Should our laws enforce our morals?

Into the Jungle

What should we be compelled to do?

I would like to propose a thought experiment. Imagine two explorers, John and Jane, are preparing for a quick expedition from camp. They know there is some danger, but they are looking forward to the excitement of the brief adventure. In order to reach their journey's starting point, they will need to take a brief ride in their utility vehicle. Little did they know that the utility vehicle which they had rented had a surprise in the trunk. A local named Joe had, unbeknownst to himself, happened upon a meeting of some unscrupulous individuals when he sat down for lunch. Joe was a loner - no family, no friends, and he lived a simple life of not bothering or being bothered. However, not wanting to be overheard, the criminals drug Joe's cola and then leave him in the trunk of the same utility vehicle which sat in the rental car lot next to the restaurant. As you can imagine, the

bumpiness of the road leading to the jungle caused quite a stir, enough to unceremoniously wake Joe from his drug-induced nap. As John and Jane stopped the vehicle just past the jungle's entrance, Joe, still not quite himself, kicks his way out of the old vehicle's trunk and stumbles to his feet. Joe, who by this time we recognize is quite unlucky, is unaware of his location, and flounders into the jungle off to the left. Jane and John gasp. The most dangerous part of their expedition could be avoided by simply heading north, to the right, as the south was filled with old munitions, mines, and traps from a civil war which had only ended a few months ago. Jane and John carefully follow Joe into the jungle to try and steer him back to safety, but they are too late. Joe walks straight into a tripwire and falls face first onto, if you can believe it, a mine.…

Two Heartbeats

I have been delaying this post for quite some time as I have wanted desperately to be as charitable, knowledgeable and thoughtful with regard to abortion as one can possibly be. To describe it as a hotbed issue is a severe understatement. On one hand, its opponents portray the action as a literal genocide of the innocents while its proponents portray it as defense of bodily integrity (perhaps the single most obvious moral value). There can be no doubt as to why such an issue would bring great division, anger and even violence. So what do I intend to accomplish with this piece, aside from solving the debate for everyone so we can all just get along? Well, I want to try and shed some light on how proponents and opponents, especially those at the forefront of the debate, cast the issues unnecessarily in binary, black and white terms, most of which are irrelevant to the ultimate question with regard to abortion. First,

let's load the deck for the Pro-Life position... For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that life begins at conception. We will assume both that the Biblical passages and the scientific/philosophical arguments for life beginning at conception succeed, and that the Biblical passages and scientific/passages against life beginning at conception fail.For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that "personhood" also begins at conception. We will assume both that the Biblical passages and the scientific/philosophical arguments for personhood beginning at conception succeed, and that the Biblical passages and scientific/passages against personhood beginning at conception fail. For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that all people know these truths (whether they admit it or not). We will assume that anyone having or performing an abortion knows they are killing a person. Thus, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that abortion is intrinsically immoral. Unless it is counterbalanced by stronger moral…

An argument proposed by atheist philosopher Sobel. He outlines this argument as follows. P1. This is not the best possible world.P2. That the world is not the best possible world is incompatible with a perfect being.C. There does not exist a perfect being. I would like to focus on Premise 2 of this argument because it is also an important part of standard formulations of the Problem of Evil. Is a Perfect World a Coherent Concept? Let's start with a thought experiment. Imagine there is a perfect baker who can create any cake that is good and no cake that is bad. He has been tasked with creating cakes to commemorate several different events in a single day. The first event is a wedding, the second is a birthday, the third is a graduation and the fourth is a funeral. If there were a single, perfect cake, then the baker could create a single cake that would perfectly satisfy all

attendees. But is this conceivable? Isn't part of what makes a cake valuable to the celebrants the uniqueness of the cake, the cake being specific and personalized. Does the existence of a cake that is not perfect for their occasion but perfect for another mean that the baker is imperfect (he did, after all, create an imperfect cake with respect to the preferences of 3/4 parties)? It seems to me that the perfect baker would create cakes that are appropriate for each occasion. But we can take this even further... Is the Perfection of which Sobel Speaks an Objective or Subjective Perfection? Imagine again the perfect baker. Today he is tasked with merely creating a single cake for a wedding. Is it reasonable to think that the perfect baker can create a cake that satisfies to perfection the appetites of all of the attendees? It seems that this request is reasonable iff the preferences of all attendees is compatible. I…

