What Christ Does For Us, Part 1: Our Roots In God’s Plan

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I shouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that this post on how we need Christ needed more explanation. I’m actually pleased to have this occasion arise; it gives me a chance to reflect on what Christ has done for us in the past, and what he does for us still.

The objection doctor(logic) raised began:

The thing that bugs me about this is that it’s so anti-humanistic. Humility I can understand, but, to me, this is perverse.

When people achieve difficult objectives, they ought to get credit for doing so.

I hate the way Christianity tells people they’re nothing, makes them feel bad, then offers them a convenient promise to soothe their soul. And to top it off, Christianity takes credit for any success those people have at solving their own problems.

To address this adequately we have to begin with some background on who we are and where we come from. It begins, naturally enough, in Genesis. The first mention of humans is in Genesis 1:26-31:

Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. And it was so.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Two initial observations: First, God is Creator. God is preeminent. God decided, and one result of God’s decision was humankind. It’s not the other way around. Humility before God, recognizing that He is Master, Creator, and Lord, is just recognizing reality.

Second, humans are significant nevertheless. God created us in His image. In this passage we see him blessing the first humans and giving them significant responsibility. In Genesis 2 God gives them moral significance by providing them with choices that matter. He seems almost solicitous toward Adam’s need for a suitable companion. There is real relationship there: even though “God is love” has not yet been articulated, His love toward humans is already evident.

Genesis 3:8-9 tells of God walking in the Garden. This is God’s condescending to them, allowing Himself to be apparent among them in a form or manner to which they can relate. It seems likely that He did this regularly, for they were expecting Him. This time, though, they hid from Him. More on that in the next post, but for now we can take note again of God’s personal interaction with them.

Anti-humanistic? In the Bible, humans certainly do not have the highest and most exalted place of all. We >do have the highest and most exalted place among created things, though. God is love, and his love is especially directed towards humans. (We won’t go into it here, but in Hebrews we learn that humans’ position is even higher than angels’.)

This is just a start, but it’s a necessary one for what will follow, as we continue later to look at what Christ does for us.

Part of a Series: What Christ Does For Us

Related: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions — a post that elicited a short question, to which I’m writing a long answer

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44 Responses to “ What Christ Does For Us, Part 1: Our Roots In God’s Plan ”

  1. This raises one of the objections I have to Christian ideas about God. Shouldn’t God be MORE ethical than we are? Why then would God create a hierarchy? We know that hierarchies are ethically inferior; why then wouldn’t God come up with a better idea?

  2. Hierarchies per se are not ethically inferior. Do you think it’s inherently unethical for organizations to have leaders and followers?

    Here’s a first pass at an analysis of this. I’m sure this won’t be complete, but it’s a start. Hierarchies may be unethical in situations where they place one over another who is not actually superior to the other, and where the relative placing of the persons does not reflect a genuine organizational/organic need for one to lead and another to follow.

    Case in point: There is a movement out there to condemn “speciesism,” the view that humans have more inherent worth than other species. This view is based on a novel opinion (which actually follows logically from naturalistic neo-Darwinism) that humans are not actually superior to animals in any sense other than intellectual; specifically that we are not superior in value or worth. If we are not indeed superior in value or worth, then “speciesism” has some hope of being a valid ethical complaint (though it has other serious hurdles to cross yet). But if humans actually are of superior worth and if we have higher responsibilities than animals (as the Bible says we do), then it is entirely appropriate for a hierarchy to exist with humans above animals.

    Another case in point: It was once thought, in Euro-centric cultures, that dark-skinned persons were of inferior worth to light-skinned persons. That belief has been overturned, and most governments and courts, and increasing numbers of persons, now know that there should be no hierarchy of value between different races. But that is not because hierarchy itself is wrong; it is because the now-diminishing racist hierarchy was based on a false belief that one race is actually superior to the other.

    Human organizational hierarchies (leaders and followers) are ethical to the extent that the hierarchy reflects organizational need and realities; and unethical to the extent that they communicate one person’s intrinsic value or worth as being higher than another’s.

    As I said, that’s a start. God’s ethics are not undermined by His decision to have hierarchies.

  3. Shouldn’t God be MORE ethical than we are? Why then would God create a hierarchy? We know that hierarchies are ethically inferior; why then wouldn’t God come up with a better idea?

    Should people be able to recognize that their current cultural ethics (which will probably be different in 100 years) are not more ethical than the unchanging God.

    This question simply reveals that you don’t believe that there is a God (as Tom understands Him) despite asking the question in a way that appears to admit to His existence. Your question should really be phrased, “Shouldn’t the made-up God that you believe in be more ethical than the people he supposedly made?”

    I think this is common in discussions between believers and (I assume) non-believers. One speaks of God as a real entity while the other speaks of God as a social construct. When viewing God as a social construct questions like “why then wouldn’t God come up with a better idea” make perfect sense. This God becomes subordinate to the supremacy of man since man invented Him.

