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“Do as I say, not as I do.” Is God a cosmic hypocrite?

October 23rd, 2014 by Matt
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In, my article “Tooley Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil”, I argued that Tooley’s specifically deontological version of the argument from evil fails. To summarise very briefly, Tooley’s version of the argument assumes that God has moral obligations. However, according to a fairly mainstream theistic position on the relationship between God and morality, the wrongness of an action consists in its being forbidden by God. Given that God does not issue commands to himself, it follows that he has no obligations. Tooley’s argument, therefore, contrary to his own protestation, relies on controversial substantive moral assumptions, which many theists reject.

hypocrisyIn this post I want to respond to two objections to this line of argument. The first contends my position is contradictory or incoherent; one cannot coherently deny that God is subject to the commands he issues to human beings. The second contends my argument makes God a cosmic hypocrite. Human morality consists of God saying to us, “do as I say not as I do”.

Let us look first at the accusation of incoherence.  Central to theism is the notion that God is essentially good. In my paper I set this out in terms of God possessing certain character traits: God is loving, just, impartial, omniscient, and so on. God’s possession of these traits, however, limits the kind of commands one can coherently attribute to God. Specifically, his commands must express these traits in some sense, or in the very least not contradict them. To say God is just, for example, and impartial and loving but then attribute to him commands that are unjust, hateful and partial would be incoherent.

So far so good, here is the alleged problem. If God’s commands express (or are consistent with) his essential character, then how can it be consistent with his character to not act in accord with those same commands? If God commands us to refrain from performing some action then it would be a contradiction of his character if he himself does not refrain from that action.

This objection contains a false premise. It assumes that if one person’s commands to another person reflects certain character traits then consistency with those character traits means the first person must, themselves, follow that command. This is false. Consider an example. A loving parent sets their 9 year old daughter a bedtime of 8:30 pm. This parent’s command reflects their loving character, it does not follow, however, that being loving requires that the parent herself must go to bed at 8:30 pm. Or consider an experienced surgeon. Out of concern for his patients he prohibits inexperienced junior surgeons from performing certain operations without supervision. This does not mean his concern leads him to refrain from doing this surgery himself.

This also provides an answer to the second objection that human morality consists of God saying “do as I say, not as I do”. While the sarcastic slogan may have an effective use in certain contexts to show up a person’s hypocrisy, the idea that you cannot legitimately counsel or command another to not do something that you, yourself, do is false. Parents tell children to go to bed at 9:00 pm without themselves being morally required to go to bed at 9:00 pm. Governments prohibit private citizens from punishing people for crimes yet that does not entail governments cannot punish crime. Stunt-men warn those who watch their stunts to “not try this at home”. Husbands object to other men attempting to make love to their wives, it does not follow they themselves do not make love to their wives, and so on. The point is that in many contexts the difference between people’s knowledge, character, abilities, relationship, and authority mean it is perfectly appropriate for one to tell the other to do something that she herself would not do.

It does not follow, therefore, from the fact that a God commands us to refrain from a certain action, that that God himself could never do that action.

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Jerry Coyne on Deception and the Omission of Facts

October 21st, 2014 by Matt
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In 2011 I wrote a criticism of Jerry Coyne’s USA Today article, “As  atheists know, you can be good without God.” My critique, “When Scientists make bad Ethicists,” attracted some attention motivating Coyne to write a response. I wrote a following up piece the next year, “Jerry Coyne on God and Morality Revisited,” my conclusions were not flattering. I wrote:

“Nothing in Coyne’s follow up leads me to revisit my initial conclusion. Misrepresenting people’s views, calling people names, quoting from articles out of context, denigrating others’ scholarly qualifications and confidently asserting a position whilst reasoning in a circle, and ignoring objections, are not the same as actually addressing them.  I doubt such sophistry would pass muster in the scientific community when people write on scientific topics, and it does not pass muster when scientists comment on theology or philosophy.”

Jerry CoyneRecently I discovered Coyne’s latest riposte on the issue of divine commands: “William Lane Craig answers a distressed reader: ‘If ISIS’s god were mine, should I do what he says?’”  which  has   subsequently  been posted on richarddawkins.net. Little, it seems, has changed. Coyne begins by sarcastically referring to William Lane Craig as a “sophisticated theologian” and commending him for addressing a question “not often taken up by theologians”. I am not sure which “sophisticated theologians” Coyne has read because, contrary to what he says, almost every major monograph on divine command theory (“DCT”) in the last thirty years has discussed the problem he refers to in his post, as do most articles on the subject. Undeterred by these facts, or perhaps unaware of them, Coyne suggests in closing that “sophisticated theologians” like Craig who defend DCT are like real estate salesman in Florida.

