This week the pope has come under fire for his comments on the use of condoms. He said that condoms, when used to help prevent HIV, are permissible. There are two major outcries from the Catholic clergy about this: the questioning of papal authority and the church’s militant stance to demonize sexual pleasure.
First, the pope is supposed to be infallible in the Catholic Church. He is supposed to be the leader of the faith and the direct contact to God for humanity. Pope Benedict XVI’s comments give Catholics an uncomfortable dilemma: either the new pope’s comments are wrong or the Catholic Church has had the wrong stance on birth control for the last 1500 years. Currently, mane Catholic clergy members are trying to figure out a way to explain the pope’s comments as having a different meaning than what he said. This is a pretty obvious clue on the illogical nature of the Catholic Church, but that’s not what I want to talk about for now.
The major part of the outcry comes from the belief that sexual pleasure is wrong and can never be condoned. The Catholic Church has pushed this doctrine to the point that sex has become a dirty, immoral form of love. The official stance of the church is that sex can only be done between a married heterosexual couple solely for the aim of creation. This means that even for a married couple condoms, birth control pills, pulling out, and the rhythm method are all immoral and considered to be a “grave sin”. Lost in all of this is the fact that the pope’s comments could end up saving lives by the prevention of HIV spread.
So why is sex immoral? Many fundamentalists cite Genesis for this belief. The chapter talks about a man who asks his brother to impregnate his wife for him. The brother, knowing the child won’t be his, decides to pull out after sex in order not to impregnate his sister-in-law. For this God punished him and condemned his actions. Now, the obvious immorality of the man’s actions involve taking advantage of his brother’s wife without fulfilling his word. The Catholic Church on the other hand interpret this to say that wasting sex/sperm is immoral.
This belief is flat out ridiculous. Imagine a wife and husband desiring to have sex with each other without having an additional child. There is no immoral lust, as the only sin of lust happens when there is lust for another woman. Now, would sex really be immoral? If they use the rhythm method, how is it wrong for them to enjoy sex without interfering with the natural process of sex? Keep in mind that, if God did indeed create us, God would have designed the female cycle to make the rhythm method possible. It seems hard to condemn using the system that God made as immoral.
The common response is that sex for pleasure is immoral, therefore using the rhythm method is immoral. But why is sex for pleasure immoral? It can’t be that wasting sperm interferes with the potential for human life. If this were true, God would be responsible for losing out on countless billions of sperm every day due to the fact that men naturally release their sperm if they do not ejaculate for a period of time. If sperm was meant to be treasured and used only for creation, the design of the male reproductive system could not have been designed by God.
Consider this next example. Imagine a married couple believes in the Catholic Church’s teachings that sex for pleasure is immoral. They begin to have sex with the plan to potentially create a baby. However, midway through the wife cannot handle the pain that she is experiencing from the sex, so they stop before they finish. Now, is this immoral? The sex happened without the potential for creating a baby, and they temporarily enjoyed the act. But it would be foolish to claim that because the penetration occurred there must be insemination to be morally right.
If the immorality is clearly not in the waste of sperm or the act of penetration, what is immoral? The last response is the desire for sexual pleasure. This is a very dangerous idea that the Catholic Church promotes. Consider why they claim this pleasure is wrong. What other pleasure is wrong in this way, where no negative consequences occur? No one claims that taking pleasure in athletic activity is wrong, or that pleasure from creative expression is wrong. In fact, when is pleasure ever intrinsically wrong? There isn’t a single pleasure that harms no one that is as demonized as sexual pleasure.
So why is sexual pleasure wrong? The fact is: there aren’t any reasonable arguments for this idea. Sexual pleasure, if it weren’t for church traditions, would be widely accepted as a positive and valuable aspect of human life. Repression of pleasure should never be seen as a virtue, it should be seen as a weakness. I say this because, when pressed, those who believe that bodily pleasure is innately wrong do not have an argument for it other than that they were told to believe it. Now I am not saying that pleasure is everything or that we should have no control on ourselves. But what bothers me is that so many church leaders try to repress their followers to the point where they have control over the most instinctive desires they have. In my opinion, there have been far too many people who feel condemned for who they are simply because they were told to believe that there natural instincts are sinful and morally wrong.
