Why Nature Is Necessary

Let’s clear a few things out in the first paragraph. Nature is nature, which seems obvious enough, but less obvious is that nature has a nature. The grain of the natural order runs in a particular way. It is not amorphous goo that can be shaped by any volunteer demiurge that happens by. It is not an inert substance that can successfully be altered by an act of Congress, or runaway judges. I just read in the news this week that a federal judge determined that in Michigan water must now run uphill.

This why sex change operations are such a fine example of pomosexual confusion. If nature does not have a nature, then subsets of nature (that would be us) would not have a nature either. If we do not have a nature, then it cannot be possible to contradict or violate it. But if we do have a nature, as established by nature’s God, then one of the first things that rebels against that God will want to do is declare war on it.

Not only does nature have a nature, nature also has a way of instructing us about herself. We see this in the realm of sexual customs. For example, nature teaches us that long hair is a disgrace for a man, but is a woman’s glory. But this creates an interesting set of questions.

We alter nature when we comb our hair, brush our teeth, take a bath, get braces for our teeth, or get a haircut. Now — and I am serious in asking the question — why are all these things lawful, and a sex change operation is not lawful? Why are the former examples of cultivating nature, and the latter an example of insulting her?

Nature was intended to be tended. Adam was placed in an untended garden that was entirely natural, and he was commanded to make it more like itself. A garden is more like nature than a weed patch. Nature was created to be cared for. Now when it is cared for, that care shows. It is manifested.

Up to a point, it is appropriate and lawful to force things “against nature.” Paul uses an example from grafting to make this very point. “For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?” (Rom. 11:24).

Grafting a wild olive branch into a cultivated olive tree is described as being “contrary to nature,” and yet doing do is perfectly fine. This is something that stumps the simple. The wild branch is wild “by nature,” and the good olive tree has natural branches (that were cut off) that can be grafted back in again. In other words, wild trees are natural and domesticated trees are also natural–and better.

This is why Jews can be Jews “by nature” (Gal. 2:15). Circumcision was natural. Nature was not intended to be left alone. Man was given dominion over it, and is expected to exercise that dominion. The cultural mandate is not authorization for environmental rape. At the same time, rape of nature is a possibility. That category does exist. It is just that the people who are most likely to chatter on about it have no earthly idea of what they are talking about. A guy in San Francisco prepping for a sex change operation decides to have lunch after his most recent hormone shots. At lunch, he will inquire carefully into whether or not the chicken in his chicken salad had any hormones in it. Ah, I see. Hormones must be bad.

So how can we know how to draw the line between getting braces so that you can someday get a girl, and getting hormone shots so that you can someday become a girl? There is no way to draw this line without resorting to natural revelation or natural law, and the Bible requires us to draw this line. Biblical wisdom must therefore learn how to read the world.

When Adam was tending the garden, it was perfectly fine for him to figure out how to prune a tree, and how to oversee a process like grafting. But if Adam starting trying to plant trees with their roots in the air, so that fish could build their nests up there, we would all start to worry that a serious problem had developed. We would begin to suspect that Adam had been taking some graduate classes.

In other words, there is a line. Nature wants to be messed with, up to a point, and nature must not be messed with past that point. What is that point exactly? Well, we have to pay close attention to nature to let her tell us.

Think of it this way:

“Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion” (Lev. 18:23).

Leviticus does not say that for a woman to have intercourse with a beast is contrary to this verse — although it is. The question is this. What was it contrary to before the verse was revealed? The law is certainly prescriptive: don’t do that. But the verse is also descriptive: it is confusion, and it would be confusion in ancient China, Peru, or any other place that had never heard of Moses. It would already be confusion. Confusion about what? It would be confusion about how God shaped the world.

The poet Horace put it this way, and we should all pay closer attention than we have. Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. You can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she keeps on coming back.

It is tempting for some Christians to appeal to this or that datum in science, as though the issue can be quantified. In a sex change operation, the DNA of the patient remains exactly what it was before. He is still male in that sense, just the eunuchs of Scripture remained male. Differences between them become manifest, obviously, just as we clearly distinguish between a steer and a bull. We have the noun eunuch for a reason. But castrating a man doesn’t make him a woman. As well hang a silicon udder on a steer and call it a cow. Doesn’t matter what you call it — you have plainly crossed the line we were talking about earlier, and graduate classes were probably involved in it.

But if we determined such things that way, why would it be lawful for a man to receive a woman’s kidney in an organ donation, but not lawful for him to receive a facsimile of a woman’s sexual organs via a surgeon’s knife? In the former case, he would have a bunch of cells that actually were female. How much sand can you put in the sugar bowl before it isn’t sugar anymore? Why would I, conservative Christian guy, not have a problem with that one and I would with the other?

The answer is that nature speaks everywhere, including in the heart of every man, woman, and child. God speaks through nature in the galaxies, in the buttercups, and under the breastbone of every proud atheist. This is routinely denied, but only by people who are trying to yammer loudly enough that they can’t hear Him anymore. But if you have questions about it, nature speaks to the Scottish common sense realist, and he doesn’t even need a microscope to answer you. Check in with him.

Athletic discipline is unnatural in one sense, and natural in another. Athletic discipline for women is unnatural in one sense, but natural in another. We see the grace of cultivated nature when she competes on the balance beam. We see the epitome of secularist stupidities when she competes in boxing and shot put. Ain’t natural, especially if she is good at it. It is called an abomination in Scripture (Dt. 22:5), but it was an abomination before Deuteronomy plainly called it that. If I were admonishing a carpenter for trying to pound nails with a tea cup, I wouldn’t need a verse.

And this is why the category of nature is such an essential one. Any denial of the nature of nature, or the reality of nature, or the goodness of nature, or the direction that nature’s grain naturally runs, or the complete authority of Jesus in and through all nature, is a catastrophic denial. We might be talking about Aquinas, or the doctrine of regeneration, or common grace, or Van Tilian apologetics, but depend upon it — any denial of nature will eventually be revealed to have been an essential part of an opening gambit designed to recreate all nature as playdough for the pomosexual.

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129 thoughts on “Why Nature Is Necessary

  1. Pastor,
    I don’t know if it’s related to a book of his, I just know that this is one of the best google results I’ve ever come across regarding the linkage between sexuality and religion–something I (and probably most Christians) don’t normally associate. Enjoy the paper and keep up the excellent blog posts!

  2. A girl competing in certain sports is sinful? That sounds awfully legalistic and culturally based. Appreciated the rest of the article though! 

  3. I just read the PDF.
    Remember in The Lord of the Rings scene–The Charge of the Rohirrim when King Theodin looks up after the initial charge to see the army of elephants coming his way and he has to regroup? yep, that’s how reading that made me feel.
     
    I think you are going to need another thread, pastor.
     
     

  4. And some nature is unnatural — needing eradication, not just domestication.  Darkness, residual formlessness, voidness, capacity to sin, death….  Right from the git-go, God planned obsolescences and extinctions.

  5. On a side note. Calvin contends that this “nature” Paul appeals to, with respect to the issue of hair length, is in the context of the Roman employment of barbers “around the time of Africanus the elder” (Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians). This particular age saw long hair (relative to the common length in Rome at the time) worn by men, as effeminate, perhaps even a symbol of a passive recipient of male perversion. Thoughts? And hello from Zeltenreich URC church in PA where we wait eagerly for your gracious visit to our congregation. 

  6. Right on, and we know when nature is “natural” and when it is not based on the metaphors god uses to share with us an understanding of the world. We “really” learn a narrative and understand nature through that narrative rather than having some meaning forced upon us by the mere existence of matter. More of a “semiotic realism” than a “common sense realism”.

  7. There is a woman who works in my office who could probably kick start a jumbo jet.  If she showed up at Doug’s church on a Sunday morning, I am absolutely certain she would be the most masculine person there, and I say that without ever having been to Doug’s church myself.  And the idea that she has anything other than a lesbian nature is completely absurd.  She couldn’t be June Cleaver if she wanted to.  If you’re going to appeal to nature, how about the common sense approach of not trying to hammer individually-round humans into square holes (or vice versa)?  Does it occur to you that the mere fact that some women are good at boxing and shot put suggests that it may be in their nature to do things like boxing and shot put?  What you’re basically doing is projecting your own subjective views about how men and women ought to behave onto nature, and the mere fact that individual men and woman have individual natures that don’t fit your preconceptions doesn’t delay you by even a nanosecond.  

  8. Eric,

      

    Saying that all individuals have a different individual natures is essentially the same as saying there is no such thing as “nature”. It’s no different from Nominalism, which saw all universals as fictions. Doug’s whole argument though is against Nominalism and in favor of something (dare I say?) more Thomistic.

         

    If everyone has their own individual nature, then however anyone acts is according to nature. If, however, humans are built a certain way with a certain telos, then any use of a human contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions (the telos) constitutes misuse. This latter view was the view of everyone from Plato, to Aristotle, to Paul.

  9. Rick, I wouldn’t say that all universals are fictions, though I do think there aren’t nearly as many universals as one might think; the more we look, the more exceptions we find to what were thought to be universals.  And part of it comes down to taxonomy; humans love neat and well-defined categories, and in nature such neat, well-defined categories often don’t exist.  But the real question here is what to do with anomolies.  For most people, gay marriage will never be a personal issue because most people aren’t gay.  Some are, they have limited if any control over what they find attractive, and the question is what is to be done about such people.  Going back to my co-worker, attempting to feminize her would only make her miserable, so why not allow her the same pursuit of happiness the rest of us take for granted?  And that, I think, is ultimately what separates me from Doug:  I’m willing for the anomolies to be allowed to pursue happiness; Doug wants to make them miserable by trying to fit them into pigeonholes that don’t work for them.  And I do think most appeals to nature are totally subjective projections onto nature of how the speaker thinks nature ought to behave.  

  10. Whether individual or not, the problem is the same.  As lying, cheating, and stealing are every bit as natural as any other behavior, and no one wants people to simply act on whatever desire they have at the moment like a barbarian, one must separate human nature into good and bad.  Christians do this by appealing to the Bible, other religions by appealing to their own sacred traditions, but the secularists have a harder time of it.  

  11. Eric,
        You say this woman would be the most masculine person at Doug’s church . . . how many guys at Doug’s church, or at your office, do you think you could identify as “a woman” ?   Alright then.  
     
     
    You’re exhibiting the upshot of Rick’s comment above – about denying nature and the categories that flow from that.  There’s an inherent contradiction there, too.  Folks want to deny basic categories, and label all the associations and divisions that flow from those natural categories as illegitimate social fabrications.   But then in an attempt to shuffle and confuse those categories, they have to appeal to – and implicitly recognize, the very trappings they are fighting against.   This woman in your office is masculine??  Why?  Because she’s uber-tough, or kick boxes, or has a well-sculpted physique, or has an aggressive streak, loves muscle cars or is good at every sport she tries?  Well now look who enamored with stereotypes that define masculinity!  
     
     
      Truth is, whether she’s masculine in any genuine sense, or whether she’s merely masculine “by association” with all the trappings, it’s impossible for a woman to “out-masculine” a man in any meaningful sense, b/c no matter how good she is at being “manly,” she’s still a woman.  Manly and man are not synonyms. 
     
    There is something to be said about not pushing trappings and social convention to the point of absolute moral proscriptions — a lot of wisdom and discernment can be legitimately brought to bear on some difficult questions and legitimate gray areas once we establish fundamentals.  But first, one needs to establish the foundation in which they stand.  And it seems your exceptions would eat up the rule that Rick refers to, and thus, while you may not deny all universals in word, you have enough exceptions to swallow up the rule in practice.

