Sin


The evidential problem of evil points to the improbability that the amount of evil we see in the world – particularly gratuitous evil – would exist if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists.  The argument usually takes the following form: 

(1)   If God exists, gratuitous evil would not exist
(2)   Gratuitous evil exists
(3)   Therefore God does not exist 

Many theists attempt to undermine this argument by attacking the veracity of premise two.  For example, William Lane Craig and William Alston argue that humans are not in an epistemic place to judge any act of evil as gratuitous since we cannot see the big picture of history.  For all we know, an act of seemingly gratuitous evil will result in a greater good years or even centuries from now, either in the life of the person who experienced the evil or in the life of another person in another country.  Our cognitive limitations should not be used as evidence that gratuitous evil exists.  At best we must remain agnostic on the question.

This is an appeal to the Greater-Good Defense, which argues that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all evils—including those that appear gratuitous to us—such as using them to bring about some greater good that could not have been brought about apart from those evils.

In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi, Kirk R. MacGregor provides some reasons for thinking that this response to the evidential problem of evil is misguided.  Just because our cognitive and temporal limitations make it impossible for us to prove that any act of evil is truly gratuitous does not mean that gratuitous evil does not exist.  He argues that the belief that some evils are gratuitous is a properly basic belief.  For example, we do not believe that every time we are bitten by a mosquito or stub our two that these evils have some greater purpose or will be used to accomplish a greater good.  Such things make virtually no difference in our own lives, yet alone on the grand scheme of things.  Given the proper basicality of belief in gratuitous evil, MacGregor says the burden of proof is on those who would deny the existence of gratuitous evils, and to meet their burden of proof they must explain how every instance of gratuitous evil actually results in some greater good.  This is not possible, and thus the person who believes in the existence of gratuitous evil is prima facie justified in maintaining that belief, even given his cognitive and temporal limitations.

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I have a theory about racism.  While I know racism is real, I think a lot of what passes for racism is actually a misdiagnosis of ethnocentrism (the idea that one’s culture is superior to others).

Each culture has its own unique worldview, values, and practices.  Humans tend to be suspicious of worldviews/values/practices that differ from their own.  In some cases, we can even despise all or some aspect of certain cultures (often for illegitimate reasons such as “I had an experience in which a person of X race did me wrong, therefore I don’t like people of X race”).  Many times, the skin color of the people in the culture we despise differs from our own as well.  But is the color of their skin the cause of the animosity?  No, I don’t think so.  The person from culture A with skin color B despises people from culture X with skin color Y, not because he hates skin color Y, but because skin color Y serves to identify the people who belong to the culture who thinks/acts in ways he despises.  In other words, race is incidental to the animosity, not the source.

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People often talk about “struggling” with some particular sin.  What they want you to believe is that they are really trying to stop doing X, but keep being overcome by the sin despite their strong desire to the contrary.  It’s not their fault; sin made them do it!  While there is no question that we genuinely struggle with sinful desires, when we sin, we always sin by choice.  So the next time someone wants to make excuses for their sin by labeling it a struggle, call them on the carpet.  What they are really struggling with is the conviction they feel whenever they choose to sin.  To lessen the guilt they call it a “struggle,” and claim to be sin’s victim rather than its perpetrator.  Do they want to stop sinning?  But if one continues in the same sin, it is probably due to the fact that their desire to keep sinning is stronger than their desire to stop sinning.  None of us is forced to sin.  Paul said God will always provide a way of escape when we are tempted.  We sin by choice.  Let’s not try to kid ourselves or others by continuing in our sin and labeling it a “struggle.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.  I’ve long suspected that this is a myth driven by a poor definition of “Christian.”  Many people are only nominal Christians; i.e. while they profess to be a Christian, there is little evidence from their conduct and beliefs that they are.

It seems my suspicions are correct.  The Pew Forum released a summary of recent reassessments of the data that found a strong correlation between church attendance and divorce rates. Brian Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, concluded that “Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.”

Switzerland wants to de-criminalize adult, consensual incest.  What do you think of this move?  Do you think incest should be de-criminalized?  All of it, or just certain forms (e.g. de-criminalizing incest between siblings, but keeping father-daughter incest illegal)?  

For Christian readers of this blog who may disagree with it, I would like to know how you reconcile your opposition to incest with examples of incest in the Old Testament.

