Chick-Fil-A and the Epistemology of Morality

The Torah contains three kinds of laws, I’m told: mishpatim (laws for which ordinary, normal humans have good reasons to accept), chukim (laws for which there is no accessible-to-humans reasons to accept), and mitzvoth (laws that require divine revelation, but given such revelation, reasons can be found after the fact). So, in morality, suppose we think of moral rules along these lines: there are rational rules, mysterious rules and post hoc rules. (I *don’t* think of moral rules in terms of these categories, but am trying to be charitable in the present context).

So most conservative Christians, as well as political conservatives, side with Chick-Fil-A in the recent controversy concerning gay and lesbian issues, but the same would apply to LBGQT issues more broadly. The question is whether they think of the rules as rational, mysterious, or post hoc.

I’ll restrict my remarks to the mysterian position, since I think it is the only defensible one.* And it is the one I hear from interviews done by news organization: something to the effect of “it’s God’s position (or the Biblical view) and they are just agreeing with it.” Though compatible with rational and post hoc views, I think such remarks are best understood as communicating a mysterian position–it’s an admission that the one interviewed doesn’t really have any knowledge of good reasons for the rule, but accepts it in spite of not seeing any good story as to why it is true, other than that God says it is.

And the rest below the fold.

So, suppose there are moral rules that are mysterian in character. We can still distinguish two such possibilities. One is like the speculation that sophomoric undergraduates confuse with philosophy: “suppose the universe is, like, a tiny speck on the fingernail of some enormous beast.” Right: if true, the truth in question is inaccessible to us. In such a case, we have no direct or basic or obvious empirical evidence to cite to rebut. In this way, such hypotheses are like many skeptical hypotheses: they leave us in an epistemic quandary of some sort, even if we are convinced it is rational to reject the claim in question.

In other cases, though, the claim is more like other cases in which one’s BS-o-meter kicks in. You tell me Obama isn’t a citizen, and my BS-o-meter kicks in. What that amounts to is having fairly direct or basic or obvious empirical evidence to cite as a defeater. So the only way for the claim to survive epistemic scrutiny is for the evidence in such a case to outweigh or defeat the defeater.

But in cases of mysterian claims, there can’t be any such evidence: otherwise the case would be one of a rational or post hoc claim.

It is interesting to note that the generational tendency here is (the younger, the more likely to agree that ) the LBGQT issue as a case in which there is an obvious case to be made on behalf of equal treatment and equal opportunity. I won’t rehearse the arguments because they are so obvious.

So suppose I’m right: the only defense of the conservative position here is mysterian, and suppose as well that there is an obvious case to be made on behalf of LBGQT’s. The conclusion to draw is that the conservative position simply can’t be true: it works only if the mysterian laws are more like the “speck on the fingernail” claim and less like the birther claim. But the laws can’t be like that unless the obvious arguments for equal treatment and opportunity are non-existent. And they aren’t non-existent.

Think of it this way: you have apparent experiences, testimonial or otherwise, that God is telling you to do something horrendous. Whatever confirms that it is horrendous behavior is an argument that your experiences are misleading evidence about what God thinks (there are suppressed premises here that I won’t bother to reconstruct unless pressed in comments to do so). And going mysterian at this point is rationally incoherent, since mysterianism makes rational sense only when arguments to the contrary are defeated by something.

In short: if you agree with the Chick-Fil-A guy, you need an argument other than one that appeals to mysterianism.

*The best arguments for classifying the rules as rational or ad hoc arise from the natural law tradition, and I think that won’t work. More important, I’m certain the conservatives, Christian and political, can’t find the natural law tradition a source of epistemic comfort here. The reach of that tradition is too much for them to stomach. The most obvious is in terms of its implications regarding contraception, but that implication only touches the surface. For a full accounting of the matter, see my colleague’s new book on the subject, soon to be released, (Alex Pruss, One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics, described here.


