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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fine Tuning Ethical Intuitionism

There are different varieties of Ethical (or Moral or Evolutionary) Intuitionism. Some are subject to more criticism than others. I am in the process of fine tuning my particular view of Ethical Intuitionism. I found a recent article by Jeff McMahan to be quite helpful ("Moral Intuition," in The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, ed. Hugh LaFollette [2000],  92-110).

1. What is a moral intuition?

According to McMahan:

[It] is a spontaneous moral judgment, often concerning a particular act or agent, though an intuition may also have as its object a type of act or, less frequently, a more general moral rule or principle. In saying a moral intuition is a spontaneous judgment, I mean that it is not the result of conscious inferential reasoning. In the first instance at least, the allegiance the intuition commands is not based on an awareness of its relations to one's other beliefs. If one considers the act of torturing the cat, one judges immediately that, in the circumstances, this would be wrong. One does not need to consult one's other beliefs in order to arrive at this judgment. This kind of spontaneity, I should stress, is entirely compatible with the possibility that a fair amount of cognitive processing may be occuring beneath the surface of consciousness (pp. 93-94).

2. There is not a special organ or faculty that perceives moral facts.

Although some have held that ethical intuitions are the deliverances of a special organ or faculty of moral perception, typically understood as something like an inner eye that provides occult access to a noumenal realm of objective values (p. 94), I reject this notion. I don't believe that there is something like a sixth sense that is able to perceive moral facts.

3. Intuitions are not infallible.

4. Intuitions are biologically based.
But numerous considerations--such as the diversity of moral intuitions, the fact that people do often doubt and even repudiate certain of their intuitions, and the evident origin of some intutitions in social prejudice or self-interest--make it untenable to suppose that intuitions are direct and infallible perceptions of morality (pp. 94-95).

5. Intuitions may differ among people.
One piece of evidence for this is the surprising uniformity of our intuitions about particular cases. We have been impressed for so long by the claims of anthropologists, English professors, undergraduates, and others about the diversity of moral opinion that we are inclined to overlook how much agreement there actually is. Interestingly, what one finds is that moral disagreements tend to widen and intensify the more we abstract from particular cases and focus instead on matters of principle or theory. When the partisans of different schools of moral thought turn their attention to particular cases, there is far more intuitive agreement that their higher-level disputes would lead one to suspect (pp. 106-07).

There are several explanations for this. One is that our moral intuitions undoubtedly stem from numerous diverse sources: while some derive from biologically programmed dispositions that are largely uniform across the species, others are the products of cultural determinants, economic or social conditions, vagaries of individual character and circumstance, and so on. Given the heterogeneity of these sources, it is hardly surprising that there are conflicts (p. 109).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ayn Rand on "Free Will" and Justice

"A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code. Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free" (Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, 1961, pp. 136-37).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is God the Author of Evil? Molinism has no better answer than Calvinism

In the book, Divine Foreknowledge: Four views (ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, 2001), four evangelical Christians present different views on the meaning of Divine Foreknowledge. Greg Boyd presents the Open-Theism View, David Hunt, the Simple-Foreknowledge View, William Craig, The Middle-Foreknowledge View (aka, Molinism), and Paul Helm, the Augustinian-Calvinist (A-C) View. One of the criticisms often raised by those who oppose the latter view is that it makes God the author of sin. That is because it essentially makes no distinction between foreknowledge and foreordination. God foreknows what he does because he has foreordained it.

Craig expresses this criticism of  the A-C view:

The Augustinian-Calvinist perspective interprets the above passages to mean that foreknowledge is based upon foreordination. God knows what will happen because he makes it happen. Aware of the intentions of his will and his almighty power, God knows that all his purpose shall be accomplished. But his interpretation inevitably makes God the author of sin, since it is he who moved Judas, for example, to betray Christ, a sin that merits the hapless Judas everlasting perdition. But how can a holy God move people to ocmmit moral evil and, moreover, how can these people then be held morally responisble for acts over which they had no control. The Augustinian-Calvinist view seems, in effect, to turn God into the devil
(p. 135).
Paul Helm, on the other hand, maintains that the Middle-Knowledge View (Molinism) of Bill Craig has the same problem:

On the question of the authoriship of evil, there's not a hairsbreadth bewteen the Augustinian-Calvinist perspective and Craig's Molinism. According to Craig's description of Molinism, "God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen" (p. 134). While this description does not ential that God is the author of sin (any more than the A-C perspective does), it does entail that God decreed all sinful acts to happen and decreed them precisely as they have happened. If this is so, the God of Molina and Arminius seems to be as implicated in the fact of evil as much (or as little) as the God of the A-C perspective (p. 159).
I agree with Craig that the A-C view does make God the author of sin. Since everything that happens in the word was foreordained by God, then sin was foreordained by him as well. I also agree with Helm that Molinism does not solve this problem. It inserts "middle-knowledge" between foreknowledge and foreordination but the result is the same. If God chooses to actualize a word in which there will be evil and he knows there will be evil due to his middle-knowledge, then he is no less the author of sin than the Calvinist God is.

