Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Do the practical thing: Contrasting worldviews against current events...

To build off of my previous post, let's contrast how the Christian Worldview approaches current events with how the "There is no should" Worldview does. The Christian Worldview states that there exists a transcendent morality which humans are obliged to follow. The "There is no should" Worldview states that - there is no should - and that actions are merely performed on the basis of practicality. Per FoxNews: Emotions High at Peterson Sentencing Trial
Laci Peterson's mother took the stand Tuesday in the sentencing phase of Scott Peterson's murder trial, screaming at her former son-in-law that divorce was always an option over taking her daughter's life. A very emotional Sharon Rocha brought members of the jury panel and those in the courtroom to tears with her heart-wrenching testimony, much of which she addressed directly to Peterson. Peterson, 32, was convicted Nov. 12 of killing her daughter, Laci, and the couple's unborn son.
Should Peterson have murdered his wife and unborn son? The Christian Worldview says no; the "There is no should" Worldview says that he merely acted out of practical motives and, therefore, the act was no different than, say, tieing his shoes. Also from FoxNews: Netherlands Hospital Permits Euthanasia for Terminal Newborns
A hospital in the Netherlands — the first nation to permit euthanasia — recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives. The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives — a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents.
The Christian Worldview posits that humans are made in God’s Image and, as such, should not be murdered. Should medical professionals intentionally kill patients they deem to not have a sufficient quality of life? Should these medical professionals propose such actions as standard policy after already performing them? The Christian Worldview answers with a "no," while the “There is no should” Worldview sees the acts as either meaningless, or practically good for society. From CNN (link): Report: Video Game Argument Leads To Fatal Drive-By
A 7-year-old girl reportedly died on the way to the hospital from a gunshot wound she suffered in a drive-by shooting on Monday night. Sources told Local 4 that the shooting may have been the result of an argument the child's mother had with a man outside the family's home at Glenfield Street on Detroit's east side last week.
Should someone intentionally discharge a firearm towards a home, knowing full well that innocent life could be taken, simply because they were angry? The Christian Worldview answers “no” because such action is morally wrong. The “There is no should” Worldview answers that all our behaviors are the same and that humans are not obliged to act in any manner whatsoever… they just act. Therefore, the person who killed the 7 year old girl was simply doing what he does; it just so happened that he committed murder while practically expressing his anger. Which worldview would you rather follow? Which worldview should you?

13 comments:

Paul said...

Two corrections to what you've said. First, none of the issues you mentioned are morally wrong according the the Christian worldview, because you haven't supplied all the needed information. Was the offender in each case commanded to do the action by God? If God told them to do it, and the only true moral absolute is obeisance to God, then all of those acts were moral.

Second, the 'should' point of view isn't an active viewpoint that people work from on a daily basis. I have a morality that would declare two of those three things immoral (even if God told them to do it), and would make me question the other. But I don't claim that my morality is an absolute; as we've discussed before it's just my strongly held opinion. Underlying that is the factthat there is no basis for an absolute morality, there's just behaviour and my opinion of it.

Rusty said...

Paul,

If God were to command that such actions be taken, and I don’t believe that in the context of these particular actions He would, but, for the sake of your argument, the context of such actions would be in line with His Sovereign Will. Such a line of thinking becomes irrelevant, though, when one contrasts what is proposed with what is recorded in the Bible. Can you find for me examples of God commanding actions specifically analogous to those I’ve listed? (e.g., commanding a husband to murder his wife and unborn child because he is unwilling to face the responsibility of fatherhood?, commanding medical professionals to intentionally murder deformed infants because they consider them to be “lives unworthy of life”?, or commanding a person to randomly murder a child because of an argument he had with the child’s mother?) Also, can you find for me instances of God commanding acts, those which your “opinion” considers to be moral atrocious, outside the historical context of Him separating and leading the nation of Israel through a theocracy? The problem with this line of reasoning is that it relies on cherry-picking historical data from the Bible while ignoring the entire historical and theological structure of the Christian religion.

I see your second point as simply reinforcing what I am positing – that the “There is no should” worldview sees human behavior as no different from animal behavior. We don’t criticize a carnivore for killing and eating an herbivore because it just does what it does. Likewise, in the "There is no should" Worldview, humans just do what they do.

