Slavery and Christianity: The First Known Abolitionist Speech.

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Understanding the ancient world is often difficult for those who were raised in a Christian Culture.  It is very hard to believe that slavery was ubiquitous in the ancient world.  Why did they tolerate it?  It seems like they just treated it as we treat different roles.  Some people will own the restaurant some will bus the tables and some will cook etc.  People can own animals, and people are animals, so why not?   Aristotle expressed this view:

“And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.”

Aristotle, Politics

 

At first blush Paul’s exhortation to seems take the view that being a slave is just another role people have:

 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

Ephesians 6.

At one level this passage seems to accept these roles.  At that level this passage reminds me of my father telling me he didn’t care what I did just whatever I did I should, do it well.     Of course, today we don’t see slavery as just another role.

 

But, he says “And masters treat your slaves in the same way” right after he describes how a slave should treat their master.  What?!?     This is often overlooked by people when they are trying to be critical of Paul and Christianity.  So how should a master treat his slave “the same way” Paul wants a slave to treat his master?  Well let’s fill that in:

 “Obey your earthly [slaves] with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”

 

Whoa, that’s pretty crazy stuff for his time.  But, of course, it naturally follows from the view that “the first will be last and the last will be first” Mathew 20:16 and “I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mathew 25:40.  I mean if this is really what that God wanted us to believe you would expect him who has power over us to come and do something like wash the feet of his own creation. John 13.

 

Paul and Christ are doing much more than arguing for a change of legal codes.  They want our heart, mind, and soul to point in the direction of love for another as opposed to us seeing others as tools.  They want us to view our relationships with other people in an entirely different way that cannot be captured in law and works regardless of the laws we live under.

Clearly this passage like so many others in Christianity turns what was the common view on its head.  We are all to be servants of Christ and by that we do what he wants which is to be servants of each other.  Not because we are forced but because of the love he wants us to build for each other.

 

But slavery was accepted everywhere for so long, why did people change their view and start thinking peopled should not own other people?  We see Paul is starting to really upset the apple cart but he still seems to accept the institutional roles themselves at least superficially.    How did we start to see this differently, and start to see the institution of slavery as immoral?  Of course If morality is defined as whatever we want then it seems the change would just be arbitrary like the wind.

 

One way to at least approach an answer to this question, is to examine the reasons given by the first person we know of to argue against Slavery as flat out being immoral.     This will give us an idea of the original grounds to break from that long established but immoral tradition.

 

There were certain Stoics who took a view somewhat similar to Paul’s, in that we are meant to be free in a spiritual sense and this can be extended to the physical sense.  And indeed the Stoic Dr. Piggliucci quotes, Seneca the younger, was so loved by early Christians that he was often referred to as a proto-christian Saint by them!

 

I would liken some of these statements from Stoics to some of Paul’s.    E.g., Paul asks Philemon that he free his slave out of love rather than have him order to do what he ought to do, and there is no such thing as slave or free in Christ,  and that it is good that slaves become free and that they stay free First Corinthians 7:21-24.    Paul like these stoics stopped short of giving a giving lengthy attack on slavery itself.

 

Dr. Piggliucci says  “That said, it is certainly the case that no Stoic questioned the very institution of slavery. But it is rather unfair to criticize Stoicism in particular for this failure. Every single ancient philosophy and religion, including Christianity, has incurred in the same failure.”  He may be right about other ancient philosphys and religions but based on what I say below I think Christianity is indeed different.  Even if we don’t count the teachings of Jesus and Paul as making slavery obsolete we have at least one Ancient Christian attacking slavery.

 

I would also question Dr. Piggliucci suggesting racism had nothing to do with ancient justification for slavery.  He says:

“The Colonial idea of slavery was intrinsically racist, founded on the conceit that some people are literally sub-human, not worthy of the same consideration as the rest of us. That was not the case in Ancient Greece and Rome, where one could become a slave by losing a battle.”

 

Consider this quote from Plato:

“…nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior.”

 

Plato, Gorgias

 

Moreover, Aristotle specifically addressed this case and said that if a person who was not naturally a slave was made a slave after being captured in battle (a legal slave) it would be wrong for them not to be freed.  And if a person who was a natural slave was freed by law that would also be wrong not to re-enslave him.  See politics book 1 part 6.

 

What made someone naturally a slave and another naturally a ruler?  That is somewhat unclear but he seems fairly sympathetic to the view that “Helenes” (Greeks) are fit to rule.  Whereas non-Greeks “barbarians”  have no one fit to rule as they are all natural slaves. “But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female.” Politics book one part 2.

 

Aristotle also talks about the inability to understand certain things would make someone more fit to be a slave.    But whatever the details it is fairly clear he sees the natural slaves as inferior to the natural masters.  Here is a quote that also gives us some insight as to some other moral views Christianity inherited from the ancient world:

“And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the passionate, is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. The same holds good of animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.”

Aristotle politics book 1 part 5.

 

It is for these reasons I would question Dr. Piggliucci’s statement suggesting the bigotry of the later centuries was not around in ancient times.

 

In any case the first known assault on the very notion of slavery comes from Saint Gregory, the Bishop of Nyssa.  He lived from @335- @395 AD.  I quote a translation of his attack on slavery from a homily on ecclesiastics where the person boasts of owning slaves.  I will offer a rather lengthy quote because it is important to get the reasoning.   The reasoning of the first people to take a different view is evidence of what caused the gradual change to our current views.  Moreover, the first known argument against slavery is in my opinion a text worth reading in its own right.

 

…..as for a human being to think himself the master of his own kind? “I got me slaves and slave-girls”, he says, and homebred slaves were born for me.

 

Do you notice the enormity of the boast? This kind of language is raised up as a challenge to God. For we hear from prophecy that all things are the slaves of the power that transcends all (Ps 119/118,91). So, when someone turns the property of God into his own property and arrogates dominion to his own kind, so as to think himself the owner of men and women, what is he doing but overstepping his own nature through pride, regarding himself as something different from his subordinates?

 

I got me slaves and slave-girls. What do you mean? You condemn man to slavery, when his nature is free and possesses free will, and you legislate in competition with God, overturning his law for the human species. The one made on the specific terms that he should be the owner of the earth, and appointed to government by the Creator – him you bring under the yoke of slavery, as though defying and fighting against the divine decree.

 

You have forgotten the limits of your authority, and that your rule is confined to control over things without reason. For it says Let them rule over winged creatures and fishes and four-footed things and creeping things (Gen, 1,26). Why do you go beyond what is subject to you and raise yourself up against the very species which is free, counting your own kind on a level with four-footed things and even footless things? You have subjected all things to man, declares the word through the prophecy, and in the text it lists the things subject, cattle and oxen and sheep (Ps 8,7- 8). Surely human beings have not been produced from your cattle? Surely cows have not conceived human stock? Irrational beasts are the only slaves of mankind. But to you these things are of small account. Raising fodder for the cattle, and green plants for the slaves of men, it says (Ps 1041 103,14). But by dividing the human species in two with ‘slavery’ and ‘ownership’ you have caused it to be enslaved to itself, and to be the owner of itself.

