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Jerry before Seinfeld: Delightfully Distinct

By Marybeth Baggett

For nearly thirty years, Jerry Seinfeld has been a fixture of the American cultural landscape. His signature sitcom, the so-called “show about nothing,” dominated television during the 1990s, and the comedian himself became a household name. Close to twenty years after its finale, Seinfeld remains in syndication, and its namesake has a net worth of $860 million. Seinfeld still commands sell-out crowds on his comedy tours and has recently inked a deal with Netflix to distribute new standup specials and host new episodes of his low-key Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Bottom line: Jerry Seinfeld is just about as big as it gets in today’s America. And yet, ironically enough, he has achieved this iconic status by dealing in minutia. The quintessential observational comic, Seinfeld draws the attention of his audience to the often-overlooked mundane realities that comprise our lives—breakfast cereal, wallpaper, construction tools, laundry, childhood toys, shopping, furniture. And through his comic vision, Seinfeld culls insights on our shared hopes and dreams, our fears and failings, our charms and virtues, our pride and pretensions—insights as brilliant as they seem, after the fact, obvious.

A recent documentary on Joan Didion said that her writing revealed a recurring and remarkable knack for showing the centrality of the peripheral and the universality of the particular. Much the same can be said of Seinfeld’s penchant for accentuating the extraordinary of the ordinary. Both artists remind us all of the magic of the everyday and the beauty of the quotidian. Despite this similarity, they manifest this shared trait in remarkably distinct ways. No one would confuse Jerry with Joan. And in these very differences is revealed the allure of diversity’s charm.

Seinfeld’s delightful pairing of the big and the small, the distinctive and the seemingly insignificant is at the heart of Jerry before Seinfeld, the special that kicks off his deal with Netflix, released this September. In this combination documentary/standup routine, the comedian returns, literally and figuratively, to his professional roots. Seinfeld once again takes the stage at the Comic Strip, the New York comedy club that gave him his start. Interspersing bits from his show with an assortment of memories tracing his career back to its beginnings, Jerry before Seinfeld offers a needful cultural corrective—emphasizing that the comedian’s value lies not in his celebrity status but in his unique calling and craft.

It turns out that the Jerry who became Seinfeld was remarkably unremarkable. He grew up in the suburbs of New York, second child of a middle-class Jewish family, with an upbringing marked by no major traumas or spectacular good fortunes. He was simply an ordinary kid. But that ordinary kid had an extraordinary bent toward humor. He couldn’t get enough—poring over MAD magazines, collecting every comedy album he could get his hands on, and stopping everything if a comedian came on TV.

Great performers like Jean Shepherd, George Carlin, and Abbot and Costello transported him from his “boring, regular life” to a realm of wonder and creativity. What captured his imagination, he says, is that these comics held nothing sacred; they just didn’t respect anything. It blew his mind to think that he didn’t have to simply accept what was handed to him.

Such a lesson might be poison to some kids; to Seinfeld it was liberation. It freed him to discover his unique angle on the world, to believe that his perspective mattered, too. It also enabled him, at twenty-one, to walk away from a full-time construction gig and throw himself completely into comedy, earning nothing but free meals and t-shirts and dealing with hecklers and gigs that bombed. Even still he testifies, “None of this bothered me. I was in comedy, and it just felt like heaven.”

Thus inspired, it took real work to cultivate his act, develop material, and find his voice. One of the great services Seinfeld has offered us is the inside scoop of what it takes to become a premier comedian, to achieve excellence in one’s field. Though a prodigious talent, he was willing to put in the time and effort to maximize his innate skills.[1]

What’s true for Seinfeld is true for us all: each of us has a unique voice to share, something we’re a genius at doing, which we can do unlike anyone and everyone else. As Christians we most often say that human value resides most significantly in the fact that we were, all of us, made in God’s image, His imago dei. What we all share in this respect is something unspeakably remarkable indeed.

But John Hare points out that there’s another vital ingredient to our value as human persons: our distinctiveness. It’s not just what we share in common that matters; our differences, too, are a crucial part of who we are and of why we’re valuable. No two of us is exactly alike; each of us is designed to reflect a different aspect of our Creator. A prodigious talent and distinctive voice like Seinfeld’s is a reminder that each of us is unique, that each of us has a contribution to make that’s a reflection of how God made us and what He intended us to do.

