Thursday, October 30, 2003
MORALS IN A VACCUUM
Well, this issue has come up over and over and over again, and I alluded it in the post regarding the Divine Command Theory a couple weeks ago. I guess it's time to develop it a little further.
I must say that I am getting a lot out of the Moral Philosophy course. Since, prior to taking this class, I had a strong interest in ethics, learning about and reading others, and listening to others' views of ethics. One comment, though, actually left an impression on me. One person in class stated that what is commonly called the Golden Rule is a bunch of tripe because it is extremely vague. For those who don't know what the Golden Rule is "Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you." Well, the first admission:
I agree with this sentiment about the vagueness.
I'm a heretic! Apostate!! You're going to hell with allyour other friends!!!!
Well, of course, I agree with the sentiment about the vagueness because it is isolated from its original context.
As I mentioned in the DCT post, the commandments are not something that are inherently good in and of themselves. For instance, one of the commandments says, "You shall not commit adultery." Let's isolate this command from God. Ok, why is it wrong to commit adultery? No, not just why is it wrong to commit adultery, but why is it objectively wrong to do so? Or is this "commandment" then even valid at all? Why is it wrong period? Maybe it's correct? Maybe society's happiness would be furthered by unlimited free love? Now, just so you know, I am not being naive and saying that there are no atheistic answers to these moral questions. Of course, many of them have tried to give some kind of normative theory of ethics to show what human moral character ought to consist of. The point here, though, is whether the command that forbids adultery in a Christian context is dependent on God.
The same thing goes on with the Golden Rule. It has been isolated from its context. By itself, the Rule is extremely vague and can encompass all acts as being ethically good. For instance, suppose someone is a masochist. What he wants people to do is to inflict pain on him; so, does this mean that he should be allowed to inflict pain on others? Well, there's no way around it if you want to keep to the Rule in a vaccuum. But what does the Rule say, in context?
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Matt. 7:12 (emphasis added)
In context, the Rule is the summary of the Law and the Prophets. It's interesting what happens when one allows the context of the Biblical Rule to come out rather than to isolate it in a vaccuum. When the fullness of the Biblical passage is allowed to speak in its own context, in its own culture, then the vaguenesses of the Rule isolated in a vaccuum are gone. The loony suggestions that the Rule would encompass (such as the one I gave earlier) disappear. Whatever the Law and the Prophets say is summarized by the Golden Rule.
Therefore, yes, the Golden Rule isolated is a bunch of tripe, but we shouldn't be using the Bible as a list of convenient quotation that are isolated from the text and Jewish culture.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
I found this quote. It looks like this person denies the Presbyterian Covenant of Works. Indeed, this quote says in essence everything I've been saying for the last couple years why I deny that the covenant with Adam was meritorious, but apparantly, I am heretical in some of the TR camps. Your mission, should you choose to accept it...what heretic said the following obviously unorthodox statements?
"God created Adam and Eve, and the very first thing he did was that he blessed them. He didn't do like you or I might do after we created something, or we fix the car; then we stand back and say, "Ok, are you going to operate OK?" God began his relationship with Adam and Eve before they had done anything to merit it with blessing. God's first word was a word of promise or favor; it was not a word of demand or a word of judgment. And so what God established with Adam from the very beginning was a gracious relationship, one which blessed our first parents before they had done anything good or evil. Furthermore, the blessing of walking and talking with God in the Garden in intimate communion didn't wait until Adam had accomplished certain meritorious works. That was a relationship granted from the moment of creation. And we sometimes think of the probation---God telling them not to eat of the tree and that if they had then done that they would have earned their salvation---we call that a kind of legalistic, or a covenant of works if you will; but if you stop and think about it, God's intimate relationship with Adam and Eve was granted from the very beginning. Adam didn't earn that. Eve didn't earn that. It was granted in virtue of His establishing the relationship with creation. And even if [emphasis in original] Adam had perfectly obeyed God's subsequent commands---God did lay down things Adam and Eve were supposed to do, and things they were not supposed to do---even if he had obeyed that, he would not therefore have merited any special favor from God [emphasis mine] anymore than a watch that works properly deserves anything from its maker. After all, that is what watches are made to do: to work; so if they work properly, you know you don't say, "Oh, what a good watch! I'm going to favor you," and so forth. If Adam and Eve had done everything God told them to do, God could have said, 'And That's what you were created for. There's no special thing coming for that; that's what I made you for.' But he didn't. He granted them favor; it was not meritorious. I guess what I'm driving at here is that I want us to understand that from the very beginning of the Bible, when God entered into a relationship with man, it was a gracious relationship. Even before sin it was a gracious relationship because it was not meritorious, or if you will, earned. Adam was called upon to trust the word of the Lord, and simply to trust it on the authority of God."
