Thursday, December 01, 2005

Book I Chapter 3-4 of Mere Christianity

I. Book I Chapter 3- The Reality of the Law
A. The Law of Human nature is an odd sort of fact; it is not a truth about the way things are, but a truth about the way things ought to be.
1. Is this law of nature a fact about what is helpful for human beings? No, someone sitting in the seat I would like to sit in is not breaking any rules, but is inconveniencing me. Someone who tries to trip me but fails is doing something wrong, but does no harm to me.
2. Is decent behavior the behavior that pays? No, it may pay people as a whole, but does not pay people individually. It may require me to do things which are not in our own self-interest.
II. Conculsion: The Law of human nature is real, and its claims cannot be reduced to claims about what serves my interests, or what is helpful to me.
II. Book I Chapter 4-What Lies behind the law
A. Two types of world view
1. The materialist world view-everything happened by chance or fluke. This is sometimes misinterpreted; what he means is that the characteristics of the universe arose without intelligent design. The ultimate causes at work in the world possess no intelligence. This is what scientist Richard Dawkins has in mind when he talks about the Blind Watchmaker. That blind watchmaker is the evolutionary process, which has no purposes, but simulates purpose through trial and error.
2. The Religious View: the ultimate causes of the universe are "more like a mind than anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, it has purposes, and prefers one thing to another."
3. Science cannot decide which of these views is true. Science analyzes what is observable; whether or not there is something "beyond" or "behind" the observable world is not something that science can decide.
I (VR) think that this greatly oversimplifies the situation with respect to science. It does seem to me that scientific evidence can provide inductive support, or may inductively undermine, religious claims.
4. If God were to make himself aware of his existence, it would have to be through an inner law, not through some observable facts. We know, from the inside, that we are under a law, and that law was not created by ourselves. Looking at this moral law, we can see that it makes sense on the religious view, but does not make sense on the materialist view. Therefore we have good reason to believe that the religious view is true.

In other writings, Lewis appeals to other considerations than just a moral law to determine whether or not there is a power behind the universe; so I have some objection to this way of framing the argument.

However, perhaps we can frame the argument in terms of Bayesian confirmation. Well, I don't think I can very well go into Bayesian theory in this post (though you might look at this from Fides Quaerens Intellecutm But here's the idea. Suppose you are thinking about the question of God, and you haven't thought carefully about the idea of moral phenomena as it relates to theism. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, you are a pure agnostic about God, thinking that God's existence is about as unlikely as it is likely. Suppose we now start considering Lewis's three phenomena, that virtually eveyone in actual practice presupposes that there is a moral law, that there is an underlying agreement on moral prinicple even in the face of differing normative conclusions, and that there we are inclined to think a society's moral standards can get better, or get worse.

How likely are these moral phenomena to occur in a theistic universe? Are they what you should expect? I think so? Are they possible in a naturalistic universe? Well, maye, at least the naturalist is certainly going to bring out the tools offered by evolutionary psychology to explain all of this. But I'm still reasonably sure that the probability of our having a sense of moral law given theism is greater than the probability of having a sense of moral law on the assumption that God does not exist. So I think that Lewis's moral argument shows a way to confirm theism, even though he did not fully develop the argument himself.

For another treatment of Bayes' theorem as it applies to miracles, see this paper I did on Internet Infidels.


Steven Carr said...

Is there really a moral law?

Is there really a moral obligation to , for example, warn the parents of children that they are in great danger of being murdered?

Surely there can be no such obligation.

Knowing that a wicked king seeks the life of some infants puts you under no obligation at all to warn the family that the child's life is in danger.

Jason Pratt said...

You're being specious again, Steven. Calling attention to problems actually existant in a text is one thing. Claiming a problem exists when a wider and/or more careful reading would remove the problem, is inept but could still be excusable.

Going out of your way to imagine problems that the text doesn't even present, conclusively demonstrates that you're only being pernicious.

The magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but the narrative doesn't say they were told why. The grammar can easily hold the notion that they were warned and departed on the same night that Joseph was also warned in a dream to leave. ("While they were departing" Joseph had his dream.)