Hare writes as follows:

. . . [T]here is a call by God to each one of us, a call to love God in a particular and unique way. Revelation 2:17, in the instructions to the church in Pergamos, refers to a name about which God says, “and [I] will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no one knows except the one that receives it.” If we think of this name, like “Peter” meaning “rock” (the name Jesus gives to Simon), as giving us the nature into which we are being called, and if we think of this nature, as Scotus does, as a way of loving God, then we can think of the value of each of us as residing in us, in our particular relation to God.[2]

A theistic and Christian picture of the human condition provides a compelling account of human dignity, of incommensurable worth, and of ordained work, not just for humanity as a whole but for each and every individual. This is an account strong enough to sustain our deepest intuitions about the inestimable value of every human person—a profound truth hinted at even in a guy whose concerns canvass nothing. The story of Seinfeld shows that there’s something sacred after all.

 

Notes: 

[1] Horace make this same point regarding the poet in his classic Ars Poetica:It has been made a question, whether good poetry be derived from nature or from art. For my part, I can neither conceive what study can do without a rich [natural] vein, nor what rude genius can avail of itself: so much does the one require the assistance of the other, and so amicably do they conspire [to produce the same effect].”

[2] “What we have here is an intrinsic good in a slightly odd sense; not that we have value, each of us, all by ourselves . . . since we have our value in relation. But the value is not reducible to the valuing by someone outside us, on this account, but resides in what each of us can uniquely be in relation to God.” Hare, God’s Command, p. 29.

 

image: By Tracie Hall from Orange County, us (DSC_0235) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Good God Panel Discussion with Baggett, Walls, Copan, and Craig (Part I)

Part II

At the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Baggett and Dr. Walls were invited to participate in a panel discussion of their book Good God with Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offering some critique and feedback on their work. Baggett and Walls provide a concise summary of the book, which is a cumulative and abductive moral argument for theism, while Copan and Craig offer insightful analysis. If you are interested in better understanding the moral argument in general or its abductive version in particular, this discussion will be well worth your time.

In Part I, moderator Mark Foreman introduces the panelists and explains the context of the book. David Baggett provides a summary of their moral argument. Paul Copan offers what he thinks are the major highlights, a response to John Hare’s criticisms, as well as some criticisms of his own.

 

 

 

 

Download Good God panel discussion

 

“Signs of His Presence” A Sermon by Dennis Kinlaw

“Signs of His Presence”  is a sermon by Dennis Kinlaw. Dr. Kinlaw was president and chancellor of Asbury College; he also taught Old Testament. He is also the author of many books, including This Day with the Master, Let’s Start with Jesus, Preaching in the Spirit, The Mind of Christ, We Live as Christ, and Malchus’ Ear and Other Sermons.

In this sermon, Kinlaw explains how human relationships image the kind of love that God has for humanity. The best of human love points beyond ourselves and to the ultimate ground of love and goodness in God.  “The end is going to be family in the full sense of the term.”

Signs of His Presence

Image: Return of the Prodigal  By Axel Kulle 1846-1908 – www.auktionsverket.se, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10248000

Mailbag: The Science of Morality?

Question

Hello professor, I hope you are doing well. I have been looking at some of your work and I think you could answer a question I have in regards to ethics. If you have time that is. If you don’t have the time you can just ignore my email. My question has to do with an article I have been reading recently that is titled the science of morality. In the article the author states that morally good is identical with flourishing well being and the morally bad is identical with misery. I read some reviews of the articles and other scholars state that the author was just redefining moral goodness with well being and argument was circular. But why believe that objective goodness cannot be identical with flourishing of human well being? What makes the argument invalid?

Thank you for your time,

Bill

Answer

Hi Bill,

This is a deceptively hard question! The topic of goodness is quite complicated. Usually when we say that someone is morally good, we’re talking about traits of character and various virtues the person shows. Somehow the goodness inheres in the person. We speak secondarily of various states of affairs being good, but it’s almost a misnomer to call a state of affairs morally good. This is why Kant was of the view that the only truly good thing is a good will–an attribute of a person.

We might come across an awful state of affairs, but what’s morally bad is, most likely, the person or persons (if there is such a person or are such persons) culpably responsible for bringing it about. To say a hurricane is bad is not to say it’s morally bad. It just is what it is. Calling it morally bad is anthropomorphism. Of course it’s nonmorally bad, in that it produces, potentially, a range of undesirable consequences, but you asked about moral goodness in particular. Often when goodness gets contrasted with bad, the focus is on nonmoral considerations that pertain to things like pleasure and pain; but when good gets contrasted with evil, the distinctively moral features come into view.

