Friday, October 25, 2013

Hitchens on "The Immorality of the Offer of Vicarious Redemption"

In the Christianity Today Panel Debate Christopher Hitchens said the following:

“I couldn’t be brought to believe that there’s such a thing as vicarious redemption, which I think is an immoral doctrine. I could pay your debt, Douglas [Wilson], I’d happily do it. Some people would even be willing to serve other people’s terms in prison. But I can’t say “I’ll take your sins on me”. I can’t say “You can throw your responsibilities on me”.

Concerning the atonement, J.I. Packer wrote:

 “Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, which largely determined the mediaeval development, saw Christ’s satisfactio for our sins as the offering of compensation or damages for dishonour done, but the Reformers saw it as the undergoing of vicarious punishment (poena) to meet the claims on us of God’s holy law and wrath (i.e. his punitive justice).”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ID, Miracles and Mechanism.

One common objection to ID is that the only proposed mechanism by which the designer could act through is a miracle. Is this true, though?

Consider ID proponent Michael Behe’s description of what he calls “finely tuned events”:

“Suppose the laboratory of Pope Mary’s physicist is next to a huge warehouse in which is stored a colossal number of little shiny spheres. Each sphere encloses the complete history of a separate, self-contained, possible universe, waiting to be activated. (In other words, the warehouse can be considered a vast multiverse of possible universes, but none of them have yet been made real.) One enormous section of the warehouse contains all the universes that, if activated, would fail to produce life. They would develop into universes consisting of just one big black hole, universes without stars, universes without atoms, or other abysmal failures. In a small wing of the huge warehouse are stored possible universes that have the right general laws and constants of nature for life. Almost all of them, however, fall into the category of “close, but no cigar.” For example, in one possible universe the Mars-sized body would hit the nascent earth at the wrong angle and life would never commence. In one small room of the small wing are those universes that would develop life. Almost all of the, however, would not develop intelligent life. In one small closet of the small room of the small wing are placed possible universes that would actually develop intelligent life. One afternoon the ├╝berphysicist walks from his lab to the warehouse, passes by the huge collection of possible dead universes, strolls into the small wing, over to the small room, opens the small closet, and selects one of the extremely rare universes that is set up to lead to intelligent life. Then he “adds water” to activate it. In that case the now-active universe is fine-tuned to the very great degree of detail required, yet it is activated in a “single creative act”.

...There are myriad Powerball-winning events, but they aren’t due to chance. They were foreseen, and chosen from all the possible universes.”

The Edge of Evolution, 231-232

So, given that finely-tuned events would warrant an inference to design, but involve an unbroken sequence of secondary causation, the objection fails. As Behe remarks
“... the assumption that design unavoidably requires “interference” rests mostly on a lack of imagination.”

Interestingly enough, John Wilkins and Michael Ruse, both stalwart foes of ID, have actually spoken favourably of the scientific legitimacy of “guided mutation” with reference to multiverse scenarios.

Also, there is similarity between Behe’s “finely-tuned events” and Eugene Koonin’s proposal of an “anthropically selected event”. Koonin’s proposal is that the event of abiogenesis may have been anthropically selected from a set of possible histories. That is to say, only a universe in which abiogenesis occurs at least once can support observers, and, given the large number of possible histories available on certain physical theories, we happen to find ourselves by chance in a universe in which abiogenesis has indeed taken place. One might even find oneself living in a universe where, given experimental data, abiogenesis looks too improbable to have occurred even once, but nevertheless has occurred. As far as I can see, such an event would be empirically identical to Behe’s “finely-tuned event” scenario.

Further reading:

Michael Behe 2007 “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism”

Eugene Koonin 2007 “The cosmological model of inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life” Biology Direct

John Wilkins 2012 “Could God create Darwinian accidents?” Zygon vol. 47 no. 1.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Papalinton's ethical challenge.

This is a comment which I originally posted on Victor Reppert's blog "Dangerous Idea"
I'm reposting the challenge here in the hopes that papalinton might respond to it.

First, consider the idea of a “vomitorium”, in which the patrons go through a cycle of eating then regurgitating. (Apparently, contrary to popular belief, vomitoriums as such didn’t actually exist in ancient Rome.)

I could well imagine that for some people, (provided they protected themselves from the damage to the teeth and throat which comes with repeated exposure to stomach acid), a vomitorium could indeed maximise their pleasure.

But, surely the pleasure that we get from eating is coupled to the good of nutrition. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasure which comes with eating, but when the pleasure itself becomes the end and is completely decoupled from the good, then we get this perverse behaviour.

Also, we can refer here to the proper use of the body. Surely it’s a *misuse* of one’s facility of vomiting to deliberately regurgitate healthy food like that?

Consider another example, this time in the sexual sphere. It may indeed be the case that a number of people have the potential to climax sexually via necrophiliac acts. On a utilitarian framework, there would be no harm involved and significant pleasure. But, surely such acts are a profoundly ugly and depraved *misuse* of the human body, and a person who has such urges is ethically obliged to resist temptation.
Do you agree that ethics must include some reference to the proper use of the body?

It seems to me that you have three options:

1. Deny that the two acts I’ve described are actually immoral.

2. Expound an ethical theory which plausibly explains the immorality of these acts, but doesn’t refer to teleology.

3. Concede that there are examples of teleology which aren't a psychological illusion but, rather, a true perception of an independently existing reality.

War on Women

Here’s a comment I recently read online:

“let me assure you, at some point your contraception WILL FAIL. So the choice is to not have sex at all, which I cannot imagine anyone would recommend as a viable option or even an ideal for which to strive, or to deal with unplanned pregnancy.”

Consider the following four statements:
1. Women ought to have the right to not have children, for example, to continue their career or education.
2. Two consenting adults can never be counselled to refrain from sexual behaviour.
3. Contraception often fails.
4. Therefore, abortion should be made available.

I suspect that some of the rhetoric from the pro-choice side stems from the intuition that the pro-life position involves the rejection of either 1. or 2. And, of course, no rational person could ever seriously even think about denying 2, right? Thus, the REAL motivation for the primitive woman-hating pro-lifers must be their denial of 1.