Friday, September 28, 2007

Is X wrong just because God says so?

This is a continuation of the discussion from the previous post, "Is God Evil?"

There is a lot to discuss under this question. It seems to me that it is a good idea to take things one step at a time and focus first on where right is right and wrong is wrong simply because God says this is right and that is wrong (a.k.a. "The Divine Command Theory").

In discussing this question, Rodak has touched on a number of important points, all of which I would like to discuss. The topic of God's omniscience seems to be a favorite under the previous post, so under the comments to this post I hope to discuss The Divine Command Theory further.

As of uploading this post I am still getting a grip on Rodak's thinking. Rodak asked me to play Socrates. I must say, I'm feeling an awful lot like Socrates must have felt when he talked to Euthyphro--if we take his words at face value. Nevertheless Rodak, unlike Euthyphro, has thought through what he says.

Let me start with this statement of Rodak in response to my question "You say a thing is right because it is good. So then, you would say that God says that Y is immoral because it is immoral?"

"I would say that any act involving a moral choice (i.e. not undertaken out of necessity) is moral if motivated by truth, goodness, and love, all of which are aspects of the One, which alone is Good."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is God Evil?

Recently while in a thread at The Dawn Treader we got into a discussion about the problem of evil. I wanted to discuss the issue further but as it wouldn't be nice to start my own off-topic discussion on someone else's blog, I invited my friend Paul to come discuss it here. Here is a synopsis of our discussion:

Paul said: God commanded everything to happen, down to the smallest beat of a fly's wings; being omnipotent, omniscient, and outside time, he could not do otherwise. Hence, you would say, everything is good?

Civis said: When you say “God commanded everything to happen, down to the smallest beat of a fly's wings; being omnipotent, omniscient, and outside time, he could not do otherwise. Hence, you would say, everything is good?” surely you don’t mean that. Do you believe that God commanded the Holocaust? Millions of babies being aborted? The starvation of 11 million people in the Ukraine? Divorce? Fornication? Child molestation?

Paul said: Civis - yes, I mean exactly that, and I don't understand how it is logically possible to think otherwise. If I set a go-cart rolling down a hill, and can see that it's heading towards a car, you would rightly think that I'd meant it to hit that car - if I didn't I could have pointed it in a different direction.

Civis said: If I am showing my son how to ride a bike, at some point I have to stop holding him up. I have to give him a push and let him peddle and balance on his own. When I do this, I know that he is going to fall. He is going to fall a lot. He’ll get cut and bruised. He could even get hit by a car. Does this mean that I want him to fall or get hurt on his bike? No. I would rather that he not hurt himself. I do not directly will for him to get hurt. On the other hand, I want him to be a normal little boy and grow up to be a healthy man, so I permit him the freedom to ride his bike and allow him to be hurt from time to time. I permit it, though I would prefer that it not happen.

Alternatively, I could protect my son from all harm by keeping him in a padded bomb shelter and not let him do anything. I wouldn’t even let him read books because he could get a paper cut, and die of an infection. I also would not let him have any friends, because they would carry germs. The problem with this second plan is that if I followed it, my son would be something a great deal less than what I want him to be: a healthy adult.

I would say that God does not directly will bad things. I would say that he “permits” it. I think I have heard this referred to as his “permissive will.”

Paul said: the flaw in your analogy is that you don't make the 'rules' of cycling. A more appropriate version would be if you were teaching your son chess, and every time he made an illegal rule you stabbed him in the arm. That, as far as I know, would be a rule unique to you. Having settled on that, I don't think you could retain the excuse that you don't really want him to get hurt - you made the rules, knowing that he would fall afoul of them.

Civis said: Paul, it seems to me that you are confusing an arbitrary rule with a natural consequence.

Things work better when they act or are used according to their nature. Let me use another example to illustrate: I make a glass figurine and give it to my son. The purpose of this figurine is to be looked at for its beauty. My son wants to hang a picture in his room but can’t find a hammer. He then decides to use the figurine to drive the nail and it shatters into shards and cuts him. His cut is a natural consequence of the misuse of something.

If God wants to give us free will (for whatever reason), a part of that free will must be the freedom to misuse things and this causes pain. Just because you give someone freedom to make choices, does not mean you desire the choice the person makes or desire the consequences.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunday Editorial (From Viewpoint)

I was invited to join a number of non-journalists in the York area who will be submitting columns to the local Sunday paper over the next year. My first contribution is on the Iraq war and borrowed from a post I had written some time ago for Viewpoint. It appeared in yesterday's paper:

Feb 11, 2007 - President Bush has taken much criticism, some of it deserved, for the way the post-war has played out in Iraq. Disillusionment with the Iraqis and the rules under which we operate there has led many to favor bringing our troops home as soon as logistically possible. The day may come when we decide to do that, but before the American public signs on to such a step we should understand clearly what withdrawal will entail.

One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences:

1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser.

