Friday, September 04, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Hotly Criticizing Divine Justice

This is a redated post, because apparently the dialogue is still going on.

How eager ought we to be to set our standard of justice aside so that we can accept the ways of God. What Lewis is presupposing here is that our moral sense is rational, and that in a theistic universe, it should be thought to derive from God.

There is, to be sure, one glaringly obvious ground for denying that any moral purpose at all is operative in the universe: namely, the actual course of events in all its wasteful cruelty and apparent indifference, or hostility, to life. But then, as I maintain, that is precisely the ground which we cannot use. Unless we judge this waste and cruelty to be real evils we cannot of course condemn the universe for exhibiting them. Unless we take our own standard of goodness to be valid in principle (however fallible our particular applications of it) we cannot mean anything by calling waste and cruelty evils. And unless we take our own standard to be something more than ours, to be in fact an objective principle to which we are responding, we cannot regard that standard as valid. In a word, unless we allow ultimate reality to be moral, we cannot morally condemn it. The more seriously we take our own charge of futility the more we are committed to the implication that reality in the last resort is not futile at all. The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant. The fact that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that at some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still. I cannot and never could persuade myself that such defiance is displeasing to the supreme mind. There is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than about the theism of a Paley. That is the lesson of the Book of Job. No explanation of the problem of unjust suffering is there given: that is not the point of the poem. The point is that the man who accepts our ordinary standard of good and by it hotly criticizes divine justice receives the divine approval: the orthodox, pious people who palter with that standard in the attempt to justify God are condemned. Apparently the way to advance from our imperfect apprehension of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehensions aside but boldly to go on applying them. Just as the pupil advances to more perfect arithmetic not by throwing his multiplication table away but by working it for all it is worth.
From "De Futilitate," in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pp.69-70.

32 comments:

Crude said...

Victor, while I think Lewis is making a lot of sense here, I think it's important to remember just what sort of "paltering" was going on in the book of Job. These weren't people saying simply that God has His reasons for evil/pain in general, though they may not be able to say for certain what they are. They were A) saying God had His reasons, B) they knew what those reasons were, and C) Job had to be lying when he denied those reasons (You didn't do some grievous sin which warranted the treatment you're getting? Impossible!)

So I'm not sure that one who "hotly criticizes divine justice receives divine approval" is accurate. Unless "hotly criticizes divine justice" means something more like a person who struggles to help someone who experiences tragedy, regardless of the nature or extent of that tragedy. So we shouldn't regard a town that experienced an earthquake with a shrug of our shoulders and go "Well, they probably did something to deserve that" or "Everyone deserves nothing but misery, and that town is no different", and we absolutely should not view such thoughts as a reason to passively shrug off the town's plight rather than offer assistance.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

I do often argue as a matter of internal coherency that if our moral compass is supposed to reflect God's essence, then naturally we should be able to evaluate any given theism by it that proposes such a relationship is valid. This point often falls on deaf ears, for the Christian folk who are used to arguing that non-theism has no place to hotly criticize the divine. I would like to think that if there was a good god out there, it would expect such a criticism and rejection of false religion. I don't see how a belief system can ask us to set our standards of justice aside so far as Christianity does to accommodate itself and ever hope in addition to that to pull off some kind of argument *from* morality.

"In a word, unless we allow ultimate reality to be moral, we cannot morally condemn it."

I'm not sure this makes any sense. What atheist condemns the natural world as "evil"? Don't they appraise it as *amoral* and apathetic to life? It's only evil if there is a reason to take it personally. And if you have no reason to believe a deity has presented this reality to us, we *aren't* taking it personally in anything but hypothetical terms to criticize theistic ideas presented to us by culture. Is Lewis' answer to the "what about the amoral option" response really, "God would be offended if you didn't presuppose the divine moral circuit"? Or did he have something less question begging to say in response? I'm not familiar enough with Lewis' writings to know for sure.

Ben

SE said...

C.S. Lewis was hopelessly confused.

kbrowne said...

The problem with Lewis' argument, as I see it, is that he thinks that an objective morality must come from God or, in other words, that, if there is an objective standard of good and justice, that standard must, somehow, be a person.

I think quite a few atheists accept an objective morality without feeling compelled to believe in God. And I am not sure that the God hypothesis actually makes an objective morality easier to believe in. (Euthyphro and all that.)

Is it not possible to say 'If there is a God then I condemn him because he has acted against the eternal, objective good and justice, which itself is not personal.'

Anonymous said...

kbrowne,

Yes, there actually is a problem with condemning God in such a fashion. Any instance of condemning a man requires having insight to various facts of the matter. His intentions, his knowledge, his mindset, his actions, capabilities, his reasons, etc. If we don't have access to these - if we only have the barest hint of these things - then condemnation is hard to justify. Indeed, it may itself be condemnable as an unjust act. Here we are, back to thinking of God as 'just another guy, except powerful'.

And that an atheist can believe in objective morality without feeling compelled to believe in God isn't saying much. They may have simply not thought through the issue terribly much. Or their 'impersonal source' may actually sound an awful lot like classical theism with some details blurred. Objective morality in naturalism is a non-starter. Objective morality in non-theistic non-naturalism may be possible, but whether taoist, buddhist, or otherwise, to me it always sounded remarkably 'God-like' when all was said and done.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Anon,

I could certainly infer room for doubt on numerous issues in terms of evaluating whether a good god may be at work behind the scenes. However, "the jury is still out" doesn't seem to work as well on some of the more clear cut cases like eternal damnation for finite crimes.