Dr. Greg Bahnsen
Covenant Theology, tape 1
(any typos are mine, but really, if you've been following this blog with any regularity, would you really be surprised?)
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
"WHY IS GOD LIMITED BY HIS OWN CHARACTER?"
That was posted in one of the comments by one of my classmates in the moral philosophy class. Originally, Nick had posted a remark on the Philosophy Club forum here (his nickname is 420sx). I had written the 10/9 post on the Divine Command Theory prior to seeing his comment. I told him about my blog, and invited him to comment.
This question has its genesis in a discussion he, I and someone else had regarding the nature of God. One of the problems of the philosophical labels of the attributes of God is that although they are convenient enough labels, they are not totally representative, in their fullest sense, a description of the Christian God. They may be descriptions of a god, like perhaps Descartes generic form, but they are not the desscriptions of the Christian God. One of the points that I brought up in the discussion was that the Bible teaches that God is not omnipotent in the sctrict sense that he can do everything and anything. He is limited by his character. And therefore, the answer to the question:
Why is God limited by his character? Because that is who he is, and he can be no other. It's kinda like asking "Why is the truth true" or "Why does a bird fly instead of swim?" It's part of his ontology, his being, his nature. He is all powerful, but that does not mean he can do everything. I can do things that God cannot do. For instance, I can lie, and have done so quite frequently, but God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). Note the words that the author uses to describe God's character. It is not that God refrains himself from lying, or that God chooses not to lie, but it is much stronger: it is impossible for him to lie. It is beyond the realm of possibility. If "omnipotence" must include the power to lie, then God is not omnipotence in the philosophical sense of the word. That's fine, because that doesn't change who God is. (Speaking of which, since it impossible for God to lie, it is also impossible for him to break his covenant, since that was the original context.) Furthermore, God cannot stop being God. As he implied to Abraham, if God ever broke his covenant, then he would become like the animals that were killed and split open as God passed through them...if he broke his covenant, he would cease being God, which is impossible. Therefore, this gives more credence to why Abraham believed God...because it was sure, even to the point of sacrificing Isaac. Why did he do that? "He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead." (Heb. 11:19).
So why is God limited by his character? Well, why does an eagle fly instead of swim?
Thursday, October 16, 2003
NOT SO FAST, FISHWRAP
On the 10/4 post, I referenced a link to Jill Stewart's column regarding the Ah-nuld groping controversy and Gov. Gray Davis's physical mistreatment and atacking of women. The Los Angeles Times (I think) Publisher wrote an opinion piece defending the paper's story on Ah-nuld's groping of women and the timing of the story (5 days before the election) and discounted her clams (albeit, not by name). Jill Stewart fires back at the Los Angeles Times here, and she includes an email by one of the reporters on the Schwarzenegger hit piece disputing the Publisher's defense.
How the mighty have fallen...
I KNEW THIS DEGREE WOULD COME IN HANDY SOMETIME :)
It seems that one of my philospophy classmates at Cal Poly gives a mathematical equivalent of a miracle here. I'm not going to get too much into it, but there are a few things I do need to point out.
His claim of the "rarity" of typing out a sequence of letters to form a sentence is misguided at best. Given that I am someone who has a degree in Statistics, which was conferred to me on September 2, 1994 by the Trustees of the California State University on the recommendation of the faculty at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (yeah, read it off the diploma ;)), I think I have a little bit of experience in probability even if I wasn't the best student in the world (yeah, immaturity and stupidity ran rampant in me way back then, but that's a whole different blog entry).
Consider this remark:
"'There is an astronomically small chance I would be posting this'
26 letters in the alphabet, 53 letters in that sentence. Ignoring each empty space, you'd have a 1 out of 26 chance that a letter would be typed in a particular space. So 1/26 times itself for 53 times. The result?