    When one understands God as a real entity these questions, while maybe not nonsensical, are an indication that the asker of the question needs to seek God, for man cannot be more ethical that God.

  4. Tom,
    I think whenever there is a hierarchy there is the potential for injustice and abuse of power. I think mutuality is moral excellence.

    I would agree that humans are not superior in value or worth than other species; our superior intelligence makes us more responsible.

    How can anyone look at the ecosystem and not see that we are all connected, with no single species more important than another?

  5. If whenever there is a hierarchy there is the potential for injustice and abuse of power, then there might also be the potential for justice and proper use of power. The ethical issue is in the matters of justice and use of power, not in the hierarchy. There is potential for injustice and abuse of power even without hierarchy.

    The answer to your closing question is in this post and the one I just added, on Thursday (part 2). We are all connected, but the One who created us endowed us not just with additional intelligence, but also additional responsibility, and also additional worth.

    I can see the same thing looking at the ecosystem that you see. By seeing also what God intended I get a more complete picture of reality. The ecosystem in itself cannot tell us what is ethical, after all (it’s that old is-ought problem again).

  6. 1. My first paragraph is an argument from general principles, not requiring any belief in special revelation.

    2. My second and third paragraphs answer your question, “how can anyone look at the ecosystem…”

    So these are actually answers to your questions. I’m intrigued, though, by your saying these are a statement of my beliefs. In fact your comments here have also been statements of your beliefs. Is there something about my statement of my beliefs that makes it of lesser value than yours? What would that be?

  7. How can anyone look at the ecosystem and not see that we are all connected, with no single species more important than another?

    This is the only way it can be perceived if perception is strictly our own. This is the is-ought problem Tom referenced.

    With rare exception, this argument is made by someone who doesn’t really believe what they say. The exception being sociopaths. Most people, you included I presume, value one species over another. The pharmaceutical industry is proof of this. Most people value the human species over the bacteria or the tapeworm working to destroy it – and so they kill the less valuable species.

  8. OS,

    Tom said,

    If whenever there is a hierarchy there is the potential for injustice and abuse of power, then there might also be the potential for justice and proper use of power. The ethical issue is in the matters of justice and use of power, not in the hierarchy. There is potential for injustice and abuse of power even without hierarchy.

    If I may add an analogy that might be helpful, there is a right way to use my hammer (bashing in nails) and a wrong way (bashing in my neighbor’s head). There is potential for abuse in nearly anything used by moral agents, but the blame lies with the moral agents, not the thing itself. In other words, the hammer’s not the problem, and neither is the hierarchy. Hierarchies are good when a) it is a true hierarchy (the thing standing above actually is of greater standing), b) the one placed above does not abuse that power, and the oft-overlooked c) the ontologically inferior does not get placed on an equal or greater plane than the ontologically superior.

    I think whenever there is a hierarchy there is the potential for injustice and abuse of power. I think mutuality is moral excellence.

    Can you see how acting as if two ontologically unequal things – say, an infinite creator and a finite creature – are equal is also an injustice? Mutuality is moral excellence only when those two things actually are mutual.

    Also, let’s not forget functionality. Your boss may not be ontologically superior to you, but for your workplace to function properly, his role may be justly placed above your role.

  9. Aaron Snell,
    I don’t think you can separate the form from the function. Are you familiar with the Stanford prison experiments and the Milgram experiments? I don’t see much if any potential for injustice and abuse of power in mutuality, do you? What would that look like?

    What does “the one standing above really does have greater standing” mean in a situation in which we God is not a participant? Who other than God is “ontologically superior?”

  10. But the Stanford experiments only illustrate how an artificial hierarchy not reflecting reality can indeed lead to injustice. And by the way, they also support what I’m beginning to say in my current series on what Christ has done for us: we have a problem with doing what’s right. We have a sin problem. But the problem is not the hierarchy; for we know of hierarchies that are not evil. The problem is human hierarchy without restraint.

    That’s why hierarchy in democratic government has checks and balances. We have one President in the U.S., and he is at the top of the heap–except what he can do is limited by the Congress, the courts, and especially the Constitution. Business organizations have one CEO, but in healthy businesses, the CEO is governed by a Board of Directors. The hierarchy is essential, but humans need restraint in order not to misuse it.

    Who other than God is “ontologically superior”? Humans, compared to retroviruses, for one example (intentionally extreme to demonstrate the point).

    I would suggest you think through the rest of what Aaron said, by the way. You seem to have passed it by.

  11. Hi OS,

    Wait, what was the question? I thought your original objection to hierarchy was in response to the creator/creature distinction Tom made in his post, but maybe I was wrong. In looking over it again, maybe you were objecting in light of Tom’s statement here:

    In the Bible, humans certainly do not have the highest and most exalted place of all. We >do have the highest and most exalted place among created things, though. God is love, and his love is especially directed towards humans. (We won’t go into it here, but in Hebrews we learn that humans’ position is even higher than angels’.)

