Saturday, May 02, 2009

Did John Robbins know anything?


“I think it would be fairer to say that Robbins believes that all Biblical claims ‘rise to the level of knowledge’ and that because all extra-scriptural knowledge claims have not been verified by a word from God, one must offer justification for them which would be as certain as a word from God.”

That only pushes the question back a step. If Robbins says “no extrascriptural claim counts as knowledge unless it’s verified by Scripture,” that, itself, is an extrascriptural claim.

How does Robbins know that “no extrascriptural claim counts as knowledge unless it’s verified by Scripture,” that, itself, is an extrascriptural claim”? Is his extrascriptural statement about extrascriptural statements a true statement or a merely opinionated statement?

Since his general statement about extrascriptural statements would necessarily apply to his own extrascriptural statement, does his disclaimer about extrascriptural statements self-refuting? Is the disclaimer self-referential? That’s the point.

“Robbins’ would then ask for that justification.”

And I’m asking him to justify his extrascriptural statement about extrascriptural statements.

“IMU, for Robbins, knowledge is defined as justified truth believed, where justification is verification by a word from God.”

i) Did Robbins deduce that definition from Scripture?

ii) How does Robbins know what Scripture says–given his rejection of sense knowledge?

iii) Moreover, how does he know the laws of logic? Not from Scripture. For unless he already had a working knowledge of logic, he could make no sense of Scripture.

But if his knowledge of logic is innate, then that’s a significant form of extrascriptural knowledge.

iv) Likewise, verification is a logical procedure. How could you verify something from Scripture unless you knew the laws of logic?

“So, if a claim is justified as knowledge by virtue of it being a word from God, then any proposition not verified by a word from God must be shown to be just as certain as a word from God in order to be known.”

The statement that “if a claim is justified as knowledge by virtue of it being a word from God, then any proposition not verified by a word from God must be shown to be just as certain as a word from God in order to be known” is, itself, an extrabiblical statement. Is that a true statement, or a merely opinionated statement? And how, in practice, do you distinguish an opinionated statement from an ignorant statement?

“Any proposition which he does not hold axiomatically as being a word from God is opinions unless it can be shown to be as certain as a word from God.”

The statement that “any proposition which he does not hold axiomatically as being a word from God is opinions unless it can be shown to be as certain as a word from God” is an extrascriptural statement. So is that a statement of fact, or bare opinion?

Does an extrascriptural disclaimer disclaim itself?

“This doesn’t mean that extra-Biblical claims are not true. But apart from a word from God he does not claim to know them to be true. This is not to affirm that they are false. ”

That’s an extrascriptural statement about every extrascriptural statement. So is that extrascriptural statement true or false?

“Just because I cannot know that I am a man does not mean that it is not true.”

The question at issue is whether truth can be an object of knowledge.

“Robbin’s holds axiomatically that the propositions of the 66 books of Scripture are divinely inspired and are thus ipso facto epistemically justified. Accordingly, a proposition outside Scripture is not known unless justification can be provided for it which is as certain as a word from God.”

You need to distinguish between statements of Scripture and statements about Scripture. The immediate point at issue is not whether statements of Scripture are true, but whether statements about Scripture are true.

According to Scripturalism, can extrascriptural statements about Scripture ever count as knowledge? That’s the question.

“Again, I think Robbins would want to see such justification.”

How do I justify an extrascriptural statement? Wouldn’t any justification of an extrascriptural statement involve another extrascriptural statement?

I make an extrascriptural statement. To justify that statement, I must make other justificatory statements. My justificatory statements are also extrascriptural statements. Must I then justify my justificatory statements? Where does that process terminate?

“Again, it seems that if justification requires a word from God, anything which does not have verification by a word from God is not known. Robbin’s calls these claims opinions (which can be either true or false).”

And that very statement is, itself, an extrascriptural statement. So what is the epistemic status of your extrascriptural statement about extrascriptural statements?

“Again, it seems that if all Bible is knowledge because it is a word from God, then any other claim must be shown to be just as certain as a word from God. I think that until such justification is provided, Robbins is correct to call all such extra-Scriptural claims opinion or whatever.”

You yourself just made a universal extrascriptural claim about extrascriptural claims. Should we call your claim mere opinion? And how do we distinguish an opinionated claim from an ignorant claim?

You said Robbins is correct. Do you know that he’s correct, or do you opine that he’s correct? Is it even possible for you to know he’s correct given your Scripturalist constraint on what is knowable?

“IMU, Robbins would not argue in this way. By making Scripture axiomatic, the propositions of Scripture become the indubitables and are knowledge by nature of their place in his system.”

The fact that certain propositions are either axiomatic or deducible from axioms doesn’t make them true. That, of itself, doesn’t make them rise to the level of knowledge.

Also, at this point I think we need to introduce a semantic clarification. Statements never rise to the level of knowledge. Knowledge is a state of mind. Statements are either true or false.

You might distinguish between knowledgeable statements and ignorant statements. So, when you say that Scriptural statements count as knowledge. Is that:

i) Shorthand for claiming that Scriptural statements are true?

ii) Or claiming that Scriptural statements are knowable?

I’d add that what is true and what is knowable are two different things. In principle, a falsehood is knowable. It can be known to be false.

For Scripture to “rise to the level of knowledge,” two conditions must be met:

i) It is true

ii) It is knowable

Even if Scripture is true, how can we know Scripture–given the Scripturalist repudiation of sense knowledge?

If we learn what Scripture teaches via the senses, then we can only form opinions about what Scripture says, right?

And, unlike Cheung, I don’t think that Robbins fell back on occasionalism–which has its own set of problems.

“All other proposition which are not Scripture are therefore not known apart from a word from God. This seems consistent to me. And you can call these other propositions whatever you want; Robbins called them opinions.”

Does this mean I should call your extrascriptural statement about extrascriptural statements mere opinion?

“Robbins claims that all Bible is knowledge. That is, there is nothing more certainly known than a word from God and the Bible is a word from God. All other claims to knowledge must be shown to be just as certain as a word from God.”

Once again, we need to distinguish between what the Bible claims, and what Robbins claims. Does an extrascriptural claim about a Bible claim amount to knowledge, opinion, or ignorance?

“I know there is great hostility between the VanTillians and Clarkians.”

I think Clark and Van Til both make some useful contributions to Christian apologetics. And I think both men also made some mistakes.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Dangerous philosopher

A profile on Peter Singer written in 1999.

Abraham's ordeal

A post I did got derailed in the combox. I’ll pulling this exchange out of the combox since it’s really a separate issue deserving separate treatment.

There are no honor killings in Scripture. And the reference to child sacrifice is equally ill-conceived.

Secular regimes like Stalinism and Maoism are "scary" too.

4/30/2009 6:24 AM


“Not sure where Stalinism and Maoism come in.”

You talked about the “scary” consequences of Biblical ethics. I draw attention to the “scary” consequences of secular ethics.

“Honour killings are right there in the Mosaic law.”

Those are hardly honor killings. Don’t you even know how to define the term?

An honor killing is the execution of a family member or clan member because he brought shame on his family or clan (or some equivalent social unit). This sanction is applied even if the family/clan member is personally innocent of any actual wrongdoing.

By contrast, in the Mosaic injunctions you quoted, the offender is not executed because he/she dishonored her kin. Rather, the offender is executing for actual wrongdoing.

“As for child sacrifice, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The standard explanations seem to skirt around the obvious.”

Now you’re being devious. The “sacrifice of Isaac” is a hypothetical command. In actual fact, God prevents Abraham from sacrificing his son.

By your fallacious arguments you’re doing a fine job of illustrating the irrationality of atheism. Thanks for corroborating the Christian critique of atheism.

4/30/2009 8:56 AM


“I agree with the first part of your definition, and it fits perfectly with Deuteronomy 22:20-21, which explicitly identifies the sin as a sin of bringing dishonour - a ‘disgraceful act’ in ‘her father's house’.”

i) Your argument seems to turn on a particular translation. But as standard commentaries explain, the Hebrew word (nebalah) means a “heinous thing,” “foolish thing” or “folly.” Cf. J. Currid, Deuteronomy,369; J. McConville, Deuteronomy, 340.

She’s not condemned because she did something “shameful” or “dishonorable” in the merely extrinsic sense that it brought shame or dishonor on her family–even if she was personally innocent of any crime.

No. Scripture regards sexual misconduct as inherently sinful. Adult males guilty of adultery were also subject to capital punishment.

She didn’t commit a crime by merely shaming her family. Rather, she committed a crime which is culpable in its own right. Since she was living at home, that has the additional consequence of dishonoring her family. That’s an aggravating circumstance. But that is not a crime in and of itself. And that’s not the underlying crime.

“(I'm not sure what you had in mind by ‘applied even if the family/clan member is personally innocent of any wrongdoing’.)”

Why do you not know what I have in mind? Do you still have no grasp of what an honor killing refers to?

In an honor killing, the family/clan member is executws regardless of his guilt or innocence. He is executed simply because something he either did or was done to him brought dishonor on his family or clan.

To take a paradigm example, if a Muslim girl is raped, she may be executed to save face because there’s a stigma that attaches to rape in Muslim culture even if the girl is the innocent victim.

“Re: child sacrifice & Abraham/Isaac. ‘Hypothetical command’ is just the kind of contrivance I'm thinking of when I talk about skirting around the obvious.”

To the contrary, you’re the one who’s skirting the obvious through your contrived appeal to Gen 22.
In the narrative itself, God prevents Abraham from carrying out the command. Therefore, the command is, by definition, a counterfactual command. That’s a necessary implication of the very narrative in which it occurs.