Chick-Fil-A and the Epistemology of Morality — 24 Comments

  1. To block an obvious conservative Christian concern: what about Abraham/Isaac?

    Here’s the answer, somewhat cryptically expressed: the story of A/I should be thought of as a story in progressive revelation, revealing to the people of Israel that God is not like pagan deities. It takes a trustworthy and faithful servant through whom to create an object lesson having this as its point, and Abraham is special because of that. To see the story, instead, as showing the possibility of God contravening what’s obvious to us from a moral point of view about killing and respect for human life is to miss the basic point of the Hebrew Bible concerning *ethical* monotheism.

  2. Suppose there is some proposition for which “ordinary, normal humans” have no good reasons to accept, but is such that, were a normal human person to undergo serious character transformation, she would have good reason to accept. Would that proposition be “rational,” “mysterian,” or “post-hoc”? Second question: if the evidence she would acquire were non-propositional (on the assumption that there is such evidence), would that proposition be “rational,” “mysterian,” or “post-hoc”?

  3. On the first point, not sure, Jonathan. They are clearly not mysterious, and also clearly not rational. That leaves post hoc, and such claims look a bit like that, except that you don’t describe the character transformation as including revelation about the truth of the claims in question. Presumably, you are thinking of the character transformation as positive, though I suppose one could ask about both saintly and demoniac transformations.

    So maybe the counterfactual you consider isn’t precise enough for us to give an answer. But it can be made precise enough to show that the three kinds of laws aren’t exhaustive of all the possibilities. Such would be the case if character transformation alone, without divine revelation, would be sufficient to generate good reasons. Or maybe we should just understand the mysterian category to include reasons inaccessible to ordinary normal humans.

    The second question is easier: it’s evidence that matters, not whether it is propositional or not, since evidence one has in favor of a claim is always a good reason (defeasible of course) for the claim in question.

  4. I certainly don’t agree with the conservative position, and I’m not a professional philosopher by any stretch of the imagination, but I think there’s a better defense available for the “mysterian” position. You say that “in cases of mysterian claims, there can’t be any such evidence [to support it]: otherwise the case would be one of a rational or post hoc claim.” There may not be evidence to back up the mysterian claim itself, but there may well be evidence to back up the source of the mysterian claim. Our belief in the chukim laws may not have justifications specific to those laws, but we may have justifications for our belief in the Torah which provided those laws.

    In this particular instance the source is, as you said, God’s word (perhaps the Bible). So the evidentiary comparison takes place between the evidence in favor of God’s word as a reliable source for claims, versus our own intellect (which, contra to God’s word as some see it, tells us that LGBTQ people deserve rights). In that case, you could conceivably cite some “fairly direct or basic or obvious empirical evidence” in favor of God’s word as a reliable source, even when (especially when) it comes in to conflict with our intellect.

    The article concludes that “if you agree with the Chick-Fil-A guy, you need an argument other than one that appeals to mysterianism.” The arguments that God’s word is reliable, and that one has access to God’s word, should fulfill this role. I think it’s safe to say that most individuals citing mysterian claims are doing so with these supplementary arguments somewhere in their brains. If you were to ask them why they believed their source to be God’s word, for instance, I think they’d probably have some reason or other. In that case, the arguments should have a bit more credibility to them than the skeptical hypotheses.

  5. There is also a position between the mysterian and Natural Law views that I’ve heard espoused by a divine command theorist. The idea is that certain actions are by and large bad for humans to engage in, and one can explain why they are bad. This story stops short of showing the actions to be wrong always, but it gives God good reason to legislate against the actions in general, even in the exceptional cases where the actions are not bad for humans, for the familiar reasons for which we don’t want human laws to to be too finegrained.
    This gives us reason to expect that God might well legislate against these actions. And when we find scriptural texts that can easily be read as instances of such legislation, it is reasonable to take them to be such.
    This is a kind of union between rule utilitarianism and divine command theory.
    Aquinas does a similar thing in a Natural Law context with fornication. He argues that most of the time non-marital sex is bad for offspring. He thinks there could be exceptions, but here he invokes the bluntness of law, apparently even Natural Law.
    I’ve always been fascinated by this line of thought in Aquinas, and never quite sure what to make of it. It does seem tenable in a Natural Law framework. After all, that some activity is typically beneficial to members of a species is some evidence that it’s not unnatural to them, and if it’s typically harmful, that’s some evidence that it’s unnatural.
    Of course in the case of same-sex relations, the claim that the actions are typically harmful will be very controversial. But I just wanted to point out that there is another option. And some evidence that the typical non-Catholic religious conservatives has something a little like it in mind is given by the eagerness with which studies alleging harm are seized on.
    That said, I do think the conservative who allows marital contraception is really somewhat a liberal. 🙂