 

I got me slaves and slave-girls. For what price, tell me? What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling the being shaped by God? God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness (Gen 1,26). If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable (Rom 11,29). God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s?

 

How too shall the ruler of the whole earth and all earthly things be put up for sale?  For the property of the person sold is bound to be sold with him, too. So how much do we think the whole earth is worth? And how much all the things on the earth (Gen 1,26)? If they are priceless, what price is the one above them worth, tell me? Though you were to say the whole world, even so you have not found the price he is worth (Mat 16,26; Mk 8,36). He who knew the nature of mankind rightly said that the whole world was not worth giving in exchange for a human soul. Whenever a human being is for sale, therefore, nothing less than the owner of the earth is led into the sale-room. Presumably, then, the property belonging to him is up for auction too.  That means the earth, the islands, the sea, and all that is in them. What will the buyer pay, and what will the vendor accept, considering how much property is entailed in the deal?

 

But has the scrap of paper, and the written contract, and the counting out of obols deceived you into thinking yourself the master of the image of God? What folly! …

 

The Bishop’s indignation is palpable.   So while many of the ancients seemed to see people as an animal that would have value often based on traits they had no control over, such as intelligence or race etc.  Christianity and Judaism introduced a different way to understand who we are separated by God from the other animals and things of creation.

  1. Humans are priceless. God gave us everything in the world and that is priceless and so as owners clearly we are priceless.
  2. God gave us authority over animals and plants but not other people. Our God given authority does not go that far.
  3. The least shall be first and first shall be last, and how we treat the least is how we treat God himself. (This one was not in the Bishop’s text but permeates the Christian message.)
  4. And yes we are made in the image of God! Jesus built on this idea in saying we should refer to God as our Father.  Hence, we are all children of God.   We don’t try to analyze the worth of human being based on traits like race, ethnicity, intelligence or ability/disability.  We are all Children of God made in his image.    We all know we would not want our own children to be used and thought of as tools for someone else, we can rest assured God does not want that for his children made in his image either.

 

These are the seeds that lead inevitably to the assured destruction of slavery.  So long as we hold to these principles it seems impossible that people would ever treat other people as property again.   But we can also see how the reasoning of the pre-christians (that can indeed lead to our value being reduced based on certain traits) is slipping back into the ethical discourse.   As people, for whatever reason, want to distance their views from Christianity they seem to be saying personhood and our worth is based on certain traits we have rather than affirming the four principles I list above that reveal the sanctity of all human life regardless of the traits that person has.

It took far too long because our views were so different from God’s.  The Christian (or Jewish view when you consider the arguments from Genesis) view was not the view held by any other ancient people.  We believe all humans are connected to God in important ways.  For others mastery of everything was good.  So what could be better than mastery over other humans? “And there are many kinds both of rulers and subjects and that rule is the better which is exercised over better subjects- for example, to rule over men is better than to rule over wild beasts;”  Aristotle Politics Book 1.   To the ancients, people were fungible and their value was assessed by their traits, like the value of any other animal or thing.

 

But once we started to understand our role and that of God’s it was inevitable slavery would go.  So long as we hold onto that understanding it can never return.   Genesis was a huge part of this understanding.  Those who read Genesis as nothing but a scientific text miss so much. (or even primarily a scientific text)  It portrays us differently than other myths in important ways.  But when people just read it like any other creation myth they miss out on the most important parts.

 

Saint Gregory, the Bishop of Nyssa, offered his congregation good reasons to reject slavery when he wrote that Homily.   Many of the views would be repeated today and throughout history to provide the truest and best foundation for humanism generally.

 

If I said I am in favor of banning slavery based on the arguments presented by Saint Gregory would I be charged with “forcing my religious views on others?”

 

Wearing the Juice: Overconfident Atheists, The Dunning Kruger Effect and other Biases

In 1995 McArthur Wheeler walked into a bank, with his face fully exposed to all the cameras, and proceeded to rob it.  So his face and identity was all over Pittsburgh by the time he was robbing the second bank with his face fully exposed to the cameras.  Needless to say he was quickly apprehended by police.  When a cop told him they saw him on the surveillance tape he said “but I was wearing the juice.”

Apparently, lemon juice can be a sort of “invisible” ink.  That is when you write with it on paper it is invisible unless it is heated up.  Mr. Wheeler thought he would be the next mastermind criminal by wearing this invisible ink (lemon juice) on his face.

 

This case lead to research into whether people who are more confident are really more competent.  As it turns out confidence tends to suggest the opposite.  The Dunning Kruger effect is a bias where people who are incompetent tend to be over-confident.  People who are less confident tend to be more competent.

 

Talking about arguments for God or Meta-Ethics or epistemology are really philosophical questions.  These questions have been debated for as long as we have written records.  Yet I find that certain atheists with the least philosophical training tend to be the most confident in their various philosophical assertions.   Belief in God is Childish!  Christians need to just grow up!  Belief in God is like belief in fairies or Santa Clause.  Of course, we don’t believe in miracles or any supernatural events. Etc etc.

 

Lately I have found some of the same sorts of claims about morality and the basis of morality called meta-ethics.  I have been told I am ignoring what is obvious and simple by believing in the most common view of ethics held by professional philosophers – moral realism.

 

Now we all know that these are just assertions about what is disputed and has been disputed by the most intelligent people to ever live.  Yet these guys with little or no training seem so confident.   When I see comment like that I can’t help but think they are “wearing the juice.”

 

Now that is not to say it is unpersuasive to sound confident.  Confidence is more persuasive then expertise.

Moreover simply repeating the same conclusion can make us believe it is true.  This is called the illusory truth effect.

 

So simply repeating these claims that it is obvious there is no God or it is obvious no miracle could ever happen will tend to make us believe the claims are true.   But are such assertions good reasons to believe them?  Rational people want to have good reasons for their beliefs not just believe due to biases.

 

Memes are another form of persuasion that more often than not plays on our mind’s biases instead of our reason.  These will often incorporate confidently repeating the same slogan, but they often also try to embarrass people.  This subtly suggests people should be ridiculed and socially ostracized for daring to remain Christian even though it is “obviously” so unreasonable.  This is effectively bullying someone to accept that persons position not because there are good reasons to accept the position but out of fear of being a social outcast.  Have courage.

 

If you see no evidence for a disputed claim in their post it doesn’t hurt to ask if they can offer some.  Maybe they will – but then at least you are dealing with evidence and that is what we want to get to.   Take your time and think about it dispassionately without fear of ridicule.  Does it really prove their point?  Feel free to ask how they get from that piece of evidence to the conclusion that God or real morality can’t exist.   I don’t think there is any such obvious proof out there or we would all know about it.