You would have a ground of complaint if:

a.) the text read that the magi had been told why they shouldn't go back (they might or might not have been told why--the text isn't exhaustive);


b.) they had been told it was because Herod was planning to kill the child (whereas they might have been warned for their own safety, too; Herod regularly murdered people whom he even imagined to be a threat to him, and these sages had recognized someone else to be the rightful king of Israel, with an established history in the story of making public waves about such claims, even if inadvertently);


c.) the text indicated they specifically had chosen _not_ to tell this to anyone in the family;


d.) the text positively indicated they didn't already know someone in the family also had been, or was soon going to be, warned;


e.) the text indicated somehow that this was no worse than telling some (i.e. positively agreeing they had no obligation to warn the family).

_None_ of which (instead of _all_ of which) apply.

This goes entirely beyond ineptness, to mere spiteful oppositionalism. Taking advantage of Victor's charity in leaving his comments open (instead of restricting them), for the sake of merely spiteful oppositionalism, is _definitely_ against "the moral law".

(Besides which, to whatever extent your example was meant to sardonically crucify the text for its own apparent moral failings--which you've certainly done in the past--you _already_ agree there _is_ an objective moral law and are claiming the text fails it. Otherwise your complaint, even if it was accurate, would have no power.)

Jason Pratt said...

urg; editing blip--one of those phrases should be "telling someone", not "telling some".

Johnny-Dee said...

I think there is something to C. S. Lewis's formulation of the moral argument. (To my knowledge, no definitive case has been argued for the moral argument since Lewis.) I also think the contemporary discussion in metaethics has actually provided a good framework for making the moral argument. Here's a rough sketch of my argument (the side of the dichotomy I would argue for, will be designated by asterisks(*__*)): Either we *uphold some type of meaningful morality* or accept nihilism. A meaningful morality is either *cognitive* or non-cognitive. A cognitive account will either be *supernatural* or non-natural. (Doing more with this argument is a long-term project of mine. I do not intend to defend or explain this argument in any further detail of the comments to this post.)

BTW, I'm very sympathetic to Swinburne's cumulative case for Christianity using Bayes's Theorem. If anyone is interested to see how it goes, see Richard Swinnburne's _The Existence of God_.

Steven Carr said...

Jason reacts with astonishing anger to a simple request to establish what this moral law actually is.

It is very revealing that he is so outraged by the mere suggestion that we have a duty to warn children that their lives are in danger.

This can only be because nobody can read the Bible and claim that there is teaches a universal moral law that every rational person should agree with.

If it does, then every rational person should agree that we have no moral duty to warn other children apart from our own children that their lives are in danger.

Don Jr. said...

I didn't sense in anger in Jason, much less any "astonishing anger" (but maybe there's some objective law of opinion—talk about nonsense—that I'm just not in tune with). Steven, I was wondering if you actually had anything at all to say concerning the actual substance of Jason's comments (or anyone else's) or if you just wanted to comment on what you perceived to be his (that is, Jason's) disposition.

Steven Carr said...

I didn't understand the actual substance of Jason's comments, as they seemed utterly irrelevant to Victor's posting.

What did these comments have to do with establishing that we either do,or do not,have a moral duty to warn families that their children's lives are in danger?

If we do have a moral duty to warn children that their lives were in danger, why was Jesus saved, while other infants were left in the line of fire?

Don Jr. said...

Steven, surely you aren't complaining about the substance of one's response. Your response to Dr. Reppert's post was simply "Is there really a moral law?" and "Surely there can be no such obligation [to warn the parents of children that they are in great danger of being murdered]." You should thank Jason for taking the time to even respond to your attempted rebuttal (and I use that term very, very loosely). And if your reply—"Is there really a moral law?"—wasn't meant as a rebuttal, but a mere question, then I'll gladly answer it with a simple Yes.

Steven Carr said...

So there is a moral law to warn families that their children are in danger?

Why did God break his own moral laws, by not warning all the other families that their children were at risk from Herod?

Absolute moral laws disprove the existence of a god who always behaves morally.

Steven Carr said...

Atheists do not have to show there is no reason to allow children to be killed by tyrants.

Is it a fact or is it not a fact that tyrants should not be allowed to kill children?

Victor and Lewis say 'yes', Son of Puddleglum says 'no'.

Who is right?

Rasmus Møller said...

I wonder: is Steven Carr trying to establish an "Argument against God from Moral Inconsistency/Confusion"?

As presented here, AaGfMI/C looks also to me as a rephrasing of the Problem of Evil, anyway AaGfMI/C seems to be outside the scope and premises of the "Argument from Moral Law"

Don Jr. said...