  6. Alex, it probably puts too much pressure on the tripartite division of types of laws in the Torah to insist on absolute precision, but if I were going to defend the category scheme, I’d say this sounds like a case of rational law: the reasons for it are easily articulated, as you just did, and without some special expertise or insight needed that goes beyond what is available to ordinary, normal humans. Of course, the gloss I gave above of rational laws requires that such humans already have such reasons, and that’s probably a bit restrictive. I think the contrast is between laws for which you need special revelation before finding reasons, and what reasons are already available. But the distinction is both not exhaustive, as Jonathan pointed out, and not all that precise.

  7. JZ, the issue isn’t so much whether a certain view is rational to believe, but whether there are good reasons on its behalf. Think of it like this. If God had told us that Fermat’s last theorem is true, that would be a reason to believe it, but not a reason that would give us any insight into why or how the theorem is true. The tripartite division about laws in the Torah concerns the latter kind of reasons.

    The last part of my post is about what to make of a situation where reasons giving us insight into truth count against a claim, while at the same time having some evidence that God endorses the claim. The former is a defeater of the evidentiary force of the latter, given ethical monotheism.

  8. Jon:

    1. I like the point that the division isn’t that precise, and your point helped to correct a misunderstand I had of the rabbinical understanding of hukkim (this fits very nicely with your reading of the distinction).

    2. The Fermat case makes me, however, want to note that a mathematical proof can give one excellent reason to believe that something is true while giving one no insight into why it is true. I’ve certainly had that sort of thing happen to me.

    In principle, one could thus subdivide the mishpatim into two subgroups: those where the reasons that ordinary people, in the absence of divine revelation, give insight into what makes the law correct or at least reasonable for God to legislate, and those where the reasons only give them reason to believe that the law is correct or at least reasonable for God to legislate, without any insight into why.

    3. Here’s an interesting case. Choose something fundamental. Maybe the Golden Rule or maybe “You should not treat people unjustly.” For concreteness I’ll take the justice case. The ordinary person has very good reason, independent of divine revelation, to think that you should not treat people unjustly. This is definitely one of the mishpatim. But does the reason that ordinary people have for thinking that this is true give them insight into why it is true? If we press them as to why, given the (ex hypothesi) fundamentality of the rule, they are apt to simply say: “Well, we need to be fair to people,” which is a restatement. So it seems that these kinds of fundamental rules may be ones where the ordinary person has very good reason, independent of revelation, to think the rule is true–maybe it’s just self-evident or maybe the intuition has a lot of evidential force and no undefeated defeaters–but the reason doesn’t give insight into why it’s true.

    So maybe the division I made in point 2 isn’t merely hypothetical.

    But maybe I’m being too quick. Maybe something like Jon Jacobs’ insight is applicable here in an Aristotelian way. Perhaps by living a life of treating people justly, one can come to an insight as to why this is the good kind of life. Maybe that’s an insight one cannot put into words, except perhaps in some poetic manner like: “When I look in her eyes, I can see why being unjust to her would be intolerable.” That sort of thing sounds right to me–that Levinas stuff about the appeal of the needy person’s face–but maybe it’s because I am a bit of a Polish romantic at heart.

    But if that’s right, then one could also have a case where (a) one only has revelation-based reasons to think that a moral rule is true, but (b) when one lives by that moral rule, one comes to have insight as to why the rule is correct, even though it’s an insight that one cannot put in prose. (It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the more mystically oriented rabbis thought this was true of some of the hukkim, but I am no scholar of rabbinic Judaism, so that’s pure speculation.)

    It seems to me that such combination cases could well coexist with ethical monotheism.