In pointing out real-life examples of human behavior I’m simply letting people ponder whether they truly believe that such behavior falls within the bounds of a transcendent morality, or whether such behavior is absent of moral obligation.

Paul said...

Well it's going to be hard to pick exactly analogous situations, because only so many things happened that are recorded in the Bible. Worthy of mention on a quick scan, though:

Numbers 15:35 - Man stoned to death for picking up sticks.
Judges 11:29 - Daughter killed because of her father's promise to your god.
2 Samuel 12:15 - Baby son murdered by your god for the sin of his father.
Hosea 13:16 - Children dashed to ground and pregnant women ripped open for disobeying your god

Having said that, I clearly can't compete with your biblical study, and would be foolish to try. I am curious to know why the separation of the Isrealites should be excluded though - wasn't that anything to do with your god?

Rusty said...

Paul,

Three of the examples you provide have no relation whatsoever to those I’ve listed within the context of my post (i.e., examining whether or not certain intentional actions of human beings are subject to a transcendent obligation). Any attempt to use the “God commanded” argument must rely on hypothetical “what-ifs” which have no bearing on the real-life examples I am discussing. My post is dealing with what actual human beings have intentionally done, not with what God may or may not command a human being to do.

That said, I’ll briefly address the examples you listed.

The incident in the book of Numbers deals with a person intentionally sinning against God. The instruction in the preceding paragraph makes it clear that there are serious, if not capital, consequences for the person who intentionally blasphemes God. Contrast that paragraph with the section immediately preceding it and you will see the less severe consequences for the person who unintentionally sins against God.

The Judges incident is much more problematic. There are two schools of thought on this one: 1) the “turning over to God” language refers to committing the child to a life of service to God alone or, 2) the actual act of human sacrifice. Some of the points in favor of choosing the first option are: there are examples of women (virgins) being committed to lifelong service to God, the phrase “she knew no man” can be taken to mean that she remained a virgin her entire life, the despair she and her father displayed were due to the fact she was his only child and, being committed to a life of celibacy, would not continue his family line. For the second option the argument in its favor is that it appears to satisfy the structure of the text in a simpler manner (i.e., the Ockham’s razor principle). Regardless of which option is correct one needs to understand that the action was not commanded or condoned by God. It is portrayed as a foolish and rash act in an age of decadence – read the entire book of Judges and not, especially, the last verse of the book. Since the act was not commanded by God, it falls within the context of my original post. As such, note that it is not portrayed as an act of moral obligation.

The 2 Samuel account is an act done by God. My post was not about the morality, or lack thereof, that makes up God’s character.

The Hosea account describes the judgment awaiting an unrepentant Israel. The stance that Christianity takes is that since God is the Author of Life, it is His to give, and it is His to take. This applies not only to the incident in Hosea, but to every single human life. Note that Hosea is a prophetic book. The Old Testament prophetic books have a literary style all their own. One of the features of the prophetic books is that judgment awaits an unrepentant nation, while mercy awaits a repentant one.

Yes, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. I’m not stating that the Israelites should be separated from our discussion, but that we should understand the context of the text we are reading. Simply because a verse exists anywhere in the Bible does not mandate that it necessarily applies to you or me. As an example, one of my pet peeves with fellow Christians is their misuse of the verse Jeremiah 29:11 – “ ‘For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.’ ”

They typically read that to mean that God has plans to make us prosper. However they fail to take the verse in its proper context. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled nation of Judah (split from Israel) around 800 b.c. I sometimes ask people why they don’t take Jeremiah 29:10 (the start of the paragraph that Jeremiah 29:11 is in) as indicative of what God has planned for them? Here is 29:10 - “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland.’ ”

You see, context matters, and simply taking a verse of the law and running with it misunderstands the intent of the text. It may just be so that God has plans to make us prosper… but Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t telling us that.

Paul said...

Well, we can agree that context matters. All of the examples you quoted were taken from a 2,000 year old, randomly edited book that is alleged to be written by some number of people who believed much of what they were writing to be in some way the word of a god. You take one interpretation from each of them, clearly I took another. I don't claim to know the smallest fraction of your god's mind, because it is quite simply beyond my power of comprehension. You are confident enough to claim that you do, and that must be very reassuring for you.