I am working my way through Professor Josh Rasmussen's and Professor Felipe Leon's excellent book, "Is God the Best Explanation of Things. A Dialogue." and was struck by an illustration Professor Leon provided regarding our modal intuition. Professor Leon attempts to justify a moderate modal skepticism, giving the following illustration to illuminate this point. Dr. Leon begins with imagining an iron bar floating on water. He explains that he can imagine or conceive of such a thing as being possible, but under further investigation he realizes that such an thing is not possible. He explains that in order for such a thing to occur, iron would need to cease being iron, or water water, and a different thing altogether such that their natural properties could bring about the state of affairs where an iron bar floats on water. I was, admittedly, confused with this example. Within moments my mind wandered, as it tends to do, towards solving the puzzle of how an iron

bar might float on water, thereby undermining Dr. Leon's illustration. Several examples came to me within just minutes, as I am sure they could come to you. A current of water exactly the size of the iron bar could be flowing upwards beneath it with just enough strength to keep the bar afloat and in-place.A force could be pushing all of the water towards the location directly under the iron bar such that the water exerts just enough pressure to keep the bar afloat.A magnetic force above the iron bar could be strong enough to attract it upwards until the downward pressure of the bar was low enough that it would float on water but not be pulled away from the water.There could be a hydrophobic coating or preparation of the iron bar such that it does not sink.The iron bar could be spread so thin/flat as to not break the surface tension. Pure Iron Bar Now,…

Checkers and the Problem of Evil

What would happen if we all played checkers against one another but with a different set of rules?

Imagine for a moment that you sit down at a standard checker board to play your friend. However, this checkerboard comes with slightly different rules. While the movements remain the same, the goal is very different. Instead of trying to take your opponent's pieces, the goal is to reach a stalemate with the largest number of pieces remaining on the board. The game has now become cooperative. How do you think the two of you would fare? Assuming you had to move if a move were available, do you think you would accidentally end up in a spot at least once or twice where your only move required taking your friend's piece? Do you think your friend might make similar errors? Now, I ask that you further imagine that while playing the pieces occasionally move on their own, disappear, or reappear. When these events occur, would you be able to recognize whether or not the change to the board was

good (advantageous to the end goal of maximizing the number of pieces left on the board in a stalemate)? Or would you more often than not assume that when a piece went missing, it was harmful to the outcome, when a piece was added, it was positive toward the outcome, and when a piece moved, it could go either way? Would you know? Multi-Player Checkers Examples of multi-player checker boards. I now ask you to imagine, as best as you can, a multi-player checkers board. This board is large enough to give every person on the planet a seat at the table. It seems incomprehensible yet, at the same time, possible. There doesn't appear to be any reason, in principle, that such a game could not be constructed. Of course, this new version with billions of players would be far more complex that we could fathom. We would have difficulty determining the "goodness" of any move outside of its local…

How are we to decide what to do with our time in a moral sense? What guides us? How do we know?

How are we to decide what to do with our time in a moral sense? What guides us? How do we know?

A friend of mine who I admire quite deeply brought up a simple question about moral epistemology. How do we know we are doing right and how do we discern from whom we should be guided? He writes, "I have zero way to verify if what they’re telling me is actually the true will of the invisible judge." Now, I'm sure some would simply respond "read the scripture", but that begs the question in favor of a particular scripture. One would need to first come to a belief in the scripture, but even then the variety of interpretations may be a hindrance. However, I think there is a path forward, guided by our current position in our faith journey, that can be reasonably agreed upon. People should only be held accountable for what they are able to do.If there is a best or set of best possible things a person can do,

he or she should do it.We can conceive of the best possible thing we are able do with our time (in the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, hour, etc.)We ought to do the best possible thing of which we can conceive. Unfortunately, this leads to a difficult if not depressing conclusion. None of us really takes the time to think, "what is the best possible thing I can do in the next hour" and then actually does it. We always live our lives not only below what a perfect being might desire of us, but below what we know we are capable of. I think this ultimately sheds light on the depravity of humanity. We constantly choose short term marginal pleasure (a better coffee, a new video game, another drink at the bar) over maximal relief (charity for those in dire straits). I am doing this now in writing this post.