I finally got my computer charged so I can post my paper on drug prohibition. It’s on a book called “Legalization of Drugs For and Against” by Douglass Husak and Peter Marneffe. Marneffe’s argument against heroin prohibition is roughly:
1. It is a legitimate state goal to minimize heroin abuse.
2. It is possible to introduce effective laws against heroin use without introducing greater harms than they prevent.
3. People do not have the right to use heroin without punishment.
It is morally justifiable to enact and enforce effective laws against heroin use.
Here’s my paper (it’s long, but it’s a more thorough explanation of my argument than my first post on drugs):
The Argument against Drug Prohibition
Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe argue about the morality of enacting and enforcing laws against heroin use. Husak believes that there is no moral justification for punishing the heroin user, and therefore no moral justification for laws against heroin use. Marneffe claims that it is morally justifiable to enact and enforce laws against heroin use, and gives an argument to defend his position. His argument is used to justify laws against heroin use and can also be used to defend laws against marijuana use. Marneffe’s argument fails when used for laws against either heroin or marijuana use because of an individual’s right not to be punished in order to protect others.
Marneffe’s argument has four premises, which if true, directly lead to his conclusion that laws against heroin use are morally justifiable. His second premise relies on effective laws being possible without causing greater harm than they prevent. Therefore, if effective laws introduce greater harms than they prevent, Marneffe’s second premise is false and his argument is not sound.
Husak objects to Marneffe’s argument by asking for the justification of a heroin user’s punishment. Marneffe’s argument, when put in simple terms, states that it is morally justifiable to punish heroin users in order to prevent others from abusing heroin and thus losing valuable opportunities (p. 113). Husak claims that this still does not justify punishing heroin users. It does not logically follow that a heroin user deserves to be punished because if he or she were not punished, then another individual would be unable to resist abusing heroin (p. 37). To Husak, Marneffe does not provide an adequate reason why a heroin user deserves to be punished, even if the law that punishes them would prevent others from suffering from heroin abuse.
Marneffe responds to Husak’s objection by separately justifying the punishment and the law. For Marneffe, the heroin user deserves to be punished because he or she knowingly broke the law. The law against heroin use is justified because it’s enforcement will help mitigate teenage and parental heroin abuse. This is Marneffe’s four premise argument. If the argument is sound, and we are morally justified in enacting laws to mitigate heroin use, then we are morally justified in punishing those who break the law. For Marneffe’s argument to be sound, each premise must be true. Therefore, to justify laws against heroin use, Marneffe must prove that the law does not introduce greater harms than it prevents.
Husak’s objection states that we cannot justify punishing a heroin user even if it results in less aggregate harm. Husak’s argues that “no one deserves to be punished simply because less harm would be produced in society if he were punished than if he were not” (p.36). Marneffe agrees with Husak on this point and acknowledges that we cannot punish individuals to increase aggregate happiness.
Instead of a utilitarian view, Marneffe defends his argument with a form of individualism called the “burdens principle” (p.159). This principle states that a law is morally justified when the greatest burden placed on an individual by this law is less than the greatest burden placed on an individual in the absence of the law (p. 159). In the case of heroin, Marneffe argues that the greatest burden that effective heroin laws would impose on an individual would be the inability for a responsible adult to use heroin without fear of punishment. However, the absence of these laws would put an even greater burden, the loss of opportunities in life, on any individual who would use heroin if legal but is currently deterred by heroin prohibition. Since the absence of effective laws against heroin would create a greater burden on certain individuals than the burden created by having these laws, the laws are morally justifiable according to Marneffe’s burdens principle.