So flourishing is a perfect example of something that’s nonmorally good. But it doesn’t get us to the heart of moral goodness. The effort to define moral goodness by appeal to human flourishing is a rookie mistake. It’s a deflationary attempt by folks who want to domesticate the concept to reduce moral goodness to something other than itself. It’s thus an attempt to define moral goodness in terms that aren’t moral at all. But moral goodness can’t be reduced or explained away in such a manner. The effort falls prey to the naturalistic fallacy, for one thing. For another, it just leaves too much out.

Suppose you are asked a question and risk being shot to tell the right answer. The morally good thing to do, you’re convinced, is to tell the truth. But still, you tell the truth and immediately get shot. How on earth can an appeal to human flourishing be adequate to account for the moral goodness of your choice in such a situation? Rather than conducing to survival and flourishing, it ensured your immediate death.

Now, just because there’s not an analytic reduction of “moral goodness” into “human flourishing” doesn’t mean there’s no connection between them. To the contrary, I think there’s an airtight (synthetic) connection between the two, but that’s quite different from saying moral goodness just is human flourishing. Ultimately, on a Christian worldview, moral goodness comes about by way of right relation with and transformation by God entirely into the image of Christ–a righteous and holy life–and with such a life will come complete fulfillment and satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean morality and happiness are the same thing; they’re not. But a good God can and will ensure their ultimate correspondence.

Best,

djb

“Consumed by Christ” A Sermon by Dennis Kinlaw

“Consumed by Christ” is a sermon by Dennis Kinlaw. Dr. Kinlaw was president and chancellor of Asbury College; he also taught Old Testament. He is also the author of many books, including This Day with the Master, Let’s Start with Jesus, Preaching in the Spirit, The Mind of Christ, We Live as Christ, and Malchus’ Ear and Other Sermons.

In this sermon, Dr. Kinlaw explains what it means to be “consumed by Christ.” Kinlaw offers worthwhile insight into why a person would want to follow Jesus when he demands so much. First, Christ has given all of himself as the Lamb and so he does not ask for something he has not also provided. Second, though his way may seem hard, in the end, it will be the only thing that can truly satisfy the human soul.

Download “Consumed by Christ”

 


What Women Want

By Tom Thomas 

King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere baffles him.  Like Arthur every other man is perplexed too.  We don’t know what makes her tick or what she wants.  In the Broadway play ‘Camelot’ King Arthur muses to himself.  He cannot figure Guinevere out.   I so identify with him.  King Arthur remembers Merlin the Magician teaching him about the animals.  Merlin turned him into a beaver to teach him about beavers.  Arthur says, ‘I should have had the whirl to change into a girl to learn the way the creatures think’.  ‘How to handle a woman?’  he wonders.  ‘Ah, yes’ he remembers.  Merlin said, ‘The way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, merely love her…’

The prolific crime and mystery novelist Ruth Rendell knew what woman want.  The hero in her novels is Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.  Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford exemplifies what woman want in man.  She used to get tons of female fans telling her they wanted to marry Chief Inspector Wexford.   Ruth knows the reason: Chief Inspector Wexford answers what woman want (1) he makes them laugh (2) he ‘likes women very much and always has time for them’. (W Post, Obituaries, May 3, 2015)

Jesus fulfills a woman’s deep want and need more than any man.  Why have so many women over history followed Him?   He did what Ruth Rendell said:  he shows he likes women.  A revolution occurred because He dignifies them.  He accepts women as having standing.  As men, Jesus gives women access to Himself.  He always has time for them.  He pays them attention.  I want to try to show how the account of Martha, Mary and Jesus makes this clear.   How their want of Him made Him the one thing necessary in their lives.

Jesus entered Martha and Mary’s village of Bethany.  Bethany is just over the crest of the Mt. of Olives.  Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus into her home.  Martha is the only woman I can think of who invited Jesus into her home.  Taking the initiative to do so took self- confidence.  It tells us she was friendly toward Jesus and his ministry.  Jesus did not decline Martha because she was a woman.  Perhaps Martha could do it because her home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples.

Martha’s sister Mary was also there.  When Jesus entered, Mary followed the Lord.  She took her place at His feet.  She begins listening to what he was saying.  This is radical.  Jewish teachers were generally opposed to women learning.  Jesus not only lets her sit at his feet. As we shall see, he expects her, a woman, to listen and learn.  This is still controversial in 2017.  The Taliban says the Moslem Quran does not allow women to be educated.  If Jesus entered your house, would you be sitting there with him?  Where was Martha?