“If such a thing is acceptable or even laudable (praised as great faith), then in effect God could command anything, and who are we to question it?”

Now you’re shifting ground. Having lost the original argument, you change the subject.

Who are we to question what? A command given to a second party?

4/30/2009 10:26 AM


“It turns on a particular understanding of the culture of the day. You say dishonour was just an aggravating issue, but this is a modern western assumption, not an ancient eastern one.”

I exegeted the specific details of the text, and compared that with other passages where sexual sins are punished the same way–absent any reference to dishonoring one’s kin.

You are not beginning to offer a specific alternative interpretation. Instead, you’re now falling back on generic, sociological truisms about honor/shame cultures.

“Any command purportedly from God. To me, to you, to anyone. If it was right of Abraham just to go ahead with the sacrifice, on what moral basis could I object if you told me, say, that God told you to sacrifice your child?”

I see you’ve shifted from actual objections to hypothetical objections. Since you lost the argument on actually objectionable features of Biblical theology, you must fall back on hypothetically objectionable features of Biblical theology.

For every hypothetical objection you raise, I can give a hypothetical answer. And for every hypothetical objection to my position, I can raise a hypothetical objection to your own position.

If you intend to go that route, you better start a large pot of coffee.

4/30/2009 1:59 PM

The Bible distinguish between voluntary licit sex (e.g. marital sex), voluntary illicit sex (e.g. premarital/extramarital sex, sodomy), and involuntary illicit sex (e.g. rape).

Voluntary illicit sex is punishable. In the case of involuntary illicit sex, the rapist is punished, but not the rape victim.

Therefore, the Bible distinguishing between what you do and what is done to you (without your consent).

That is not a distinction in honor-killings.

4/30/2009 3:21 PM


“The hypothetical is like this: If you accept that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham had to obey and furthermore should be praised for his faith, then how can you say child sacrifice is inherently wrong? And if you can't say it's inherently wrong, then what's to stop us considering it? In effect there are no absolutes, since God could always decide to command us to do something outrageously immoral and we'd just have to get on and do it until he told us otherwise.”

i) Of course, that just begs the question of whether a counterfactual command to sacrifice his son is outrageously immoral. Where’s the argument?

ii) The question at issue is not whether child sacrifice is inherently wrong (or not). Rather, the question at issue is whether a counterfactual command to sacrifice his son (involving God’s ulterior motive) is right or wrong.

iii) Moreover, God reserves the right to command the execution of sinners.

iv) Furthermore, who is the “us”? Abraham?

“I think that makes using the Bible as a final authority a bad way to establish morality.”

Sure…if you like to assume what you need to prove.

“Don't know what the problem is with using hypothetical arguments.”

Did I say it was a problem? No. I said that if it’s a problem for one side of the debate, then it’s a problem for both sides of the debate. Each side can try to pose hypothetical dilemmas for the other side.

4/30/2009 5:00 PM


“It was the child sacrifice I called outrageously immoral, not the command. Granted, a so-called ‘counterfactual command’ couldn't be on quite the same level as the act itself. It's still hideous.”

At this point you’re simply emoting. No argument. Just a flurry of sentimental adjectives.

“Because God had said so.”

Because God said so–and because he had a good reason for what he said.

“It also seems to me that by explaining away the story in this way, you're negating one of its central lessons, that Abraham was right to go ahead with the sacrifice.”

I haven’t explained the story away. To the contrary, I’ve drawn attention to the story. What the story actually said about the nature of the command–and God’s ulterior motives. That’s in the story itself. An integral part of the story. Key to the correct interpretation of the story.

“He was literally within an inch or two of the deed. And apparently being with an inch of slaughtering a human being - one's own child - is commendable, praiseworthy, a sign of trust in God?”

It’s commendable to obey a tough command. Anyone can obey an easy command. The psychological difficulty of the command is what makes obedience to the command significant. Abraham trusted God, and God showed himself to be trustworthy.

“If this kind of despicable thing is within the limits of moral acceptability for you, I won't try to convince you otherwise. I just find it beyond reason.”

Actually, you don’t find it beyond reason. You can’t give a reason for finding it “hideous” or “despicable.” You simply emote.

Far from finding it beyond reason, you’re reaction is irrational. You express your feelings, that’s all.

“I just wonder what then, in theory, could be morally unacceptable. What else could God command? Pretty much anything, if child sacrifice is your standard.”

Abraham didn’t sacrifice Isaac. You’re just as dishonest at the end of this exchange as you were when you introduced this verse at the outset.

“Basically, if it's in the Bible, God said it, so you have to concede that it's morally okay. Which brings me back to my initial point - the Bible, treated as an absolute authority, is a terrible basis for morality.”

It brings you back to your initial tendentious assertion. So, yes, you’ve come full circle: a vicious circle.

5/01/2009 10:49 AM


“If you're going to accuse me of being dishonest, at least don't misrepresent what I said. I did not say Abraham sacrificed Isaac. I asked what else God might command. No one's disputing that God commanded a child sacrifice, are they?”

i) Yes, you’re being dishonest. What you said was “Pretty much anything, if child sacrifice is your standard.”

Of course, child sacrifice was not the standard since God actually prevented Abraham from going through with it.

You continue to play this shell-game when you think no one is looking.

ii) BTW, “child” is ambiguous. Isaac was not a “child” in the chronological sense. He was a teenager. This was consensual.

“If it is wrong to slaughter a child as a sacrifice to God, then it is wrong to tie that child up, hold a knife over him and get to within an inch of killing him. If you want to get biblical, didn't Jesus say that thinking something in one's heart was just as much a sin as doing it? Imagining adultery as much a sin as the act itself? Cursing a brother as much a sin as killing a brother? Why then does Abraham get a pass on tying up his son and preparing him for sacrifice?”

i) It is not wrong for Abraham to obey a counterfactual command.

ii) Appealing to motives won’t help you, for Abraham’s motives were unimpeachable. He trusted God.

ii) Appealing to adultery won’t help you. Abraham wasn’t imaging a forbidden act. Just the opposite: he attempted to obey a divine command, not violate a divine prohibition.

You keep grasping at straws.

“Steve, I'd like to see you not be emotive if we were talking about a person in the 21st century tying up their child and preparing to slaughter them. You'd quite rightly be horrified, and would quite rightly be horrified if I tried to exegete the details of the situation so as to excuse the offender. But because we're talking about a holy book, we have a completely different set of rules?”

i) Moralistic feelings mean nothing unless they can be justified. Different agents can have opposite moralistic emotions.

ii) You’re also equating the epistemic situation of a hypothetical 21C agent with the epistemic situation of Abraham. Someone in Abraham’s epistemic situation would be warranted in doing the same thing. But a 21C agent is not in that epistemic (or redemptive-historical) situation.

iii) You deliberately disregard the context of the action in Gen 22. Abraham had a special role to play in redemptive history. And he had a special relationship with God.

Not a different set of rules. Same rules, different experience, different situation, different rationale. Try not to be simple-minded.

iv) Once again, Abraham’s ordeal was supposed to be an ordeal. It was supposed to be a tough command.

v) BTW, the alternative to Biblical ethics is moral nihilism. Once you ditch Biblical ethics, then anything goes, including real child sacrifice.

5/01/2009 2:33 PM


“Read the whole paragraph I wrote, where it's clear I was talking about the limits to what God can command, instead of snipping out one sentence and misconstruing it.”

A counterfactual command has built-in limits.

“Epistemic situation? Redemptive-historical situation? Obeying a counterfactual command? Smokescreens to get around the obvious - that a man tied up his own child, held a knife over him and was prepared to make a human sacrifice of him for his god.”

i) Using the word “smokescreen” is not an argument. Indeed, using the word “smokescreen” is itself a smokescreen to obscure the intellectual poverty of your objections.

ii) Am I trying to get around the obvious? No, I don’t deny “that a man tied up his own child, held a knife over him and was prepared to make a human sacrifice of him for his god”–although I’d put “god” in the upper case.

iii) A counterfactual command is not a smokescreen. Rather, that’s a necessary implication of the narrative. You came to the narrative with a hostile, preconceived agenda. Hence it’s convenient for you to isolate certain details to the exclusion of the whole narrative arc.

You don’t like it when I accurately describe the nature of the command since that gets in the way of your set speech.

iv) One’s epistemic situation is not a smokescreen. Whether we’re justified or unjustified in a particular course of action is often dependent on our epistemic situation. If Abraham knows that God is speaking to him, then he’s justified in taking an action which would be unjustifiable if God were not speaking to him.

But that gets in the way of your set speech–even though its philosophically incontestable that one’s epistemic situation is often morally relevant to one’s course of action.

v) One’s historical-redemptive position is not a smokescreen. This was the age of public revelation. That is over and done with. This was the age of types and shadows. That’s over and done with.

These are not ad hoc distinctions on my part. These are Biblical distinctions. They’re pertinent to the interpretation of Biblical narrative.

What is permissible for Abraham is not permissible for a 21C father. A 21C father doesn’t have the same role in God’s economy. A 21C father is not the recipient of public revelation.


You keep resorting to adjectives because you ran out of anything resembling an argument long ago.

“In any other context I don't doubt you'd agree with me, but because it's your god and your holy book, you'll make excuses.”

A stupid objection on several counts:

i) If one God is real and another “God” is unreal, then, yes, the real God can impose moral obligations which the unreal “God” cannot.

Likewise, I have filial duties to my parents which I don’t have to a fictitious set of parents in a novel. So, yes, it actually makes a difference which “God” we’re talking about–just as it makes a difference which parents we’re talking about. If they’re my real parents, then I have filial duties to them which I don’t have to storybook characters.