Apart from sarcastic names and insinuations of dishonesty Coyne’s central argument purports to highlight an inconsistency in Craig’s divine command theory. The inconsistency relates to a distinction Craig (and others like Baggett and Walls) draw between a voluntaristic and a non voluntaristic DCT. According to Craig’s account of a voluntaristic DCT ,“God’s commands are based upon His free will alone”; God “arbitrarily chooses” what we are required to do.”[1] On a non-voluntaristic  account, “Our duties are determined by the commands, of a just and loving God. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth, and His commandments are reflections of His own character”;[2] because he has these character traits, essentially, “it is logically impossible for Him to issue certain sorts of commands”.[3]

I think Craig’s use of the term “voluntarism” is somewhat inaccurate. Yet he is correct when he adds that most (if not all) divine command theorists are non-voluntarists, as he defines the term. Coyne thinks this “is bait and switch”. This is because “Craig himself seemed in at least one case to hold to the voluntarist view of the DCT.”  Coyne quotes from Craig:

“But God has no such prohibition [the prohibition not to take an innocent life]. He can give and take life as He chooses.  We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second.  If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative …

… On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.”

Coyne rejoins, “If that’s not voluntaristic DCT, I don’t know what is.” Coyne provides a link to the article in question, so presumably he expects his readers – good free thinkers who accept nothing blindly on authority – to check his quote and verify what he says. When one does, however, the [Read more →]

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A Message from Northern Iraq

October 18th, 2014 by Matt
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This message was apparently received by Auckland Salvation Army. It has been published in the Western Leader and Rodney Times:

“A friend just got a text message from her brother asking her to shower him and his parish in prayer.
“He is part of a mission and ISIS has taken over the town they are in.
Nazarene“He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus.
“He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed.
“But not the parents.
“The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own.
“They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths.
“He is very afraid, has no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred.
“Yet he says he knows God has called him for some reason to be his voice and hands at this place at this time.
“Even so, he is begging prayers for his courage to live out his vocation in such dire circumstances.
“And, like the children, accept martyrdom if he is called to do so.
“The missionary’s sister asks everyone we know to please pray for them.
“These brave parents instilled such a fervent faith in their children that they chose martyrdom. Please surround them in their loss with your prayers for hope and perseverance.
“She was able to talk to her brother briefly by phone. She didn’t say, but I feel she believes it will be their last conversation.
“Pray for her too. She said he just kept asking her to help him know what to do and do it.
“She told him to tell the families we are praying for them and they are not alone or forgotten – no matter what.
“Her mail broke my heart. Please keep all in your prayers. Thank you.
“Just a few minutes ago I received a message on my phone from Sean Malone who leads Crisis Relief International (CRI).
“We spoke briefly and I assured him that we would share this urgent prayer need with all of our contacts.
“This was that caller’s message:
“We have lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh).
“It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. This is the city we have been smuggling food too.
“ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of where our CRI team is working.
“Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN has evacuated its staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!
“Please pray sincerely for the deliverance of the people of Northern Iraq from the terrible advancement of ISIS and its extreme Islamic goals for mass conversion or death for Christians across this region.
“I plead with you not to ignore his email.
“Send it to as many people as possible – especially your friends.”

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The New Zealand Herald and Memory Loss

October 16th, 2014 by Matt
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Richard Carrier and the Abhorrent Commands Objection

October 5th, 2014 by Matt
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In my last post, Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection, I argued that Richard Carrier’s attempt to defend Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s arbitrariness objection failed. I also argued his defence of this argument is incoherent and engages in special pleading because the arguments he defends apply with equal cogency to his own version of ethical naturalism.

When one turns to Carrier’s defence of the abhorrent commands objection, similar points can be made. Armstrong hadCarrier argued:

[1] If DCT is true then if God commanded us to rape we would be required to rape.

[2] It is absurd that we could be required to rape.

[3] God could command us to rape.

Therefore:

[4] A DCT is absurd.[1]

I responded that [3] and [2] cannot both be true given that God, in the discussion, is defined as an an “all powerful, all knowing, loving and just, immaterial person who created the universe.” Premise [3] is true only if it is possible for an all knowing, all loving and just person to command rape, something which is unlikely to be true. Moreover, even if  it is possible for a loving and just person to command rape, this could only be in cases where the rape could be endorsed by a fully informed, loving and just person, and hence, would be a situation so different to the contexts rape normally occurs in as to make [2] no longer be obviously true.

