God, Rape & Mourdock

Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

In a recent debate, Republican Richard Mourdock was addressing the subject of abortion. After noting that he believes that abortion is acceptable only to save the life of the mother, he went on to say: “Life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

As might be imagined, Mourdock has come under attack for his remarks. These attacks have primarily focused on what his claim indicates about his view of women and the sort of legislation he is likely to support.

Rather than address these matters, I will instead focus on his claim that if a woman gets pregnant from rape, then God intended it to happen. While this matter deals specifically with rape, it is part of the general problem of evil. This is, of course, the problem of reconciling a certain conception of God (all good, all powerful and all knowing) with the existence of evil (in this case rape). It also falls under the general subject of God’s causal relation to the world.

While he might not be aware of it, Mourdock is presenting a view of God that has been argued for by theologians and philosophers. To be specific, this is the view that God is the cause of all that occurs and that nothing occurs contrary to God’s intention.  For example, Hume in his essay on the immortality of the soul, writes  ”as every effect implies a cause, and that another, till we reach the first cause of all, which is the Deity; every thing that happens is ordained by him…”

As far as things happening against God’s intention, this would seem impossible given the usual conception of God. After all, things could only go against His intention if He lacked the power to do otherwise or the event in question took place without His knowledge. On the assumption that He is all knowing and all powerful, then events happening contrary to His intention could not occur. Thus, if someone becomes pregnant from rape, then God (if He exists) intended that to happen-just as Mourdock claimed.

One reply to this is that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention, such as pregnancy arising from rape. The obvious reply is, of course, that if allows it and could prevent it, then He does intend for it to occur. If He cannot prevent it, then this would entail that God is rather different than the stock conception of a perfect deity.

It might be replied that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention because of free will. While this might get Him off the hook in regards to allowing rape, it does not do so in the case of pregnancy. After all, God could allow rapists the freedom to rape and still prevent rape from causing pregnancy. He could, for example, give women that pregnancy shut down system that Akin infamously mentioned. Or, even better, he could allow people the free will to chose to rape but prevent them from ever acting on that choice. As such, it would seem that if God exists and matches the stock description, then God does intent for the pregnancies that arise from rape.

There is, of course, still the question of whether not women should be legally compelled to endure such God intended  pregnancies. It could be argued that since God intended the woman to get pregnant from rape, then abortions should not be allowed since God’s intent should not be violated.  The easy and obvious reply to this is that the same logic would entail that we should do nothing in response to anything other than to accept it rather than go against God’s intent.

It can also be argued that we can determine  God’s intent by allowing abortion in such cases. After all, if God intends for the pregnancy to go through, then God can make that happen. If the abortion succeeds, then either God intended for it to succeed (and thus the abortion should have been conducted) or God is lacking in some manner (or does not exist).

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57 Comments.

  1. I’ve noticed something curious in the comment of Mourdock (well, for start I should say that his opinion seems to me so… …) :
    If we are talking about the God’s will and see the child as a gift, even in the case of rape… then what happens when it’s dangerous for the mother’s life? Why should then be the abortion allowed? It’s not also the God’s will for the mother to be pregnant even than she dies?

  2. The best and most obvious answer is that presented in the last part of the argument:
    If God is omniscient and all-powerful and literally creates and wills everything, then everything is a reflection of, is in accordance with, God’s will. So the abortion is also predestined, and so is every other action or occurrence.
    Dizzyingly circular, mindlessly reductionist. I am nothing but a mass of genes, the world is nothing but tiny particles in motion. Nothing butism, also spelled buttism, is simply boring.

  3. Taking the rational to its conclusion everything goes – rape is allowed,abortion is allowed,murder is allowed. It is,what it is – all Gods will. Surely he must have given us some morals to use our free will to take the “correct” actions and hence we can prevent rape or the child born out of rape.

    There is also a saying that God gave us the capacity to act like him – so by definition we are authorized to do what is morally correct or what strikes the optimal balance.

  4. I agree with you Mike when you say that if God intends for a pregnant woman to have a child resulting from rape, than he also must have intended for the rape to occur and conversely, that if abortions are allowed to occur, logically it must also be God’s will. I was listening to Mourdock’s comment on NPR yesterday, but what I would really like to hear is him reply to the statement you made in the last paragraph of this post.

    POD – yes I don’t think there can be any doubt that as most human beings go, we have been instilled with a sense of morality (some more than others) and by definition we are authorized to employ our morality, but are we required? or should we be required?

  5. I suppose I am an atheist with regards to most folks conception of God – though that does not leave me bereft of Theism ultimately.

    Augustine of Hippo, fairly early on in his Christian rebuild with Platonism and to a degree Stoicism, had his issues with simplistic views of what we would these days think of as literal creationists/fundamentalists. He thought through a view of the divide between secular and religious “Cities”. In addition he had a sophisticated view on good/evil that had God as good and man free to derive evil from that if he must (a position distinguishing is pov from that of the Manicheans).

    Further, with Aquinas, we have a resurrection of Aristotelian thought, bringing notions such as “first cause of 2nd cause laws of nature” and allegorical definitions of God and nature (including omniscience, omnipotence etc.). These points pop up today in modern philosophy of science with ontological questions (such as “something from nothing”, a la Krauss/Hawking etc.) or Wittgenstein’s views of the positivism and/or language games of metaphysics.

    It’s a source of despair for many thinking theists that some one and half thousand years later these lessons are still not appreciated in the minds of many so called theists.

    On the issue of discussion… God may simply set us out as moral agents with a free will to do what is right/wrong.

    He does not stop the rapist, or Camus’ plague virus, or Dostoevsky’s wolf. We must, and we are called to do so – individually and socially.

    The pregnant woman has a choice to abort or not. The fetus is no more guilty for punishment/termination than the future children of American settlers and supporters of American-Indian genocide. A moral choice has to be made, we are called to do so – individually and socially.