    Is this the hierarchy you were talking about? Are you saying that God should have made everything on the same plane, that it is somehow ethically inferior of Him to regard one thing as more valuable to Him as its creator than another?

    Do you do crafts or art of any kind?

    Or am I wrong again, and it’s some other hierarchy to which you object?

  12. Aaron,
    I object to the idea that God would create any hierarchy. That God created the interdependent ecosystem of which humans are an integral but not superior part would be much easier to believe.

    If you are asking whether I value some things I have created more than others, my answer is that the analogy doesn’t apply. I have created inanimate objects, some of which I am more attached to than others.

    I have also “created” two living beings, two children, and of course do NOT value one more than the other…this is a more apt analogy, I think.

  13. OS, it was people objecting to God’s ways that got us into all this trouble in the first place. I’m sorry you think it makes sense to you that you could be more ethical or wiser than God. I suppose Dale’s comment is appropriate in that light. You don’t believe there’s a God, so you don’t have a problem with disagreeing with “God.”

    I don’t think God will have any trouble disagreeing with you, either. I would wish you luck in dealing with Him in that exchange, but that would contradict my belief in His greater wisdom. Better to wish God’s grace toward you.

    Here’s a thought experiment for you to consider: suppose there’s a God. Suppose God decides to create a hierarchy of beings, and that in that hierarcy humans are higher than retroviruses. What is it about that that would automatically be immoral and deserving of your objections?

    Before you answer, consider carefully how much of your opinion is based on assumptions that don’t transfer to that thought experiment–assumptions that we all evolved with an equal lack of direction or purpose, especially.

  14. First of all, Tom, you know I don’t agree that “it was people objecting to God’s ways that got us into all this trouble in the first place.” If there is a God, then our objecting to his ways can’t bother him much. Second of all, my whole point is that God has to be MORE ethical than I am–so if I can see ethical problems with what you are telling me is God’s doing, then it can’t be God’s doing.

    Now, as for your thought experiment: What I find morally objectionable about God creating a system in which humans are “higher” than retroviruses is that ALL living beings (not sure retroviruses are living beings…)are interdependent and therefore equally valuable. It’s like saying that carrots are more important than the nutrients in the soil that allow them to grow, or that fish are more important than the clean water they live in.

  15. Oh, OS, can’t you see how your presuppositions color everything you say?

    ALL living beings (not sure retroviruses are living beings…)are interdependent and therefore equally valuable.

    This analyzes to:

    1. If entities are interdependent then they are equally valuable.
    2. All living beings are interdependent.
    3. Therefore all living beings are equally valuable.

    Is (1) necessarily true? On what basis? How do you know, or how do you make that assessment? Can you do it without begging the question in the way I noted in my last comment to you?

    (1) could–with some difficulties I’ll feel free to pass by for now–be considered to follow from naturalistic evolution, but that’s arguing in a circle:

    a) I believe there is no God directing the path of natural history.
    b) Therefore all things have come to be through naturalistic evolution (for no other credible alternative for naturalistic sources of life have been proposed).
    c) Therefore all living things have equal value.
    d) Because all things have equal value, hierarchies are unethical.
    e) Because hierarchies are unethical, the Christian conception of God is unethical.
    f) If there is a God, he/she/it would have to be more ethical than I am.
    g) But this God is not more ethical than I am, because he/she/it is purported to have created hierarchies.
    h) Therefore this God doesn’t exist.
    i) Therefore there is no God directing the path of natural history.

    Circular as can be.

    If you’re looking for a God who exists in a world where ethics are determined on the basis of God not existing, well, I don’t believe in that God either, because it’s a nonsensical proposition. Neither you nor I will succeed in getting God to make sense within a worldview that defines Him out of existence, will we? But it doesn’t make sense to define Him out of existence, either, because that’s just illegitimate and illogical argumentation.

  16. Tom, your reply goes much further than necessary. When I say all things are interdependent and therefore equally valuable, all I am saying is that it appears from my personal observation (and from what I learned in science class a long, long time ago!) that all living creatures are interdependent. Interdependence means that all things depend on each other; therefore, all things are equally necessary. That’s it. No reason to bring the question of God/no God into it.

  17. Well of course there’s a reason to bring God/no God into it.

    All living creatures are interdependent. Interdependence means that all things depend on each other; therefore, all things are equally necessary. That’s it.

    You earlier said that all things are equally valuable because they are interdependent. Now you’re saying that all things are equally necessary because they are interdependent. Do you thing that necessary=valuable?

    And you have brought “no God” into it; and you’ve done it without recognizing that you have done so. This is why I challenged you last time to see how your presuppositions color everything you say.

