Comments

  1. Jacob

    I have not read the past posts, so my response is limited to this one.

    I see no reason why one should attempt to blunt God’s actions, as you do with your first list, since he seemed to have no problem wiping out most of the inhabitants of the earth or firstborn children. Either it was good to do or it wasn’t.

    I’ve already addressed explicitly the argument that God’s goodness can’t really be known or tested for, which might be irrelevant if one can unequivocally prove a priori the existence of God, but it can be important if you’re using God’s character as proof for his existence: an intuitive moral character should align with God’s moral character. Instead, I think it speaks volumes that one’s sense of justice can actually be offended by the actions of this supreme being. Even an otherwise holy person by the Christian definition can find God’s actions appalling, which suggests a decoupling from certain ideas of justice and the Biblical definition of justice. Everybody struggles horribly to find a right sense of justice, even if they’re supposedly channeling God’s will. In fact, it is often our past experiences and mental inclinations, not an intuitive moral compass, that inform our actions. Even Craig adapts a form of cultural relativism to suit his interests. Regardless, it’s important to prove that right and wrong are so intuitive that they’re instantly knowable to the right mind.

    Of course, one can simply shift the definition of what constitutes a “right mind” – I suppose the Christian definition would be a mind in line with God, but that doesn’t help either if you have no other definition of goodness. So this, too, becomes incredibly subjective, and I think it’s extremely tenuous to say that knowledge of God and his will should be intuitive. In fact, I think that culture is a much bigger influence. If one grows up believing that things like sacrifices are the cultural norm, then one is absolutely likely to do it throughout one’s lifetime. It’s easy to say that this is no excuse and they should grow beyond the delusion (assuming, of course, that there really is a God speaking to their hearts), but I say that a delusion based on the material mind is just as important of an influence. One can easily be tricked into wrongful convictions, not because they are wading in sin, but because their limited experiences or rational shortcomings have led them to irrational and faulty conclusions. And if God is the designer of a mind that can so easily be tricked, then how can he expect belief so uncompromisingly? It’s merely one more roadblock that isn’t necessary for a world in which there is an all powerful God. Are these Caananites innocent? Not by any definition I know. But their delusion could be understood.

    In fact, there seems to be a sharp divide between the explanations in the Bible and what we see throughout history. In reality, I say that God rarely seems to rebuke sinners or contaminant cultures; or if he does, it’s almost impossible to tell. Because when there is some sort of vague purpose that isn’t continually communicated, then God’s will gets confused. I would go so far to say that no two Godly individuals seem to interpret God’s will exactly the same way. You’d almost think that they’re guessing. Is God punishing a nation, or does he have some other plan for them? Who knows. And a lack of knowledge leads to bad choices, which might lead to sin. It’s easy to look at the Bible and say that these Godly men were absolute in their convictions, but I think that reality is so much more uncertain than that.

    To that end, it’s weird that God needs people at all. You can argue that some actions are a test of God’s commands, but war hardly seems necessary in this paradigm. In fact, if God didn’t need people to commence a war, then no one would become deluded into starting wars on false pretenses. God could say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it; I know what I’m doing.” God-fearing humans would no longer have the weight of violence on their hands. It would also solve Craig’s problem because they wouldn’t get involved in violence in the first place, and it would be an incredibly powerful argument for God’s presence and will: a God wiping out armies makes no sense in a naturalistic worldview, but people killing other people in God’s name does.

    Lastly, this might sound like an odd point, but why are their children at all? God, as an all powerful being, could presumably create a world in which our developmental years aren’t even necessarily. From a naturalistic perspective it makes total sense. But from a spiritual perspective it leads to many unsatisfying conclusions because there are two conflicting themes going on: humankind is supposedly tainted from birth, but children can’t understand the enormity of their condition. It’s just too much to deal when one asks about the death of children and their souls, and it’s an issue that could have been avoided altogether.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that they looked toward God to make things right. You need to qualify that with an actual explanation.

  2. William Bradford

    Hi Tom. I wrote a piece at Telic Thoughts related to the theme of this blog entry. My focus was on the inhabitants of Canaan and their cultural norms, most specifically the practice of child sacrifice. In the piece it is noted that critics of Christianity generally salivate over exposing such religious practices as they are useful fodder in the war on religion. Attempts to debunk Chrstianity often use a stilted version of history to highlight religious practices of the ancients and then place the accounts of the ancient Hebrews within a context of evolving religious folklore.

    Yet what is the central focus of critics of Joshua’s military foreys? Child sacrifice? Despicable religious practices of the Canaanites? That would be consistent with the pattern but on the genocide issue we observe a departure from debunking norms. Criticism of the squalid moral practices of the Canaanites is muted in favor of a strategy of rebuking divine moral standards. Yet the relevancy of Canaanite behavior is clear if justice is a factor in divine calculus. Incidentally since we are all mortal and created created beings one could advance the argument that God merely shortened Canaanite lives. They were never immortal. At least not as far as their earthly existence is concerned.

  3. Jacob

    That brings up tangential points of eternal punishment and God’s nature in relation to morality, but the main assumption in your comment is that these people make a sober choice to deny God. Of course, that’s what the Bible assumes; it has to. It’s also what Christians assume. I think it’s relevant to show that people don’t soberly choose religion and that God couldn’t expect belief under these conditions, as my first comment tried to show. At least I’m not necessarily arguing about the existence of moral standards. I’m arguing that, given the way in which humans behave, people have trouble divining moral standards, therefore choices aren’t undiluted, therefore they can’t be held to an undiluted standard, therefore they can’t be judged and condemned by an objective force. Also, it begs a further question: would these people never have believed? Are there a series of events that would lead to belief, and if so, how much is God responsible for setting them in motion? Given how much people are effected by circumstance, it seems improbable to me that a world in which God’s justice comes into play would lead to such questions as these.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Jacob, you wrote in a comment that makes me wonder why I thought my blog post was a long one 😉 ,

    I see no reason why one should attempt to blunt God’s actions, as you do with your first list, since he seemed to have no problem wiping out most of the inhabitants of the earth or firstborn children. Either it was good to do or it wasn’t.

    Either it was good or it wasn’t. Yes. And if it was good, there are reasons it was good, or if it was not good, there are reasons it was not good. Similar reasons apply to both circumstances. But your sarcastic statement here indicates to me the likelihood that you have not considered reasoning to be relevant to the situation.

    I think it speaks volumes that one’s sense of justice can actually be offended by the actions of this supreme being.

    I do too. It speaks volumes either about the supreme being, or about the person who is so offended. Which one?

    Even an otherwise holy person by the Christian definition can find God’s actions appalling

    By the Christian definition, holiness has not much at all to do with acting morally (see Galatians 5, for example) and much to do with accepting God’s call to follow him. The “otherwise holy person” is a good description of a Pharisee, the type of person who was indeed appalled by Jesus Christ, and who arranged for his being killed on the cross.

    See, I’m finding a lot here to agree about with you here. It was good to do or it wasn’t, it does speak volumes that one can be offended by God’s actions, and an “otherwise holy person” can be appalled by God.

    Your riff on a “right mind” has too little relevance to the post for me to concern myself with it. And when you wander off into wondering why God needs people at all, or why there are children, you reveal that you have studied the Bible too little, and thought too little about it, to provide any meaningful critique.

    I thank you for your last sentence in that comment, though: I went back to the original post and added references to a couple of Psalms.

    On your next comment:

    the main assumption in your comment is that these people make a sober choice to deny God

    That’s a deep underlying assumption that requires a lot of background work in free will, God’s sovereignty, election, predestination, and so on. I don’t think you covered it adequately, and I don’t feel a need to dive into it myself here.

  5. Post
    Author
  6. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    There’s a danger here. If we say that God will make right in the next life injustices done in this life, we might find ourselves less likely to defend the rights of those alive now. I think here of the slaughter of the Cathars at Beziers. A commander asked a monk what should be done with the good Catholics among the heretics within the city. The reply was this: “Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet.” (Kill them all. God will sort them out.) This seems like a moral absurdity, but on your account it might be the plain truth. God will sort them out. God will make good the injustice. Thus it would seem that you should find wisdom in the Monk’s words.

    It would seem that as a consequence of your view, we today might become more callous to injustice. Injustice in this life becomes more tolerable, you say, if that injustice will be corrected in the next. I for one would insist upon the infinite value, infinite dignity of all human beings, and would not agree that injustice against them now becomes any more permissible just because that injustice will be addressed at some future time. Justice forestalled is injustice.

  7. ordinary seeker

    What’s that expression? Something about when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras? It seems to me you going out of your way to justify the genocide in the OT, when a much simpler and straightforward answer is available.

  8. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Franklin,

    I recognize that danger.

    As I have emphasized repeatedly, though, it’s crucial to bear in mind the uniqueness of this situation. God was doing two things at once: he was carrying out justice on wicked nations, and he was building and planting a nation to be set apart unto himself. He’s not doing that now. These commands are not normative now.

    What remains normative, and not from these incidents primarily but from many other OT and NT passages, is to do justice the best we can, recognizing that it will be imperfect. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is an earth-bound statement. A longer view would be, “Justice on earth is an essential yet flawed picture of justice eternally.” In the eternal picture, justice is not denied. On earth it is, but do you really think God is unable to accomplish justice in the end?

    You are worried about people taking this teaching as an opportunity to do wrong. Surely you know, however, that any doctrine of Scripture taken out of context can lead to to distorted practice. Take grace and law, for example. They need each other. Grace without the boundaries set by the law leads to antinomianism or license. So do we jettison grace? Law without grace produces Pharisaism (rigidity and hypocrisy.) Do we therefore stop teaching God’s moral instructions? Obviously not, to both.*

    The view that God can set right in the future that which is done wrong now can lead to the errors you spoke of, but only if one ignores most of the other ethical teachings of Scripture. As with grace and law, we don’t throw one teaching overboard just because it can be perverted if applied out of context. We teach and practice the whole counsel of God instead.

    *I’ve written more on this relationship between grace and law here.

  9. Jacob

    I know sarcasm is almost impossible to figure out on the internet, but I was saying that with a straight face. I was merely trying to say that I find little reason to explain away certain passages because there are others in which God spares no expenses. I don’t know why, however, you would dismiss my intentions when I offered a substantive reply.

    Second, the Bible itself makes a sharp distinction between God’s people and all of the immorality around them, suggesting that one cannot be good without God. Perhaps back then society did seem more violent and “unjust”. But it is possible to divorce “goodness” from godliness. The Pharisees themselves were dead in their hearts, following rules piously with no mind to intention. It’s the reason why they were so willng to condemn – they were more interested in judgment than justice. The whole point is that they appeared to be holy but really weren’t, so they weren’t moral at all. If anything, they hated Jesus because he didn’t care for their strict set of rules. They couldn’t get him on the fallacy of false dilemmas. He saw beyond all of it.

    That, however, is not the same as someone who is virtuous, humble, and caring. It’s possible to have two people who are similar – one who believes in the Christian God and one who doesn’t. However, this seems to me like a proximity issue. If all goodness eminates with God, then proximity to God equates to goodness. But if one can be virtuous in all other aspects and yet feel in his heart that this is wrong (as it is with many aspects of morality), then I question how intuitive it really is.

    This reminds me of the story of a person who was too willing to forgive: Abraham. Of course, his story with Sodom implies greatly that God does merely destroy the wicked. The Bible tends to have two kinds of people: those who can be saved and those who are just too wicked. Paul himself seems to say that those who aren’t saved are simply being willfully ignorant, taking the culpability out of God’s hands and placing it in the hands of the people. Therefore, if someone is destroyed by a virtuous God, then it’s their faults. But my point has been to maintain that reality is so much more complex than that. Knowledge isn’t intuitive. It’s relative.

    This has perfect relevance, and you’re giving up a big point if you refuse to acknowledge it. If people are deluded by mere circumstance beyond their control, then how can a perfectly just being hold that against them? First off, this system makes no sense to begin with. If God has standards, then something like circumstance shouldn’t persuade belief. But it leads to another question: what is God’s aim here? Yes, the Gibeonites and others were spared. But what measure of unbelief requires action? How much willful deceit is required? Could they have been rehabilitated? Could they have been rehabilitated outside of their usual circumstances? I find it hard to believe, for instance, that Noah was the only person at the time who ever could have possibly been good. I would further argue that most people today, whether Christians or Muslims, would accept any other culture and its moral system if they were born into it. People don’t change; circumstances do. After all, the mind that cannot be expanded by opposing values is often limited. A Christian in one circumstance might not be a Christian in another. If true, then should God rehabilitate them when possible? If not true, then why proselytize at all? Aren’t you trying to effect minds? What happens when you convert someone in one instance but aren’t there in another? You can argue that God always does what’s right to the willing mind, but that seems silly, as willing minds often accept other beliefs, and a willing mind is often a component of circumstance itself. Wouldn’t things like belief and morality, then, no longer be transcendental?

    I know I’m veering a little off course by discussing what constitutes a person’s beliefs and actions, but the genocide question is a component of a much larger issue: can God truly expect anything from us? Say there are two circumstances: being in a culture that partakes in sacrifices will produce people much more likely to partake in sacrifices, but put them in a godly culture and they’re more likely to accept godly laws. Could God totally blame them and hold them accountable, or is it necessary to understand that and try to work for that different outcome? On the other hand, if we truly did have souls that were of no material consequence, then we could soberly accept or deny God and chose a path in regard to morality apart from the circumstances. This does not seem to be true, however, and I think that such a thing should be true if there’s a God who expects belief.

    Of course, the genocide question isn’t only about profligacy of societies either. You’re framing the genocide issue with wicknedness on a large scale. On an individual level God is quite harsh and punishes for single lapses – often punishing others based on degrees of separation from the original perpetrator. So yes, I think that the circumstance question matters quite a bit. If the punishment is quite exacting, then people need to soberly have all of the knowledge of belief and consequences. But I say that people are more likely to go along with the crowd, accept beliefs without preconditions, and be biased toward the beliefs they’re surrounded by.