  6. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” ― Epicurus

  7. Hi Jeff – Good quote, I was watching the movie “Franklyn” last night and this came up within that!

    The problem/resolution is simple though for modern theologians schooled in theodicy…

    1/ God may have choose to bring about the evolution of moral agents who are free to do his will or not, with a common-core cognition of what is right/wrong.

    2/ God may be omnipotent and omniscient (i.e., ABLE) but not WILLING to intervene, not because he is MALEVOLENT, but because he chooses not to violate man’s free-will (the will to choose to act to his own selfish moral will, or the ethic of reciprocity inspired will of God). This pov is supported by the Johannine (also picked up by Augustine) notion of “God is Love” – the point being a Lover does not coerce Love but makes themselves vulnerable to reciprocation.

    3/ A god that choose to intervene is a god that takes moral responsibility ultimately (i.e., in the dock of man’s justice: “why did you intervene here and not there?”). Some theologians that claim God does intervene, say he does so since in the big picture the consequences end up for the best (something we can not see ourselves). This is a form of Leibniz “best of all possible worlds.” For me, it is difficult (but not ultimately impossible)to justify this pov. It has been commented on not just by Voltaire in Candide, but by Dostoevsky in the Bothers Karamazov (the Grand Inquisitor) and Camus in The Plague. You need a great deal of blind faith to do that – nevertheless it can’t be ruled out, since we fail at Utilitarian Consequentialism as we are not gifted with Omnipotent/Omniscient (the allegory of Genesis/Adam/Original Sin has something to say about this, something often missed since critics tend to focus on the allegory of cosmogony/creation as being non-literal).

    4/ It is important to differentiate human evil (such as the choice to murder or rape innocents) and natural evil (such as deaths by earthquakes). You can argue (as did Leibniz) that earthquakes are not evil. In modern terms we know plate tectonics are “responsible” and without such heavy elements would not be brought to the surface for complex evolution. So if there is only human evil (an Augustian view of choice of a lesser good, the choice of self over selfless). Then not acting, but waiting for God to intervene is a kind of evil.

    Just some thoughts – I think it is possible to work out a systematic theology of a good God, a God of justice, mercy and loving-kindness. It is just that this “Other”, in its purity can be seen as a “hard love”. The kind of love one gets stereo-typically from a Father figure. If you are a Christian you get then the point of the Son as Logos, bringing a more human understanding of this Love, in a human fallibility context, so as to complete it, and the notion of the Spirit as a Loving Comforter and Sustainer). But that is another story! :)

  8. The free will reply always has appeal. However, this merely accounts for God allowing rape to occur and not the pregnancy. After all, God could allow people to rape while also blocking the pregnancy caused by rape. That is, God could have given women the “shut down mechanisms” that Akin talked about as a defense against getting pregnant by “legitimate rape.” This would be consistent with allowing free will.

    Of course, the counter would be that God is limited in his power so that just as He cannot make a world devoid of natural disasters, He cannot create a woman who can only be impregnated if she wants to get pregnant (or at least not get pregnant by rape). This, of course, just brings up the usual problem of evil, just in a specific context.

  9. Michael C.,

    I would be interested in hearing that as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think American politicians pay much attention to philosophers. :)

  10. I’m with Hume on the problem of evil: we cannot infer a perfect deity from the world we live in, although such a deity is not an impossibility.

  11. @Mike LaBossiere

    “The free will reply always has appeal. However, this merely accounts for God allowing rape to occur and not the pregnancy. After all, God could allow people to rape while also blocking the pregnancy caused by rape.”

    I am not so sure about that as a piece of systematic logic based on the notion of free will. E.g., you could trace back the rapists decision to rape to a particular neurological process and intervene there – before will is engaged – still that would be an intervention of free will via a natural process. For me it is pretty much the same thing as the later intervention of conception in the victim’s body. From a holistic process it is a single flow of natural processes, some subject to law of probability as we understand it medically.

    Conception is not right/wrong (neither is an earthquake and the deaths they cause). The point of wrong is the decision of the rapist to rape, if God does not intervene there (he could but won’t) then, if it is for preservation of free will, the process of the subsequent crime is not to be intervened with – it would remove the responsibility for the criminal act from the criminal and place it in God’s “hands”. Think it through, it would result in an immoral world where bad acts could be done without consequence since all bad things would be prevented from fulfillment.

    The moral thing to do is stop the rapist if possible, bring him to justice if afterwards, and make a decision to stop the possibility of pregnancy. This moves onto another issue (abortion), but let’s not go there here!

    These questions bring up a topic that causes theologians issues, i.e., miracles. If God acts “here” after a request for intercession, why not “here, when an equally sincere request is made? You can answer “the big picture is something we don’t understand, if we did we would know God’s mind”, but it risks making God look capricious.

    The answer I prefer is that God does not do miracles, people do, and belief in God enables them efficaciously(surprisingly perhaps this is scripturally supported for Christians). Faith is the acausal link. This is weird for many coached in causality. But the placebo effect is a fact. IMO we should study the placebo effect more, not so much as to dismiss things we don’t understand as having medical effect, but so as to understand how we can use the placebo effect with conventional medicine for maximum efficacy. Maybe a dose of scopolamine to make suggestion work and the body engage its self-healing process better (a research project?).

    We can speculate about if conception can be effected by faith/placebo effect – something to study – I don’t know!

  12. @Mike LaBossiere

    Hume’s point does not take into account Leibniz’s “best of all possible world’s argument”

    We can not know the consequences of an act now in the future given the complexity of human affairs. What we might perceive as an imperfection in nature allowing evil to be done, is perhaps a necessary link in a chain of consequences that will result in an ideal end.