Martha was ‘distracted.  She is overburdened by the various tasks of hosting guests.  She is anxious to provide a fine dinner and comfortable hospitality for her special guests.  Every host knows the tension between being with your company and attending to the ongoing preparation for dinner.  Guest’s hands and feet need washing; heads need oil; towels for drying;  fire for cooking tended; meat prepared and cooked; the vegetables, the bread, the deserts, and water drawn.  The tables have to be set with your best utensils and crockery/china.  The candles filled with oil and lit.  Flowers put in vases.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner as newlyweds Pam and I hosted my parents.  It was nerve-wracking for Pam.  Pam had never prepared a turkey in her life.  This was her first dinner for the in-laws.  She knew none of the recipes my parents enjoyed.  She baked a cake from scratch.  It was three layers.  When I cut the cake, it crumbled into bread crumbs.  She had iced the outside, but forgot to ice between the layers!

After all, Martha is entertaining Jesus!  The Prophet who taken the world by storm!  Martha is just plain stressed out.  She wants to give him an impressive dinner.  But she is feeling put upon.  With all that needs to be done, her sister is sitting there with Jesus.   Martha leaves her preparations and makes her way to Jesus.  If she appeals to Jesus, Jesus will tell Mary to help.  Mary will listen to the Master.  The Holy One will enlighten Mary to her injustice and selfishness. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?’ Tell her then to help me’.  ‘Tell her to do her share.’  Tell her to pitch in.  ‘Many hands make work light’ my mother would say.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha’.  Saying her name twice shows his strong interest in her.  There are many people around him but He considers her.  ‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  You’ve been thrown into undue disorder and trouble.  These ‘worldly’ matters are too much oppressing you.  Things have gotten out of perspective.   You’re in overload.  For a lot of people, life moves at a chaotic clip.  It’s an all too typical woman’s – yes, man’s too – but particularly a woman’s concern today.  She is working a stressful job; she’s trying to be a good mother/wife. Women typically bear the brunt of the responsibilities of family and home.  Maybe she is also taking a night class to work on her degree.  I heard of a single woman holding two jobs; her father had Alzheimer’s in a care facility; her mother who lives with her has a health issue; and she is raising children.  ‘Martha, Martha’.

Was Martha ‘multi-tasking’?  She was trying to juggle multiple tasks.  ‘Multitasking’ is our word for today for juggling the overload of many duties.  ‘Multitasking’ is doing two or more cognitively complex things at the same time.  Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a U of Penn neuroscientist, says ‘multitasking’ is a myth.  Yes, you can chew gum and watch the baby at the same time.  That’s not multitasking.  But you cannot make cordon Bleu and solve a problem with your boss on the phone at the same time. If you try to do them at the same time your brain has to switch back and forth constantly.  You do neither well.  Focusing on more than one complex task is virtually impossible.  If you’re a teen – or Tom Thomas – it is impossible!

‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  Are you too? Jesus continued. ‘But one is necessary’; ‘there is one need; ‘there is need of only one thing’.  Simplify.  ‘Mary has chosen the good portion’.  The word ‘portion’ connotes ‘food’.  Jesus puns, ‘Mary has chosen the better food.’    What food did Mary choose?  Jesus…the bread of life.  She chose to sit with and listen to Him.  What food did Martha choose?  The bread…of the kitchen.  Given the choice between life’s duties, responsibilities, vocations, and avocations and Jesus, Jesus  ranks above them all.  Which are you choosing?  Which is your practice?  Which is your first priority?   Is everything else second to Him?    What if Martha had done that? Driven, Type A people are asking who would have provided the beautiful arrangements of food and drink?  Better to have Jesus and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than a Better Homes and Garden banquet without him.   Jesus consistently messages this: to the rich young ruler: sell everything, give to the poor, then come and follow me; to the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus.  Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.’ Martha doesn’t realize who is in her midst.  Few people do.  In him is ‘the fullness of deity dwelling bodily’…the One who is before all things… ‘the one who is to have first place in everything’ .

Here is the man women want – the man women need; a man who likes women; loves women; wants them to learn from Him, to be with Him and He with them.  He would rather have Martha than a well- appointed home; He would rather have Martha than appetizing cuisine; He would rather have her than fine hospitality.  He wants Martha for herself; not for anything she can give him.  Where have you heard of such a man? Where have you heard of such a holy man, or spiritual leader?  Take the holy one the Buddha as an example.  The Buddha said to his disciple Ananda: ‘Women are stupid, Ananda; that is the reason, Ananda…why women have no place in public assemblies…’

Jesus shows as much interest in her as a man.  He invests in her worth: invites her to join his circle; wills her to be his disciple; believes she is just responsible as a man to God; just as capable of hearing, understanding and learning as a man.  This is a watershed for woman in history.

