Death is the theme of the most recent issue of Philosophy Now. Two of the main articles debate whether it would be a good thing for scientists to overcome death. Nick Bostrom’s “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant” argues with vigor that death isn’t something we should “gracefully accommodate”. Technology to retard the aging process, and perhaps even to halt and reverse it, may well be within the grasp of this generation, and scientists should make it a priority to pursue such technology. We have “compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence.” On the other side, Mary Midgley argues that the promise of endless life is a poisoned chalice: the cost of prolonging our lives would outweigh the benefits.
Posted in Ethics, Meditations, Philosophy, Theology
Tagged abundant life, death, endless life, eternal life, evolutionary naturalism, immortality, mortality, Resurrection, secular humanism
Occasionally sermon illustrations are handed to you on a plate. Here’s a gift for any pastor preaching on the Tenth Commandment:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
From today’s edition of The Telegraph:
With her culinary wizadry, [sic] melt-in-your mouth voice and Rubenesque figure, Nigella Lawson has made a career out of turning heads.
But while many husbands might resent such flirtatious behaviour, Charles Saatchi yesterday revealed his pleasure at his television chef wife’s appeal — declaring “who would want to be married to someone who nobody coveted?”
In extracts from his new book, the outspoken adman turned art collector also described the Ten Commandments as an “overrated lifestyle guide” which only succeed in “making people confused and guilty”.
Mr Saatchi, who has been married three times, insisted that the tenth commandment in particular was “obviously a no-hoper” because “coveting is all everyone does, all the time, every day.”
No kidding. Saatchi makes the right observation, but draws entirely the wrong conclusion. Let the apostle Paul set the record straight:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7-12)
The Guardian has provided Richard Dawkins with a platform to explain why he won’t share a platform with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Dawkins plays what he thinks is a trump card: the real reason he won’t publicly debate Craig is because — drumroll, please — Craig has defended the “genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.” It ought to be apparent to anyone who has compared Dawkins’ past debate performances with Craig’s (never mind their respective writings on the rationality of theism) that this explanation is, at best, a feeble rationalization. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post.
Dawkins’ piece reflects his trademark rhetorical devices — condescension, mockery, faux outrage, and a dash or two of genuine wit — but what stuck me most was the complete absence of any moral categories in his criticism of Craig and his views. Dawkins regards Craig’s views as ‘horrific’, ‘revolting’, ‘shocking’, and ‘deplorable’. But none of these descriptors function as objective moral evaluations of Craig or Craig’s God. In reality, they reflect little more than Dawkins’ feelings about Craig and Craig’s God (and the feelings of those who share Dawkins’ jaundiced outlook on the world).
I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given Dawkins’ published views on the nature of morality. For example, in The God Delusion he rejected and ridiculed the notion that there are moral absolutes. But if there are no moral absolutes, then there are no moral principles that absolutely rule out genocide. According to Dawkins’ moral outlook, then, genocide could be morally justified in some circumstances — just as late-term abortion is morally justified in some circumstances (as Dawkins apparently believes). Isn’t it therefore an open question whether the Old Testament ‘genocides’ were morally justified given the circumstances? Given Dawkins’ own premises, isn’t that question at least worthy of… debate? (I should state for the record that I don’t believe the destruction of the Canaanites was an instance of genocide; I’m just granting Dawkins’ characterization for the sake of argument.)
In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical; it’s not that they’re immoral; it’s certainly not that they’re wicked or evil. It’s just that Dawkins finds them extremely distasteful. Dawkins is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one. The only virtue of Dawkins’ dubious explanation, if it can be called a virtue, is its consistency with his moral nihilism.
Update: Here are some entertaining commentaries on Dawkins’ piece:
If you’re looking for a new reductio ad absurdum of the modern conception of human rights, you can find it right here: Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, maintains that “access to the Web is now a human right.”
The modern conception of human rights runs along these lines: if a large number of people have X, would hate to have to do without X, and feel guilty about the fact that other people have to do without X, then having X must be a human right and governments across the globe must be enlisted to ensure that everybody gets X.
Of course, rights imply duties: if you have a right to X then someone somewhere must have a duty to ensure that you get X. So whose duty is it to ensure that everyone gets access to the World Wide Web? Presumably those who end up being forced to pay for it. No prizes for guessing who that will be!
In any case, if this is how human rights arise, why stop at access to the Web? Why not a human right to air conditioning, or to freshly ground coffee, or to live classical music? Remember, you heard it here first.
In a previous post I posed some questions about David VanDrunen’s defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine and raised a general objection to his position (and to similar 2K views). In response to a comment on that thread, I tried to boil down the objection as follows. On my reading, VanDrunen seems to be committed to all of the following claims:
(K1) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, people should observe the moral standard of that kingdom.
(K2) The moral standard for the common kingdom is natural law (and only natural law).
(K3) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.
(K4) It is not a deliverance of natural law that Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.
In a nutshell, my objection is that these claims form an inconsistent set: they can’t all be true. So the question is whether 2K advocates really are committed to all four claims, and if not, which do they reject.
I recently read David VanDrunen’s A Biblical Case for Natural Law and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. VanDrunen’s is the most scholarly, articulate, measured, and irenic defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine I’ve encountered. However, I have some questions about its application and a possible objection to it in principle.
Semi-Serious Warm-Up Argument
(1) Twittering requires communication in 140 characters or less.
(2) Almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated in 140 characters or less.
(3) Therefore, almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated by Twittering.
(4) A method of communication is intrinsically flawed if almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated by it.
(5) Therefore, Twittering is an intrinsically flawed method of communication.
(6) One ought not to act in such a way as to participate in, promote, or legitimize an intrinsically flawed method of communication.
(7) Therefore, one ought not to Twitter.
My review of Francis Beckwith’s book Defending Life has just been posted over at Discerning Reader.
If you’re wondering what lies behind the review’s opening sentence, check out this article for starters, followed by this article.