  12. Eric, I like that argument a lot. I’ve been hankering for some way out of this whole monogamy thing in marriage ever since my wife lost her shape. And the fact is, by nature I am inclined to desire every attractive woman that walks by, especially the ones that look like they wouldn’t mind sleeping with a married man. Poor, benighted Christians keep trying to monogamize me but it just makes me miserable. And besides, I’m pretty sure my wife and three kids will understand that I should be allowed the same pursuit of happiness as everyone else. Now I know those Christian bumpkins will appeal to their Bible as some kind of ultimate standard that should decide for both me and the lesbian what is right and wrong, but brother, I’m with you! Down with bible, up with personal happiness as the cosmic measuring stick!

  13. Matt, and Dave, comparing lying, cheating, stealing and adultery on the one hand to homosexuality is apples to oranges because those behaviors cause harm and homosexuality doesn’t.  Irresponsible homosexuality, like irresponsible heterosexuality, causes harm, but the harm is caused by the irresponsibility and not by the orientation itself.  If you want an apples to apples comparison, you’re going to have to come up with a behavior that doesn’t hurt anyone but which religion nevertheless condemns.  I’m betting you can’t, at least not that will stand up under examination.

  14. Matt Massingill, if we’re talking about the majority of the population, then you’re probably right.  Most people are clearly and unambiguously either male or female; most people are clearly and unambiguously heterosexual (at least most of the time, if we factor out circumstantial homosexuality like drunk frat boys and one-time experimentation and people confined to institutions where opposite sex sexual partners aren’t available).  But I’m talking about the anomolies.  There is a small but not insignificant percentage of the population that isn’t straight, and another small but not insignificant percentage of the population that isn’t clearly male or female.  Most of them don’t seem to be hurting anyone, at least not for reasons related to gender or sexual orientation.  Trying to force those individuals into categories that just don’t fit strikes me as both wrong from a scientific standpoint and needlessly cruel to the individuals involved.  You don’t decide which categories you want and then cram things into them whether they fit or not; that’s not  the way taxonomy works.  Instead, you look to see which categories people actually fit into and name your categories accordingly.  And because nature isn’t as committed to binary either/or categories as you are, you’ll often find that there are anomolies.  You want to try telling a platypus that she can’t lay eggs because she’s a mammal, be my guest.

  15. Matt M., I just add a couple of blank spaces, highlight them, and click the “quotation mark” button.

      

    Also, Eric the Red, you said, “why not allow her the same pursuit of happiness the rest of us take for granted?” The problem with that statement is that one must define happiness; it can’t just be left nebulous and vague. I think that your worldview necessitates that happiness is as multiform as individual essences are, whereas, in the view of someone who believes in natures (both general human nature and male/female nature),  happiness is a specific thing, and it is tied to nature. Happiness for anyone means functioning according to the manufacturer’s instructions (using a hammer to drive in a nail), and lack of happiness comes from functioning contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions (using a hammer to pick your teeth). And the proper function comes, not by how the hammer feels about itself, but by what it’s creator intended it to do. Whether this means that happiness is, as Aristotle would have it, “the activity of the soul in accordance with virtue”, whether Plato is right in saying that happiness means having a well-ordered soul with the reason ruling over the will and the will and reason together keeping the desires in check, whether the author of Ecclesiastes is right that the purpose of life (and therefore the only thing that can give happiness) is to fear God and keep His commandments, or whether all of these positions are ultimately compatible with one another (which is what I believe), anyone who pursues anything else as happiness ( pleasure, comfort, health, wealth, riches, honor, glory, power, knowledge) is not really pursuing happiness. They may even believe themselves to be happy because they have achieved one or more of the above things, but they would be wrong.

      

    You may drive a nail by turning the screwdriver around and beating the nail with the handle, but that’s not what a screwdriver is made for, no matter how much the screwdriver insists that it feels like a hammer on the inside.

  16. Rick, while I don’t believe in a creator, I do think Plato and Aristotle mostly got it right about happiness and virtue; real long-term happiness comes from being a virtuous person, even if it may be temporarily pleasurable to set virtue aside.  But other than a raw, naked appeal to your religious beliefs, what’s the argument that homosexuality can’t be virtuous?  And if the manufacturer intended that my co-worker not be a lesbian, then why didn’t he manufacture her not to be?  It’s not like people choose what they’ll be attracted to.  I don’t see how God can create her as a chocolate cake and then complain that she’s not an apple pie.  He’s the cook; he could have used a different recipe had he chosen to.

  17. And if I need to drive a nail, a hammer may be the preferred method of doing it, but if the only tool available to me is the handle of a screwdriver, I may have to improvise.

  18. Eric, In the event there’s no Creator then homosexuality can’t be virtuous because virtue doesn’t exist, along with any moral/value categories it happened to be standing on. And good luck defining what you mean by “right” when you describe Plato and Aristotle’s teachings, since we also need God for reason. For that matter, you might want to take a minute and consider the value in engaging in argument in a universe with no objective standard for morality or reason. Or, to say it another way, we’re happy to argue with you but first you need to give our categories back. It’s not our fault if that leaves you empty handed.

  19. Eric the Red wrote:

    “Matt, and Dave, comparing lying, cheating, stealing and adultery on the one hand to homosexuality is apples to oranges because those behaviors cause harm and homosexuality doesn’t.”

    Causing harm is quite natural.  (See nature.)  In fact, evolutionism depends on harm as a mechanism to cull the weak and promote the “fit”.  Imagine how soft and weak and stupid everything would be if all the animals were polite and shared and helped all the other animals find food and shelter.  Why do we have to keep reminding Eric of the consequences of his naturalism/materialism?  Eric continues:

    “Trying to force those individuals into categories that just don’t fit strikes me as both wrong from a scientific standpoint and needlessly cruel to the individuals involved.”

    Whoa now.  What’s with all this imposing of expectations by Eric?  In Eric’s naturalism, Doug is just a member of the category of people who force things into nice neat categories.  Who is Eric to call this wrong or cruel?  Nature has no such expectations of anything.  Doug is.  Doug requires no justification.  Eric needs to stop trying to force Doug into some category that Doug doesn’t fit into.

  20. Eric the Red wrote:

    “Rick, while I don’t believe in a creator, I do think Plato and Aristotle mostly got it right about happiness and virtue; real long-term happiness comes from being a virtuous person, even if it may be temporarily pleasurable to set virtue aside.”

    Clearly Eric has developed a severe case of amnesia, or else he thinks we have, or else he has begun treatment for a worldview-change operation.  All his sudden talk of right and wrong and virtue, one would think that he had discarded his utilitarianism.  For those who aren’t aware, virtue ethics are on the opposite end of the ethics scale from utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism doesn’t concern itself with virtue (metaphysics), but with whether some behavior “works” in the sense of being efficient toward some made up goal.  Right and wrong are independent of whatever is “efficient”.  Notice how Eric tries to hide the inefficiencies of virtue by suggesting an arbitrarily longer timescale for measurement.  How long shall we wait for Eric’s neo-karma to kick in and render virtue efficient again?  Shall we wait for an eternal reward in the afterlife?  Is that a long enough horizon?  Eric seems to have gone all postmodern metaphysical on us now.  So much for his utilitarian evolutionism.

  21. Matt, and Dave, comparing lying, cheating, stealing and adultery on the one hand to homosexuality is apples to oranges because those behaviors cause harm and homosexuality doesn’t.

    The point is more that secularists can’t account for the duality of human nature, and hence can’t appeal to nature consistently.  Homosexuality is good because it is in their nature, but it is in the nature of a thief to steal too.  People don’t choose who their attracted to, but then they don’t choose what they’re attracted to either, either in terms of material things or behaviors.  There’s no way around declaring certain aspects of human nature good and others bad, but there’s no secular reason why it should be so.

  22. All this talk of nature, whether wild or cultivated, and no mention of fruit? Circumcision was a deliberate boundary for cultivation of one nation, and the curses of the Law were a regular pruning. But neither circumcision nor the Law could bring forth fruit per se. This goes back to Eden: Adam was natural, but cut open that he might bear physical fruit. Adam and Eve were qualified (tested) that the Land and the womb might be opened to them. So a crucial part of discerning what “natural law” actually is, has to do with whether it makes something more fruitful. Transgender operations do not bear fruit, yet the large slavic woman who can carry a tree trunk that would crush ten U.S. marines can bear children. Cultivation is not an end in itself. Adam’s purpose was husbandry (the Land and the womb) which is why these were limited by curses, and why they were the shape of the promises given to Abraham. It seems to me that our culture wants to put an end to every sort of husbandry, Land and womb, but starting with the Bride of Christ in the Garden.

  23. Eric,

      

    Without a creator there can be no telos, and without a telos, there can be no virtue, for there is no definite purpose at which to aim. That ancient atheist, Lucretius, was more consistent than you in that he recognized this fact. “…nature for herself,” he wrote, “barks after nothing save that pain keep off, disjointed from the body, and that mind enjoy delightsome feeling, far from care and fear! Therefore we see that our corporal life needs little, altogether, and only such as takes the pain away, and can besides strew underneath some number of delights.”

         

    Philosophically, those are the options. You can talk about virtue and vice if you believe that there is a standard inherent in all of creation that can be obeyed or disobeyed, or you can talk about pleasure and pain if you believe no such standard exists. Let’s not play the game of talking about pleasure and pain and acting as if we’re talking about virtue and vice as in utilitarianism.
       
    In answer to your question, “And if the manufacturer intended that my co-worker not be a lesbian, then why didn’t he manufacture her not to be?” Christianity has been answering this question, and answering it fairly consistently, for two thousand years. Because of the fall, all humans are born in an estate of sin and misery and subject to death; in other words, all humans are born in a state contrary to their original nature, full of desires and yearnings for unnatural things. Homosexual desire is simply one manifestation of this brokenness in humanity.

  24. Eric the Red,
        So, are you really comfortable with applying this rule of “statistical anomaly classification” to all questions of morality?   Are all inclinations within moral bounds as long as they are statistical anomalies?    If not, what authority decides which, and which not?
     

    I see no justification for the presupposition that taxonomy has comprehensive point for point analogous correspondence with questions of moral determination.  Besides, taxonomy is a matter of drawing up human-made classification conventions based on observations of tendencies and traits of various species.  Much of it based on Darwinistic assumptions to boot.  Unless those conventions and classification boundaries are immutable and authoritative, then they are only reflections of observations, not determinative moral statements of design.   Even if one doesn’t grant the authority of YAHWEH, it’s unavoidable that it changes the basis of the argument.  Taxonomy is an argument from human convention, the design of the sexes is an argument of authority.  

     

  25. Gentlemen, the idea that without a creator there can be no virtue is comparable to the idea that without goldfish there can be no bicycles.  The idea that without a creator there is no basis for morality is comparable to the idea that without basketballs there is no basis for organic chemistry.  It is so completely silly that the appropriate response is a blank stare. The only argument I can think of that’s even sillier is that a God who acts as completely immorally as the one described in the Bible is somehow the fountain of morality and the basis for virtue.

  26. Katecho, the reason nature causes harm is because that benevolent creator you claim to be the fountain of virtue created a world that had far fewer resources than are necessary to support the life it contains, thus guaranteeing that a lot of animals are going to starve to death simply because there aren’t enough resources to go around.  He could have created a universe in which animals could afford to be kind and loving and helpful to one another, but instead chose to create one in which for almost all animals, the cost of being born is to die a painful death at the hands of predators or disease.  You want to explain to me again why you think this guy is the foundation of virtue and ethics?  Designing such a world would get me sent to the nearest jail or psych ward.

  27. Rick, “because of the fall” has become a mantra among theists to explain pain and suffering, but have you actually thought through the implications of that argument?  Evil exists in the world because a woman listened to a talking snake and ate some fruit.  Furthermore, people and animals suffer today for the sins of someone who lived 6,000 years ago.  What would you think of a third-world dictator who decided to punish someone because of something that happened in his family tree 6000 years ago?  How is it just to inflict suffering on someone who (in the case of humans) is 6000 years descendant from the person who did the crime, and (in the case of animals) isn’t even related to the person who did the crime 6000 years ago?  Again, this is done by the person whom you claim to be the fountain of virtue.  And even assuming you can come up with some argument for why it’s just to punish people for what their ancestors did, why extend it for 6000 years?  Think of all the suffering that could have been avoided if the sin problem had been dealt with inside a single generation rather than let it fester for six millenia?