 

If they never/rarely offer any actual evidence for their claims then the site is solely playing on biases and not a source of rationally good reasons for belief.     I want all people to look for these biases at work.  Recognize how they are trying to “play you” as opposed to “reason with you.”  After you read a blog ask what evidence against God was presented and what premises/evidence did they use.  Is it a valid argument (that is can I agree with the evidence as being factual or the premises as true but still not be bound to the same conclusion) Or did they just repeat the same conclusion or assume the conclusion and engage in some Bulverism?

 

 

If you feel like you might be ridiculed if you posted on that blog or talked with that person, then ask yourself if you think that person is trying to essentially bully you into accepting their view.  Are they overconfident?  That is a sign they are not competent.  I highly suggest you read from people who clearly work in the field under discussion. That is why I recommend sources like the Stanford Philosophy encyclopedia and people who regularly publish in meta-ethics.   I think you will find more often than not those who are experts tend to have much more nuanced opinions.  It is true the opinions may not seem as exciting or dramatic but I think you will learn concepts that tend to keep egos in check.

 

I’m not immune.  I spent quite a bit of time reading about meta-ethics and majored in philosophy for my undergraduate degree.  I also have a law degree which I believe added quite a bit of nuance to my understanding of morality and our overall circumstance in general.  But I don’t claim to be as expert as philosophers who regularly publish in meta-ethics.  I specifically remember reading Richard Joyce and thinking along the lines “Why is he so tame in his conclusions?  He can argue for a much stronger conclusion with the reasoning he uses!”  I may have even dropped him an email asking him why.  I think that was several years ago and I haven’t heard back…. yet.  I suspect he is aware of some concepts that keeps his conclusions a bit more modest.

 

But anyway if you think a person is too boring and doesn’t argue as strongly as you like, it may be that person is actually just more informed and competent than the guy who seems very confident and convincing but is really just dodging the important questions, repeating assertions, bullying, and spewing bulverism.

 

Both sides of an argument can be that way.  So the same advice applies to Christians who are reading other Christian Apologists.  Your brain may get a more pleasing chemical cocktail by reading others who confidently restate conclusions you agree with, than it does by those who are not so enthusiastic.  But the less enthusiastic author is likely more informed and I believe more likely to pass on some more trustworthy wisdom.

Ad Hoc Reasoning Suits Moral Subjectivism and Anti-Realism

Tags

, , , , ,

The subjectivists I speak with seem to treat the topic of morality as though we can have a reasoned discussion in the same way we might about facts of reality.  I think many times the moral anti-realist doesn’t fully appreciate the problems with this view.   I explain why I think the subjectivist will have trouble with the very notion of having any sort “good reason” to believe here.

 

There I argued that there are 3 general types of “good reasons” to believe something.  First are theoretical reasons, second pragmatic reasons (see this blog for a philosophical explanation of the distinction) and third we would have good reason to believe something if not believing it caused a contradiction in our beliefs.  In the earlier blog I merely said that it is simply too low a bar to only ask that the views not lead to logical contradiction.   But I want to discuss the coherency condition more fully here.

 

I do concede that the rationalist can at least appeal internal coherency as a way of preferring beliefs.  Overall, I think this bar is too low but it is especially low when we understand that objective reality itself will not constrain the beliefs we do come up with.  This blog will explain how the rational quality/virtue of consistency/coherency is trivially easy for the subjectivist.

 

Consider the fact that many people thought Hitler had many internal inconsistencies in his thought.  A subjectivist might say this would prevent them from following his moral scheme.  But let’s consider one such inconsistency that we often hear and see how that really would not be a problem for the subjectivist.   Roughly the argument is made that Hitler was inconsistent in saying

 

  1. The proper German must be, blond haired, blue eyed, and have great genes for athleticism.
  2. Yet he had none of those traits

and still he thought

3.He was a proper German.

 

Now if these were the views he held, and for the sake of argument let’s say they were, then I would agree they are inconsistent.

 

So what could he do?  Well he could just add to the first claim that “…. unless that person was Adolf Hitler.”   There that takes care of that inconsistency!  You might say well there might be another Adolf Hitler that he wanted to exclude from being a proper German.  And we can just say that “…. unless that person was Adolf Hitler who was born on such and such a date and hour at such and such a place…”  We could also make these exceptions for Goering and Himmler etc.

 

These exceptions seem dubious because they are “ad hoc.” Ad hoc additions to a theory are those that seem irregular from the overall theory but they are included for the sole purpose of saving our theory or view.  Normally we frown on ad hoc explanations.

One of the reasons Kepler’s heliocentric theory of elliptical orbits was preferred over the Copernican system involving perfect circles (the Greeks like Ptolemy thought circular motion was more perfect) was because the Copernican system had epicycles.  Smaller circular motions of the planets were added as well as the larger orbit.     http://www.astro.sunysb.edu/fwalter/AST101/keplers_laws.html

 

Epicycles are I think it is fair to say another example of ad hoc reasoning.  In that I am sure Copernicus would agree he was only including the epicycles to shoe horn his theory of perfectly circular orbits into the reality he observed. That was the sole reason to posit the existence of epicycles.   If the math and observation worked without epicycles then Copernicus would not have suggested them.   Once Kepler showed that the math works with ellipses (no epicycles needed) people tended to prefer that system.   This was all before Newton and his theories about inertia etc.

 

Why should we be suspicious of ad hoc reasoning?  It is because as the products of the culture of Athens and Jerusalem we tend to think A) that reality/truth is not created by our beliefs about it so it is not going to be different so it suits our beliefs, and B) Copernicus was making a claim about objective reality.

 

Of course, if you are subjectivist you think differently.  Subjectivists think the truth about morality is dependent on our view of it.  So in that case A is not something we accept.    To the extent you think our moral constructs are unconstrained by objective reality then you also reject B.     There is no objective reality we are trying to explain.   Rejecting either A or B seems to take all the sting out of the charge or ad hockery.   Morality is what we make it – or so they say.    So there is no reason to prefer the regularity we see in objective reality.

 

I mean I can’t like and dislike the taste of the same pickles at the same time in the same way, but it is just fine that it used to be those pickles tasted bad but now they are good.  No explanation is necessary.  My mental state makes it “good” and that can change in an arbitrary way.   And once we break from objective reality and its apparent regularity, it is ridiculously easy to be consistent.  It was OK for me to kill a minute ago but I wouldn’t do it now?  Ok no problem, it’s just that my relevant mental state is different now.   We are not saying our beliefs about morality corresponds with any objective reality – indeed we are saying no such objective reality exists for them to correspond with – so there is no reason to be against ad hoc views.

 

Do we see ad hockery in moral theories?  Yes I gave a few examples that I think are common.

We should care about well being of all sentient creatures except when we don’t.  See animal rights 

In suffering being the key – except when it is not.  Oral Surgeon case. 

Empathy is great even though it seems to add suffering – well we like it anyway!

Of course, people, especially anti-realists, can have all sorts of views on morality so it is hard to explain any case that will apply to everyone.  But for me it was just a matter of really thinking through moral issues and being honest with myself about the grounds I claimed to have as a basis.  I think most people try to be honest with themselves, but I don’t think people often try to think through moral issues that frequently.