The "we don't have access to relevant info" seems to cut both ways for the Christian, since it seems we also do not have enough information to tell if this God is good either. Is the Christian free to be an agnostic about the issue? That's a rather awkward position to have to take.

And I wouldn't consider God "just another guy" who happens to be more powerful. One would expect the supreme being to create and maintain a perfect creation...one quite unlike our own. Even with whatever uncertainties there may be on a host of issues in the argument from evil, it seems clear an argument the better explanation can be made from all of it towards the theory that there is no loving force behind the amoral workings of the universe.

I'm also not quite sure how you think theism is a "starter" in terms of objective morality when that standard is quite invisible and appears to be in quite the dirty lens of ancient history. It is hard for the naturalist to see why mere better *ideas* about what objectively maps onto the world of human well being fail to be worth while to theistic sensibilities when we all have access to the laboratory of the mind and the test of experience. You'd at least have to take the argument out of morality land and into something like Victor's argument from reason.

Ben

Anonymous said...

WAR,

Except I haven't the foggiest idea of what eternal damnation is like, whether anyone is actually eternally damned (as a Catholic, I can't even say if Judas is damned), the scope of those crimes, etc. Now, I'm sure you'll find other people who believe they can tell you exactly who is and is not going to hell (they may even be certain I'm on the list!) and precisely what hell is like. And they may even have some very good replies to your objections - I'd try to find some for the sake of sport if I were in another mood. But for now, I'll just defend my view - and for me, the particularities of hell are unknown. As a Catholic some dogma is made regarding generalities, but that only gets you so far.

And of course it cuts both ways! What, you think the Christian claims to have total and complete knowledge about God? That's ridiculous. At most they may have some personal or philosophical reasons (powerful ones, in my view) to believe in God's existence, His goodness, etc. But even if you can be utterly certain that God is literally omnibenevolent, that still leaves you in the dark on His purposes and justifications. And since we're dealing with God, I'd argue no amount of raw information is going to be enough (how much finite information is necessary before you can comfortably judge an infinite being?) It ends up becoming an awful lot like some human relationships - in other words, trust is a major factor.

Okay, fine, perfect creation. What the heck is a perfect creation? Why in the world would I want to be in something always-perfect, when perfection to the point of exclusivity would doom to non-existence everyone I love (all very imperfect beings, I assure you) and myself (trust me - imperfect as I am, I'm pretty damn spiffy.) Will no one argue for improving the imperfect? Hell, will no one argue for us mere imperfect people? So no, it doesn't seem clear to me that much of an argument can be made for this universe being amoral, or even that "this isn't the sort of world a benevolent God would make". And I'd object to your God who doesn't allow the existence of anything less than perfect as not quite meeting my own moral expectations. Whatever value that charge has, though skeptics seem to think it's a frightful charge.

Finally, you're saying that objective morality via theism isn't very persuasive unless theism is true? I think even the most die-hard theists of saintly faith will admit to that. Though I'd dispute that the objective morality is "invisible" (except perhaps in the way "math" is invisible), and how much value it has. Either way, all I said on this point was that naturalism won't be providing "objective morality", and that those non-theistic options that do personally tend to strike me as very theistic-sounding.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Anon,

"Except I haven't the foggiest idea of what eternal damnation is like"

As long as there is anyone suffering eternally in some way, shape, or form without possibility of "parole" I personally would never be able to condone the actions of the Biblical deity as "good." Why does it matter what kind of punishment it is or who exactly goes there? It's entirely petty to worry about how many prongs Satan's pitchfork has, when the outline of what we do have is clearly way off the charts as unacceptable. The basics presented in the Bible are pretty straight forward even if things are described metaphorically and the Catholic Encyclopedia seems to be on the same page.

And of course it cuts both ways! What, you think the Christian claims to have total and complete knowledge about God? That's ridiculous.

The claim would be that if there are serious issues to be brought up in the "problem of evil" category, and the theist claims we don't have enough information to determine whether God is guilty, then it seems also true that we don't have enough information to determine that he is good either. If you are content to re-write certain hymns with lyrics that go like, "God may or may not be good, I wouldn't know," so be it. I still think this is implausible denial. We don't have to know everything to know there can't possibly be some huge misunderstanding to explain all of it away.

And since we're dealing with God, I'd argue no amount of raw information is going to be enough (how much finite information is necessary before you can comfortably judge an infinite being?)

We may not know where all of this is going (with the exception that Jesus tells us most people will be damned to eternal suffering), but we do know how it is getting there. If the full range of happenings in this world are what you honestly think could possibly be the methodology of a supremely perfect being, I would try to be shocked if I wasn't so used to Christians defending the indefensible.

"Okay, fine, perfect creation. What the heck is a perfect creation?"

Um, you've heard of heaven, right? ;) Do we really have to know what would be a "perfect car" in order to tell that the cars we currently have are imperfect? The Christian response seems to be, "Blueprints or GTFO!" and that's just implausible denial again.

"Why in the world would I want to be in something always-perfect, when perfection to the point of exclusivity would doom to non-existence everyone I love (all very imperfect beings, I assure you) and myself (trust me - imperfect as I am, I'm pretty damn spiffy.)"

I've never heard any non-existent people complain. Your position also doesn't address the broad spectrum of humanity where we find folks that are not so happy with themselves to the point of suicide, and everything in between. I'm glad you enjoy your life and the people you love, but what you've said contributes nothing particularly relevant to the discussion, imo.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"So no, it doesn't seem clear to me that much of an argument can be made for this universe being amoral, or even that "this isn't the sort of world a benevolent God would make"."