You're right Rasmus. Also, I don't know where Steven is getting the "Victor and Lewis said yes" thing from in regards to his specific statement to which they supposedly say yes. At any rate, Lewis's argument was for an objective moral law, nothing more. He freely admits that people differ on particular specifics, although he says, and demonstrates in one of his books, that, about the general rules, most people are in agreement. So I don't know why Steven has chosen to digress the conversation into obscure specifics. But, since he so chooses, I wonder if Steven wants to deny that child rape is really wrong.

Jason Pratt said...

All right, Steven, I see more clearly the line you're going down now. (Not that I expect this to make much difference, since you still have shown in other regards that you fit Butler's Dictum: you impertinently ask the same rhetorical questions again and again as if no one had ever bothered to take time and effort to answer you on the subject. This is the primary reason for my 'outrage'.)

I could continue by pointing out that the text doesn't say that no one else in the area received any warning--we're told of a couple of things that positively did happen, not that something positively didn't happen. We're not told that no other families at all escaped, only that some certainly didn't; we aren't told why they didn't. We aren't told much of anything beyond the bare narrative requirements for the moment.

I could also add that Jesus was _not_ ultimately saved from being slain by His enemies--in terms of the story, it should be obvious that He was spared in order that He would suffer unimaginably worse later.

However, insofar as you aren't engaging in narrative criticism (this time), that kind of answer would not be appropriate--after all, I hardly need to go to a text to proffer clearer examples of what you're talking about.

In fairness to you, then, I retract my reply. I recommend you phrase your questions less rhetorically in the future, in order to help prevent misunderstandings.

(For what it's worth, my belief that there is a universal morality which every rational person should agree with, is _NOT_ based on my acceptance of the Bible's authority. The authors do teach that doctrine, though. The Christian authors, at least, also go out of their way to teach that morality is not to be identified with an ironclad application of law.)

Since what you were actually asking about (originally), was a principle for why God might let people suffer without doing more to pre-emptively stop the suffering, then I will reply in principle as I have already replied to you more than once:

If you are going to ask these questions for sake of principle, and seriously consider answers, then start with _yourself_, not with these-or-those examples over there.

Questions of theodicy only run around in circles until we start applying them to ourselves and our own transgressions.

The relevant question isn't why God didn't warn those-people-over-there that that-person-over-there was going to hurt their children, or even why God didn't stop that-person-over-there in the first place.

The relevant question, is: why does God let _me_ enact transgressions (whether 'small' or 'large'--the size makes no difference in principle) against other people?

And, to be honest, I really don't see how this question can be answered outside a progressive synthetic metaphysic. I am saying this in your favor, btw: I actually _don't_ expect Lewis' Argument from Morality (which I don't consider him to have developed very far in any of his works) to be a sufficient answer for an enquirer. Questions of morality in relation to God, require dozens of other topics to have been identified, examined and settled (insofar as possible) _first_. Which Lewis certainly didn't do in _MC_ (nor could he have been expected to, given the format of the work), and which Victor certainly isn't doing, either, here on the site.

That isn't your fault; and whatever your intentions really are, I shouldn't be faulting you for pointing out holes where there really are holes (whether due to the mode of presentation or otherwise).

And I truly am sorry for doing that.

Having said that: there is a distinction between 'morality is objectively real' and 'absolute moral laws exist'. Morality, ultimately, is not about law. It's about interpersonal relationships. Even on some purely atheistic notions of morality, this still holds true; but Christians are supposed to know this better than anyone. I say 'are supposed to', because frequently we don't; we're almost as likely as anyone to fall into one or the other error: that moral laws are absolute (a typical error of theological 'conservatives') _or_ that morality is not objectively real (a typical error of theological 'liberals'). It's a false dichotomy, because the categories of claim are distinctly different (though admittedly related to each other).

Consequently, I actually agree: moral laws are not Absolute--and if they were, we would in fact be tacitly claiming something _other_ than theism.

Nevertheless, I also affirm: morality is objectively real, and ultimately grounded in God. Nor (I also affirm) can morality be objectively real without being ultimately grounded in God--indeed, I strongly affirm the God of orthodox Christian theism is required for this.

Yet again, however, I do _not_ attempt to argue _to_ the existence of God from this; not because I have anything against arguments to the existence of God (per se), but because I don't think this particular kind of argument cleanly gets there.

Without going into the vast number of analyses I would otherwise have to cover first, I furthermore affirm this: that because morality _is_ ultimately about interpersonal relationships (not about Absolute Law), the innocent (even the relatively innocent like me) suffer for the sake of the guilty (including for _my_ sake, when I'm sinning).