Marneffe’s reply to Husak’s objection does not hold because it relies on the burdens principle, which I consider to be an invalid form of determining the morality of laws. To justify my issue with the burdens principle, consider a law that forces kidney transplants when a patient would die without one. This law states that in the case where a dying patient has no willing donor, a random healthy adult will be selected to provide a transplant. This is done locally and randomly, in a similar way that men are drafted for the army. When enforced, the randomly selected adult would be legally required to donate his or her kidney to the dying patient. If the donor refuses, he or she would be legally punished.
According to the burdens principle, the morality of this law should be determined by the burdens it places on individuals. If the law is enforced, the highest burden placed would be on the randomly selected donors. They would have the option to lose a kidney or be legally punished. However, if the law is not enforced, the greatest burden would be on the patients in need of a donor. They would die without the enforcement of this law. Since it is worse to die than to lose a kidney or be legally punished, the burdens principle would justify this hypothetical law.
However, the common sense reaction is to reject this law. While it is noble to offer an organ to save a stranger, it cannot be legally forced and have its refusal punished. This shows the flaw with Marneffe’s burdens principle. Dying is worse than losing a kidney, and the prevention of hospital patients dying is a legitimate state goal. However, the law is not morally justifiable because the state is not justified in forcing individuals to choose between punishment or forfeiting a kidney in order to protect other individuals. It is because of this that I consider the burdens principle to be an invalid form of justifying laws. In the case of effective laws against heroin use, the same objection holds. The loss of opportunities to heroin abuse is worse than the loss of the right to use heroin, and the prevention of heroin abuse is a legitimate state goal. However, laws against heroin use are not morally justifiable because the state is not justified in forcing individuals to choose between punishment or forfeiting their heroin use in order to protect other individuals.
Marneffe’s argument for effective laws against heroin use can also be used to argue for effective laws against marijuana use. However, the argument for laws against marijuana use would have the same flaws. Even effective laws against use, which by definition would reduce more harm than they create, would force individuals to choose between punishment or forfeiting marijuana use in order to protect others.
For the sake of argument, we can ignore this objection and consider Marneffe’s argument for effective laws against heroin use to be sound. If this argument is sound, is it also a sound argument for effective laws against marijuana use? To understand the differences between laws against heroin and marijuana use, effective laws against marijuana need to be defined.
Effective laws against marijuana use would have to reduce more harm than they create. These laws would need smaller and more gradual punishments than the ones currently in place, as Marneffe wants for laws against heroin use (p. 119). Punishments would not include jail time for users, only small, gradually increasing fines for repeat offenders. Resources would be spent on stopping large scale dealers instead of punishing recreational users. Effective laws against marijuana use would have to deter enough abuse to justify both the economic cost of enforcement and the social cost of limiting an individual’s rights.
In reality, effective laws against marijuana use are not possible. Marijuana is generally known to be the safest of all illicit drugs, and even safer than the currently legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. There are various methods to consume marijuana, including through edibles and vaporizers, that minimize the risks associated with marijuana smoke. Also, frequent marijuana use is not as associated with the loss of life opportunities as frequent heroin use. Therefore, the amount of marijuana use that prohibition deters would not result in a significant decrease in harm to individuals.
Another issue with laws against marijuana use is the current social status of the drug. Marneffe believes heroin prohibition is effective because its use is currently looked down upon (p. 180). He argues that if heroin were legalized, it would eventually become socially acceptable to use heroin and thus its use would increase. Marijuana, however, does not have the same social status as heroin. Smoking, especially during young adulthood, is widely considered to be socially acceptable. Also, because of its social status, marijuana is widely available and easy to acquire. Since it is already socially acceptable and easy to acquire, Marneffe does not believe legalization would increase marijuana use to a significant degree. When laws against marijuana use are not an effective deterrent, it is impossible to justify punishing recreational marijuana users.