  9. Maybe the claim that you ought to treat people fairly or justly is obvious or self-evident to any rational person. If so, the status of being obvious or self-evident is automatically one that involves the kind of rational insight into truth that I was suggesting. So fundamental moral truths, if foundationally justified, are justified in a way that involves rational insight into the truth of the matter. If that’s not so, I think foundationalism has a(nother) problem!

    I think the distinction the commentators on the Torah are after is one about whether there are reasons that give such rational insight: they are the kinds of reasons that internalists insist are required for the fundamental kind of justification. (So testimonial justification would be derivative on this more fundamental kind.)

  10. John,

    I am not sure that rational insight that p would give one rational insight into why p. Sensory insight (if one may call it that) that p does not as a rule give one insight into why p.

    Take my rational insight that 0=0. The reason why 1=1 perhaps has to do with some complex facts about the foundations of mathematics, and maybe I don’t have insight into those by virtue of my rational insight that 0=0.

    Here’s another kind of cross-over case. Suppose that I’ve observed this generalization about myself: actions that, after achieving some moral maturity, I felt persistent regret (considered only as a kind of feeling, not as including any rational insight) over have tended to have been wrong. I now observe that whenever I did an action of type A, I felt persistent regret even after achieving some moral maturity. This gives me reason to think that actions of type A are wrong, maybe even knowledge. But it also need not give me any insight into why the actions are wrong, since presumably most of these wrong actions aren’t wrong because they give rise to the regret. So, is A forbidden by the hukkim or by the mishpatim? Like in the case of the mishpatim I have non-testimonial evidence that the action is wrong (unless my observations of regress counts as a kind of testimony of self to self, but that’s a stretch); but like in the case of the hukkim I have no insight into why the action is wrong.

  11. Professor,

    I am admittedly not familiar with the laws (and categories of laws) in the Torah, but here’s a question about your distinctions:

    You say the “chukim” are the “laws for which there is no accessible-to-humans reasons to accept.” But yet these are the laws in the Torah. So does the mere fact that they are in the Torah constitute a reason to accept them or not? If so, then it doesn’t seem that they are entirely without foundation (maybe the Torah is holistically justified? So this law is confirmed by confirmations of other parts?). Saying no here seems to lead to a problem where rules cannot be rationally accepted without having reasons for those rules — but then what reason is there for those rules? (Perhaps that criticism is too blunt..)

    Perhaps the bug has to do with the word “accept.” The fact that a law is present in the Torah (or Bible, or whatever) is taken as a reason to accept it, even if its mere presence can’t be taken as a reason to believe it true (or at least not a fine-grained enough reason to support that particular law).

  12. Alex, yes, I was being loose and sloppy in describing the nature of rational acceptance above. The issue is supposed to be about what we have good reasons to accept, either before or after special revelation, where the idea of a good reason is one that internalists countenance when describing the nature of fundamental justification or rationality. If it were just any adequate basis, there could be no category for the mysterian, on the assumption that is operative that these are God’s laws and that he has informed us of them. Exactly how to describe the nature of the insight into truth needed for this kind of rationality is perplexing, but I think that is supposed to be the idea.

  13. Mikel, the last response to Alex addresses your concern as well. You can have reasons to accept something while having little understanding of the truth in question. What the distinction is supposed to involve is hard to say, but merely being told by a reliable source that, say, the Higgs-Boson particle has been found isn’t a reason to accept the claim in the sense of “reason to accept” that is being used to describe certain types of laws in the Torah.

    • I’m still a little fuzzy on what the stronger sense of “no reason to accept those claims” could amount to (“in the sense of reason to accept that is being used to describe certain types of laws in the Torah”). It seems to me that by accepting that there is no reason to accept those mysterious rules, one has to further grant that the presence of the rules in the text is no reason. But there are lots of other principles that we can imagine that have “no reason” behind them in this sense: that one ought to blink three times at 6:00pm. There’s no reason to accept that rule. Surely you want to distinguish this kind of “no reason” with the “no reason, except that it says so here on page xyz..” kind of reason? Then again, I have to admit that I have no understanding of the theological tradition here, so I don’t want to tie any of my concerns too tightly to the details.