And, I affirm this: God shares this suffering, even though it is not inflicted upon Him without His permission; He freely chooses to bear it for the sake of the guilty. He pays for the results (some of them lasting for ages of time) that He allows to be inflicted on the innocent, which He allows for the sake of the guilty; and He shows us, in history, that He pays for our sins. It's all directed toward reconciliation with the sinner. (Which is a problem Christians have had trouble coming to terms with, for 2000 years. Which in turn leads to unbelievers having problems. My responsibility is to blame _us_ for this; not you.)


Jason Pratt said...

{sigh} In fairness to Steven, his 'digression' is more my fault than his, I think. If I could add a disclaimer note to my original reply, I would.

Unknown said...

I'm just dropping in, and I thought I would make a comment for Steven.

God gives humans the freedom to do good or evil. When they try do evil, he doesn't normally step in and prevent them.

How would you like it if you were a teacher, and you intended to teach a classroom of children about atheism, and God intervened and warned them not to go to your class? I think you would claim that as their teacher, you had the right to teach whatever you thought was best, and if God interefered, he would be taking away your right to free expression.

However, if God didn't intervene, someone who thinks that teaching children atheism is evil might wonder how God could let such evil take place.

If you accept true human moral freedom, then the fact that God doesn't usually intervene makes sense to me. However, what is a mystery is why he does intervene sometimes. In the case of Joseph being warned, we can see that according to Matthew, it was at necessary for the salvation of the whole human race. Another factor might be that Joseph was a man who made a practice of following God, so he was spiritually able to hear such a warning. It might be that God has been trying to speak to you, Steven, but you've been so busy trying disprove his existence that you're unable to hear him.

Steven Carr said...

' When they try do evil, he doesn't normally step in and prevent them.'

I shall repeat my question.

Is it a fact that tyrants should be prevented from killing children, or is it a fact that tyrants should not be prevented from killing children?

According to Lewis and Reppert, there is a fact of the matter in this case.

Presumably, your post means you think it is a fact that if a tyrant wants to kill children, he should be allowed to do so.

Jason Pratt said...

{sighing again}

All right, since you can't deal with a long answer, I'll answer it shortly.

Yes, a tyrant should be prevented from murdering children--other things being equal.

Other things are not always equal, though. Morality isn't ultimately about Absolute Law. It's about interpersonal relationships.

Yet even if his murdering is allowed to continue for a time, the goal in sight is to bring the tyrant someday to be the sort of man who will _not_ go out and murder children, but who will do good to the children instead.

That may not happen before the tyrant himself finishes dying. But whenever it is that God succeeds in redeeming the tyrant, then something will have happened quite beyond the mere prevention of his sinning by an exercise of power. (Sooner or later it will come to that as well, if the tyrant continues to insist on it--but merely preventing him from murdering someone is _not_ to save the tyrant and redeem him. That requires something more.)


Don Jr. said...

Steven, is raping little children really (objectively) wrong? Jason answered your question with a yes or no, and then went on to explain his answer. If you could do the same I would greatly appreciate it. I would like to know your answer—a mere yes or no—to that very simple question, and you may provide an explanation for your answer if you please.

Steven Carr said...

Yes, raping little children is objectively wrong, and allowing people to rape little children is objectively wrong.

I know Jason will claim that it is only moral to prevent little children being raped 'when all things are equal', but I disagree.

Jason Pratt said...

No, it is always moral to prevent little children from being raped. You and I are going to agree on that, apparently.

A choice not to act to prevent that crime, however, isn't necessarily immoral. It depends on one's intentions for choosing not to do this.

I truly do know how difficult it can be to understand that; which is one reason I have no problem in the least respecting a disagreement against that. Especially if the disagreement is in favor of standing for what is moral.

Would you perhaps be prepared to agree that the person who chooses not to prevent that crime (or, to use your original example, chooses not to warn some parents that their children are in great danger of being murdered), _even if he has good reasons_, now shares in the responsibility of the murderer and rapist, and sooner or later _ought_ to pay somehow for allowing the crime to happen?

Just like the murderer and rapist ought, ideally, to pay--except in this hypothetical case, the person who could have prevented it actually did have good reasons not to do it. Those good reasons, even if we knew what they were and agreed they were right, still wouldn't obviate the permitter's responsibility, though, would they?


Jason Pratt said...