Women respond to Jesus.  He’s what they want.  He’s what they need.  They’ve heeded his word to Martha.  They have made Jesus their first portion –the one thing necessary.  He has fulfilled their deep want and need.  Probably in greater numbers in church history than men…in different ways: as wives…as mothers…a martyrs…as activists…as writers…as teachers…as evangelists…in mission…to great effect.  Perpetua was a 22 year old new mother.  She was imprisoned by the Romans with her infant for declaring she followed Christ.  The proconsul told her he would release her if she said, ‘Caesar is lord’.  Her father begged her to lie. She would not.  She said, ‘Jesus is Lord’.  She so wanted Jesus, when made to decide, she chose him above her father, her child, and her own life. Her witness lives on today.

Mademoiselle De La Mothe, better known as Madam Guyon, was a teenage girl in Paris.  She was smart and beautiful.  She was tall and well built.  She had a Grecian countenance, high forehead and brilliant eyes, and a noble sweetness.   She thought a lot of herself.  She spent a good part of the day in front of the mirror.  At 17, she fell deathly sick.  She was not expected to live.  As she languished, her sins haunted her.  She realized her self had been her religion.  She knew she was out of favor with God.  She recovered.  See sought God.  The only way she knew to try to get God’s acceptance was earn it:  she began to do good works.  It didn’t take away her sorrow for her sin.  Then she came to understand loving Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart.  Then she came to know personally Jesus Christ not by doing righteous works, but by faith.  Now, she said, ‘For I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ’ .  She was sorrowful of her wasted past.   Why was she so late in finding Jesus?  ‘Why’ she wondered, ‘have I known thee so late?  Alas, I sought you where you were not, and did not seek you where you were!’  She wrote the name of her Saviour in large characters and attached it to her person.  She wanted to be reminded continually of Him. She wrote poems and letters for Christ.  She influenced circles of Christians and mystic theologians like Francis Fenelon.

What do women want?  What do you want?  They want the One who accepts and honors them; the One who wants to be with them; who wants them to be in his company and they in his;  the One who loves them – they want Jesus Christ!  He is the one thing necessary.  Is He for you the One necessity?

 

 
Image by Georg Friedrich Stettner († 1639) – Van Ham Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, Link

Seven Reasons Why Moral Apologetics Points to Christianity

 

By David Baggett

Various moral arguments for God’s existence are usually deployed for the purpose of arguing for the truth of God’s existence per se, but they strongly hint at a more specific conclusion. Namely, they are plausibly taken to be evidence that Christianity in particular is true. The claim isn’t that by moral apologetics alone one can somehow deduce all the aspects of special revelation contained in Christianity, but rather this: in light of Christianity having been revealed, moral arguments for God’s existence point quite naturally in its direction. The following list is far from exhaustive, but offers a few reasons to think this is so.

First, one of the great virtues of moral arguments for God’s existence is that they point not just to the existence of God, but to a God of a particular nature: a God who is morally perfect. A. C. Ewing once said that the source of the moral law is morally perfect. Such a notion is described in various ways: omnibenevolent, impeccable, essentially good, and the like. What does it look like when omnibenevolence takes on human form? Jesus is a powerful answer. Moral apologetics works best when it’s Christological.

Second, to conceive of God as essentially and perfectly loving requires some sort of account. The right account, again, isn’t the sort of idea that we’re able to generate on our own; we depend on special revelation to tell us what it is. But Christianity has provided us with an account of the divine nature that’s Trinitarian in nature. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s Trinitarian.

Third, Christianity has a demonstrated track record historically in reaching people of every race and ethnicity, and every socioeconomic background, and radically transforming their lives. In a book chronicling the spiritual lives of various Christian saints called They Found the Secret can be found this description: “Out of discouragement and defeat they have come into victory. Out of weakness and weariness they have been made strong. Out of ineffectiveness and apparent uselessness they have become efficient and enthusiastic. The pattern seems to be self-centeredness, self-effort, increasing inner dissatisfaction and outer discouragement, a temptation to give it all up because there is no better way, and then finding the Spirit of God to be their strength, their guide, their confidence and companion—in a word, their life.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s individually transformational.