    And if I’m mistaken on Christianity, then why don’t you correct me? One, I did give a reason why God might need people. However, I said that God didn’t need people for war. Such a solution solves Craig’s problem, limits violence done in God’s name, and proves his immense power. Second, the child issue is mostly one of logic. Give me one reason why this dilemma (the justice done to sin vs. the “innocence” of a child) should even be necessary and what the proper application of Biblical principle is to this problem.

    Lastly, the Psalm verses seem to be vague. Frankly, I would have faith in God working justice on earth. This just sounds like a rationalization isn’t even necessary in the first place. If God can’t do justice on earth, then why should I assume that God does justice in the afterlife? Furthermore, it’s arbitrary. If children are innocent but adults aren’t, then what you define as justice is merely the chance of circumstance of when they happen to die. Or can God partition souls based on what they’re going to do before it happens? Beyond the obvious issues, you run into the problems I noted before about a life of circumstances often determining actions and beliefs.

  10. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Jacob, please accept my apologies for misreading you about the sarcasm.

    You raise some interesting questions here. They have answers, but a well-thought-through response would run long, and I’m coming up fast on deadlines for three other projects, so I’m going to beg off from answering you here. I hope you’ll understand.

  11. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    Quick, sketchy replies to your points:

    1. You say that God’s desire to create a people “set aside” renders the situation unique. No doubt. But it might be that there are other relevantly similar situations that, though each unique in its way too, might render gross (if temporary) injustice justified in just the same way. Think again of the Cathars. The Church at the time thought suppression of heresy of first importance, and perhaps they were (from the point of view of the Church) right. The issue concerned the very existence of a doctrinally pure Church (a goal that I expect you would think of first importance). I see no prima facie reason why this couldn’t rise to the level of importance of that possessed by the establishment of a people set apart. And even if our judgment about this heresy were that it did not require such gross injustice, perhaps there are others that will.

    That an act was once morally justified logically entails, it seems to me, that others like it might be in the future too. There are no “one-off” moral principles. The morality of an act depends upon the features of the situation in which it takes place; repeat those features, and the act again becomes permissible.

    2. Justice delayed is injustice. A man is unjustly imprisoned, and after 20 years is exonerated. Though justice is finally done, it does not erase the prior injustice. The man quite rightly might demand punishment of, or renumernation from, those responsible. Now, perhaps God does make things right. (We of course have to place all this within a doctrine of Hell. For many who die unjustly, nothing will ever be made right.) But this does not erase the injustice. It was, and ever remains, an injustice.

    I suspect you will agree with this, but argue that there was a greater good that God wished to achieve, a good that could have been achieved in no way that involved any less injustice. Perhaps. But I will say again, once we begin to rely upon such a principle as this – do that which is necessary to bring about a very great good, even if it involves great injustice – we might just find ourselves confronted with a situation where we ourselves will condone or even carry out such a gross injustice as genocide.

  12. A. Cooper

    I have a lot of trouble with your argument that, to put it more bluntly than you do, “Amalek deserved it”.

    In most cases that we’d all agree constitute genocide, the genocideers propagate all sorts of lurid tales of the misdeeds of the victims. They eat children, they are sexually immoral, etc. If the genocide is successful, history tends to reflect this view–reading Roman histories, one finds the Etruscans portrayed in a much more negative light than any archaeological findings support. The fact that the Bible goes into the details of the alleged atrocities and barbarisms of the victims supports, rather than serves to refute, the accusation of genocide. It’s exactly what a genocideer *would* say.

    If we treat the Bible as God’s word, and God is on trial for genocide, then we cannot treat the Bible as trustworthy on this matter! We would not accept the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a defence at Nuremberg. The only way that such a defence can succeed is if there is independent evidence presented to the crimes of Amalek. And for all the archaeology done in Israel to date, no such evidence has been turned up.

  13. Brian L

    I fail to see any problem here for the Christian. If a Christian believes, as some do, that each person is worthy of eternal condemnation and suffering in hell, why do these find it problematic or even surprising that the same God should order genocide? If it is good for children to suffer eternally in hell for the sins of their ancestor, why suppose that genocide is not good? If we have accepted the doctrine of original sin, we ought to mistrust all of our ordinary convictions about right and wrong.

    Whatever God does is good. If God orders the slow and agonizing torture and mutilation of young children, why should this surprise you, Tom? After all, you believe that children deserve far worse, don’t you?

    Christians just need to be consistent–and to truly believe their own radical doctrines.

  14. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Brian,

    We do believe our doctrines. We do believe that whatever God does is good.

    We do not believe children must suffer in hell for the sins of their ancestor; rather, we believe that up to the age of accountability (at whatever point they became mentally and morally aware enough to be accountable for their own actions), they receive God’s grace and have eternal life with him. After that, God’s grace continues to be available, depending on how each of us responds to Christ.

    I have no clue where you got this business from about God ordering “the slow and agonizing torture and mutilation of young children.” It’s not in the Bible. It’s not a doctrine based on original sin. It’s just sick. It sounds like some anti-Christian’s distortion of the truth, based either on hearsay or on intentional twisting of the facts.

    Now, you are correct in saying the doctrine of sin (original or otherwise) teaches that we all deserve eternal separation from God, in hell. But were you really expecting a Christian to explain God’s actions without making reference to the a broader picture of God’s character and his ways? To explain God’s actions in such a one-dimensional way as you have suggested, even if it were true as far as it went, would be to distort reality badly.

    It would be like saying millions of people fly in airplanes every year just because of Bernoulli’s principle. Sure, Bernoulli’s principle is a necessary condition for airplane flight, but it doesn’t explain millions of people flying every year.

    Similarly, sin and its deathly wages (in briefest possible form: Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23) are necessary as part of our understanding of these OT events, but by themselves do not explain them.

    If you actually believe what you wrote, that sin and its wages fully explain the issue in question, then I recommend you re-read this series, and then go to The Core and learn more about Christianity.

    If on the other hand you are just baiting us here, then you’re perverting truth as badly as if you linked to Bernoulli’s Principle on Wikipedia and said, “see, that explains all those millions of people flying every year.” Not only that, but if you’re just baiting us here, then you know that you’re distorting reality.

    I could say the same thing about what you wrote about children being tortured.

    If you don’t know the full spectrum of who God is, I recommend you study and learn more of it, because what you’ve presented here is partly false, and the part that’s true is so incomplete it distorts the truth.

    If you do know the facts, then the perversions of truth you’re presenting here are intentional, which amounts to lying.

    I don’t know which position you’re operating from, and I’m willing to believe the best. But I’m pretty sure you know.

  15. Franklin Mason

    There’s a good question, an old question, implicit in Brian’s remark. It’s this: doesn’t the doctrine of total depravity (embraced by the theological heirs of Calvin) imply that those who die in infancy are condemned to hell for eternity?

    One sees the point of it. (I’ll speak as a reformed theologian for a moment.) We are all born with the taint of sin, and that taint makes our condemnation quite just. The condemnation of those who die in infancy would thus be just (just as would ours). Only those who are among God’s elect will be saved from this just condemnation, for by this election and by it alone is Christ’s merit imputed to those whom God would save.

    Thus the reformed theologian has a choice here: either say that all who die in infancy are among the elect, or deny this and conclude that some (quite justly) spend eternity in hell. I’ve poked around a bit, and the consensus among preachers and theologians in the reformed tradition is that the first is to be embraced. I do understand why they would accept the first – the second is religious barbarism. But one wonders if they have good reason to do so. After all, they hold that some are not among the elect; and they hold that none of the elect have, or could do, anything to deserve their salvation. I simply see no reason, other than a desire to avoid the appearance of absurdity, to insist that all who die in infancy are among the elect. I see no reason internal to reformed epistemology to insist on this. The supposition that all who die in infancy are among the elect is, I grant, perfectly consistent will the tenets of reformed epistemology; but the supposition that some are not is perfectly consistent with it too (as best as I can tell).

    Another final little point: if one assumes that all who die in infancy are saved though they have no merit of their own and indeed are born with the taint of sin, why not just go whole hog and say that all – no matter the age at which they die – are bound for heaven? The salvation of all infants who die would seem to make universal salvation more than a little plausible. (I don’t mean to make a point about Biblical exegesis here. I mean instead to make a point about the logical relation of certain theological theses.)

  16. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Franklin,

    The doctrine of total depravity does imply that every person would be condemned to hell except that (as I said to Brian) it’s not the whole story. We must never lose track of the grace of Christ and his work on the cross. Most Christians believe that children below the age of accountability are granted his grace, and are spared that eternal fate.

    Original sin is not just a reformed doctrine. Catholics, Baptists, and Arminians all hold to it in various versions. So I’m content to let your paragraph about the reformed theologian stand as is, or let someone else answer it; I’m not a reformed theologian.

    You asked,

    if one assumes that all who die in infancy are saved though they have no merit of their own and indeed are born with the taint of sin, why not just go whole hog and say that all – no matter the age at which they die – are bound for heaven?

    Because Scripture clearly says that’s not the case. There is no logical connection from (A) God grants grace to all infants, to (B) God probably grants grace to everyone else, too. God could just say, “I’m granting grace to all young children who have no capacity yet to accept or reject the grace I offer, and to all older persons who intentionally accept the grace I offer.” There’s nothing illogical or contradictory in him doing that.

  17. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    Ahh, I see. You’re not a pure Augustinian about this. He thought that we couldn’t even so much as accept the gift of grace without divine aid. Wasn’t this Calvin’s view too?

    There is an important stream of Christian theology (the stream that begins in Augustine and winds through Calvin) that denies our ability to accept the gift of grace. Total depravity is, on that view, as complete as this. I wonder what these folks would say about my little inference. It would seem that, if they say that all members of a certain class are saved (those who die in infancy), they don’t have any good reason to deny salvation to any.

    Brian’s point would, it seems to me, potentially apply to them. (Not to you, Tom, I grant.) Thus your reply, though perhaps sound, is not the Christian reply. Christian’s are divided on the relevant issues here.

    Tom, here’s a question for you. Accepting God’s grace is not, I suspect, tantamount to meriting that grace.And does rejecting it mean not deserving it? I suspect not. We never deserved it, and rejecting it does not tip the balance. Why not then give it to all? It’s given to some freely and without merit. Why not to all then? Isn’t the greatest possible giving of grace better than its being limited?

  18. Brian L

    Some great comments here. Tom says,

    We do not believe children must suffer in hell for the sins of their ancestor

    But this isn’t really the issue, is it? No one, as far as I can tell, is saying that children must suffer in hell for the sins of their ancestor. The idea, rather, is that many Christians believe that it is just for children to suffer eternally for the sins of their ancestor. And if one has accepted this, then why not suppose that it is just for God to order entire nations to be the victims of genocide? And if one has accepted that it is just to make a young child suffer for all of eternity in hell – that this is the punishment that a young child deserves – then is it so much more difficult to believe that a young child deserves what presumably amounts to lesser suffering? Now, since we’re talking about eternal suffering in hell, many sorts of suffering will count as lesser, including, arguably, torture and mutilation in this world. Jesus, at least, seemed to suppose it obvious that losing one’s soul in hell is worse than severe bodily mutilation, cf. Mt.5.

    Tom, perhaps understandably, wants to shift focus to the grace and mercy of God. He goes too far, however, when he writes, “[W]hat you’ve presented here is partly false, and the part that’s true is so incomplete it distorts the truth.” If infants are saved from their just punishment of eternal suffering from hell only through God’s grace and mercy, then this entails that infants really deserve eternal suffering in hell. And that’s the point of interest which all the facts of grace and mercy do not contravene. The point is to be relevant; it is not to “distort the truth”. By focusing on one aspect of Christian doctrine – that infants deserve eternal suffering in hell for the sins of their ancestor – this helps us to be less surprised at the genocidal tendencies of the Yahweh.

    I find Franklin Mason’s observations of reformed theology helpful. I am startled, however, that “the consensus among preachers and theologians in the reformed tradition” is to say that “all who die in infancy are among the elect.” I suppose this means that abortion and infanticide guarantees the “victim’s” election. Sounds like a great deal for the “victim”! In opposing abortion, we therefore aren’t really acting in the victim’s interest. Is Tom willing to embrace this conclusion?

  19. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Like other things you have written, Brian, your conclusion with respect to abortion and infanticide only follows if you pick and choose your premises which premises you want to pay attention to.

  20. Craig

    Brian,
    Your argument is a non sequitur and an irrelevant conclusion. Election has nothing to do with abortion and infanticide. Justification/sanctification would be more suitible when discussing election.

  21. Brian L

    @Tom Gilson

    “your conclusion…only follows if you pick and choose your premises which premises you want to pay attention to”

    Tom, can you enlighten us as to the other truths that would contravene the conclusions I suggest? Such truths would indeed be relevant – and wouldn’t simply shift our focus towards more comfortable features of Christian doctrine.

  22. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    A couple of days ago I told Jacob that this was not a good time for me to go wandering off on new trails. This question, Brian, is even farther from the starting direction of the post, and (this is not your fault) reminds me too much of a very unproductive previous discussion on this topic.

    I suggest you follow the links Charlie posted. The one most relevant other truth that I would mention very quickly is the command not to murder. Beyond that, I do not care to take part in further discussion on this topic.

  23. Brian L

    @Tom Gilson

    I can understand your wish to avoid discussing the uncomfortable implications (or probable implications) of your views for abortion and infanticide. You might take these comments about abortion to be a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the suggestion that God saves every infant from hell. Regarding the “Red Envelopes” discussion you linked to, it doesn’t look like you’ve successfully answered this point. If this is why you say it was a “very unproductive” discussion, it might be good to broaden your criteria for productivity.

    However, let’s return to the relevant point for this discussion. From Charlies’ second link:

    Like all other sons of Adam, infants are truly culpable because of race sin and might be justly punished for it.

    This is the crucial point. As I’ve noted,

    [M]any Christians believe that it is just for children to suffer eternally for the sins of their ancestor. And if one has accepted this, then why not suppose that it is just for God to order entire nations to be the victims of genocide?