 

In law school we study a huge number of cases involving difficult moral issues. How much the students tried to understand the reasoning as opposed to just learn the law seemed to vary.  Moreover, law school and legal cases do not usually dive into the deep understanding of moral concepts but rather just tends to refer to vaguely worded values.     And, of course, most people have not gone to law school or had any similar exposure to the variety of moral cases that are involved.    Coming to this realization (that creating your own morality with no objective anchor is extremely arbitrary) requires both an inclination and experience that are both uncommon.   So I am not surprised that many people think the amount of ad hoc reasoning might be rare.

 

When what we decide defines a very concept like “pickles are good” means, such and such fact about my view toward them, then we hardly need to come to any principled reasons for why pickles were “bad” before but now they are “good.”    If I didn’t like pickles yesterday but do today, it’s no big deal.

 

I see no reason for the subjectivist to reject ad hoc explanations.  But for me it made this whole exercise of supposedly “deliberating” about morality in order “decide for myself what matters” too much of a charade.  I am constantly reminded of the people in allegory of the cave who keep insisting to the philosopher who saw reality that what they are doing with the shadows is important.  I simply have no interest in playing.  My missing out on this involves extremely low stakes.

 

So yes it may be correct that there is no objective moral realism.  So I don’t discount that possibility.    And if I live my life based on a false belief in moral realism then I agree it was in vain.  But if I just missed out on this big charade, I am perfectly at peace taking that risk.   In fact, I am not sure I can fully express how much at peace I am about taking that risk.

Animal Rights Follow Up: Morality Based on Evidence.

Tags

, , , ,

After my last post I had a few posts by some atheists that I think deserve a more lengthy response.  Generally I think the atheists here post good questions and concerns and I am grateful to have them visiting.  Jim is one of them.  Here are some of the comments we exchanged leading up to the point I want to make in this blog.

 

Jim:

“Man has trumped the morality of the Bible over and over. ”

Joe:

Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, North Korean leaders, Lenin, Reign of Terror.

To which Jim responded:

“The bigger problem here isn’t these men. It is the followers. Here we argue which belief is best, but the culprit of all our divisions, racism, hate, all of it Joe, is beliefs. Mere convictions of thought without evidence. Break it down, that is the card played by the writers and founders to keep humanity at odds, while they do whatever the hell they want.”

 

I want to focus on his claim that we need evidence.  I don’t think the atheist has any evidence to support any sort of moral views but I will get to that in a bit.

 

Consider this statement by Ingrid Newkirk President of PETA:

 

“Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.”

 

Now many atheists say there is no actual truth about morality.  Maybe killing six million Jews is not morally worse than killing six billion broiler chickens.  But the key word is “maybe.”  The thing is they do not know there is no objectively moral way we should live.  So a rational person would say either there really is a way we should morally live, or there is not really a way we should morally live.    Once we acknowledge this uncertainty we should be rational in how we approach the uncertainty and address the consequences of our actions with respect to both possibilities.

 

Let’s say the moral anti-realist is right and morality is not real.  Then it really doesn’t matter whether I value Jews more than chickens.  If that is the case, it doesn’t matter which way I chose.  I can make up whatever morality I want.    So my going with the Christian view is morally no worse than going with PETA’s view or living any other life of make believe.  That state of affairs is a dead option.  It is not the option a rational person should concern themselves with, because in that state of affairs it doesn’t matter what we do.

The rational person should focus their mind on the possible state of affairs where there really is moral Truth.  That would be the state of affairs where we can live our lives rightly or wrongly.  So a rational person would focus on the possibility that, in fact, there is objective moral truth that we should follow.  But how could we know what that objective morality requires of us?  What evidence do we have that PETA is wrong to think killing six billion broiler chickens is morally comparable to killing six million Jewish people?

 

Now my own view is that it is morally repulsive to view the killing of six million Jews in the Holocaust as equivalent or even less morally evil then killing six billion broiler chickens.    But is my emotional revulsion evidence of moral truth?  Why would someone who was created by a random universe guided by natural selection think their moral revulsion tracks objective moral truths?  I firmly believe there would be no reason to think that, and I offer my reasons for that conviction here.

 

So what evidence do I have that morality is on my side?  If I appeal to other humans, and their views, is it not obvious they are in the same situation I am?  I have no reason to think other people’s convictions are guided in more reliable ways that my own.  So why should I listen to other people who are in the same boat as me?  What I need is a source of information that is not bound in the same way we are bound.

 

I have scripture that tells me humans are made in God’s image and humans are indeed more important than chickens and other animals.  I have Scripture that tells me God became man in order to save humans.  I have scripture that tells me I am to love my neighbor etc.  All of this scripture tells me people are special among animals.   But what evidence do I have that this scripture is really from something other than another human just like myself?   The answer is the evidence of Christ’s miracles including but not limited to the resurrection.

 

Now I can hear the groans about how that evidence is weak.  And I won’t lie there are times I wish I had more evidence.    Sometimes, like Saint Thomas I wish I could see Jesus and touch the wounds to see it was really him.  I don’t think this is unchristian.  Thomas was Saint Thomas after all.   So I am not here to say the miracles are strong evidence or weak evidence.  You can listen to the debates on that, as there are plenty of them.   Weak or strong, we clearly have some evidence that Jesus was from God and therefore his teachings on morality were from a source not bound by human limitations.   This means his teachings have a chance of reliably tracking the truth regarding morality.

 

I think the Christian miracles are the best evidence of any religion actually being from God.  I know other religions claim miracles but, I don’t think the claims I examined are as good as the Christian claims.    I am certainly willing to consider the evidence if someone wants to claim some other religion has a better claim to being true through miracles or other evidence.   Here is a blog where I give an outline of the criteria I use.

 

In the end, people can say the evidence for Christianity is strong or weak, but it is what it is.  This is the situation we are in and it seems quite clear to me that it is the best evidence about what we should do that we have.   Why would I trust Ingrid Newkirk (or even my own moral views which I recognize and science suggests are based on emotion) more than Christ?

 

Now what evidence does the atheist have to offer that their moral views accord with objective moral reality?  If you start to say “If the morally good is….(flourishing) or (wellbeing) etc etc ”  Then I need to stop you right there.  I am asking for the evidence you have for what is morally good.   So if you start with an assumption, of what is morally good, and then keep talking based on that assumption, I think you are missing the question.  What evidence do you have that your view of moral goodness corresponds with objective reality?  You may say something that I like or that I agree with but people agreeing or liking an idea does not make it true.

 

So you can say you think my evidence for my moral views based on Christ being from a supernatural source is weak.  But it is some evidence.   Even weak evidence is better than no evidence at all.      Life does not have a pause button.  You can’t pause life until you find some evidence that you are satisfied with.  Rational people have to make due with the evidence they have.  And you can call it strong or weak,  but the evidence for Christian morality is the best evidence we have for any moral view.