      So, is the claim that the “rule” required to endorse the Chick-fil-a position is “mysterian” in the sense that it cannot have any basis whatsoever (almost by definition)? If so, I doubt the person who endorses that rule would want to characterize it as “mysterian” — it sounds almost Moore paradoxical: I believe X, but have absolutely no reason to do so.

  14. No, it’s compatible with the mysterian status of a law that there is a reason to accept it. The reason is that God said so. But that gives you no understanding of the truth of the rule: why it is true, what makes it true, etc. Contrast this situation with that of a good parent. Some parents say to do X because I said so. Others say that they say so, but also explain. The former can be a mysterian rule, the latter will be either rational or ad hoc.

  15. Jon:

    The distinction is getting quite interesting to me.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t help to keep the justification and explanation more explicitly separate? Maybe something like this. A law L is a
    – J-mysterian law iff there is no non-testimonial justification for believing that L is a law or that it would be reasonable for God to legislate L.
    – E-mysterian law iff there is no explanation of why L is a law such that we have non-testimonial justification for believing the explanation.
    – strongly E-mysterian law iff there is no explanation e of why L is a law such that we have non-testimonial justification in believing the conditional that if L is a law, then e explains why L is a law or why God is reasonable in legislating it
    – weakly E-mysterian law iff it is E-mysterian but not strongly so.

    The parent case also brings up a subcategory of strongly E-mysterian laws:
    – L is a strongly E-mysterian non-mysterious law iff it’s strongly E-mysterian, but we have an explanation for believing which our justification is testimonial.

    This is pretty common in parental cases. For instance, parents tell children that such-and-such a rule protects their health. The children then are justified in believing that the rule is explained by its protecting their health, but they have no grounds independent of testimony for believing that the requirement protects their health.

    So now one interesting question is which kinds of mysterianism are acceptable in the context of ethical monotheism.

    If it is a law to abstain from same-sex sexual activity, it’s not a strongly mysterian law. For we are justified in thinking that if it’s a law, it’s explained by some common core to the natural law stories, since those stories are the most plausible game in town on this side of the debate.

  16. Alex, very nice. But in the context here, the folk in question can’t accept your explanation of why the law is not strongly mysterian. I agree with you that if it is a law, it has a natural law explanation, but I think the folk in question are committed to rejecting natural law explanations.

    But maybe they think that there are elements of the natural law explanations that can be endorsed independently, and don’t require the truth of natural law approaches. If so, they’ve been astonishingly coy in tell us what these elements are. (I think one very plausible story is that they endorse Divine Command Theory, perhaps grasping at the horn of Euthyphro’s dilemma that makes God’s will fundamental, in which case all moral laws would be mysterian.)

    • AP wrote: “But if that’s right, then one could also have a case where (a) one only has revelation-based reasons to think that a moral rule is true, but (b) when one lives by that moral rule, one comes to have insight as to why the rule is correct, even though it’s an insight that one cannot put in prose.”

      My thinking doesn’t arrive at this possibility and I think there are approaches which elucidate the failing. Although the subject of the three Torah laws are about God’s laws, the classification scheme offered is bound by limitations of humanly invented logical systems. I think Myhill was Jewish and likely exposed to rabbinical teachings. The possibility of apt analogy looks strong to me:
      mishpatim, mitzvoth, chukim -> computable, listable, prospective

      Quoted from New Theories of Everything by John D. Barrow

      “The American logician John Myhill has proposed a metaphorical extension of the lessons that we have learned from the theorems of Gödel, Church, and Turing about the scope and limitations of logical systems. The most accessible and quantifiable aspects of the world have the property of being computable.
      There exists a definite procedure for deciding if any given candidate either does or does not possess the required property. Human beings can be trained to respond to the presence or absence of this sort of property. Truth is not in general such a property of things; being a prime number is.
      A more elusive set of properties are those that are merely listable. For these, we can construct a procedure which will list all the quantities which possess the required property (even though you might have to wait an infinite time for the listing to end),
      but there is no way of systematically generating all the entities which do not possess the required property. Most logical systems have the property of being listable but not computable: all their theorems can be listed but there is no automatic procedure for inspecting a statement and deciding whether it is or is not a theorem. .. The property of meaningfulness is thus listable but not computable.