    And previously:

    If we have accepted the doctrine of original sin, we ought to mistrust all of our ordinary convictions about right and wrong. Whatever God does is good. If God orders the slow and agonizing torture and mutilation of young children, why should this surprise you, Tom? After all, you believe that children deserve far worse, don’t you?

  24. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    @Brian:

    “The implications (or probable implications)” of the first line of your post to me just now are this: that you don’t take me at face value, and that you think I’m running from a discussion. That’s not what I do. Would I have introduced the topic of this blog series if that were the case?

    Your “and previously” last paragraph here repeats something that has been identified as false: the extreme mistreatment you say God ordered.

    Let me take you back to something else I wrote earlier.

    If you don’t know the full spectrum of who God is, I recommend you study and learn more of it, because what you’ve presented here is partly false, and the part that’s true is so incomplete it distorts the truth.

    If you do know the facts, then the perversions of truth you’re presenting here are intentional, which amounts to lying.

    I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt before. Now you know the facts on this and the perversion of truth you’re repeating here must be intentional. Which amounts to lying. And it also looks like intentional baiting (by loading up the discussion with an excess of emotionally-laden language, and goading a response). Neither of which is welcome here.

    Read the Discussion Policies (linked just above the comment box), recognize that you’re an invited guest here, and your invitation remains open even if you disagree with everything I say—but it doesn’t remain open to incivility, which includes lying and baiting.

  25. Jacob

    Regarding the election of children: I resort to some of my prior comments. Why create a system with two antithetical ideas? You can’t very well say that everybody is culpable and yet a segment of the populace receives a deferment from the consequences independent of a single action that they take. It partially undermines the entire system, as it requires knowledge of a condition that children simply don’t have, so why would God create anything that would blatantly defy this concept? If he’s omnipotent, then he didn’t have to. It lends more credence to the idea that we’re merely physical beings, not spiritual.

    Furthermore, three things: 1) salvation becomes random, as it’s contingent on pure circumstance, 2) choosing a strict cut-off point is potentially impossible (deferring to God here absolves you of reason), 3) and dying young is potentially better for a person. I don’t consider it necessarily to take the conversation all the way to infanticide, but Christians always talk about the importance of the eternal and transcendent, and once again it’s kind of silly that an all powerful God would create a system in which such a thing could actually be beneficial for a child, regardless of whether the death itself is right or wrong.

    And if one denies that God allows grace for all children but instead picks and chooses, then on what criteria?

  26. Charlie

    To Jacob:

    You can’t very well say that everybody is culpable and yet a segment of the populace receives a deferment from the consequences independent of a single action that they take.

    Nobody’s deferment is dependent upon their own actions; it is always a matter of God’s good grace, at any age.

    Furthermore, three things: 1) salvation becomes random, as it’s contingent on pure circumstance,

    There is no contingency. If the infants are saved it is because they are elect. They are not saved because they die before accountability.

    2) choosing a strict cut-off point is potentially impossible (deferring to God here absolves you of reason

    It is not only potentially impossible, it is completely impossible for man to choose a cut-off point. This is not relevant in the least as man has no authority to select a cut-off point and has no moral imperative based upon any so-called cut-off point. Man’s reason is not meant to plumb God’s depths.

    3) and dying young is potentially better for a person.

    If potentiality had anything to do with it then dying young could also be potentially worse for the person. But God is sovereign over all His Creation and potentialities have nothing to do with it. See the discussions Tom linked to previously.

    And if one denies that God allows grace for all children but instead picks and chooses, then on what criteria?

    You don’t have to discuss infant death to answer this question. God does not use any criteria that depend upon man. He has mercy upon whom He has mercy. He is not morally-obligated to save one member of our fallen species and there is nothing we can do, at any age, to gain such merit.

  27. Franklin Mason

    This has gotten a bit ugly, but let me say that parts of Brian’s 2:42 comment seem on the mark if aimed at a certain common and historically important strain of Christian theology. The doctrine of original in its strong forms does imply that all humanity – every single one of us – does deserve damnation. If Christ had not come (and justice did not demand it), all of us – every single one – would be hell-bound, and that would be just.

    Of course grace intervened, and the debate here has concerned the extent of that grace. Most that I’ve encountered seem to wish to say that it extends to all who die in infancy. But Brian’s point, I take it, is that the election of those who die infancy was not a matter of justice but of grace. Their damnation would not have contravened justice. I like Brian find this a strange notion of justice, one with potentially unwelcome consequences.

    Does it imply that infanticide or abortion are permissible? Likely not, but this point cannot be denied: on the theological view of salvation sketched above, those who die in he womb or soon after birth (perhaps years after birth – age of accountability rears its head here) have the best of all possible fates: salvation and so eternity in the presence of God. One can understand, then, why someone like Brian would ask the questions he does.

    Now, I do very well understand that the Bible tells us not to murder. Infanticide is thus verboten to the Christian. The critic of Christianity, then, does not mean to suggest that Christian’s recognize, or admit, that infanticide is permissible. Instead the critic, I take it, means to ask a philosophical, or perhaps logical, question. He wants to know how it is that certain doctrine can hang together. As part of that answer, I suspect that the Christian must reject the ethical view that goes by the name of consequentialism. On this view, one ought to do that which, of all actions open to one, will have the best total consequences. Plug the claim that all who die in infancy are saved into consequentialism, and the conclusion is pretty clear.

    So, then, I take it that the Christian here would do well to sketch an ethical theory that does not have the undesired consequence. (I don’t mean that it’s required in this thread. But that’s the logical direction of the discussion.)

  28. Charlie

    Hi again, Franklin,
    Did you find those links to Reformed theologians helpful? I hope so.

    Does it imply that infanticide or abortion are permissible? Likely no

    Murder is not justified. Please read the discussion (or some of it – it was long and repetitive) Tom linked to on infanticide and abortion.

    Likely not, but this point cannot be denied: on the theological view of salvation sketched above, those who die in he womb or soon after birth (perhaps years after birth – age of accountability rears its head here) have the best of all possible fates:

    It can be denied. The Bible tells us that we stand before God and receive rewards for what we have done in this life. We are given to be faithful in small things that we might be proven capable to be faithful in great things later. We store up treasures. Only God knows what is the best of all possible fates and His plans will not be thwarted.

    Plug the claim that all who die in infancy are saved into consequentialism, and the conclusion is pretty clear.

    Not so. Only God knows all the consequences and man does not. God’s will is found in the Bible and this is why we don’t allow our imaginations, philosophies and preferences out-run our theology.

  29. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I said I wasn’t going to get into this discussion, but when the question comes without distortions or baiting, as it has just now from Franklin, I’m a lot more inclined to take it up. I also got one of my other projects out the door yesterday, which helps.

    One issue with Brian’s reductio (and ct’s, in an earlier discussion) is that if one is going to use that form of argument, one should not stop halfway down the reduction trail.

    Brian said that the doctrines of grace, election etc. lead to a conclusion I’ll label (A). “if a fetus/embryo/infant is assured of going to heaven, why is abortion wrong? Aren’t we doing the child a favor?” What Brian is really saying there, though, is (B): “If we’re quite confident a person is going to go to heaven, why is killing him or her wrong? Aren’t we doing him or her a favor?”

    Supposedly, then, a Christian who believes in grace and redemption should consider it just fine to kill any person he or she is confident will go to heaven. Billy Graham or Rick Warren, to name a couple of well-known Christians. Your pastor or priest. Anyone who is genuinely following Christ.

    What if the person only seems to be following Christ, but isn’t actually destined for heaven? Well, then the killing would have been a mistake. But if they really were destined for heaven, then it would be a good thing to do. The only reason it’s not good to kill Christians is because you might misidentify some of them.

    Is this looking foolish yet? It certainly should be. It’s absurd.

    (A) was intended to be a reductio ad absurdum, but (A) itself is subject to reduction to absurdity. What (B) shows is that (A) is an absurd and foolish statement, and obviously a false conclusion to draw from Christian doctrines of election, grace, etc. The answer to (A) is apparent from the obvious error of the more general form of it, which is (B).

    Franklin rightly pointed out that God said “do not murder.” God didn’t make an exception in the case of persons who are going to heaven, and he also made no exception for very young persons. Or maybe he did: he repeatedly says he is on the side of the the helpless innocent. So there is a sort of exception: those who kill the helpless innocent are liable to greater judgment from God.

  30. SteveK

    I wonder if Brian will also endorse the secular version of his argument….“All people eventually die, and all people suffer in life to some degree so why is it wrong to kill them now (or at least highly medicate them) and thus save them from experiencing that suffering? Aren’t we doing them a favor by reducing their suffering?”

  31. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    All that you say seems true to me, but I still feel unsatisfied. Your A and B are absurd, surely, and the inference that leads to them is faulty. But I’m not clear yet why they are faulty (at least on a certain sort of view of salvation).

    I’ll lay out the inference Brian seems to think might go through. I’ll say where I think you’ll locate the error. My request is this: explain to me why it is in error. (The argument concerns your A but could easily be modified to concern B.)

    1. Those who die before the age of accountability are heaven bound. (Dominant Christian view.)
    2. Thus those who die before the age of accountability, though they suffer a temporary harm, in fact gain a good of very great value. (Harmless inference from 1.)
    3. If one dies after the age of accountability, it’s possible that one will suffer eternal damnation. (Seems entailed by human freedom together with the doctrine we can freely reject God’s grace.)
    4. Thus when one dies before the age of accountability, a great good is secured and a potential great loss is avoided.
    (Harmless inference from 2 and 3.)
    5. One is morally permitted to do a thing to a person if the doing of it will secure a great good for that person and will prevent a great potential loss. (Presupposed general moral principle.)
    6. Thus one is morally permitted to kill those who have not yet reached the age of accountability. (From 5.)

    Now, I take it that the mistake lies in the moral principle articulated in 5. I have some weak intuitions about why it’s false, but as I said above I can’t myself give what seems to me a good explanation of its falsity. It looks as if it is actually right, at least in some cases. Doctors bring about temporary harms to secure long-term goods and prevent long-terms harms, for instance. (I don’t think I need to give examples. It’s pretty clear how to go about that.)

  32. Franklin Mason

    Charlie,

    Points taken. In my question for Tom, I modified my claim about heaven. It need not be the greatest of all possible goods. It is, though, a very great good (greater, I would assume, that any good available to us in this world).

    You’re right as well about the total consequence set of, say, infanticide. But we do know the consequence for the child killed (eternity in heaven), and thus in my question for Tom I modified the argument so makes the permissibility of what we do to a person depend upon the consequences for that person. I should say as well that, though in general we don’t know the total consequences of any instance of infanticide, it seems quite possible that the only non-negligible consequences accrue to the infant killed; but even if this were so, it would not, of course, justify infanticide. A pure consequentialism would, it seems to me, permit infanticide in such a case, and thus must be false (as I said).

  33. david ellis


    What Brian is really saying there, though, is (B): “If we’re quite confident a person is going to go to heaven, why is killing him or her wrong? Aren’t we doing him or her a favor?”

    I took him to mean that doing this inevitably saves people from going to hell who would have failed to be saved had they grown to adulthood—not that since they’re going to heaven why not let them get there early (I’m sure Brian can tell us which of us interprets him correctly). Your attempt to extend to the reductio to make his position look absurd is, as best I can tell, a misrepresentation of that position.

  34. david ellis


    I should say as well that, though in general we don’t know the total consequences of any instance of infanticide, it seems quite possible that the only non-negligible consequences accrue to the infant killed; but even if this were so, it would not, of course, justify infanticide. A pure consequentialism would, it seems to me, permit infanticide in such a case, and thus must be false (as I said).

    Why of course? Hell is a terrible thing. Lets perform a hypothetical thought experiment:

    Suppose you and another individual (who was the infant in the crib to the right of you on the day you were born) have died. You went to heaven and the other man went to hell. You’re in heaven and Jesus tells you that he’s going to give you a choice. You can go back in time and give both your infant self and the infant self of the man who went to hell an injection that will painlessly kill both of you (but you have to do both if you are going to do it at all).

    Do you do it?

    It seems pretty much a no brainer to me. I’d gladly sacrifice my time on earth to save someone from hell.

  35. Tony Hoffman

    It strikes me that this discussion is largely doomed because one can always retreat to the premise that “God is inherently absolute good” and from there contrive any rationalization for any action. Like the logical problem of evil, so long as there is a possible explanation then there is no problem.

    I think a more interesting question is what should be God’s obligation to explain to us what appear to be clear violations of what we apprehend to be morality. And what are the obligations of the religious to test and confirm that a religiously instructed, morally repugnant act is indeed the good thing to do? How do we know that an explanation for God’s morally repugnant instructions is indeed the correct explanation? And doesn’t only having possible (not probable) explanations leave one in the uncomfortable position (at least here) of being a fideist regarding God’s goodness and his instructions? (In other words, given the wide number of explanations for the genocide in question, how does one rationally justify one’s explanation so that it carries sufficient probative weight? I would submit that contriving explanations that only provide possible solutions is not equivalent to providing a rational explanation. But maybe that’s just me.)

  36. Tony Hoffman

    True story. I just submitted my previous comment and the security word was “smote.”

  37. Charlie

    Hi Franklin,
    Thank you fro your thoughtful comment.
    Unfortunately, I am at a loss to gather what it is you are arguing here now.
    But, on your points, please consider these:
    1) God is God, i.e., good, just, sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, etc.
    a) We are not God.
    2) It is, though, a very great good (greater, I would assume, that any good available to us in this world).
    Yes, Heaven is our home.
    3) But we do know the consequence for the child killed (eternity in heaven)
    Are we now arguing about an hypothetical here? we do not know the consequences. When the Bible does not give us the answer we do not presume to know. We have an opinion, a hope, and a best inference. See point 1a.
    4) I should say as well that, though in general we don’t know the total consequences of any instance of infanticide, it seems quite possible that the only non-negligible consequences accrue to the infant killed;.
    I can’t quite parse this, but let me repeat that it is not merely that we don’t know the “total” consequences but we don’t know the consequences at all. We do know the injunction.
    5) permissibility of what we do to a person depend upon the consequences for that person
    You can’t assess permissibility based upon consequences which you do not know.
    6) but even if this were so, it would not, of course, justify infanticide. A pure consequentialism would, it seems to me, permit infanticide in such a case, and thus must be false
    See above on consequences.
    7) but even if this were so, it would not, of course, justify infanticide. A pure consequentialism would, it seems to me, permit infanticide in such a case, and thus must be false
    So forgive me, but what is your point?

