shall overcome

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand some day

We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day

We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid some day

We are not alone
We are not alone
We are not alone some day

The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

Yesterday, we made it. At long last, we overcame.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Americans thronged the Washington Mall to participate in an event of truly historical proportions. And those who could not attend tearfully watched the event on TV.

Yesterday marked a milestone in American politics. We truly turned a corner on that day. For Barack Obama is the first black Klansman to hold the highest elective office in the land. He will single-handedly do more to achieve the venerable vision of the KKK than any Grand Wizard.

Yesterday was also a benchmark in the history of racial reconciliation, as black voters and white liberal voters joined hands to further the cause of black genocide. To turn the dream of Bull Connor and D. W. Griffith into a firm, tangible reality. We can all be proud that so many Americans have finally nailed the door shut on racism and come to the view that the only good black baby is a dead black baby.

Millions of Americans wept at the sight of Obama’s inauguration. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Duke wept right along with them in fellow tears of joy.

“Minority women constitute only about 13% of the female population (age 15-44) in the United States, but they underwent approximately 36% of the abortions. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion. On average, 1,876 black babies are aborted every day in the United States.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Jesus was a sinner

i) "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory" (Rom 3:23).
ii) All means all.
iii) Ergo, Jesus sinned and fell short of God's glory.

Existence, God, the Randians, and the Maverick

Bill Vallicella again offers some helpful comments on Randian "philosophy." This time he takes on one of the favorite atheological arguments of the Objectivist: that "Existence exists!" implies that "God doesn't exist." Here's a relevant quote from Peikoff,

Existence exists, and only existence exists. Existence is a primary: it is uncreated, indestructible, eternal. So if you are to postulate something beyond existence—some supernatural realm—you must do it by openly denying reason, dispensing with definitions, proofs, arguments, and saying flatly, “To Hell with argument, I have faith.” That, of course, is a willful rejection of reason.
Vallicella points out the bad reasoning and highly questionable assumptions inherent in this "argument." I encourage others to read his post.

I would like to add to his points, though. I fear there's some confusion going on in Objectivist thinking on this matter. For example, Objectivist Leonard Peikoff writes,

We start with the irreducible fact and concept of existence – that which is. The first thing to say about that which is is simply: it is. As Parmenides in ancient Greece formulated the principle: what is, is. Or, in Ayn Rand’s words: existence exists. (“Existence” here is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents.) This axiom does not tell us anything about the nature of existents; it merely underscores the fact that they exist. (Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 4, emphasis mine)
So the fact that "existence exists" doesn't tell us anything about the nature of the existents means that Peikoff can't make a direct argument from this axiom to the claim that "existence exists" means that the "supernatural doesn't." If "existence exists" just means "only non-supernatural things exist" then it appears that "existence exists" does tell us something about the nature of the existents. Moreover, to say that the nature of the existents in "existence exists" is that they are "uncreated, indestructible, eternal" seems to be close to contradicting yourself when you say that "existence exists" tells us nothing about the nature of the existents.

This makes their atheological cash value close to nil.

We can add another term to the above. Since The "primacy of existence" is contrasted with the "primacy of consciousness" then it looks like "unconscious" should be added to the list, thus we'd have: "uncreated, indestructible, eternal and unconscious." So, once we break down the term "existence exists," it appears to fail to function as an axiom. Indeed, the claim is more loaded than a baked potato from Outback steakhouse!

I suggest that this is one reason why you will never see the argument from the primacy of existence in any reputable compendium of atheological arguments. As Vallicella said,

"If someone wants to argue that only physical objects exist, he is free to do so. But one has to produce an argument, not rig one's terminology in such a way that the existence of nonphysical objects is ruled out from the outset."

Yes, by all means argue that only physical objects exist; for instance, like the laws of logic you must employ in your argument. Or the mind that forms conclusions caused by other beliefs. Oh, and then try and make your case for normative ethical egoism on physicalist assumptions (that might be unethical considereing it might not be in a egoist's best interest to argue for ethical egoism over altruism, even if egoism is true, since the more altruists there are, the better it probably will be for you).