Your objection only goes through if my God is unreal. For that you need to make a compelling case for atheism in general, or the falsity of Christian theism in particular.

ii) By the same token, yes, it actually makes a difference what book something is written in–whether it’s the Encyclopedia Britannica or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

If I have good reason to believe the Bible is divinely inspired, then that makes a difference–as well it should. All books are not co-equal.

iii) You’re simply appealing to emotion. So what? I’m glad I didn’t have to go through Abraham’s ordeal. It was meant to be an ordeal. When we read that account, it’s not supposed to fill us with warm fuzzy feelings.

iv) At the same time, Christians often have to make gut-wrenching decisions–in the waiting room of the local ER, &c.

v) If I did not believe in my God and my holy book, that doesn’t mean I’d share your position. Once we ditch Biblical ethics, the sky’s the limit on what’s permissible. Consider the position of a secular ethicist like Peter Singer:

"The notion that human life is sacred just because it's human life is medieval," he continued, talking about the treatment of the hopelessly ill. "The person that used to be there is gone. It doesn't matter how sad it makes us. All I am saying is that it's time to stop pretending that the world is not the way we know it to be."

Singer believes, for example, that a human's life is not necessarily more sacred than a dog's, and that it might be more compassionate to carry out medical experiments on hopelessly disabled, unconscious orphans than on perfectly healthy rats.

Singer argues that proximity means nothing when it comes to moral decisions, and that personal relationships don't mean much, either. Saving your daughter's life is a fine thing to do, for example, but it can never measure up to saving the lives of ten strangers. If you were faced with the choice, Singer's ethics would require you to save the strangers. "It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbor's child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away,'' he wrote in his essay.

He has suggested, for example, that parents who give birth to a hemophiliac might be better off killing it, especially if they could replace that dead infant with one who would be "likely to have a better life."…When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

Singer has never been afraid to take pure reason and drive it over a cliff. He asks horrifying questions and then answers them in unexpected ways. If killing baby girls (painlessly, of course) makes sense for farmers in China, then why not kill them?

Militant unbelievers like you delight in ripping Bible verses out of context to disprove Biblical ethics, but I don’t find unbelievers like you quoting philosophers like Peter Singer to disprove secular ethics. Why is that?

“And now I quit this circular conversation.”

Another sore, anti-Christian loser stalks out the door.

5/01/2009 5:14 PM

How 'bout 'dem apples

The tu quoque apple

I am always perplexed at how Arminians (for example, Victor Reppert) think they can offer problem of evil objections against Calvinism. There are plenty of other ways to attack it rather than using the PoE on it, for this move is doomed to failure.

Anyway, a great example of how a popular way to employ the PoE against Calvinism (i.e., claim there's a strong intuition that a God who rejects some sinners, consigning them to hell as punishment for their sins, is just a nasty God; and then rejecting any attempted solution as being insufficient to overturn your intuition) gets the tu quoque happens in Ed Feser's recent interview on the Jim Bohannon (I'm not saying that Feser is an Arminian or has anything to do with the overall point I'm making in this post).

Basically, this guy has a raw gut intuition that there just are no justifications that justify an all-powerful God to allow children to die from cancer, get molested, etc. It seems that nothing can change his mind. Of course an Arminian philosopher will think he has provided good reason (just as the Calvinist), but this dude doesn't care. He'll just laugh at you and tell you that you're living on another planet.

Reppert has claimed at times that if the Calvinist’s God is good then Reppert is massively mistaken, and is using the term good wrongly. That's exactly what Bohannon would say. Arminians should drop PoE arguments against God; they look like special pleaders to onlookers.

I have other reasons why Arminian’s bringing a PoE against Calvinism’s view of God are fraught with problems (I’ve listed them before), the above is just a concrete example of how one of my objections cashes out in the real world.

So, just as, say, a Reppert wouldn't take this guy's bad (and horribly so) reasons for rejecting God based on evil, or his defeater-deflector by-way-of powerful gut intution, as instancing a rational way to have a philosophical debate, the Arminian should apply this same razor to his PoE against Calvinism.

A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism

"A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Torture investigations

Jeremy Pierce on torture investigations.

Is Scripturalism Scriptural?

Sean Gerety quotes three statements by John Robbins. Let’s examine them.

In the strict sense no one in the twentieth century knows that he is a man, for he has not deduced it from the Bible. (Now perhaps such a deduction is possible, and I would be open to an argument on that point.) It is an opinion we hold. You do not know that you are a man. Your opinion may be true, but unless you can show me the argument, it does not rise to the level of knowledge.

Question: when Robbins says that extrascriptural claims are only opinions because they don’t rise to the level of knowledge, is his statement about extrascriptural claims a true statement? Does he know that extrascriptural claims are only opinions? Or does he merely opine that extrascriptural claims are only opinions?

According to Scripturalism, he can’t know that extrascriptural claims are only opinions, for his own statement is not deducible from Scripture.

So he can’t claim that Scripturalism is true. That’s just his opinion. And for all he knows, it may be an ignorant opinion.

I distinguish–as the Bible and Plato do–between three noetic states: knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. Perhaps [some] do not so distinguish. But why would [someone] not distinguish between knowledge and opinion, or knowledge and ignorance? It seems to me that a refusal or failure to distinguish between these three states can lead only to greater confusion.

Question: is his statement about the three noetic states a true statement? Does he know that there are three noetic states? Or does he merely opine that there are three noetic states?

If opinion falls short of knowledge, then how does he distinguish opinion from ignorance?

Is his distinction between opinion and ignorance a witting distinction, or an ignorant distinction?

All men are sinners.

Michael Sudduth is a man.

Therefore, Michael Sudduth is a sinner.

The syllogism is valid.

How does he know this syllogism is valid? Did he deduce this syllogism from Scripture?

Or is it merely his opinion that this syllogism is valid? And how does he distinguish his opinion of validity from ignorance?

If Only...

Bivalence & paradox

Turretin Fan did a little post on paradox in which, in one important respect, he comes down on the side of Gordon Clark rather than Cornelius Van Til:

Before I say anything else, permit me to say that TF is very different than Sean Gerety. TF knows how to argue for his positions, and does so on a regular basis. He’s a credit to his cause.

I’m going to zero in on one objection he raises:

“The idea that something is irreconcilably contradictory but not truly contradictory is an odd concept. It is so odd that it leads one to believe that, vis-à-vis the human mind, these are real contradictions that Van Til is talking about (although for God they are not contradictions). That's a bit troubling, since it seems to open the door to a denial of the law of non-contradiction at least as far as the human mind is concerned.”

“There is, however, a good reason to think that there are no such situations, at least because we have a very strong shared intuition that the law of non-contradiction is universal and applicable to the human mind.”

I find this objection puzzling. How would the law of non-contradiction preclude the possibility that truth may appear to be contradictory to the human observer?

We’re dealing here, not with things as they are in themselves, but a relation between the object of knowledge and the subject of knowledge.

Given the universality of the law, TF would have to take the position that not only are apparent contradictions impossible in our experience of Scripture, but they’re impossible in our experience of the world. Nothing true could ever confront the mind as apparently contradictory or paradoxical.

But surely it’s trivially true to come up with counterexamples. For instance:

“Abu Mazen was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in January 1993.”

“Mahmoud Abbas was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in January 1993.”

These two statements are formally contradictory. Does this mean that one or both statements are false?

As a matter of fact, both statements are true. The contradiction is apparent rather than real.

We need to distinguish between different named individuals and differently named individuals.

So, according to TF, does the law of non-contradiction preclude the possibility of apparently contradictory truths?

Or does it only preclude the possibility of insoluble apparently contradictory truths?

But even if he takes the weaker position, surely there are situations in which we lack sufficient information to resolve an apparent contradiction.

In the example I just gave, if the only information you had to go by were these two statements, you’d be unable to prove that both statements were true.

We just so happen to have additional information about this individual. We happen to know that he goes by more than one name.

I don’t see how the law of non-contradiction creates any presumption against the possibility of contradictory truths in human experience. The law of non-contradiction applies to the nature of truth, and not the perception of truth.

I’d add that I don’t think Van Tilians like James Anderson invoke paradox to explain examples of alleged numerical, nominal, chronological, or citational discrepancies in Scripture.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

You're dethpicable!

Sean Gerety has done a post in response to me and others:

Cutting the dead wood, I’ll comment on his major claims:

But how can he possibly know this?…Beyond that, Manata has no way of knowing that the Bible contains even one “unarticulated equivocation on the part of the revealer.”

i) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is an accurate description of Manata’s position. Let’s further assume, for the sake of argument, that this is, indeed, a consequence of Manata’s position.

So the basic objection is that we should reject Manata’s position if a consequence of his position is that Manata can’t know what the Bible says about this or that.

Now, assuming that this consequence is sufficient to invalidate Manata’s position, it’s equally sufficient to invalidate Sean’s position. If Scripturalism is true, then Sean can’t know a single thing about the Bible. He can’t know anything the Bible says. Indeed, he cannot knowingly distinguish a Bible from a Koran or Playboy magazine or Mad magazine.

ii) If the Bible is the only source of knowledge, then Sean can’t get past the subject/object duality. Scripture would be the object of knowledge, but the subject of knowledge (e.g. Sean) would be an extrabiblical entity. So how could an extrabiblical subject of knowledge ever come to know the biblical object of knowledge if the Bible is the only source of knowledge?

iii) He can’t learn what the Bible teaches through the use of his senses, for Scripturalism rejects the senses as a source of knowledge. The Bible is the only source of knowledge.

iv) He can’t learn what the Bible teaches through innate knowledge, in part because he has no innate knowledge of the Bible. We’re not born knowing what the Bible teaches.