      Not every feature of the world is either listable or computable. For example, the property of being a true statement in a particular mathematical system is neither listable nor computable. One can approximate the truth to greater and greater accuracy by introducing more and more rules of reasoning and adding further axiomatic assumptions, but it can never be captured by any finite set of rules. These attributes that have neither the property of listability nor that of computability—the ‘prospective’ features of the world—are those which we cannot recognize or generate by a series of sequence of logical steps.
      They witness to the need for ingenuity and novelty; for they cannot be encompassed by any finite collection of rules or laws. Myhill reminds us that Beauty, simplicity, truth, these are all properties that are prospective.”

      SH: “but (b) when one lives by that moral rule, one comes to have insight as to why the rule is correct, even though it’s an insight that one cannot put in prose.”

      I think saying “one cannot put in prose” is another way of saying it isn’t computable, not algorithmic. And, when one lives by some moral rule, you are suggesting there is a string of events which unfold in reality which confirm the rectitude of the revelation-based foundation for the rule one chooses to live by.

      But, the individual samples a finite string of events out of a potential infinity. That individual could experience a fluke pattern which would be completely outside the “normal” range of experience and one can never know whose shoes one is wearing. As an example take telling a white lie in a hospital setting because you think it will benefit the patient, so it is ok to ignore the moral prohibition in such a case. This might work well for one person, but then fail for nine others, but then succeed for sixty out of a hundred people sampled, but fail again if a thousand people are sampled. The result is unpredictable which at least makes it listable, perhaps prospective = never the complete story, rather than computable where everyone gets the same reliable confirmation.
      So I don’t think that if you have only revelation-based reasons to think a a moral rule is true, that experience will confirm this to be true for a majority of people, it will remain relative.

      Pi passes all tests for randomness. But it defined as non-random because it is generated by a rule (law). But if you were to examine some finite segment of digits, one couldn’t tell if that segment was a pattern of an extreme expansion of Pi, or a random number. Not by examination of the result, supposing each digit corresponded to an event. One can’t tell by observation if the universe is a rule, similar to Pi, produced by God’s will, or whether it’s origin is a string of felicitous (from our view) random events (evolution has no purpose).

      When discussing God, I’m not sure that it helps to distinguish between, Will, Powers, Properties, Propensities, or Laws. The conundrum, what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? This is often explained away by saying that both an irresistible force and an immovable cannot both co-exist in the same universe. But God’s attributes have no restriction as to inner consistency violations, so distinctions aren’t particularly efficacious, the same distinctions which are more appropriate in more mundane philosophical heresay 🙂
      Sorry I haven’t obtained philosophical succinctness, I guess I’m like an Ent (LOTR).

  17. Jon,

    Yeah, I agree that by their lights they may have to say it’s strongly E-mysterian. If they do take the kind of divine command theory you indicate, they won’t think that to be much of a bullet to bite, though, since as you indicate they will say this about all moral laws.

    But even if they say it’s strongly E-mysterian, they might say: “Well, at least it’s not J-mysterian, because people whose hearts have not been corrupted by culture simply have a moral intuition that the relevant sexual acts are morally repugnant, and this moral intuition provides us with justificaiton.” (Of course, it’s a tough question how one can tell what intuitions are the results of cultural corruption, what intuitions are the results of cultural progress, etc., but that it’s a tough question doesn’t mean that one can’t answer it in particular cases.)

    But even if such a moral intuition justifies their beliefs (I am inclined to think it does), it’s not going to rebut the charge of E-mysterianism.

    Here’s a thought. Suppose you accept the standard version of the sceptical theist response to the problem of evil. Then you will think there are going to be very important goods beyond our ken connected up with the goods and bads of this world, as well as inscrutable connections between otherwise scrutable goods and bads. But if the sceptical theist hypothesis is true, then it is probable that there will be E-mysterian, and maybe J-mysterian, laws that God has put in place for our guidance in light of all the inscrutable-to-us connections between goods and bads.