    Franklin, this is obviously a request which you are not obligated to answer, but given the variety of your challenges again on this thread, could you tell me:
    1) what you are disputing and
    2) what you are arguing for?

    Thanks.

    Finally, if the consequences were as you say then an all-good, all-just, omniscient, omnipotent God would have populated Heaven directly with created souls, do you not agree? And, since He didn’t, can we not agree that your position does not represent what is best? And if it is not best overall how can it be best for any one of those souls?
    Will the Judge of all the Earth not do what is right?

  38. Charlie

    Hi Tony,
    Given your oft-repeated sensibilities, would you mind not insulting us by calling our answers “retreats”, and “contrived rationalizations”, please?

  39. Tony Hoffman

    Charlie,

    If you can show me where I accused you (and others) of making retreats and contrived rationalizations in my last post I am all ears.

    A thought experiment occurred to me as well. What if Jesus had been a man at the time of the Amalek genocide? What would have been the correct thing for him, as a Jew, to have done?

  40. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tony,

    Your question is covered pretty well by Alvin Plantinga in this debate with Richard Gale. I recommend it to you.

    He speaks of it in these terms: Given that we do not fully understand what the purpose or value of a certain evil (or evil in general) may be, what can we infer from that?

  41. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I second Charlie’s request to you, by the way. You asked for evidence that you had used those terms. It’s not too hard to find. See your last post:

    It strikes me that this discussion is largely doomed because one can always retreat to the premise that “God is inherently absolute good” and from there contrive any rationalization for any action. Like the logical problem of evil, so long as there is a possible explanation then there is no problem.

  42. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    As to your thought experiment, the right thing for Jesus to do then would have been to obey God. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

    At the end of the age, Jesus will execute judgment on more people yet. Many more. Sometimes it is the right time to do that. Sometimes it’s the right time to teach and demonstrate grace. To everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3).

  43. Charlie

    Hi Tony,
    Rather than get defensive just apply your measure to yourself as you do others.

  44. Franklin Mason

    Charlie,

    Sorry that I wasn’t clear about my point. What I wish to consider is a certain sort of view of salvation – one that assumes that we all come into the world in a state that would render our condemnation just – in light of disputes about those who die before the age of accountability. I wondered if there might be a good objection to that view of salvation there abouts. (And I do have an axe to grind here. I find that view of salvation morally repulsive. I hope no one takes that as an insult, but it is how I find that view.)

    As for whether we know that an infant who dies is heaven-bound, I grant your point that perhaps we do not know (at least we do not on a certain sort of theology). But I wished to give my interlocutor the benefit of the doubt here. It seems to me (as strongly and as certainly as anything seems to me) that it a moral absurdity of the highest order to assume that infants who die go to hell; thus it seems to me that, if one builds a theology on which this does happen, that theology stands refuted. Let me put the point this way. Either our view of the fate of those who die in infancy is that some go to hell or we hold that all are heaven-bound. The former is morally absurd, so let us consider the second case and see whether it can be made to hang together with the rest of our theological commitments. That’s what I’ve been up to all along.

  45. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    This…

    You asked for evidence that you had used those terms. It’s not too hard to find. See your last post:

    … is not true (I didn’t “ask for evidence that I had used those term.”) I wrote this:

    If you can show me where I accused you (and others) of making retreats and contrived rationalizations in my last post I am all ears.

    You both are, I think, jumping to conclusions. I truly meant that your position allows this, not that you had done such.

    For one who has often pointed me back to his prior posts, I would appreciate your applying the same level of attention that you expect from others to the words they write as well.

    Thanks for the link; I already download it, and I’ll give it a lesson on my next work commute. (I’ve never heard Plantinga speak, for one, and I’m curious what he sounds like.)

  46. Charlie

    Thanks for your clarification, Franklin.
    If you are trying to assess the theology of original sin I think it best if you work within the worldview that accepts that theology.
    As such, I don’t why you are interjecting concepts from “consequentialism”, which even you say fails as an ethical position, when it is incompatible with the view you are trying to defeat.
    You say you are giving the interlocutor the benefit of the doubt. First, does he claim it to be a known fact that the infant goes to Heaven. Second, does he recognize the validity of the failed ethic that you are assailing him with? I, for one and for instance, do not see any compatibility between consequentialism and a doctrine of God.

    It seems to me (as strongly and as certainly as anything seems to me) that it a moral absurdity of the highest order to assume that infants who die go to hell; thus it seems to me that, if one builds a theology on which this does happen, that theology stands refuted.

    Then why are you assailing with a failed philosophy the theologies which infer that they do not?

    The former is morally absurd

    Since you don’t know all the facts I would think you could back off of these types of absolutist claims.

    so let us consider the second case and see whether it can be made to hang together with the rest of our theological commitments. That’s what I’ve been up to all along.

    It looks rather to me that you are denying theological commitments and introducing contradictions to those commitments in your efforts to undermine them.

  47. Charlie

    Hi Tony,

    You both are, I think, jumping to conclusions. I truly meant that your position allows this, not that you had done such.

    If you wish to continue in this vein rather than just reassess your statement could you show us, then, explanations from Tom’s series of posts on this subject which you found to be rational explanations on this subject and not merely “retreats” and “contriv[ed] rationalizations … [or] …contriv[ed] explanations that only provide possible solutions” such that I have misread you?
    Which ones do not fall to your warnings? If they exist why are you not acknowledging them and instead, picking at low-hanging fruit which is, at best then, irrelevant?

  48. Franklin Mason

    Charlie,

    I do accept the doctrine of original sin, but I suspect that I don’t understand it as do you. It does not imply, I would say, that an eternity in hell would be just. We might not mean the same thing by “sin”. But perhaps that’s a matter for another time.

    And I most certainly will not back off the claim that the supposition that some infants are hell-bound is morally absurd. What hope do we have at getting at the truth if we show the least willingness of accept the possibility of such a thing?

    And about consequentialism: I believe that you misunderstood my intent (understandable given the terseness of it). I did not mean to saddle the theist with it. Instead it was part of a request to explain why it would be impermissible to kill an infant even if that would send them straight to heaven. Consequentialism doesn’t explain it, I said. But then I asked what would. What I’m after is at least the outlines of a moral theory on which the fact that infants who die are heaven-bound does not imply that we may kill them.

  49. Charlie

    Hi Franklin,

    What I’m after is at least the outlines of a moral theory on which the fact that infants who die are heaven-bound does not imply that we may kill them.

    How about the moral theory under which we are not permitted to commit murder?
    What, seriously, is wrong with this and how is it supposed to be inadequate?

    And I most certainly will not back off the claim that the supposition that some infants are hell-bound is morally absurd. What hope do we have at getting at the truth if we show the least willingness of accept the possibility of such a thing?

    Am I reading this statement correctly? Have you already determined that the only way that we can arrive at truth is to presuppose that no infant will ever go the Hell? If so, you have completely given it to yourself already to know that fact of reality.
    But again, then, your argument would seem to be one against a theology that says infants are going to Hell. But for some reason you mounted your attack, and your consequentialist/infanticide attack, against a theology that said they are not going to Hell.
    I certainly allow that I am not completely getting your points, but behind your explications I am no longer seeing any point behind your having offered them.

  50. Charlie

    Let’s see how close we are on original sin.
    I believe it states that we are of a species whose nature is not aligned to doing the will of God. Each of us, originally has no faith in God as our Redeemer.
    We are each born without our original righteousness and out of communion with God.
    If the Bible didn’t teach this explicitly as God’s Revelation we would still be compelled to deduce it rationally.

    Do we not agree here?

  51. david ellis

    Given the definition above, how is the claim that all humans (even infants!) deserve hell due to original sin different from breeding a dog to be vicious and then condemning it rather than the breeder for its nature.

    Even if we are to accept this idea of original sin it can be no one but God who is responsible for us having such a nature (since, surely, if God is omnipotent he is not obligated to have future humans inherit Adam’s sinful nature). He could as easily have had us all born with a nature that positively delights in virtue and goodness.

  52. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    @david ellis:

    Charlie’s first statement needs to be revised: We are a species whose will by nature is aligned against doing the will of God. In this we differ from dogs, which do not make choices against God.

    Protestants generally align with a previously-discussed theory called Federal Headship, which explains the matter further. (Catholics may also subscribe to this, I don’t know.)

    It is not true that it is no one but God who is responsible. Humans also share responsibility. The first humans rebelled against God, and every single one born since then (except Christ) have ratified that decision by also rebelling against God.

    Yes, by his omnipotence he could have prevented that, but he chose not to do so for his own morally sufficient reasons. You dispute that, I know, and we’ve had that discussion. You would surely agree with this, though: If God has morally sufficient reasons not to do as you said, then (a) he is responsible for his decision, while humans are responsible for theirs, and (b) God’s decision was a good one.

    So though we might agree that “he could as easily have had us all born with a nature that positively delights in virtue and goodness,” we don’t agree that he is blameworthy for that.

    Now, if you want to get into why Christians support the if portion of that statement, please recall that we’ve had that conversation already. That’s why I’m not going into details into it now.

  53. david ellis


    It is not true that it is no one but God who is responsible. Humans also share responsibility. The first humans rebelled against God, and every single one born since then (except Christ) have ratified that decision by also rebelling against God.

    Humans bear responsibility for their actions and choices. No argument there.

    But a human doesn’t bear responsibility for having been born with a particular nature (whatever it may be). That one wasn’t up to them and was entirely up to God. All blame for that fact lies squarely on him.

    Bringing in the additional fact that all humans have given in to the promptings of that nature doesn’t change this one iota.

    As to your playing the “divine mystery” card, I wasn’t disputing that you believe he has a good reason for giving us such a nature. I was building an argument against the idea that infants deserve hell because of original sin.

  54. Franklin Mason

    Charlie,

    I agree that the theology that’s in my sights (one of a Protestant, Reformed variety) does as a matter of fact say that infants do not go to hell. But I want to know whether his is an ad hoc addition to that theology that’s just tacked on because its adherent can’t stomach the contrary, or whether it follows naturally from some more fundamental principle within that theology. The latter possibility is what I meant to speak of when I asked for a moral theory that would explain the impermissibility of infanticide. (And the claim that murder is wrong is not itself a moral theory. It’s a claim about a concrete class of act; it does not have the generality or comprehensiveness to count as a theory). What I suspected was that it was an ad hoc addition, and that its negation (the claim that some infants are hell-bound) is perfectly consistent with the remainder of the theology in which it’s imbedded. Now, I’ll grant you that I might be wrong about this – there might, for all I know, be a natural connection of ideas here and not an ad hoc supposition. But if I’m wrong, I don’t know why. It hasn’t been explained to me why, on the basic theological postulates of that strain of theology that I’ve made my focus, it would be wrong.

    That’s about the best that I can do. If that’s not clear, I suspect that I don’t really have a good point to make.

  55. Franklin Mason

    Charlie,

    About original sin: I agree with all of that you say. But I wonder if we would mean the same thing by, and draw the same inferences from, “without original righteousness”. Some (Calvin, for instance) hold that man can remain wholly mired in sin and yet have imputed to him Christ’s righteousness. On this view, sinners are saved while they are still completely degenerate. On another sort of view (Catholic in character, I think) salvation is not the mere imputation of a foreign righteousness that, as it were, is a white garment that renders the filth underneath invisible. It is, on the contrary, linked necessarily to regeneration of the soul.

    Which option you choose will, I think, determine how you understand “without original righteousness”. Choose the first and you will likely have a penal view of the loss of righteousness in the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin made the race subject to a penalty that could only be discharged by the sacrifice offered up by Christ. But choose the second and you’ll likely reject the penal view. There is no price, no penalty that has to be paid. Rather there is a damaged human nature that must be repaired, and when that repair has taken place, God and man will quite naturally come back into right relation. (Indeed, that damage being repaired and our coming back into right relation with God are one and the same event described differently.)

  56. Charlie

    Hi Franklin,
    Thanks again for your response and for furthering my understanding of your involvement here among your Christian brothers.
    But I want to know whether his is an ad hoc addition to that theology that’s just tacked on because its adherent can’t stomach the contrary, or whether it follows naturally from some more fundamental principle within that theology.
    The principle is based upon knowing the character of God through His revelation. One obvious place to check is with His fullest revelation in the Incarnation. What did Jesus say and do with regard to children? He welcomed them, touched them, healed them and blessed them and He told others to do so in His name. He did not, quite notably, tell them to go out and murder them to increase the Heavenly rolls. That increase was accomplished by sharing His Good News with adults and, upon their conversions, having their families and households baptised and saved.
    Upon those examples, and treating God’s Word as God’s Word, I would say we have a morality which tells us that infanticide is not to be a moral norm.

    It seems to me that Protestant/Reformed/Faith by Grace type of theology, among beliefs that accept original sin, is in perhaps the best position to argue for infant salvation. Perhaps alone it makes our salvation an act of God’s election and sovereign will, independent of our cooperation or any other acts of man.
    There is another very good point, made by Luther when arguing for infant baptism, that we do not know that God has not given the gift of faith to the infant. Since we do not have to assent to have faith, and do not have to accomplish any good work to do so, there is no reason to say that the gift is not present.

    On original sin:
    Do you know of any human being who has led a perfect life without sin of any kind and who deserves, by his own merit, salvation and can demand God’s forgiveness?
    Do you agree that man falls short of this kind of merit naturally?
    If no man is righteous enough to demand his way into paradise without God’s Grace how could it be the case that he could have as an infant?

