Saturday, April 16, 2016

Nonnegotiable moral intuitions

On Facebook, a commenter (Steven Nemeș) attempted to respond to my post on "Last plane out of Saigon":

The belief that God is love is not a piece of a priori theologizing, but revealed through the self-sacrifice of Jesus on behalf of all (1 Jn 2:2, 4:7-10). Steve ignores that you based your contention with Calvinism on the biblical affirmation that God is love, not your a priori moral intuitions.
It becomes (subjectively) morally abhorrent once your intuitions have been informed by the revelation of God in Christ. 1 John 4:7-10 comes first, then the intuitions.

That's not how Walls defines intuition. Nemes is substituting his own moral epistemology for Jerry's. Evidently, Nemes never read Good God, by Jerry Walls and Dave Baggett. Here's some of what they say:

We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation… (67).
Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology (67).
The Bible is taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think, we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy (68).
At a minimum, for example, scripture must be understood in a way that's consistent and coherent, not just internally, but also with what we know outside of scripture (76).
What violates our reason or nonnegotiable moral intuitions in contrast, is beyond the pale and so irrational to believe (77).
If the Bible did indeed teach such a doctrine [i.e. "unconditional reprobation"), wouldn't it be more rational to believe that it's not morally reliable? (78)?

So we see Jerry Walls appealing to "nonnegotiable moral intuitions". He says they derive from general revelation, not Scripture or the atonement.  

For Walls, a sine qua non of divine goodness is that God loves everyone. That's grounded in his moral epistemology. He deploys his (allegedly) intuitive preconception of what constitutes divine goodness as a standard of comparison to assess revelatory claimants. So his moral intuitions are independent of Scripture and ultimately superior to Scripture in that regard. A priori moral intuitions that are separable from Scripture. 

And he's run this kind of argument in the past to try to prove that God doesn't have to love everyone.

No, I've just said you can't appeal to conflicting intuitions to prove that God has to love everyone, when there's clearly no intuitive consensus to that effect. I don't use it to prove that God doesn't love everyone. Rather, I use that to show that the appeal doesn't point in one particular direction. 

It hardly negates the point to refer to some cases of bad sinners! 

It certainly negates the facile appeal to moral intuition if, in fact, many people's moral intuition balks at the notion that God is required to love these perpetrators.

A basic question this raises is what counts as evidence for the general revelatory status of his belief about God's universal love. How does Jerry know that's a moral intuition? Two potential lines of evidence suggest themselves:

i) If moral intuitions must derive from general revelation, you can establish that these are intuitive by process of elimination in case you are able to exclude other possible sources for the belief.

I've never seen Jerry even attempt to do that. Maybe I just missed it. 

And obvious problem with that line of evidence is that, to my knowledge, the only people who believe God is required to love everyone are people in certain Christian theological traditions. But that's hardly a promising avenue to prove these derive from general revelation. To the contrary, that strongly suggests the belief is the product of indoctrination rather than intuition.

ii) Another possibility is consensus. If it can be shown that this belief is a cultural universal, that would be prima facie evidence that it derives from general revelation. 

But to my knowledge, it isn't remotely the case that most people at most times and places believe such a thing. For instance, surely that's not something most pre-Christian pagans believe. 

Indeed, there are Christians who say Christ's command to love our enemies is "revolutionary"! And, of course, if you can love your enemy, you can love anyone. 

They think his command was a radical, novel idea to most people in the ancient world. But in that event, universal love is counterintuitive. It cuts against the grain of human nature, whether in reference to the notion of universal divine love or universal human love which mirrors the former. 

iii) In theory, Jerry might postulate that due to the "noetic effects of  sin," this intuition has been suppressed or eradicated in many cases. However, while that might be able to show how the lack of evidence is consistent with claim, there's no justification for the postulate unless we already have evidence that such an intuition exists! Jerry still needs to furnish some positive evidence that belief in God's universal love is a moral intuition, grounded in general revelation. 

The second problem is that he always, always conveniently fails to mention his own conviction that those evils took place because a logically and causally prior decision on God's part that they occur, for some reason only he knows and from which not everyone will ultimately benefit—and yet somehow this will not morally objectionable to everyone with properly functioning moral faculties who hears it. It's always the same spiel.

i) That's either ignorant or dishonest. I often discuss ethical objections to predestination. So is Nemes intentionally misrepresenting me? Or is he uninformed? 

ii) At the same time, I notice the Arminian tactic of deflecting any criticism of Arminianism by changing the subject. Let's rehash stock objections to Calvinism! But that's a backdoor admission that they can't directly defend Arminianism. 


  1. If Steven Nemes tries to modify Jerry Walls' argument, such that the basis of his belief is Scripture, then I think he forfeits the critique of Calvinism at that point.

    Scripture is controlling or defining what it means for God to be love, according to that scheme. In which case, you can't have an a priori objection to whether or not Calvinism is compatible with God being love. If Scripture teaches both Calvinism and that God is love--and if Scripture is controlling and informing our intuitions in regard to the latter--then these clearly shouldn't be cashed out in ways that conflict. So the argument has to be exegetically focused rather than moral or "intuitive".

  2. "The Bible is taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think, we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy (68)." - Walls

    So he ends grounding his theology on his philosophy. It's the same old "whatever it means it cannot mean that" (i.e, Romans 9, John 6, and so on).