Indeed, that would undermine the very notion of a public, historic revelation. God revealed himself through the medium of speakers and writers. The spoken word and the written word. And the written word is also the record of the spoken word.

It was revealed to Christians via prophets and Apostles. Bible writers.

v) And even if, for the sake of argument, the knowledge of Scripture were innate, Scripturalism would reject that mode of knowledge–for in that case, Scripture would not be the only source of knowledge. Rather, the knowledge of Scripture would be mediated by the innate knowledge of the human mind. The human mind would be the immediate source of knowledge, and not the word of God.

If that isn’t enough to show the absurdity and blasphemy entailed in defending the idea of Biblical paradox, shall we revisit some of the incredible nonsense — along with outright and open heresies — some of these men have defended all in the name of “biblical paradox”? It is no coincidence that virtually all defenders of the false gospel of the Federal Vision are self-professed Vantilians. It’s no surprise either that virtually all of the Federal Vision opponents that happen to be Vantilians remain utterly incapable of doing anything to stop it’s advance and instead call the FV men currently disturbing the church “our brothers in Christ.” I guess one good paradox deserves another.

Three problems with this claim:

i) If Scripturalism is true, then Sean is in no position to know what Van Tilians believe. He’s in no position to know what Federal Visionaries believe. He’s in no position to impute the views of the Federal Vision to any Van Tilians.

Sean is like a drunk who keeps swearing off the bottle, only to find himself back in the saloon a day later. In one breath he vigorously asserts the tenets of Scripturalism, but in the next breath he relapses into extrabiblical assertions.

It’s hard for him to keep up the Scripturalist act 24/7. He keeps forgetting his lines. He keeps reverting to the default position of extrabiblical knowledge.

ii) Does he have any evidence that Anderson endorses the Federal Vision? Does he have any evidence that Sudduth endorses the Federal Vision?

Both Manata and I are on record repudiating the Federal Vision.

iii) While we’re on the subject of “outright and open heresies,” what about Clark’s pantheistic idealism, when he reduces human beings to nothing more than divine ideas? What about Clark’s modalism, when he collapses the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity (cf. The Incarnation, p55)?

Calling Manata out again on his sinful treatment of Clark, who was easily the most important Christian thinker of the last century.

Is that a fact? No. Not on Scripturalist grounds. Does Scripture explicitly or implicitly teach that Clark was easily the most important Christian thinker of the last century? Obviously not.

That is simply Sean’s opinion. And opinion which falls short of knowledge. An opinion that he can’t even probabilify.

For all he knows, Clark might just as well be the least important Christian thinker of the last century. For all he knows, Clark may not even be a Christian thinker. For all he knows, Clark may be a Scientologist.

If Scripturalism is true, these extrascriptural assertions fall short of knowledge. If Scripturalism is true, then you can’t even rank extrascriptural assertions according to probable degrees of truth.

Hence, one man’s opinion is no better than another man’s opinion.

And Robbins, who was Clark’s most able and best known defender, became the catalyst for another tired attack on Scripturalist epistemology.

If Robbins was his most able defender, then the case for Clark’s position weak indeed!

Now, I never claimed that one could know that Clark, Robbins, or even Manata exist.

If Scripturalism is true, then he can’t even know that Adam, Abraham, David, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John ever existed.

Heck, he can’t even know if Jesus ever existed. He may opine that Jesus existed, but his opinion is no better than the contrary opinion of Richard Carrier.

Frankly, since the word “exists” can be predicated on everything from hallucinations to Klingons, I would argue that everything exists. Regardless, perhaps “Gordon Clark” was the nom de plume of some ghost writer. I honestly have no way of knowing. Seeing that Paul Manata has posted under the name Tom Bombadil, perhaps Bombadil is really Manata or perhaps both are Steve Hays? The Internet is a funny place. Yet, somehow men like Hays and Manata think that if I cannot account for the existence of a given person apart from Scripture and can’t “know” they exist in the sense of a justified true belief, then any opinion I may have of these men, even if true, is therefore moot.

Frankly, Sean can’t even “give an account” of how he knows Scripture. For Scripturalism, Scripture is like a safe with all the right answers on the inside. But we lack the combination to open the safe.

I have to wonder if these men while claiming to be Christians (something I also cannot know, but can only presume) would agree that Scripture does in fact prohibit false witness along with slander in many places including Colossians 3:8; “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Agree on what grounds? Scripturalist grounds? On Scripturalist grounds, we can’t say that Scripture prohibits false witness or slander. We can’t know what Scripture says because we can’t “give an account” of how we know that–if Scripturalism is true. We can’t give an empirical account of how we know that since Scripture rejects sense knowledge. And we can’t give an intuitive account of how we know that since we’re not born with a knowledge of Scripture.

For all we know, a la Scripturalism, Scripture commends and commands slander and false witness.

So, the question is, does Manata and Hays think Gordon Clark and John Robbins are men? Notice, the question is not do they know they are men? This is important, because Hays is correct, if Manata really thinks Clark is a fictional character, then he can’t libel Clark anymore than he can libel Tinkerbell.

On the other hand, Manata has given no indication that he thinks Clark is a fictional character, therefore if Manata thinks Clark was a man he is under the command of Scripture not to slander Clark (libel being just slander in written form) and is therefore guilty of sin.

Bracketing, for the moment, the pesky fact that, by his own admission, Sean can’t possibly know what he’s talking about, does this consequence actually follow from Scripture?

Suppose that Manata bore false witness against Daffy Duck. And suppose Manata happens to believe that Daffy Duck is a real, albeit ducky, person.

According to Scripture, has Manata sinned against Daffy Duck? Can you sin against a fictitious character?

Where does Scriptural explicitly or implicitly address the sin of slandering a fictitious character? Does a fictitious character have a reputation to protect?

In Scripture, bearing false witness is a judicial term. Would Scripture view Daffy Duck as a bona fide defendant in a court of law?

What if Manata compares Daffy Duck to a drug dealer? Is that a sin? Although Daffy Duck might regard that comparison as “dethpicable,” I don’t see that Biblical jurisprudence would convict Manata for defamation of animated characters.

However, I’ll grant you that Sean has opened my eyes to a very creative way of looking at Biblical jurisprudence. In future, I’ll be far more circumspect when I venture to opine about Tweety Bird or Pepé Le Pew.

I’d also add, in passing, that if Manata was actually under the impression that Daffy Duck is a real, albeit ducky person, then it seems to me that his delusion would be, at the very least, an extenuating circumstances if not, indeed, an exculpatory circumstance.

The argument would be simply:

Scripture teaches that slander/libel is sin

Manata slandered/libeled Clark

Manata sinned against Clark

Well, at the risk of being pedantic, there are three little problems with his three-step argument. Sean can’t prove the major premise. He can’t prove the minor premise. Hence, even if the conclusion follows from the premises, the argument is unsound.

But aside from the drab little fact that Sean’s three-step argument happens to be a misstep every step of the way, it’s a pretty impressive argument. Far be it from me to quibble over these niggling details.

Notice, it doesn’t matter if Manata or I know that Clark is a man or that he exists. If Manata thinks Clark is a man then he is required by Scripture to admit he sinned against Clark.

Notice, it doesn’t matter if Manata or I know that Daffy Duck is a duck or that he exists. If Manata thinks Daffy is a duck then he is required by Scripture to admit he sinned against Daffy.

Either that or explain how painting Clark as the philosphical equivalent of a crank dealer looking to create a bunch of strung out Scripturalist tweekers isn’t libel?

i) Maybe because it’s a figurative analogy. Sean has yet to show how Manata’s figurative analogy is even mistaken, much less deliberately and maliciously false. It’s undoubtedly provocative, but the Bible itself is chock-full of provocative metaphors (e.g. the whore of Babylon).

ii) BTW, it’s not as if John Robbins was this lamb-like figure whose commentary on his theological opponents resembled a Hallmark greeting card. Indeed, some of his opponents would say that Robbins libeled them.

All men are sinners.

Michael Sudduth is a man.

Therefore, Michael Sudduth is a sinner.

The syllogism is valid.

There are two little problems with this syllogism:

i) It’s deceptive to cast the argument in terms of a categorical syllogism. That takes the major and minor premises for granted, as if these were true. But Scripturalism is in no position to affirm the truth of either premise.

Hence, if the argument were true to the tenets of Scripturalism, it ought to be cast in terms of a hypothetical syllogism:

If all men are sinners,

And Michael Sudduth is a man,

Then Michael Sudduth is a sinner.

ii) Which brings us to the next point. A valid argument is not a sound argument. Validity is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of a sound argument.

Unless a Scripturalist can demonstrate the truth of the major and minor premises, the validity of the argument is irrelevant. Take a comparison:

If all ducks are sinners,

And Daffy is a duck,

Then Daffy Duck is a sinner.

The syllogism is valid.

Do you deny that Michael Sudduth is a man? If so, you have a problem.

No, Scripturalism has a problem with that claim. Scripturalism can’t prove from Scripture that all men are sinners, since Scripturalism can’t know what Scripture teaches. And it can’t know anything about Michael Sudduth.

It matters not that Scripture nowhere says that Michael Sudduth is a man. If you think you are a man, you are required by the syllogism to think that you are a sinner.

