Sunday, July 20, 2014

Random mercy

Findo It seems an odd sort of justice which makes it monstrous to give what is deserved. 

Roger Olson So what you would think of a judge who, faced with a group of men deserving condemnation and liable to execution, randomly chose some to pardon, leaving the others to their deserved fate? Not monstrous?

Olson is posing a rhetorical question. Obviously, he thinks it would be "monstrous" to randomly pardon some while leaving the others to their deserved fate. 

i) Since he considers that scenario to be "monstrous," what's his non-monstrous alternative? The way he frames the issue stands in implicit contrast to whatever he deems to be the acceptable alternative. 

ii) On the face of it, the key consideration seems to be the randomness" of the selection process. Presumably, he doesn't think it's inherently monstrous to pardon some people but punish others. Rather, that's only monstrous in cases where you do so at random

"Random" stands in contrast to what? Well, his hypothetical is an allegory for unconditional election, which he considers "arbitrary." The alternative is conditional election, where God chooses whom to save or damn based on what he sees (or foresees) in them. 

So, by parity of argument, the non-monstrous alternative to randomly pardoning some but punishing others is to pardon or punish based on what the judge sees in them. So how does that apply to his hypothetical? Since his hypothetical stipulates that the men in question "deserve condemnation," are "liable to execution," which is their "deserved fate," then, presumably, it would be "monstrous" to pardon any of them. 

iii) That raises an interesting question. Since his hypothetical is an allegory for unconditional election, doesn't his position commit him to the belief that conditional election is just as monstrous as unconditional election? After all, if everyone is a sinner who deserves condemnation, yet God pardons some while leaving others to their equally deserved fate, isn't that "monstrous" on Olson's own grounds? If God sees (or foresees) the same thing in everyone, because everyone deserves condemnation, then by Olson's logic, God is monstrous unless he damns everyone

iv) Perhaps Olson will say God foresaw that some would accept the Gospel while others reject the Gospel. So that's the difference.

But that's not a difference in terms of who is deserving of condemnation. Acceptance doesn't make them innocent. So how does that difference salvage Olson's argument (assuming that's his argument)? 

v) Keep in mind, too, that Arminianism is not committed to penal substitution. Penal substitution is not an Arminian essential. So Olson can't say conditional election is not monstrous because Christ paid the penalty for the sins of future believers. For that would make the moral licitness of Arminian election contingent on a theory of the atonement which many Arminians past and present (e.g. Grotius, Miley, Grider, Green, Rauser) reject.

vi) Olson evidently takes the position that it would be better to punish ten guilty men than show mercy to nine out of ten, or show mercy to one out of ten. 

But in that event, isn't the very concept of mercy "monstrous"? If mercy pardons someone in spite of their guilt, how is that different from an unconditional pardon? 

If pardon and punishment ought to be conditioned on what the judge sees in the accused, and if the defendant is worthy of condemnation, then by Olson's logic, isn't mercy intrinsically monstrous? By definition, mercy treats people better than they deserve. Does Olson think the Biblical concept of mercy is "monstrous"? 

vii) Why does Olson think that if a judge, faced with a group of men deserving condemnation and liable to execution, randomly chose some to pardon, leaving the others to their deserved fate, that would be monstrous? 

Does he think randomness per se is unjust or unfair because it treats people unequally? Inequitable treatment is unjust or unfair if the parties in question are alike (i.e. worthy of condemnation)? 

If that's his intuition, I'd simply note that randomness often has the polar opposite function. In human affairs, we use randomizing devices, not because randomness is unfair, but because randomizing the outcome makes the situation fairer. 

There are situations where the order in which something happens will confer a competitive advantage on one side or the other. Who goes first, who goes second, who goes last, can be advantageous or disadvantageous. Who gets the first pick. Who gets the last pick. Which debater makes the final closing statement. Who plays defense, who plays offense. 

Neither side as a right to go first, second, or last. One team isn't more deserving than another. Yet someone has to go first, second, or last, and order in which that happens will confer an unfair advantage or disadvantage on the respective teams. 

One traditional way of resolving the unfairness is a coin toss. Flipping a coin is a randomizing device which equalizes the chance of going first, second, or last. That's a way of making an unfair situation more fair. A blind, unbiased procedure.  Although the outcome will confer a subsequent advantage on one side, neither side has an antecedent advantage on how the coin will land (heads or tails).

Likewise, a stacked deck is unfair precisely because it isn't random. That's why the deck should be shuffled and reshuffled. The sequence of the cards is supposed to be "arbitrary." That's why you should replace an old deck with a new deck (since old, creased, or dog-eared cards are equivalent to marked cards). Same thing with loaded dice.

It's the randomness in games of chance that makes them fair. Everyone has the same odds of winning or losing. 

Another example is the waiting list for organs. There are not enough donated organs to go around. So it has to be rationed. There are, of course, criteria. Some candidates are more suitable than others. Some candidates are more urgent than others. That can bumped you up the list. 

But you're bound have situations with equally qualified patients. Yet one gets lucky, and the other gets unlucky. Even in life and death situations, an element of randomness is sometimes the fairest solution.   

Olson acts as if randomness is the antithesis of fairness, yet in many situations, we use randomizing devices to make it fair. 

I'm not saying unconditional election is random. But even if (ex hypothesi) it were random, that, of itself, isn't "monstrous" or unfair. For randomness, of itself, isn't "monstrous" or unfair. At best, Olson would need to explain how randomness is "monstrous" under those particular circumstances.

viii) Apropos (vii), "random" is often treated as synonym for "aimless," "purposeless," "fortuitous," "unplanned," "undirected," "unpremeditated," "indiscriminate," "hit-and-miss,"&c. 

Clearly, though, unconditional election isn't indiscriminate or hit-and-miss. To the contrary, Arminians complain that unconditional election is too discriminatory!

Likewise, unconditional election isn't unplanned, undirected, &c. To the contrary, this is God's antemundane plan for the some humans–in contrast to his equally premeditated design for the reprobate. 

ix) In addition, the popular connotations of randomness fail to distinguish between a process and the function of a process. Let's go back to randomizing devices like flipping a coin or shuffling a deck. That's both a purposeful process and a random process. And that's not a contradiction in terms. Although the process itself is random, the process serves a purpose. There's a purpose behind the process. A coin toss is random, but it's not pointless. It's a means to an end. A method of conflict resolution. 

Because the method is random, that makes it unbiased. Fair. 

x) In principle, one could show mercy "at random" to underscore the fact that no one deserves it. If nobody has a claim on your mercy, then picking recipients at random makes that very point. It could just as well have been someone else. Grace is truly gratuitous. 

I'm not saying unconditional election is random. Rather, I'm saying that even if (ex hypothesi) unconditional election were random, that wouldn't be pointless or unjust. 

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