    I see you are still against the doctrine of the atonement.
    If Jesus did not have to die to atone for our sins/Sin why did He?
    Why do you think He was the lamb slain from before Creation?
    Why would the Father steadfastly not allow the cup of His wrath to pass from the Son?

    On this view, sinners are saved while they are still completely degenerate.

    Absolutely! And thank God. While we were yet sinners He died for us. we do not earn His love but only return it and we do not earn our righteousness, we receive it. How could we ever do anything to save ourselves? What is the Gospel if not this?

    On another sort of view (Catholic in character, I think) salvation is not the mere imputation of a foreign righteousness that, as it were, is a white garment that renders the filth underneath invisible. It is, on the contrary, linked necessarily to regeneration of the soul.

    I know of no theology that talks about masking your sins. or salvation without regeneration. We receive our new, regenerated heart, the moment God grants us Faith by Grace and the work of sanctification is started the moment that we have been so justified. The putting on of the white robe follows, logically, the removal of the soiled garments – as we saw with Joshua before God in the book of Micah. The white robes come from Christ, after He takes away the filthy ones.

  57. SteveK

    How about the moral theory under which we are not permitted to commit murder?
    What, seriously, is wrong with this and how is it supposed to be inadequate?

    There’s nothing wrong with it. This is perfectly in alignment with Romans 6:1-4 (read before/after to grasp the context).

  58. Jacob

    Charlie –

    Are you speaking about some form of Calvanism, or is that just the usual “it’s by God’s grace we’re saved” thing? If the former, I usually bash the idea of inherited sin to begin with, but then it sounds even more absurd in this context: not only do you have no choice but to sin, but you then have to accept the consequences based on no thought or action of your own.

    Also, when you speak of murder in post #51, it seems like a rather empty term without a definition. How do you define murder? After all, this entire genocide question is answered by saying that the killing is just and righteous because it’s accomplishing Good (with a capitol G). His question was basically, “Is it really murder in this context if it accomplishes a certain facet of good?” You answer by saying, “Murder’s wrong.” You see the problem. If Goodness is the source of all morality, then that’s the metric by which we need to judge actions. Saying that murder is wrong doesn’t get us any closer to the essence of what murder is.

  59. Tony Hoffman

    Charlie,

    You have not addressed any of the points raised in my post, but have chosen to revisit what should be a distraction. You also have not shown how I insulted you, so I will let my subsequent defenses of my original comment here stand as uncontested.

    Tom, I am surprised that you wrote that the correct thing for Jesus to have done during the time of the annihilation of the Amaleks is to have obeyed God’s orders. (I would have assumed that you would have taken the position that the time and place of the Amalek annihilation were special, and that it would have been impossible for Jesus to have been in that place and time. I prefer the honesty of your answer, by the way.)

    Your answer is interesting to me in that I recently heard William Lane Craig say that Catholic Nazi guards at concentration camps acted contrary to their Christian morality. So it appears that the only thing separating the two atrocities in the Christian mind appears to be God’s sanction – annihilate Jews, gypsies, infirm, etc. = bad, annihilate Amaleks = good. This is troubling for me mostly because the ascertaining of God’s will appears to have a track record as erratic as subjective moralists are claimed to have, and from another level I’d say that it is philosophically impossible to know that the Christian God (as apologists define him) is good. (As in, God knows that he exists, but how does God know that he is good? And if God does not know that he is good, how can we?)

    Lastly, I have to say that if Jesus would have been correct in obeying God’s will to annihilate the Amaleks then Jesus seems to have rather quickly accepted the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma. (I apologize for bringing up the ED right now, but as I’m sure you are aware it’s almost impossible to discuss something like this and avoid it.)

  60. Charlie

    Hi Jacob,
    I would probably “bash” a conception of inherited sin like the one you present as well but what you describe doesn’t sound like some form of Calvinism.
    You certainly do have the choice to sin and you can think out your actions. The problem is that you choose, will, act and think in accordance with your nature. And that nature is opposed to God.

    Also, when you speak of murder in post #51, it seems like a rather empty term without a definition. How do you define murder?

    I’m sure Franklin has a sense of what the word means, but here:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/murder

    After all, this entire genocide question is answered by saying that the killing is just and righteous because it’s accomplishing Good (with a capitol G).

    I haven’t been following closely the so-called genocide question and everything that has been said on it.
    I’ll let those answering it respond to whether or not the defence was “it is just because it accomplished good”.
    Myself, I wouldn’t say the justice of the act is determined by whether or not it “accomplished good”.

    Saying that murder is wrong doesn’t get us any closer to the essence of what murder is.

    It’s not my intention to get to the essence of what murder is.
    As you can see at #28, my point in responding to your claims was to clarify some erroneous concepts you had posted on salvation, contingency and election.

  61. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Jacob, you wrote,

    I usually bash the idea of inherited sin to begin with, but then it sounds even more absurd in this context: not only do you have no choice but to sin, but you then have to accept the consequences based on no thought or action of your own.

    “Bash?” What a marvelous word for adding substance to a discussion! Anyway, I do note that you did not dwell there.

    You actually have to bear the consequences of what you have done, and that’s all. Original sin does not mean that you bear the sin of your ancestors. Your judgment before God is based on what you have done, and what you knew before you did it. If you have ever done anything that you knew was wrong, that’s the kind of thing that we are speaking of. See Romans 2 and Romans 3.

    As for infants or the unborn, they don’t have to bear those kinds of consequences.

    His question was basically, “Is it really murder in this context if it accomplishes a certain facet of good?” You answer by saying, “Murder’s wrong.”

    The difference in the case of the OT incidents (which may not have been genocide, see above) is one of executing justice. Murder is an unjust killing. The OT situations were a way of executing punishment for capital crimes.

    Tony, I’m surprised you’re surprised I would say that Jesus would obey the Father. He always did that. Your parenthetical “I would have assumed” was tongue-in-cheek, I presume; after all, I was just answering the hypothetical question you asked.

    So it appears that the only thing separating the two atrocities in the Christian mind appears to be God’s sanction – annihilate Jews, gypsies, infirm, etc. = bad, annihilate Amaleks = good.

    Not the only thing at all. The Amalekites were judged by God to be guilty of capital crimes also. The Jews were not guilty.

    As for the Euthyphro dilemma, there are three “horns.” We’re been through that already.

  62. Tony Hoffman

    Charlie,

    In this discussion, the Christian premise is that God is inherently, absolutely good. The question, and any answers, become uninteresting to me for the reasons mentioned earlier. Given that Tom’s position on the Euthyphro Dilemma prevents me from questioning the premise, I merely commented that this discussion’s end is inevitable – it’s just the details that need to be worked out. I don’t doubt that the details are interesting and valuable to the Christian, I just wanted to comment as to why I did not, in general, find this so compelling as a topic.

    With evolution as a premise, I have heard it said from your side that all Evolutionary Psychology amounts to “just so stories.” I can see that point, and I do not find it personally insulting for those who raise it. (My first impulse, in fact, is to examine my position on Evolutionary Psychology, and to try and form an argument that might correct the charge. Maybe the charge is true. I like the topic. ) My position is that with the premise of God as inherently, absolutely good, any explanation of the Amalek genocide can also, in fairness, be categorized by me as a “just so story”, or “ad hoc,” or whatever else term would give you less offense.

  63. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tony, you said,

    In this discussion, the Christian premise is that God is inherently, absolutely good. The question, and any answers, become uninteresting to me for the reasons mentioned earlier.

    As far as the “genocide” question goes, the point is to answer this charge:

    A. The Christian God is inherently, absolutely good. (Premise of Christianity)
    B. The Christian God ordered the events termed genocide in the OT. (Conclusion from statements in the Bible, interpreted in a certain way.)
    C. The evil of OT events termed genocides cannot be overcome by any accompanying good (Premise under in dispute)
    D. God ordered evil that cannot be overcome by any accompanying good (B and C)
    E. God is not inherently, absolutely good; A is contradicted.

    For purposes of this discussion, as I noted in the original post, the point is to address whether the conclusion (E) is a proper and necessary conclusion, which depends on (D), which depends on (B) and (C). None of those builds on (A); (A) is contained in the argument for the purpose of being tested, to see whether this belief of Christianity is contradicted by other beliefs of Christianity.

    The whole thing hinges on (C), whether there is a morally sufficient reason for (B), or whether the evil of those events is incapable of being overcome by any accompanying good.

    So the premise serves a proper role in the discussion. (It’s not part of a circular argument, for example.) Whether that’s of interest to you or not is up to you

  64. Charlie

    Tony,
    Given the care you exercise in analyzing the style of tenor of what is written by Christians on this blog and calling out as a biased hypocrites those who don’t see it as you do I don’t think it is on me to take less offence when you call our answers retreats, and contrived solutions which don’t provide rational explanation. Every one of those is an ad hominem and a negative moral judgment. Geese and ganders.
    But maybe that’s just me.

  65. david ellis

    Tom, you consistently make arguments of a consequentialist sort (X is morally acceptable because it led or will lead to a greater good).

    Personally, I’ve no major problem with this. Consequentialism, with a few caveats, seems pretty sensible to me. But I’ve also heard it condemned by christian posters several times over the course of discussion at this blog (though, for some reason, they never seem to object to you or other christians using it in your arguments.

    Are you, in fact, a consequentialist? If so, fine (though the christians here who disagree with you on it might want to address christian arguments that employ it). But if not then there’s an inconsistency in your approach.

  66. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    I’m not sure what you mean by your C. It could mean two things:

    C1: The evil of OT events termed genocides are such that no greater good resulted from them that outweighed that evil.
    C2: The evil of the OT events termed genocides are such that there are other things that could have been done that would have brought about the same good effects as those genocides but which would involve less total evil.

    I would guess that to refute C1 is not enough to exonerate God. We would have expected God to do that which (i) would bring about that good which he desired and (ii) involved the least total evil necessary to bring about that good. So then I think it should be C2 in the argument. And this, I think, raises the bar for the Christian apologist here. Not only does he need to show that some good came from those genocides that outweighed them; she also needs to show that there was no other, not-so-bad way in which to get those very same goods. That second task is the hard one.

  67. Charlie

    Hi Franklin,
    I think you’ve moved the burden of proof. If the so-called atrocity is used to demonstrate that God is not all good, and the Christian can demonstrate that there is, from our human point of view, reason to think that, on balance, the action was good, then why is it not your duty to show that the same good could have been accomplished in a way that demonstrates less evil to you?
    From our limited and fallen perspective even we can see that the event was a good, rather than an evil. How are to demonstrate that it this is unsatisfactory and that God could have gotten the balance even better?

    By the way, I’ve now been alerted to the existence of your blog. Aren’t all the slain saved by God anyway?

  68. Charlie

    In other words, Franklin, given your argument and reliance upon your own moral sense, when will you be satisfied?
    Is God good or not?
    Then why does He allow suffering at all? You must have an answer of some sort that you find satisfying.
    But why doesn’t He make the suffering just a little less, wouldn’t that better satisfy C2?
    But then why not just a little less than that? Surely He could, right?
    With your argument you never stop sliding.
    As I amplify it further I fear it will be taken as an insult, but examples abound … why did He let us Fall at all? Why did He kill Jesus? Couldn’t Judas have brought it about without his own suicide?

    Your probability argument quickly gives way to the failed logical argument from evil.

  69. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    @david ellis:

    There is consequentialism and there are consequences. There is God and there are the rest of us. I don’t see how I’m espousing consequentialism when I say that God may have morally adequate reasons for doing what he is doing. The reasons do not end in unconditioned consequences. The reasons end in how those consequences square with, match up to, God’s eternal character.

    I’m going to do some experimenting in the next few paragraphs. See if this make sense:

    Suppose there were a way to measure ethical pluses and minues. Say the unit was in praxies: a positive praxie is an ethical plus, and a negative one is an ethical minus. We don’t know how to do this measurement, but I think God could. (I’m not suggesting that ethics could reduce to a numerical system. This is at best analogically true, but I think it might be helpful, and as I said, I’m experimenting—a dangerous thing to do in public, but I’ll risk it.)

    God has the ability to perform the praxie calculus, and to determine what course of action is better based on the outcome. But how does he define praxies, and how does he score them? It would have to be on their conformity (or lack thereof) to his absolute definitions of justice, love, mercy, grace, truth, and other ethical virtues. These are not consequentially defined, they are based in his eternal character.

    We do this ourselves, without trying to put numbers on it. We hold to virtues of justice, mercy, and protection of the innocent. Our judicial system is built to maximize each one of those, and we see the accomplishment of justice, mercy, and protection as desirable results of the judicial process. Results are synonymous with consequences, are they not? But this is not a consequentialist theory, is it?

  70. Franklin Mason

    Heya Charlie,

    That’s a lot of questions. I couldn’t even pretend to answer them all here (not that I have good answers to them all).

    And I was never insulted by anything you said. Challenged, discomfited, instructed, yes, but never insulted.

    Two points though. (1) In my question for Tom, I made use of this principle: God is such that he brings about the greatest possible good in a way that involves the least possible evil. It does seem plausible to me, but I see the point of your challenge. (Peter van Inwagen, a first-rate philosopher who converted in adulthood made much the same point I now recall.) I’ll continue to think about it.

    (2) Much of what you ask would be answered by a fully worked-out theodicy. I don’t have it. But I do find one sort of theodicy most plausible. I mean the sort defended by John Hick. The world is a classroom, he says, and evil the problem on which we must work. Graduation is spiritual maturity, and progress is made when we respond to evil with love. The barest hint of a sketch, I know, but there it is. I attempt to do a bit better in various posts at The Philosophical Midwife.

  71. david ellis


    There is consequentialism and there are consequences. There is God and there are the rest of us. I don’t see how I’m espousing consequentialism when I say that God may have morally adequate reasons for doing what he is doing.

    One of the justifications you’ve used is that something God does is morally justified because it brings about a greater good.

    This is a straightforward claim of justification on the basis of consequences (that consequence being the bringing about of a greater good).