    Here’s what I mean by “you have brought ‘no God’ into it.” If your standard of what’s valuable excludes what God might consider to be of value–if you say there is no possibility that an all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving Creator of everything has anything to say about what is of value–then you have brought “no God” into it.

    I cannot consider questions of value without considering what God says. You cannot consider questions of value without considering the same, even if you conclude from your considering that there is nothing about God that applies to the question.

    But you say I have brought God/no God into it. If I read you correctly, that means you think the question of God is irrelevant to this. On reflection, I think you’ll have to admit the question of God cannot be irrelevant to questions of value.

    So I wonder if God is so far in the background of your thinking, you are unaware of whether God/no God is relevant. Your presuppositions, if I’m right about that, are very seriously coloring your thinking. I urge you, don’t let them sit there unexamined!

  18. I don’t have time to fully respond right now, Tom, but here’s your presupposition, as you clearly stated it:

    “I cannot consider questions of value without considering what God says.”

  19. OS,

    You seem to endorse a principle like this:

    If x depends upon y for its existence, then x cannot be more valuable, in the moral sense, than y.

    First I should say that I suspect you mean this to apply only to life. (Sometimes you say so, but sometimes you do not.) I depend upon the air I breathe to exist, but surely that air is not more valuable in the moral sense than me. (It is valuable in a sense, to be sure. But that sense is not the moral one. The sense in which it’s valuable is that it’s necessary to my continued existence (and yours too), and that existence is something of value in its own right. It is then not valuable in itself but merely as a means to an end that is valuable in itself.)

    But even if we limit your principle to life, it still seems false. The bacteria in my daughter’s gut are essential to her – without them, she would weaken and die. Moreover, she is essential to them, for they can’t live outside the human gut. But does it follow that they are equally valuable in the moral sense? If it did, it would make no difference from the moral point of view whether one were to die or the other. But surely this is absurd. If it should somehow come to pass that I had to choose one or the other (let us say that my daughter were able to derive nutrition in some novel way), I should surely choose my daughter. She matters more – much, much more. Indeed this seems so obvious to me – so close to being an ethical first principle – that I don’t think it possible for anything you say to cast doubt on it. (This might sound dogmatic, but we all must take a stand somewhere – and here I stand.) I grant that bacteria is important in the sense that it’s important to my continued existence (emphasis on “to”). But it seems clear to me that it has little in the way of intrinsic moral worth.

  20. Franklin,
    How would you define “moral value”? It seems you are defining it in terms or how attached you are to something (your daughter.) I’m not sure that’s a sufficient definition.

    Perhaps God looks at the entire ecosystem and values it as a whole.

  21. I’m not sure that I have a definition. (I’m not sure that I should. Not all ideas can be defined. Some are basic, and this seems like a good candidate for basic to me.)

    But I can say this: if x is, from the moral point of view, moral valuable than y, then all other things being equal, the obligation to protect x is greater than the obligation to protect y.

    I don’t mean to define the concept of moral value in terms of attachment (as you suggest). The value of a child is in no way lessened by the fact that no one feels any attachment to her. The value of a orphan child on the streets of San Paolo about whom no one cares is precisely equal to the value of my daughter. I feel as certain about this as I do about any moral matter.

  22. Franklin,
    But isn’t it your attachment to your own child that enables you to ascribe moral value to all children?

    What if x can’t be protected without also protecting y?

  23. OS asks: “But isn’t it your attachment to your own child that enables you to ascribe moral value to all children?”

    I reply: No it is not. I believed just as firmly in the equal worth of all human beings long before I had children (and long before I became Christian).

  24. OS,

    I have also “created” two living beings, two children, and of course do NOT value one more than the other…this is a more apt analogy, I think.

    Right, two humans (so did I, by the way – two boys), not two different types of living things. So the more apt analogy here would be (taking a cue from Tom’s example) that you have a child, and then go in a lab and genetically engineer a retrovirus. Are you wrong for valuing one more than the other?

    Interdependence means that all things depend on each other; therefore, all things are equally necessary.

    (For Franklin here, as well) What you’re doing, OS, is limiting value to necessity in an almost utilitarian sense. It’s sort of like limiting causation to efficient causes and ignoring final causes. This is why I must agree with Tom in saying that, in virtue (arguably) of His standing in a creator relationship with all else that exists, God cannot be removed from the discussion, and the question of both His existence and His relation to creation seem to me to be presuppositionally necessary to answer before either of us can assert our respective positions.

    So I’ll ask the same thing Tom is asking, in hope of a direct answer to help the conversation move forward: Do you thing that necessary=valuable? I can think of a LOT of things that I value that aren’t necessary, can’t you?