On further reflection, I correct myself: preventing little children from being raped might be amoral or even immoral, depending on the intentions of the preventer. The preventer might do it only incidentally in passing; or he might do it in order to facilitate doing something evil himself. (A simple example of the latter would be someone who yanks the rapist away so that _he_ can do the raping instead.)

This goes back to the distinction between morality and law. Law, ideally, depends on morality, but they shouldn't be identified. It isn't always easy to distinguish against them, though. (I myself, a minute ago, mistakenly identified the mere external action of prevention with morality. A very excusable mistake, perhaps, and easy to make; but technically needing correction.)

Jason Pratt said...

(Aside to Jon--and yes, I noticed he didn't bother to give an explanation to _his_ simple answer... {g})

Steven Carr said...

Jason wrote 'Would you perhaps be prepared to agree that the person who chooses not to prevent that crime (or, to use your original example, chooses not to warn some parents that their children are in great danger of being murdered), _even if he has good reasons_, now shares in the responsibility of the murderer and rapist, and sooner or later _ought_ to pay somehow for allowing the crime to happen?'

God can easily prevent little children from being raped, so I would agree with your statement.

Don Jr. said...

I honestly appreciate your straightforward response Steven. Since you agree that raping little children is objectively wrong, why do you question the existence of an objective moral law? Or, maybe I misunderstood you before, and you do not question the existence of an objective moral law. If so, please let me know. (These are not sarcastic questions either. I really want to know.)

Jason Pratt said...

I am tempted to read the phrasing of your answer, Steven, as meaning that you are willing to agree with this _because_ you are looking for some way to indict God (and/or attack a faith in Him); and my statement looks like a fine way to do that. I will charitably suppose, however, this isn't the case (since it would mean you are only primary concerned with attacking a faith, putting questions of truth in subordination to that); and only caution that your phrasing could be read that way.

Otherwise--excellent! {g} Keep in mind, I am quite willing to claim what I did, _even if the preventer (or the Preventer) had good reasons for making that choice_. And I was, of course, specifically thinking of God as the example. (Though not limited to Him.)

In other words, I am entirely willing to claim that even if God is Himself innocent of a sin of omission in actively permitting such a thing to happen, He still shares responsibility for it happening, and ought somehow to pay for it.

This is what _you_ have now agreed about, too.

I am _not_ saying you agreed that God is (in fact) innocent of a sin (of omission for instance) in such a case, or even that it is possible for Him to be innocent in allowing someone else to transgress. That's a whole other question; and one that should be entered into in principle. (I suggest the example should be something less emotionally charged than that kind of crime, however; the principles should hold true in any case, such as for instance God allowing me to defraud my employers by x-amount of time in doing something other than the work they're paying me to do.)

What I'm trying to do, is reassure you that when I claim that God continues morally good despite allowing a sinner to sin (whether me in a 'little' sin, or a child-rapist in what we might consider a 'big' sin), I am _NOT_ saying I mean that God shares no responsibility in the sin (whether the sin is mine or another's). I affirm, He does take the responsibility--and He _does_ pay for the sin (as you yourself agreed He should).

That is a specifically Christian claim to make. And you have agreed (so far as it goes), that in principle it is coherent (including morally so), not incoherent. We claim that God Himself _has_ paid (in history) and _does_ pay (eternally) for the sins of everyone, no matter how big or small those sins may be (from our perspective). He pays, even though He Himself is innocent of sinning; He pays, because He _is_ moral, and because (as God) He _does_ share responsibility for the sins He allows us to do. Because He _is_ perfectly good, He pays for _my_ sins--the ones which He is responsible (even though perfectly good) for allowing me to do.

Now, I agree it is completely another question whether He _does_ continue morally innocent, in letting me do something other than the work I'm being paid to do (for instance--again, I'm using this example because there's a better chance of seeing relevant principles without emotions clouding the issue). I have my reasons for saying 'yes'; and yet at the same time, I can also see how God, in allowing me to transgress, becomes sin (in the language of St. Paul) _for my sake_. He shares the cost of doing that, and bears the suffering along with the ones who suffer because of the sin that I do, for the same reason (ultimately) that He allows me (the sinner) to abuse His grace (even when that also involves my somehow abusing ones other than Himself, which ones He loves).