    The fact that the consequences are judged according to the standard of God’s perfect character doesn’t make this any less a consequentialist form of ethical reasoning. Quite the contrary. Its right in line with the ideal observer approach to consequentialist ethics:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism#The_ideal_observer

    Everything in your statements about God performing a calculus based on judgment according to his perfect character is just how consequentialists reason—you’re just using “God” where they would say “ideal observer”. You’re employing a variety of theistic consequentialism in many of your arguments—whether you like the term or not.

  72. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I’m having trouble seeing what the problem is with the way I stated it.

    Whether it should be titled consequentialism or not is of little consequence to me. Or rather, I think that any ethical theory is going to have to pay attention to consequences. My wife and I had somebody cut my daughter’s eyes—twice now, actually. It was either a cruel thing to do, or not a cruel thing, depending on the results we anticipated and intended. I don’t think that’s at all inconsistent with deontological or virtue ethics.

    Moreover, I took a virtue ethics approach in pointing toward the character of God. The deontological (duty-based) approach can only be applied to God in the sense that God will do that which is consistent with his own character, not because it’s his duty but because that’s who he is and what he does. So I can’t say I really know if there’s a deontological component to divine ethics. There may be a way to make it make sense, but I don’t know of one offhand.

    Attending to consequences: is that necessarily consequentionalism? I don’t think so. David says other Christians commenting here have decried consequentialism, which I acknowledge, so I’ll put my question to them: does that label apply to what I wrote, and if so, what is the problem with it? I’m certainly willing to learn from anyone who has something to explain to me on these matters.

  73. david ellis

    There isn’t any problem with it so far as I can tell. I’m somewhat puzzled by the disdain some christians have expressed for consequentialism. Sure, there can be an extreme and rather stupid variety of consequentialism that says that a serial killer did something morally commendable if the person he killed was, unknown to him, carrying a deadly contagion that would have killed millions had he not been killed. But I don’t think most consequentialists are saying anything like that (and any who are saying that are just obviously wrong). They’re simply saying that paying attention to the likely consequences of one’s actions is central to judging whether choosing to act that way is right or wrong.

    In that form it’s simply common sense.

    Consequentialism, in a sensible form, is not at odds with a virtue based ethics. It seems more two sides of the same coin to me. A person motivated by the virtue of compassion, for example, wants his actions to have certain consequences—ones that promote the well-being of others.

    I don’t think you can have a sound version of virtue ethics that disregards the consequences of action nor a meaningful form of consequentialism in which the consequences one wants to achieve aren’t consistent with virtuous motives.

  74. Charlie

    Hi Tom,
    This is the same problem I have with all argument by labeling.
    Franklin and I were discussing a very specific example of moral reasoning and, as it focused solely on the consequences, called it consequentialism. My primary criticism there, no doubt evident by the context and my arguments, was that when we are dealing with a real and finite observer, as opposed to the “ideal” observer we cannot know the consequences. Reasoning from unknown and unknowable consequences is invalid.
    Now whether or not this utilitarian form of consequentialism covers every version of consequentialism, or whether or not every morality has to attend in some way to final consequences, is irrelevant to the point we were discussing. The contradiction is only apparent, and even then, not very.

    I’m pretty sure Holopupenko has something to say on this.
    A moral act necessarily requires of it several things: a moral object, appropriateness to its circumstances, moral intent, and moral results.
    Here all of these need to be in order (Holopupenko can remind us of the actual list and technical terms) and have to be good for the act to be good. A system which focuses on only intent, or only ends, does not fully account for an ethical or moral judgment.
    In our question intending to send a baby to Heaven is not enough to make the act moral.
    Accidentally or even purposely sending the baby to Heaven by murder is not moral, either.
    The object itself – murder – is immoral and cannot be negated by consequences or intent.
    And, as the point to Franklin stated clearly, since man cannot fully assess the consequences, he cannot morally justify his actions based upon them anyway.

    I don’t think this argues in any way against your position.

  75. SteveK

    A system which focuses on only intent, or only ends, does not fully account for an ethical or moral judgment.

    Agreed. Morality must take in the full context. That is why Christianity does not approve of an evil means to justify a moral end. Again, Romans 6 comes to mind.

  76. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    I think another way of stating my problem with the argument as you’ve outlined it is that I don’t see how it can be disproven – the theist can always come up with a hypothetical situation where a greater good could be achieved through the act of some evil, thus vindicating some evil by your measure (“…overcome by any accompanying good.”). For instance, one can always suppose that “More people / souls / suffering would have come about had not God ordered the annihilation of the Amaleks.”

    You wrote in the original post, “I simply intend to show that it is rationally possible to hold to the goodness of God in the OT; that it is a belief that can be held without contradiction.” As I said earlier, showing logical possibility is, at least to skeptics like me, too slender a support to hold rational belief. By that logic alone it is rational for me to believe in a countless array of fantasy worlds.

    So I ask you, how can your argument be disproven?

  77. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tony, if my argument cannot be disproved, then apparently you think it succeeds! Why is that a bad thing for an argument?

    Hold that thought a moment while I address the answer that you already stated in your commment just now. You said that by this logic, it would be rational to believe in a countless array of fantasy worlds. In other words, you think it is the kind of argument that could be stretched to support belief in anything whatsoever. Your implication is that any argument that could do that must be flawed, there must be something wrong with it, because there certainly is something rational in believing anything you can imagine.

    To respond, I’ll quote from your post, which quoted what I was intending to do with this argument:

    You wrote in the original post, “I simply intend to show that it is rationally possible to hold to the goodness of God in the OT; that it is a belief that can be held without contradiction.”

    Note what I said I was going to show, and what I did not say I was going to show. I said I was going to show that one can hold, without contradiction, to a belief in the goodness of God.

    Previously in the original post I had said, “If we can show that the apparent contradictions can be resolved, then we can rationally continue to accept that God is good.” That word “continue” is a crucial one. It is not about proving God exists or even proving that he is good. It is about showing that if one holds a belief in God’s existence and his goodness, then one can continue to hold that belief without being irrational in so doing.

    This was always, openly and candidly, a minimalist argument. It only shows what it shows, which is that (stated in the converse form) it is not irrational for a Christian who believes in the goodness of God to continue to believe in God’s goodness, even when presented with the challenge of the nation-killings in the OT.

    Let’s consider what the real parallel with believing in fantasy worlds would look like. If you had (or thought you had) independent reasons, apart from an argument of this form, to believe in some fantasy world; and if someone came to you and said, “Your belief in that fantasy world is irrational, because your fantasy world contains two features, (A) and (B), which cannot logically coexist,” then you could attempt an answer of the same form as I’ve used here.

    Similarly Christians have (or think we have) independent reasons to believe that God exists. This argument is not about those reasons; they are independent. It is about a question that has been raised, a question that makes sense as a question whether Christians actually have independent reasons to believe in God, or whether we only think we have. Someone has come along and said, “The God you believe in has two features, (A) and (B), that cannot logically co-exist; therefore your belief in God is irrational.” (A and B are the goodness of God and the reports of nation-killing in the OT.)

    My answer in this case has not been, “But my independent reasons to believe God exists are really strong!” That would be irrelevant to the question that was asked. My answer has been to show that (A) and (B) can logically co-exist, and that therefore with respect to the question that has been raised, belief in God is not irrational.

    Obviously everything I’ve said here has been said with respect to the question that has been raised, and my conclusion from this argument applies only to the rationality of Christian belief as it pertains to the current question. I am not saying here that because (A) and (B) do not contradict each other, therefore everything Christians believe is proved. That would be silly. Now, I do think what Christians believe is (generally) true and can be shown to be true, but I certainly wouldn’t say that on the basis of this discussion alone!

    So then, back to my earlier question: if my argument cannot be disproved, then it succeeds, and is that a bad thing for an argument?

  78. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    I think an argument that can’t be disproved is just a premise that can’t be tested, that’s all.

    Look at this:

    a) George Washington defines what it means to be Presidential.
    b) George Washington led an army against his own people during the Whiskey Rebellion;
    c) Leading an army against your own people is not Presidential;
    d) George Washington, by leading the army against the Whiskey Rebellion, did not act Presidentially.
    e) George Washington is not inherently presidential; a) is contradicted.

    When a premise like a) can override anything inserted into c), there’s really no argument going on, it’s just a statement that can fall back on it’s first premise taking precedence over subsequent premises.

    Your argument really boils down to a statement that everything God does must be good, because we define goodness based on God. So I just think it’s a statement made to appear to look like an argument.

  79. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Okay, then, I’m satisfied with that.

    That is, I think your statement that it’s just a premise that can’t be tested is probably open to dispute, and I don’t know if there’s some problem with your George Washington approach to the argument or not. There might be something there that I would think of, if I gave it some time.

    But I don’t think I need to press either point. For the sake of simplicity, let’s see what happens if we go ahead and agree (for now at least) that the argument I’ve presented “is just a premise that can’t be tested.”

    What I set out to do (let me repeat it again in different words) was to answer an objection to Christianity. That objection amounts to a test of the doctrine of God’s goodness, which the objectors think the doctrine fails, and that because that doctrine fails that test, then Christianity in general fails.

    But you say I have presented an argument that cannot be disproved, which is (in your words) “a premise that can’t be tested.” My argument is that premise that can’t be tested. If my argument can’t be tested, then it cannot fail. The supposed objection raised against God’s goodness is rendered a non-test; God’s goodness cannot fail this test, since (as you put it) there is no test there. So Christianity in general does not fail.

    That means that if I have independent reasons to believe God exists and he is good, then this alleged objection has no force against my believing God exists and he is good. With respect to the question that is being addressed, it is not irrational to believe in God’s existence and his goodness.

    (I have granted you a lot of ground in accepting (for the sake of argument) that my statement is a premise that can’t be tested, and even so it leads to the conclusion that I have been stating all along. I think if I gave some time to it I could strengthen this by disputing your reduction of my argument that way. Maybe another day—I’ve got some other stuff to catch up on this afternoon.)

  80. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    In philosophical discussion of the problem of evil, a distinction is often made between the logical and evidential varieties. The logical contends that evil and God are logically incompatible; the evidential contends that, though God and evil are not logically incompatible, nonetheless evil of the kinds and distribution we find in our world makes God’s existence quite unlikely. Everyone I know – both theist and atheist alike – agree that the logical problem has been overcome; God and evil, they say, are not absolutely logically incompatible. Attention has been turned to the evidential problem of evil. That’s where the real meat of the issue now lies.

    You’ve taken on what we might call the logical genocide problem (which, I take it, is a special case of the logical problem of evil). I would guess that you could get most atheists to agree (if they don’t already) that God’s existence and the genocides of the OT are logically compatible in the sense that it’s at least barely possible (even if we don’t see how) that both obtain. But it seems to me that, even if this is accomplished, there’s another worry that’s bound to come up. You should expect the atheist to put forward an evidential challenge. Expect her to say, I mean, that though God and the OT genocides are logically compatible, the latter still provides quite good evidence that the latter does not exist (perhaps because those genocides are much better explained on the supposition that there is no God than on the supposition that there is). This should be a worry for the theist, for even if she has superb reasons for her theism, if there are superb reasons against it, then it might be rational either to suspend belief or even perhaps disbelieve.

  81. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    That’s right, Franklin, I was aware of that distinction. I only intended to take up the logical version here. See my second-to-last paragraph in the original post: it doesn’t specifically address the evidential problem, but it’s directed along those general lines.

    I’m not intending to pursue the evidential problem now. It involves too much by way of other background beliefs and information that have to be weighed in the equation (and an actual Bayesian equation could be built on it). I don’t expect we would find much agreement on the prior probabilities of God’s goodness in light of his overall revelation and the Cross; and I could see the discussion dragging on even longer than this one has.

    Frankly, after four weeks on this and almost 280 comments so far (going back to the start of the series) I’m inclined to move to another topic for now, and not take this one off in another new direction, even though it’s a related direction.

  82. SteveK

    …though God and the OT genocides are logically compatible, the latter still provides quite good evidence that the latter does not exist (perhaps because those genocides are much better explained on the supposition that there is no God than on the supposition that there is).

    At best it would be evidence to suggest we don’t fully understand God’s character/nature as it relates to our understanding of objective morality. It would not do anything to answer the question of God’s existence. That is a category error.

  83. Franklin Mason

    Tom,

    You have touched a nerve, to judge by the interest shown. And that’s a good thing. But I expect you’re right. There’s probably not much to be accomplished here by taking on this distinct (if related) issue. It is, however, where we’re at if we grant that you’ve overcome the logical problem. The evidential problem waits in the wings.

  84. Dave

    Found on the Wittenberg Trail, a confessional Lutheran community….

    I love it when Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Managing Editor for our new extension of Luther’s Works, slips me the latest Luther translation he is working on. He did this the other day. Here is a little snippet from the draft of the translation. Our dear good Doctor Luther has a real knack for laying it down clear, plainly and bluntly like few others before or since.

    “Repenting” means that a person knows and confesses in his heart that, as the Scripture says, he was conceived and born in sin [Ps. 51:7] and is therefore by nature a child of wrath [Eph. 2:3], condemned to everlasting death and damnation, and that it is precisely at this point that all works are of no avail. They only make things go from bad to worse since people think they can accomplish by them what belongs to Christ alone, the sole Mediator between God and men, who sacrificed Himself for us all that we might have forgiveness of sins through Him. If you believe the former, then you have the latter. If not, you will never ever be free [of sin], even if you yourself to the point of death. For it is called the forgiveness of sins, not the payment for sins; a gift, not merit. But what God bestows on you out of pure grace for the sake of Christ, that is something that you, you poor maggot sack, can’t pay Him for, buy, or earn. That is what Luke means when he says that John preached a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

    Source:

    Zwei Predigten DML auf der Kindertaufe des jungen Herrn Bernhard (Predigt am Donnerstag nach Ostern) (1540); WA 49:111-124; cf. 814-815, 849

  85. Jacob

    Charlie and Tom Gilson –

    What I meant, of course, is that imperfection is imperfection. People don’t choose their nature and whether or not to come under condemnation. Any single sin is reduced to the same consequence in the end. This doesn’t gel with any concept of a good God and is ultimately self-defeating. It would make sense if we were like the angels – choosing as individuals. I was not talking about the act of sin. I was saying that everybody must essentially sin because it’s in our nature.