The syllogism remains valid however you arrived at the conclusion that Michael Sudduth is a man. If you happen to think you are an angel, Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous. You have excluded yourself from salvation. It matters not whether you have knowledge or true belief of the minor premise. The conclusion follows. The syllogism is valid.

i) The syllogism about Daffy Duck (see above) is valid too. What if a man happens to think he’s Daffy Duck? Is he thereby required to think he’s a talking duck?

ii) Does the Bible require me to hold false beliefs as long as they are validly derived from false premises? Is it my epistemic duty to believe a false conclusion if it’s a valid conclusion?

Seems to me that, according to Scripture, it’s my epistemic duty to recant a false belief.

To do that, Hays or Manata would have to show that the Scriptures really do teach insoluble paradoxes that are forever beyond the bar of human reason. This would admittedly render the Scriptures, taken in and of themselves and as the axiom or starting point for the Christian faith, contradictory and self refuting because we would know then at least some of Scripture is false. That’s because one side of any given contradiction must be, and not may be, false.

Several issues:

i) That’s not my position. My position is that we shouldn’t come to Scripture with an extrascriptural presumption regarding the presence or absence of revealed paradoxes. Rather, we should find out what God has revealed. Our posture is to listen and learn. Not superimpose an extrascriptural presumption on the nature of what God is permitted to tell us.

ii) Ironically, Sean’s a priori opposition to Scriptural paradox is a violation of Scripturalism itself. He is assuming, apart from Scripture, what it is possible for Scripture to disclose. Fitting Scripture with an extrascriptural muzzle.

iii) Sean is resorting to the same methodology as a Catholic apologist. Stipulate an unacceptable consequence. Then confabulate a religious epistemology to avoid the stipulative consequence.

iv) I myself am not a big fan of theological paradox. That said, there’s no antecedent objection to theological paradox.

v) Apropos (iv), before we get to the question of what is possible as a matter of revelation, we ought to ask what is possible as a matter of reality. Revelation is a revelation about reality. If reality is paradoxical, then it wouldn’t be surprising if revelation is paradoxical.

vi) Apropos (v), paradox is a common feature of human experience in science, mathematics, and logic. It often requires great ingenuity to resolve a prima facie paradox, and some prima facie paradoxes remain unresolved despite the best efforts of the best minds.

This phenomenon figures in some very abstract disciplines, where pure reason reigns supreme.

vii) Apropos (vi), if reality confronts us with a variety of prima facie paradoxes, then there’s no prior expectation that revelation would be devoid of prima facie paradoxes since revelation is a revelation of reality–albeit a partial revelation thereof.

viii) The obvious reason for this impression is that reality is far more complex than the human mind. It seems to me that paradox is a predictable result of a finite mind that’s attempting to grasp an object of knowledge that’s far more complex than the subject of knowledge.

ix) By contrast, the mind of God is infinitely more complex than mundane reality, while abstract objects are isometric with his own mental complexity. Hence, what is paradoxical for the human mind would not be paradoxical for the divine mind.

x) This doesn’t begin to mean the paradoxical teachings of Scripture, if there are any, are false. Sean is equivocating. A prima facie paradox is not the same thing as an actual contradiction.

ix) Finally, even if, for the sake of argument, we grant the presence of insoluble, prima facie paradoxes in Scripture, what practical difficulty does that actually pose? Even if we can’t grasp how the relata interrelate, we can grasp and affirm each relatum. For example, we can know what it means for Jesus to have a human nature and a divine nature, even if we can’t exactly put the two together.

Perhaps if men like Manata, Anderson and Hays spent more time trying to solve any of the remaining the so-called “paradoxes of Scripture,” rather than attributing them to “an unarticulated equivocation on the part of the revealer,” they might actually contribute something worthwhile to Christ’s church.

A few more issues:

i) While it’s flattering to be classed with Anderson, I’m a Lilliputian to his Gulliver.

ii) As for Manata, it’s only a matter of time before he leaves me in the dust. In fact, I often have to dust off my windshield as I try to play catch up.

iii) I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time on alleged contradictions. Unlike Sean, I don’t talk about it–I do it.

iv) Sean is just a poseur. He plays the role of a Christian rationalist, yet something is missing: he’s long on rhetoric, but short on reasons.

Indeed, he’s the flipside of Hitchens and Dawkins. One is struck by the gaping chasm between the intellectual pretension and the intellectual performance. A wealth of rhetorical flourishes to camouflage the poverty of argumentation.

Sean keeps harping on Manata’s alleged slander because that’s a face-saving device. Since Sean can’t actually argue for his position, he covers his ignominious retreat with show of moral outrage.

If the traditional formulations need improvement then they should be revised in the light of Scripture.

To revise the confessions in light of Scripture, you’d have to be in a position to know both the confessions and the Scriptures. Scripturalism denies the possibility of knowing either.

Inflicting pain

Justin Taylor, who’s a better man than me, recently did a post on “torture.” It provoked the usual back and forth.

I’ve discussed this issue on many different occasions, so I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’m going to focus on one particular question: is it intrinsically evil to inflict pain, even severe pain, on other human being–with or without his consent? Whether or not it’s for his own good?

Let’s take some Biblical examples. Among the various forms of punishment meted out in OT law, some of them are distinctly painful: stoning (e.g. Lev 20:2-5,27; 24:15-16; Num 15:32-36; Deut 13:1-5; 17:2-7; 21:18-21; 22:22-23), flogging (Deut 25:1-3), burning (Lev 20:14; 21:19), and mutilation (Deut 25:12).

I daresay that all of these punishments are pretty excruciating. In some cases the pain may be incidental to the mode of punishment, but in the case of flogging the pain itself is punitive.

Flogging and stoning seem to be the most common forms of punishment, while burning and mutilation are reserved for special cases.

As forms of capital punishment, burning and stoning are inherently retributive. Flogging may be both remedial as well as having a deterrent effect. Mutilation has a deterrent effect–or so I assume!

Needless to say, these penalties are hardly contingent on the consent of the offender. And only one of these is potentially beneficial to the offender.

Assuming that God doesn’t command people to commit intrinsically evil deeds, I don’t think a Christian can claim that the deliberate infliction of pain–on an unwilling subject–is intrinsically evil.

I also think it’s safe to say that all these punishments are more painful than any of the interrogation techniques which the Bush administration authorized to extract information from intransigent terrorists.

That, of course, doesn’t, of itself, settle the question of whether it’s licit to inflict pain in order to extract information from a terrorist. It does, however, debunk facile objections to “torture” based on its alleged affront to human dignity and the imago Dei. Christian critics of “torture” will have to come up with a different argument.

Jiffy Jeff's Gym

Sean Gerety wrote a response to me after promising to be done responding to me. This after he claimed to respect the refutations of Scripturtalism by men like Sudduth because they weren't, like mine, gutteresk, while also claiming that Sudduth only can offer ad hominem "refutations." This post of his also came on the heels of his rather dogmatic condemnation of James Anderson's book which he admitted he had never read, basing his strong disagreements only on reviews (and the question remains whether he even read these reviews), a most unscholarly way to proceed.

Anyway, rather than interact with his post in point/counter-point fashion, I'll just cover some of his errors:

1. He calls my posts on Kielar and himself "frothing at the mouth." Of course, this is simply Sean's way of spinning things, what he can't do is demonstrate any such "frothing."

2. He claims that the paradoxes spoken of by Anderson or myself are defined as "impossible to reconcile before the bar of human reason." Of course, I claimed that this was not my position (or Anderson's) numerous times. At any rate, even if it were, what's the problem? Human reason, at least now, can't fully explain the Trinity. Some things may forever remain mysterious before the bar of human reason. One wonders what relevant difference there is.

Furthermore, apart from whether there are actual paradoxes in some Christian doctrines, Clarkians still claim that persons are irrational in believing them. I believe Anderson shows that this is false. In fact, quite apart from whether any paradoxes do exist, I think Anderson's work is brilliant because it basically can grant an atheist almost all his points about doctrines like the Trinity or incarnation appearing contradictory and this still not being a defeater for rational belief in God. It's similar to what people think Plantinga did against the problem of evil, even if libertarian free will is false.

3. He launches an ignorant attack on the claim that the paradoxes arise from unarticulated equivocations. He fails to interact in any substantive way with how this is cashed out but, rather, opts to pull the emotional card, again, claiming, "That's reassuring."

4. He ignores my claim, for a third time, that not all things taught in the Bible are paradoxes. So, again, he seems bent on attacking a position I do not hold but also tries to act as if he is attacking my position.

5. He claims that there is no reason for us to believe that God himself is not contradictory. However, I gave a perfectly acceptable argument for this:

[i] No true contradictions can exist.

[ii] God exists.

[iii] God is not a contradiction.

Which premise would he like to deny?

Which premise can I not hold on to if I affirm paradox?

Another argument might be:

[i*] Only propositions can be candidates for contradictions.

[ii*] God is not a proposition.

[iii*] God is not a contradiction.

Again, how would he fault this argument? Failing to interact with it and calling me names doesn't count, normally, as a substantive rejoinder.

6. He disregards the distinctions I drew in my response to him, ignoring the necessary constraints on what need to obtain for a paradox to obtain. If he wouldn't ignore these distinctions, he couldn't claim that, "perhaps the above assertion that God is “all-knowing” is the result of another “unarticulated equivocation on the part of the revealer.” God wasn’t really teaching us that He is “all-knowing,” perhaps He just equivocated on the word “all” or “knowing” or both? Who knows?" So, Gerety just flat-out ignores the responses given to him. This is quite pathetic, actually.

7. He again poisons the well and brings up the FV.

8. He brings up my mild analogy regarding Clark mixing biblical and extra-biblical propositions being like a drug dealer who might mix pure and impure stuff together without demonstrating the problem.