    Unless the ultimate reality is personal, to which all else can be described as being in a certain relationship, I guess there isn’t any other viable definition of “value” (Tom, help me out here if I’m missing something). But this isn’t how we regularly use the concept when speaking of ourselves in a personal relation to other things in the world.

    If there is a God, then our objecting to his ways can’t bother him much.

    Really? Why not? More presupposition-coloring going on here, I think. You can’t start with “God is not this way” to reason to “God is not this way.” Do you see the circularity yet?

    You also said one other thing, OS, way back at the beginning, that I didn’t bring up earlier, but which may be worth mentioning now:

    I would agree that humans are not superior in value or worth than other species; our superior intelligence makes us more responsible.

    It does? How?

    Perhaps God looks at the entire ecosystem and values it as a whole.

    Perhaps He does, perhaps He doesn’t. To know one way or the other, I guess what we’d need is for Him to tell us, right?

    Sorry for the lost post – I know it’s a lot to respond to. Thanks for the discussion!

  25. “If there is a God, then our objecting to his ways can’t bother him much.”

    So says OS, above. But it does bother God. It bothers Him because He loves us, and He knows that our rebellion against Him hurts us. It’s not a rebellion against some distant ruler/boss. It’s turning away from the only true source of life, hope, and love.

  26. Franklin writes, “I’m not sure that I have a definition. (I’m not sure that I should. Not all ideas can be defined. Some are basic, and this seems like a good candidate for basic to me.)” I think everything needs to be defined, Franklin, especially our most basic ideas. Else how do we communicate them to others?

    I thought you might respond as you did to the question of valuing children. I can change the question: Isn’t it your attachment to people (including yourself) that enables you to understand the value of all people?

    Aaron, I would value my child more than the retrovirus–but those are MY values, and doesn’t mean that those things are inherently of different value, or are valued differently by God (if there is a God, of course) or even that those things SHOULD be differently valued. I value my nice comfortable home over the needs of the homeless, but that doesn’t mean that my home IS more valuable, or that I SHOULD value it more.

    If you believe in God, then I suppose then you need to think about what God values in thinking about what is valuable. If you don’t believe in God, or question the existence of God, then you have more flexibility in your thinking. But why can’t we all–believers, non-believers, questioners–look first at what IS (in this case, the ecosystem) and go from there?

    I would say that necessary=valuable, but valuable doesn’t necessarily equal necessary. In other words, what is necessary is valuable, but a thing doesn’t have to be necessary to be valuable.

    Could you say more about this statement, please: “Unless the ultimate reality is personal, to which all else can be described as being in a certain relationship, I guess there isn’t any other viable definition of “value” (Tom, help me out here if I’m missing something). But this isn’t how we regularly use the concept when speaking of ourselves in a personal relation to other things in the world.”

    When I do try to imagine what God would be like if there was a God, I conclude that God must be more/better than we are. Therefore, in my way of thinking, God can’t be concerned about whether we agree with him or not, much like we are not concerned whether those we love unconditionally agree with us or not. I completely accept that you disagree with me on this, but I don’t think our disagreement on this is important.

    I think our superior intelligence makes us more responsible because it gives us more power, more control over what happens to all the other living beings on earth.

    “Perhaps He does, perhaps He doesn’t. To know one way or the other, I guess what we’d need is for Him to tell us, right?” Exactly. And as far as I can tell, he hasn’t.

  27. OS, maybe your long comment didn’t disappear, though it can look like it when you edit after posting. You have to refresh the page in order for it to reappear on your screen after you edit.

    Do you want me to remove any of these? Because on a quick glance it looks like two of them are the same. I’ll do it when I get a chance, as soon as I get word back from you.

  28. OS said,

    Aaron, I would value my child more than the retrovirus–but those are MY values, and doesn’t mean that those things are inherently of different value, or are valued differently by God (if there is a God, of course) or even that those things SHOULD be differently valued. I value my nice comfortable home over the needs of the homeless, but that doesn’t mean that my home IS more valuable, or that I SHOULD value it more.

    See here. One result of the fact-value dichotomy is the assumption that values allegedly can’t be known to be better or worse, right or wrong, good or bad.

  29. OS says: “Franklin writes, “I’m not sure that I have a definition. (I’m not sure that I should. Not all ideas can be defined. Some are basic, and this seems like a good candidate for basic to me.)” I think everything needs to be defined, Franklin, especially our most basic ideas. Else how do we communicate them to others?”

    As a matter of logical necessity, it’s impossible to define all ideas. For to define an idea, we must make mention of other, distinct ideas, else the definition is circular. Thus if we demand that all ideas be defined, we enter an infinite regress where every idea is defined in terms of distinct, prior ideas. But surely such a regress is impossible. We don’t have to wait on the impossible completion of such an infinite sequence of definitions to know what we mean when use such common phrases as “moral value”.