Fourth, Paul Copan speaks of an historical aspect of moral apologetics: the historical role played by Christ and his devoted followers to promote social justice. Morality demands deep cultural transformation too. Copan cites specific cultural developments that can be shown to have flowed from the Jewish-Christian worldview, leading to societies that are “progress-prone rather than progress-resistant,” including such signs of progress as the founding of modern science, poverty-diminishing free markets, equal rights for all before the law, religious liberty, women’s suffrage, human rights initiatives, and the abolition of slavery, widow-burning, and foot-binding.

Jürgen Habermas, who isn’t a Christian himself, writes the following: “Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and a social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s culturally transformative.

Fifth, Christianity holds out the hope for total moral transformation. Morality upholds a standard that all of us fall short of all the time, yet there’s nothing about morality that hints at accommodation or compromise. The right ultimate explanation of morality should be able to make sense of our aspirations for radical moral transformation, and even perfection as something more than a Pollyannaish pipedream. Christianity offers, by God’s grace through faith, moral hope instead of moral despair, forgiveness and liberation from guilt, and the prospect to be totally conformed to the image of Christ, in whom there’s no shadow of turning. The resurrection offers the prescription from both death and sin: abundant and everlasting life. Moral apologetics works best when it is soteriological (offering both forgiveness and transformation, both justification and sanctification).

Sixth, Christianity offers principled reason to think that the glory to come will not just outweigh, but definitely defeat, the worst evils of this world. Christian philosopher Marilyn Adams writes, “If Divine Goodness is infinite, if intimate relation to It is thus incommensurably good for created persons, then we have identified a good big enough to defeat horrors in every case.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s eschatological.

Seventh, Christianity gives compelling reasons to think that every person possesses infinite dignity and value. To be loved by God, the very archetype of all goodness—each of us differently, but all of us infinitely—and to have been made a person in his image is to possess greater worth than we can begin to imagine. And humanity isn’t just valuable in the aggregate, according to Christianity. Rather, each person is unique, each is loved by God, each is someone for whom Jesus suffered and died. And in the book of Revelation, for everyone who accepts God’s overtures of love, a white stone will reveal a unique name for each one of them—marking their distinctive relationship with God and vocation in him. Moral apologetics works best when it’s universal.

The way a labyrinthine maze of jumbled metal filings suddenly stands in symmetrical formation in response to the pull of a magnet, likewise the right organizing story—classical theism and orthodox Christianity—pulls all the moral pieces of evidence into alignment and allows a striking pattern to emerge.

 

 

God and Cosmos, Chapter 4, Part II (Moral Value)

summary by Frederick Choo

Baggett and Walls next consider a more Platonic effort to account for intrinsic human value. Such a view is advanced by those like David Enoch and Erik Wielenberg. They focus on Wielenberg’s book, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism. Wielenberg’s view (known as robust normative realism) is that there are response-independent, non-natural, irreducibly normative truths, objective ones, that when successful in our normative inquiries we discover rather than create or construct. He thinks moral properties supervene on nonmoral properties. Because of issues over supervenience, he distinguishes three types of supervenience.

Let M stand for a moral property. The first variant of supervenience he calls R-supervenience (R for reductive). The way M supervenes on the base properties here is by being reduced to them. Here, M is identical or entirely constituted by the base properties. The second form is A-supervenience (A for Adams). The instantiation of M might be entailed by the instantiation of the base properties together with the instantiation of certain non-base but necessarily instantiated properties. This comes from Robert Adams’ view of finite goodness. His view is that the property of being finitely good is the property of faithfully resembling God’s nature. The third variety is called D-supervenience (D for DePaul). M is not identical, or reducible to, or entirely constituted by the base properties, on this view. Rather, the instantiation of the base properties makes (or explains) the instantiation of M. He thinks the most plausible of these is D-supervenience.

He offers a few ways of construing such a making relation. The first is a grounding relation. Morality on this view concerns a sui generis domain (its own unique domain) that can be reduced to, or consist in, facts that might be formulated in other terms. Wielenberg worries that there isn’t a well-understood and useful grounding relation that is distinct from other metaphysical relations like identity and constitution.

The second way, which Wielenberg favors, is construing making as causation. He acknowledges various worries. One concern is that causation requires the existence of laws of nature connecting causes and effects, but it seems implausible to suppose there are laws of nature that connect nonmoral and moral properties. Another concern is that causal connections are usually thought to be contingent, but Wielenberg posits a necessary casual connection. Lastly, it is sometimes thought that causes must precede their effects. Wielenberg thinks the answer to these objections is by understanding causation in a particularly robust fashion, the same causal relation many theists take to hold between a state of affairs being divinely willed and the obtaining of that state of affairs. So, when asked why does being an instance of torturing someone just for fun entail moral wrongness, he says it is because being an instance of torturing someone just for fun makes an act wrong. He thinks no further explanation is available (since all explanations must stop somewhere).

