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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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Did God Really Command Genocide? A new book by Copan and Flannagan

September 27th, 2014 by Madeleine
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Did God Really Command Genocide?Coming to a bookstore near you in November 2014: Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by: Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan

From Baker Publishing Group’s page:

“Reconciling a violent Old Testament God with a loving Jesus
Would a good, kind, and loving deity ever command the wholesale slaughter of nations? We often avoid reading difficult Old Testament passages that make us squeamish and quickly jump to the enemy-loving, forgiving Jesus of the New Testament. And yet, the question remains.

In the tradition of his popular Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan teams up with Matthew Flannagan to tackle some of the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture. Together they help the Christian and nonbeliever alike understand the biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical implications of Old Testament warfare passages.”

Some of the endorsements are below, you can read more here:

“The Old Testament describes God as a warrior who directs his people to fight the Canaanites. Divine violence in the Bible is a theme that has aroused the ire of atheists and the discomfort and confusion of many Christians. Copan and Flannagan address the arguments of the atheists who use these texts to undermine belief and confidence in God. Not only are they adept at biblical interpretation and philosophy as they effectively counter this challenge, but they also write in a deeply compelling way that will appeal to both students and laypeople.”

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California

“In their wide-ranging book, Copan and Flannagan go beyond standard treatments of Old Testament warfare; they incorporate biblical, theological, philosophical, ethical, legal, and historical perspectives on a much-debated but often misunderstood topic. This volume makes important strides forward in laying out a case for the coherence of divine command theory in connection with these Yahweh-war texts.”

William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California

“As a full-scale follow-up to the excellent popular treatment of the topic in Is God a Moral Monster?,this book provides the most thorough and comprehensive treatment of the problem of violence in the Old Testament that I have encountered. The authors tackle the aggressive charges of the new atheists, as well as other equally sceptical but less strident critics of ‘the God of the Old Testament.’ And they do so with a blend of careful biblical exegesis and incisive moral argumentation. The book reaches deep, but remains readable, and the summaries at the end of every chapter are a great help in following the case as it is steadily built up. All of us who, in teaching or preaching the Old Testament, are constantly bombarded with ‘But what about the Canaanites?’ will be very grateful for these rich resources for a well-informed, gracious, and biblically faithful reply.”

Christopher J. H. Wright, International Ministries Director, Langham Partnership, author of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God and  The God I Don’t Understand

Chapter 1 is available here.

Pre-order your copy now on Amazon, Book Depository or Mighty Ape (or wherever you normally get your books).

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Ad Homonym: MandM are not suing the National Party

September 17th, 2014 by MandM
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For the record MandM are not suing the New Zealand National Party over their election advertisement. Rumours to the contrary we hereby reject as an ad homonym.

National Party Ad

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Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection

September 5th, 2014 by Matt
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In, “Is ethical naturalism more plausible than Supernaturalism“, I criticised Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s objection that a divine command theory (DCT) makes morality arbitrary. Armstrong argued:

“Let’s assume that God commanded us not to rape. Did God have any reason to command this? If not, his command was arbitrary, and then it can’t make anything morally wrong. On the other hand, if God did have a reason to command us not to rape, then that reason is what makes rape morally wrong. The command itself is superfluous. Either way, morality cannot Carrierdepend on God’s commands.”[1]

This argument can be summarized as follows:

[1] Either: (i) there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape; or, (ii) there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape.

[2] If there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape, then God’s commands are arbitrary.

[3] If there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape then, r, is what makes rape morally wrong.

[4] If r is what makes rape morally wrong then God’s commands are superfluous.

In response, I argued this argument commits the fallacy of equivocation because the word “makes” in premise [3] and [4] is ambiguous. I noted the word “makes” can be used in at least two different senses.

One sense refers to constitutive explanations, such as when one affirms that what makes a cup of clear liquid a cup of water is that fact the liquid is H20. The second refers to a motivational explanation, as in, when I state that my love for my children makes me persevere in parenting. If the word makes is used in the constitutive sense, [4] is true but [3] is false. If it’s used in a motivational sense [3] is true but [4] is false. Either way the argument fails.

Armstrong’s Dilemma
In a footnote, Carrier dismisses this response as “hand waving” and “completely off point”:”When Armstrong says “reason [r] is what makes rape morally wrong” he simply means “r is the reason rape is morally wrong.” Thus “r is what makes rape morally wrong” simply means “rape is morally wrong when r.”[2]

There are two problems with this response.

First, Carrier’s assertion that Armstrong “simply means ‘r is the reason rape is morally wrong’” is not supported by the text. Two pages earlier, Armstrong explicitly states he intends [Read more →]

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