Nonetheless, all of the examples involved people who were killed for your god, or because people thought that was what your god wanted, or we don't actually know what happened. All of them involve morally reprehensible acts *in my view*, yet all were presumably OK with your god (indeed, you say one was the act of your god). All of them illustrate that you only have one moral absolute, which is whatever your god says. And hence any of the acts you originally mentioned would be morally glorious if your god ordered them. I don't think for a moment that it actually did (aside from the obvious reason that I don't believe in the entity that could have), but you cannot say that any of them were morally wrong with any certainty, except in the most specific of instances. As a simple example, my *personal* morality allows me to make the following statement without qualification. Your 'superior' morality can't make the same statement:

"Killing a child is wrong."

Rusty said...

Paul,

I find it interesting that you use examples from the "randomly edited" book (per my request) in an effort to refute my claims, and then turn around and propose that the claims of the book's authors are dubious. Which is it? Are you going to refer to the incidents as historically accurate, and submit to the whole of the genre, or are you going to refuse to accept the data presented in the Bible? I don't care which one you choose, but stick with one approach.

Also, simply because there may be more than one interpretation does not mean that there is no correct interpretation. Authors have intentions when they write. In communicating through any of the various literary genres we use commonly accepted rules (although they vary from time to time and culture to culture) with which to express our meaning. To interpret the Bible does not require some sixth sense that allows us to know the mind of God... It's really a matter of studying the text and working at understanding the revealed intentions from the human author who, as we Christians believe, was working under the inspiration of God.

Again, none of the Biblical examples you gave resemble the current examples I present. Although I'm still a bit confused as to why you would find the Numbers account reprehensible if you don't trust the veracity of the Bible - how do you know the Numbers account wasn't made up? Or the others for that matter? Regardless, the Numbers account does not violate the Biblical rule for respect of God's holiness. You're entirely within your free will rights to disagree with the rule... but you can't call the Bible to account for contradicting itself.

The Judges account, as I stated, is not presented as sanctioned by God and the mere fact that Jephthah may have thought God would be pleased with it does not implicate God.

The 2 Samuel account was not performed by a human and my post was about whether humans have moral obligations.

Read the Hosea account a bit more carefully. The verse you cite was declaring a judgment that would occur if the nation would not repent... a few verses later it states what would happen if they did repent. Judgment / Mercy = Rebellion / Repentance. The genre is Prophecy and it has some very deep theological meaning.

Ultimately, your response runs away from the gist of my post - that of reviewing current, morally reprehensible, events to see how they are viewed by the Christian Worldview and by the "There is no should" Worldview. The Christian Worldview declares them to be wrong; the "There is no should" Worldview is, and must always be, indifferent towards them.

Once you admit that there really is a "should," then we can address the supposed potential immorality of the Christian Worldview.

Until that time all you can do is propose potential "what-if" scenarios which have no bearing on the real-life around us. None, I repeat, NONE, of the real-life examples I have shown of intentional human immorality came about through direct order from God.

But even if they had occurred by direct order from God then I still don't see how that helps your position. Because, as you yourself continue to claim: There is no should...

Paul said...

I'm pretty consistent in my assertion that the Bible lacks credibility - you had asked for some examples from the Bible, and I gave them, but that doesn't mean that I believe them to be true, or even assuming they are true that they derive from your god. And unsurprisingly I find it very difficult to defend them - your interpretations are very interesting, but I haven't yet seen why they are more accurate than mine or anyone else's.

But back to your specific point - first demonstrate to me that none of those events was inspired by your god. I should be easy to convince, because I don't even believe in your god. Don't forget that events can be inspired by your god, according to his specific will, without it declaring its presence.

In the meantime I'll amplify what I'm saying. Because there is no 'should', I can't say that there is an absolute morality that would declare each of those immoral (or moral). Neither can I say that there is an absolute judgement that Macs are better than PCs. Yet I believe that, and will try to convince people of my opinion. Imagine, then, how much more strongly I might feel about the moral issues you mention, which are actually considered important? And the morality I approach them with is one I've reasoned out, influenced by my upbringing and community, not one I've been told to believe. That may be discomforting to you, but it doesn't make it any less 'valid'.

Rusty said...