  28. Matt Massingill, no, taxonomy isn’t the sole arbiter of moral questions.  It’s taxonomy plus harm.  The classification “homosexual” has no moral implications because homosexuality doesn’t cause harm (at least not exercised responsibly).  The classification “serial killer” is different because it does cause harm.  Even though one cold argue that serial killers are basically a biological anomoly as well.  Which is why I’m comfortable saying that society needs to protect itself from pedophiles even if the pedophile can’t help being attracted to children:  Pedophilia does an enormous amount of damage, so while I may feel compassion for someone who didn’t ask to be born a pedophile, nevertheless protecting children from harm is more important.

  29. Comrade Eric, you said:

     If you want an apples to apples comparison, you’re going to have to come up with a behavior that doesn’t hurt anyone but which religion nevertheless condemns.  I’m betting you can’t, at least not that will stand up under examination.

    You lose.  Exodus 20: 1-11.  The first table of the law.  Of course you could try to wriggle out of it by saying that breaking those rules does offend (hurt) Jehovah, but the catch 22 is that if you admit that to win the bet, you have admitted that homosexuality itself offends (hurts) God.  And really, that is the whole point in the debate isn’t it?  The “gay” lifestyle and gay mirage only offend Christians because it offends our holy God.

  30. Comrade Eric, in the very first comment on this post there is a link to an article by Peter Jones.  I would be interested to hear your response to it, if you feel so inclined.  I am done for now, since I am off to what we non-pagans call “church.”

  31. Eric, I am so happy to hear you talk about our creator even if it is only because you are angry at the way He has chosen to run His world.  You bring up the important objection of why morality can’t equal pleasure and pain can’t equal immorality.  To a child an immunization hurts, yet as parents we know it is for our child’s welfare.  When we complain that our Father should have sent His son much earlier, or that it isn’t fair we are all being punished for Eve, we sound just like the children we all are to God.  It is frustrating at first to try to understand why God doesn’t run His world the way we think would be best.  But as your faith continues to grow, you will have peace in knowing that God is working all things to a good and glorious end.  Again, I am so thrilled to hear you acknowledging a creator to Katecho.  I have been praying for it.  Blessings.

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    Eric,
    The reason that people keep returning to the necessity of the Biblical God in our thinking and reasoning is because only He through His Word provide the preconditions necessary to make the world and our daily lives intelligible. Your statement about organic chemistry and basketballs is not an answer to the posts you responded to; it is simply gibberish by way of a totally fallacious series of (dis)analogies. Your post about your female coworker is an example of how non-Christian thinking traps people (whether they are professing Christians or not) into an intellectual cul-de-sac. Over and over again in your posts on this particular thread, you make unfounded assumptions about nature, and then you commit the naturalistic fallacy. First of all, unless men or women are supposed to appear and behave in a certain manner, then there is no meaningful description of male and female nature, unless you want to trivialize the meaning of the word nature to simply mean “the way that things are is the way that things are”. This will not do, because unless there are reliably generalizable descriptors of male and female, then there is no meaningful definition of nature with regard to gender, the latter of which simply becomes a matter of anatomical differences. Secondly, you have no scholarly right to talk about nature unless you have an epistemologically meaningful way to describe it. Our nature is not material, so you did not observe it. Observing behavior is not the same thing as observing the nature of a person. The truth is, you do not know anything about the nature of people, because it is inscrutable by empirical means since it is not a material entity. You could know something reliable about this subject if you would listen to the Word of God describe how He originally created man and woman, and how certain behaviors are against that nature. Paul says as much in plain language in Romans 1, and when he speaks of homosexuality as being against nature, he is not saying that the behavior of male and female homosexuals was against their own nature (there is a way to communicate that in Greek, though Paul was not writing about that concept). Rather, he is talking about men and women acting against the nature that God originally gave male and female. You observing a woman behaving in a manner associated with maleness does not prove anything at all in favor of your non-Christian views, unless we assume your non-Christian premises (we will come back to that in a moment), since the Christian understands that people in their sinful and unregenerate state can behave in all sorts of fashions which feel quite natural to them, but which are against the nature God calls people, male and female, to aspire to. People can also deceive themselves, according to the Bible, so anecdotes about how someone always felt a same-sex attraction even from an early age are again not in any way a proof against the Word of God. The fact that your female colleague assumes a masculine way of life does not prove that what she is doing is amoral or morally upright either, since descriptions do not lead to prescriptions.
     
    It is when we go back and examine those premises you have stated that we Christians on this forum recognize that your particular presuppositions that you have shared (you may not have used that term, but you have communicated them through your posts) do not comport with your application of them. You continually speak about rights for gays, which depending on what rights we are talking about, I would agree with. But then again, I have a philosophically rational reason for supporting that. Yet, you are referring to abstract, immaterial concepts that your worldview does not explain or give access to. You speak about atheistic evolution from time to time, and yet in the same breath you speak about morals and human dignity, and you attempt to use logic for your arguments, all of which are entities which are not explainable from your view point. These are not material entities, they are not conventions of human society, they are not established in either an a priori or an a posteriori fashion, and they are not justified in terms of utilitarianism, and I am ready to refute you if you would like to pursue any of those outlooks.
    And so over and over again, as with any non-Christian worldview, we see you vacillate from pole to pole between rationalism and irrationalism, attempting to give what you believe are reasoned explanations for your view, but then resorting to using tools that in the final analysis, you cannot give a cogent account of. You speak as a materialist, and then you speak about moral principles, which do not exist in a universe made up only of material. You no more can speak credibly about human nature than I can about what Putin is wearing right now. You could, however, speak with authority on this issue if you would avail yourself of all the resources He has made available. You already use some of those resources, resources which you cannot even begin to scratch the metaphysical surface regarding, in terms of explaining them even at a Sunday School level. This is why God is angry with you right now, Eric, because you know better. I have to confess though, that I have not prayed for you enough. I am going to do better in the future, because this blogging back and forth is getting you nowhere.

  33. St. Lee, before I respond to your first table of the law argument, can you please tell us how exactly homosexuality hurts God?

  34. Carole, I’m not angry at God.  It’s impossible to be angry at something that doesn’t exist.  I think the idea that the God of the Bible is just, righteous and merciful is a world-class howler because of some of the examples I’ve given and many others I could have given.  On your broader point, yes, an immunization hurts, but the hurt is for the benefit of the child to whom the immunization is being given.  The examples I’ve given are more along the lines of hurting a child to vindicate the hurt feelings of a deity to whom not enough attention has been paid.  An ancient Persian monarch was fond of doing just that; killing the children of parents whom he felt had not showed him proper respect.  I suppose you could argue, if you wanted to, the glory and majesty of the Peacock Throne was so great that he was justified in killing children to show his wrath, but I doubt you would. 

  35. David, the idea that God is a necessary precondition to an intelligible universe is just plain silly, and every time someone makes it, I roll my eyes.  OK, you’ve made what I consider a silly argument; I’ve rolled my eyes; neither of us is going to convince the other on that point, so let’s move on.   

  36. Eric,
     
    Homosexuality does not hurt God. Rather, it is an affront to God because it is a deliberate blurring of the maleness and femaleness with which he made people, and through which He demonstrates and conveys His image to us. Homosexuality does hurt people, because when unrepented of, it condemns a soul to hell. Further, according to Paul in Romans 1, a society so backslidden as to not only tolerate but to actually condone such perverse behavior requires a degree of moral turpitude such that there are a host of other culturally decaying factors present long before. You can read the list in Romans 1:28-32. This is what cultures looks like when homosexuality is condoned. It is not that when two men sodomize each other, magically, somewhere else in the same country, some gets mugged, and there is a direct causal relationship. Rather, a nation that is so perverse as to think two men sodomizing one another, or two women scissoring or using dildos, is as natural as an apple growing from an apple tree, is a nation that has already morally decayed to the point that all the other things in Paul’s list as no in full bloom, with homosexuality being the head of that pimple.

  37. Eric,
    You are not engaging my argument. The idea of preconditions (transcendentals) in philosophy as a way of assessing competing ultimate authorities was used by Aristotle and Kant, and others. Giving a cavalier dismissal is not an answer. When you speak about morals, or logic, or math, and you simply pretend that “we all know those things are real”, you are basically saying either that you do not know, or you do not care how it is your moral assessments, for example, are nothing more than your subjective preference rapped in the language of futility. When you condemn murder or rape, are you communicating anything meaningfull, or are you expressing nothing more than saying “Ala KaZam”, because you speak as if it is really wrong for some activities to take place, as if an objective moral standard is being violated, and yet when we ask you to give anything remotely resembling an educated explanation of that standard, we get eye rolling.

  38. First of all, maybe there really isn’t a “male nature” and a “female nature” as you understand them, and if that’s the case, then so what?  I’m not completely convinced that gender is entirely a social construct, but there are some good arguments for that position, and if it turns out to be right, then facts are facts and that’s all there is to it.  Probably most men and women actually do appear and behave as you think they should, but your religion has nothing except misery to offer those few who don’t.  I suppose you can say they aren’t of the elect and were created to be damned anyway so who cares if they suffer misery on earth as well; that argument plus a stamp will allow you to mail a letter.

  39. David, I’m not engaging your argument about preconditions because if you will read the archives of this blog, you’ll find I’ve already given a substantive response, many times over in fact.  That, plus it’s a silly argument that deserves dismissal.  That, plus it’s a change of subject designed to sidetrack my underlying point, which is that your theology of human sexuality is both baseless and cruel.  Yes, I know, you’d much rather talk about my presuppositions, real or imagined, than the pain and suffering your theology inflicts on gays and lesbians.  Well, in earlier threads, I’ve already given substantive answers to those questions, and I’m not going to be sidetracked from pointing out the sheer viciousness of what you’re advocating.

  40. Eric,
    Election has nothing to do with what I engaged you in. My family and I are quite happy, as most of the Christians I know are also. However, if the pleasantness of our situation changes, how would that have any bearing on the existence of God? Suffering is accounted for in the Bible, and there are times that the just do suffer, and that for a season, the unjust seem to go unpunished. In your world view, how do you make sense of suffering, the way that you are using that word in your post? Somewhere in the Nile river right now, there is an crocodile what is missing part of its jaw due to a fight with a larger reptile. Is human suffering kind of  like that? Does it mean anything beyond chemical impulses? You know very well that is not the point you are making. You are taking issue now with the justice of God, and although we have switched subjects, I am happy to discuss this if you can first tell me how it is that there is such a thing as evil given your worldview. I am glad that you take this issue seriously, but before we can have a serious discussion of it, you need to explain what you think evil is, and how it is objectively defined in a world without a meta-ethical purpose.
     
    By the by, it seems there is no justice in this universe, without an afterlife, since the evil workers who live high on the hog simple go to sleep, and the oppressed simply die in misery and end up in the same state of non-existence. Of course, here I am, assuming that human life weighs more in the balance than a carrot or a blade of grass.

  41. Eric,
    You have not given substantive answers in your previous log posts. I have read them, perhaps not all of them, but I searched for them, and I am familiar with your posts. I am asking you a question that a Sunday School child could answer. How do you have good and evil in a world that is only material, for example? If your preconditions do not explain your behavior, then what you are doing is living in a manner that does not comport with what you describe the universe as being like. That is a fair cross-examination. We keep going back to the Bible on this forum, and pointing out that your descriptions of things like sexuality, and abortion, and marriage and others are not Biblical, to which you respond ‘Well, I do not believe in the Bible”. Then, we ask you to explain what you believe, and to show how those beliefs explain those matters of life that all of us have contact with on a daily basis, and you give us a potpourri of answers none of which tie together a material universe with immaterial entities , the latter of which you use and trust without universal knowledge.