Frank Jackson objects that there is always a purely descriptive claim that is necessarily coextensive with an ethical predicate, so there are no sui generis ethical properties. Using his making relation, Wielenberg argues that moral properties have a feature natural properties lack, namely, the former are resultant. Tristram McPherson objects to Wielenberg’s account by saying that commitment to brute necessary connections between discontinuous properties counts significantly against a view. Wielenberg admits there is some intuitive force to this objection, but argues that such a principle is self-undermining. Lastly, Wielenberg shows that both theists and his own view are committed to metaphysically necessary brute facts. They come from nowhere and nothing external to them grounds their existence. He thinks ethical facts are such facts.

9780199931194What about the narrower issue of the intrinsic value of human beings? Wielenberg thinks that his account better explains such value than at least certain theistic explanations. He insists that makes something good must lie entirely within its own nature. It is good in and of itself. He strikes off Mark Murphy’s, Adams’, Linda Zagzebski’s, and Mark Linville’s accounts because he thinks that human value is extrinsic on such views. Baggett and Walls will address such concerns in a later chapter.

They now turn their attention to reservations they have about Wielenberg’s account. First, Wielenberg thinks human dignity and worth D-supervene on the property of being human (or some specific features of being human). Baggett and Walls think that such a making relation underdetermines why this causation relation holds. Second, it is question-begging to assume that this supervenience story is consistent with secularism because, if humans are created in the image of God, then being human would have for one of its essential features a relational property of which God is a part. Third, Wielenberg is committed to the causal closure of the physical. This limits him to material and efficient causes, leaving little to no room for formal or final causes. The first person needs to be left out in any final theory. There is no room for mental causation in the context of casual closure. This arguably eliminates the means of treating persons as ends-in-themselves because the attitude of respect for a person presupposes mental causation. Fourth, there is a huge qualitative gap between natural and non-natural, between fact and value, between value and disvalue. Fifth, Wielenberg seems to dismiss the historical relevance of theism to the conviction about intrinsic human value, yet it is not clear that his worldview has the metaphysical resources to ground such truths. Sixth, it is not obvious that his explanatory stopping point is a good one. It is not clear what explanatory work is done by saying that an act of deliberate cruelty simply makes something wrong. He seems to be simply stating a moral fact that is in need of explanation. His explanatory stopping point amounts more to an assertion than argument. So, with these worries, Baggett and Walls do not think that Wielenberg’s account sufficiently accounts for intrinsic human dignity and value.

 

 

Summary of Chapter 4 of God and Cosmos: “Moral Value,” Part I

Summary by Frederick Choo

Part 1

In chapter 4, Baggett and Walls focus specifically on intrinsic human value. Historically, religious perspectives played a role in forming convictions about human rights. On the Judeo-Christian view, human beings are not only creatures of God, but are made in the image of God. Nicholas Wolterstorff claims that there is no plausible alternative to this religious framework to ground natural human rights. For example, some ground human rights in capacities like the power of reason, but this ends up excluding infants and those with mental disabilities who are often thought of as also having the same rights. Baggett and Walls do not want to say that respect-for-persons is supportable only on religious grounds. They make a more modest claim that respect-for-persons is best explained by theism compared to competing theories.

9780199931194First they consider egoism. Kai Nielsen’s proposal is that a respect-for-persons may be derivable from egoism (the view that one ought to act in one’s own self-interest). Based on this, he thinks that one ought to treat others well in order to be treated well himself. The first problem is that this fails to account for the moral standing of others; it is just a strategy to be treated well. As Baggett and Walls put it, “What does my acting in my interest have to do with you possessing intrinsic worth?” A second problem is that this fails to account for cases where not respecting others does not affect one’s self-interests. For example, one may be powerful and need not fear repercussions for treating people poorly. This results in having no reason for respecting others since it does not affect one’s self-interests. Hence egoism by itself cannot account for intrinsic human value.

Next, they consider utilitarianism/consequentialism. On this view, one ought to maximize utility. For example, some utilitarians say that one ought to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Jeremy Bentham, a proponent of utilitarianism, infamously said that the notion of intrinsic natural rights is nonsensical. Rights exist based on what is advantageous to society. Whether rights are protected or not is determined by social utility.

