Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Child sacrifice in America

Over at Ionian Enchantment, where they are busily applying the Christian system of ethics even as they openly spurn it, they are today condemning, in solemn tones, child sacrifice in Africa and wondering why this pagan practice is still being performed.

Did they really have to go that far? Have they been down to their local abortion clinic, where they are burning incense to the gods of utility and convenience?

Just wondrin'.

18 comments:

Lee said...

Bravo!

Michael Meadon said...

"They" is actually just me. And I'm (1) African (so I needn't go far in the first place), (2) most certainly not applying Christian ethics (there is considerable evidence people have an innate moral sense long pre-dating Christ. And Christian ethics - whatever that is - is, in my view, far from ethical), (3) not seeing how it is possible to compare killing a precognitive potential child to killing a living, breathing child.

Lee said...

> not seeing how it is possible to compare killing a precognitive potential child to killing a living, breathing child.

A "potential child"? Why draw the line at birth? Babies aren't really self-aware until about two or three years of age. Until then, they're just machines that take in food at one end and dispense refuse at the other.

Right?

Michael Meadon said...

@Lee: Wrong. I said "precognitive" not "preconscious". Bentham put it best (in a different context, but applicable here): "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

Lee said...

How do we know that the ability to suffer begins magically at birth?

And what does suffering have to do with anything? Animals suffer. We eat them anyway.

Lee said...

> there is considerable evidence people have an innate moral sense long pre-dating Christ.

Of course even the pagans understand that a moral order exists. Christianity does not deny that. The question is, how do you explain its existence if you don't believe in Christianity? And what gives it authority? -- i.e., what distinguished your moral indignation from mere distaste?

Michael Meadon said...

You seem to subscribe to the divine command theory of ethics. This is extremely problematic since it means either that morality is arbitrary or independent of God. If the former, well, it's not exactly morality, if the latter, you have the same problem. See Euthyphro's dilemma.

Michael Meadon said...

Oh, and, we still think, surely, that animals have some rights? Many people argue, for example, that it IS unethical to eat animals (see Peter Singer's work). But even if you don't agree with that, you still think it's immoral to torture an animal for no reason, yes?

Lee said...

> You seem to subscribe to the divine command theory of ethics.

Actually, I asked you how you explain how your ethics originated.

> This is extremely problematic since it means either that morality is arbitrary or independent of God. If the former, well, it's not exactly morality, if the latter, you have the same problem. See Euthyphro's dilemma.

So explain how morality can exist apart from God and *not* be arbitrary.

Lee said...

> Oh, and, we still think, surely, that animals have some rights? Many people argue, for example, that it IS unethical to eat animals (see Peter Singer's work). But even if you don't agree with that, you still think it's immoral to torture an animal for no reason, yes?

I can explain why I think it's wrong to torture animals. I have a Lord in whose image I was made and who is the author of all things, including an absolute morality that holds authority over man's thoughts and deeds.

But I don't know where you're coming from, so for all I know, you may think it's immoral because you find it distasteful. Morality only holds authority if it transcends mankind. If it doesn't, it reduces to mere preferences.

Lee said...

And since you appeal to the Greeks, logic apparently holds some sort of authority over man as well.

But if God does not exist, how does that happen?

If the naturalists are correct, then nothing exists apart from the physical world. What part of the physical world begat a morality that transcends man? And how can one physical entity transcend another?

If they are not correct, and there is a transcendent morality, how do you explain its existence? What gives it authority? Why should man care about it? Who is it to intrude on our preferences?

I didn't notice that Euthyphro's dilemma discussed any of this. It seems to me there is a bigger dilemma for folks who do not believe in God: how does moral authority exist apart from God?

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

Sorry, but I should have developed my comment on logic a bit more...

Logic is the "neutral ground" upon which we debate ideas such as this, so both of us grant it authority over the discussion as we take part in the debate. The question for logic, though, is the same as for morality: why does it have authority? Is it unchanging? Absolute? How does that happen? From the meaningless clanging and collisions of atoms and forces in the material world? Is it something that palpably exists? Or is it a placeholder for certain chemical reactions in the brain?

If you can explain why you think it holds authority for us, apart from God's ordaining it, I'd love to hear it.

Lee said...

Regarding Euthyphro's alleged dilemma...

> Leibnitz: "It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things."

1. Does God will it because it is good and just? From the Christian perspective, there is nothing higher than God, so no, there can be no independent standard that we hold God up to.

2. Is it good and just because God wills it? This is probably closer to the truth, but not without reservation. Leibnitz suggests that this makes goodness "arbitrary." I think that would be true if God were a monadic god. (That is, by the way, Islam works: Allah is arbitrary.) But Leibnitz is speculating that arbitrariness -- a human failing -- can be imputed to God.