Paul,

To better understand Biblical interpretation I would recommend you read a bit more of the Bible as well as the commentaries from the past 2000 years. Whether one agrees with the theology or not does not hinder an exhaustive understanding of the theology. In other words, you don't have to believe what it is claiming in order to understand what it is claiming.

...first demonstrate to me that none of those events was inspired by your god.

You're playing games now Paul. There is no logical connection with those events and the claim that they were directed by God. But what if I were to demonstrate that, what next?... Demonstrate to you that the events weren't inspired by Santa Claus, Batman, or Jesse Jackson? How about demonstrating that they all aren't due to the effects of the radio waves emitted by the original airings of Gilligan's Island (the black & white episodes only)? Really.

As I continue to state, you have no foundation to stand on with the "There is no should" Worldview - you're only recourse is to change the subject.

Back to my first post on the subject: To advocate that there is no “should” - in the sense of “should” we help another human in need? - logically mandates that there is no difference between that of helping the needy and that of cannibalizing them.Carrying that thought on to the analysis of current events, I'm simply asking people to compare and contrast the two, radically different worldviews, and ask two questiona: 1) Which worldview would I rather follow?, 2) Which worldview should I follow?

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul said...

(in case you see this twice, I deleted then reposted to fix a small but significant wording mistake!)

I'm not changing the subject. I keep stating it again and again. There is no should. There is nothing 'absolutely' moral or immoral about any of the acts you mentioned. The only moralities that exist are those of the individual and the society, but these very clearly can't be considered 'absolute', even if every person in the world happened to agree on an issue of morality.

I also don't deny that, if your worldview is true, then you *do* have an absolute morality. But what I've learned from my visits here is that this absolute morality isn't what I thought it was (e.g. killing is immoral, adultery is immoral, charity is moral etc). Instead, the only absolute in your morality is whatever your god says. So there is nothing inherently immoral in your worldview about the acts you mentioned; if your god commands them they are moral, if it doesn't they are immoral. The act itself is the same either way.

So let's contrast the two views on the acts you describe:

You: Most Christians would find them provisionally immoral, though without definitive knowledge of their god's wishes on the subject they couldn't say definitively

Me: Most atheists (and societies) would find these personally immoral, but lack a meaningful way of saying they were absolutely immoral.

I imagine many people (most Christians for a start!) would find greater comfort in your option. But I fail to see how that makes it more valid.

Rusty said...

Paul,

The topic of my post does not have to do with whether or not God can command humans to perform immoral acts, thereby rendering the “immoral” to “moral.” The post has to do with putting two competing worldviews to the test. All I’ve done is taken a look at the intentional actions of humans and contrasted how the two competing worldviews addresses them. I’m asking people to consider the options and implications of believing that the humans in question “shouldn’t” have committed the particular acts, as opposed to believing that the humans in question were under no particular obligation to act in any manner whatsoever – thereby making their actions neither moral nor immoral but, rather, amoral.

It’s a tactic I’m using to try and get people to look beyond the mere statement, “there is no should,” and address whether or not their soul truly accepts such a view. Your comments are telling in that, despite your continued blind faith assertion that “there is no should,” you acknowledge the fundamental existence of morality regardless of whether you think you can declare it absolute. Further, your argument for the existence of “there is no should,” involves the use of transcendent principles (e.g., There is nothing 'absolutely' moral or immoral about any of the acts you mentioned. The only moralities that exist are those of the individual and the society…). Says who? You? On what basis should we accept your declaration? Society? On what basis should we accept society’s conclusions? (note: see my most recent post re: comments from Robert George’s book) Your argument will always reduce to an appeal to some transcendent principle.

Instead, the only absolute in your morality is whatever your god says. So there is nothing inherently immoral in your worldview about the acts you mentioned; if your god commands them they are moral, if it doesn't they are immoral.I’m not sure I understand what you mean here. Perhaps I’ve not explained the Christian position very well. Have you understood me to say that if God were to command humans to commit an immoral act then, by virtue of the fact that God commanded it, the nature of the act changes from immoral to moral? If so, then there’s an inherent problem with the equation in that it allows for God to sin. The Christian position is that God cannot sin. Therefore, God will not command humans to commit immoral acts. Your proposition that the examples I presented could have been commanded by God are without Biblical basis. God would not command a man to kill his pregnant wife and unborn child because the man didn’t want to accept the responsibility of fatherhood. God would not command doctors to kill newborn infants because they considered them to be “life unworthy of life.” God would not command a man to randomly shoot into a house, killing a child, because the man had an argument with the child’s mother. In all three of these examples, the actions were the result of human choices (wrong choices, at that).