A Moral Question for Atheists: Animal Rights

Tags

, , ,

 

I do not think it is a coincidence that the last century’s worst moral offenders happened to be anti-Christian.  I am certainly not saying all atheists are morally horrible people.  Nevertheless, I also think people who claim rejecting belief in God can somehow be done with little or no damage to our overall worldview (I would prefer to use the term “noetic structure”, since I think there are real contradictions created, but I will just use the term “worldview” as it less technical) are either dreadfully mistaken or dishonest.

 

I have a few blogs posts drafted that I would like atheists to think about concerning legal rights and generally about moral and legal issues.   I really think beliefs are only as strong as the reasons we have for them.  So when the foundations for moral beliefs are taken away we should fully expect the moral beliefs they hold to fall with time as well.   If you want to be atheist in a culture that was created by Christianity you will hopefully realize you should try to patch up the foundations – or at least see with eyes wide open how morality and legal systems are effected.

 

 

Consider this:

While driving I accidentally hit a deer and it is badly hurt on the side of the road.   If I called an ambulance it might survive after a surgery and medical care that might cost $100,000.00.  I think it would be moral for me to keep driving.   It might be better if I thought it would suffer and to take a gun and shoot it if I had one in the car.

 

Now consider how we treat a person that we hit with a car.   We handle that quite differently.   Human life is a sacred gift from God and Humans are made in Gods image.  So this disparity is perfectly natural for a Christian society.    But if we are just animals like other animals and there is nothing sacred about human life why should we think this disparity is justified?  Deer seem to suffer.  Many animals seem to be at least as conscious as new born infants.

 

Now you might say the disparity is not justified.  But then the question is should we treat people like deer or deer like people?   As you think this through try to notice if you are rationalizing your conclusions or if you are truly “reasoning” your way to the conclusions.

 

In any event this moral confusion was evident in Nazi Germany which passed strict animal protection laws.

A telling quote is from Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda:

“The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race… Both [Judaism and Christianity] have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end, they will be destroyed. The Fuhrer is a convinced vegetarian, on principle. His arguments cannot be refuted on any serious basis. They are totally unanswerable.”

Goebbels Diaries, 29 December 1939

By the way, I am not saying Hitler was atheist, but he was anti-christian and clearly rejected the teaching that human life is sacred.

 

 

We Know Much More from Hearsay then from Modern Science

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Lots of times certain atheists will argue that the bible is “just hearsay and that is not evidence.”   As a trial lawyer with a pretty good understanding of the rules of evidence I think there are some important points to be made here.  If people don’t know what they are talking about they may end up with a very odd epistemology (that is the fancy word for what it means to know things or to have your beliefs justified or warranted) if they just repeat the scorn heaped on “hearsay.”  To understand how hearsay fits in to our justified beliefs we have to understand what hearsay is and that will take some explaining.  So the first part of this blog will go into what hearsay is and is not, and the second part will explain why so much of what we believe is based on hearsay.

 

Almost all of the important information we know we learned through what would be considered “hearsay” under typical court rules.    The US Federal Rules of evidence 801(c) defines hearsay this way:

“Hearsay. “Hearsay” is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted”

 

So any sort of written or oral statement made outside of the courtroom, would be hearsay if it is offered for the truth of what is asserted.   We can ignore the “at the trial or hearing” bit, because I am looking at the substance of the rule.  So if someone is telling you something they saw with their own eyes or heard with their own ears etc, and they are able and willing to answer your questions about that under oath, it would not be hearsay according to the standard I am using in this blog- even if they are telling you this information outside of a hearing or trial.

 

 

There are exceptions to the rule where the courts allow certain hearsay in even though it is hearsay.   Unlike the definition of hearsay I gave these exceptions can vary from state to state and I won’t go into them, other than to say I think  the existence of these exceptions serves my point.  Courts are extremely strict about the evidence they let in, but even they allow hearsay in if it is under certain exceptions.  Again my point is that hearsay is really where we get much of what we consider “knowledge” so the fact that courts might let some in shows it is not always considered invalid.

 

There is no question that courts would consider hearsay to be “relevant evidence.”   So claims that hearsay is not evidence are just false.   Although it is true that it might not be “admissible” evidence.  Hearsay is often excluded because we think people should be able to cross examine witnesses, witnesses should have to formulate their responses by live questions not carefully couch their views in writing, the statements should be under oath,  and the jury should be able see the demeanor of the person and judge their credibility etc.   So courts don’t allow hearsay evidence because they want trials to rely on the best evidence not because they don’t think hearsay is evidence.  The courts want the best evidence if they can require it.  So they do.    But there is no question that hearsay can be “relevant evidence” in that if fits the definition federal rules of evidence definition of relevant evidence.

  “ Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence

Evidence is relevant if:

 

(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and

 

(b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.”

 

I talked about this definition in this blog.

So anyone who says hearsay is not “relevant evidence” simply does not know what they are talking about.   Let’s get a bit better understanding of what “hearsay” is.

What does it mean to be “offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted”?  It means that the person is trying to use the contents of the statement as evidence that what is asserted in the statement is true.  So for example in my post on empathy versus love I quoted a source which said emotional empathy triggers the same brain neurons that relate to direct physical pain.  I was quoting that source as evidence of the truth of what was asserted by that source.  So it was hearsay.  Now unless the person I quoted actually did that experiment himself and looked at the brain mris himself then he likely was just repeating what he read in a journal or some other writing.  And he was doing that for the purpose of evidencing the truth of what they were saying in that writing.  Thus it was hearsay on top of hearsay – AKA, double hearsay.  And that assumes he read the literature directly from the person who made the observations.  So it is likely at best double hearsay.

What would not be hearsay?

A statement might not be offered for the truth of what is asserted if for example you just wanted to prove a person believed it to be true or to attack someone’s credibility.    So an out of court statement is often used when cross examining a witness.  For example  “In a prior deposition, you said the defendant was wearing a red hat didn’t you?  Now you are saying he was wearing no hat at all.”  Well assuming it is not crime to wear or not wear a hat, that fact likely is not directly an element of the case.  So the purpose is not to prove he was wearing a hat or not.  The purpose the prior statement is being used for, is to challenge the witness’s credibility, for example, maybe lead to doubts about the witnesses accuracy in identifying the correct person.    So that prior statement is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted (that the person was in fact wearing a red hat) but rather to attack the witnesses credibility.  Therefore that statement would not be hearsay because it is not being used for hearsay purposes.

 

Also if someone is telling you what they themselves heard or saw with their own senses and they are able and willing to answer any questions you have on the matter under oath that would not be hearsay.  (No I am not saying it has to be a courtroom for purposes of this discussion)  But they would only be able to tell you what they saw with their own eyes.  Experts can also share their opinions but again they would need to be able and willing to answer all your questions.  So we can’t just take an article from an expert science journal and enter it in evidence with nothing more.  That would be hearsay.  That said if your sister told you she saw a cardinal in the backyard and she was there to answer questions that would not be hearsay.  Your believing that there was a cardinal in the back yard based on her statement would not be based on hearsay.     If you yourself saw cardinal in the back yard, you knowledge of it being there is also not based on hearsay.  Of course, those things are not known based on science either.