    This is why utilitarianism fails. We are not perfect consequentialists. What we should do is “do no evil”. No realpolitk. Good intents (and ends) do not justify evil means, since we are not able to fathom those “good ends”.

  13. There’s a very good and thorough post from Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic. Her point can be taken to be that we should set aside the theology and recognize that what Mourdock believes is that a man should be able to force a woman to bear his child.

  14. “We can not know the consequences of an act now in the future given the complexity of human affairs. What we might perceive as an imperfection in nature allowing evil to be done, is perhaps a necessary link in a chain of consequences that will result in an ideal end.”

    There are loads of things I don’t know with certainty, and yet I manage to function. Why should morality be different?

    I don’t have Cartesian certainty when I buy peanut butter. Why do I need it to not stomp on a kitten? Can’t I just make a reasonable guess?

    Not to mention- your argument doesn’t flow even as stated without some additional, highly contentious, premises. If you admit that “good ends” even exist, the moment you begin your argument with a strong form of moral skepticism, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble when you reach a moral conclusion. If there are good ends, but my inability to fathom them is so great that I should not be guided by an effort to reach them, why should I “do no evil?”

    Presumably the reason I would want to “do no evil” is because it leads to those good (or at least better) ends that we’ve admitted do exist, but where did I get the idea that “do no evil” was the best way to get there, and how did I figure out when, per hypothesis, I lack the capacity to do so?

  15. Hi Patrick,

    Yes those are my words. Though the idea is that of the Cambridge Philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. In particular from her 1958 article “Modern Moral Philosophy” that introduced the term “consequentialism” into the language of analytic philosophy.

    Basically we do not know initial conditions perfectly, we understand physical processes are ultimately uncertain and have randomness within them, we understand that complex human affairs are byzantine in their chaotic layers of value and choice. As a result we know that when we are trying to predict consequences from acts we make we are in a undiscovered country. We can do our best, but it’s a shot in the dark.

    Anscombe used this position to attack English Utilitarianism, the notion we could fathom out a utility function and work out the best act to produce best consequences for the common good. This leads to the idea that the best act might be an evil act (in common perception of what is evil, say a murder of a child). If we fall into this trap we can consider evil acts and attempt to justify tham by good intents/consequences – but since we do not know these consequences probability, if they fail we must take responsibility for the vile act and not hide behind its intents.

    So we should do our best, for good intents, but limit ourselves to non-evil means.

    Now, in the theological context of my post, and specifically the Leibniz notion of the best possible world, whilst we are imperfect consequentialists, and omnipotent, omniscient God is not. God (having those characteristics) might use evil to achieve good ends if that is the best/most perfect means to the end. To not do so would be to accept that God is not a perfection.

  16. PS: G E M Anscombe was a Catholic.

  17. I’m aware that skeptical theism is a position with a long and storied history. I just don’t think it works, for the aforementioned reasons.

    As for the additional content of your latest post,

    “Now, in the theological context of my post, and specifically the Leibniz notion of the best possible world, whilst we are imperfect consequentialists, and omnipotent, omniscient God is not. God (having those characteristics) might use evil to achieve good ends if that is the best/most perfect means to the end. To not do so would be to accept that God is not a perfection.”

    If we cannot even know what acts might tend to lead, in a general and probabilistic sense, to morally good outcomes, we have no justifiable reason to believe that the acts God elects or endorses will lead to morally good outcomes. A good God and a demon God would appear identical from the perspective of a believer in strong skeptical theism.

    As a result, contra those religion’s protestations, strong skeptical theism renders religions which endorse it into moral nihilism. God’s goodness becomes a matter of faith in the pejorative sense- a belief held with the knowledge that it in unjustified.

  18. @Patrick

    A malevolent god would over time show his hand in that the outcomes turned out for the worse when historically analysed – a regression of moral outcomes. Likewise a good god would seem to progress to more moral outcomes. It’s a fair question to ask what does history tells us?

    I’d say overall we are becoming a more moral society (though there plenty of evidence that there’s a lot of immorality about still to be challenged).

    This result would be in accordance with Hegel’s “Wetgeist” as discussed in his “The Phenomenology of Spirit.”

    I don’t say this question is not problematic. I’ve mentioned Voltaire, Dostoevsky and Camus. Ultimately though I agree with you that belief in a good God is a matter of faith. Many theists that cleave to that, have dark nights of the soul when it does not seem so easy to make that conclusion.

  19. Ken,

    True-that does seem to be the practical gist of the matter.

    The theological point is still well worth considering-after all, that is used to justify his position.

  20. Martin,

    An interesting point, especially working from the assumption that the deity has to work things out over time.

  21. “A malevolent god would over time show his hand in that the outcomes turned out for the worse when historically analysed – a regression of moral outcomes. Likewise a good god would seem to progress to more moral outcomes. It’s a fair question to ask what does history tells us?”

    No, of course its not a fair question. Per hypothesis, we lack the ability to draw cause and effect conclusions from human actions.

    Not to mention, there’s no particular reason to believe either of the predictions you just made. Maybe an evil God wants us to be as good as possible because we’re more tasty that way. That seems ad hoc and implausible, but it also seems implausible that punching babies will lead to better consequences than not punching babies. If your epistemic skepticism precludes justified beliefs regarding the latter, surely the former falls as well.

  22. @Patrick

    Your answer seems sophistic to me. We can make our best efforts to understand history and draw inference of what intents (if any) are behind it.

    Whilst we will not make a certain and “real” argument over issues that are “anti-real” in nature we can nevertheless make a case by abduction/inference to the best explanation. Hegel did.

    What fails IMO is your argument any conclusion can be made to apply – as I say sophistry.

    I suppose we best agree to disagree on this.

  23. Martin,

    “God (having those characteristics) might use evil to achieve good ends if that is the best/most perfect means to the end. To not do so would be to accept that God is not a perfection.”