  42. Comrade Eric, you said:

    St. Lee, before I respond to your first table of the law argument, can you please tell us how exactly homosexuality hurts God?

    You may notice in my previous comment that I put it this way: ” …homosexuality itself offends (hurts) God,” a link that most would understand to be a form of rhetorical judo since equating offending to hurting someone is one of the primary weapons used by the LGBTP activists to push their agenda.
                                                                                                                                                                         BTW, I could add fornication (sex outside of marriage) to that list.  In your worldview that also is harmless, so you can’t say that Christianity is just picking on homosexuals.
                                                                                                                                                                             There is one other small observation I would make.  In a previous comment you made this statement:

    And if I need to drive a nail, a hammer may be the preferred method of doing it, but if the only tool available to me is the handle of a screwdriver, I may have to improvise.

    Actually, you should try this some time.  You will probably find it all but impossible to drive a nail with a screwdriver handle.  There is just not enough weight behind it – much like your arguments here.
                                                                                                                                                                            

  43. David writes: “Rather, it is an affront to God because it is a deliberate blurring of the maleness and femaleness with which he made people”.  So gay couples are really just “getting back at daddy”?  Kind of like when a white girl from Alabama dates a black guy, right?
     
    “Homosexuality does hurt people, because when unrepented of, it condemns a soul to hell”.  So does idolatry and unbelief, right?  Yet, no one here seems to be raging against idolatrous Mormons, Catholics and Jews and insisting that their religious practices should be outlawed lest He send yet another flood to wipe everyone out.  By the way, why do folks believe this is how He operates?  If He wants to take out a few Jews or Mormons, why not just send a lightning bolt into one of their houses of worship, obliterating everyone in it?  Perhaps His message is more “clear” when He sends a tsunami along the banks of Louisiana to wipe out poor old women tethered to ventilators in hospitals rooms along with the “sinners” He apparently despises?  

  44. James,
    You are not only writing about things not relevant to the post, but you are rolling things together into a non-sequitur argument. First, the Bible teaches that God made mankind in His image, and apparently the fullness of that image is best expressed in male and female forms, each of which compliments the other in their highest instance. This is certainly the case in terms of fruitful sexual intercourse, where one form of sexuality is potentially fruitful by its design, and the other is never fruitful by its perversion of the nature God gave to men and women. Secondly, I do not recall writing anything in any post on this site that placed, on a par, race and sexual practices. That is an unBiblical analogy, one which unbelievers perpetuate, but one which God does not teach us. People are not condemned by God for being born black, but people are condemned by God for willful deviance in terms of their sexual practices and desires, which is evil by virtue of the fact that it is against the nature of the God who created mankind and ordained sexual intercourse within His circumscribed law (this is your real beef with the thread). Thirdly, when you say that Christians are not railing against the RCC or against Christian cults…where exactly have you been hanging out for the last couple of years? Ever heard of the Reformation? Are you aware of the myriad books that have been written to combat heresies like the church of the LDS? However, this blog entry, which you completely ignored, was about nature, and in particular, how this relates to such issues as male and female functions and roles. As a matter of fact, the great sin of our day nationwide is not LDS teachings, but rather, sexual deviancy, and so Christians should not be suckered into the kind of baiting you demonstrate when we speak to the problems of the hour. You would rather us speak about culturally irrelevant issues, I suppose, which would be disobedient to the Lord and of no help to the unbelieving world. The fact that no one has posted a comment against the Christological heresy of Arius, for example, does not mean we are using a double standard in discussing sexuality, or by giving sexual issues a greater emphasis today. It simply indicates we are talking about another issue, one more relevant to the controversy of the present time. Lastly, no one on this thread has dared to say why it is that God ordained that a hurricane destroyed a large part of New Orleans, because there is no way for us to know that.  None of us knows, though we know from God’s Word that he ordains whatever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11) and that He has a morally sufficient reason for what He does. We learn this from the Scripture, which is the Christian’s ultimate authority on such matters. If you have a different ultimate authority, then what we will need to do is to compare yours to ours, and to see whether you have, for example, a rational support for the moral indignation you feel against your Creator when He dares to do things which you, in your finite understanding of everything, feel are not fair. In fact, we would have to see if your worldview can even provide an intelligible explanation of moral matters such as evil (we will call this the “who died and left you to play the role of God” issue).  However, from previous posts, I won’t expect such an analysis. Rather than over and over again just giving us the melodramatic and bombastic responses that are neither true to the Scripture or the post, it would be better to tell us what you believe and why. What is your ultimate authority (yes, everyone has one) and since you brought an ethical charge against God, give us an idea of how you come to know moral absolutes in your approach to ethics. And to simply say “I don’t need God to have morals” really does not help you, since it personalizes morals, and outside of the carefully constructed play area that you and others construct for your pet theories, be they subjective or utilitarian or whatever, there is a Hitler and a Stalin who have their personal morals as well. Somehow, though, you will find a way to double back around to condemn, though, am I right? It’s all so personal, until that position is reduced to such absurdity, that we reserve the right to universalize our personal beliefs at any time.

  45. St. Lee, I have now read the article, all 27 pages of it, twice.  In no particular order, here are my comments:  (1) The article is an attempt to make everything about Christianity, and everything isn’t about Christianity.  I very much doubt that any homosexual decided he or she was a homosexual based on something religious; it has more to do with who one is sexually attracted to, as demonstrated by the fact that homosexuals are found in all religions.  (2) While I think all minorities look at the world differently than those in the majority do, that’s a function of people on the outside looking in see things differently than those on the inside.  (3) I think Mr. Jones has perception bias and confirmation bias in spades.  (4) While there are some androgynous gays, there are also hyper-masculine gay men and hyper-feminine gay men.  Go the the Halloween party at any gay leather bar (which I will admit to having done) and you are far more likely to see gays dressed up as lumberjacks, police officers, marines, truck drivers and construction workers than you are to see drag queens.  (Ever hear of the Village People?)  I suspect that’s true of gay porn as well, though I’m hardly an expert on that subject.  (5) I also think it’s a mistake to lump together “gays” in one group any more than it is to lump together “Christians” as one group.  Best as I can tell, the only thing that unifies all gays is same-sex attraction; other than that, they’re all over the map politically, religiously, socially and culturally.  And by the way, a lot of gay guys hate feminism as much as you do, albeit for a different set of reasons.

  46. David, morality does not exist in a vacuum; the question is:  Morality in terms of what?  You define morality in terms of what God wants you to do, and by that definition, you’re right, since I don’t believe in God I’m never going to have a basis for morality that you will find satisfactory.  However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other types of morality; for example, what is best for humans.  Since I am human, what is ethical for me is what is best for humans; wanting my tribe to do well is fairly basic if not axiomatic morality.  The silliness starts when I get questions like “Why is it immoral to hurt humans or inflict pain.”  Well, why do you think?  However, my real objection to this entire line of discussion, aside from the fact that we’ve had this conversation many times before, is that it is a fairly transparent way to change the subject.  You don’t want to talk about how cruel, despicable and sadistic your theology of human sexuality is toward gays and lesbians.  Well, if you can sidetrack the discussion by questioning my right to even raise the subject — if I have no basis for morality, then I can’t really complain that you’re behaving immorally — then you don’t have to deal with the subject of how your policies affect gays and lesbians.  Which is why I’m becoming increasingly impatient with this whole line of conversation.  Going forward, my response is likely to be “Objection, asked and answered.  Next.”

  47. Eric,
    I am about to travel, so I need to make this comment brief, and I will try to check in tomorrow. When you discuss why it is immoral to hurt other humans, do you have any idea how many assumptions are packed into that question which you rhetorically posit? Does “hurt” include providing me a vaccination which momentarily hurts, or does it mean spanking my children, which they find unpleasant, or does it mean paying taxes, which I might at times find unpleasant? What about when the police arrest a criminal – you assume that the men in uniform have the right of way, but why? The criminal finds this to his hurt. But notice the terms. You are begging the question, because in order to answer your question, you have to know right and wrong before hand. And further, there are so many counter-examples of people who do not, apparently, either know, or care, what is right or wrong that to simply, and glibly, say “Why do you think” would earn you a D- in a philosophy course.
     
    I am not sidetracking anything. I asked you a simple question, so as to save us time going around and around. There is a certain issue here with honesty and integrity, and propriety. This is Doug’s blog, and it is his to monitor. However, there is something wrong with a man or woman coming around frequently and making irresponsible comments and then refusing to be honestly engaged, but rather demanding to be engaged only on his terms, the process of which never gets to the heart of the matter so that we engage in what some might consider vain arguments. That kind of a man, who espouses a non-Christian view and refuses correction, is not only a fool in the language of the Bible, but it raises questions whether all of this round and around on our part is helping you, or might be a waste of time in its present form. Sometimes, just talking about and treating as common these sorts of issues leads to an attitude that this is just some mundane topic you and I are haggling over. This is a matter of your soul and mine, not to mention the people we are invoking in the discussion.
     
    If you are a materialist, you have some explaining to do about how there are clearly universal abstract entities such as moral laws which you have no problem invoking.  You just cannot help yourself! What does sadism even mean in your worldview? And if I were a sadist, so what? What if it gives me pleasure? Why should I care if it hurts someone else? So what if you think that is wrong. Do you think a society could operate this way? We need a standard, or else society falls apart, and that is what I have been asking: what is your standard? How do you make these moral evaluations? They are not empirically discovered, nor is the nature of mankind – these are philosophical and religious issues that are real but which are immaterial. I keep trying to get you to respond, and you keep side-stepping me.
    Here is why this is so important. According to the Bible, a great and unending judgment awaits any who do not repent of their sins, and this would include gays and lesbians, who are described as being outside the kingdom of God if they remain inpenitent (I Corinthians 6:9-11). In this view, it would be cruel to not tell them of their current status, and to do my level best to help them to see the error of their ways. Rather than you saying “Well, that is logical given your premises, but I do not hold those premises”, we should be discussing whether your premises could give us a knowable, objective standard in moral which is not subjective, arbitrary or easily relegated to absurdity. Maybe someday, we can have that discussion. Apparently, that day is not today.

  48. Whole lot of hating going on.  One side hates sin but is accused of hating sinners. The proof that they hate the sin and not the sinner is that they will rejoice with those in heaven at the repentance of even a single sinner.  The proof is that God sent his only Son to die for sinners.
                                                                                                                                                                             The other side hates God (and by extension his people).  What will the other side offer to God if he will only change his mind on the matter of sin?

  49.  ” … since you brought an ethical charge against God”
    No I didn’t.  I’m questioning the notion that God is some cosmic Mr Magoo who is unable to single out individual sinners for punishment but who can only take out a 50-mile radius of folks.  I’m suggesting that the only reasonable conclusion one can draw about an omnipotent and omniscient deity is that He should be able to be a little more accurate when targeting people for punishment (assuming that’s what He’s doing as many Christians insist).
     
    “What is your ultimate authority (yes, everyone has one)?”   I do have notions of right and wrong based on my own religious ideals.  I’m not an atheist.  However,  I don’t find Scripture useful or coherent in providing us perfect insight into what that means.  “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Yet, this same book seems to suggest that buying and selling other human beings for profit  can be done in good conscience (and many Christians apparently agreed with this).   If you can harmonize both of those commands then you’re either a master at spin or you’ve got some supernatural insight most of us don’t have.   Would YOU want to be a slave? Would YOU want to be forced to marry the person who raped you (as Deuteronomy commands)?   If you say yes to either, you’re either a masochist or a liar.
     