The claim that there are Biblical examples of God commanding immorality fails because it misunderstands the fundamental nature of God. It also fails because it ignores, or is willfully rebellious to, the obligation humans have towards God. The claim of Christianity is that there are no innocent humans – none. God is within His rights to punish us for our sin because it is an offense against Him. Also, humans are the creation of God and, as such, are subject to His Will regarding the giving and taking of life. He determines when every human begins and ends his earthly existence. You yourself commented once about being incapable of comprehensively understanding God’s mind – and I agree – we are incapable of completely understanding the complexity of God’s omniscient power.

That said, if one wants to understand the Biblical Worldview, then one must view the accounts in the Bible of God commanding human action in light of the Biblical understanding of God’s Nature and mankind’s obligation to that Nature. So, when God commands the stoning of a person who gathered wood on the Sabbath, it was an exercise of His judgment with regards to someone who flagrantly violated (i.e., blasphemed) His command. The offense was a capital offense against God, not an argument over a video game. You are within your free will rights to not agree with it, but that does not make it an “immoral” act that is divinely declared “moral.” And when God states that He will utilize humans to wreak havoc on a rebellious nation, providing the nation does not repent, He is exercising judgment in a manner that falls within the omniscient qualities He possesses. Humans do not have the authority to selectively exercise judgment over other humans for offenses against God; God has such authority simply because He is the Author of Life. For example, despite the fact that humans were the agents used to carry out particular judgments in the past does not render the actions themselves as moral; rather, it indicates that God used the actions of pagans to execute judgment on the rebellious nation of Israel.

I will grant you that the second aspect of the paragraph above is much more complex in nature and, as time permits, I will attempt to address it specifically in the future.

At the core of this overall criticism, though, is the misunderstanding of how God works (as shown in the Bible). The gist of the argument is that any human action just might be a command from God, so how can we declare the human action moral or immoral? The problem here is that God doesn’t work the way the argument presupposes. Whenever God has commanded human action it has been clear, specific, and with divine purpose (getting back to that theological framework concept of the Bible). While anyone is free to claim that God has commanded them to commit a crime, there is no Biblical basis for accepting such a claim carte blanche (the killing of abortion “doctors” comes to mind). As such, simply making the claim that Scott Peterson may have acted on direct command from God is a frivolous claim, with no Biblical support.

Paul said...

I'm not sure what you mean by the fundamental existence of morality. I don't think that there is something unchangeable and absolute called morality, but I do think there is a thing called morality (being people's views on issues that people hold to be of central importance to society) in the same way as I believe in the fundamental existence of love, or Pokemon - they are things.

As to your assertion that I can't state that there is no should, once again it comes down to something you've protested against yourself. I can't prove there is no should - you haven't proven that there is such a thing as should, and neither has anyone else. But it's entirely possible, I guess, that such a thing could be demonstrated. In the meantime, lacking any evidence of a should, I say there is none.

Incidentally, you seem to think that your god can define should because he created us. Why should creating us give it such rights?

And before I answer the second half of your post, I wanted to clarify my understanding. If the Bible makes no comment on your god's opinion of something, then I have no way of knowing its opinion of that thing. Is that right?

Rusty said...

Paul,

Sorry for the delayed response. I've been away (and busy), and I'll be away again soon.

My use of the term "fundamental existence of morality" would have to do with a transcendent morality, not simply an inherent action that humans partake in.

Why should creating us give it such rights?

It's not that creating us gives Him the right, it's simply because He is Sovereign over all - nothing exists without Him and everything exists because of Him. It has to do with who He is, not necessarily what He has done.

If the Bible makes no comment on your god's opinion of something, then I have no way of knowing its opinion of that thing.

No, that's not right... at least how I'm understanding you. Have you taken me to say or imply that the Bible makes no comment on God's opinion? Opinion on what, in particular?