    Suggesting that there is some method or means that is outside god’s control is suggesting that god is not perfect. i.e. if he were, nothing would be out of his control.

    So the fact that god may have to perform some evil task, and is unable to make a non-evil task more effective, would simply show that he is not perfect in at least one way.

  24. @Ben Pyers-Petro.

    Greetings :)

    You say…

    1) “Suggesting that there is some method or means that is outside god’s control is suggesting that god is not perfect. i.e. if he were, nothing would be out of his control.”

    This does not follow. God could act but may choose not to. This does not imply lack of perfection. Some theologians often go with this systematic/process logic: God is Love; Love is not coercive; Thus God offers Love and the free-will for it to be not reciprocated; This implies that God allows evil (non aligned acts to his Love); If a person acts out of alignment with his Love this is to the detriment of the individual and society (i.e., evil happens); The reaction to this evil is suffering; This suffering causes a will to change in the individual or society to remove the suffering; Thus an evil act may result in a change in individual or society to remove that evil in the long term.

    This is a kind of process theology that you might get from Alfred North Whitehead.

    And 2) “So the fact that god may have to perform some evil task, and is unable to make a non-evil task more effective, would simply show that he is not perfect in at least one way.”

    Again this does not follow. Since intervention to remove the evil act and replace it with a non-evil act would be an infringement of free-will.

    The thing to consider is God’s “evil-act” is not evil if it genuinely results in the betterment of the common good in the most efficient way (least suffering) whilst maintaining free-will.

    Men can not claim to be able to do this since they are not omniscient, whilst God, in some theologians systematic view, is.

    I hope this clears up the misunderstanding.

  25. Martin,

    “Again this does not follow. Since intervention to remove the evil act and replace it with a non-evil act would be an infringement of free-will.”

    You’re perhaps correct here, but it seems to rest on the presupposition that we do have free will, or at least a god-given free will. A view I’m not keen on accepting because of issues such as these. However, in this is still an example of god’s inability to do something. i.e. eradicating evil without infringing upon free will.

    “The thing to consider is God’s “evil-act” is not evil if it genuinely results in the betterment of the common good in the most efficient way (least suffering) whilst maintaining free-will.”The thing to consider is God’s “evil-act”

    This would suggest that if some maniacal man stole into the night and abducted a young boy only to slowly, painfully, and successfully, murder him, that this act would not be considered evil if it turned out that this boy was Adolph Hitler.

  26. Ben,

    Well it is predicated on having free will yes. I happen to think we do for a variety of reasons we need not address here. I don’t think the case is an example of God’s inability to do something, if you posit God chooses, through his free will, to limit his acts to preserve our free will (and accountability).

    As for the evil act in history. My point is we should not do evil, since we can’t fathom the consequences. Hence the realpolitik of doing evil now for goods speculative ends is a no no. We don’t have God’s omniscience.

    Here’s a question, if you could go back in time and kill Hitler (or simply give his Mum a headache the night he was conceived) would you? Would it decrease suffering? What if Germany got a National Socialist like Government 5 years later, after German Scientists had delivered an Atomic Bomb before the Manhattan Project. What then for the world’s best ends?

    With regards to this thought experiment I say do good in the here and now as best we can for the best plans we can muster. Knowing we will make mistakes and have regrets. But if we do good for good ends we’ve done our best. If a Hitler is born in this world, let him grow up in a loving and caring society that educates him to good moral judgement. I think that’s the best we can do.

  27. Hey Martin,

    You are right, the future is unpredictable. I wouldn’t suggest that it was. That was my point as well. What I wanted to discuss was where you suggest a consequentialist definition of “evil,” And what that implies.

    Because taking this view would require that we accept the youthful murder of Hitler as not evil as it would result in the least suffering. Meanwhile, we would have to, with hindsight, condemn little Adolph’s mother for caring for him and raising him because that did lead to more suffering.

    This is obviously not the way that the world works and we likely do have free will. But this is the problem with defining “evil,” or “good,” in such a way.

    Also, I’d give his Mum a headache if I could. :smile:

  28. Ben,

    Actually I am not a consequentialist (accepting GEM Anscombe’s critique) when it comes to human acts and plans.

    Though I can accept an consequentialist argument from the perspective of God’s (omniscient) agency. Though this needs a large dollop of faith that is hard to swallow sometimes admittedly.

    So as a human I say don’t go around killing anyone based on expectations of the future – even a likely Hitler type. Just do your best to bring them up better.

    I think I’m repeating myself on this. So I’ll drop of the dialog here.

  29. Utilitarian thinkers have a stock reply to the sort of problems being presented (like the torture killing of young Hitler). They distinguish between the actual consequences (which might be known only to an omniscient being) and the reasonably foreseeable circumstances (that is, what beings like us would “know”). So, while we might not know what the actual consequences might be, it is rational to operate based on the likely consequences.

    So, in the torture killing of young Hitler, we would regard it as wrong because torture killings generally have bad consequences. We would not know that the dead boy would have otherwise grown up to be the one to lead Germany in an attempt to actualize the final solution. However, to a being who could know all the consequences, the act might be ultimately good. That is, the possible consequences stemming from this possible death might be better than the actual consequences stemming from his actually not being tortured and murdered as a boy.

    To use a non-Hitler example, if we see a young boy about to stick a fork into a light socket we should not agonize over whether he will turn out to be a bad adult or a good adult-we should just stop him from doing so. After all, the odds are that he will just be an average adult-neither monster nor angel. So saving him is a reasonable act and a good choice given our epistemic limitations.

    Naturally, if he turns out to be a monster, we might regret saving him…just as a person might now regret not buying Apple stock back when Apple was doing poorly. That is, we would regret not knowing then what we could not have known then. Which would be a foolish sort of regret.

  30. Mike,
    “Utilitarian thinkers… might not know what the actual consequences might be, it is rational to operate based on the likely consequences.”