He does all this, because He loves me--even though I am sometimes an evil man. Because He _is_ love, He is loving me to allow me to sin, even though He hates my sin (even the 'littlest' ones) with terminal intensity. Because He _is_ love, He is loving me to eventually stop me (one way or another), and to punish me if I insist on continuing sinning (instead of learning from the results of my sin not to do that, instead). Because He _is_ love, He willingly suffers along with any victims of my sin. And all of this is directed toward my reconciliation with Him, and with the others against whom I have sinned, someday.

This is why I've said: until you stop using other people's sins as your examples, and start considering the topic from the standpoint of your own transgressions, you aren't _ever_ going to even be merely criticising the Christian position. Our notions of theodicy come from our contemplation of the relation of God _to ourselves as sinners_.


Anonymous said...

One can't be held responsible for rape and murder and also be innocent.
You appear to be trying to rationlize away the truth rather than seek it.

Jason Pratt said...

One cannot be innocent of such things (in such a case), in the sense of being ignorant of them; nor could one be innocent of being (at least partly) responsible for them. That would, admittedly, be contradictory to claim--which is why I am specifically claiming something else.

Let us consider a less emotional case than rape or murder, though.

Let us suppose I show up on the site and begin to annoy people with my posts. (Not that I mean you have done this, Anon; it just seems a relevant example for illustration of the principle at hand, considering where we are.)

Victor, as the site administrator, has the power to prevent me from causing annoyance on the site; and annoyance is an unpleasant suffering. (A minor one, but the principle should still be the same--else another principle is tacitly being applied, and should be identified and analyzed.)

We will suppose, furthermore, that Victor knows I am causing annoyance to some people, with my posts.

Finally (for the immediate example), we will suppose that Victor actively chooses to allow me to continue to do so, rather than banning me from the site.

It seems clear enough to me, that Victor now has some responsibility of his own, in the result I continue to effect (assuming I continue to do so after he chooses to allow me to).

However, will anyone here seriously claim that Victor has certainly done something immoral, or even necessarily amoral, by allowing me to continue annoying people on his site?

(There are further expansions to the example, of course, which should, and hopefully will, be covered presently. This is the simplest variation I could think of which introduces enough salient points for the example to be applicable for comparison and contrast.)

Anonymous said...

No, Victor is not doing anything immoral because he provides a forum for people to express their opinions on a variety of interesting subjects. If one is annoyed ( and I'm not saying you are ) by some posts that is his own personal problem.
If Victor set up an arena stocked with weapons and allowed the people in that arena to kill and rape each other, then he would be acting immorally.

I don't understand why you think the two cases are analogous.

Steven Carr said...

If Victor then warned his own child to leave the arena for his own safety, but failed to warn other children , knowing that they would die, then that would also be immoral.

Anonymous said...

Even if Victor was crucified, his act of setting up the arena and warning his child to escape would not make his actions moral.
Actually a more exact analogy to Jason's view of the crucifixion would be if Victor's child were later captured and crucified. That would not magically change Victor's actions into moral deeds.
I don't understand why God should not be held to the same objective moral standards we expect weak and often ignorant humans to obey.

Jason Pratt said...

If one is annoyed, then one is suffering. It may be a very small-intensity suffering compared to other kinds, but it still is suffering (and unpleasantly, too).

Granted, it is certainly the sufferer's own personal problem. That hardly changes the basic situation. The same could be said, strictly speaking, about the one who suffers rape or murder, too. (Indeed, there are people who daff off a claim of responsibility on themselves for helping such people, or at least not adding to their suffering, by saying explicitly or implicity: 'well, that's _their_ problem.')

I am _not_ claiming my example is fully analogous to rape or murder so far, even in principle. I'm intending to work up to that, instead of just jumping there, in order to clarify the distinctions (and to identify the relevant principles.)

What distinction is there, then, between Victor providing a forum for people to provide their opinions (even if in doing so they cause suffering); and Victor providing an arena filled with weapons where people could hurt each other physically as well as mentally (including Victor, when he shows up in the arena?)

The intensity of the suffering seems to clearly be one distinction. Does an increase in mere intensity translate into being an ethical fault? If so, how? Or is it perhaps the shift from mental suffering (of whatever intensity) to a more overtly physical suffering (of whatever intensity)? If so, how does _that_ involve either myself (as the enactor of the suffering, per my original example) and/or Victor in an ethical fault?

(Not that these options are exhaustive; but I'm checking them first before going on to other options. If we proceed too quickly, we're likely to miss something important.)