 

But any information you learn about from reading that science journal is based on hearsay.  The journal is telling you about experiments or science and you are reading it for the truth of what they are asserting.     Most of the nonfiction we read, is “for the truth of the matter asserted.” So when I read a history book that says the Ribbontop-Molotov pact was an agreement between the Nazis and Socialist Russia to divide Eastern Europe that is hearsay.  It is communicating that information for the purpose of making me believe the statements are true and that is how I am reading the book.    Hence the vast majority of what we know from reading any sort of nonfiction is hearsay.  All of history, geography, sociology, sports, news, is all overwhelmingly hearsay.  None of it is modern science.

 

Even if you read a copy of a diary explaining what a person saw themselves, it would still be hearsay.  At trial you would not be able to just enter that diary.  You would need to be able to call that person live and that person would have to be able and willing to answer questions under oath.  So hopefully you are starting to see just how much of what we know (or at least “reasonably believe”) is in fact hearsay.

 

Modern science started around 1600.  Before then People lived lives where they knew all sorts of things about those around them. Sure lots of it through hearsay especially after the printing press.  But very little of it through what we would consider modern science.

 

Modern Science is not how we know if we walk on water we will sink or that dead things typically don’t come back to life.  People knew these things before 1600, and really science added very little to these beliefs.    People knew the earth was round.  They even traveled around the world all before modern science.

 

So how much of our scientific knowledge do we know by reading it from books or from people who learned of it from reading books as opposed to doing the experiments ourselves?   All of those experiments you read about other people doing you know through hearsay.   I mean unless you are a very busy scientist who never reads about any other science experiments, probably, the vast majority of what you know about science you know from “hearsay.”  Now at least presumably most of that hearsay does also have a causal root in science as well.  That is the statements would not have been made if it weren’t for the scientific testing done.  So I am willing to call that knowledge as coming from both science and hearsay even though the more proximate cause of our knowledge is hearsay.   Since that knowledge is based on both science and hearsay, let’s call all that knowledge it a wash in our tally.

 

Moreover, we should consider that science is not the only way we can reach what seems like scientific conclusions.  Galileo figured the heavy ball would fall just as fast as the lighter ball by a simple thought experiment.  No scientific testing required.   Consider one cannon ball is heavier than another.  Now attach them to eachother.   If Aristotle was right and the lighter cannon ball would fall slower than the heavier one you would expect the lighter one to slow the heavier one’s descent.   But if they are attached then they are one thing and therefore the combined weight of both balls in this system is more than either individually.    Therefore the two balls attached should both fall faster then either when they were separate!  It is a contradiction to say the heavier cannonball will fall slower and faster if it is attached to the other lighter cannonball.  From this Galileo knew they would fall at the same speed before he ever supposedly went to the Tower of Pisa.

 

Now to be fair I do not think that is hearsay either.  There is a certain type of logical thinking that philosophers do that can yield knowledge that is neither hearsay nor modern science.  Math is neither hearsay nor science.  Math is best understood in ways other than hearsay.  But sometimes people just memorize those times tables and then it could be hearsay.  It would be hard to say how many people know the Pythagorean theorem from figuring it out versus just being told.  If you know it from being told then that is hearsay.  If you know it from being told that is hearsay that is also based on math but it is also hearsay.  But knowing the Pythagorean theorem is clearly not modern science either.   So again that could be something that we know more due to hearsay which may play a part but science clearly does not.

 

Here is another math and hearsay piece of knowledge.   I know there are 73 books in the Catholic Bible.  I could have learned this by counting the books and doing the math myself.  But, I have to admit, I just looked it up and was told – so I know this by hearsay.  How do I know what “modus ponens” means?  hearsay. (If you looked it up then you learned it from hearsay too)   How do I know the word gato in Spanish means cat?  Hearsay.

 

History is huge on this.  Prehistory is usually defined as those times and places before the use of a written language we can access.  This should tell you just about all history is hearsay.  Who was the first U.S. president?  So many facts about the Roman empire etc etc.

 

Now compare all the information that you read or were told about by someone (other than someone who says they were personally there and saw what they are telling you about  and  is able and willing to answer any questions you have) versus that information you have learned from doing a scientific experiment yourself?   Hopefully you are now starting to see that it is not even close.

 

And no I am not even dealing with Humes issue with science.

 

Now it is true that by creating the internet science has spread knowledge.  Similar to how the printing press did before that.  But the knowledge they are distributing is not usually scientific knowledge.  New recipes, history, geography, a different way to do you hair or how build a shed what I did today work matters etc etc.  It’s not science.   But it is hearsay!  Yep most of what we are sharing over the printing press and internet is hearsay.    So again the internet is a win for science and hearsay.  But most of what we are learning is based on hearsay and not scientific knowledge.  And the fraction of information we get about science over the internet is almost always hearsay.   So if we wanted to say there would be no internet without modern science I would agree.  But without hearsay (scientists sharing the results of their experiments in writing) modern science would be so slowed down that we wouldn’t have an internet now either.  Books contain hearsay and they were important to the development of all learning including science.   Hearsay is just as important to the development of the internet as is science and most of what we know from the internet is not science.

 

Even videos that show an event are dependent on hearsay to say they are what they claim to be.  As a lawyer I can’t just show up and start playing a youtube video without a live witness to testify what is actually in the video and that it accurately depicts what it seems to depict.  On the internet we get this writing under the video explaining what it is and that writing is hearsay.    So I couldn’t just pull up a youtube video and say “here judge see the type under the video that says it is what it claims to be?”  No that’s hearsay.    And you rely on that hearsay to know if you are looking at what is supposed to be a real video as opposed to a doctored video.   So even there we need hearsay and most of the videos are not teaching science.

 

Hopefully this posts will help people understand that we base a huge amount of our justified beliefs on “hearsay” but science independent of hearsay accounts for only a tiny fraction of those beliefs.   Hearsay is the basis of so many more of our beliefs it is not even close.

Don’t Fool Yourself: The Moral Argument

Tags

, , , , ,

After suggesting moral anti-realists live a life based on make believe, I was asked what I mean by “make believe.” I would say something is “make believe” when it is the product of our minds that is not dictated or constrained by objective reality.

 

I would say Star Wars is make believe.   Yes the author chose to have some things, like gravity, seem to work in similar ways to objective reality but he didn’t have to.  He could have done it different and so objective reality did not dictate or constrain him.

 

Just like the moral anti-realist might say well suffering (or whatever they want to say) is part of reality and I am basing “my morality” on that.  But they are just choosing to base it on that.  There is nothing about objective reality that dictates or constrains their choice.  If you do think objective reality dictates or constrains a rational view that something is moral, or not, then you are a moral realist – as I understand the term.

 

If you just say it is based on my desires and they are real.  Well the author of Star Wars desired to write Star Wars but it is still make believe.    Simply desiring that things should be a certain way does not make it so, nor does it say anything about the world beyond your mental construction of how it should be.  Those mental constructions (not dictated by objective reality) are what we call make believe.  And if you are choosing to live your life based on them, I think a more rational alternative is available.