    I agree with the consequentialist theory. Does it have to be Utilitarian?

  31. @Mike,

    Pragmatically I think my position amounts to the same thing: Don’t use evil means (I use virtue ethics to define those), but do your best for the sake of hoped for good intents nevertheless.

    However some principled criticisms of consequentialism remain…

    http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_consequentialism.html#Criticisms

  32. Dennis,

    No-utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism, but there are other types as well.

  33. Martin,

    Consequentialism is fraught with difficulties. But, I generally use it for public ethics. In terms of my personal ethics, I tend to be a virtue theorist. Hence the running. :)

  34. For all those people who are trying to have kids, or have tried and failed, or who have spent much of their wealth on IVF (whether successful or not) – God must HATE you.

    He watches, unable or unwilling to prevent the rape, but decides that the victim should get pregnant (because that’s the part He has a choice about, apparently), whereas he watches you trying to have kids and decides you shouldn’t get pregnant.

    Don’t know how He feels about babies that are created due to rape because so many of them are aborted, or given up for adoption, or treated less well than babies born to parents who want one.

  35. Keddaw,

    God need not hate them, He just sees fit not to give them the gift that he sometimes gives to rape victims. Of course, this makes God into an odd sort of gift giver: giving to those who do not want the gift while denying those who really do.

    Interesting points.

  36. @ Keddaw & Mike LeBoissiere

    “God must HATE you” … “God need not hate them, He just sees fit not to give them the gift that he sometimes gives to rape victims.”

    Really chaps. Not smart just provocative.

    A God that objectively intervenes takes moral responsibility to bring about outcomes that we are asked to take on faith are to our best interests, is a possible, but a problematic notion. A God that Loves us, respects our choices, gives us Free Will to reciprocate that Love, does not coerce it, does not intervene to remove our accountability for supporting a society in which rape, hunger, poverty, ignorance and other evil (that could be avoided if we decided to build a society differently – one less selfish, one more loving).

    Many (perhaps most) Theists don’t believe in the kind of micromanagement interventionist God these days. It may be a straw man you are commenting on so polemically.

    Time to upgrade your view of God and argue with that one.

    Many Theists see that natural law proceeds without intervention, just that natural law is as it is for a teleological reason.

    That “reason” could be to produce moral agents that can decide to act out God’s will and intervene to stop, or at least mitigate evil. That God may communicate with our conscience subjectively to guide us to that end. Such a notion is found in Theistic Evolution, it is not at odds with mainstream Science one iota.

    It’s time to move on and not argue with a theism of your lurid and outdated imagination for convenient knocking over.

  37. Yeah Martin, suggesting that a God that looks on and elects to give an unwanted nightmare to one person while denying another person’s dream doesn’t like people is provocative, but suggesting the God interferes in who gets pregnant in the first place is totally okay…

    btw. Why isn’t any scientist telling these idiots that conception is a totally natural process and there is no magic, no room for God in this particular scenario?

    “It may be a straw man you are commenting on so polemically.”

    Are you being deliberately obtuse? Mourdoch, Ryan Akin and their ilk that are proposing this and it is their God, and the logical problems of their belief system regarding It that we are skewering.

  38. @Keddaw

    I did comment on the notion of God as a micromanager/interventionist as being problematic for Theists, and that it is not the position of most.

    Please reread what I have said.

    A minority of fundamentalists, in the US in particular, think like that, many that support Theistic Evolution don’t.

    It’s not obtuse to ask you to avoid the rather pathetic notion that we all believe in a simplistic, easy to knock over, notion of God.

  39. It’s like criticizing “Science” when what you mean to target for your criticism is a particular scientific theory, e.g., Lamarkian Evolution.

    The “skewering” you provide is not targeted well enough IMO.

    I’ve seen enough of this in New Atheist circles who pick on straw men and imply it applies generically to all Theists.

  40. Martin, the title of the piece is “God, Rape & Mourdock

    I can ridicule all kinds of things about the more nuanced god that you believe in (if I knew what it was) but this whole thing is about the kind of god that gets involved in fallopian tubes, swimming sperm and implanting eggs – but not rape.

    Play the offended card, think that this is the straw man that all new atheists attack, do all that, but please read the title of the piece before you do.

  41. @Keddaw

    Well I have explained it somewhat in this thread (my notion of God, that is not an uncommon one among theologians) – that you have chosen not to read those is why you are in the dark as to what it is.

    You say you could ridicule it, not knowing what it is, implying you’re an anti-theist who knows before being presented with an argument that it is ridiculous. Do you want to withdraw that – if anything that is ridiculous.

    What offends me, is that if you look at the text of the orignal post by Mike it DOES discuss the theology of a interventionist God, AND the theology of a God of free will. These ARE the points of my posts, i.e., there are theological errors in the piece that I have been studiously trying to correct.

    You ask me to read the title of the piece before I comment. Really. Please read the post and my posts! :)

    (quite funny really)

  42. (sometimes I think an apology is due for some comments some people make – I have learned not to realistically expect them though from the people that make them so easily)

  43. Martin, I made a comment about Mourdock’s proclamations. That you don’t share his theological naivety is neither here nor there, that you take offence that his god and yours share some characteristics is your problem.

    I have no real interest in what you believe, but I think the title of the piece is related to the comments beneath rather more than you explaining your beliefs below – it is Mourdoch, Ryan and Akin’s god that is on trial here, not yours. That you take offence suggests they may be closer than you care to admit.

    Free will can be smuggled into Mourdock’s theology quite easily (think how QM and Relativity/classical mechanics work at different scales) but that still leaves the issue of a god getting people pregnant who don’t want to be and actively stopping (or at least not helping) people who do want to be pregnant.

  44. Keddaw,

    In para 1 you tell me “that you take offence that his god and yours share some characteristics is your problem”. Actually it is your false assumption. I don’t really think there is as much overlap to cause me a problem.