1.014875007321718705566218128795 times 10 to the negative 75
Basically, when rounded, its [sic] a 1 with 75 zeros in front of it. Thats [sic] more than one in a billion. Thats [sic] more than one in a trillion. Thats [sic] more than one in a billion multiplied by a trillion multiplied by another trillion or 2. Pretty astronomical huh? That single line there has a 1 out of 26 to the power of 53 chance of happening, which is equal to 1 out of 9.8564301543105861561216447119339 times 10 to the 74th. And all coming from a simple little sentence"
The problem with this statement is that his analysis would only be true assuming that every letter had every chance of being typed in a random sample. In other words, all 26 letters in every space would have to have an equal chance of being typed (or even different percentage. If someone has a particular affinity for one letter, maybe the chance of typing it is better than 1/26...really, who cares?) Is this what happened, though?
Of course not. There was an intention to type certain letters. For instance, I have a particular sentence in mind that I am typing (this one) and I am hitting the keystrokes to cause the letters to come up on the computer screen. There is no randomness involved. The probability of hitting the correct keystrokes is 100% (98.6% if you've ever seen me type). The first letter I typed in this sentence is "T." It is possible I might mistype and hit "r" or "y," but there is virtually no chance I will hit "m" and even if I did mistype, there is no randomness involved in the mistakes: I am intentionally going to hit a letter, and if I do not, it was not because of some random error.
So, for his mathematical alaongy to be valid, typing the sentence, "There is an astronomically small chance I would be posting this" would need to be equally likely as typing "njdhs ol ma ehgwl chwqlr o pa wpsndnh lske" and this isn't even random.
Therefore, there is false foundation for his critique of miracles, and hence, there is no real need to continue on.
Hey, I did find some use for this!!! Anyone need multivariate analysis done on some data? Well...don't call me! ;)
Sunday, October 12, 2003
GOOD BYE, SHOE
8/13/1931 - 10/12/2003
40,350 career mounts
8,833 career wins
5 time Belmont Stakes Winner
4 time Kentucky Derby WInner
2 time Preakness winner
Final ride: February 2, 1990 aboard Patchy Groundfog. I was there, and picked the winner, too. (Exemplary Leader with Eddie Delahoussaye). You will be missed by everyone in the horse racing world. May God grant his grace to his family, his friends, and his fans.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
THE DIVINE COMMAND THEORY REVISITED
I promised a friend of mine from school that I would blog on this subject, since it came up again in the Moral Philosophy class.
Again, one thing to notice is that, admittedly, the Divine Command Theory (DCT, see the 10/2 entry for a brief definition) is appealing to Christians as a normative theory of ethics because it rests in what God approves or disapproves of. Given the Ten Commandments and the rest of the writings of the Bible, this does appear to be what is happening. "You shall not steal" because God does not approve of stealing. However, a problem does seem to arrive when the question (a legitimate question, too, for a critic) is asked, "Why does God disapprove of stealing?" One possible answer is that stealing is itself inherently wrong, so God disapproves of it. The problem with accepting this standard is quite obviously seen: something is objectively wrong apart from God, and moality, then, is also independent of God. The second answer, stealing is wrong because God disapproves, would seem to make morality arbitrary. It is based on whatever God wants at the time.
This is a basic sketch of what is called the Euthyphro problem, in which, in Plato's dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the meaning of "piety." Euthyphro's answer was, whatever the gods like is pious, and whatever they detest is impious." According to some critics, this problem can be used against any other DCTs.
There are a few things to notice, though, about using the DCT as a critique against a form of theism. Euthyphro had a special problem that was prevalent in his day: the polytheistic nature of the Hellenistic gods. They were not monolithic, and they were basically glorified humans with some extraordinary power. If what was pious depended on what they liked, then one will never know what is pious because they never seemed to agree. Furthermore, even if they did agree in unanimity of what was pious, does that really provide a standard for piety. Why did they agree on this to be pious rather than the other? Thinking about this in more detail, this critique is still valid against Mormon claims
Is this, however, a valid critique against Christian theology? The answer is clearly no. To begin with, Christianity is not a polytheistic religion in which multiple gods are fighting over what is and is not good or bad or indifferent. According to the Bible, there is only one God who created all things. There are no multiple dieties, no little gods that are out and around who watched this God (the LORD, Jehovah, etc.) create the world. It was only by him that he created all things. Secondly, also taught in the Bible but more systematically mentioned with the Nicean Creed, God is triune. He is three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and yet, he is one. There is no conflict within the Trinity over what is pious, or what is good, like there is in the world of the Euthyphro. Furthermore, Christian theology is not bound by the convenient labels that one uses to describe God, religion, and theology. This is particularly important because of the nature of the DCT.
