Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Fair, N'est Pas?

Thoughts have been simmering in my head for a few days now on how to move forward in my discussion with Ernie. I think I know how to make a small bit of progress today, though as I look back over my last few posts, some of this will be repetitive. Hopefully the repetition will at least serve to emphasize what I am trying to convey.

Much of my pondering has covered the concept of fairness. Is the god of Christianity fair? Does it matter? And as I was doing the dishes today, I concluded that fairness is not the issue, at least not fairness in the sense of impartiality or freedom from prejudice or favoritism. If I were the only person in existence, there could be no unfairness, and yet my argument would stand.

No, the issue is one of justice, morality, and goodness. As I stated earlier, and as Ernie quoted here,

I believe that it is fundamentally unjust to punish someone eternally for choices he makes based on uncertain, incomplete and seemingly contradictory or incoherent information, while being subject to imperfect rationality, having only a finite amount of time and while lacking any methodology, process or other means to overcome these limitations

Ernie then asked if my argument was primarily ethical or epistemological, and to make my previous response clear, if it was not already, my argument is primarily ethical. The epistemological aspects are only one part of the primary argument. Now Ernie has said

I think Alan's arguments apply equally to the fact that "Life is unfair." Thus, it seems to me that this is primarily an ethics question (about God's justice) rather than a epistemic question (about evidence for the supernatural). That is, even if there was no afterlife, I believe Alan would still consider God unjust for the way He's structured the natural world (assuming a Creator God even exists, of course).

I do not agree that my arguments apply equally to the fact that life is unfair. First, as I stated earlier, fairness is not the issue, unless you are careful to use the fairness only in the sense of a (near) synonym for justice. Second, my argument rests on the disproportionate consequence of eternal (infinite) damnation for choices made by temporal (finite) men, and as I noted previously, this is in contrast to the consequences we experience in (this) life.

Now, let me return to Ernie's three "philosophical 'facts'".

a. Ethics: Choices have real consequences

b. Epistemology: Character, not facts, drive belief

c. Theology: God is just not fair

I agree that choices have consequences. And I think I see what Ernie is driving at with (b) and (c). As he later expands, "what we actually believe is also determined in large part by accidents of culture and circumstances", and since belief is apparently a critical component in determining our eternal fate, the premise that those "accidents" strongly influence our beliefs does lead to the conclusion that God is not fair. But this is unfairness in the sense of partiality, and as I have emphasized repeatedly tonight, it is not this kind of unfairness that troubles me. Rather it is the injustice, even the immorality, of God (supposedly) imposing the consequences that he does for those that do not believe.

So. The thoughts simmered, and that is where I ended up. Did I let them simmer long enough? Is what remains good and tasty? I hope so.

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