    In para 2 – You refer to the title, whereas I refer to the contents. You also say I take offence that the conception of a Fundamentalists God is in practice closer to mine. As I said this false assumption is on YOUR part, and like many suffering misrepresentation it is what I take offence over. You miss the differentiation and conflate the positioning – a basic error of Philosophy that is what precisely offends me.

    In Para 3 you say Free Will can be “smuggled” into a Fundamentalists interventionist position. Again this error is what I am attempting to correct via my posts. It was an error in Mikes main text and I have been pointiing it out. You can’t do that “smuggling”. You either have Free Will and are accountable for your acts, or God Intervenes and you are not, God is.

    This is tiresome pointing out this basic stuff. Let’s agree to disagree hmmm?

    (I’m grumpy now though – and that is my choice!) :(

  45. Martin,

    My remark is directed at Muourdock’s implied theology. After all, if he regards a pregnancy by rape as an explicit gift from God, that would seem to indicate that he thinks God does micromanage. As such, if couples who wanted to have a child but could not, then it would seem that God was causing that as well.

    I’m well aware of alternative views of God’s causal role in the universe, but I’m criticizing Mourdock’s view, not those. Mourdock, after all, did not say “a rape caused pregnancy is the result of the biological laws of the world created by God, much as is the death of a fetus caused by an abortion.” Rather, he gave God a rather central role.

    So, I’m not after a straw man-I am criticizing his actual position. Naturally, this does not criticize other views of God.

    You’ve been here a while-I would hope that my past writing would show that I am not a lurid sort of person. But, looking at my age-group in running, I might be outdated…

  46. Mike,

    I’ll retract the “lurid” remark if you like, it was not really directed at you. It was one directed at the comments about God, rape, abortion and the sensationally capitalized word “HATE” in another’s comment that you remarked on – it jarred.

    I am sure you’ll recall my initial post(because you commented on it). In your main post you said …

    “The free will reply always has appeal. However, this merely accounts for God allowing rape to occur and not the pregnancy. After all, God could allow people to rape while also blocking the pregnancy caused by rape.”

    I said…

    “I am not so sure about that as a piece of systematic logic based on the notion of free will. E.g., you could trace back the rapists decision to rape to a particular neurological process and intervene there – before will is engaged – still that would be an intervention of free will via a natural process. For me it is pretty much the same thing as the later intervention of conception in the victim’s body. From a holistic process it is a single flow of natural processes, some subject to law of probability as we understand it medically.”

    So you see, all I am doing is picking up this point and trying to explain that I think you made an error in your presentation of the theological Free Will argument.

    I am concerned that when fundamentalists make the stupid and poor theological remarks they often do, it ends up becoming fodder to anti-theists, who are of the opinion that all theological formulations are to be subject to ridicule – even ones they have not heard yet. I think that is irrational.

    So… I just wish there was more an attempt made in differentiation when criticizing minority fundamentalist positions from the more thoughtful variety.

    I don’t think I am being unfair.

  47. Martin Ciupa writes:
    > Hume’s point does not take into account Leibniz’s “best of all possible world’s argument”

    Er, Hume’s point is a response to it. You write:
    > We can not know the consequences of an act now in the future given the complexity of human affairs. What we might perceive as an imperfection in nature allowing evil to be done, is perhaps a necessary link in a chain of consequences that will result in an ideal end.

    Hume (or at least Philo, who a lot of people seem to think represents Hume in Dialogues) agrees (“I am Sceptic enough to allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose; but surely they can never prove these attributes”), but notes: “He may be fully convinced of the narrow limits of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference concerning the goodness of superior powers, since he must form that inference from what he knows, not from what he is ignorant of. The more you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance, the more diffident you render him, and give him the greater suspicion that such subjects are beyond the reach of his faculties.” Read the whole passage.

    Later, you wrote:
    > We can make our best efforts to understand history and draw inference of what intents (if any) are behind it.

    But you have just implied that we cannot do that, for perhaps anything which leads us to think that God is evil, indifferent or absent is merely part of his good plan, unknown to us. Which is it? If we are able to take moral progress as prima facie evidence for a good God, why may we not equally argue that our history of earthquakes (which God could have avoided when he set up the world) and Holocausts and whatnot as evidence that God is in fact absent, indifferent, or evil?

    You seem to want to ignore the consequences of your scepticism when you think there is evidence for a good God but respond to the evidence against by using a sceptical argument. This is called “special pleading”.

  48. Hi Paul,

    Thanks, point noted on Hume and Leibniz, better for me to say I don’t think Hume takes Leibniz’s argument well in account.

    Consider this discussion on the point of Evil and the difference in Humes’s and Leibniz thought… http://www.123helpme.com/views-of-hume-and-leibniz-on-evil-view.asp?id=163039

    As for my later comments “We can make our best efforts to understand history and draw inference of what intents (if any) are behind it.”

    The answer for me lies in the difference between a omniscient God and a fallible man.

    1/ Man’s Case: Many theists are asked to follow and accept the will of their God on faith, but men struggle to understand and “go along with it”, when evil seems to be the best choice for a greater good (I think not without reason, it’s the Consequentialism problem of Anscombe). It is a dilemma. And I think the solution (for man) lies in what in legal circles is resolved by “best endeavors”.

    We (mankind) often say we commit to do something, in a contract, but you will often find your lawyer insert the words “subject to best endeavors”. We can not in many cases make an absolute commitment to do something for reasons we can not reasonably foresee or take account of in our plan. We can say that our best commitment is subject to best endeavors.

    So… We look the the best ends we can think of for our plans, limit ourselves to not do evil in acts to get us to those ends, and accepting that our intents and specific actions are for the good, even when they don’t work out, and trust we are thus not accountable for result. It is what I think of as “best endeavors”.