    Moreover, it’s entirely impossible that certain ideas are simple, i.e. don’t involve the combination of other ideas. But if an idea is simple (as I suspect “moral value” is), it cannot be defined. Rather one simply grasps it in itself and not via some other set of ideas.

  30. OS,

    I’m gonna disagree with you on the idea that hierarchies are wrong. I just don’t see it. Hierarchies are tools, which I think is what Aaron was saying.

  31. Tom,

    In this passage we see him blessing the first humans and giving them significant responsibility.

    I don’t see it. God could easily make the world self-sustaining, or sustain it himself effortlessly. So what is this great responsibility you’re talking about? Is it more responsibility than I give to my toy train engine when I ask it not to derail from my toy track?

    God gives them moral significance by providing them with choices that matter. He seems almost solicitous toward Adam’s need for a suitable companion. There is real relationship there: even though “God is love” has not yet been articulated, His love toward humans is already evident.

    None of this makes any sense to me.

    As Adam, God is supposed to be my most important friend, but not enough, hence God creates Eve? I’m supposed to spend my life eating and sitting about watching God potter around in his aquarium, with no deep thoughts whatsoever? I lack moral sensation, disobey God’s order, and then am punished with death? Is that conceivable for a human child? Why does God love humans less than humans love their children? And what civilized society punishes offspring for all time for an act taken before one had moral responsibility?

    I expect you find the story aesthetically pleasing, but I admit I can’t understand why anyone would do so. I think most people who are happy with it just don’t care whether it makes sense as long as there is an afterlife with universal justice for what happens in this world.

  32. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, I feel like I’m becoming a full-blown presuppositionalist in this thread.

    OS,

    Thanks for the response, and the questions. You said,

    Aaron, I would value my child more than the retrovirus–but those are MY values, and doesn’t mean that those are inherently of different values, or are valued differently by God (if there is a God, of course) or even that those things SHOULD be differently valued. I value my nice comfortable home over the needs of the homeless, but that doesn’t mean that my home IS more valuable, or that I SHOULD value it more.

    Good, so you do value your child more. But what about my second question – are you wrong for valuing one more than the other? Are you saying that your valuing of your home more than the needs of the homeless is a morally neutral thing? If so, why would it be any different for God? Or are you saying it is something you actually shouldn’t be doing? In that case, stop acting as if some things are more valuable than others! 🙂

    When I do try to imagine what God would be like if there was a God, I conclude that God must be more/better than we are.

    Good! I actually think you’re on the right track here, but you need to take it farther than you have. How much better than us would you suppose he would be? Do you think He would have to be maximally good – “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” as Anselm put it? This creator/creature distinction, complete with the moral component of holy and unholy, is crucial to pretty much everything I’m saying.

    By the way, where do you get this notion of “better”? If we are imperfect (such that God could be better), from whence came your notion of “perfect”? As C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

    If you believe in God, then I suppose then you need to think about what God values in thinking about what is valuable. If you don’t believe in God, or question the existence of God, then you have more flexibility in your thinking. But why can’t we all–believers, non-believers, questioners–look first at what IS (in this case, the ecosystem) and go from there?

    Wait, I’m confused…if I, as someone who believes in God, need to think about what God values in thinking about what is valuable, why would you entreat me to do otherwise by looking instead at what “is”, as you put it?

    But there’s a bigger problem here – facts don’t interpret themselves, and I can look at the ecosystem and see one thing, while you look and see something different, so while we’d agree on the observational facts, we would draw very different meanings out of them. You’re extrapolating a principle by combining observations of what “is” (the ecosystem) with your presuppositions about God/no-God. So I think what Tom and I are saying is that the logical place to start is with the presuppositions, not the facts that will then be interpreted by them.

    I would say that necessary=valuable, but valuable doesn’t necessarily equal necessary. In other words, what is necessary is valuable, but a thing doesn’t have to be necessary to be valuable.

    Let me just make sure I understand what you’re saying here. You think that “necessary” is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for “valuable”. But is that which is “necessary” necessarily valuable, do you think? (Sorry about the possible confusion of similar terms in there.)

    When I do try to imagine what God would be like if there was a God, I conclude that God must be more/better than we are. Therefore, in my way of thinking, God can’t be concerned about whether we agree with him or not, much like we are not concerned whether those we love unconditionally agree with us or not. I completely accept that you disagree with me on this, but I don’t think our disagreement on this is important.

    Actually, I think it’s more important than you realize, which I’ll try to get to a little bit later. But in the meantime, this is very confusing. I got your first sentence, but then in your second sentence you lost me. Why is it that, if God is better/greater than us, He therefore must not be concerned about whether we agree with Him or not? How do you get from the fact that we humans do something – in this case, not act concerned whether those we love unconditionally agree with us or not (which I find hard to buy, by the way, see below*) – to that thing is good, to God should do that, too? And you’re missing the point, or at least part of it. It’s not that we get the wrong questions on a cosmic theology exam; we have acted in a rebellious and destructive way that God, in His justice and holiness, must take very, very seriously.