In passing, since Steven seems insistent on linking this back to the nativity example, I'll ask him to keep in mind my first reply which he decided to dismiss as irrelevant, earlier: the text doesn't say that others were _not_ warned. (I also said, in that reply, that I was willing to accept the example in principle by going to examples outside the text--I wasn't using my reply as a defense against the principle. Nevertheless, if you stick with that example, I'll ask you to respect the details actually given, please, and not extrapolate beyond them.)

Actually, Anon, if you're going to specifically draw analogical comparisons with my claim, it might pay to be more accurate: the "Victor" who was crucified later, would be the same "Victor" who was warned to get out earlier. It should be obvious, on analogy from that example, that Victor's 'warning' was facilitated to 'save' himself for vastly more suffering later.

I realize that being more accurate to the situation doesn't very well serve the claim you're trying to make; but that can be fixed easily enough, I think. After all, the magi were probably in serious danger, too; and they were certainly warned to leave. For your purposes, you can substitute them as your example in distinction from the children who were slain instead of the magi. (Though that may be reading in more than we strictly can know from the story, again: the story doesn't say the magi _weren't_ in fact caught during their escape attempt. But I'm willing to accept them as an example of such, if you like. Their survival wouldn't even be necessary to the furtherence of the story, unlike Jesus' parents.)

Anonymous said...

To continue with your revised version of Victor escaping the arena in order to undergo more suffeing later.
How does the fact that Victor undergoes the terrible torture of curcifixion magically turn his immoral actions [ of setting up an arena in which people can kill and rape the weak ones ] into moral actions?

Jason Pratt said...

Actually, Anon, I agree that simply (or even) being crucified later would not somehow magically change an immoral deed earlier into a moral one. Nor did I ever _once_ claim that it would.

Honestly, you and Steven could be leveling a _far_ stronger criticism (emotionally, anyway) against my claim, if you were paying more attention to reading what I've written and accurately addressing it. I'll discuss it again in a minute. First a technical digression.

Technically, the answer to your final rhetorical question in your previous post ("I don't understand why God should not be held to the same objective moral standards we expect weak and often ignorant humans to obey"), is that to claim this (well-meaning though the claim may be), would also be to claim that some reality (in this case the 'objective moral standards') is more fundamental than God is. If we're talking about the archangel Michael, or the Mormon notion of God, then we could in fact put the matter that way--but then we'd still end up going back beyond Mike or MormGod to the objective moral standard (whatever it is), having responsibility and perhaps being immoral, etc.

The bill ends up at the final One. And orthodox Christianity says the final One is the God Who does in fact pay for our sins (which doesn't somehow _make_ Him moral; He pays _because_ He is moral.)

Having said that, I _don't_ necessarily have a problem with the spirit behind saying "God should be held to the same objective moral standards we expect weak and often ignorant humans to obey". I'm not hopping onto the other horn of Euthyphro's Dilemma (or Ockham's non-trinitarian solution), and saying that God is above the whole notion of morality. It's important to affirm that we should expect God to behave morally, and if a claim about God looks morally suspect, I have no problem with honest dissension from it. (So long as the dissension is being done in favor of morality, and not simply for sake of contentiousness.)

But if we're going to have grace for the weak and often ignorant humans (which I think is entirely proper, and which I think God _does_ have), then I think it's equally charitable to at least suppose that God (being omniscient) _does_ have truly good reasons for allowing me (for instance) to inflict even undeserved suffering.

Which I am _NOT_ presenting as an excuse on my part to go do the undeserved suffering. But God loves me, and so leaves me free to make my own contributions to the story, up to a point, even when my own contributions abuse persons. For God to be committed to this freedom on my part, means not pre-empting me from completing at least some my evil intentions, much less preventing me from having evil intentions in the first place.

As I said before: the innocent suffer because God loves the sinners, too.

This is why I said, at the top of this comment, that y'all _still_ haven't yet leveled the _really_ gut-wrenching accusation against God in the example of Herod's slaughter of the children. You're still focused on God making provision for some evident good guys (the magi, Jesus' parents, Himself and/or baby Jesus), and (apparently) not making provision for other (even far more innocent) people (the boys up to 2 years of age).

The situation is actually much _more_ difficult to accept than that! God allowed those children to die, because He loves _Herod!_--the obvious villain of the story!

(C'mon guys; I'm making a far more scathing accusation toward God here, and _I'm_ the _Christian!_ Catch up, please--I've already done it once in this thread.)