 

One might say that I am living my life based on make believe.  And I would say that might be.  Even Paul seemed to acknowledge that was possible when he said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Corinthians 15:17.   But the key word for Paul myself and all Christians is the “if.”  At least we are living our life based on something that we think has a chance of being true.    Some Christians might place that chance very high.  Others may place it very low.  But none of them, that I know, are saying they know it is all make believe because they themselves are making it up as they go.  Even if they were, they would be no different than many atheists who take an anti-realist position when it comes to morality.  Because both are openly admitting they are making it all up.

 

I think that is an irrational choice in the face of uncertainty.   The Christian God has a chance of being true.  Why live your life based on something you know is just make believe?

 

This is why I think it is simply incorrect to say the Christians are the ones fooling themselves.  They are not the ones pretending there is purpose to make them feel better.  They may very well realize that there might be no purpose and our faith may be in vain.  But they also correctly see there is another possibility, we may, after all, have a purpose.  So we walk the path that most likely will lead to real meaning instead of just making one up and pretending that is the way.

Scientific Knowledge is Overrated

Tags

, , , , , ,

In our culture saying the title is almost like saying “I hate children.”  How dare anyone suggest that scientific knowledge is overrated?  Clearly the only acceptable view is that science could never be over-rated and it could only possibly be under-rated.   But if we would allow that it is at least possible, then I suggest we consider how highly we rate both the scope of science as well as the value of scientific knowledge.

The claim that religion was there as a “stand in” until science could take it’s place is likely the oddest claim I have heard more than once.   It reveals what I think is a bizarre bias of our time.  Some people think that science and how nature works is so important to know, that they naturally think that was what religion was there for.   God revealed himself in the bible to explain lightening and how the mountains were made.

Our current culture values these sorts of “what is” or “how does this thing work” beliefs way out of proportion so we shouldn’t be surprised that people in our culture come to such an odd view.  The assumption seems to be, of course, the most important parts of any scripture are the ones that might overlap with science.  The fact that such a small fraction of scripture even deals with anything even arguably scientific is just more proof religion is misguided.

My life didn’t really change much after finding out how mountains were made.   Getting a scientific understanding of tectonic plates changed very little in my life and to that extent is not really important to me.   The very notion that Christianity or any religion existed to help us explain the natural world reveals how off kilter the importance we place on this knowledge of the natural world.  Christianity is a religion that helps us address the more important question – “how should we live?”.  The answers science can provide are interesting and sometimes they can help us address that important question.  But science does not address that question directly.     The major religions that exist deals with that directly.    That is the point of these religions – and really it is quite obvious to anyone who knows them.

It seems some people see the question “how should I live?” as a sort of afterthought.  They are so full of reasons to believe this or that is the case and so concerned about having evidence for this or that view of the state of things that when the question comes up it’s almost like would like to wave it away.  Like oh yeah if you want to talk about that silliness then here is my view…. And what follows is often some sort of poorly thought through mantra that demonstrates how little time they spend on it compared to the scientific “what is” questions they want really to get back to.

People now seem to think the most important thing is to fill our heads with beliefs that are more likely true than not and expunge those beliefs that do not pass that evidential muster.  There seems no concern with what seems obviously just as an important question.  How should I live?   Science has taught us many things but that does not mean it is the source of the most important information.

Overrating science is also done in that people try to claim science can answer questions it clearly can not answer.  We saw some of this scientific morality with the Nazis and communists.   But even today we see scientists taking the stage to talk about morality or other philosophical issues.  I am not interested in celebrity views on politics or science or philosophy, but I can see some people are curious about the views of their favorite celebrity.  But scientists are not celebrities, yet we see them selling books or lecturing on philosophy.  Why?   Is it good philosophy?  No, it’s because the scope of that field is overrated.

Science can help us live longer.  However, it does not teach us what to do with the extra time.  Religion does.   There is such a thing as useless knowledge.  And all knowledge is on this spectrum.

I feel like a conversation with certain atheists goes like this:  Why do you collect these acorns?  So I can plant more oak trees.  Why do you want to plant more oak trees?  Because they produce more acorns.  So why do we care they produce acorns?  Well we can then collect the acorns.  Why do you …. Oh wait.  Or why do you learn science?  Science will help us survive longer.  Why should we want to survive longer?  So we can learn more science.  I want to survive longer and I like oak trees, but I hope you can see my point.  It’s fine if you want to argue King Sisyphus is happy.   But, many of these same atheists saying we should live longer for the sake of living longer, also want to convince me that there is so much evil and misery in the world, God should be indicted.

Even studying in philosophy the focus was so much on Does God exist?   And we also focus on how and what it means to “know” a proposition concerning the external world. (See Cartesian Skepticism, and the Gettier problems)  After thoroughly trying to answer those question I ultimately decided it doesn’t really matter how we define “knowledge” as the fundamental problems presented by Descartes and similar arguments still have weight.  I think this time spent in philosophy was well spent because it dealt with a my understanding of a huge amount of beliefs.  It helped me learn that life does indeed have uncertainty and we need to deal with it.   Trying to define the problems away is not helpful.    It also helped me see the obsession our culture has with knowing “what is”.

I hope that is changing.  At the time I was in college majoring in philosophy there were no classes offered in what is now called meta-ethics were we could even start to ask “How should I live?” and what do we even mean to live rightly?  I had to pursue those questions on my own.  I think and hope this is changing.  Answering the question how we should live should not be an afterthought.

More on the Euthyphro Dilemma: Does it Really help Atheists?

Tags

, , , ,

In a prior blog  I argued that divine Command theory was a form of subjectivism and anti-realist and that all forms of anti-realist morality would have deep problems.  Here I want to set forth a smaller claim.  Do the problems directed at divine command theory apply to all subjectivist theories (sometimes called relativist theories) of morality?

So again Divine Command Theory is the view that right and wrong is simply whatever God decides it is.  Socrates addressed it in the Euthyphro Dilemma by asking:

1) is an act pleasing to the gods because it is good,

or rather

2) is an act good because it is pleasing to the gods?

The Divine command theory says 2 is correct.   An act is good because it is pleasing to God.   Whatever is God’s will to be good, is good.  That is what it means to be good.  Divine command theory is really a form of subjectivism where the person whose judgement is relevant is God.

 

Russ Schaefer-Landau argued against divine command theory (claim 2) along these lines:

The gods either have good reason to will the way they do or they do not

If the gods have no good reason to will the way they do then their view is arbitrary

If the gods have good reason to will the way they do then something is good due to those reasons not due to the gods’ will. Therefore, we would be looking at case 1 in the Euthyphro dilemma not 2.

It follows that if divine command theory is true then morality is arbitrary.

 

The same argument would seem to apply to all relativism/subjectivist claims of morality.  We can simply exchange “the gods” for “Joe” or “western culture” or whatever subject the subjectivist/relativist thinks defines what is moral.

 

So the questions for this blog are does the argument work against all forms of subjectivism or relativism?