    I think our superior intelligence makes us more responsible because it gives us more power, more control over what happens to all the other living beings on earth.

    Okay, so superior intelligence gives us more power which gives us more control over what happens to all living beings one earth. Gotcha. But I still don’t see how responsibility comes in, on your view. All I see are a bunch of “is” statements, with nary an “ought” to be found. How are you getting from “such-and-such is the case” to “we ought to do this”?

    “Perhaps He does, perhaps He doesn’t. To know one way or the other, I guess what we’d need is for Him to tell us, right?” Exactly. And as far as I can tell, he hasn’t.

    Fair enough. I am honor-bound to witness to you that He has – that He is there and He is not silent – but the specifics of this topic are probably outside the bounds of this thread, so maybe we’ll come back to that.

    Could you say more about this statement, please: “Unless the ultimate reality is personal, to which all else can be described as being in a certain relationship, I guess there isn’t any other viable definition of “value” (Tom, help me out here if I’m missing something). But this isn’t how we regularly use the concept when speaking of ourselves in a personal relation to other things in the world.”

    Thanks for asking for clarification – I definitely want to, but this post has become ridiculously long already (sorry! though I’m in good company on this blog), so I’ll try to put something together a little later. It’s important, though, so count on an answer being forthcoming. Thanks!

  33. I’m gonna disagree with you on the idea that hierarchies are wrong. I just don’t see it. Hierarchies are tools, which I think is what Aaron was saying.

    We agree! 🙂

  34. Aaron,
    I’m not wrong for valuing one more than the other, but I’m not “right” (in your sense of right), either. Others hold different values, which are right for them in the same way that mine are right for me. (I’m not suggesting that others value their children less than retroviruses, just that values differ in general.) Similarly, I don’t think valuing my home more than the needs of the homeless is morally neutral, but that doesn’t mean that valuing one more than the other is inherently more moral.

    I can’t imagine that God is totally good, because I don’t think there is such a thing as “totally good.” What is good is subjective; what is good for me may be bad for you.

    My notion of “better” comes from my own experience. I may not know that a line is crooked until I experience a straight line, but my knowledge comes from experiencing and comparing both, not from some sort of intrinsic-because-given-by-God knowledge of the straight line (I do think some “knowing” is intrinsic, but not because it’s God-given.)

    …if I, as someone who believes in God, need to think about what God values in thinking about what is valuable, why would you entreat me to do otherwise by looking instead at what “is”, as you put it?

    But doesn’t observation come prior to value-finding?

    But there’s a bigger problem here – facts don’t interpret themselves, and I can look at the ecosystem and see one thing, while you look and see something different, so while we’d agree on the observational facts, we would draw very different meanings out of them. You’re extrapolating a principle by combining observations of what “is” (the ecosystem) with your presuppositions about God/no-God. So I think what Tom and I are saying is that the logical place to start is with the presuppositions, not the facts that will then be interpreted by them.

    First we observe the ecosystem, then we ascribe value to it. You extrapolate and ascribe value according to your beliefs, and I according to mine.

    Let me just make sure I understand what you’re saying here. You think that “necessary” is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for “valuable”. But is that which is “necessary” necessarily valuable, do you think? (Sorry about the possible confusion of similar terms in there.)

    I think the confusion is in the term “valuable.” Let’s say that there is “value of necessity” and “moral value.” Does that help?

    Why is it that, if God is better/greater than us, He therefore must not be concerned about whether we agree with Him or not? How do you get from the fact that we humans do something – in this case, not act concerned whether those we love unconditionally agree with us or not (which I find hard to buy, by the way, see below*) – to that thing is good, to God should do that, too? And you’re missing the point, or at least part of it. It’s not that we get the wrong questions on a cosmic theology exam; we have acted in a rebellious and destructive way that God, in His justice and holiness, must take very, very seriously.

    Are you familiar at all with Carl Rogers’ concept of unconditional positive regard (UPR)? Basically, the idea is that providing UPR in a psychotherapeutic relationship is necessary for the client’s healing and growth. This is the model I’m using to think about whether God would be concerned about whether we disagree with him or not. But I’ll modify my position some: I suppose God might be concerned, but it wouldn’t change his attitude toward us and certainly wouldn’t generate punishment. As I said, if it is a good thing to do, and humans can and do do it, then God must also, even better.

    As for superior intelligence requiring superior responsibility, I suppose that’s a personal moral value, that those with greater gifts are required to do more. I’m open to others disagreeing with me on that.

  35. dl:

    “I don’t see it. God could easily make the world self-sustaining, or sustain it himself effortlessly. So what is this great responsibility you’re talking about? Is it more responsibility than I give to my toy train engine when I ask it not to derail from my toy track?”