This is another common objection raised by non-theists. It is a complex question but one that I think is best answered with Molinism

Do we still have free will if God knows our future?

First, let me begin by saying that Molinism is unnecessary to solve this problem. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an exceptional article explaining how arguments which attempt to show a contradiction between free will and divine foreknowledge commit a fallacy in modal logic. However, this is quite technical and can be difficult for many to follow. It was for me until I really dug down and worked with modal logic and its symbolic form. I think there is an easier explanation if one takes Molinism to be true. Briefly, Molinism is the belief that God's omniscience includes knowledge of "subjunctive conditionals of creaturely freedom". What are "subjunctive conditionals of creaturely freedom"? Well, they look something like this... If Sally would go to the party tonight, then she would freely choose to drink too much.If Johnny sees the car wreck, then he would freely choose to run to save the victims Basically, it is a claim that if a person were

in some situation, they would freely behave in one way or another. This type of knowledge is also called "Middle Knowledge" as it is neither God's natural knowledge (mathematical and logical truths, for example) which he possesses before creation, nor his free knowledge of the creation he manifests. Rather, it sits between these two types of knowledge. Now, I will not get into arguments here as to whether Middle Knowledge exists. While I wouldn't say that it is terribly controversial, it is disputed. So, how does Middle Knowledge or Molinism answer this question about Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will? Well, one could imagine God could create an infinite number of possible universes. However, God desires to choose universes that have free will, since free will is essential to moral significance (if we don't have free will, then there is no moral responsibility, we are just glorified puppets). Let's delineate all worlds from those that have free will as possible…

One of the more common critiques of Christian theology is the Doctrine of Original Sin. The position that we are born guilty seems intuitively unfair. However, I intend to show that any robust moral realist position entails some form of intrinsic sinfulness of humans. That is to say, if there are real moral values and duties, regardless of how you ground them, then all persons violate, at least to a modest degree, those norms.

Are we really born with sin? How can this possibly be fair? It turns out that this isn't just a problem for Original Sin, it is a problem for morality in general.

A few assumptions are required for this argument: Moral values and duties are real.People are not responsible for events outside their control.There is sufficient human freedom to make moral decisions. Imagine for a moment that two men are independently planning to mug someone. One set his alarm clock for 8:00AM and the other for 8:05AM. The early riser of the two men sets out to find a victim, but discovers it is just too early in the morning to find a victim. However, at 8:02AM, an innocent bystander strolls out of his apartment where he finds himself between the two would-be muggers. Since the first mugger has passed, he does not notice the innocent man. The second mugger, though, proceeds to strike the innocent man and steal his wallet. On moral realism, we would likely agree that the successful mugger has commited a serious wrong in injuring and robbing the innocent man. We would also likely agree that the first

man who intended to assault and rob an innocent individual has committed a wrong, although perhaps not as serious. His intent to violate moral norms is itself a violation of those norms. We recognize this widely in legal systems today as "conspiracy" to commit a crime is itself a crime. Now, imagine that the second mugger (the one who successfully commited the crime) had lucked upon a winning lottery ticket on the ground with a cash value $2500. This amount of money was sufficient for him to not consider mugging anyone, despite having done nothing to earn the money. Here is the pivotal question. Is the first attempted mugger, whose motivation was financial, worse than the second successful mugger given this new scenario, even though all that has changed is the circumstances and nothing about the persons themselves? We know that had he not stumbled upon the $2500, he would have intended to and followed through with mugging. Are we…

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