I don't think a mere positive and progressive attitude on your part can hope to outweigh the fact we live in a vast cosmos populated by mostly empty space, where as far as we know so far, there's a tiny speck of life that is claimed by even Christian dogma as being "cursed." Anything can and does happen, from earthquakes that kill thousands of people to happy weddings of two people in love and everything in between. I'm hoping this sounds familiar... You live here too, right? :p Somehow you'd like to portray all of it as though it is going somewhere? I just don't think that's a reasonable claim even if humanity does one day manage to achieve some kind of utopia of its own creation.

"And I'd object to your God who doesn't allow the existence of anything less than perfect as not quite meeting my own moral expectations. Whatever value that charge has, though skeptics seem to think it's a frightful charge."

I have seen skeptics who think they can haughtily frighten Christians out of their faith, so I don't blame you for jumping to conclusions. Personally I don't consider the "amoral universe" claim "frightful," just factual. If we have to make a judgment call in our limited information on whether a perfectly good being is running this apparently amoral show behind the scenes, there's no compelling reason to give it such a tremendous benefit of the doubt. How did God earn so much trust from you? I'm certainly willing to change my own moral expectations if I am presented a good reason to do so, but it really does seem like you just don't take any of this too seriously and many Christians seem to be right behind you on that "I'm okay: who cares about the bigger picture" attitude.

"Finally, you're saying that objective morality via theism isn't very persuasive unless theism is true? I think even the most die-hard theists of saintly faith will admit to that."

Except the ones that wish to argue from morality of course. Have you met any of them? haha, I've met tons. My evaluation is that morality is neutral mental patterns anyone can identify on their own and can't be used by anyone to establish the metaphysics of something entirely unrelated. It's certainly compatible with some version of theism, if a creator made our minds work the way they do, but it's no more special than the other evolved patterns in our bodies. Many Christians seem to be of the conviction that, "Our worldview owns morality, you claim to be a moral person, therefore you have to be a Christian, and don't bother us about how messed up morality is in our belief system." There's so many ways that can be wrong, but they don't depart from the party line.

"Either way, all I said on this point was that naturalism won't be providing "objective morality", and that those non-theistic options that do personally tend to strike me as very theistic-sounding."

If it is objectively true that behaviors x, y, and z (whatever they might be) greatly increase the probability of genuine long term well-being and happiness of virtually any human being that puts those behavioral strategies into practice, then what in the world does that have to do with God? And if morality is about "something else" then why should I care about whatever that something else is?

Ben

Gordon Knight said...

I have often wondered about Plantinga and Calvinism. He always says nice things about Calvin and Calvinism. But his afirmation of FW and molinism contradicts Calvinism!

Is there a sort of "left wing" Calvinism that you find at the phil. dept of Notre Dame (and Calvin College!) but not amongst the triabloggers?

Steve said...

War,

I take your point about atheists being able to make moral criticisms of religion. That, however, doesn't mean you escape the thrust of Lewis's arguments here.

Suppose morality is ultimately sourced in God. Then yes, all humans (Christian, atheist or anything else), being made in God's image will have that moral compass which enables them to judge certain things to be right or wrong ... which in turn makes it possible to criticise "Divine Justince". But suppose that the atheist agrees that morality makes no sense without God. What becomes of his criticism. He can still hypothetically say "Well, if God did exist my moral instincts would be a reflection of a larger moral reality, and those instincts would reveal some sort of moral code which God himself doesn't seem to live up to".

Now I agree that this is a consistent line for the atheist to take. But it certainly doesn't count as "hotly criticising divine justice". That would involve saying that God is unjust, not saying merely "supposing there is such a thing of justice, which if God exists there is, then God is unjust".

If you agree so far, then then question is whether morality does or does not make sense "apart from God". For my own part, I think it doesn't. It is irrelevant that, as anonymous points out, some atheists do believe morality is real.

Steve Lovell

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Hey Steve,

Thanks for picking up the conversation.

Perhaps you might be right in terms of a strict atheism vs theism dichotomy. At worst, we just go looking for another deity that conforms better with what we would have to consider the best of our moral reasoning. I don't really have a problem with that if such a deity can be found. So perhaps one doesn't escape the "thrust" of Lewis' argument, but you do easily escape his religion.

I argue this way typically for the sake of brevity so I don't have to take down an entire moral paradigm and in addition assert an entirely new set of metaphysics and build up every aspect of my own moral paradigm in every conversation with a conservative Christian online. That's a lot of work especially when even this much is normally not taken seriously. Internal coherency is a short cut that works logically. So I use it.

When mainstream religion fails, typically it seems that people are a bit more receptive to natural morality and aren't hyper-skeptical about evolved patterns in human brain activity. If morality can be thought of as a divine pattern in God's essence, then it's just a pattern. And patterns can be found in matter. So I don't see what the problem is.

As I said to Anon, "If it is objectively true that behaviors x, y, and z (whatever they might be) greatly increase the probability of genuine long term well-being and happiness of virtually any human being that puts those behavioral strategies into practice, then what in the world does that have to do with God? And if morality is about "something else" then why should I care about whatever that something else is?"

It doesn't matter whatever subjective complaints can be launched against the materialistic pattern on its own terms as though existential preference could ever hope to refute whatever realities are presented to us.

Ben

Steve said...

Hi Ben (aka War),

I'm not sure that you do "escape his [Lewis's] religion". You seem to be saying this because you think the moral standards which we endorse are not ones which God seems to follow ... and that if Christianity were true the moral standards we are endorsing are exactly the ones which He gave us.

Now this is simply a slightly different formulation of the problem of evil, and stands or falls with the arguments from evil generally. Now I'm not convinced by those arguments ... though perhaps they do offer some sort of non-conclusive evidence for atheism or for the falsehood of Christianity. But in a context where we take those evils seriously they also provide evidence for the real existence of a moral code which is deeply rooted in reality ... and if that means in God then we haven't really got anywhere at all with the problem of evil.