9. He dodges the question of how he knows or justifiably believes that I sinned against Clark and Robbins.

He offers a valid argument for a conclusion, but gives no argument for why I should believe premise two, a premise that, on his terms, has absolutely zero positive epistemic status. Does Scripturalism reduce to encouraging people to sincerely affirm beliefs that have no positive epistemic status?

10. He asserts without any evidence that I have slandered Clark and Robbins.

11. He claims that Scripturalism isn't self-referentially incoherent but fails to argue for this claim.

12. He claims Hays believes in paradoxical formulations of the trinity, yet Hays denies this.

13. He is double-minded by claiming that the confession teaches that, “the consent of all the parts” and that the meaning of Scripture is “not manifold, but one”?" and so I am "unconfessional," but he later states that, " If the traditional formulations need improvement then they should be revised in the light of Scripture. It wouldn’t be the first time in history a confessional statements have been revised. I thought we left the infallible teaching of the church hoax to Roman Catholics."

14. He doesn't know anything he's said, not only that he has no justification for anything he's said. Hence, everything he's said is merely his unjustified opinion. Yet he speaks with such bravado and dogmatism that he invites the charge of irrationality. Anyone who postures themselves in such a way when they believe that they are only giving people their unjustified opinions is normally thought to be irrational or a Franfurtian BSer.

15. In sum, there's absolutely nothing of value in his post and he continues to make the same mistakes he made in the comments section as well as ignore crucial distinctions all so that he can get off his talking points.

If he thinks he can prove any of the points I ask him to, or if he can give reasons for why he refuses to ignore the distinctions I've drawn for him many times, I'm all ears.


I finally got around to watching Twilight. A teen romance movie isn’t normally of interest to me–especially a chick flick like Twilight. Of course, Twilight has a twist on the ordinary teen-themed romance.

Beyond that, it’s has a cult following, and it’s sometimes useful to take the temperature of the pop culture.

The film is shot in the Pacific Northwest, and makes a point to exploit the local scenery, so that lends it a certain idiosyncratic appeal for Northwest natives.

For a modern movie to, for, and about teenagers, it’s remarkably free of gratuitous sex and language.

The film plays into the stereotype of the Pacific Northwest as a place of perpetual rain. As a rule, that’s actually not true. It’s not so much the amount of rain, but the number of overcast days, that’s distinctive to the Northwest.

However, the town of Forks, which is situated on the edge of a rainforest, lives up to the reputation–even though the film actually shot in Oregon.

The movie derives its moody, languorous tone from misty, dewy shots of the rainforest, river valley, and the seashore.

Edward Cullen is played by a foppish looking actor. I guess the only thing that saves him from being a complete dandy is his vampiric superpowers. Apparently he’s irresistible to adolescent girls in the audience.

Edward has a “family,” which gives new meaning to the whole concept of alternative families. The Cullens are “vegetarian” vamps, because they feed on animals rather than people. This plays on the modern theme of the gold-hearted vampire with a conscience. It also plays on the modern theme of daytime vampires.

Bella Swan is played pretty well by a teenage actress. There is also a pleasant American Indian actor who plays a Quileute. Oh, and, the Indians are werewolves. I'll never think about the noble "savage" in quite the same way.

Apparently there’s a sequel in the works, where Bella is forced to choose between vegetarian vampires and Indian werewolves. What’s a girl to do? Life has gotten a lot more complicated than when I attended high school. In my time, thankfully, the boys didn’t have to compete with werewolves and vampires for the affections of the fairer sex.

The film has a funny scene in which Edward introduces Bella to his “family.” When vampires invite you do dinner, you never know if you’ll be on the menu. But they behave themselves.

There’s another funny scene involving a baseball game, where the Cullens make full use of their superhuman powers. It certainly livens up the pace of America’s national pastime.

There is also a subplot involving nomadic vampires. This is somewhat extraneous to the core of the film.

When it comes to movies about werewolves and vampires, “realism” is a term of art, but even on its own level there’s something unrealistic about a 108-year-old vampire who’s infatuated with a 17-year-old girl. Wouldn’t he find her a bit provincial? Wouldn’t he be pretty worldly by now? However, the film sacrifices realism at this point to cater to its market niche.

I also don’t know why werewolves and vampires would be mortal enemies. After all, vampires are supposed to have a special affinity for wolves.

In some ways the film is a throwback to those Victorian romance novels. The dashing young nobleman who falls hopelessly in love with a woman below his station in life. He wants her, but he can’t have her. His family would never consent. Will they elope?

The heart of the film centers on the star-crossed romance between Edward and Bella. They both want each other, but they want different things from each other. This creates the equivalent of sustained sexual tension.

I say “equivalent,” because it’s not quite the same thing as sexual tension. She’s human, but he’s a vampire. His interest in her is more carnivorous than sexual. He’s fallen in love with a steak.

And beyond that impediment, he’s basically a walking corpse. He has the touch and skin-tone of a cadaver–since that’s what he is.

So that creates a point of tension. While the physical attraction is overwhelming, it can’t be physically consummated, for they are ill-adapted to each other. They can gaze longingly into each others eyes, but they can’t give physical expression to their feelings. Not in a mutually fulfilling fashion. The passion is there, without the natural outlet.

As such their relationship becomes an unintended metaphor for homosexual attraction. Two (or more) “lovers” who are fundamentally ill-adapted to each other. It leads to a perennial state of emotional and sexual frustration. Any attempt to “consummate” the illicit passion is mutually destructive and self-destructive. Conflicting appetites. Passions inhabiting the wrong bodies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation

"Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation" by Bruce Waltke

James McGrath on the Faith of Ex-Christians

Ex-Christian like John Loftus, Hector Avalos, even guys like Zach Moore and Dawson Bethrick, apparently, are the truly faithful. The whole "DC" crew, all the "" folks, and any others who gave up their faith are actually the most faithful.

Well, they are if James McGrath's little proverb has any merit:

Whoever clings to his or her faith shall lose it,
and whoever lets go of his or her faith shall keep it.
I'll sit back and watch the debate between the two groups develop. But you have to admit, it's funny to think of the above men as, well, how would Dawkins put it: Faithheads.

Arlen Specter

"I read that he was switching parties, but I was disappointed to learn he's still a Democrat." (Mark Hemingway)

Imaginary friends

“Well, of course it is [satisfying]. Wouldn't it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it's satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie?”

–Richard Dawkins

“I personally have been captured by the notion of extraterrestrial life, and especially extraterrestrial intelligence from childhood. It swept me up, and I've been involved in sending space craft to nearby planets to look for life and in the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence...It would be an absolutely transforming event in human history.”

–Carl Sagan

“It is possible that an early message may contain detailed prescriptions for the avoidance of technological disaster, for a passage through adolescence to maturity. Perhaps the transmissions from advanced civilizations will describe which pathways of cultural evolution are likely to lead to the stability and longevity of an intelligent species, and which other paths lead to stagnation or degeneration or disaster.”

–Carl Sagan

It's Just So Obvious

Some unnamed professional philosophers of the blogosphere have been known to make arguments like this:

"It is just so obvious that Calvinism is false; because it is obvious that that God could not be good on any understanding of the word."

When you offer possible reasons why their confidence is misplaced, that is met with a claim like this:

"Uh, well, I just don't have those intuitions" (where this ends debate).

Ed Feser recently blogged on the penchant of philosophers to make the "it's just so obvious" move. This is the offensive counterpart to the number one defensive argument made by, frequently, the same philosophers, i.e., the "I just don't have those intuitions" (said as you interlace your fingers, rest them on your chest, lean back in your chair, pooch out your lips, shake your head, slowly, and say, "I just don't have those intuitions") counter-argument.

To get a visual image, I'll paste in a couple pictures of what people typically look like when making these moves so you know how to spot it:

"Look, it's just so obvious"

"Nah, I just don't have those intuitions"

Anthology of secular ethics


Our moral lives are rooted in our interests and our agreements. If we want to explain our moral lives, from gut-level moral perceptions to moral discourse intended to persuade others and ourselves, we need not go beyond very thisworldly interests and agreements. Hence morality is, broadly speaking, politics.

If morality is politics, it is ugly. It is not true that there are moral truths all rational agents must agree upon. This does not mean anything goes. But quite a lot things can go. Not every way of life is stable and successful in reproducing itself. But there are invariably many competing ways of life, which support different moralities, in our moral ecologies.

Attempts to provide a basis for morality, from stories about the will of the gods to sophisticated moral philosophies, are attempts to transcend politics. Interests and agreements are plural and fluid. Morality is something we care about very deeply, so it must be made more secure than that. It must be based on something higher.

One of the functions of discourse about the basis of morality, then, is to conceal the nature of morality.

To say that morality is partly concerned with concealment is not to deny that it is useful. Honesty and openness might be wonderful in an idealized academic context, but real human groups cannot function without deception. Our interests almost always demand a measure of concealment, deception, and coercion. Our moralities, because they typically condemn these as vices, allow us to make efficient social use of deception and coercion. It is best if our vital vices remain hidden.

Understanding the nature of morality requires some critical distance to morality. A more amoral perspective can help. This is only so, naturally, if we want to understand what is going on with morality. More often, we are interested in morality as moral actors. We want to persuade or reassure people (including ourselves) about taking a certain course of action. We want to engage in apologetics for our own deep moral commitments. Presenting morality as transcending politics is a temptation that is hard to resist. After all, it appears to work.

Secular moralists are often very similar to their religious colleagues in this regard. Philosophers tend to retain many implicitly Capitalized superstitions even when they find no use for one of the old favorites, God. Chief among these is Reason—reason as something transcendent, rather than a useful cognitive tool.

