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Monday, June 14, 2010

What Does Ethical Intuitionism have to do with my De-Conversion?

In yesterday's post I identified myself as holding to "ethical intuitionism." One may wonder what that has to do with my de-conversion from evangelical Christianity. Well, it is related in this way. One of the major problems that I have with evangelical Christianity is the idea that an innocent person, Jesus of Nazareth, suffered and died in the place of sinners so that they might be forgiven. The notion of punishing an innocent person, I find intuitively to be wrong and unjust. Thus, how could man's redemption be based on an act that is itself intrinsically unjust?

While, I believe now that our moral intuitions come from our evolutionary development, when I was an evangelical Christian, I would have argued that they come from being made in the image of God. Evangelicals themselves teach that they do. Paul taught that they do in Romans 2:14-15:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts (emphasis added), their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (NIV).

Paul is making this argument because he says that those who have never heard or seen the written law are still guilty for breaking it (Rom. 2:12).

Thus, if the moral law of God is implanted into man as Paul and evangelical Christianity claims, and if that moral law tells us that it is wrong to punish an innocent person, and God punishes an innocent person, then God has violated his own law.

One would have to conclude that either 1) the moral intuition that it is wrong to punish another person is mistaken or, 2) God's law does not apply to himself.

The problem with #1 is that it is virtually universally held that it is wrong to punish an innocent person for what someone else has done. While I have had some people dispute this in the comment section, I have never seen one example in which a judge or magistrate allowed a substitute to suffer the penalty owed by the guilty party. It just strikes us as wrong. The injustice of it is present even in the smallest child. Try punishing one of your children for what his or her sibling did (of which the former is completely innocent). I am sure you will get a cry of protest and rightly so. If the innocent child volunteered to be punished in the place of his or her sibling, that would be noble, but it would not serve the purpose of justice. The parent who punished the innocent child, even though he or she volunteered, would be committing an act of injustice.

The problem with #2 is that if the law does not apply to God, then it must be an amoral matter. In other words, if God is perfectly righteous, he could not commit an act that is immoral. If punishing an innocent is an amoral matter, then the entire law of God is amoral and thus useless as a standard of morality. The law would simply reflect what God orders man to do but would not reflect true or objective morality.

So, I conclude that the idea of the atonement (penal substitutionary theory), which is widely held in evangelical Christianity cannot be true.


  1. Have you considered that your fundamental premise—that the death of Jesus was an unjust act—may be incorrect? Jesus’ death was simultaneously an unjust and just act…unjust in that Jesus was innocent of his own sins; just in that he became guilty of the sins of those for whom he died. Indeed, is it not the injustice of penal substitutionary atonement that makes the atonement beneficial for those whose guilt is transferred to Jesus? For only one who is sinless can die for those who are not, thus benefitting the sinner. Otherwise, the sinless one is not sinless and would simply be dying for his own sins. Therefore, it is the injustice of the atonement that permits God to remain morally pure and just, all to the benefit of those whose sin was transferred to the sinless one.

  2. The problem is that personal guilt cannot be transferred.

    Those like Charles Hodge hold that God imputed or simply reckoned man's sins to Jesus but this would be a "legal fiction." You would have the God of truth basing salvation on a falsehood.

    If Jesus were truly innocent, then it would be unjust to punish him. If he were not truly innocent, then he would be dying for his own sins. Either way the evangelical has a problem.

  3. I've been using that basic argument for quite a few years now, and those I confront with it try to get around it with all sorts of apologetics. Apparently they know the mind of God better than God himself does.

    You are a cringing little Christer, DM, and I laugh at you and your threats.

  4. I think you're all missing the point. The
    Atonement makes a certain perverse sense, insofar as anything in religious doctrine can be said to make sense, if Jesus was indeed God Incarnate. Since God is the ultimate creator and arbiter of all things, he is as much the creator of sin and suffering as of righteousness and joy. So, according to some exegetes, part of the point of the Atonement was for God to come to earth and share in our suffering. If Jesus was God, then his suffering was perfectly appropriate. In fact, he suffered far too little. He could not have atoned for the collective suffering of mankind & animalkind with 3 hours on the cross--or with thousand or a billion hours. Only if Jesus was a mere righteous mortal man was this unjust.

  5. Eric,

    You say: he is as much the creator of sin and suffering as of righteousness and joy.

    Evangelicals would not accept that because it makes God the author of sin and thus not perfectly holy.

    You say: So, according to some exegetes, part of the point of the Atonement was for God to come to earth and share in our suffering. If Jesus was God, then his suffering was perfectly appropriate .

    Sharing in suffering is one thing but paying the legal penalty for sin is another. The PST says that Jesus legally paid the penalty that was owed by sinful man.