Your other comments are I assume an attempt to ground morality outside of God. There are several ways of going about this, but I haven't been convinced by any that I've seen. In your version of atheistic morality people will only have reason to act morally if the act in question will indeed contribute to their long-term happiness. But suppose the agent has only a few hours to live? There isn't a long term ... and the short-term pleasures are all that your account can say matters. (Unless, of course, we think there is life after death, but then you've not really succeeded in providing a genuinely atheistic morality.) But then it looks like you'd have no basis for condemning whatever a person on their deathbed might decide to do. Ultimately your account doesn't move us beyond subjectivism, it's just a rather more sophisticated subjectivism than one tends to see labelled as such in the textbooks.

Steve Lovell

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Steve,

You can just call me Ben, that's fine.

I'm not sure that you do "escape his [Lewis's] religion". You seem to be saying this because you think the moral standards which we endorse are not ones which God seems to follow ... and that if Christianity were true the moral standards we are endorsing are exactly the ones which He gave us.

I would have used the word "basically" instead of "exactly," but yes that's what I mean. If we give so much slack that the term "good" is robbed of all coherent moral content in the final result, I think we are being taken advantage of. How can we "be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect" if all that means is not being bound by any rules? That completely backfires if there's not some reasonable correspondence.

But in a context where we take those evils seriously they also provide evidence for the real existence of a moral code which is deeply rooted in reality ... and if that means in God then we haven't really got anywhere at all with the problem of evil.

True, ultimately if we followed that internal coherency disproof of Christianity to its logical conclusion, we'd still end up with a problem of evil for just about any other theism we could possibly imagine. Although the one exception that I know of which might work would be that if there is an omnipotent evil deity in addition to the omnipotent good deity. In which case, the bottom line might be an apparently apathetic universe because neither deity can triumph over the other. I think Zoroastrianism is in that ballpark, but that's not what Christianity advocates at all. Jesus arbitrarily decides to allow and not to take care of a less powerful evil being for the scope of human history with apparently disasterous results. Is that really what happens when I level up to moral god-hood? I sure hope not.

BTW, I'm not really sure how you jump to the "moral code deeply rooted in reality." What does that even mean to have morality as part of the fabric of reality? We only confront it in our mental experience of ourselves and other persons. And we see that people with broken brains can be sociopaths who cannot be argued into moral positions. I don't really get why anyone infers some bizarre metaphysics to moral patterns since they are all very contingent on all the arbitrary psychological affairs humans are used to. This doesn't even have to be an argument per se as much as a, "I just don't understand why you go there."

In your version of atheistic morality people will only have reason to act morally if the act in question will indeed contribute to their long-term happiness. But suppose the agent has only a few hours to live?

Well, you aren't being very practical. If someone has lived their entire life immorally, and then each of us has the chance to try to convince this person to have concern for the well being of other people in the last 6 hours of their life, can you guarantee your moral paradigm will necessarily triumph? At best, you can hope to scare the crap out of them with threats of eternal damnation waiting for them on the other side if they don't go grand theft auto on everyone in their last 5 minutes. But what if they don't believe you? What then? Can you be sure they will have a moving religious experience of the very presence of God? Can you convince them that your invisible magic code truly does exist and should just be obeyed just because?

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

My point is all moral theories break down in extreme circumstances. It's like expecting a car to drive efficiently on the sun and trying to decide whether a Ford or a Chevy is better. The extreme example doesn't tell us which is better. Rather it should tell us that we cannot function properly in extreme circumstances. Morality is a fallible, dynamic lifestyle that can only work within reasonable bounds. And I think if Christians would put their own moral perspective in the same scenarios, they'd find equal impotency, if they are honest. No one can control other people, so the mere desire to have condemnation rights if you happen to fail, isn't a very good reason to jump to metaphysical conclusions.

However, even in the given scenario, people aren't blank slates and they will have feelings and concerns right up until the end. There would be some very normative things you could tell them which might be convincing. As one example, you might say: "Do you want your daughter to remember what a selfish messed up SOB you were on your way to dying?" Or something like that, depending on the person. People care about legacies and most people aren't that crazy and anxious to do a whole lot of evil just because they can get away with it. The intellectual *ideal* is "stable long term happiness" but we also bump up against what is naturally going on for better or worse in people's minds that can be appealed to. I could be wrong, but I think most people want to be remembered well whether they get to watch from heaven or not. So people are a-rationally compelled to still do things that *would* make them happy if death didn't just so happen to rob them of the chance to enjoy the full benefits of their final choices. If we check the actual evidence of most atheists on their death beds, I think my understanding has predictive power and the typical Christian misunderstanding finds itself necessarily perplexed.

Ben

Steve said...

Ben,

I completely agree that there will always be people that we cannot persuade to behave "correctly" and that that is so regardless of what moral theory we adopt. The question is whether despite that your theory still allows you to say that the person does wrong. I don't think yours does.

The point that people with "broken brains" don't see moral truths does nothing to show that moral truths aren't "out there". People with broken brains might not be capable of seeing that 2+2=4 or apprehending basic empirical truths, but that doesn't make them any less objective.

You still seem to be pushing the argument from evil. I agree with you, and with Lewis by the way, that if "good" doesn't mean pretty much the same thing when applied to God as when applied to us, then we don't have a God worth calling "good". But the argument from evil against God isn't able to show that we don't ... at least not so far as I can see. I assume you've read your Plantinga?