 

I still believe the problems I outlined in an earlier blog pose bigger problems for subjectivism and other forms of anti-realist morality, but it seems to me that anything that saves the relativist from this problem would save divine command theory as well.  And to the extent this argument sinks divine command theory it sinks other forms of relativism/subjectivism as well.

 

It seems that William Lane Craig has a view that saves divine command theory from this argument but it would not save subjectivism/relativism if the relevant subject was a person.

Problem of Evil Answered with Logic and Scripture

Tags

, , , , , ,

The problem of evil is a common objection to Christianity and with some good reason.  I would even admit that certain evils in the world seem to me to amount to some evidence against the Christian God.   But I think the evidence can be shown to be fairly weak when looked at logically and with the aid of scripture.

 

When explaining my view on this problem I always start with this question:  Does God’s omnipotence mean he can violate the rules of logic?  If we answer yes then a the problem of evil is not a problem for God because it is a logical problem – and he is not bound by logic.  So let’s say that “omnipotence” of God means something short of breaking the laws of logic.  Once we understand God is so constrained then we see cracks form in the problem of evil.

Knowledge can’t be good and not good.

Ignorance can’t be bad and not bad.

God can’t have us know what evil is and not know what evil is.

God can’t let us be ignorant of evil and not be ignorant of evil.

We can’t know what the consequences of evil are, if there is no evil to be found.

If suffering is the result of evil then can we really know what evil is unless we know the experience of suffering?

So can we know the experience of suffering without experiencing suffering?

 

And what about the results of good which often are the opposites of suffering – peace, joy etc.?  (there seems no clear cut antonym for all the different aspects of suffering)  Can we know what they are when we don’t understand the opposite?  Can we know what it means to be taller or as tall as without also having an idea of shorter (or not as tall as)?  It seems to me we can’t know these states without knowing something of the opposites.  I can’t understand heat unless I have some concept of lack of heat, i.e., cold.

So if we think Knowledge is good then we might agree that even knowledge of evil is good.  Even if this good is logically linked to our experience of evil.   Now we may think well the good of knowing evil does not outweigh all the suffering evil brings.  God seems to agree.   But nevertheless we would still have to say knowledge is itself a good.  And if we think it is good to allow us to experience all goods then we can’t exclude some goods.  So it does seem there are logical restraints that means some goods entail evil.

So what does this have to do with scripture?

What was that tree God forbade Adam and Eve the fruit of?  Was it an apple tree or a pear tree?  No, it was the fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”.   In Genesis God commands  “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17.  I mean at first that seems a very odd sort of tree, and not one I remember seeing at the arboretum.   I think this should be a sign that the author of the story is not just telling us some literal event from history but is trying to make a different sort of statement about God.    What does it even mean to taste the fruit that comes from the knowledge of evil?  The fruit/result of knowing evil is, as we have said, suffering.   Can we have knowledge of evil unless we know what it produces?  I don’t think so because such knowledge would be warped.  Some things that may be evil might sound pretty good if it weren’t for the suffering it caused.  Knowing evil without knowing suffering is not really knowing evil.  (“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genisis 3:6.)

 

Someone can’t know suffering without knowing suffering.   If someone says I know what it is like to be burned over 80% of my body – well the only way he could know that is if he was so burned or at least had that experience.  If he didn’t we would say no you actually don’t “know” that kind of suffering.

 

But this was our decision – not God’s.  He wanted to save us from this fruit.  Are we to think the author just randomly chose the name for that tree or is the author inviting the reader to explore a very deep philosophical issue?  What is “the fruit” of knowing good and evil that we wanted to taste?  When people are so caught up in literal readings that they argue whether the fruit was a pear or an apple my stomach sinks.  They are missing so much.

 

The text invites us to explore deep ideas about our experiences here in this life and our situation existing in this world as we do.    How can we know good and evil without knowing evil?  And how can we know evil if we can’t experience it?  And how can we experience something that is nowhere to be seen?    So the fruit of knowledge of good and evil implies the experience of evil.  But the Bible expresses that God did not want this for us.  But he also wanted us to be free.

 

God is portrayed as our parent who loves us.   Every parent understands this tension between wanting our children to avoid pain but also allow them to choose their own path.  Don’t go down that path, but recognizing there is value in letting us learn so giving us autonomy.

 

We can’t have freedom and not have freedom.

Freedom can’t be good and not be good at the same time.

God can’t have us overcome adversity without us overcoming adversity.

We can’t over come adversity if there is no adversity

Overcoming  adversity can’t be good and not good.

We cannot experience all that is good if we can never experience certain goods.

I can go on and on with logical constraints that imply evil is required for some goods.

 

But isn’t God overdoing it with all the evil in the world?  In other words we might agree we have to experience some evil and suffering to have certain goods but why so much suffering?   Couldn’t God have done it better?  So how should it have been done?  Well we should expect the suffering should be a finite time.  And of course all our lives are indeed finite – that is we die.    And indeed scripture explains that our life is finite –  because we chose to taste the fruit of the tree.

 

“22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Genesis 3:22-24

 

 

Beautiful language expressing that God knew it was best we not live forever in this state that the fruits of this knowledge would bring to us.  God knew that knowledge of good and evil would entail suffering.  Is it a coincidence that death was brought into the world at that time?  Some would say God having death enter the world at that time is really a punishment.  I think the opposite.  He is helping us with the mess we got ourselves in.   Making our suffering here finite is the most loving thing to do.  It is only after the time that we chose to know good and evil that God prevents them from living forever.

 

Isn’t that what we would do for those we love.  We would say ok I don’t want you to go down that path because it will cause pain.  But if you choose that path of pain, then you will learn, but we would try to limit the pain.   And then we would make our own sacrifices to help those we love get out of the rut and back on the path where evil and its fruit (suffering) is avoided.  Moreover we would want the benefits of our knowledge to be used.  Good and loving relationships can be better appreciated thanks to this knowledge.   That is the story of God and humanity in a nutshell.

 

I am reminded of a friend in college who said to get a good grade just read the first and last chapters of the book to get the overall point and then memorize a few facts in the middle that you can throw in your test or paper to impress the teacher.  This is close.  Jumping from the first 3 chapters of Genesis and then reading a Gospel will give you a decent idea of Christianity.

 

Two final notes:

Scripture is not saying knowledge is to be avoided.  Remember the metaphor of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the *only* tree we were forbidden to eat from.  “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genisis 2.  So only the tree that allows us to know these particular opposites was off limits.  This suggests that any other sort of knowledge (science history etc.) would be good and not have a negative trade off.  It is only this particular tree of knowledge that is off limits.  That fruit logically had to be packed in a can of worms.   Not necessarily the fruits of other knowledge.

 

Also, notice that God warns of the actions he will take – that they will die.   However, he does not go into detail about why he will take that action or why knowledge of Good and evil will cause so many problems.  Of course, for any such considerations to be appropriately understood by them he would need to give them knowledge of good and evil – exactly that which he was trying to avoid.