In May of this year Gallup polled Americans to determine what behaviors they found morally acceptable and unacceptable.  Sixteen behaviors were evaluated, and here are the results:

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One of the objections against studying and using apologetics I often hear from fellow Christians is, “It doesn’t work.”  Why do they think this?  Because they learned a few evidences for the Christian faith, tried them out on unbelievers, and discovered that it didn’t make everyone immediately fall down on their face in repentance.  So, they concluded apologetics do not work.  If by “work” they mean successful 100% of the time in causing conversion, I would agree.  But surely this can’t be the standard by which we judge success.  If it is, then we would also have to deem the simple Gospel presentation a failure as well since the majority of people who hear it do not convert to Christianity.  Even Jesus failed to persuade the vast majority of all those He encountered.

The problem is not with the message/method/evidence, but with the heart of man.  According to Paul, unbelievers suppress the knowledge of God so they can continue in their moral rebellion (Romans 1).  Unbelief is primarily moral and volitional in nature, and only secondarily intellectual.  It should be no surprise, then, that intellectual arguments fail to persuade some people: they do not want to be persuaded.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”  And yet, rational arguments for the Christian faith can be instrumental in leading the open-hearted to faith in Christ.  Indeed, many former atheists can testify to the fact that apologetics “worked” to bring them to a belief in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is no magic bullet, but it is a valuable tool in our evangelistic tool box.

This is a travesty of justice.  A woman killed her neo-Nazi husband while he was sleeping, and will not serve any jail time for doing so.  And it’s not because she was found to be mentally insane.  It’s because her husband was seen to be such a bad guy.  Indeed, he was.  He was a white supremacist, a child pornographer, an abuser, and had the materials to make a bomb.  Nevertheless, he was a human being.  He needed to experience justice for his crimes, but being killed was not the appropriate form of justice, and his wife was not the appropriate person to determine his punishment.  There is no question that she needed to remove herself and her daughter from this man’s influence, but divorce and/or relocation could have accomplished this.  Killing him was not necessary.  Given the woman’s circumstances I could understand if the court might have lessened her prison sentence, but to let her go scot-free is wrong.  This sends a message to society that murder is justifiable so long as the person you are murdering is a bad person.  How many other women might be emboldened to kill their abusive or crazy husbands as a result of this case?  This is what happens when sentimentalism is elevated in a society.  It can even trump the rule of law.

Scott posed an interesting question to me that both of us thought would be a good blog topic: Would it be moral for a man to marry a conjoined twin, or would such constitute polygamy, or even adultery?

Let’s call the conjoined girls Mary and Martha.  You wish to marry Martha, but not Mary.  Martha accepts your proposal, and Mary has consented to the relationship you’ll have with her sister (she even promises to be at your wedding J ).  Would it be immoral to marry Martha under such circumstances.  Why or why not?

This past weekend I flew to Virginia.  On the lavatory door there reads a sign: “No smoking in lavatory.”  Anyone who knows the English language would interpret this as a clear message prohibiting smoking.  But what if there was another sign on an adjacent wall that read, “If you smoke, please dispose of your cigarette butt in this receptacle, not the trash can”?  Surely I would think the airline did not take its no-smoking rule too seriously.  I would see the sign as a sort of wink-wink that it is really ok to smoke in the lavatory, even if the airline would prefer that I don’t.  In other words, the second sign demotes the meaning of the first sign from a command, to a mere suggestion.  

I see a parallel to the sex education we offer children and students in many parts of this nation.  We tell them they should abstain from sexual relations prior to marriage, but then give them condoms and birth control.  Wink-wink.  Handing them the condom/pill negates the authority of the first message. 

Some will argue that we’re only passing out condoms and birth control to protect teens who have no intentions of obeying the “no sex rule.”  It’s the “they’re going to do it anyway so we might as well help them do it safely” objection.  But why think they are going to do it anyway?  Maybe if they thought their parents and educators were serious when they say “don’t have sex,” they wouldn’t “do it anyway.”  The didn’t “do it anyway” 50 years ago, because they knew the culture was serious about its no-sex rule.  But how can they take that command seriously today, when we utter the same rule, but give them a condom right afterward?  