Furthermore, as John Feinberg points out, Molinism's attempt to safeguard "libertarian free will" also fails. He writes:
[M]iddle knowledge talks about what would happen, so once God chooses the possible world he wants to actualize, he knows in every situation what his creatures would freely do. Divine foreknoweldge is upheld. However, if incompatiblism is correct, how can he know what would happen if any given "x" occurred? That is, if "y" is an incompatibilistically free human action, it must be indeterminate, but if so, it is impossible for God to know in advance of our free choice which "y" would actually occur in any given "x" situation. In virtue of what would he know the particular "y" that would follow? In virtue of causal conditions that confront the agent at the time of decision making and move him to choose as he does? If so, that is determinism, not libertarian free will (The Many Faces of Evil, 2004, p. 113).
Another author, David Hunt, maintains that the Molinist view does not resolve the "soteriological problem of evil" either. He writes:

The Bible appears to teach that some (many? most?) human beings will spend eternity in hell. Whatever "eternity in hell" amounts to, it is certainly not the purpose for which God created the world--God does not desire this for anyone (2 Pet 3:9). but if he is equipped with middle knowledge, he knew exactly who would reject him prior to creating anyone; knowing this, he could easily have refrained from creating these people. Why didn't he do so? This is a more difficult question to answer for the Molinist than it is for the open theist (whose God lacks this knowledge) or the defender of simple foreknowledge (whose God knows the actual future but cannot use that knowledge to change the very thing he foreknows). This does not show that there are no reasons why God might create people he "middle-knows" would reject him, but the need to posit and defend such reasons is a cost not borne by the non-Molinst (Divine Foreknowledge, p. 152)
So, despite the poplularity among a number of Christian philosophers and apologists regarding middle-knowledge (many seem to think its a panacea for all the sticky issues facing Christianity), it doesn't seem to me that it offers any better solution to the problems than does pure Calvinism.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How Did Adam and Eve Sin if they were created "Good"?

In a prior post, I argued that not even Adam and Eve had a truly free will. If this is true, then the so-called Free Will Defense for the Problem of Evil fails, for they were created with a predisposition towards evil.

R. L. Dabney, the 19th century Calvinist theologian, attempts to explain how beings created as "very good" (Gen. 1:31)could sin. He writes:

How a holy will could come to have an unholy volition at first, is a most difficult inquiry. And it is much harder as to the first sin of Satan, than of Adam, because the angel, created perfect, had no tempter to mislead him and had not even the bodily appetites for natural good which in Adam were so easily perverted into concupiscence. Concupiscence cannot be supposed to have been the cause, pre-existing before sin; because concupiscence is sin, and needs itself to be accounted for in a holy heart. Man's, or Satan's, mutability cannot be the efficient cause, being only a condition sine qua non. Nor is it any solution to say with Turrettin, the proper cause was a free will perverted voluntarily. Truly; but how came a right will to pervert itself while yet right?

... The most probable account of the way sin entered a holy breast first, is this: An object was apprehended as in its mere nature desirable; not yet as unlawful. So far there is no sin. But as the soul, finite and fallible in its attention, permitted an overweening apprehension and desire of its natural adaptation to confer pleasure, to override the feeling of its unlawfulness, concupiscence was developed. And the element which first caused the mere innocent sense of the natural goodness of the object to pass into evil concupiscence, was privative, viz., the failure to consider and prefer God's will as the superior good to mere natural good. Thus natural desire passed into sinful selfishness, which is the root of all evil. ...

When we assert the mutability of a holy will in a finite creature, we only say that the positive element of righteousness of disposition may, in the shape of defect, admit the negative, not being infinite
(Systematic Theology, ch. 29).

So, if I understand Dabney correctly, Adam and Eve fell because they were created as finite beings. Even as a candle will eventually burn out due to its finiteness, the first human beings eventually sinned due to their finiteness. Thus, it was inevitable that they sin.

Shedd (vol. 2, p. 149)Adam was holy by creation, but not indefectibly and immutably so. The inclination of his will, though conformed to the moral law, was mutable, because his will was not omnipotent. When voluntary self-determination is an infinite and self-subsistent power, as it is in God, the fall of the will is impossible. But when voluntary self-determination is a finite and dependent power, as it is in man or angel, the fall of the will is possible. ... The power to the contrary; the possibilitas peccandi, or power to originate sin ; belonged to Adam's will because of its finiteness.

If it was inevitable that the first couple sin, then how can they be held culpable?

see discussion at Tribalogue

Unfortunately, since we are not in the position of Adam and since the Bible is silent on the issue, we can only answer with speculation. Granted, it is speculation that is informed by the rest of Scripture, but this isn't an issue that the Bible addresses specifically.