Our moralities are all very thinly supported by reasons. It is more accurate to think of our moralities of having causes. These causes make who we are, including our interests and agreements, and hence our moralities. We can be reflective about our moral convictions. But there can be many different points of reflective equilibrium, even for wide reflective equilibrium. We still have a moral ecology, where many ways of life are stable upon reflection as well as other small perturbations.

An intellectually coherent scientific naturalism must come to grips with moral ecologies and moral pluralism. It must act against the desire to make morality transcend politics. By doing so, however, naturalism renders itself socially useless, perhaps even dangerous, in many contexts.


c. The Is-Ought Problem
The first philosopher who persistently argued that normative rules cannot be derived from empirical facts was David Hume (1711-1776) (1978: 469):

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence.

It is this unexplained, imperceptible change from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume deplores in moral systems. To say what is the case and to say what ought to be the case are two unrelated matters, according to him. On the one hand, empirical facts do not contain normative statements, otherwise they would not be purely empirical. On the other hand, if there are no normative elements in the facts, they cannot suddenly surface in the conclusions because a conclusion is only deductively valid if all necessary information is present in the premises.

How do Darwin and Spencer derive 'ought' from 'is'? Let us look at Darwin first, using an example which he could have supported.

1. Child A is dying from starvation.
2. The parents of child A are not in a position to feed their child.
3. The parents of child A are very unhappy that their child is dying from starvation.
4. Therefore, fellow humans ought morally to provide food for child A.
Darwin (1930: 234) writes that "happiness is an essential part of the general good." Therefore, those who want to be moral ought to promote happiness, and hence, in the above case, provide food. However, the imperceptible move from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume found in moral systems, is also present in this example. Thus, Darwin derives ought from is when he moves from the empirical fact of unhappiness to the normative claim of a duty to relieve unhappiness.

The same can be said for Spencer whose above argument about the survival of the fittest could be represented as follows:

1. Natural selection will ensure the survival of the fittest.
2. Person B is dying from starvation because he is ill, old, and poor.
3. Therefore, fellow humans ought to morally avoid helping person B so that the survival of the fittest is guaranteed.
Even if both premises were shown to be true, it does not follow that we ought to morally support the survival of the fittest. An additional normative claim equating survival skills with moral goodness would be required to make the argument tenable. Again, this normative part of the argument is not included in the premises. Hence, Spencer also derives 'ought' from 'is.' Thomas Huxley (1906: 80) objects to evolutionary ethics on these grounds when he writes:

The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philantropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.


To this point, Joyce has essentially been answering a scientific question: has morality resulted from natural biological selection? After reaching an affirmative answer to this question, he devotes the last two chapters, and the conclusion, to a philosophical question: what difference should this make to the contents of our ethics, or to our metaethical views?

Some think that associating evolution and ethics leads to "evolutionary ethics," of which the most notorious example is "social darwinism" -- a view that Darwin himself never held -- which sees evolution as a moral force that we should allow to do its work unfettered. Social darwinists argued against social welfare, on the grounds that those who are not fit enough to survive in the marketplace should not be assisted in reproducing.

Joyce argues that social darwinism and more contemporary versions of what he calls "prescriptive evolutionary ethics" by Robert Richards, Richmond Campbell, Daniel Dennett, and William Casebeer all fail, although he does not think that they can all be brought down by invoking either the "naturalistic fallacy" or the rule against deriving an "ought" from an "is". Joyce gives rather more space than necessary to showing why this is so. Although there are admittedly counter-examples to the rule that no "ought" statement can follow from an "is" statement, the counter-examples are essentially, as Joyce himself says, "logical tricks". Since anything follows from a contradiction, "You ought not steal" follows from a contradiction. But so what? Tricks aside, Hume's puzzlement over how an "ought" could follow from a series of "is" statements was well-founded. Oddly, in a book that is otherwise precise to the point of pedantry about exactly what the naturalistic fallacy is and whether an "ought" can be deduced from an "is", Joyce twice (pp.145, 191) refers to utilitarianism as an example of naturalism. Since utilitarianism is generally regarded as a normative, and not a metaethical, theory, it is compatible with any metaethics. Sidgwick was an intuitionist utilitarian. J.J.C. Smart is a noncognitivist utilitarian.

In Chapter 6, "The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality," Joyce discusses the reverse of the view that we should take evolution as our moral guide. The debunker regards knowledge that some of our specific moral beliefs are the outcome of natural selection as casting doubt on their claim to be preceptions of moral truth, or moral fixed points with which no sound normative theory would clash. As elsewhere, Joyce states his own position cautiously. He has not argued that any moral belief is innate, but only that we have a "specialized innate mechanism" for acquiring moral beliefs, so that we are born ready to see things in a normative way. As he puts it, "moral concepts may be innate even if moral beliefs are not." It is the idea of a sweeping moral skepticism, not of debunking particular moral beliefs, that primarily interests Joyce. Of course, the mere fact that a capacity has evolved cannot be sufficient to debunk it. Knowing that our capacity for mathematics is the result of evolution does not lead us to doubt that 1 + 1 = 2. But as Joyce points out, the best possible explanation of this capacity is that it helps us to survive by tracking the real world -- if we see three leopards enter a thicket, notice two leaving, and therefore conclude that it is safe to go into the thicket, our reproductive prospects will be diminished. As we have seen, however, there are good explanations of our capacity to make moral judgments that do not assume that it is a faculty for perceiving some truth about the world. Moreover, Joyce argues, there is no fact about the world that can vindicate the inescapable authority that moral judgments purport to have. He concludes: "our moral beliefs are products of a process that is entirely independent of their truth" and while they might happen to be true, we have no reason for thinking that they are. Thus Joyce embraces something like John Mackie's metaethical "error theory," with the difference that whereas Mackie thought our moral language is mistaken because no moral propositions are true, Joyce defends only the more modest claim that we are not justified in endorsing any moral proposition.


Assuming that conflicts between morality and self-interest are possible, one can coherently ask the question, "Why should I be moral, especially when it conflicts with my self-interest?" Those of us who already accept the authority of the moral point of view are tempted to dismiss the question as nonsensical, since from the moral point of view, it is a truism that a person should do what is morally required. However, such a reply would be superficial. The point of asking "Why should I be moral?" is to question the authority of the moral point of view in the first place. If one answers the question by saying, "Because the moral point of view requires that you be moral," the questioner could simply ask, "Why should I adopt that point of view?" This leads to a very common objection to atheistic ethics. According to the objection, if atheism is true, then moral behavior is not rationally required. Indeed, in the event of a conflict with self-interest, moral behavior may even be positively irrational for an atheist.

Although Martin discusses the related issue of the atheistic account of the motivation for being moral, he does not directly address the atheistic justification for adopting the moral point of view. This is significant, since clearly motivation does not entail justification: even if you strongly motivated to do such-and-such, that says nothing about whether you are right to do so. Unfortunately, this renders Martin's comments about the former largely irrelevant to the latter. One is still left looking in Martin's book for an atheistic justification for adopting the moral point of view.

This leads to the follow-up question, "On the assumption that God does not exist (and the assumption that conflicts between morality and self-interest are possible), how likely is it that the demands of morality will converge with self-interest?" Unfortunately, given both assumptions, it seems highly unlikely that the demands of morality will converge with self-interest for everyone all of the time. Why? Because if atheism is true, then metaphysical naturalism is probably true. (Although atheism is logically compatible with the existence of supernatural beings other than God, the prior probability of the supernatural given atheism is low. Metaphysical naturalism has the highest prior probability of all atheistic hypotheses.) If metaphysical naturalism is true, then there is no God and no life after death. And if there is no God and no life after death, then there are cases in which the cost of moral behavior greatly outweighs the benefits. In such cases, why wouldn't a person be justified in satisfying their own self-interest instead of the demands of morality? Unfortunately, as far as I can see, Martin doesn't discuss this question.


d. The Naturalistic Fallacy
But evolutionary ethics was not only attacked by those who supported Hume's claim that normative statements cannot be derived from empirical facts. A related argument against evolutionary ethics was voiced by British philosopher G.E. Moore (1873-1958). In 1903, he published a ground-breaking book, Principia Ethica, which created one of the most challenging problems for evolutionary ethics--the 'naturalistic fallacy.' According to Michael Ruse (1995: 223), when dealing with evolutionary ethics, "it has been enough for the student to murmur the magical phrase 'naturalistic fallacy,' and then he or she can move on to the next question, confident of having gained full marks thus far on the exam." So, what is the naturalistic fallacy and why does it pose a problem for evolutionary ethics?

Moore was interested in the definition of 'good' and particularly in whether 'good' was a simple or a complex property. Simple properties, according to Moore, are indefinable as they cannot be described further using more basic properties. Complex properties, on the other hand, can be defined by outlining their basic properties. Hence, 'yellow' cannot be defined in terms of its constituent parts, whereas 'colored' can be explained further as it consists of several individual colors.

'Good,' according to Moore, is a simple property which cannot be described using more basic properties. Committing the naturalistic fallacy is attempting to define 'good' with reference to other natural, i.e. empirically verifiable, properties. This understanding of 'good' creates serious problems for both Darwin and Spencer. Following Bentham and Mill, both identify moral goodness with 'pleasure.' This means they commit the naturalistic fallacy as good and pleasant are not identical. In addition, Spencer identifies goodness with 'highly evolved,' committing the naturalistic fallacy again. (Both Moore's claim in itself as well as his criticism of evolutionary ethics can be attacked, but this would fall outside the scope of this entry).