I know this is a controversial topic, even among Christians.  I myself have been conflicted about it.  On the one hand, I don’t want to send mixed messages, taking back with one hand what I gave with the other.  On the other hand, I know some kids are going to have sex no matter how strongly we preach a no-sex-until-marriage message, and I would rather that they don’t get STDs or pregnant in the process.  So I see some wisdom in both approaches, but I see more wisdom in setting the proper expectations of our children.  No one smokes on airplanes anymore because the airlines couldn’t be more clear about their prohibition on smoking.  Even the chain-smoker-though he may be dying for a cigarette-won’t light up on that four hour flight because he knows there will be consequences for his actions.  Isn’t the same thing possible for our sex-crazed teens if they know society means what they say when they tell them not to have sex?  I’m not so idealistic as to think we’ll eliminate the behavior, but I’m not so stupid to think we’ll get teens to curb their sexual desires by giving them the tools they need to engage in them a little more safely.  At least, that’s the way I see it.

For those who believe in free will, Genesis 20:6 presents an interesting problem. Abraham was traveling in Gerar. He feared one of the inhabitants might kill him, so he could take his wife Sarah, to be his own. To spare his life Abraham lied to Abimelech, king of Gerar, saying Sarah was his sister. Abimelech took Sarah to be his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her. In a dream, the Lord told Abimelech the truth about Sarah, and that He had prevented Abimelech from having sexual relations with her.

How is it that God prevented Abimelech from having sexual relations with Sarah? Was Abimelech denied freedom of his will? Walter Schultz, a philosopher from Northwestern College, proposed an answer to these questions in the latest volume of Philosophia Christi (Vol. 10, 2008) that I found both interesting and plausible.

Humans are free rational agents, meaning they have the freedom to choose among options apart from external constraint. They also have intentions, and initiate acts that serve to fulfill those intentions. Intentions can be either proximal, or distal. A distal intention is future-directed (e.g. an intention to vote in the next election), while a proximal intention is directed at the here-and-now (e.g. an intention to raise my arm). There is an imperceptible, but real temporal gap between an agent’s exercising of his mental power to choose X (proximal intention), and the actual execution of that choice. Furthermore, time is required both to form the intention, and to act on that intention to fulfill it.

Schultz proposes that God was able to prevent Abimelech from sinning without depriving him of his free will by intervening during the formation of his freely chosen proximal intention, interrupting the conditions necessary for Abimelech to complete his proximal intention, thereby averting the otherwise certain outcome. On this view, God intervenes after the human agent has freely chosen X, but before the effect. From the human perspective, we would consider this a case of akrasia, or weakness of will, similar to the person who says, “I always wanted to travel to Europe, but never seemed to get around to it.” The person intends to do X, but find themselves unable to do so for reasons they do not fully understand. So Abimelech freely chose to have sexual relations with Sarah, but God interrupted the completion of his proximal intention, thus aborting its effect.

What do you think about Schultz’s theory?

It has been awhile! I should have made a post informing you that I would not be blogging for a period of time, but I had no idea I would be taking a break as long as I did. I moved from Long Beach to San Jose at the end of August due to a new job. With the move, long work hours, a long commute, making week-end trips back to L.A., email problems, and a broken computer, blogging has not been possible. But I am back. I hope to be blogging on a daily basis again (or every other day).

 

So much to talk about! Where do I begin?!?! I’ll start off easy, and then hit you with some heavier thinking. I would like to make a few comments regarding the charge that religion is responsible for most of the world’s wars and bloodshed.

 

Those antagonistic toward religion generally blame religion and religious belief for all the wars and violence throughout history. They argue that if people did not embrace religious beliefs there would not be so much cruelty in the world. J. Budzizewski responds to this charge by pointing out that “cruelty isn’t caused by believing things; it’s caused by believing cruel things.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>[1] Aptly said. The problem is not that people have religious beliefs, but rather what it is they believe to be true. If one’s religious beliefs contain cruel content, they will act cruelly. But there is nothing inherent in religious belief itself that causes people to act cruelly.

Not only is this charge logically flawed, but it is historically mistaken as well. The fact of the matter is that atheistic ideologies have been responsible for more deaths than all the religious wars throughout history combined. In the 20th century alone approximately 115-120 million people were killed by Communist regimes and totalitarian governments: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and the Khmer Rouge. So contrary to popular belief, the charge of cruelty and destruction lies at the feet of atheism, not religious belief.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>J. Budziszewski, “The Truth Part”; available from http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001345.cfm; Internet; accessed 07 September 2006.

The Pew Research Center has released its newest polling data concerning the American public’s view on a variety of moral issues such as abortion, stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and Plan B. Check it out here. Pew is always a reliable source for gauging Americans’ views on hot-topic moral issues.

Is it wrong to get a tattoo? Why so?

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