     
     
     

  50. James,
    Brief layover, so I will make this very terse.
    Whether I would like those things you mentioned or not is utterly irrelevant to whether God expects them of me (assuming you gave us an exegetical representation, which you did not). Jesus so wished to avoid the cross, He prayed that the Father would allow this cup to pass from Him; He sweat drops of blood, but in the end, He obeyed. I wonder if you or I were in the garden with Him, if we would have said what Peter said, since we wouldn’t want Jesus to give into the masochism you are so keen to avoid. Ethics are not subjective in the manner you are perhaps unwittingly describing. Otherwise, we could all do what was right in our own eyes, and no one could say anything about it. They might do something to stop us, but that would not be enacting a moral principle, that would simply be a matter of brute force.
    Secondly, the laws regarding rape in Deuteronomy 22, which I assume is what you are referring to – they do not indicate what you are saying. They are clear when you study the Torah as a whole, but critics of the Bible never do. I believe you are referring to Deut. 22:28,29. This is a shorter version of the same law in Exodus 22:16,17 – the woman unbetrothed did not have to marry the man who raped her. It was up to the woman’s father, because unlike our culture today, male headship is the norm for Christian households. You have to realize that before you jump to the wrong conclusion.
    Talk to you tomorrow.

  51. David, this is Doug’s blog, and any time he gets tired of my company, he need only say the word and I’ll go somewhere else.  There are blogs, both Christian and atheist, that only welcome comments from fellow travelers; there are blogs, both Christian and atheist, in which opposing viewpoints are permitted if not always welcomed.  I was under the impression that this blog was one of the latter, but if I am mistaken, I certainly respect Doug’s right to make whatever commenting policies he likes.  It is, after all, a big internet.
     

  52. Since this is a blog and not a doctoral thesis, comments are necessarily brief and come with assumptions, usually more assumptions than can be explored in blog comments.  The thing is though, my ethics — which boil down to “do no harm” — are similar to the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself:  They’re great statements of broad, sweeping principle that will have to be interpreted a million different ways given a million different circumstances that confront us in our day to day existence.  So when you ask if it’s hurtful to spank or vaccinate children, that’s really no different than asking who is my neighbor.  And if you want to go off on those tangents and talk about specific examples, like vaccinating or spanking children, we can have those conversations, space permitting.  As, I imagine, you’d probably be willing to engage in a discussion of is the homosexual my neighbor.

  53. But none of that is the source of my irritation, and first of all, I owe you an apology.  I was more short with you than I should have been.  You seem to want to have a conversation about how to apply a general principle to specifics, which is fine.  Most of the time this subject has come up here, the argument I’ve been getting is that without God, the general principle itself is purely a matter of opinion, and therefore Eric cannot talk about morals and ethics because it’s merely his opinion rather than anything more solid.  That is quite a different argument than questions about how to apply a general principle to specifics, and it’s what I was responding to in my earlier comments.  It’s also a very silly argument, in my view, and that argument really does deserve the retort, What do you think?  Enjoy your flight.

  54. You should also add the current trend for  girls to compete again boys in wrestling. And there something wacky about typing this on an iPad. I can’t go back and correct errors.

  55. Eric,
    My plane is late. No apology necessary. No one is saying you cannot make moral judgments, but rather, that your worldview as a non-Christian cannot give an account for the existence of morals. Yet, you do in fact make moral judgments.
    The response “What do you think” reminds of when libertarians trot out their non-aggression principle. It is unworkable because it is so vague and ambiguous as to prove nothing. There are in the history of our world innumerable people who have been mistreated. Further, even if we decided in general that we should not do that, how do we settle how that principle works itself out?
    My thought was that rather than someone posting a Christian premise that you deny, let’s see if one set of presuppositions does not better explain the world you and I live in in terms of such things as moral judgments. Which view explains how it is that in 1100BC it was wrong to rape, just as it is in any other time. Even without me having any sense experience of that age, or 1,000 years into the future, I can say with confidence that rape is sin. It is  immoral. However, that statement is non-sense without an objective standard of morals that exists outside of my mind, one which transcends my human experience, one which is not simply a convention of my upbringing or my current culture, and one which can be accessed in an epistemologically meaningful manner (it cannot be mystical in the philosophical sense).  As a Christian, I can say that God provides this in His written Word. His nature is a reflection of what is good. His decrees about good and evil are not arbitrary (God did not decide “Well, hmm, should I make love or hate the good  one”) but rather those things we call good are commensurate with His essential character, and what we call evil is the opposite of His character. This information God has providentially preserved in His written Word to guide mankind in their moral judgments, as we are called to have the mind of Christ and to learn to think God’s thoughts after Him. This is also why, for example, Christians should strive to think logically. Laws of logic are not successful, so to speak, because they have been empirically tested; they are frequently too abstract to do so. They cannot be true on an a priori basis without being arbitrary, and if they are proved in an a posteriori fashion, or in terms of conventional modes of thinking, they would lose their law-like behavior.
    I am/was trying to get you to explain how you come to call something evil. What is this based on? Otherwise, like in many previous threads, you/James and the rest of us will be talking right past each other.
    But for now, I will settle for a plane.

  56. There are a great many things that I “cannot give an account for the existence of”, yet they do exist, whether I know how they got here or not.  We know that humans practice ethics and as best as we can tell, always have, even if there has not been complete agreement from one time and place to another as to what constitutes ethical behavior.  You will not find any society anywhere in which it was a case of anything goes.  That includes societies that never heard of the God of the Bible.  So your question really comes down to why do spiders build webs and why do bears hibernate in the winter.

  57. The immediate answer is that it’s in our nature to do so:  We practice ethics just because we do.  As with spiders building webs and bears hibernating, there are also utilitarian reasons for humans to practice ethics.  If you spend a few minutes actually thinking through what it would be like to live in a society in which there were no ethics and it really were a case of anything goes, you soon realize that that society would quickly implode and would be a thoroughly miserable place to live while it lasted.  Why would anyone, theist or atheist, want to live in such a place?  So there’s your accounting:  In the first place, I don’t need to account for it because it’s simply in our nature; in the second place, to the extent that I do need to account for it, it’s because the human experience would be pretty miserable without it.

  58. So that takes us back to my original statement that as a human, morality for me is doing what is best for humans.  That is the Great Commandment of humanism.  You are right that we can have a million conversations about how to apply it to this or that situation.  In answer to your question, I spent the last five minutes trying to come up with a situation in which rape would be permissible and so far I haven’t been able to; I suppose it’s possible there is some bizarre scenario where it could be that I just didn’t think of, but such a situation would be so rare as to make no real difference to the general rule.  But if you’re going to use the Bible as your yardstick, you then have to justify genocide, mass murder, slavery, and yes, the mistreatment of gays and lesbians in the name of Jesus.  I would say that slavery is wrong at all times and places; you can’t say that because the Bible makes specific provision for it.

  59. Eric,
    Still traveling. Briefly, if you think slavery is immoral, and the Bible says that there might be times when it isn’t, then we are back to evaluating your ultimate authority and mine. The onyl way to do this, with any obejctivity and academic rigor, is to evaluate transcendentals, those preconditions which make intellgible and coherent what you and I recognize is part of our reality. This kind of back and forth is exactly why I asked you the questions above.
     
    Eric, if it is in our nature to practice ethics, then there is no ethical standard, since you and I, apart from a divine revelation, cannot comment about my nature or yours, and whether we have the same nature. You have inadvertently given the entire game away. The pedophile and the Nazi and the captain of the gulag are just doing what it natural for them. And of course, that is not what we are speaking of when we discuss ethics. In this view of ethics, everyone does what is natural to them, without a standard outside of them to decide right from wrong, collapsing ethics into one of various forms, whether it be subjective or simply unknowable. If I “do” ethics by nature, then who can blame me for what I say or do? It is a behavioristic form of ethics, and is easily exposed I believe as being unworkable, since it allows for anyone to claim that this is what people do, and have always done.
     
    But my point is that when you look at the Holocaust, for example, you condemn it as you should, and not on the basis of an inscrutable outworking of our genes, or as a social convention, or as a subjective assessment on your part as weighed against the Nazis. You condemn it because you know it is wrong. And on that basis, you need the living God Who alone provides a cogent answer as to how their can be obejctive moral absolutes that no mere human could philsophically justify, seeing as how we are finite, without universal experience.

  60. Eric,
    Clarification – I meant to say not that man is not naturally an ethical creature, but rather, if ethics is simply a particular outworking of the assessment of man, and nothing more, nothing external to him.

  61. Eric, “do no harm” is a moral claim in and of itself. It is not the basis of moral claims. “Doing what is best for humans” is likwise a baseless moral claim in a materialist universe. You have either missed David’s point altogether or have failed to grasp the difference between a moral claim and a foundation for moral claims. It is extremely frustrating to hear massive moral outrage from an entire community of secularists who do not know that difference. 

  62. I have come to a preliminary conclusion: Eric the Red receives more love and attention here than he does in enough other contexts that it brings him back.  THIS BLOG IS ERIC’S CHURCH.  (I solved the Rubik’s cube).

  63. BJ, you are correct that “do no harm” is a moral claim rather than a basis for a moral claim.  However, I then went on to explain the basis for “do no harm” — it’s in our nature, and it allows us to live together in communities that would otherwise be unpleasant places.  As a utilitarian, my basis is the results thar are produced.  And here’s what this conversation would look like in any other context:  ERIC:  You shouldn’t jump off a cliff.  DAVID:  Why not?  ERIC:  Because you’ll go splat if you do.  DAVID:  But you haven’t established a basis for why I shouldn’t go splat.  ERIC (mutters to self under breath):  Seriously?  I have to explain why it’s a bad thing to be killed by having your head broken and your guts spilled on rocks that you landed on?  He honestly needs this explained?  (Out loud):  Well, David, why do you think it’s a bad thing to go splat?    DAVID:  But “bad thing” is loaded with moral implications and presuppositions.  ERIC:  OK, then, feel free to jump off a cliff and let us know how it works out for you.  DAVID:  But you’re being non-responsive to my argument. 

  64. Now, if I understand your question correctly, you want to know if there’s a trancendant basis for morality above and beyond getting good results.  To which my response is:  No, but so what?  Getting good results is a sufficient basis all by itself.  If you think good results are unimportant, then feel free to live your life as if good results are unimportant and let us know how it works out for you.  In the meantime, the charge leveled against me was that I had NO basis for morality, and I do:  Good results. 

  65. David, I hope you’re enjoying your trip.  At the outset, suppose you are right and there is no basis for morality apart from the Bible.  The preliminary problem is that I see no evidence that the Bible is true, and if it isn’t, then it really doesn’t make any difference where that then leaves us in terms of morality.  Second, I’m not convinced that the Nazi, the pedophile or the captain of the gulag are acting in accordance with their nature (well, maybe the pedophile).  I think a lot of Nazis never would have been Nazis had they been born at another time in another place.  I think the captain of the gulag became the captain of the gulag because he was unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place and the wrong time.  It’s the whole banality of evil thing — Eichman was a mediocre civil servant who became a top ranking Nazi because that was the way to advance his career, and not because, left to himself, he had any real interest in overseeing Dachau.  And my condemnation of the Holocaust lies in what it did to humanity, and not because I have God telling me to.  The Holocaust would have been deeply and viscerally immoral in a universe where God exists, and in a universe in which God does not exist.  God adds nothing to the analysis.

  66. But let us suppose that I’m wrong about all of that, and Eichman really did have a nature that desired to run concentration camps.  In that case, he’s a sociopath who isn’t going to pay any attention to morality in the first instance.  And he’s also a biological anomoly; most people have no real interest in overseeing the gassing of millions of human beings.  Most people do want to be decent human beings, at least most of the time.  And I don’t think you can make policy, or philosophy, over anomalies. 

  67. Eric, you wrote, “However, I then went on to explain the basis for “do no harm” — it’s in our nature, and it allows us to live together in communities that would otherwise be unpleasant places. ”
    Earlier you wrote, ”
    What you’re basically doing is projecting your own subjective views about how men and women ought to behave onto nature, and the mere fact that individual men and woman have individual natures that don’t fit your preconceptions doesn’t delay you by even a nanosecond.”
    I wonder if you would please explain to me how these two statements work in your worldview so as not to be contradictory and subjective.  Thanks.  I am so sad to hear that what you wrote Katecho was… actually, why did you write that?