Anyway, if the argument from evil doesn't decisively disprove the Christian God, but evil - being a moral category - gives us reason to think there is some higher source of the moral code then Lewis's argument, and his religion, remain very much intact. Your problem here seems to be that you think the argument from evil is successful - and that the moral argument for God is not. I disagree on both counts.

Now I haven't said much to convince you here but allow me to restate the dialectic. You were beginning by granting that atheism cannot ground a moral code and criticising the Christian God for not living up to "His own" moral code. I merely pointed out that if you grant that atheism cannot ground a moral code then since the argument from evil isn't "a knock down argument" all you've really done is to decrease the psychological force of the problem of evil by making it hypothetical ... so you are no longer "hotly" criticising divine justice. Therefore Lewis's argument as in VR's original post still stands.

Now this doesn't mean Lewis argument is right. Are you now conceding that IF morality cannot be grounded outside of God then Lewis is right? If so, the dialectic has shifted and the next question is whether that we can show that morality cannot be grounded outside of God. We evidently disagree about that, and there is plenty of discussion to be had along those lines ... but I'd just like to point out that it's a different discussion than the one we started with.

Steve

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Steve,

"You were beginning by granting that atheism cannot ground a moral code and criticizing the Christian God for not living up to "His own" moral code."

For the sake of argument I was setting aside trying to ground morality outside of theism. I'm assuming that's what you were saying, but I'm not sure.

I would consider that even if the human race simply has pulled its moral compass out of the infinite grab bag of all possible moral compasses, that we still have enough common ground as is, practically speaking, as a species to talk objectively about how that plays out consistently. If we don't then the use of common conscience even across cultures can't be used by Lewis to prove any kind of external law. We're just not that different from each other even if we have subjective cultural and memetic layers on top. Maybe evolution cobbles together a race of brains that all have a random affinity for Star Wars. Well, that is *a* grounding outside of theism. It's not as deep and wide as you might like, but it is a basis nonetheless to the extent there actually *are* factual commonalities.

But I don't think we're even in that random a situation. If as omnipotent mad scientists we set up an infinite number of worlds with intelligent, conscious life forms similar to ourselves, and give each species a different moral compass from that infinite grab bag of all possible moral compasses, it seems pretty easy to infer what the results over time will likely be. Not everything is going to work. The moral compasses that point to concern for the well being of individuals and group members are likely going to persist, while the ones obsessed with circular squares and clown shoes probably won't do as well. Warlike species will wipe each other and themselves out eventually. Excessive individualism won't out compete group cooperation. And the general trend of what ultimately succeeds over time is likely going to look a lot like what we got or something very similar.

So when it comes to the toss up between a random divine moral essence that has not been field tested at all and only exists as is for no reason whatsoever, I have to scratch my head and wonder why something like the golden rule has something to do with the fabric of reality and not more to do with the evolution of mirror neurons. But when I think of its utility in the persistence of a self aware species, all of the sudden its apparent arbitrariness starts making a lot of sense. Reciprocation works.

If we ever meet aliens, I think we're going to find we have a lot in common with them for this very reason. And if we ever build moral A. I., it is going to make perfect sense to set their programming towards concern for their own maintenance and the general well being of those around them. Wouldn't it be nice to avoid all those apocalyptic robot movies? hehe

"The question is whether despite that your theory still allows you to say that the person does wrong. I don't think yours does."

As I said above (which is why I started out with your later quote), we do have a basis outside of theism to judge. To the extent we have actual common ground (if all the facts are in and properly understood), we are pointing out the moral inconsistencies from that basis. When that common ground fails us in a literal sense (and not just from misunderstandings), typically that means the person's brain is actually damaged and in fact we don't need to judge them at that point. We pity them. We feel sorry for them. They are off the moral radar, like a zombie or a rock is.

And when we bump up against an issue where there really is no objective way to say what is better or worse for us (or that actually does differ from person to person or culture), then there's an error bar for subjectivism as well. But you find that kind of thing in the Bible as well.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"But the argument from evil against God isn't able to show that we don't ... at least not so far as I can see. I assume you've read your Plantinga?"

I've read chunks of Plantinga. If you care to point me in the direction of his argument on this issue, I'd like to read it.

"I merely pointed out that if you grant that atheism cannot ground a moral code then since the argument from evil isn't "a knock down argument" all you've really done is to decrease the psychological force of the problem of evil by making it hypothetical ... so you are no longer "hotly" criticizing divine justice. Therefore Lewis's argument as in VR's original post still stands."

hehe, if you honestly want to quibble over how "hotly" this criticism is, be my guest. Even if we pretend like humans have random moral values pulled out of the grab bag of all possible values, we still *really* believe in them because they *are* our values. We are innately valuers and really have no choice in the matter. We will value something. The instant a deity wants to take credit for that and then violate them is by definition going to generate the prerequisite hot criticism. "What!!?! This deity doesn't wear clown shoes or draw circular squares!!! WTF?"

Even if the human race is lost on our own island of subjectivism, we can still objectively from that basis label external agents as being congruent with our values, neutral or apathetic to our values, or against our values. If it is with us, we share, if it lives in peace, we live in peace, and if it is against, we go to war if we can. There's by definition no external rule or law we are violating in any of these actions. It would just be the wild jungle of values. I don't see how being picky about that situation changes anything if that's really the world we live in. Maybe every sentient alien species that shows up really will have some bizarre list of values completely incompatible with our own. I doubt it. Regardless, it doesn't justify making stuff up or believing things that other people might as well have just made up.