    I anticipated the punishment argument, but this is a somewhat unsatisfactory answer. Of course, I would define God’s punishment as malicious in some cases, killing relatives and firstborns of the individual sinner. Punishment itself is harsh and meant to keep people holy. If ancillary deaths are caused in this, then that seems to be okay with God. I would call this causing evil even if it’s made up for with some good. Regarding the link to the definition: one still must define unlawful, and I suppose that rests with God’s nature. This leads to a few problems. If the argument rests here, then there are all of the issues associated with the nature of goodness we debated a long time ago, for which I never quite received a substantive answer. If you say that God’s actions were “lawful”, then I refer to my first few posts on this topic, which were never really answered either. For instance, I asked whether a just God could rehabilitate some of the people by changing their circumstances, thus fulfilling C in post #66. Or whether some of God’s actions that I’ve been mentioning are all that great of a good in the first place.

  86. Peter Chase

    Quite an interesting discussion here. All too often such tough morsels get swept under the rug rather than chewed. Commendable!

    Still I don’t quite see how some of the questions have been answered. Jacob points out that God also “seemed to have no problem wiping out most of the inhabitants of the earth or firstborn children.” Brian et al. point out that (scripture teaches?) “each person is worthy of eternal condemnation and suffering in hell.” Thus, it only seems all too consistent that the God of the Bible would order genocide – and that Bible believing Christians would believe that genocide is sometimes good.

    I therefore don’t see how profitable it has been to look for the “reasons [‘genocide’] was good” if, in the end, we’ll simply need to say that goodness and justice are defined by God and, as a simple fact about God, God says that individuals deserve condemnation, death, and eternal suffering in hell for things that they have neither done nor could have avoided. On the point of genocide, Christianity looks remarkably internally consistent.

  87. Peter Chase

    Whether or not God in fact condemns infants or fetuses to hell is beside the point. The point is that the Bible apparently teaches that infants and fetuses deserve death and eternal suffering – and that their divine condemnation to such punishments is just.

    That said, the suggestion that God does not condemn infants and fetuses to hell would seem to support the inference that abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ interests. And that’s an incredible conclusion – independent of anything that this conclusion implies about the morality of abortion or infanticide. In particular, this incredible conclusion does not rest on any consequentialist assumptions.

  88. SteveK

    That said, the suggestion that God does not condemn infants and fetuses to hell would seem to support the inference that abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ interests.

    No it wouldn’t. Those that spend eternity with God desire to know him, submit to him and worship him. Like God, they desire that fellow humans don’t commit evil (killing innocents) as a means to an end (Romans 6). Their interests and desires are not being served at all. Narcissism is being served.

  89. Peter Chase

    SteveK, you’ve drawn a false dichotomy. Even if it makes sense to speak of fetuses as “desiring that fellow human beings don’t commit evil” this doesn’t mean that it isn’t also in their interests to avoid the risk of eternal suffering and everlasting banishment from God. And it’s extremely odd to think that a concern for the interests of infants and fetuses could be narcissistic.

  90. SteveK

    Peter,

    Even if it makes sense to speak of fetuses as “desiring that fellow human beings don’t commit evil” this doesn’t mean that it isn’t also in their interests to avoid the risk of eternal suffering and everlasting banishment from God.

    A person cannot hold onto (a), (b) and (c) below while remaining in the presence of the holy God for all eternity. If it could be done then Satan (or anyone) would surely be welcomed into the presence of God with open arms.

    (a) desire no evil at all
    (b) desire to love, relate to, worship and serve God
    (c) desire that evil be done for personal benefit

    And it’s extremely odd to think that a concern for the interests of infants and fetuses could be narcissistic.

    Those in heaven, by definition of what it means to be in heaven, will reject (c). What is odd to me is to think that heaven is a place for those who desire to carry out evil for personal benefit, or desire others to do so.

  91. Peter Chase

    SteveK,

    Why think that, after death, the souls of babies desire that evil be done for personal benefit? Or, why even think that prior to their death, babies desire such things? Since I assume we’re also talking about embryos, why suppose that they have any such thought-laden desires at all? Finally, are you assuming some sort of equation between what a person desires and what is in that person’s interest? Exactly what kind of connection here are you supposing?

  92. SteveK

    Peter,

    Why think that, after death, the souls of babies desire that evil be done for personal benefit? Or, why even think that prior to their death, babies desire such things? Since I assume we’re also talking about embryos, why suppose that they have any such thought-laden desires at all?

    I agree that they probably don’t have desires at that stage. If that’s a problem for me then it’s equally a problem for you because then they don’t have an interest in anything whatsoever – so you can’t say that anything is in their best interest at the time. What you seem to be talking about is their ultimate best interest, so I am discussing that.

    Finally, are you assuming some sort of equation between what a person desires and what is in that person’s interest? Exactly what kind of connection here are you supposing?

    I’m making the connection between what it means to be in heaven with God and what those in heaven consider to be the best interest for themselves and for others.

    According to Christianity, will God accept into heaven those who desire evil for the sake of personal gain, for themselves or others? In other words, can a person love God and everything that entails and also love evil for the sake of personal gain?

    If your answer is yes, then you are speaking about a Christianity that I, and few others (maybe none), don’t subscribe to. I see no biblical support for such a position, but I’m willing to listen if you can point me to the teachings.

  93. Peter Chase

    I agree that they probably don’t have desires at that stage. If that’s a problem for me then it’s equally a problem for you because then they don’t have an interest in anything whatsoever

    I’m not following you here. Why suppose that so long as a person doesn’t desire something, then that thing cannot be in the person’s interest? Suppose one’s kids don’t want to brush their teeth. Does this necessarily mean that it isn’t in their interest to brush their teeth? Would you really deny that the mother is acting in such a child’s interest when she makes him brush his teeth? Are you a parent?

  94. SteveK

    Peter,
    In the Christian understanding, what is in the ‘best interest’ of anyone is to KNOW that which is perfect, sinless and holy and to also BECOME perfect, sinless and holy through the blood of Christ. So, let me start with that and see if I can make my point more clear.

    Those who enter into a perfect, eternal union with God (go to heaven) desire what is in the best interest for each. There are no moral divisions within heaven as far as I can tell so all have been transformed and are in perfect alignment with God’s perfect moral character.

    God’s character does not consider it to be in the best interest of anyone to sin as a means for personal gain. Therefore, either one of the following must be true….a) some/all aborted babies aren’t in heaven and they aren’t in aligment with God’s perfect moral character, or b) some/all aborted babies are in heaven and they are in aligment with God’s perfect moral character. Either way, abortion is not in the best interest of anyone – including the aborted baby.

    In your example above, it would not be in anyone’s best interest to brush their teeth if it meant comitting evil as a means to do it. I would deny a mother wanting to brush her child’s teeth if indeed it meant comitting evil in order to do that.

  95. Peter Chase

    SteveK, you still seem to be confusing the idea of “desiring” with the idea of “being in the interest of”. It is in the interest of an embryo to know God and to avoid the risk of eternal banishment from Him even if that embryo, as an embryo, has no desires whatsoever. For the sake of clarity, I’d therefore advise you to drop the terms “desire”, “want”, and all of their cognates. Perhaps you can still make your point, and now more clearly. If not, this suggest that your confusion is more than merely terminological. Either way, I think we will have made progress, if slowly.

  96. SteveK

    Peter,

    I’d therefore advise you to drop the terms “desire”, “want”, and all of their cognates.

    What does it mean to have an interest in something? In means you prefer, desire, want, seek out, etc. that something. I don’t see how you can avoid using those words. Anyway…moving on…

    It is in the interest of an embryo to know God and to avoid the risk of eternal banishment from Him even if that embryo, as an embryo, has no desires whatsoever.

    It comes as no surprise to me that we, as sinners, think that God prefers we sin all the more so that he can save more souls – as if we are somehow furthering the kingdom of God by sinning. Fortunately the bible doesn’t teach that.

    Within the Christian faith it is never in the best interest of anyone to sin so that you or another can benefit as a result. If you are a soul in heaven, then you would agree with this statement because it is perfectly aligned with the character of God.

    But you are saying it’s possible for heaven to be filled with billions of aborted souls who consider it morally good that someone sinned so someone could benefit from that sin. That sounds more like a description of hell to me. Isn’t hell supposed to be filled with those to think it is morally good to rebel against the character of God?

    If heaven is supposed to be filled with circles and hell is supposed to be filled with squares, you somehow want there to be a middle ground – circles with corners in heaven – rebels against God who think sin can lead to good, in a loving relationship with him. It just isn’t possible.

    Tom, please help me out here if I don’t seem to be making sense.

  97. Peter Chase

    Quoting SteveK:

    What does it mean to have an interest in something? In means you prefer, desire, want, seek out, etc. that something. I don’t see how you can avoid using those words.

    Actually, the very next bit, which you in fact quote, gives an example of a case in which there may be interest without desire:

    It is in the interest of an embryo to know God and to avoid the risk of eternal banishment from Him even if that embryo, as an embryo, has no desires whatsoever.

    You might also recall the prior example I gave:

    Suppose one’s kids don’t want to brush their teeth. Does this necessarily mean that it isn’t in their interest to brush their teeth? Would you really deny that the mother is acting in such a child’s interest when she makes him brush his teeth?

    What these examples indicate is that to say that to say that something is your interest does not simply mean that “you prefer, desire, want, seek out, etc. that something.” That you continue to deny this rather trival point suggests confusion in your thinking, which may be substantively compromising your arguments.

    The rest of your discussion is off-track because of yet further confusions. No one, myself included, is suggesting that “God prefers we sin all the more so that he can save more souls.” What you go on to say indicates that have missed or forgotten the clarification I stressed from the beginning:

    [T]he suggestion that God does not condemn infants and fetuses to hell would seem to support the inference that abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ interests. And that’s an incredible conclusion – independent of anything that this conclusion implies about the morality of abortion or infanticide.

    In other words: there is no suggestion that abortion and infanticide would be “morally good”, or that these are things we should do, simply because they are in the interest of the fetus/infant. Please read this twice, and slowly.

  98. SteveK

    One more time, then I’m done.

    [T]he suggestion that God does not condemn infants and fetuses to hell would seem to support the inference that abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ interests.

    And I said “No it wouldn’t” for reasons that I’ll go into again below.

    It is in the interest of an embryo to know God and to avoid the risk of eternal banishment from Him even if that embryo, as an embryo, has no desires whatsoever.

    This is a different statement than the statement quoted above. I’ll get to that later. I’m not disagreeing with your statment here at all – it would be in the [best] interest of anyone to be in heaven because God created it that way. However, your statement quoted first brought abortion into mix.

    With abortion in mind, now you are saying something like this: It’s in anyone’s [best] interest to go to heaven by any means possible. This is the statement I have been responding to, not the first one. My objection to this new statement is threefold…

    1) God’s character doesn’t consider it to be in anyone’s [best] interest to sin for the sake of gain, therefore the statement is objectively false – even if you think it is true. It follows that the inference that “abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ [best] interests” is objectively false.

    2) In addition to being false, those who consider (or desire) it to be true aren’t in heaven because those in heaven, by definition, don’t rebel against God’s character.

    3) From (2) it follows that all aborted souls in heaven will know your statement is objectively false. However, it’s remains objectively true that it’s in the [best] interest of the victims to be in heaven.

  99. Franklin Mason

    Steve and Peter,

    Excuse me, but I’m gonna but in. Bear with me as I think through this.

    I’m confused. We should distinguish the interests of the one who sins from the interest of the one on whom the sinner acts. No doubt if Mr. Z were to kill an infant, that act is not in Mr. Z’s interest for the very reason Steve gave: “God’s character doesn’t consider it to be in anyone’s [best] interest to sin for the sake of gain . . .” (whether, we must add, that sin is for self-gain or the gain of another). But that it is not in Mr. Z’s best interest does not imply that it is not in the infant’s best interest. Their interests need not coincide, it would seem.

    The only way out of this that I see is to insist that everyone’s ultimate interests are the same. But this seems incredible on the face of it. It would seem that my interests are me-centered and your interests are you-centered, and what benefits me need not be what benefits you.

    Or so the world would say. Do we say that this is a moral error? Do we say that all of our interests are ultimately we-centered? Perhaps. Do we have a hint of this in, say, family life? I don’t take my interests to be mine alone. I do well only when my family does well (and they do well only when I do well), so closely are our interests intertwined.

    Is this where humanity is headed? Is this where it should be? Do none of us do well when any of us do poorly? Perhaps this is what love of neighbor implies. (Strange, but the atheist Sartre, if a recall correctly, expressed in idea like this. If anyone anywhere, he said, is not free, I too am not free. A beautiful thought, even if I could never quite get my head around it. I always thought it was more a call to action than a literal truth. But perhaps for the Christian it is (near to) the literal truth.)

  100. SteveK

    Franklin and Peter,
    I blame myself for not being able to explain it well. Sometimes the mind gets stuck in a rut and can’t get out. Franklin helped me a bit when he said this.

    The only way out of this that I see is to insist that everyone’s ultimate interests are the same. But this seems incredible on the face of it. It would seem that my interests are me-centered and your interests are you-centered, and what benefits me need not be what benefits you.

    The first sentence is what the bible teaches, and what I meant when I said there are no divisions in heaven. We are all interested in the same things – loving God and loving others – and sin can be no part of those interests.
    The last part of Franklin’s statement I disagree with. Our common interests, if they are our ultimate, best interests, WILL benefit me as well as you. How could it not benefit everyone, for God created it to be this way?

    Here it should be clear that we are talking about spiritual interests as ultimate interests defined by the character of God, not individual interests that define individuals being unique beings.

    I thought of an analogy that should help. By analogy, Peter is saying: The suggestion that everyone on a 1000 ft high ledge always comes down from the ledge would seem to support the inference that jumping off the ledge is in everyone’s best interest.