    2/ God’s Case: God however can commit to do (or not to do) since he is not limited to mankind’s dilemma. If we see what we think is evil (say deaths of inncocents from a Tsunami) we are able to speculate that it maybe in the Big Picture, something a Free Will loving Good is going to allow to happen).

    With that said… we can look at history, knowing we are fallible in our interpretations, and see circumstantial evidence of a trail and progression of the “Geist” in Hegel’s terms. E.g., we might see that man is becoming a more moral agent, to such a degree as to predict and seek to mitigate Tsunamis and their “evil” effects.

    So the “problem of evil” is resolved. Natural evils are not really evils, Man made evils are, and we are to act as God’s moral agents to remove them.

    It is not a logical proof (since they’re anti-real elements within it), it’s merely a, subject to best endeavors, abductive one, an inductive inference to the best explanation. Such abductive logic might take you to the door of belief in a good God. But in the end it is only faith that will pass your through.

    Hence he two cases of God and man ARE different, but can be resolved under the Free Will argument. I am not having my cake and eating it.

  49. Typo: a Free Will loving God

  50. Typo: We look at the best ends

    (sorry about these – I must try harder on my proof reading!)

  51. I don’t think Leibniz helps here, nor do I really see what his stuff about the best of all possible worlds has to do with it, since the furthest that gets you is “if God exists, this is the best of all possible worlds”, which allows you to conclude that God doesn’t exist if this isn’t the best of all possible worlds, but isn’t an argument for God’s existence or goodness.

    Leibniz’s attempt to deflect arguments that this isn’t the best of all possible worlds seems to rely on the impossibility of showing that, say, preventing the Holocaust would have made things better overall. But it seems Hume already concedes this (“may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose”), so that isn’t an argument against Hume.

    Your stuff about how we humans chose what to do vs how God chooses isn’t relevant to this, since you and Hume agree that, as hypothesised, God knows everything. Hume’s complaint is not that God chooses to do things that we would not do, but that there’s no reason for us to suppose God is good.

    So, what Hume/Philo wants to know is why humans would think that there was a good God in the first place. You don’t appear to have answered that question. As Philo says, pointing out that we’re not in a position to judge whether something is an all things considered good doesn’t help you, because you’re conceding that the judgement must remain beyond your reach.

    Worse, you’re then not in a position to use that something (say, moral progress) as evidence for God’s goodness, because you’ve already said that a good God does stuff which is good, all things considered, but that means a claim that “God would cause moral progress” is a claim that moral progress is an all things considered good, the very sort of thing you say we’re not in a position to know. (See Lovering’s On What God Would Do).

    To use a concrete example, perhaps God is evil and permits moral progress so that we will suffer more when he damns us all to everlasting torment. After all, we can’t know that it’s an all things considered good. You may call this sophistry, but in that case, I’m free to apply that description to arguments that God permitted the Lisbon earthquake because he mysteriously couldn’t have created a world without earthquakes (despite supposedly being omnipotent) or that God permitted the Holocaust because of his desire to allow “free will” (despite the fact that, as Chris Hallquist writes, “In the Kitty Genovese case, for example, no one would think respect for the murder’s free will a good reason for not calling the police”).

    > Such abductive logic might take you to the door of belief in a good God. But in the end it is only faith that will pass your through.

    Assuming “faith” means “believing stuff for no particular reason”, I’m happy to agree with you there :-)

  52. Thanks Paul for your considered response,

    It reads to me like an extended reply of the arguments that went before, and though I think I have answered them adequately it must not be the case for you clearly. :(

    Nevertheless, I’ll just summarize my logic (hopefully one last time!), and if it doesn’t work for you then I think we can leave it there.

    1/ I think we all who have commented agree the simplistic position of Leibniz’s best of all possible world’s argument on Theodicy is problematic with Hume’s position, and has been criticized by Voltaire, Dostoevsky and Camus, and others. But nevertheless it is possibly true, whilst offending our human, non-omniscient, sensitivities. And yes Mourdoch and other Fundamentalist theists I think abuse it accepting evil interventions on faith(that’s why I’ve spent time dealing with how we should act irrespective of how God could act knowing the big picture).

    2/ However, I put forward the God is Love and Free Will argument to show that an interventionist Theology is not cogent, that natural evil is not in fact evil and that evil of fallen man is, and we are called to fix that as moral agents. That said it still is open to being criticized as not conclusive that this God is good, God may be capriciously malevolent.

    3/ However, I say we can look at the progress of sentience/sapience and infer by inference to best explanation/abduction that we are becoming more moral as agents. It is the Hegelian “Geist” argument I’ve referred to. Could we still be being misled? Yes, but it is becoming sophistic IMO to our common sense of what is true, good, beautiful (Plato).

    4/ Finally, yes it is not conclusive, it is fallible (Popper) and in part a subjective anti-real historicity (Dummett). But it is as I say merely bringing you to the door of accepting God is good, but it does not get you through (nothing rational will IMO). The leap of faith (Kierkegaard) through that door is not unreasonable though. The reason may not be objective discursive rationality, it may be more of the subjective intuitive reasoned variety. We sense that this God of Love is true from our the “sense of awe we find in the stars above and the natural law within” (Kant). It is far from “believing stuff for no particular reason”!

    Sorry for the name dropping! Just a bit of fun on a Sunday evening! :)

    I just wanted to point out that there is a background of genuine philosophical support for a Theodicy of Free Will bringing us to a choice (albeit ultimately personal) to believe in a good God. Making that choice makes life less absurd and existentially meaningless IMO.

    You need not make the choice (you’ve Free Will of the Armenians form to refuse it), it’s finally a Fideist’s choice, though one not without a good deal of Critical Rationality.

    Let’s leave it there lest we risk repeating ourselves.