In reference to judging a God from the standpoint of something like universal human subjectivism (where all humans with functioning minds share a basic orientation to something they call "good"), an evil or amoral god might still exist. And we have the "right" to act accordingly, because there's nothing that's going to stop us. I'm not going to be a friend to a god that acts outside of any definition of "good" I can come across in the human world. I don't see how anyone could. It doesn't really matter, because human conscience was always in the loop of the Christian claims, and I think it's safe to say that when Christians aren't defending against the argument from evil, they do actually expect God to be "good" in some very ordinary ways. And they can't have it both ways and expect no one to notice.

"Are you now conceding that IF morality cannot be grounded outside of God then Lewis is right?"

These are all hypothetical tangents for me, but I think there's also the possibility that there is no such thing as real morality and that whatever is going on in our heads is just a bunch of bull. If there is no moral law given, then there's no moral law giver either. So there's that option as well as the Zoroastrian good/evil dualistic gods. We'll just have to see where things go with my grounding of moral facts outside of theism.

Ben

Steve said...

Ben,

Okay. It seems to me that you did start off by granting "for the sake of argument" that morality can't be grounded outside of God. All I've been saying is that if you grant that, then Lewis's argument about "hotly criticising divine justice" will go through.

If you think that your moral judgements aren't to be taken seriously then obviously your moral judgements about God are included in that. Alternatively if you think that the only way you could take your moral judgements seriously is if moral truths are grounded in God, and that that would make God out to be immoral (on a some variation of the problem of evil) then your criticisms are of a form that cannot be called "hot" because after making the criticism you jettison the only ground (namely God) which allows you to take those criticisms seriously.

In short, I've defended Lewis's argument using the tools which you were granting "for the sake of argument". Now come clean ... do you now think Lewis's argument in the initial post stands or falls with the claim that morality cannot be grounded outside God? If so, then my work is done. If not, then why not?

Now one may still say that the argument fails because it's false that morality cannot be grounded in God. You seem to be saying that ... but I just want to make sure we agree about the dialectic before we begin to think about that.

On Plantinga on the problem of evil I'd particularly recommend his earlier stuff: Part II of God and Other Minds and Part I of God, Freedom, and Evil.

Steve Lovell

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Hey Steve,

"Okay. It seems to me that you did start off by granting "for the sake of argument" that morality can't be grounded outside of God. All I've been saying is that if you grant that, then Lewis's argument about "hotly criticising divine justice" will go through."

Right, and as I've mentioned, it "goes through" to Zoroastrianism. In other words, we accept that morality can only be grounded in theism, we come across a vast landscape of theistic claims, we compare them to the justice ratio in the universe with the obvious expectation that a supremely good and powerful deity would make something that can't break down, rightly reject the Christian hypothesis for being incoherent and implausible and note that a religion like Zoroastrianism better explains the injustice and apathy of the universe. In which case we would be grounding our morality on that Zoroastrian ominipotent good god who is held at bay by the omnipotent evil god in order to "hotly criticize" the hypothetical Christian god who has no such legitimate excuse for his omnipotent hands being willfully tied around his immaterial back.

So, that's why Clive's argument fails, because it validates something like Zoroastrianism rather than Christianity.

I'll keep trying to find an online copy of Plantinga's books you've referenced.

Ben

Edward T. Babinski said...

C.S. Lewis didn't believe the book of Job was history, and even Calvin had his doubts as to it being history.

As for the exalted descriptions of Yahweh in that book, compare other exalted ancient Near Eastern descriptions of high creator gods like Marduk and Sin. SAME KINDS OF DESCRIPTIONS, including how "no one can comprehend" such deities. They even employ the same kinds of naive attributions concerning the functions of such deities, namely that Yahweh and Marduk personally direct nature, "direct the clouds," "send the lightning," "trample the sea," etc.

The point of Job by the way is no real point at all, leaving suffering a heavenly mystery, or in this case, based on a "bet" made in "heaven," and that one must not question the God of the whirlwind who set the earth on its foundations (God mentions such foundations directly to Job).

Lastly, creationists love Job because they say it mentions "dinosaurs" (Behemoth, Leviathan), however... the word "tail" in the description of one of them is noted by ancient rabbis as being a euphemism for "penis" and not a "tail thick as a cedar, whose stones are wrapped tightly" (the latter "stones" obviously being testicles). Meanwhile the "bellybutton" is also mentioned in reference to either Behemoth or Leviathan, while reptiles, including dinosaurs, would not have had "bellybuttons," since they hatched out of eggs. So much for creationists finding "dinosaurs" in Job.

Steve said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for picking this up even though it's gone "off the bottom" of the first page on the blog.

I disagree about "going through to Zoroastrianism" on two counts. Firstly, it only does that if something like the logical argument from evil succeeds, which it doesn't. Secondly, Zoroastrianism/Dualism/Manichaeism are forms of religion that the moral argument (or the idea that morality requires God) cannot lead to. If good is no more "ultimate" than evil, then we have no more reason to follow the one power than the other (and I'm not just talking about prudential reasons here), in which case morality isn't binding at all, in which case we again can't take moral criticisms seriously. Alternatively, if they are both equally ulimate but there is some moral standard external to the two powers which condemns the one and justifies the other, then the standard hasn't been explained by reference to these powers and so the original argument to the need for a God to explain the moral code can be reiterated to demonstrate the existence of a third good power above the two warring powers and that will be the "real God". This is all in Lewis.

In terms of finding Plantinga's work online, it's obviously available to purchase, but I wouldn't expect to be able to read it online as that would infringe copyright.

Wonder if we can get Vic to bump this thread back to the first page?

Steve

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Hey Steve,

"Firstly, it only does that if something like the logical argument from evil succeeds, which it doesn't."