Christians are not (well, they shouldn't consider themselves to be) strict adherents to the DCT. Yes, God gave us the 10 Commandments, and gve us the standard of righteous living. They are commands to do and not do things, as there is within the rest of the Law. However, the reason for the commandments is not based on something being intrinsically true about them apart from God; rather, they are a reflection of God's character: love. Consider what Deuteronomy 6:5 says, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Leviticus 19:18 says that "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said that these on these two commandments the entire Law hinges. The reason for this is quite obviously because of God's character. Consider that we are to love our enemies not because we are sadistic freaks, but because God loves his enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good alike. His enemies still have life, they get rain, they are employed...all blessings from God. The law, therefore, is a reflection of his character.
But what does this mean for the DCT? Given the previous paragraph, Christians are not strict Divine COmmand Theorists. The DCT says that an action is morally right if God would approve, and wrong otherwise. Although this does have application (for instance, the (alleged) fraud that occurred at Enron. Would God have approved?), God's approval is not the basis of what is right or wrong: it is God's character. If this, then, means that a Christian has to reject the DCT as a normative theory of ethics, then so be it. Christians are not (and should not be) limited by the convenient philosophicla labels. They are limited by the Bible.
And finally, then, it should be seen that the Euthyphro problem is not really a problem at all to Christians. Not only is it a false analogy, but if anyone does attempt to use it as a critique against Christianity, then one must allow for the entire Christian concept of God to be given. The standard description of the attributes of God, omnipotence, omniscience, etc, are convenient descriptions, but Christians are not bound by them, or every little intricate detail people put on those definitions. They are, however, bound by what the Bible says. Therefore, to attempt to use the Euthyphro problem requires all the attributes of what the Bible says about God to be brought out. Granted, it's not convenient, but oh well. :)
ANOTHER NEW BLOG
Check out The Whirlwind. A very good writer, and someone I'm glad God has given me the chance to know (as with all my friends, of course :) )
Saturday, October 04, 2003
MORE RECALL HYPOCRITES
OK, so Ah-nuld groped women more than 25 years ago, and because of this, women's groups are now going to run commercials against him because he "disrespects" women.
So please tell me why these same women's groups aren't running ads against Governor Davis? After all, Ah-nuld groped women...Davis attacked them, as this story shows.
Also, kudos to KFI 640 AM News Reporter Vicky Moore for asking these groups on their silence of Davis. She was the only reporter to bring up the subject.
I said it it once in an earlier post, and I say it again: The KFI news team is by far the best news team in this State. They get to the heart of the matter, regardless of the people involved. Remember, it was KFI Reporter Eric Leonard who broke the story of the flawed study the the ACLU used in their recall lawsuit. I think Eric is still waiting for the ACLU to return his calls for comment. :)
Thursday, October 02, 2003
A COVENANT KEEPING GOD
Sometimes, especially in the philosophy classes that I take, the characteristics of good are usually summed up in the following terms: omniscience, omnipresent, omnibenevolence, and omnipotence. There are some others, too, but one characteristic that philosophers never attribute to him is that he is also a covenant keeping God. He keeps the covenants that he makes, and if he should ever break his own covenant, then he would be forced to stop being God. In others, he will never break his covenant because God cannot deny himself.
I'm bringing this up because of a discussion that my fellow students in my Moral Philosophy class had regarding religious (i.e. Christian) ethics. To begin with, I am kinda surprised that a few did defend some form of Christian theistic ethics. Now this is not to say that they are full-blown theonomists (although they could be, too), but to hear them attempt to answer the "problem" of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering to God was encouraging. Some of the answers seemed to echo answers Dr. Greg Bahnsen would have given, so if they have heard his tapes, then this is an encouraging sign indeed.
Now why is this a "problem" to the modern mind? It is a problem because we are viewing things through humanistic lenses. The sacrifice would have been murder if Abraham had killed Isaac, we are told. First of all, it would not have been murder because it was a direct command from God, who cannot cause people to sin and is neither sinful. But secondly, and importantly, God is a covenant keeping God. God promised that it was through Isaac that his seed would continue through. Therefore, since Abraham trusted and believed God, he showed it through his works and did as God commanded. As the author of Hebrews notes, he knew that God resurrect Isaac if Abraham hadn't been stopped by God. He had faith that God keeps his promises, and he trusted God fully and totally, even to the point of sacrificing his promised son.
Now, philosophers don't have to believe this. However, they really should let the Bible speak for itself and in full when they attempt to try to find problems with it.