  68. Eric,
    In order to call Eichman a sociopath, you need to have a prior understanding of good and evil, which requires a standard by which to judge the man’s actions. If morals are conventional so that they fluctuate, or if they are subjective dependent on the person or the society at large, or if they are evaluated on the basis of utilitarian outputs which provide no meaningful way of quantifying sadness or happiness or usefulness since in part this begs the question of whose perspective is being used to make these spurious assessments, or if morals are really behavioristic so that they are simply and solely causally related to biology or socialization or the environment or some other factor, or if they are hedonistic and based on a person’s pleasure, then the meaning of the pejorative “sociopath” may have a certain connotative force in our culture, but in terms of ethics, it communicates nothing to those who are thinking clearly in a philosophical fashion. It is really no more of a useful, meaningful term than if I applied it to a bear who I saw eating a fish. To call a man a mass murder who has no remorse implies that human beings have dignity in a manner different than bacteria, or plants or animals, that they have a right to live, and that a man needs a moral justification for taking another human life. All of this, you see, falls apart if there is not an objective, knowable, provable standard, which I believe is only provided by learning to think about the world in a manner that receptively emulates the thoughts of God. God does have universal knowledge, God does transcend time and space, and God is the Creator of every human being who has ever lived, and He alone has the wisdom and the authority to decree that something is evil or good, and on the basis of something which stands the test of time and does not leave us on a slipper slope: His immutable character. Otherwise, every other approach to ethics suffers from arbitrariness and a reduction to absurdity (i.e. the relativist telling us that when it comes to sexual practices, it is different strokes for different folks, when that same person would condemn the Viet Nam war). These other approaches besides the Biblical aprroach are simply versions of relativism, which is really the only alternative to the Bible (whether it is pleasure centered, allegedly based on collective well-being, based on biology, or whatever). Since the only other standard besides God is mankind, it cannot help but to be relative and thus inconsistent and without any inherent authority other than might making right. Each person becomes an island then, since my biology, my subjective evaluation of things, my upbringing, my life story is really, in the main, unique to me and it is not shared by anyone else.
     
    You know the God I speak of. I understand that you are unpersuaded, but that is not the same issue as whether I have given you objective proof that He exists. The proof in general is that without Him, you cannot prove anything. You practice moral evaluations, but when I ask for you to give an explanation of moral absolutes (it was wrong for the Nazis to kill millions of Jews), your explanations do not provide a sound defense of a moral absolute, even though you speak in absolute terms. In this area, although you do not see this as clearly as I do, you cannot bring yourself to be consistent with your premises. You want absolutes, and only in the areas where you want them, but without the God who makes absolutes something other than a figment of my imagination or your wishing. If we were discussing any other area (origins, logic, math, the uniformity of nature) I would take the same approach, and although there are people who are stronger in speech, I could show you in terms that an intelligent person like you can more than easily understand, because it is really is not difficult to understand. It is, however, in our natural state, impossible to submit to.
    Lastly, biological anomaly is, and I say this respectfully, a non-sense word for the philosophical study of the topic known as ethics. Ethics is not a matter of statistics. This again broaches a naturalistic fallacy. Actually, the course of humans  is more akin to people with a murderous heart than the opposite of that. How many pages into Genesis before the first murder takes place?

  69. David writes: “I am/was trying to get you to explain how you come to call something evil.”
    I’m not sure that problem’s resolved by ceding all decisions on this to Scripture.   If Scripture said that child rape and mutilation was ordained by God and that cannibalism should be a part of worship services, would you embrace Scripture as divine or the work of a devil or even just a sadistic human?   If the latter, you are admitting that you have notions and feelings of “goodness” that come from something other than Scripture.
     

  70. James,
    The problem with your question is that it assumes that we could change the essential character of good, and thus flip good and evil on their head, while leaving everything in the world and in human nature as they are now, and then deal with your hypothetical all other things being equal. That amounts to a good deal of assumptions, and a loaded question. If God were the kind of God whose character could be characterized as the pentultimate in baby raping and cannibalism, then you and I would be made in that image as well, and assuming that in your reverse world there was no possibility of a reverse fall into what we currently refer to as righteousness, then I guess pass the BBQ sauce.
    Okay, so if we do not obtain our moral standard from God’s Word, then from where? See, maybe it’s my lack of clear typing, or maybe you are playing coy, but your moral indignation to baby raping cannibals, as opposed to a soda you don’t find refreshing, indicates that you see these as different sorts of decisions and judgments, which indicates that you already have some conception (accurate or inaccurate) of right and wrong. And your indignation with one, and not the other, indicates the difference between the violation of a moral code which is absolute, versus a matter of preference which might change or fluctuate with no ignobility. In order to not just be spitting into the wind, if you want to condemn baby rape and cannibalism in the way that everyone on the forum knows you wish to, you need more than something limited to the finite perspective and knowledge and authority of man. Otherwise, we do not have anything other than emotvie language and a best guess as to what is right and wrong, as opposed to what James, or Eric, or the majority of a polling group of 20-40 year old singles, might find distasteful. Or, for that matter, might find fun (consider the historical Molech religion, where babies were burned alive, while an orgy occurred in front of the altar, with a band playing to drown out the wails of the child). And so, if you do not access that standard through the Scripture, then where?

  71. James, there is a difference between having feelings that something is wrong and believing it to be morally wrong based on an ethical foundation.  In this culture, we teach children that the things you describe are bad. There have been other cultures, past and present that do not teach their children that these things are bad.  Our feelings may match what we were taught by a variety of sources.  Feelings are not reliable evidence for truth, however.  Scripture and our Lord are reliable. So we needn’t worry if scripture doesn’t match current fads and feelings. What is written in the Bible has been, is, and will always be truth.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

  72. Speaking of feelings, I would like to say to Eric, how much I appreciate his arguments (as frustrating as they sometimes are).  Pastor Wilson gave a wonderful lecture on why debates are important. For one thing I get to develop my own counter argument and sharpen my own reasoning and secondly I am able to read many wonderful posts from people like David, Dan, timothy, Katecho… These posts have really strengthened and encouraged me.  So I too, am bothered (I believe Jill has made a prior protest) when folks suggest that those who don’t agree with Pastor Wilson should not post here.  I think it is unnecessarily insulting as well as poor advice.  I am glad you post here, Eric, and hope you will continue to do so.  My prayer, as always, is that your heart will be softened. I cannot resist adding that there are many of us who post frequently and what we do for living could not possibly be anyone’s business!

  73. Mr. Fosi, I’ve done a variety of things over the course of my life; currently I’m a project manager for an IT company.  If you look at the pattern of my postings, I do them in spurts, early in the morning before work, over my lunch hour, and then after work or in the evening. Sometimes if the day isn’t completely crazy I may be able to sneak in ten or fifteen minutes mid-morning.  It’s also not unusual for me to read comments that I plan to respond to, and then think about them for a couple of hours so that when I sit down to write, I can crank out a response quickly.  

  74. Carole, thanks for your kind words.  I’m afraid I don’t understand your question about what I wrote to Katecho. I do understand that you speak from your heart, and that’s a big thing. 

  75. Carole, I don’t see a contradiction in those two statements because I view harm and good as objective.  Real happiness comes from being a virtuous person.  There are people who think that happiness comes from rape, pillage and plunder, but they are wrong, both for themselves and for their society.  And I’m not even convinced that they are evil; I think they may truly believe that that kind of behavior will make them happy, but they have a disconnect somewhere upstairs.  So, I can talk about an individual nature if we’re discussing gays and lesbians because I don’t see that homosexuality causes any real harm; in that case, the fact that an individual may desire to do something different than what most people desire to do is unimportant because nobody is being hurt.  However, if we’re talking about the people running Nazi concentration camps, that did cause harm, in spades, so in that case “but I like doing it” isn’t an excuse.  No matter how much rationalizing Eichmann might have done, there is no way to make what he did virtuous, or even morally neutral.

  76. David, the term “sociopath” has its roots in behavior which is anti-social (hence, “socio” path) rather than in behavior which falls below some trancendent moral standard.  And the reason it’s perfectly fine for me to kill and eat a chicken but not another human, is because the chicken is not of my tribe.  I do well when my tribe does well (not always, but often enough).  And OK, I’ll bite:  What objective proof have you given me that he exists?

  77. And by the way, the study of long-term human history is the study of trying to become more ethical, more virtuous, more moral.  Concepts like due process, and cruel and unusual punishment, and religious freedom, are relatively recent innovations.  They have not, of course, caught on everywhere, but at the time the Bible was written I doubt they were the rule anywhere.  This tells me that most humans are looking to live in a just and humane society; if Islam ever has a Renaissance, those things may even take hold there.  Sure, you can cite examples of really atrocious human behavior; what you mostly can’t find, is atrocious human behavior that isn’t roundly criticized and condemned by the rest of the pack.  Unless we’re talking about religiously-mandated atrocious human behavior.  But I really, really doubt that the Old Testament would gain much traction if it were being written today.  Things like slavery and genocide just aren’t as easy a sell today as they were 3000 years ago, even if you’re claiming God put you up to it.

  78. Eric,
    Sociopath is a medical term which refers to someone who does not feel remorse, as its kernel meaning. Interesting though that we would not consider it pathological to show no remorse if we eat a chicken, but most of us would if we ate our neighbor.
    I think it is arbitrary to say that the explanation you offered is justified (notice I did not say rationalized) by a retreat to the idea of tribes. First, in no meaningful sense are we humans all one tribe. Perhaps you meant species? Either way, you simply rearranged the fence, but in a manner which does not explain why it is wrong for me to eat a member of my tribe/species, even if you object. It is the universal aspect that makes it a discussion of morals – it is a generalizable principle, and as such, it cannot be justified on the grounds of my personal experience (my personal experience is not a universal experience, incorporating all possible permutations and scenarios – no one person has universal experience).
    By the way, as an evolutionist, chickens are part of the same tribe too, really. So are vegetables. So are bacteria. We all came from the same primordial “stuff”, and so to draw the line at the species level when we all have the same non-human, non-self-aware, non-rational primordium (paging Professor Hegel) to call our mutual predecessor seems special pleading.
    Without the God of the Bible, we cannot even justify…chicken wings, apparently!

  79. Eric, I agree that Eichmann is an anomaly, and that such freaks of monsterhood will always be among us.  What worries me much more is the fact that millions of normal, mentally healthy Germans were willing to go along with it.  In saying that, I am not suggesting that any other group of people could have been counted on to behave differently.  I couldn’t have counted on myself, to be brutally honest.  So I don’t think a collective moral code can be based on the fact that most people are not murderous psychopaths; it has to recognize that most people will accommodate themselves quite easily to a charismatic leader’s murderous psychopathy.  In the case of Nazi crimes against humanity, the doctrine of the greatest happiness of the greatest number justifies the common failure to act.  Heroic opposition to the Nazis would imply that large numbers of people would find their truest happiness in self-sacrifice–and how likely is that?

  80. Carole, regarding ETR, thank you and amen to what you said.  I have seen boards where atheists use the most vile language and imagery to insult Christians and every belief that is most precious to them.  They don’t belong on Christian boards where the purpose is to exchange ideas rather than insults.  But Eric is uniformly respectful and courteous, and I truly don’t think Jesus would want us to send him away. 

  81. Erik, in my long and varied life I have worked with IT managers, and let me say that you are by far the most lucid and articulate one I have ever read.  It’s a pity they don’t have you write training manuals in your spare time!  Most of them sound like a robotic translation from Hungarian to English, taking in Inuktitut and Urdu along the way.