Perhaps you could elaborate.

"Secondly, Zoroastrianism/Dualism/Manichaeism are forms of religion that the moral argument (or the idea that morality requires God) cannot lead to."

I guess I don't quite understand. The Zoroastrian-esque good god would have the exact same pattern you currently recognize as "good" as whatever deity you want to throw on top of both good/evil deities. It's essence would be external and immutable and in the case of some versions of Zoroastrianism would be as ultimate as it gets. What is the point of having a more powerful *copy* of the same brand of essence? How does that change anything *qualitatively* about its goodness?

I'm not even sure what "ultimateness" has to do with anything as though something being greater in nature necessarily implies more than might makes right. As long as there is one lone super power, whatever that superpower does is by definition good in Lewis' book? Eek... How does whether or not you can do something about an evil in society have any implication on judging it to be wrong or not? Is murder, rape, and rock and roll somehow appropriate if the only police station in town blows up? It just seems like a nonsensical red herring you can throw at non-theism.

If morality has to be binding it appears that the Christian God cannot be considered good because that God can't be held accountable for any of his actions and the argument appears to undermine itself. Perhaps that's why Zoroastrianism would have to be true so that there would be a comparable superpower to hold it accountable in some sense like Democrats vs Republicans? hehe Maybe there's some standard response to this, but I'd like to know what it is.

I recognize that these are all objections to Lewis' moral framework (a-qualitative, pro-brute force, and pro-judicial convenience) and not to its own logic on its own terms. It just needs to be stated that we are very far away from any moral paradigm I would consider meaningful. However, if we are going to accept Lewis' arbitrary stipulations about what an objective moral standard must entail (since that appears to be where you want to go with this), then it naturally creates unresolvable problems *either way* you go and therefore doesn't lead anywhere. A more ultimate God presiding over the Zoroastrian duo (or just a fallen creation) doesn't explain why it allows for the unnecessary tug of war when the entirety of what was created just should have been perfectly good all along and apparently according to you and Lewis (and we'll just take that interpretation for granted), a duo of gods isn't something this conception of morality can point to. It seems to me that this superfluous metaphysical framework that has been imposed on whatever we thought we were talking about in the first place (i.e. morality) has to jettison its issues in order to not get entangled in itself.

To return to the original issue of "hotness," I suppose if we are still taking all of this seriously for the sake of argument, it would logically generate ambivalent and confused criticism. Perhaps that's all you are looking for here, and I suppose that is fine. That issue seems to be the least relevant of them all in my opinion as though the subjective attitudes of some critics of a religion proves anything.

BTW, Google books has many of the pages from at least one of Plantinga's book, but not all of them. I was hoping to get lucky. :D

Ben

Steve said...

Ben,

The problem with Zoroastrianism in this context is that we were assuming that something like the moral argument is correct, but it seems obvious that if it is correct then it's an argument that the ultimate source of our existence is a perfectly good personal being ... and this is something that Zoroastrians are going to deny.

You asked me to elaborate on my comment that your argument to Zoroastrianism from Lewis's premises requires the success of the logical argument from evil. To be honest I can't exactly remember why I said that now, and it certainly seems an odd claim on the face of it, so I currently share your puzzlement. I guess I was thinking that if morality requires the existence of a good God (or god) then while Zoroastrianism might suffice (though for reasons stated above I think it doesn't) there will be no reason to go there rather than to theism unless you think that the argument from evil succeeds.

Steve

J said...

There is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than about the theism of a Paley. That is the lesson of the Book of Job.

Es Verdad!

A rational Deity would prefer to have rationalists questioning His shortcomings--apparent shortcomings--than slaves paying Him homage. (Shelley's Zeus-creator has little to do with JHVH or Jeezuss, however)

That said, unlike much of Old Testament, the Book of Job has a certain manichean quality, which probably derives from babylonian or vedic sources.

Manicheanism may seem ancient and obscure , but it does offer a sort of conceptual--or metaphorical, perhaps-- solution to the POE (and variations of POE). Then so does the greek pantheon of deities....

Anonymous said...

J = Perezoso, banned from this blog. Just sayin'.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Steve,

As I said, the argument from morality takes us no where coherent as is, and imo, is based on a number of flawed premises as I pointed out. If we have to conclude this supreme source of goodness exists, then we have no way of accounting for anything short of a moral perfection in any creation we are aware of. It's like saying there is a perfect universal health care system in the U. S. and yet 48 million people are uninsured. As I understand it, there are countries where you just can't help but be insured, even if you are not a resident, so the bar is appropriately "high" as far as the analogy goes. Zoroastrianism is the closest thing that allows for approximately what the Christian moral argument is shooting for, but also plausibly accounts for why we find a creation that is less than morally perfect. I'm not saying the argument works, because I don't think any of this works, but it does account for more of the facts *better* (as in only relatively) than the Christian theistic hypothesis. Anything really is a stretch.

I suppose we could say that this supreme source of good does not necessarily have to be "all knowing" since that does not appear to be included anywhere in the structure of the argument (although I'm not familiar enough with Lewis' writings to know for sure). So an all powerful good god, who is a bit too incompetent to pull off a sustainable morally perfect creation might be another option. But again, we've popped ourselves out of Lewis' religion to make it work.

Ben

Steve said...

Ben,

Sorry if this seems exasperating. I think there may be another issue of dialectic to point out and that if we agree on that then despite all the foregoing we may be closer to agreement than it has so far appeared.