Marneffe’s argument fails when used to defend laws against either heroin or marijuana use because it punishes individuals in order to protect others. Husak argues for an individual’s right not to be unjustly punished, even when doing so would deter others from harm. Marneffe’s responds using the burdens principle, which justifies punishing the drug user by evaluating the burdens the absence of the law would create. However, as shown by the hypothetical kidney donor law, the burdens principle cannot be used to justify laws that punish individuals to deter harm to others. Without a proper justification to punish drug users, laws against heroin and marijuana use are morally unjustifiable.
In my last post I gave a defense for why the best moral theory must be a utilitarian consequentialist view that judges actions based on value instead of happiness. To define what value is, I’m going to look at what we believe to be “moral” and why we do.
Positive moral actions involve creating something good, like donating food to the hungry. I believe utilitarianism is adequate in equating this with happiness and the need to create happiness.
Negative morality involves not causing something bad. I want to bring up the case of enslaving 1% of the population. If doing so would increase the happiness of the remaining 99% to a great enough extent to outweigh the pain of the 1%, would it be morally just? Most people would agree that it is not, even if happiness is increased in the aggregate. So what is being decreased enough to outweigh the happiness of the 99%? The answer is pretty straightforward: the right to freedom of the 1%.
So for value utilitarianism I believe that the value of actions must be determined by both the rights involved and the happiness. I believe this is intuitive: imagine any action we consider “immoral” and the reason why. Killing-taking away the right to life. Stealing-taking away the right to property. And so on. The happiness of the victim in each case is decreased, but I do not believe that is what is truly “immoral”.
To start with, I’m going to define what rights we actually have, in the order of their importance.
Life-This is clearly our most important right. There is however, a difference between the right to life and the right to be alive. The right to life is solely the right not to be killed, the right to be alive is the right to not die. In this way, I do not believe the right to life consists of the right to remain alive. For this distinction, consider a dying patient in need of a kidney transplant. The patient does not have the right to demand a kidney from a stranger, even if he would die without one.
Body-This is the right to control our own bodies and not have unwanted damage done to them. This involves cases such as assault, rape, and female circumcision.
Justice-This term is hard to define because the laws of each society define justice differently. I would somewhat define this right as the right to equality under law, and the right to have our rights protected. This involves cases such as punishing a murderer and equal treatment under law.
Freedom-This involves both the right to free choice and action. Both of these have limits: we do not have the right to commit crime, and we are not entitled to have unlimited choices (such as the right to choose who our children are). What this right does define is the freedom to not be slave, and to be able to make our own decisions.
Possessions-This solely involves the right not to have your possessions stolen. This does not mean that we have the right to any materials we want.
These rights are the factors that I believe trump happiness in a given case. The rankings are valued when compared one to one: meaning one person’s right to life is more valuable than another’s right to justice, and so on.
My other problem with utilitarianism involved the requirement for equal treatment. I believe that group obligations must factor in when considering the value of different actions. These groups are family, community, and country. To determine what obligations we have to each group, we have to determine what we expect from each group and what is required in order to maintain that for the group. For example, we expect military protection, firefighter service, policing, teaching, and other services from our government. To maintain this, we have to pay taxes. The moral duty in this case is to pay taxes, as we expect the services the taxes provide. For family, we expect family relations. This is the hardest to define because each family member has a different role. The parents are in charge of the financing, and the children rely on the parents to provide food. I believe it is morally required for a parent to value his or her family duties, such as providing food and shelter to their children, more than the happiness of strangers.
To make value utilitarianism work, it has to be applicable to daily situations. Most decisions do not involve infringing on anyone’s right to life or body, but will often involve the duty to family and the happiness of others. I believe that for each case, we have to look at the value of the consequences of each action from a neutral third party perspective. Family duties will factor in to the proper degree, which is the degree to which a rational, neutral perspective would factor it. When two different choices involve infringing on rights, the choice must be made to cause the least amount of harm to value. This is difficult to define in any simple formula, but must again be looked at from a neutral perspective. The value of each right is only the value of one individual’s right, meaning that the right to life of one person trumps another person’s right to body, but does not trump the right to body of a million people.
I’m going to apply my theory of value utilitarianism to various ethical dilemmas in future posts to show how the system works. If you believe there is a flaw in it please point it out.