  82. I would welcome a post from Pastor Wilson saying more about women’s participation in traditionally masculine sports.  I wince when I see women wrestlers, and I am never sure how much my reaction is due to cultural conditioning from my youth a hundred years ago and how much is due to a moral intuition.  But, even so, I see a substantial difference between boxing and such sports as shot put.  I suppose that seeing naked aggression among women strikes me as degrading the qualities and instincts that I value as part of womanhood, whereas shot put is inherently nonaggressive.  I have read Christian teachers who say that the issue is not the type of sport but rather that competitiveness must be condemned as unfeminine.  If that is true for sports, is it equally true for other forms of competition?  Do I compromise my femininity by attending trivia tournaments with every intention of winning?  I personally think that the current focus on gays has made us less tolerant of the extreme diversity we find among human beings.  I think a hundred years ago we were less likely to associate the physical outliers of either gender with either sexual orientation or with somehow making a statement intended to reject Biblical teachings about complementarity.   I grew up encountering very masculine women and very effeminate men who were sincere Christians and about whom I never thought to wonder if they were gay.  I would really like to hear more about this small portion of the discussion.

  83. Eric, I think the trouble I am having with your posts is that possibly you are conflating a legal system with an ethical one.  Man has always had laws and rules for running any given group.  Laws are certainly not always what is best for the group however, often they were what was the best for the leader and for the continuing status of the members of that group.  Leaders are overthrown and new laws are established with new goals in mind. Taking your suicide example.  I can certainly see someone explaining that their life is consumed by physical pain and they would be relieved if they were allowed to jump off the cliff.  Would it then be permissible if I would be physically better off going splat?  If not, why not? For a Christian, it would never be permissible regardless of the circumstances.   I am just failing to see how you believe you can claim what is in our nature but the pastor cannot.  Groups of men establishing rules with punishments for their group does not mean that they have been practicing ethics.  And may I just clarify, did you say that you believe it is in our nature to do what is best for the group or for our self? thanks

  84. Since several folks here (not just Eric) are advocating a type of utilitarianism (even many Christians are utilitarians in practice), I think it would be helpful to point out just how silly it actually is. Trying to argue that because people avoid pain and pursue pleasure is a far cry difference from claiming that people ought to extrapolate that into our neighborhoods and society. Now obviously we all believe that and do our dead level best to live that way, but utilitarianism cannot provide a foundation for getting there. Read David Hume  and he ridicules the idea that because something is, it ought to be that way. I see so many secularists who cannot seem to understand that looking at the natural world through the lens of science says nothing whatsoever about what ought to be. Just because something is natural does not mean one ought not to fight against it. Even Eric admitted pedophilia is kind of natural, and yet we should resist it. There must be a standard of conduct and pointing to what people do cannot ever be the basis for morals or a legal system based upon it. Saying I don’t like it is not an objective foundation for morals or laws. That was ultimately where Hume landed in his ethical system (it is called sentimentalism). Now, it is possible to point to difficulties in the Christian’s ethical system (and I admit there are challenges), but the existence of difficulties in our system is not proof for yours. Moreover, utilitarianism also leads to atrocious behaviors. Abortion is the quintessential example. It is a very pragmatic move to improve humanity’s situation (at least the remaining humans) by killing those who are weak and unwanted. The great communist leaders took this utilitarian position to its extreme for social and political control and offed around 70 million for pragmatic reasons. Christians should not argue that abortion (or any sin for that matter) is wrong for pragmatic reasons (which is what we have resorted to in an effort to sound intelligent), we should argue that it defiles the image of God. Same thing for homosexuality, etc. But utilitarianism cannot ever provide anything in the realm of morals except, “you cannot do this because it makes me feel bad.” Challenge us Christians all you would like and we will defend our position, but please get down off the soapbox of moral outrage if your position is utilitarian pragmatism.

  85. Jill, I completely agree about wanting to discuss women in sports more.  (and I should have listed your name as someone I have benefited most from on this board, but I thought it would be redundant!)  When my son was younger he was in karate run by a christian man.  My son loved it and was doing well.  At a certain level they begin sparring and wrestling.  Lo and behold a group of girls joined the class!  It was ridiculous.  Is this what I want for my boy?  Either to beat up, or get beaten up by, a girl.  That is a lose lose situation.  Yet the parents of these girls did not seem to see the problem.  Needless to say that was the end of karate.  One of the fathers whose girl was far superior than the rest, was absolutely brutal.  He berated her publicly, called her names if she missed a point.  It was painful to observe and she was already exhibiting very very masculine traits…I really worried for her mental health.

  86. Eric the Red,
      So, in line with the taxonomy plus harm argument:
    (a)  Are you pro-life?
    (b) If we posit the situation of, say, a widow or divorced woman who’d had a hysterectomy, and her son, who’d had a vasectomy, and they have an affair or even marry each other, is that alright morally?
    (c)  By “harm,” do you mean strictly physical harm?  If not, then are you prepared to legislate all the boundaries of psychological harm?   What if different people groups start disagreeing on what constitutes legitimate claims of “harm.”   Some might say homosexuality does cause harm, albeit not violence or coercion.  Others might say raising children to have views like mine or Doug Wilson’s might be harmful to children, b/c they’ll end up “intolerant” and “homophobic.”   Aside from the important but very surface level questions of violence, sexual consent, etc. are you prepared to cite me an authority, not tainted by the factional divisiveness and self-interest of original sin (call it the human condition or something more generic if you wish), that can sort this all out infallibly for me?    And since I’ve never heard a Christian claim that bicycles are a function of the authority and design of goldfish, then no, that “analogy” will not help.

  87. Carole writes: ” It was ridiculous.  Is this what I want for my boy?  Either to beat up, or get beaten up by, a girl.”
    Is it better to get beaten up by a boy?  I’m not sure I understand how any serious Christian can tolerate or support sports like UFC, MMA or boxing where the whole point is to cause physical harm to another and beat them into submission.  These sports encourage the worst aspects of human nature, it seems.   But I’m just a heathen so what would I know.    Better for a man to bloody another guy’s face than to kiss it, I guess.   What a strange system of ethics you folks have.

  88. David, you are right that from a medical standpoint, the thing that makes someone a sociopath is a lack of remorse, and the reason that’s an important distinction is because I doubt that the people who engage in behavior we consider sociopathic could do so if they did feel remorse.  The only reason they are able to do what they do is because their conscience is missing in action, which means they have a design defect.  We can dispute whether that defect is the result of faulty wiring (my view) or a rejection of God (your view), but I think we would both agree that there’s a defect in there.  Be all of that as it may, you are right that as a Darwinist, I believe I have a common ancestor with the chicken and the beans and the pumpkin custard that I had for dinner earlier this evening, and the oatmeal I’m likely to have for breakfast in the morning.  But at some point the family lineage (to say nothing of the family resemblance) becomes so tenuous and so remote that a line has been crossed; the human tribe doesn’t at all resemble the potato tribe or the owl tribe.  And I think, respectfully, that you are mistaken about humans not being of the same tribe.  There is evidence that there were other human species at one time, but they all seem to have died out; those of us who are left all seem to have a common origin.

  89. And there might be situations in which cannibalism might be ethical; ever hear of the Donner party?  A group of settlers who found themselves stranded on top of a mountain pass in the middle of winter in (I think) the 1840s in what is now Northern California.  Most of the party died, and the survivors ate their dead comrades because it was the only food they had.  If your only two choices really are human flesh or starvation, I’m not going to judge you too harshly if you go with the lesser evil, though even in that case I would still draw the line at murder and only allow the cannibalisation of people who had already died.  However, I also would respect someone who felt strongly enough that cannibalism is always wrong that he chose to starve to death in that circumstance.

  90. But the Donner party aside, here’s the reason to draw the line at tribalism (within which I am including the entire human tribe, not just my white northern European subsection of it):  Ethical behavior is founded in part on what makes your group the fittest.  The biological imperative is to survive, and pass along your genes.  Humans are not solitary creatures; we live in community, and the way we do well is if our community does well.  Making my community a happy, healthy and prosperous place is one of the ways I make it more likely that any genes I pass along with thrive and pass along their own genes.  The utilitarian aspect of ethics in this case is that I have a greater stake in humans doing well than I do in chickens doing well, and my tribe will not do well if we’re killing and eating each other.
     

  91. Jill, thank you for your kind words.  You’re right that any of us is susceptible to being drawn in by a demagogue, especially if we find ourselves in the middle of a mob in which everyone else has been taken in by the demagogue.  I think that the way to attack that problem is to make it harder for demagogues to find an audience.  Given human nature, we’re always going to be susceptible to being drawn away by such forces; it’s easier to control the demagogues by destroying their natural habitat — poverty, human rights violations, illiteracy, minority-bashing.  Hitler was able to come to power because (1) the German economy was flat on its back and people were literally starving; and (2) he lived in a society in which anti-Semitism was already there and festering, so all he really had to do was light the match.  

  92. yes, of course James, it would be be better for a boy to spar with another boy and certainly not with a girl.  Men are to treat women gently and to protect them.  And in the course of their life they may be called upon to do just that, to protect them.  My husband trained both of his sons to be able to do so.  Would you rather they duck and hide behind my skirts if my family were attacked?  What about later in life if their wives or daughters were attacked?  Do you oppose all physical defense?  I have a son who is willing to lay his life down to protect the people of this country and sustained serious injuries because of that belief.  I am grateful for his courage and for all the young men who are willing to defend us.  I hazard to guess that you are too.  Your other suggestion is sinful and I pray that you will not act on any desire you have of that sort but instead repent.  I also pray that you will not encourage others, particularly the young, to behave in an equally sinful manner.

  93. Carole, I agree with you that law and justice are two different things.  And part of the problem is that there is an unfortunate tendency for sociopaths to find their way into positions of leadership, where they can then use governance as an opportunity to do what is best for themselves rather than the community.  So I’m not using law and justice interchangeably.  As to suicide, you obviously believe it’s wrong out of religious conviction, but for a person who isn’t religious, is there any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice?  Who has an interest in their life sufficient to stop them from making such a fundamental choice for  themselves?  To use your example, if someone is in pain that is so bad that death seems preferable, who am I to make that choice for them?

  94. Matt Massingill:  (a) define pro-life.  I find abortion as a form of birth control deplorable, but think I don’t think it should be illegal.  (b)  I find incest icky, but if they’re not passing along their genes it’s probably none of my business.  (c)  You’re back to applying general principles to specific situations.  I don’t think physical is the only form of harm, but neither do I think that hurt feelings rise to the level of justifying state involvement.  I candidly do worry about children being raised as creationists, as well as a long list of other philosophies I think are harmful, but one of the costs of living in a free society is that people will make choices that other people find unfortunate.  And just because I think something is harmful does not necessarily mean it should be illegal; that’s the humanist equivalent of not every sin should be a crime.  As far as the rest of your part (c), you’ll need to give me specific examples.

  95. Eric the Red,
    By the pro-life question, all I meant to ask was your basic position on abortion.   Not to put words in your mouth but I take it you find it to be immoral — as a general matter anyway (to say nothing of outlying odd situations which you might view as exceptions).  Obviously I take issue with what I consider to be hedging between that and an accompanying position that it ought not be illegal – but that is a slightly more layered question than the simple morality of abortion itself.  If it’s deplorable/immoral to you, then I would say there’s consistency between that and your position re: “taxonomy plus harm.”

    .

    As for incest, just to be clear the question is not strictly law here (i.e. whether it’s “none of your business,” etc), but morality.   Again, if you’re truly willing to categorize everything which  does “no harm” as immoral, then I guess there’s consistency there, but it turns “morality,” into a glorified version of the libertarian ethic – hardly an authoritative, set in stone standard of right and wrong.

    .

    As for (c), the issue is not applying general rules to specific situations – general principles, as you say, yes, but to be clear that is a different matter than trying to force general, one-size-fits-all rules to particularized facts that may vary from the general rule.   But general principles are always in order.  I think that is the crux of your problem with your analysis on these matters generally . . . that is, you prefer an ad-hoc platoon of rules that emanate from an insufficiently specific standard (do no harm) and nebulous and/or no authority.  The upshot is that the standards are only as reliable, true, and authoritative as the mouths they come out of.  Given what we know of humans generally- that’s not going to cut it.  And that’s no slam on you in particular.  I don’t have any more authority than you to set standards of morality.
     