I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.


R[ussell]: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

C[opleston]: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

R: By my feelings.

C: By your feelings. Well, that's what I was asking. You think that good and evil have reference simply to feeling?

R: Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn't been gone into in the same way and I couldn't give it [to] you.

C: Well, let's take the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen. That appears to you as undesirable and evil and to me too. To Adolf Hitler we suppose it appeared as something good and desirable, I suppose you’d have to admit that for Hitler it was good and for you it is evil.

R: No, I shouldn't quite go so far as that. I mean, I think people can make mistakes in that as they can in other things. If you have jaundice you see things yellow that are not yellow. You're making a mistake.

C: Yes, one can make mistakes, but can you make a mistake if it’s simply a question of reference to a feeling or emotion? Surely Hitler would be the only possible judge of what appealed to his emotions.

R: It would be quite right to say that it appealed to his emotions, but you can say various things about that among others, that if that sort of thing makes that sort of appeal to Hitler's emotions, then Hitler makes quite a different appeal to my emotions.

C: Granted. But there's no objective criterion outside feeling then for condemning the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen, in your view?

R: No more than there is for the color-blind person who's in exactly the same state. Why do we intellectually condemn the color-blind man? Isn't it because he's in the minority?

C: I would say because he is lacking in a thing which normally belongs to human nature.

R: Yes, but if he were in the majority, we shouldn't say that.

C: Then you'd say that there's no criterion outside feeling that will enable one to distinguish between the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen and the behavior, say, of Sir Stafford Cripps or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

R: The feeling is a little too simplified. You've got to take account of the effects of actions and your feelings toward those effects. You see, you can have an argument about it if you can say that certain sorts of occurrences are the sort you like and certain others the sort you don’t like. Then you have to take account of the effects of actions. You can very well say that the effects of the actions of the Commandant of Belsen were painful and unpleasant.

C: They certainly were, I agree, very painful and unpleasant to all the people in the camp.

R: Yes, but not only to the people in the camp, but to outsiders contemplating them also.

C: Yes, quite true in imagination. But that's my point. I don’t approve of them, and I know you don't approve of them, but I don't see what ground you have for not approving of them, because after all, to the Commandant of Belsen himself, they're pleasant, those actions.

R: Yes, but you see I don't need any more ground in that case than I do in the case of color perception. There are some people who think everything is yellow, there are people suffering from jaundice, and I don’t agree with these people. I can't prove that the things are not yellow, there isn't any proof, but most people agree with him that they’re not yellow, and most people agree with me that the Commandant of Belsen was making mistakes.

C: Well, do you accept any moral obligation?

R: Well, I should have to answer at considerable length to answer that. Practically speaking -- yes. Theoretically speaking I should have to define moral obligation rather carefully.

C: Well, do you think that the word "ought" simply has an emotional connotation?

R: No, I don't think that, because you see, as I was saying a moment ago, one has to take account of the effects, and I think right conduct is that which would probably produce the greatest possible balance in intrinsic value of all the acts possible in the circumstances, and you’ve got to take account of the probable effects of your action in considering what is right.

C: Well, I brought in moral obligation because I think that one can approach the question of God's existence in that way. The vast majority of the human race will make, and always have made, some distinction between right and wrong. The vast majority I think has some consciousness of an obligation in the moral sphere. It's my opinion that the perception of values and the consciousness of moral law and obligation are best explained through the hypothesis of a transcendent ground of value and of an author of the moral law. I do mean by "author of the moral law" an arbitrary author of the moral law. I think, in fact, that those modern atheists who have argued in a converse way "there is no God; therefore, there are no absolute values and no absolute law," are quite logical.

R: I don't like the word "absolute." I don't think there is anything absolute whatever. The moral law, for example, is always changing. At one period in the development of the human race, almost everybody thought cannibalism was a duty.

C: Well, I don't see that differences in particular moral judgments are any conclusive argument against the universality of the moral law. Let's assume for the moment that there are absolute moral values, even on that hypothesis it's only to be expected that different individuals and different groups should enjoy varying degrees of insight into those values.

R: I'm inclined to think that "ought," the feeling that one has about "ought" is an echo of what has been told one by one's parents or one's nurses.

C: Well, I wonder if you can explain away the idea of the "ought" merely in terms of nurses and parents. I really don’t see how it can be conveyed to anybody in other terms than itself. It seems to be that if there is a moral order bearing upon the human conscience, that that moral order is unintelligible apart from the existence of God.

R: Then you have to say one or other of two things. Either God only speaks to a very small percentage of mankind -- which happens to include yourself -- or He deliberately says things are not true in talking to the consciences of savages.

C: Well, you see, I'm not suggesting that God actually dictates moral precepts to the conscience. The human being's ideas of the content of the moral law depends entirely to a large extent on education and environment, and a man has to use his reason in assessing the validity of the actual moral ideas of his social group. But the possibility of criticizing the accepted moral code presupposes that there is an objective standard, and there is an ideal moral order, which imposes itself (I mean the obligatory character of which can be recognized). I think that the recognition of this ideal moral order is part of the recognition of contingency. It implies the existence of a real foundation of God.

R: But the lawgiver has always been, it seems to me, one's parents or someone like. There are plenty of terrestrial lawgivers to account for it, and that would explain why people's consciences are so amazingly different in different times and places.

C: It helps to explain differences in the perception of particular moral values, which otherwise are inexplicable. It will help to explain changes in the matter of the moral law in the content of the precepts as accepted by this or that nation, or this or that individual. But the form of it, what Kant calls the categorical imperative, the "ought," I really don't see how that can possibly be conveyed to anybody by nurse or parent because there aren't any possible terms, so far as I can see, with which it can be explained. It can't be defined in other terms than itself, because once you've defined it in other terms than itself you've explained it away. It's no longer a moral "ought." It's something else.

R: Well, I think the sense of "ought" is the effect of somebody’s imagined disapproval, it may be God's imagined disapproval, but it's somebody's imagined disapproval. And I think that is what is meant by "ought."

C: It seems to me to be external customs and taboos and things of that sort which can most easily be explained simply through environment and education, but all that seems to me to belong to what I call the matter of the law, the content. The idea of the "ought" as such can never be conveyed to a man by the tribal chief or by anybody else, because there are no other terms in which it could be conveyed. It seems to me entirely....

R: But I don't see any reason to say that -- I mean we all know about conditioned reflexes. We know that an animal, if punished habitually for a certain sort of act, after a time will refrain. I don't think the animal refrains from arguing within himself, "Master will be angry if I do this." He has a feeling that that's not the thing to do. That's what we can do with ourselves and nothing more.

C: I see no reason to suppose that an animal has a consciousness or moral obligation; and we certainly don't regard an animal as morally responsible for his acts of disobedience. But a man has a consciousness of obligation and of moral values. I see no reason to suppose that one could condition all men as one can "condition" an animal, and I don't suppose you'd really want to do so even if one could. If "behaviorism" were true, there would be no objective moral distinction between the emperor Nero and St. Francis of Assisi. I can’t help feeling, Lord Russell, you know, that you regard the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen as morally reprehensible, and that you yourself would never under any circumstances act in that way, even if you thought, or had reason to think, that possibly the balance of the happiness of the human race might be increased through some people being treated in that abominable manner.

R: No. I wouldn't imitate the conduct of a mad dog. The fact that I wouldn’t do it doesn't really bear on this question we're discussing.

C: No, but if you were making a utilitarian explanation of right and wrong in terms of consequences, it might be held, and I suppose some of the Nazis of the better type would have held that although it’s lamentable to have to act in this way, yet the balance in the long run leads to greater happiness. I don't think you'd say that, would you? I think you'd say that sort of action is wrong -- and in itself, quite apart from whether the general balance of happiness is increased or not. Then, if you're prepared to say that, then I think you must have some criterion of feeling, at any rate. To me, that admission would ultimately result in the admission of an ultimate ground of value in God.

R: I think we are perhaps getting into confusion. It is not direct feeling about the act by which I should judge, but rather a feeling as to the effects. And I can't admit any circumstances in which certain kinds of behavior, such as you have been discussing, would do good. I can’t imagine circumstances in which they would have a beneficial effect. I think the persons who think they do are deceiving themselves. But if there were circumstances in which they would have a beneficial effect, then I might be obliged, however reluctantly, to say -- "Well, I don't like these things, but I will acquiesce in them," just as I acquiesce in the Criminal Law, although I profoundly dislike punishment.


I do not believe my theory differs very much from that of many or most people. There is a sense that my life, actions and consequences of actions amount to nothing when I am considering the value of an infinite universe. Our emotional responses to acts or states of affairs we believe have positive or negative value occur when we are narrowly focused on “the here and now”, on the people we interact with or know about, ourselves, and the animals, plants and material things that surround us in our daily lives. In our daily lives, we believe actions are good or bad and that individuals have rights. These beliefs are false, but we know this only on the occasions when we engage in second order beliefs about our everyday beliefs and view our everyday beliefs from the perspective of infinity. Most of the time, we live in an illusion of meaningfulness and only some times, when we are philosophically reflective, are we aware of reality and the meaninglessness of our lives. It seems obvious that this has a genetic basis, due to Darwinian laws of evolution. In order to survive and reproduce, it must seem to us most of the time that our actions are not futile, that people have rights. The rare occasions in which we know the truth about life are genetically prevented from overriding living our daily lives with the illusion that they are meaningful. As I progress through this paper, I have the illusion that my efforts are not utterly futile, but right now, as I stop and reflect, I realize that any further effort put into this paper is a futile expenditure of my energy.