    (a) It’s in everyone’s best interest to come down off the ledge (this part of the analogy we agree on).

    (b) It’s not in anyone’s best interest to jump off a 1000 ft ledge (the means to an end is important here).

    (c) To further confirm (b), we look to what we know about those who get down from the ledge – they have no broken bones and are alive! This part of the analogy suffers a bit. Relating this back to Christianity, to further confirm that sinning as a means to an end is not in anyone’s best interest we look to what we know about those in heaven – they are in perfect union with God!

    (I edited a bit so be sure to re-read)

  101. SteveK

    The point of (c) is to highlight the fact that it’s a conceptual impossibility by virtue of what Christianity teaches to think that sin as a means to an end is in anyone’s ultimate, or best interest.

    It would be like saying the NFL teaches that it’s in the best interest of each team to legitimately win games by any means possible. Not only does the NFL not teach that, it’s conceptually impossible to actually score a legitimate win and use ANY means possible. The rules of the game don’t allow the two concepts to co-exist. Sin, by definition, is not in anyone’s ultimate/best interest and cheating, by definition, is not a legitimate win.

  102. Peter Chase

    Thank you Franklin for articulating the important distinction between “the interests of the one who sins from the interest of the one on whom the sinner acts.” We do, after all, ordinarily accept that something can be in one person’s interest, but not in another person’s. Such a modest claim would be rather difficult to deny, yet you are also right to point that this may be precisely what SteveK needs to deny in order to avoid the inference that abortion and infanticide are in the victims’ interests.

    SteveK, I’m happy to accept that mainstream Christian doctrines lead to the following incredible conclusion: if everyone’s interests are not the same, then abortion and infanticide are in interests of their victims.

    Given the strength of the antecedent, this conclusion strikes me as sufficiently incredible and interesting.

  103. SteveK

    SteveK, I’m happy to accept that mainstream Christian doctrines lead to the following incredible conclusion: if everyone’s interests are not the same, then abortion and infanticide are in interests of their victims.

    I wouldn’t agree it leads to that conclusion because I don’t even know what that statement means. Break it down, please.

  104. Franklin Mason

    Peter,

    I think I get it, and I think I agree. Christianity is filled with many strange and wonderful things: the God-man, the Trinity, original sin and the atonement, miracles, immortality, etc. etc. Here’s another, then: the interests of one human beings are ultimately the interests of all. I just finished up a post at The Philosphical Midwife which explains why, if we accept the Law of Love (love God and neighbor as self), we ought not be surprised with this complete coincidence of (ultimate) interests. When I love you, I make the satisfaction of your interests an interest of mine. Thus if all love all, there is no interest of one that another does not have an interest to realize; that is, in this sense interests coincide.

  105. Peter Chase

    SteveK, I feel like we’re just now uncovering what it is that’s been slowing down this conversation. Are you a native speaker of English? Do you understand what a conditional statement is? One form of a conditional statement is “If A, then B”, where “A” and “B” stand in for more simple statements, which themselves can be either true or false. The bit that follows “if” is called the “antecedent.” The bit that follows “then” is called the “consequent”. With this new terminology, you can now tell us which part of the conditional statement you fail to understand.

    It is also possible that you do not understand how the parts of the conditional statement work together. (Thus my question, “Are you a native speaker of English?”) Suffice it to say that the conditional statement can be true in only two ways: (1) the antecedent is false, or (2) the consequent is true. Thus, if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false, then the entire conditional is false.

  106. Peter Chase

    Even granting this bold thesis (that everyone’s (ultimate) interests in fact coincide), I take it that it still makes sense to say that every individual has an interest in avoiding the risk of eternal suffering and everlasting banishment from God. If that is correct, then I take it that you would agree that the bold thesis would still allow us to infer (from common Christian premises) the following unconditioned conclusion:

    It is in the interests of fetuses and infants to die as fetuses or infants.

    (Notice, and as always, we are still not talking about the permissibility of killing fetuses and infants.)

  107. Chris White

    Franklin,

    Wow! I have read your entries on this blog and others and have found I have agreed with you some, disagreed with you some and wasn’t sure about some things. But the last thing you wrote was excellent!! That is the KINGDOM OF GOD!

    Thanks for making it so clear.

  108. Peter Chase

    I should have clarified: my last entry, #110, is mainly intended as a response to Franklin. Also, I just realized that in my last response to SteveK, wherein I tried to clarify the idea of a conditional statement, I employed a conditional statement in its very last sentence. I apologize, since conditional statements were the very thing I was trying to explain. SteveK, here is another trick that might be helpful: you can often accurately translate a conditional into an “either…or” statement. In this case, the claim that confused you can be accurately restated as follows:

    “Either everyone’s interests are the same, or abortion and infanticide are in interests of their victims.”

    But you might focus in on even simpler claim that I just presented to Franklin:

    “It is in the interests of fetuses and infants to die as fetuses or infants.”

    This last claim may be true even if “everyone’s interests (ultimately) coincide.” See comment 110.

  109. SteveK

    Concerning this:

    if everyone’s interests are not the same, then abortion and infanticide are in interests of their victims.

    I would say this: the antecedent is true and the consequent is false because of another conditional statement that goes like this:

    Sin ought to be avoided. It is in the interest of all to avoid that which ought to be avoided. Said in the reverse, it is NOT in the interest of anyone to NOT avoid that which ought to be avoided The victims, not having any desires, did not avoid that which ought to be avoided, therefore what occurred was not in their interest.

    The entire conditional is false.

    (edited again so re-read)

  110. SteveK

    It is in the interests of fetuses and infants to die as fetuses or infants.

    Dying naturally at any particular time is not a sin so I don’t have a problem with this, per se.

  111. Peter Chase

    SteveK,

    I’m relieved that you don’t consider dying a sin! And I think we’re making progress! We can probably even expand our agreement:

    Since, as you agree, dying while still an fetus/infant is in the interest of that fetus/infant, it clearly follows that actions which bring about their deaths are actions which result in something that is in their interest. We can therefore say, it seems, that actions that bring about the death of a fetus/infant are actions which result in some benefit for the fetus/infant. Since abortion and infanticide result in the death of their victims, we can conclude that abortion and infanticide benefit their victims.

    At this point, I expect you will agree, given that we can still assume that that abortion and infanticide are sinful and immoral (unless–as in the case of genocide–this is something that God, on a particular occasion, has ordered).

  112. Peter Chase

    You know SteveK, if we’re right to conclude that death is in the interests of infants, then this takes some of the sting out of genocide (our original problem). For, if God orders genocide, then not only does it benefit its young victims, it is also not a sin. Thus, in such cases, I expect that even you can embrace the idea that genocide is in the interest of its young victims. And that’s the surprising result to which we are led by sound reasoning from distinctively Christian premises. Now I’m even more confident that we’ve made some progress.

  113. Franklin Mason

    Peter,

    There are subcurrents with Christian theology that would have us look at the matter entirely differently. What if we were to say that salvation consists in regeneration (and not that salvation is gained by acceptance of Christ’s vicarious punishment on the cross). On such a view, the point of life – the reason why God allows us to remain in this veil of tears – is to provide the possibility of moral regeneration. The point of life is to grow in Christ.

    Now, if this is our view, then obviously a child is harmed when it is killed. Not ultimately harmed, of course; for if God wishes us to grow in Christ, opportunity will somehow be provided, even after death. (Notice, then, that on this view our eternal fate is not sealed by our state at the moment of death.) But still the child would suffer a temporary harm, and so it would not be in the child’s interest to die.

    On this view, we do have to relocate just where the sin of murder lies: it does not (necessarily) bring about any ultimate harm to the one murdered. Rather it betrays a disregard for the good of another, a disregard that finds the other of so little value that their ultimate fate is of no consequence. The sin of murder, then, is not so much in the effect on the one murdered as in the mind-set of the murderer.

  114. SteveK

    Peter,

    We can therefore say, it seems, that actions that bring about the death of a fetus/infant are actions which result in some benefit for the fetus/infant. Since abortion and infanticide result in the death of their victims, we can conclude that abortion and infanticide benefit their victims.

    Sorry, but there is no middle ground in my conditional statement here.

    “The victims, not having any desires, did not avoid that which ought to be avoided, therefore what occurred was not in their interest.”

    While there are various types of sin, sin is always sin, and so it is something that ought to be avoided. It is of interest to no one.

    And I think you are giving the phrase ‘in the interest’ too much of a positive connotation when you said:

    You know SteveK, if we’re right to conclude that death is in the interests of infants, then this takes some of the sting out of genocide (our original problem).

    It’s as if you are implying that death itself is a positive thing. I know you said we should avoid using terms like “want”, “desire”, etc., but I can’t help but read that meaning into your statement. The interest, I think, lies on the other side of death.

  115. Peter Chase

    Franklin,

    I’m happy to concede that on many Christian views (or, as some will insist, “Christian” views), it does not follow that abortion/infanticide benefit their victims. But I would just make two remarks. First, the real key to drawing this conclusion lies the ideas that (a) God does not condemn fetuses/infants to hell, but (b) God does condemn some to hell who are older, and (c) hell is a place of eternal suffering and banishment from God. Any Christian view that maintains these three ideas will have a very difficult time avoiding the conclusion that abortion/infanticide are in the interest of their victims (or, as I put it recently, that abortion/infanticide benefit their victims).

    Second, there is no reason to “to relocate just where the sin of murder lies” since indeed we have never located where the sin of murder lies in the first place. I have tried to warn against drawing any implications about the sinfulness of murder/abortion/infanticide merely from the fact that some of these actions benefit, or are in the interest of, their victims. I believe we should distinguish the question of whether such actions benefit their victims from the question of whether such actions are sinful/immoral.

    These last comments should be relevant to SteveK’s last reply (#119). That is, the fact that “sin ought to be avoided” is neither here nor there. That sin ought to be avoided is not inconsistent with the idea that some sins sometimes benefit certain (other) people. (see #116)

  116. SteveK

    Peter,

    Any Christian view that maintains these three ideas will have a very difficult time avoiding the conclusion that abortion/infanticide are in the interest of their victims (or, as I put it recently, that abortion/infanticide benefit their victims).

    What part of ‘sin ought to be avoided’ don’t you understand? I have a very EASY time concluding that it is in the interest (benefit) of everyone to avoid what ought to be avoided. For some strange reason, you think the opposite – you think it is of interest (benefit) to NOT avoid these things.

  117. SteveK

    Peter,

    I believe we should distinguish the question of whether such actions benefit their victims from the question of whether such actions are sinful/immoral.

    The sin doesn’t benefit them, the benefit benefits them.

    …some sins sometimes benefit certain (other) people.

    …said the rapist to the girl who benefitted by having a beautiful child. Yeah, I know it’a abrasive and over the top, but I’m growing weary of pointing out the obvious.

  118. Franklin Mason

    Peter,

    Here’s how to avoid the troublesome consequence of a & b & c. (a = infants/fetuses never condemned to hell, b = some adults are condemned to hell, c = hell is hellish, i.e. is a place of horrendous pain.)

    Say that everyone, no matter when they die, will reach intellectual maturity somewhere (in another life if not in this one) and that, when intellectually mature, they will either choose to accept God or reject him. Acceptance, moreover, guarantees eternity in heaven and rejection eternity in hell. On this view, when an infant dies, its final destiny is still up in the air; it might be heaven, it might be hell; for the infant has yet to mature to the point where that fateful decision must be made. Thus we cut off the inference that when an infant dies, it is thereby benefited.

    I don’t exactly buy this, but it is in the space of logical possibility.

  119. Peter Chase

    SteveK, you seem to have overlooked the important distinction between the agent who is sinning, on the one hand, and the agent who is sinned against, on the other. Thus, in the case of the abortion, it is the people performing/having the abortion who are sinning. It is the aborted baby who, among perhaps others, is sinned against. Let’s refer to the aborted baby as the (most direct) “victim” of the abortion. Notice, for example, how these distinctions get covered-up in this statement which you have made: “I have a very EASY time concluding that it is in the interest (benefit) of everyone to avoid what ought to be avoided.”

    With this distinction in mind (again, the distinction between the sinner and the sinned-against), I take it that you would agree that the consequences of abortion and infanticide benefit their victims. We can even strengthen this to say that any non-beneficial effect of abortion/infanticide on its victims is infinitesimal when compared to the overwhelming benefit that they receive through such acts. And that’s something to ponder.

  120. Peter Chase

    Franklin,

    You are quite right that this would be a way to avoid conclusion. One can imagine the arm-chair theologians reading something like this into the Bible (assuming that they care about scripture) in order to avoid the surprising conclusion that abortion/infanticide are in the interests of their victims. On balance, however, I don’t know if defending such a hypothesis holds any theoretical advantage over defending a rejection of one of the three premises a-c.

  121. SteveK

    With this distinction in mind (again, the distinction between the sinner and the sinned-against), I take it that you would agree that the consequences of abortion and infanticide benefit their victims.

    “Look how my sinning against you benefited you”, said the rapist to the girl who gave birth to a beautiful child.

    “Look how my sinning against others benefited you”, said the thief who gave a stolen car as a gift to his mother.

    No, I wouldn’t agree.

  122. Peter Chase

    SteveK, perhaps you haven’t noticed the important differences in the cases you are just now describing and the cases under discussion. As even you have noted, death is in the interest of the infant and the fetus. And as I’ve pointed out:

    [A]ny non-beneficial effect of abortion/infanticide on its victims is infinitesimal when compared to the overwhelming benefit that they receive through such acts.

    (That is, if we assume that (a) God does not condemn fetuses/infants to hell, but (b) God does condemn some to hell who are older, and ( c) hell is a place of eternal suffering and banishment from God.)

    Now you seem to be admirably disturbed by the idea that abortion and infanticide are sinful. We can wholeheartedly commend you for this. However, it turns out that we both can fully affirm the sinfulness of these actions and recognize that their effects are to the overwhelming benefit to their (suppose) victims. Thus, I suspect that we agree more than you may realize. 🙂

Comments are closed.

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's comment guidelines.