2. Iran would move into Iraq on behalf of the Shia and to settle old scores with the Iraqi Sunnis dating back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. They would doubtless annex the oil fields in the south. Meanwhile, pressure would mount on Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to come to the aid of their beleaguered brethren. Turkey would take advantage of the chaos to settle their chronic Kurdish problem by invading northern Iraq. Syria would be sorely tempted to grab some oil fields wherever it could. Iraq would get carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey among its neighbors and would be almost completely helpless to prevent it.

3. Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations would exploit Iraq's weakness to establish training areas and safe havens in the country from which to launch terrorist attacks around the world.

4. Anyone who had collaborated with or cooperated with the coalition would be marked for torture and death by insurgent forces. This could amount to perhaps hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis.

5. The chaos of war and the rape of the country's resources would result in severe shortages of food, water, medical care, sanitation and electricity. Refugees would flood into neighboring states and subsist in squalid camps. Perhaps millions of Iraqis would starve or perish from disease if these conditions persisted more than a few months.

6. The United States would be thoroughly discredited and blamed for the misery and strife in Iraq because of our retreat. No nation would ever trust us again to honor a commitment. Pressure from their people would cause governments in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar to insist we abandon our bases there. Other Muslim nations, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia, seeing that we are undependable partners in the war on terror, would ratchet back their cooperation. As the last American helicopter flees Baghdad, every Arab nation with enough money will begin looking for nuclear weapons to protect themselves from the Iranians. Nations like Libya, which had given up the quest for nuclear weapons, would feel safe to resume it.

7. Our lack of credibility in the region would embolden Israel's neighbors to settle the "Zionist problem" once and for all. Once we start pulling out of the Middle East, it would be psychologically impossible to reverse course and go back in. The enemies of Israel would see our withdrawal as presenting them with a golden opportunity to wipe Israel from the Earth, and the Israelis would probably resort to nuclear weapons to keep that from happening.
It may be, of course, that none of these things would occur. It may be that in the vacuum created by our absence the Shia and Sunni would turn their swords into plowshares and live amicably with each other.

It may be that other nations would not be at all tempted to grab what they can of Iraq's oil wealth.

It may be that al-Qaida feels content in the hills of Pakistan and wouldn't move in force into Iraq.

It may be that the insurgents would forgive and forget the collaboration of their fellow Iraqis with the infidels.

It may be that Israel's Arab neighbors would feel sorry for Israel in its isolated and vulnerable state and offer to make peace instead of war.

And it may be that the Second Coming will be tomorrow, but all of our experience tells us it probably won't be, and it is our experience which should inform our judgments and policies, especially our foreign policy.

The status quo in Iraq is certainly not acceptable, and we may soon decide that we've done enough there, but, if so, let us not delude ourselves by thinking we are doing something noble or moral by withdrawing. A premature exit would consign hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis to almost certain death and would earn us the contempt of history for our betrayal.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mounting Fears of Assyrian Genocide in Iraq

(AINA) -- According to Assyrian Christian leaders in Iraq the future existence of Iraq's dwindling Christian population hangs in the balance as violence continues unabated. Moreover, direct blame has been leveled at Iraqi governmental as well as Coalition forces' inaction in the face of mounting attacks against Christian population centers.

Read the full story.

Friday, September 21, 2007


My friend Dick is a supporter of the war in Iraq. He asked me to take a look at an article he wrote for his local paper (see "Sunday Editorial"). It seems like in the past when I have discussed Iraq with people we have been all over the place and trying to discuss too many things at one time, so I think I'll comment on just one of his comments at a time so that we can discuss them better.

First a preliminary question and an aside.

Question: Dick, maybe you could share with everyone why you were asked to write this and what your qualifications are to comment on this subject.

Aside: I heard a sound bite from Joseph Liberman yesterday that is a good example of the DoubleSpeak of the Chickenhawks. A measure that would have required the military to allow soldiers to have more time in garrison between deployments was defeated. Joe Liberman, praising the defeat of the measure said that he voted against it to "allow our men to keep fighting the war on terror." Bill Mauldin would have a field day. I'm sure there there are thousands of GI's who forgot what their kids look like who are much appreciative!

But now for what Dick said:

"One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences: 1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser."

My Comments:

1) Did you say "would be"?

2) It is amazing how supporters of this ill-thought-out preemptive war against someone who never attacked us and had no plans, ability or desire to attack us, use the mess that the invasion has created as an excuse for continuing our occupation.

3) a) No government we leave behind will remain in existence, so this is the result no matter how long we stay and nurse it b) It is not possible for us to keep order in Iraq. What you suggest is that we do what no Army in Human history has done for the rest of human history

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Disconnect

What I originally planned for this post was a recap of my questions on worldview, what I have been thinking and where I stand right now with each question. But this turned into ten pages of disjointed ramblings (my wife says this is too much for a blog, that when she started reading it, she got depressed), so I decided maybe it would be best to do one question at a time. I think may be able to break my 10 pages of rambles into about seven posts.

At any rate, I have been picking everyone else’s brain for so long, I thought maybe it was time I shared some of my thoughts.