- This week I’m going to write on religion a bit, and possibly gay marriage. The reason I’m holding back on gay marriage is because I don’t know very many people who disagree with me on the topic, though if there are I would definitely formulate my argument.
I’ve been coming up with my own ethical theory. I’m somewhat of a utilitarian, though there are some problems that I think can be fixed. I call my improved idea “value utilitarianism”.
First, I believe the best moral theory has to be a consequentionalist theory. I would argue that there is no act that is intrinsically good, and that any action has its worth judged by its consequences. To prove this, consider any act that would potentially be intrinsically good, like donating to charity. The case could be made that the value is in the results, or the good that the donation will do. Further, imagine that you knew the donation would cause ten people to die (a stretch, but this is hypothetical). Would the donation still be good or have value? Of course not. This is my simple formula to devalue any action: make its result death for a number of people. If saving a baby’s life caused three thousand babies to die, it would not be good. This can work for any action. I don’t believe there is a single action that could be called good if it knowingly resulted in mass amounts of death.
What I do believe has intrinsic value is the will to do good, or the will to not cause bad. This means that what is important when determining the morality or immorality of an action is the intent. The moral decision is the one that had the intent to create good, while the immoral decision is the one that had the intent to cause bad. The actual consequences do not change the morality of the intent, because I do not believe moral luck has any place in judging morality (Consider parents who fed their son vegetables with the intent of keeping him healthy, but ended up giving him food poisoning. Their intent was moral, and I do not feel that the result would invalidate their intentions).
This theory is utilitarian, so each potential action needs to be judged by its consequences. The difference I have is that happiness cannot and should not be the only factor. I believe what matters is the value of the consequences, and that the moral decision is the one that has the greater value.
To support this statement, I have what I like to call my master argument. There will never be a case where, with everything considered, someone can argue that the moral course of action is the one that provides the less valuable consequences. Any argument that claims this would be arguing for a different value which they consider to be greater.
The next step then is to define what can be considered valuable. This is where disagreement is bound to happen. I’ll explain what I consider to be valuable, and my reasons for thinking so, in my next post.
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that revolves around the maximization of happiness. All moral decisions are made by the use of the “principle of utility”, which claims that the right course of action is the one that maximizes aggregate happiness. So whenever there’s a moral dilemma, you have to figure out which option would either cause the most happiness or cause the least amount of pain.
First, there are a lot of great ideas in utilitarianism. It is a consequentionalist theory, meaning the morality of each action is determined by its consequences (as opposed to deontologist theories, where the morality of actions are judged on the value of the action alone). I think there is a simple way to prove consequentionalism: consider a scenario where you know you have to kill an innocent person in order to save the lives of a billion people (similar to the drifter scenario). Any theory that ignores the consequences, in this case the loss of countless lives, cannot be seriously considered as a good moral theory.
Another good point of utilitarianism is the promotion of happiness. I’m not a hedonist, but I do think that the value of happiness is underrated. Utilitarianism emphasizes that you have to only value things that are good intrinsically. The conclusion is then that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable, and thus should be valued, is happiness.
There are two main problems with utilitarianism: the demand for impartiality and being solely hedonistic.
Utilitarianism states that you have to judge everyone’s happiness equally. This concept is good in that you can’t do something good for yourself when it would cause another person pain. However, it demands too much since everyone has personal obligations to family, community, and other groups. Consider a man whose income is the sole support for his family of four. He thinks to himself: I can either take my family out to dinner, or donate the $100 or so dollars to a charity that will save lives in Africa. The lives saved in Africa will create more happiness than the dinner, so the man would have to donate the money according to utilitarianism. You could take this scenario as far as necessary to make the point. Would there ever be an amount of money that the man could use on his family that would create more happiness than if he used it to save lives?
Even though it is noble to donate to charity, it should not be morally required to donate everything you earn to charity. However you calculate it, it has to be morally permissible, if not morally required, to put your family first.