    .

    Regardless of how much one thinks they can explain about what is right and wrong in a given situation, there’s always a regressive set of “why” questions that have to keep appealing to naked claims.  The questions I asked in (c) were not meant to “flood the zone” of specific questions with general principles.  They were meant to show what sort of mess ensues when we throw ad hoc answers at specific issues, without first having a clear set of general principles from which to proceed.  We end up with a morass of unintended consequences and moral chaos.
     

  96. Matt, I don’t see how to avoid an ad hoc answer to specific questions, since no two situations are exactly alike.  The Bible does the same thing; lying is generally bad, but the Egyptian midwives who fudged the truth to Pharaoh about why the male Hebrew infants were still alive are an exception.  However, the Egyptian midwives were faced with a fairly extreme situation, and do not translate into a general approval for lying.  So it does have to be taken case by case.  

  97. Eric,
    One of the reasons we need a transcendent and authoritative word from God is because our experiences may not be identical, and none of them are universal, so that moral absolutes cannot be justified on a priori or a posteriori grounds. Ff you survey the history of ethics in philosophy, the rationalists and the empiricists were unable to account for universal applications as deduced from their individual circumstances due to their recognition of this limitation. This eventually lead to various forms of subjectivism, which is largely self-referential, and being so, we drift further from an abiding law to set our behavior by. The situation of the midwives would rather carelessly be described as “Lying is bad in general”. Rather, what the Torah does for us is to give us Ten Words from God, which he then exegetes for us in the case laws, and in some cases in the stories. So we are told to speak the truth, but to understand what God defines as speaking the truth and what God defines as our duty to Him in truthful speech, and under what circumstances we are not obligated to assist someone in their evil doing, we need the wisdom of seeing these general principles applied to actual scenarios. Only God is due our unquestioned devotion, which is why in this circumstance the midwives were rewarded by God.

  98. David, what you just said is a long, roundabout way of saying that it gets taken case by case.  And whether the analysis is that God doesn’t want us to assist someone in their evil doing, or whether the analysis is that murdering babies because they are Hebrew males violates the “do no harm” principle, what we have both done is to examine the facts of the specific case and determined that it is an exception to the general rule that speaking the truth is preferable to lying.  General rules can be justified on a priori or a posteriori grounds; the question that gets determined case by case is whether this particular case should be an exception to the general rule.  Qualifying “truth” by asking how God defines truth is also just another way of saying we take it case by case.  The practical effect is that there may not be as many moral absolutes as you or I would like, since “absolute” implies no exceptions.

  99. Carole, of course removing your son from co-ed karate was the only thing you could do.  I understand some feminist positions, but for the life of me I can’t see how a feminist could think that deliberately teaching boys to overcome an inhibition against hitting girls won’t cause greater violence against women down the road.  Just from a practical point of view, most women will never be as physically strong as most men.  All the karate courses in the world won’t enable my slender and delicate daughter to fend off an attack by a heavy-fisted man who outweighs her by 90 pounds.  Our safety as women has often depended on the fact that decent men recoil from hitting girls and those weaker than themselves.  Who could possibly think that it’s in our best interest to teach them to ignore that innate repugnance? 
    Similarly, I think our daughters must be taught that it is both morally wrong and dangerous to hit men, relying on most men’s reluctance to hit back.  I don’t think a girl can learn this on a co-ed football field.  And it puts a decent boy in an impossible position.  I just don’t understand why this isn’t self-evident.
    I went to the CHEA website and I couldn’t see a discussion board.  Are all discussions on Facebook?

  100. Eric,
    Do we get a prize if the thread reaches 200 entries? LOL
    No, I am saying there cannot be a case by case basis that is anything more than ad hoc without a generalizable principle, and that without a generalizable principle which is not objective, non-arbitrary, and transcendent, we really do not have the philosophical structure to make ethical evaluations. Then they would be ad hoc, and ad hoc is not authoritative. Ad hoc might be enforced, but it represents an arbitrary judgment which is not reflective of anything outside of the mind of the person claiming something is wrong. Wrong against an ad hoc judgment is not immoral, or really wrong, it is just different. God’s treatment of the midwives was not an example of this kind of ad hoc approach, where we really do not know if God considers it to be lying until we try and see.

  101. Well, not sure about transcendent, but “do no harm” is both objective and non-arbitrary, for reasons I’ve already given.  And “lying causes harm” also seems both objective and non-arbitrary (even though there are individual cases, like the midwives, in which telling the unvarnished truth would do even more harm).  So there you have the basis for the general principle.  So long as there are objective principles to guide the ad hoc application, ad hoc can certainly be authoritative.  I candidly think you’re trying to create a problem where none exists, and that doesn’t even get you that much.  Suppose you’re right and this is all subjective; subjective judgments that produce good results are not necessarily problematic.  Courts, in fact, act within their discretion all the time when reasonable judges might come to different conclusions.  And on the big stuff – murder, rape, pillage and plunder – there’s a pretty strong consensus about what the rule should be, and that consensus just happens to coincide with the do no harm rule, which tells me that it’s within human nature to seek virtue.

  102.  
    The utilitarian aspect of ethics in this case is that I have a greater stake in humans doing well than I do in chickens doing well, and my tribe will not do well if we’re killing and eating each other.

    Not according to PETA or the Jains.  This is  an arbitrary distinction on atheistic grounds, and more and more of our society claims that killing and eating animals is equivalent to murder.  According to this view, a society that would commit this kind of violence on sentient beings is a sick and violent society.

     
     
     

  103. Ree, if I recall correctly, Jains wouldn’t even allow the killing of malaria-carrying mosquitoes because they hold that the lives of even insects are sacred.  But I think they are mistaken in their premise; even if we accept sentience as the yardstick, there’s a difference between a dolphin (which has the intelligence of a human 12-year-old) and a chicken, which is barely aware of its own existence.  The fact that the chicken is capable of feeling pain means it should be killed as humanely as possible, but it’s still apples and oranges to compare it to more intelligent life forms.

  104. This may sound ridiculous but I don’t mean it to be any form of ridicule.  Eric I want to look at some specifics of how to apply your principles vs. how Christians would respond.  First I need to make sure that I understand your basic position.  Morality is summed as “do no harm” and “what is best for my group” (we will say the group here is humans in general to avoid any sidetracking into racism).  The second principle is what makes things like vaccinations desirable because although they do cause temporary harm in the long term both the individual and the group as a whole are much better off. 
     
    Do we have to temper the application of the second principle to also include what is best for the individual?  What is best for the group may be worse for the individual such as quarantines (leper colonies).  How far do we allow the needs of the group to outweigh the needs of the individual?  Following are some hypothetical situations to try and see how to apply these principles.
     
    If there were good studies to support the program would you have a moral problem with a mandatory selective breeding program to improve human genetics (in essence a case in which we would give moral approval for rape)?  Would the morality of it change if people agreed to participate in the program?  Or vice-versa would you have a moral problem with mandatory sterilization to eradicate cancerous genomes?  Let’s say that we could tell from genetic markers that someone was prone to certain cancers and that they would pass these genes on to their offspring (thus making the group as a whole more prone to these cancers) would it be a moral good to prevent them from passing on their genes but otherwise allowing a perfectly normal life (allow them to marry just not have biological children but have the option of adoption.)  If this forced sterilization program was not public knowledge but done in secret would that change the morality of it?
     
    Would the morality of the Holocaust be changed if Hitler had plausible scientific studies to show that humanity as a whole would be better without the groups that he targeted?  If instead of targeting a racial group directly he had attempted to eliminate sickle cell anemia?  *I know you will say it would still be evil but I am asking with the two mentioned principles above how would we say it is evil as opposed to saying he could have taken a better approach.* 
     
    I am not trying to bait you.  I am trying to throw out specific examples so that we can deal with each other’s systems and come to a better understanding.

  105. Eric, I have trouble with some of your statements like history shows us improving ethically, and true happiness comes from being virtuous, it is natural to want to do what is best for the group (meaning all humans).  I don’t see these.  I see history showing us groups and individuals continually trying to be dominant over others.  Where is all this altruism you seem to believe naturally exists?  How did you decide that true happiness is virtue, which I am gathering you mean to be altruistic?  So anyone or group, who wants to be dominant or who only looks out for himself/itself is mentally ill?  Are all kings sociopaths?  Are you advocating a no borders world?  Yet we have never seen that in the course of history… Do you believe we are getting closer to that ideal?

  106. Jonathan, what’s best for the individual and what’s best for society are often (though not always) the same.  Individual rights benefit society because individuals who are happy tend to be more productive and tend to cause fewer social problems.  So there is a utilitarian basis for individual human rights.  However, that’s not always true; sometimes the interests of the individual and the interests of society really are in conflict.  In that case, I think the analysis is as follows:  (1) Is there an actual problem (as opposed to a demagogue-made problem)?  Hitler claimed that Germany had a Jewish problem, but it really didn’t; there was no actual Jewish problem that required a final solution or any other solution.  (2) Will the proposed fix actually solve the problem (or at least make it better).  The classic example of that is airport security; yes, terrorism is a problem, but that doesn’t mean the TSA silliness is actually helping.  (3) Is there another solution to the problem that will be less of an intrusion on individual rights.  (4) Is the harm to individuals greater than the benefit to society; in other words, if it only helps society a little bit but hurts the individuals involved a lot, then maybe you don’t do it.

  107. Beyond that, Jonathan, it’s case by case.  I doubt very much that a mandatory selective breeding program would pass those tests, though I suppose the possibility can’t be ruled out if whatever is being selected for were having a major upheaval on society.  If Hitler really had been right about the Jews, I don’t think that would have justified Auschwitz, but it might have justified lesser measures to contain the problem; what measures those would be I’d have to think about. 

  108. Eric,  As for the Jains, in principle, perhaps they claim that killing malaria causing mosquitoes is not permissible, but during my last trip to India in January, my Jain in-laws were zapping mosquitoes left and right with their mosquito zapper tennis racket thing, so who knows?  But none of them, including my husband, would ever justify slaughtering a living being for food.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     But my point was that your rationale for elevating humans above other animals may seem reasonable to you, but it’s no more or less authoritative than the arguments of PETA who believe that killing animals should be prohibited on what they consider the same grounds as our laws against murder. You’ve implied here and  in another thread the thought that no one considers the killing of chickens in the same moral category as the killing of humans, but people do. You pretend that your moral system is just self-evident for rational “unbiased” people, but you have no idea how many of your “common sense” premises have been formed by 2,000 years of Christianity.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
     

  109. Carole, if you look at general trends, you find that a lot of truly awful behavior used to be considered par for the course but is now considered unacceptable.  For example, the idea that people can be tried for war crimes only dates back to Nuremberg.  Slavery and human trafficking, once accepted throughout the world, no longer are.  Child labor, genocide, women and children being the chattel property of their husbands and fathers, none of that is acceptable behavior.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen, but it does mean that worldwide, the climate has shifted in a direction such that stuff like that, which used to be done unapologetically and in the open, is now hidden behind closed doors.  This tells me that humans are moving in the direction of a greater respect for human rights, even if we still have a long way to go.  And Ree, I do not think we have 2000 years of Christianity to thank for that; quite the opposite.  I think it’s mostly humanism that has done that, often over the outraged anger of religion, Christian and other.

  110. Secular humanism grew out of Christianity with the Christian foundations pulled out from under it. You have no grasp of the history of the ideas you espouse.

  111. Eric, I think you are looking at the trends of western culture, and I still do not see a trend toward altruism.  Again, do you think all humans naturally seek to do what is altruistic rather than self-serving? We believe that every man is born a sinner.  Do you believe that every man is born good and that in his natural state he will seek to be what you would call ethical and virtuous?

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