    Does your toy train have morally significant free will? Does it love you? Does it know what love means? This is why God did this.

    “As Adam, God is supposed to be my most important friend, but not enough, hence God creates Eve?”

    This is striking–the only “not good” in the original creation was Adam’s being alone. It underscores the importance of mutual relationship. God actually did not intend to be our only object of love.

  36. os,

    “I’m not wrong for valuing one more than the other, but I’m not “right” (in your sense of right), either. Others hold different values, which are right for them in the same way that mine are right for me. (I’m not suggesting that others value their children less than retroviruses, just that values differ in general.) Similarly, I don’t think valuing my home more than the needs of the homeless is morally neutral, but that doesn’t mean that valuing one more than the other is inherently more moral.”

    What strikes me about this is that it is completely without justification. I don’t know if you’ve ever told us why these opinions are true, or seem true to you. Why do you think you hold the only key to determining value for yourself? Why do you think everyone can and must make that determination for themselves? Why do you think there is no other source of value for ourselves? It’s all just assertion, unless you’ve explained this before and I’ve forgotten it.

    “I can’t imagine that God is totally good, because I don’t think there is such a thing as “totally good.” What is good is subjective; what is good for me may be bad for you.”

    Too bad you can’t imagine “totally good.” Actually it’s beyond all of us to conceive of it, but it’s certainly not rationally or ontologically impossible; and we can at least approach an understanding of it. But your “subjective” opinion here is again just an assertion, as in the first quote here I’ve already responded to.

    “My notion of ‘better’ comes from my own experience. I may not know that a line is crooked until I experience a straight line, but my knowledge comes from experiencing and comparing both, not from some sort of intrinsic-because-given-by-God knowledge of the straight line (I do think some “knowing” is intrinsic, but not because it’s God-given.)”

    But even “better” from your own experience must be in relation to some good. A straight line is not better if you need a crooked one; crooked lines are good for drawing a map of city streets in Charlotte, NC. You have to have some larger or greater good in mind to determine “better” from experience. If you only draw “better” from experience, you’ll be in an infinite series of comparing experience to experience. Somewhere you need an intrinsic, non-contingent good.

    You accept that this is possible, but not that it is God-given. So you are saying there is some intrinsic knowledge of good that is larger than all experience, able to say what is or is not good in all experience. That sounds like something God could provide, but I can’t imagine what else could.

  37. Tom writes,

    What strikes me about this is that it is completely without justification. I don’t know if you’ve ever told us why these opinions are true, or seem true to you. Why do you think you hold the only key to determining value for yourself? Why do you think everyone can and must make that determination for themselves? Why do you think there is no other source of value for ourselves? It’s all just assertion, unless you’ve explained this before and I’ve forgotten it.

    I have said previously (and I think dl agreed with me, but I’m not certain) that I (not just I, of course, but everyone) don’t need any justification beyond my own experience for my moral values. I don’t need God or any other moral authority (although there are others than God available, should I or anyone else want to refer to one on any particular issue) to say what I believe is right or not right. I may,if challenged, need to explain why I hold a particular moral view, but this is not the same as justifying it, I don’t think.

    But your “subjective” opinion here is again just an assertion, as in the first quote here I’ve already responded to.

    As is yours, Tom, except that you believe that your opinion holds more power or is more “right” because you think yours is justified by God.

    If you only draw “better” from experience, you’ll be in an infinite series of comparing experience to experience.

    Yup. And this is how I believe human life is, and you do not.

  38. But your “subjective” opinion here is again just an assertion, as in the first quote here I’ve already responded to.

    As is yours, Tom, except that you believe that your opinion holds more power or is more “right” because you think yours is justified by God.

    Interesting how you say this immediately after saying you don’t need to provide reasons for your position. The difference between “just an assertion” and taking a supported position is just that: providing support for one’s position.

  39. OS says: “I have said previously (and I think dl agreed with me, but I’m not certain) that I (not just I, of course, but everyone) don’t need any justification beyond my own experience for my moral values.”

    Do you mean to say that moral judgments can be justified or not? You seem to say here that they can be, and that one’s own experience will do it. But elsewhere (a little later in the post, for example), you seem to say that one can only explain one’s moral judgments, not justify them.

    If you mean that no justification is possible, why ought I believe this? It seems absurd to me.

    Moreover, if you mean that no justification is possible, you of course reject a belief held by many. You tell them that they’re wrong. But this seems to run counter to your expressed view about moral matters. You seem to wish to say that as far as morality is concerned, it’s all just subjective opinion. But then you deliver this moral judgment (perhaps meta-moral judgment) that moral justification is not really possible and thus sweep away the moral experience of many, many people (like me). My point is this: it seems to me that you’re just a judgmental as the rest of us. You dismiss views just as do we. We’re all in the same boat here. We all tell others that their moral views are deeply mistaken.