It started with the following passage from How Should We Then Live:

“People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By Presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth in the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.”

QUESTION 1 [“The Disconnect”]: If we assume that what Schaeffer said above is true, why do we so often see such a disconnect between what people say and the way they actually think and live? All of the following are explanations of the disconnect depending on the circumstances, but only some of them are correct when/if Schaeffer is correct on this point.

I have come up with several answers/reasons:

ONE POSSIBILITY: Schaeffer is wrong.

PSEUDO ANSWER 1 (“Hypocrisy”): The first and most obvious reason, one that several people have suggested, for the disconnect is hypocrisy. What Schaeffer says is that people do act consistently with their worldview. So this cannot be an answer if we are assuming that Schaeffer is right, but would mean Schaeffer is wrong.

PSEUDO ANSWER 2 (“It’s difficult”): Living a moral life is hard; through human weakness we fail to live up to our worldview. This is my neighbor’s explanation and is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, it would seem that the correct worldview would be the best life. It is my belief that God does not simply make up rules, but rather the moral law is a road map for the best life. A thing is wrong/a sin because it hurts us. So I wonder about whether the moral life is really hard, or whether perhaps it isn’t easier than an immoral life. Or maybe the life that cuts corners is easier only in appearance.

Second, I wonder if some worldviews aren’t impossible to live, including what might pass for a Christian worldview, and I wonder if it isn’t sometimes a blessing that some do not live their worldviews consistently. Aren’t there certain things we believe we should do or certain ways we believe we should act, which if laid down as an absolute rule would lead to inhuman and ridiculous results?

Nevertheless, this answer won’t work if we are assuming that Schaeffer is correct, but would mean that Schaeffer is incorrect, since Schaeffer says that in fact people do live in accord with their worldview.

ANSWER 1: (“Fragmentation”): Many people hold fragmented worldview that are pieced together from more than one of the worldviews Sire describes. This answer was suggested by Ron at Universitas Veritas and by David at The Bird Proofer.

ANSWER 2 (“Out of touch”): One’s true worldview may not be what he thinks it is. This answer has been suggested by several people, and is what I read Schaeffer to imply. This happens to be the answer that intrigues me the most and leads to another question, one that will be discussed in a later post.

ANSWER 3 (“Façade”): Sometimes consciously, most of the time subconsciously, a person’s professed worldview is a façade. This is related to Answer 2 (the true worldview is something other than the professed worldview) and Pseudo Answer 1 (it is something like hypocrisy, but I would say it is hypocritical only when it is conscious). There are two ways that this happens that I can think of right now.

The first is the search for identity and meaning in life. We see this especially in youth. In High School we might find identity in being a “skater” or “head banger” or “good ole boy” or a hell raiser. In college we may go through stages where we see ourselves as “a writer” or “a businessman” or whatever (and change our major accordingly). I guess this is due to insecurity. Sometimes we aren’t satisfied with being an ordinary human being, so we look for some label. I think this type of façade is temporary. Maybe we could say it is part of growing up: you have to “find yourself.”

The second reason for a façade is to hide something, like a deeper insecurity or guilt. A person may try to find meaning by being a “philosopher” and may hide their insecurities and their feelings of inadequacy behind their ability to parrot some philosopher or dazzle people with their clever arguments. A person who wants to be better than the next guy, but who is not the best looking, doesn’t have money and isn’t very popular, might resort to trying to be the “better man” and turn to Christianity or Marxism or Atheism or environmentalism or feminism as a means to feel better or more on the ball than everyone else. So also, person who has problems with the moral teachings of the Church, may list theological reasons for having left it.

Just a reminder and a little plug for other blogs who discuss worldview, you can check out the discussion that has taken place at Universitas Veritas, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (note the link "Next" at the bottom), Blah Blah Blah, and Confessions of a Seminarian. In Confessions of a Seminarian see "Dear Legalism", "Extreme Apologetic Approaches" and "Apologetic Approaches".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Misspent Energy

Someone I've been chatting with said "Your creation story will largely determine the direction of your worldview." Most Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would probably agree with this, but I don't think that it necessarily or even very often affects a person's worldview. I personally don't see that evolution makes a whole lot of sense and I can't really see how anyone could buy into it, but if I belived in evolution my worldview would not change one bit. Further, I don't think that most people who believe in evolution see it as a reason to doubt thier faith.

Another issue that I think gets an inordinant amount of attenton is prayer in school. Kids should be allowed to express thier beliefs, and their freedom of religion should not be infinged, and when it is, I think the affected person should sue for an injuction, but do we really think that our society is going to turned around by changing the government's approach to prayer in school?

I think if we want to make a difference in our society, there are plenty of other areas where our time would be better spent. I think these two areas get more attention than they deserve.

There is an old saying "You have to pick your battles." Is it fitting to spend so much energy on these two issues when we are engaging in preemptive war overseas, mass killing of infants and the elderly and sick here at home, and most everything we buy is made by slave labor in an oppressive communist country with one of the worst records of human rights violations?