Firstly, the moral argument to God from evil certainly doesn't prove Christianity. You are quite correct in that. However for reasons I have outlined above I also think it cannot lead to Zoroastrianism ... but it could certainly lead to a god of limited power or to some form of deism. Since it is an moral argument to God from evil, then we certainly need to be able to accommodate the existence of evil in whatever form of religion we end up with ... but Christianity is perfectly capable of that (as are other religious views). If you want to endorse one of those other views, then as far as this thread goes you will find no objection from me. But notice that Christianity is certainly among the options ... The point of the Lewisian rejoinder to the problem of evil with which this thread began was not that evil proves Christianity, that atheism is not one of the available responses to evil; that if the moral argument stands then evil does disprove atheism; that you cannot move to atheism while at the same time "hotly criticising divine justice". Now it is certainly true that I've done close to nothing here to show either of the following:

(1) Morality requires the existence of God.
(2) The existence of evil is consistent with the existence of a perfectly good, all-powerful and all-knowing God.

But (2) is not controversial, and you were allowing (1) for the sake of argument. With (1) and (2) in play I don't see that you can resist Lewis's argument that the atheist room for specifically moral complaints against God ... since if the complaints were to succeed (which by (2) they could only do so probabilitistically not conclusively), then by (1) the very piece of evidence cited (some real evil) would suffice to disprove his own worldview.

If we agree to here, then we can begin discussing (1) and (2) themselves.

With respect to (2) how do you go about proving the statement below?

-(2') If there were a perfect universal health care system in the U. S. then everyone in the U.S. would have health insurance.

It doesn't seem like truth of logic to me. If fact it seems false to me. And remember, for there to be a logical problem of evil then the equivalent of -(2') needs to be a logical truth, not just a truth, and certainly not just a probable or possible truth.

So, where are we now?

Steve

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Steve,

I think you've laid down your thoughts in a very organized way and I appreciate that. However, I'm not going to belabor the issue when there are too many things I disagree with to make the "for the sake of argument" theme worthwhile. If we accept all of C. S. Lewis' flawed premises and his construction of what he thinks those premises mean, then we are basically just accepting everything for no particular reason. But that's just a parallel moral universe that can't be imposed on the critic as though it should necessarily constrain their judgmental "hotness." Not everyone conceives of morality innately as Lewis does.

True, we can imagine that 48 million people happen to be from the planet Krypton and like Superman, don't need health insurance, but if we put in enough real world premises (or even make reasonable accommodations of our definitions to exclude meaningless exceptions like supermen), the analogy works and the logical argument from evil is solid. Who in their right mind would call a health care system universal or perfect if it left 48 million needy people uninsured? It's basically tautological.

And as for (2), there's really no excuse (other than the Zoroastrianism dualism) that would enable anything to get in the way of an all powerful, all knowing, good god from creating and maintaining morally perfect creations. And no matter how much give we allow from an absolute conclusion on that mark doesn't really seem to help Christian theism any. It fails at all sorts of levels, Biblically and generally as I've tediously laid out on my xanga in the past. All of the excuses I've ever come across are excuses we would never accept in any other analogous moral context and I doubt anything new is going to show up and save the day after so many thousands of years (since the book of Job was written, I guess) of trying. I'll understand if you aren't quite there with me, since I'm sure there are many hidden issues to address and resolve.

What we have is just a really bad hypothesis and I don't see hardly any Christian theists jumping on board alternative versions of theism in order to even show they honestly care about having a worldview that is the best explanation of the facts we know. It's as though they feel orthodox Christian theism is (to use another political analogy) "too big to fail" and they aren't going to move beyond its subjectively established clout no matter how far out on a limb they have to go for it.

I'm not really sure what we can work out from here. I think I understand where you are coming from and we mainly disagree on issues not directly related to the post. Fair enough?

Ben

Steve said...

Hi Ben,

Well I guess that is fair ... in a fashion. I still think you put a surprising amount of store by the problem of evil. I do think the problem of evil is a genuine difficulty for theism. It may well provide some evidence against Christianity, I'm not sure, but it is far from conclusive to my mind.

In respect of (2) you are assuming that a perfect health care system relies on people having health insurance. I live in the UK, where the NHS is pretty good and the fast majority of people don't have health insurance. Now a perfect NHS-style system certainly seems concievable and under such a system no-one would need health insurance. Now the relevance of this to the problem of evil is simply that you had some general assumptions about what perfection must amount to ... and one thing the defender of theism can do in response to the problem of evil is to ask questions about the concept of God's perfection and just what it amounts to. The other main consideration in play is the limits of omnipotence (especially in relation to freedom, but in other respects too).

Steve

Steve said...

Ben,

Just to say a little more, the main part of your last comment that I have a problem with is this:

If we accept all of C. S. Lewis' flawed premises and his construction of what he thinks those premises mean, then we are basically just accepting everything for no particular reason. But that's just a parallel moral universe that can't be imposed on the critic as though it should necessarily constrain their judgmental "hotness." Not everyone conceives of morality innately as Lewis does.

To me it seems that what I styled as (1) and (2) are all that Lewis needs, and that these are not peculiarly Lewisian ideas. As I say, (2) is non-controversial among professional philosophers and (1) is something you were granting for the sake of argument ... and which while more controversial is again not particularly unique to Lewis. Anyway if you do disagree with both, then obviously you'll not find Lewis's argument persuasive ... but then to combat Lewis's argument you'll need to have good reasons for denying (1) and (2), which I've yet to see ... but I agree they take us rather
"beyond the scope" of this thread.

Steve

William Mazzulla said...

Maybe, if we have any situation where we are even close to being part of the Godhead;
it is if we are one with Jesus Christ. So it would be through Christ.

Therefore we would NOT be higher then anyone in the Godhead,
but we would be a lot lower or at best a little lower then the Godhead!