    And conversely if there are E-mysterian moral laws, then there are rationally inscrutable connections between goods and bads (if L is an inscrutable law forbidding you to A, then there is a rationally inscrutable inscrutable connection between A’ing and the bad of going against a moral law).

    So mysterianism in moral thought seems to go hand-in-hand with sceptical theism.

  18. Alex, very interesting idea connecting skeptical theism with mysterianism. The problem here, though, is that both of these are somewhat akin to lottery and preface paradoxes, where the general thought may be justified but no particular instance can be (so, you can’t go ST and say, “Bambi dying in that forest fire was justified by some particular good-beyond-our-ken” and you can’t get “I’m justified in thinking my ticket will win” or “I have good reason to think this particular belief of mine is false”. Just so, if mysterianism is true, it can’t be used to get to a justification for belief in some particular moral claim, even if it can be used to justify that there is a class of mysterian principles.

    I should note, though, that I still reject the idea that, wrt morality, there can be such a class. But that’s a different, and very long, story, I’m afraid (which means, lots of room for screwups in the argument and explanation about why there can’t be such principles!).

  19. Jon:

    Are you saying (a) Sceptical Theism is wrong, or (b) the Sceptical Theist gets may be justified in believing the claim that God exists but not in believing the entailed claim that there are no unjustified evils, or (c) the Sceptical Theist may get to be justified in believing that there are no unjustified evils, but not the entailed claim that Bambi’s suffering isn’t an unjustified evil? (Given other things I’ve heard you say, I could easily see you claiming (c).)

  20. I think of the core ST position, that I endorse, as denying that the seems-is principle can be applied to cases of particular evil. So that leaves open lots of questions, and in particular, it doesn’t allow the skeptical theist to use the core position to generate any justification about whether Bambi’s suffering is justified. That issue will have to be settled in other ways.

  21. I’m going to adopt a traditional approach. I think it might be easier to reason about the consistency of G_d’s Laws themselves, rather than whether the categorizing of those laws can be deemed to form a consistent philosophical structure.

    Laws of G_d are manifestations generated by the omnipotent/omniscient Will of G_d. I believe the Torah has it that humans have free will which is a Law of G_d, and men can expatiate their sins by devout action and observing atoning/repenting rituals.

    Perhaps the most basic choice available to free will is to believe or disbelieve in G_d, and thus the moral statutes dictated by G_d. However, if there were ironclad evidence for the existence of miracles, then this would tend to compel belief in G_d, because if the viability of the alternative is constricted, this serves to constrain the _freedom_ of choice in free will by providing convincing biasing evidence.

    So in the traditional Wiki Speak, ‘philosophical rabbis are much given to discussing the apparent contradiction between G_d’s omniscience and free will. “The representative view is that “Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given”. Based on this understanding, the problem is formally described as a paradox, beyond our understanding.”

    I think this paradox matches the criteria for the morally mysterious law, perhaps the archetype of such a mysterious kind of law. ‘The temporal paradoxical existence of free will links to the concept of Tzimtzum. Tzimtzum entails the idea that God “constricted” his infinite essence, to allow for the existence of a “conceptual space” in which a finite, independent world could exist. This “constriction” made free will possible, and hence the potential to earn the World to Come.’ Is that a hindsight ad hoc outcome type of law?

    Free will illuminates the supernatural essence of G_d which resides outside the causality of physical spacetime which is barren of miracles. Besides the obvious difficulty in accepting divine revelation as a reliable source of information (how does the receptacle really know/identify the provenance of the source) divine revelation requires a suspension of physical spacetime law and so constitutes a miracle. I don’t see divine revelation as being so different in kind than the miracle of free will. So both those categories are inconceivable, not in the sense that they can’t be mentioned as a possibility, but in the sense that the mind of man cannot grasp how it works.

    I think this boundary scheme of the Torah’s three laws lacks meaningful definition, there is too much circularity to serve some edifying purpose. The debate between the natural and the supernatural, which will never clarify into a consistent resolution, is transposed into this laws of G_d venue, but carries with it the seed of original sin, the apple of free will (knowledge of good and evil), G_d’s ordained foreknowledge of the tempting schism. I’m agnostic by the way.

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