We do know that Adam's sin did not catch God off-guard. It was foreordained, yet in such a way that Adam freely sinned. These concepts are all clear from Scripture. While I do not have a perfect answer for the question, I will give you my speculation with the caveats that 1) I haven't really worked through this in its entirety and 2) I do not hold this position dogmatically and can easily be influenced away from it.

My current belief is that barring active influence from God in the form of common grace, it is impossible for anything to remain in a perfect state. That is, the natural state of everything is entropy, and this is true of man and his spirituality. Thus, it is impossible for God to create a man who of his own power (that is, apart from God's continual upholding via His grace and mercy) will remain steadfast and not turn toward sin.

The advantage to this argument is that it would explain why Adam sinned (i.e. God removed His grace and let Adam be as Adam would be, which invariably means Adam would "break" and sin) and it explains why we will not sin in heaven (i.e. God will not ever remove His grace from us, and therefore we will continually rely on His power to keep us in communion with Him for all time).

The drawback is that it relies on saying that it is impossible for God to create a man who would not sin if God ever let the man exist of the man's own power. However, I wouldn't have a problem with this in theory since I do not believe God can make a round square or any other contradiction, and if it is logically impossible for God to create a person who cannot sin without His continual grace then we don't have a problem there.

So the question would be, is it logically possible for God to create a person who is able of his own power to remain faithful to God? And I haven't worked through that one yet.

But at least it gives me something to think about.
12/16/2007 9:58 PM

see discussion Puritanboard

You are also going to have to avoid the Roman error: that Adam's human nature was naturally deficient, that it tended toward concupiscence without the donum superadditum, special grace needed to remain sinless

Rome says concupiscence (inclination to wrongdoing) is natural. Dabney says, "concupiscence was developed." At least Dabney admits the result is mysterious, and not a natural occurrence

Monday, November 1, 2010

Did Adam and Eve have a Free Will?

The Free Will Defense for the problem of evil really relates only to Adam and Eve; because the Bible teaches that after the fall of the original couple, men's hearts incline towards evil. Man's nature post-fall is corrupt and is bent in the direction of doing evil. Man is totally depraved, meaning that left to himself, he will choose against God. So, according to historic Christianity, the only persons who were truly free were Adam and Eve. That means that the so-called Free Will Defense employed by Christian apologists really only applies to the original couple.

But were they even truly free? What precisely does it mean to have a truly free will? Does it mean that nothing is causing you to choose one option over another or does it mean that nothing is influencing you to choose one option over another? It seems that it must be the former, since it seems impossible for one to make any choice without being influenced by something.  But is a will that is influenced, truly free?

I guess the question becomes how much influence is required before one is no longer culpable for his choice? In the criminal justice system, the defense of entrapment can be used by someone who believes that he was "improperly induced" into committing a crime. While this area of the law is complex and somewhat subjective (see Criminal Law , Thomas J. Gardner and Terry M. Anderson, [10th ed., 2009], 146-49 and Criminal Law,  David C. Brody, James R. Acker, and Wayne A. Logan [2001],  313-14), it is agreed that the defendant must have had a predisposition to commit the crime before he encountered the undercover officer in order to avoid the charge of entrapment. In other words, to prove the entrapment defense, you have to show that the crime is one that you would not have committed and that you had no predisposition to commit without the inducement of an undercover agent. Police cannot select random citizens to participate in organized sting operations in hopes of generating an arrest. There must be some compelling evidence that a specific individual has a propensity for committing such a crime.

So, in a sting operation, a person is put in circumstances which allows him to reveal his true nature or character, and predispositions. Thus, unless Adam was entrapped, he already had a predisposition to disobey God and eat the fruit. That would mean his nature was already corrupt before he fell (Jesus says that the desire to do something wrong is just as evil as the act itself, see Matt. 5:27-28). It seems therefore that God must have created Adam this way. God created him with a predisposition to commit evil. If Adam had no predispostion to commit the crime of eating the fruit and the snake convinced him to do so, that would be entrapment according to western jurisprudence.

Since one's will (i.e., what one chooses) is based on one's nature (i.e., what one is), it doesn't seem plausible to me that Adam had a truly free will. He was predisposed to disobey God from the moment he was created because he was created with such a nature (see next post).

So much for the Free Will Defense, as the fact is no one, not even the first couple (assuming they really existed) had a genuinely free will.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Short History of Halloween

What band is best suited for Halloween? Its got to be Kiss. In the 70's when I was a teenager, preachers were saying that KISS stood for Kings in Satan's Service.  Get over it, it just an act.

God of Thunder

Saturday, October 30, 2010

God or Nothing?

Pat Condell, in his own inimitable way, explains why not to believe in God doesn't mean that one must believe in nothing.