Lastly, there is a clear objection to the principle of utility. Consider a proposition to enslave 1% of the population. If done, this would ease enough burden for the remaining 99% of the population that overall happiness would increase (meaning that the unhappiness of the 1% would be outweighed by the happiness of the 99%). Would this proposition be morally good? The utilitarian view would have to be yes. Aggregate happiness is increased, so the proposition is morally good. However, this is obviously incorrect. Most people correctly believe that slavery is wrong even if the benefits are there. This is because we value individual rights, which utilitarianism does not recognize.
I believe these problems can be fixed, and will post my own theory once I’ve figured out the kinks.
My computer charger broke, so I won’t be able to put my paper up for a couple weeks. I’ll have a post on utilitarianism up this weekend.
One of the biggest debates about abortion concerns when a fetus can be defined as a human life. Pro-life advocates often claim that it is at the moment of conception, while pro-choice advocates often claim that it is when the baby can survive outside of the womb. A general consensus among many people is that abortion is okay when the fetus is not considered to be a human life, but not okay afterwards. According to this principle, I believe the transition is made when the fetus becomes self-aware.
However, there is a compelling argument against this called the case of the Violinist. This case can have several variances, but I’m going to use the original version:
Imagine you wake up in bed in a strange room. You look around and realize that you are being connected to another man through a series of tubes and medical equipment. This man is in a coma and lying on a bed like you are. Another man is sitting between you and you ask him what has happened. He explains that you were kidnapped in the middle of the night and hooked up to this man by the International Music Society. The man you are being connected to is a world famous violinist who is dying, and it was determined that you were the only person who could save the man’s life. If you stay in bed and stay connected to the violinist, he will wake up in approximately nine months and live. If you disconnect from him at any point before then, he will die.
The point of this thought experiment is: would you be morally obligated to stay connected to the violinist for nine months? It would certainly be respectable if you chose to sacrifice to save the violinist’s life, but it is very difficult to claim that you would be morally obligated to do so. It seems fairly obvious that you would have every right to disconnect and move on with your life, even if it means that the violinist would end up dying.
The case of the violinist is meant to draw an obvious parallel with pregnancy. The violinist is the fetus, and the case is supposed to prove that the pregnant mother is not morally obligated to keep the fetus even if the fetus is considered a human life. In this way the woman’s right to her own body can surpass the fetus’s right to sustained life.
If you were to make the comparisons exact, the woman would be pregnant from a rape (similar to the unwanted kidnapping the violinist case). So the case directly implies that it is okay for a woman to abort a fetus when pregnant from rape. However, I believe the same holds true in almost all other cases. If the woman volunteered to hook up to the violinist (similar to a woman trying to get pregnant), it would then be harder to justify killing the violinist or aborting the baby. However, most cases revolve around a woman who did not want to become pregnant and became so accidentally. The closest comparison would be if a woman was involved with the International Music Society, and wanted to help the violinist, but was unaware of what she was committing to when she hooked up. In this case, it would be very difficult to condemn the woman for disconnecting from the violinist.
The most common objection to this case cites the difference between positive and negative moral rights. Negative moral rights involve the rights against being acted upon, such as the right not to be killed. Positive moral rights are the rights for action, such as the right to be saved when drowning. The objection states that the violinist has a positive right to be helped, but the fetus has a negative right not to be killed. Since negative rights hold much greater weight than positive rights, the objection states that the woman still cannot kill the fetus.
This objection makes a false distinction. The fetus does have a negative right not to be killed. However, since the fetus cannot survive outside the womb, this is equal to the fetus’s positive right to be sustained. I find it hard to believe that aborting the fetus is morally worse than removing the fetus from the womb and letting the fetus die (which is directly comparable to the violinist’s case). Due to this, I believe that abortion is morally permissible even if you consider the fetus a person.
- I’m going to post the paper I wrote on Drug Prohibition tomorrow. It’s a long read but I’m really proud of it and it more thoroughly describes the argument against Drug prohibition.