This runs counter to scriptural claims that the Lord is eternal and unchanging -- i.e., not arbitrary. Why this is, I think, may have something to do with his nature -- One God, Three Persons. God has and will always consist of Three Persons who have been and will be with each other for eternity -- in perfect accord with one another, always loving, always deferential. Christianity is the only religion in which God Himself is humble.

Since we are made in His image, we are supposed to relate to each other as the Persons in the Trinity relate to each other. It's not a relationship that can be characterized as a product of arbitrariness.

Mind you, if a monadic god like Allah were the reality, I still think "morality" is still set by the creator. After all, if we're created by someone, that someone has the right, so to speak, to set the rules. But fortunately, our Lord is not monadic, but has had to participate in loving relationships forever.

There is something about arbitrariness that we humans are built to despise, isn't there? This is because our Lord is not arbitrary. He does not ask us to do anything He doesn't do. He asks us to love one another even as He loves us.

Michael Meadon said...

You're trying to have your cake and eat it to. Look, you either play tennis with the net up or the net down. If you're going to say things like 'morality is set by God, so he could have chosen whatever morals he likes, but this is not arbitrary because my magical book says so' there is really no point in arguing with you. If the Bible gets to trump every bit of logic, every established fact, you're not playing tennis, and I might as well say "your God is a yellow donut since E=mc^2 and all monkeys are purple".

Here's a thought experiment. Let's say we find a lost book of the Bible. And let's say we're nearly certain it is in fact supposed to be part of the canon. And let's also say it says, say, "on every leap year thou shalt torture a baby for as long as possible, keeping it alive so as to maximise its suffering". Now, what's your response to this command from God? Is it: "ah... I see. I've always thought torturing babies is bad, but it turns out it's good (once in a while". For if you agree that God gets to set whatever morals he likes, this has to be your response. I.e. whatever God wills - arbitrarily, purely by fiat - must be good, so if he commanded us to torture babies, torturing babies would have to be good.

Lee said...

> If you're going to say things like 'morality is set by God, so he could have chosen whatever morals he likes, but this is not arbitrary because my magical book says so' there is really no point in arguing with you.

You're not paying attention to what I said. Arbitrariness makes sense if you're talking about a monadic God. You didn't address this.

Nor did you address my inquiries about where morality comes from *if* your views about God, or absence thereof, are correct. Focusing on the splinter in our philosophy while refusing to deal with the plank in yours, if I may paraphrase.

You are saying that goodness isn't really goodness if God ordained it. But as I've said, goodness isn't the only component of morality; the other component is authority. Goodness without authority is merely a recommendation. What obligates man to observe morality? Why your sense of outrage at immorality? Explain such obligations in a godless world, please. How did they come into being?

> If the Bible gets to trump every bit of logic, every established fact, you're not playing tennis, and I might as well say "your God is a yellow donut since E=mc^2 and all monkeys are purple".

Again, there's that authority issue. Why should I grant logic authority over our argument unless I believe it's an aspect of our Creator's will? What is this "thing" called logic? Who died and made it authoritative? Randomly-clanging molecules and bursts of electromagnetism? Brain chemicals swirling around in Aristotle's head? What?

If logic has meaning, how did meaning spring from meaninglessness?

I don't have to explain how these things happened. The explanation is clear in my cosmology: meaning begat meaning. God created the heavens and the earth.

What gave them meaning if your cosmology is true?

It's like debating with someone who insists there is no such thing as air. Of course the user of air can deny its existence, using air to transmit the sound. Of course you can use logic -- logic exists. Of course you can invoke morality -- morality exists. The question is, why do they exist *given* your world view?

Lee said...

> If the Bible gets to trump every bit of logic, every established fact, you're not playing tennis, and I might as well say "your God is a yellow donut since E=mc^2 and all monkeys are purple".

We all have the same facts, and invoke the authority of the same logic. We differ on the interpretation.

I explained why God is not arbitrary. We'll try a thought experiment of our own here: would morality exist if there were only one person in the universe? What need would one person have for morality? "Thou shalt not murder..." whom? "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's..." what?

If morality exists, I think its essence must be based on relationships. I think furthermore that this makes sense only if there is a Triune God who from the beginning has been Three Persons in One. (What need does a monadic God have for good relationships?) It is how They relate to each other that forms the basis of morality.

So with the arbitrariness factor, the dilemma is simply speculating that God can be arbitrary about relationships -- i.e., the notion that God can exhibit human failings. But the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has stood the test of eternity.

Lee said...

I was hoping this discussion would go somewhere, but it looks like Michael declared victory and retreated.

I tried to sum up my thoughts here:

http://reformedtrombonist.blogspot.com/2010/01/euthyphro-dilemma-aint-what-it-used-to.html