Carrier objects that this is an own goal he claims:

“In challenging Armstrong’s claim that DCT can justify rape, Flannagan responds that this is true “only if it’s possible for an all knowing, loving and just person to command rape,” which Flannagan concludes “is unlikely” and even were it to occur, and if we were adequately informed, we would agree rape in that unusual case would be loving and just. I concur with Flannagan. But this rebuttal assumes rape is immoral for reasons other than that God commands it. Flannagan is therefore rebutting not Armstrong here, but his own DCT.”[2]

Carrier’s response relies on his unargued for assertion that “this rebuttal assumes rape is immoral for reasons other than that God commands it.” This, however, is false. All my response does is assume that a person who has the character traits mentioned: being loving, just, powerful and omniscient, would not command rape. I do not need to assume these things are morally required prior to God’s commands, nor do I need to assume that a loving and just person would prohibit these things because they are morally required.

To see this consider John Mackie’s famous argument for nihilism in The Subjectivity of Values. Mackie argued that [Read more →]

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Matt to speak at the 2014 Evangelical Philosophical Society in San Deigo

October 2nd, 2014 by Madeleine
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Evangelical Philosophical SocietyThis blog’s Matthew Flannagan has had his paper “Mackie’s Answer to the Error Theory: A Reply to Joyce″ accepted for the National Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (“EPS”) in San Diego, USA, from 19-21 November 2014. The abstract for Matt’s paper is as follows:

Abstract
Richard Joyce has argued that the “real problem” with divine command theories of ethics is not the euthyphro dilemma, but rather that such theories cannot account for the platitude that moral obligations have inescapable moral authority. In this paper I reply to Joyce’s contention.

First, I look at Joyce’s objection in the context of Joyce’s own defence of John Mackie’s error theory. Joyce interprets Mackie as arguing that moral obligations are queer precisely because, if they existed, they would have inescapable authority and no sense can be made of such authority.

Then I note that Mackie himself argued that a divine command theory was an exception to his thesis. Mackie contended that naturalistic theories face this challenge but a divine command theory does not. I argue that Joyce’s own reconstruction of Mackie’s argument confirms this conclusion.

Finally, I examine some objections that Joyce raises to this kind of response. I argue they fail. Mackie and Joyce’s error theory, if sound, is an objection to naturalistic or secular accounts of moral obligations and not to divine command theories.”

This year’s conference theme will be “Ecclesiology”. The Plenary Speaker is Paul Helm of Regent College, Vancouver Canada. The draft copy of the ETS-EPS program is available here.

(Matt has also had a paper accepted for the Evangelical Theological Society’s Annual Meeting, which is also in San Diego around the same time.)

As with previous years, we will need to fundraise to raise the $2,500 NZD shortfall in our budget needed to get him there. Family life on one modest, full-time income with a special needs child, who is unable to go to school, makes it very hard. Almost all of Matt’s philosophical and theological work on this blog is the result of his unpaid commitment to the field. Donations, no matter how modest, are greatly appreciated.

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Matt to speak at the 2014 Evangelical Theological Society in San Deigo

October 1st, 2014 by Madeleine
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ETS ProgramThis blog’s Matthew Flannagan has had his paper “Abortion as Self Defence” accepted for the 66th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (“ETS”) in San Diego, USA, from 19-21 November 2014. The abstract for Matt’s paper is as follows:

Abstract
Eileen McDonagh has proposed an ingenious argument for abortion rights; she concedes, for the sake of argument, that a fetus is a human being but argues that a fetus’ presence inside the womb of a woman who does not consent to pregnancy constitutes unjust aggression. Consequently, the woman has a right to expel and kill the fetus in self-defence.

In this paper I will sketch a critique of this line of argument suggested decades ago by Alan Donagan. Donagan argues that, in cases where a woman has not been raped, the woman is has acquired parental obligations to the fetus. Parental obligations are acquired through the act of begetting. If  a person brings a child into existence through voluntary sexual intercourse then he or she has a duty to provide the necessities of life for that child. The fetus is, therefore, not an unjust aggressor.

I will defend this argument against two influential objections. First, the objection that a woman who does not consent to getting pregnant cannot have parental obligations to her offspring. Second, the objection that, even if  a woman does have parental obligations to her offspring, these obligations do not include a duty to provide bodily life support. I will argue that both objections fail.

This year’s Annual Meeting theme is “Ecclesiology”. Plenary speakers for this year’s meeting are  Gregg R. Allison (Professor of Christian Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Joseph H. Hellerman (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and Miroslav Volf (Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, Founding Director of Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Yale Divinity School).

(Matt has also had a paper accepted for the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s Annual Meeting, which is also in San Diego around the same time.)

As with previous years, we will need to fundraise to raise the $2,500 NZD shortfall in our budget needed to get him there. Family life on one modest, full-time income with a special needs child, who is unable to go to school, makes it very hard. Almost all of Matt’s philosophical and theological work on this blog is the result of his unpaid commitment to the field. Donations, no matter how modest, are greatly appreciated.

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