- My upcoming posts will be on utilitarianism and what I consider to be its flaws. I’m developing my own general moral theory and will explain more on it in the post.
I want to address three questions I brought up last post:
1. Can God create a rock that he cannot lift?2. When God created the universe, did God create the best universe possible?3. (This deals only with the Bible) Why does God react angrily to the actions of people, when God should have known the actions were coming at the point of creation?
Each question deals with the logic of omnipotence. I’m going to write about what I think each answer has to be, and what I think it means. I’m going to focus on the Christian God because I know the ideas best and I have more Christian friends than any other religion, though you can insert any deity for God if necessary.
1. This is the most common question about God’s omnipotence out there. The question creates a paradox: If God cannot create the rock, he is not omnipotent. If God cannot lift the rock he created, then he is not omnipotent. However, I do not think this is entirely successful. If the question is ever brought up, a Christian answer should be: Yes God could create the rock, and God could still lift it. This is conceivably impossible, but has to be the case if God is to be omnipotent. In order to be able to “do all things” (the definition of omnipotence), God must be able to create the rock as well as lift it. The way you have to think about it is simple: God cannot be constrained by our logic or any universal laws. If he were, he would simply not be omnipotent. This holds true with any of the other questions relating to this topic (such as: Can God exist and not exist? Can God make a square circle?). Basically, to be omnipotent, God would have to be able to break all logical boundaries.
2. This is actually a dilemma I thought of myself, though it may be out there as well. This dilemma is a bit more complicated. It asks: When God created the universe, did he create the best universe he could have? Since “best” is relative, I’m going to define best in terms of fulfilling God’s purpose (which I’m going to refer to as x,y,z). So when God created everything, he made it so that the universe would perfectly fulfill factors x,y,z.
The dilemma here is that: could God have done better? Could God have conceived and created a universe that fulfilled x,y,z to an even greater extent than the universe he created?
Consider what this means. To define the current universe as “perfect”, by whatever standard, means that there cannot be a better universe by that standard. If God made this universe perfectly, then God could not have made it any better. In this way, “perfect” puts a ceiling on God’s capabilities.
The answer I believe is necessary is that God did not make the best possible universe he could have, and chose not to for _____ reason. If God has to be omnipotent, he cannot have a ceiling on his ability and therefore you cannot claim that this universe is the “best” God could have made.
I asked this question to a friend of mine and got a similar answer. Basically, God chose to make this exact universe and we cannot know the reason why. His view was that God could not have made it any better, but that it is the “only” way he could have made it. Personally I feel that this still limits God’s ability, but it is a view.
3. This last question I believe shows the inaccuracy of the Bible. There are several cases where God is shown to have reactions to human actions, but I want to focus on the flood story. Here’s the quote:
“The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled”- Genesis 6:6 NIV
Different versions of the Bible have different words for regret, but they all mean some sort of sorrow or grief. The point I’m making here is that this cannot be the mindset of an omnipotent being. Reaction happens when something occurs to you and you act according to what you just learned. However, God would have to have known the future. There is no conceivable way for God to be omniscient and not to have known exactly what humanity would do at the instant of creation.
This point is pretty straightforward. This verse, as well as many others in the Bible, show a God that has anger and sorrow from human actions, and there are instances where God either changes his mind or has his mood changed based upon human events. This, at least to me, shows the human writing in the Bible. It is easy to imagine a man writing down stories and imagining a God that would act this way, but it is very difficult to imagine a God actually acting like this.
The last thing I want to address is the concept of God and time. Would God be constrained by time? By this I mean, is God progressing through time like we are? There is a verse in the Bible that mentions how a day to us is like a thousand years to God, and a thousand years to us is like a day to God. This shows some concept of how God is outside time. My point, however, is that even this doesn’t fully compensate for God’s omnipotence. To be omnipotent, God would have to literally be at every moment in time simultaneously. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me for a bit. Putting God at any moment in time, no matter what his perception of it, constrains him to that moment in time. As humans, we move along with time because we have no power over time. We are stuck in this reality and cannot exist outside of our own moment. God, on the other hand, could not have the same limitation. Putting God at any one moment, or especially claiming that God is experiencing time with us, puts a constraint on God in the same way that claiming God is physically in the sky would. Space/time boundaries would not be able to exist for God, so he would have to literally be everywhere at all times.