Anonymous said...

If God breaks this objecive moral standard, then He is not innocent.
Just as Victor being crucified later does not excuse or make moral his setting up the arena of slaughter, so Jesus's crucifixion does not excuse God letting someone slaughter innocents when He could have prevented it.

Steven Carr said...

Jason says that holding God to the standards he has declared to be moral is making them more 'fundamental' that God.

I don't understand his line of reasoning.

If it is a fact that you should save children from being killed by tyrants, then that is simply a fact.

Jason's argument is like claiming it is a fact that nobody can walk on water and then claiming that Jesus can walk on water.

Clearly, if Jesus can walk on water then it is untrue that nobody can walk on water.

Similarly, if God saves just one child that he loves from a tyrant, then it is a fact that tyrants should be allowed to kill the children that you love.

Jason Pratt said...

Steven writes: "Jason says that holding God to the standards he has declared to be moral is making them more 'fundamental' that God. I don't understand his line of reasoning."

That's because you aren't paying sufficient attention, Steven. I denied there was an objective standard above God to which we could hold Him accountable, but I specifically affirmed that "The bill ends up at the final One" (i.e. with God); and "It's important to affirm that we should expect God to behave morally, and if a claim about God looks morally suspect, I have no problem with honest dissension from it."

Someone who persistantly ignores qualifications I bother to write, in order to make me seem to be saying something I specifically wrote those qualifications to deny, is being inept at best.

When the ignored qualification I bothered to write is actually _in favor of your dissension_, then your opposition starts to look pernicious instead of merely inept.

If you aren't going to pay attention even when I write something charitably in your favor, simply so you can misrepresent the gist of what I've written, then I'd say our 'discussion' is basically over. (And was probably never a real discussion on your part to begin with.)

At least Anon hasn't done _that_, yet.


Jason Pratt said...

Actually, Anon, I agree that "Jesus's crucifixion does not excuse God letting someone slaughter innocents when He could have prevented it." Nor have I ever claimed that. Just like I earlier agreed "that simply (or even) being crucified later would not somehow magically change an immoral deed earlier into a moral one." (Nor had I ever claimed _that_, either.)

I'm trying to figure out how you're getting from

claim a: God pays for allowing us to sin, because He _is_ moral;


claim b: God is moral, _because_ He pays for allowing us to sin. (Apparently in the sense of this paying somehow _making_ Him moral.)

I suspect you've thought I was trying to establish God's morality as an inferred conclusion from the crucifixion--though even if I had been doing that, that would be completely different from arguing that the crucifixion somehow succeeds in _making_ Him moral. (That would be confusing cause/effect with ground/consequent explanations.)

But I wasn't using the crucifixion as evidence to conclude that God is moral. Actually, the form of what I _was_ claiming presupposed God's morality, in interpreting what the crucifixion means.

If the question is how we are to establish God's morality, and what that claim would mean (and entail, and require for establishment); then we're back to a comment I made much earlier: questions of morality (whether God's, or ours, though especially ours) require having prevously established a bunch of other things beforehand. I myself have taken the time to carefully work through that analysis, but it isn't something I expect other people to have done. (And, as I said much earlier, I really don't consider Lewis' attempts in MC, or elsewhere, to be sufficient as grounding for that position.)

_Given_ God's morality, though, and _given_ certain situations which nevertheless occur, I have been trying to present a working-out of the implications. Perhaps chief of which is that the innocent suffer because God loves sinners, too. (Yet God, _on the supposition of His morality_, would still recognize and accept His own share of responsibility in the sin of others, even though sinless Himself; and so we could expect Him to show us that He does in fact pay for letting people be treacherous murderers, or even for letting them be mere minor annoyances, etc.)

Curiously, this claim of mine (which I've made twice previously, once at the very tail end of a letter, practically daring you and Steven to go after it), which I would have considered a highly shocking and disconcerting claim worth at least _trying_ to attack--has been summarily and persistantly ignored by you and Steven both. Instead, you went back to criticising me as if I had been trying to say that God's self-sacrifice _makes_ Him good somehow (after I'd already clearly said I didn't mean that at all--which denial you didn't even reference.)

It looks as though only one of us is actually progressing in the conversation here. (And the thread has tailed off Victor's front-sheet anyway.)

If you bother to reply again, though, would you at least acknowledge that on multiple occasions I've gone out of my way to give you and Steven the benefit of the doubt? (And to agree with you wherever I could?)