  53. Martin,

    “I don’t really think there is as much overlap to cause me a problem.”
    Great. Then why do you take offence at our characterisation of the god that Mourdock, Akin and Ryan believe in?

    “You miss the differentiation and conflate the positioning – a basic error of Philosophy that is what precisely offends me.”
    No, I don’t care about the your position. A difference you seem incapable of seeing. We are discussing the Mourdock God as represented by his claims that god can be responsible (and wish) the pregnancy but be ambivalent or impotent about the rape.

    “You can’t do that “smuggling”. You either have Free Will and are accountable for your acts, or God Intervenes and you are not, God is.”
    But Mourdock et al. seem able to do this. I am, strangely, giving them the benefit of the doubt based on what they say to enable a god that does what they imagine it might do. If that makes their theology untenable, incoherent or otherwise illogical then I’m totally on-board with you, I think all theology is like that, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are representing the ideas that they propose and attacking them appropriately. Incidentally here’s how the ‘smuggling’ could work – it has to be in an area that is naturally possible and completely unobservable by mankind, then god can tinker all it wants and we’d be oblivious.

  54. @Keddaw,

    I really did hope my last response was going to put to bed the misunderstood responses to my posts on this thread. Still here we go again, and I can only hope they are either persuasive enough, or we can at least agree to disagree and move on…

    1/
    I said: “I don’t really think there is as much overlap to cause me a problem.”
    You said: “Great. Then why do you take offence at our characterisation of the god that Mourdock, Akin and Ryan believe in?”

    I do not take offence at your characterisation of the god that Mourdock et al beleive in. PLEASE NOTE: I also am offended by it.

    What I have been consistent from the very beginning to say is that I take polite exception at the incorrect characterisation of the Free Will argument that Mike LaBossiere mentions in his lead post. I take offence that this is not being seen though I’ve mentioned it maybe 3 times now!

    2/
    I said: “You miss the differentiation and conflate the positioning – a basic error of Philosophy that is what precisely offends me.”
    You said: “No, I don’t care about the your position. A difference you seem incapable of seeing. We are discussing the Mourdock God as represented by his claims that god can be responsible (and wish) the pregnancy but be ambivalent or impotent about the rape.”

    No you are wrong (you really are)! As I said in point 1 above You are not recognizing that my argument is about Mike’s misstatement, IMO, of the Free Will argument that I am seeking to correct.

    If you are in any doubt go back to my 1st response where I say this, and then note, that in every other post I make thereafter, you will see I am being consistent on this,

    It really is true that you are not getting the point I am making by saying what you have.

    3/
    I said: “You can’t do that “smuggling”. You either have Free Will and are accountable for your acts, or God Intervenes and you are not, God is.”
    You said: But Mourdock et al. seem able to do this.

    That you think that Mourdock can “have his cake and eat it”, i.e., saying God is an interventionist and yet provides Free Will (I don’t see him saying he does BTW – he may have a Predestined/Calvinist theology that does not accept Free Will), is (if he thinks he can) a FAIL at that smuggling attempt. It is what distinguishes Calvinistic theology from Arminianism.

    It seems to me that many Philosophers assume a knowledge of Theology because they have attended a few Philosophy of Religion units at Uni. They are steeped in a modern/post-modern negative attitude to Religion. Even are “card carrying” members of New Atheism. But when it comes to actually engaging in detailed Theological discussion are really out of their depth.

    Two points please to recognize about my position:

    a) I am very much against the Theological position of Mourdock et al. Their Theological positions are weak and their moral compass warped IMO. I do not recognize their concept of God as just or merciful, let alone one that loves his creation enough to give them genuine Free Will to respond to Grace.

    b) I merely wish to correct what I think is an error made in Mike’s view on Free Will. I think it is the basis that resolves the issues and concerns of Theodicy.

    I am far from being the only Theologian that thinks this is the case afterall.

  55. Martin, it’s not Mike’s mistake, Mourdock is the one claiming humans can rape outside of god’s will yet pregnancy is within its scope.

    I totally agree there are less stupid opinions about god, but at no point are those addressed, just the simplistic, political, bullshit version Mourdock proposed.

    a) then why engage with my comment in the fashion you did?

    b) then why engage with my comment in the fashion you did? Is Mike wrong in his view of Moudock’s theology in you opinion? Is Mourdock a tiny minority of theological belief in you opinion?

  56. @Keddaw,

    IMO Mike does make a systematic logic mistake in the Free Will argument in his main text, I try to correct it. I don’t think you can “smuggle” Free Will into a deterministic view of God that in effect micromanages all eventualities (it would negate Free Will). I do not understand why you can not see this.

    I do propose a more logical view on the conception of God by expanding on Free Will systematically with additional reference to Leibniz and Hegel. Again I do not understand why you miss this.

    With regards to your two specific points:

    a) I have engaged with you in the fashion I have because of reasons I have mentioned above.

    b) Mike is right on his negative view of Mourdock’s theology IMO, but wrong on his understanding of how a systematically consistent Free Will argument is able to address these errors. As I’ve said (multiple times) my view is that Mourdock’s theology is incompatible with a Free Will theology.

    In the US there are more Evangelical Christians that might share Mourdocks pov than in say Europe. But IMO overall these simplistic views are in a minority I suspect. Broadly speaking there are Conservative/Right Wing/Anti-Evolution Christians and Progressive/Left-Wing/Pro-Evolution Christians, and though I think there are more of the later than the former overall, there is a skew to the former in the US Bible Belt.

    If my response is not clear to you – please let us just drop it. I have lost my patience in being asked to explain what I have already explained more than once.

    PS: I will add that I’ve read Mourdock and some others of his ilk have lost their attempts at being elected to the Senate yesterday. I think this is a good thing.

  57. Martin Ciupa expressed the only significant issue here, I think: “A moral choice has to be made, we are called to do so – individually and socially.”

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