-If any of this doesn’t make sense, or if you feel that I’m way off, feel free to comment or argue with me. I’m going to post a lot in the future about abstract religious ideas like this so I’m hoping people have opinions on it.
-This week I think I’m gonna write a bit about the ethics of abortion and the Violinist case.
I’m going to write a bit on the problems with the idea that an omniscient God exists on Sunday, but I want to bring up the issues now to see what people think.
There are a few questions that try to prove that God is not omnipotent:
1. Can God create a rock that he cannot lift?
2. When God created the universe, did God create the best universe possible?
3. (This deals only with the Bible) Why does God react angrily to the actions of people, when God should have known the actions were coming at the point of creation?
I’ve asked these questions a lot on YA, and recently heard a decent response to #2. If you have your own opinions please comment, or if one of the questions doesn’t make sense please ask me. I’ll have my responses up by Sunday.
Yesterday I brought up an ethical dilemma called the Case of the Drifter. Basically, the dilemma is whether to frame the drifter unjustly and save twenty people, or to let the riot happen.
A few things first: For this dilemma you have to ignore all other factors. You have to think that for either choice, nothing will be different other than the immediate effects of your decision (meaning you can’t wonder about if the townspeople will riot more often, or what the real murderer is doing). The only thing that you have control over is whether or not to frame the drifter.
Now there are obviously two sides to the dilemma, each with an argument. The argument that supports framing the drifter is a utilitarian argument, whereas the argument against framing deals with Kantian ethics.
The utilitarian argument deals primarily with the consequents of your actions. Basically, you have to look at both choices and determine which one will lead to the better result. Utilitarianism determines which is the best result by determining which choice leads to the greatest amount of happiness. In the case of the drifter, the choice then becomes simple. If you frame the drifter, one person dies and is unjustly treated. If you don’t frame the drifter, twenty people die. Since the first option leads to less pain (the opposite of happiness), the first option is the morally correct one.
The Kantian argument deals with the will of the person doing the action. Kantian ethics are pretty complicated, so I’m going to simplify a lot. Basically, the will of the person is what matters, not the consequences. Morality cannot be determined on a case by case basis, it has to be universal in order not to be twisted. To determine what a morally right action is you have to think of it as a maxim, or apply it universally. So if you are considering lying, you have to consider if society would be upheld if everyone did as you did (lying). Since society could not support lying being universally good, lying is morally wrong.
In the Case of the Drifter, the same maxim applies. Kant is not concerned with the consequences, you have to do the right action for the sake of the action. In this case you have to consider the maxim, or what would happen if everyone did as you did. Since a society could not sustain a system where justice did not prevail, you cannot frame the drifter and must let the twenty innocent people die.
I personally agree with the utilitarian argument in this case. I think there are several flaws in utilitarianism (which I will write about sometime in the future), but in this case I believe you have to save the twenty people. The problem with Kantian ethics is that you cannot ignore the consequences. Consider the case if instead of twenty people dying, it was twenty thousand. It is hard to defend the idea that you should still not frame the drifter, even when twenty thousand people would die. And if that number is still too small, you can simply increase the number (to a million, billion, etc.) until the Kantian has to relent and agree that you have to frame the drifter. What this proves is that you cannot ignore the consequences of the action.
The reason I agree with the utilitarian is due to the value of life. I believe that in morality, you absolutely have to weigh the consequences of your actions and aim for the best outcome. As bad as it is to take the drifter’s right to life and right to justice, it is still worse to let twenty people die. Even if you could make the case that the morally correct action is to maintain justice, it is still better to be morally wrong than to let an extra nineteen people die.