John Stuart Mill, another proponent of utilitarianism, likewise thinks that the sole reason for according rights to people is based on social utility. As Mark Linville notes, there is no necessary connection between an action’s maximizing utility and its being fair or just. On utilitarianism, in a case where someone is raped, the wrongness of rape is not because their right is violated, but is because of the generally injurious consequences for the community. So utilitarianism fails to safeguard individual human dignity and worth.

Utilitarians offer many responses. One reply is that we tend to be unreliable calculators of consequences, so it is better to always safeguard individual rights than not to. Still, the problem persists that no individual’s rights or dignity is beyond sacrificing if, by doing so, utility is maximized. A rule-utilitarian may say that one should follow the rules which maximizes utility. But still, this is far from saying that certain acts are categorically wrong. All that can be said regarding an act is that it is at most merely consequentially wrong. Angus Menuge has said that on utilitarianism, if a tyrant was more effective in brainwashing people or slaughtering those who disagreed, genocide would have been right. Hence utilitarianism has problems accounting for human value.

Next, Baggett and Walls consider Philippa Foot’s virtue ethics that is based on a natural law theory. Foot’s book called Natural Goodness is an account of virtues based on how human beings are normatively structured, how we typically behave when it comes to those teleological aspects of our human functioning. Her book has three distinct parts. First is her argument against non-cognitivism (the view that moral statements do not express propositions that can be true or false). Second is her defense of naturalistic moral objectivity. Last, she handles objections from utilitarians and from Nietzschian nihilists.

Baggett and Walls focus on the second section. Foot argues that we make judgments of goodness and defect of living things by reference to a teleological account of the life form based on its species. Her account covers evaluative judgments of the characteristics and operations of other living things. What an animal should do depends on the kind of animal it is. Likewise, what we (humans) should do depends on our being humans. This means that moral defect is really just a form of natural defect. Vice is a form of natural defect while virtue is a form of natural goodness, rooted in patterns of natural normativity. Based on the kind of species one is, some behaviors simply conduce better to one’s flourishing than others.

Take for example the virtue of promise keeping. In giving a promise one makes use of a special kind of tool invented by humans for the better conduct of their lives, creating an obligation that contains in its nature a prescription that harmlessness in neglecting does not annul. Some accuse her account of being utilitarian. She however says that utilitarianism (and other forms of consequentialism) has its foundation in a proposition linking goodness of action to the goodness of state of affairs. Her theory of natural normativity has no such foundational proposition.

While Baggett and Walls agree with many aspects of Foot’s work, such as moral cognitivism and moral realism, they have some significant reservations with her main account. The most significant is that her account does not answer whether human flourishing is of intrinsic value. While she affirms it, her account does not provide a foundation for it. First, Foot has to account for differences between pestilential creatures, animals, and human beings. If she wants to say that biologically adaptive patterns of behavior in cancer cells or tigers do not entail objective moral facts, then how does she go from natural normativity to objective morality in the case of human beings?

Second, there is a problem of smart free riders. Why should one keep their promise if no damage is done? Foot says that there is still a moral duty to keep it to cultivate the sort of character of being trustworthy. But her reply still cannot account for a really smart promise breaker who is able and willing to get over her aversion to breaking promises when doing so is unlikely to detract from optimal species-flourishing.

Third is the problem of a deflationary analysis. Foot’s account is characterized as neo-Aristotelian, but Aristotle’s worldview was far from naturalistic. While Aristotle placed great emphasize on being human, his view wasn’t content with our being merely human.

Fourth is a transition problem. While she affirms good and noble human characteristics, she departs from a naturalistic, biologically grounded account of moral virtues. Furthermore, by limiting her resources to human flourishing, it seems unlikely she will have enough for the sort of thick account that virtue approaches to ethics tend to have as their distinctive strength.

Fifth, Baggett and Walls raise a normativity challenge. While they agree she is right, in one sense, to say that morality depends on our natures, this still leaves out an analysis of what that nature is exactly. Talk of telos (purpose) and human nature in a Godless world is difficult to sustain. Foot thinks that the designs of a Divine Mind are irrelevant to the natural-teleological descriptions of human beings. But if we have been created by God in His image, with his intentions in mind, then this is a relevant consideration.

Sixth is an epistemic challenge. Foot’s work does not address the contemporary challenge (in regards to moral knowledge) posed by evolutionary moral psychology.